A Trio of Rogue Trouble

Alolan Ninetales, Tapu Bulu/Vikavolt, and Volcanion with an Eye to NAIC

Hello once again everyone! I am back again sooner than usual and am ecstatic to be bringing you one of the final pieces for our pre-NAIC marathon. So far we have covered a wide variety of decks and I think that essentially everything in the top two tiers have been discussed and it is my joy today to be bringing you a primer on some decks that may not be powerful but are arguably still viable. I will do my best to discuss what I perceive to be the best decks that have yet to be talked about, but as I said in my last article, if there are any decks you are curious about that everyone else (including myself) have failed to mention, I would be more than happy to do a brief rundown on Twitter or in the comment section should the opportunity present itself.

When it comes to running rogue decks, I think it is important to address the primary criteria for why one would chose to play rogue over something more conventional. Generally speaking, I think that rogue players do at least one of the following:

1. Rogue to take advantage of an overwhelming majority playing predictable decks and list.

For me, this is the most logical explanation to every diverge from the norm. With all the data available to us via various sources, it tends to be somewhat easy to predict what the top decks will be. If you are willing to gamble on these odds then it makes sense to play something specifically geared to take down Buzzwole, Zoroark-GX and Malamar. You may have to sacrifice other matchups but if you believe that you are favored against a majority of the top decks then “rogue” in this sense seems like a safe decision.

It is important to remember that the best deck for any given event is not necessarily the deck that wins that event. I can think of numerous occasions throughout my career where I had the “right” deck and faced a sea of absurd, unpopular decks that were conveniently favored against my own. With better luck, I could have won these events but of course we play a game of odds and the best deck will not always yield the best results.

2. Rogue for the sake of Rogue.

I would argue that this methodology is always incorrect. I can think of a handful of these players and well over 50% of the time they see little-to-no success at a sizable event and I think the reason for this is self-evident. When you are different for the sake of being different (really in every circumstance) you are willfully disengaged with the game as a whole. There is a time to play rogue and a time to mash Buzzwole hoping to pick up any semblance of points and while these two positions are at odds with each other. I think it is senseless to think in absolutes and see meta players as the enemy.

3. Rogue as a happy medium.

In this case, Rogue is captured more in a transitionary period. Your deck is rogue for perhaps the first event alone and will surely become meta after that point because you took advantage of a small gap in the player bases’ thinking and used almost exclusively popular cards to seize an opportunity. The best example of this I can think of recently would certainly be the emergence of the Buzzwole-GX/Garbodor/Order Pad list that came out of Madison. At this point, it is easily considered a tier one deck, but was a quiet play before Madison and only a select few players opted to play it initially.

I speak of it as a “medium” between the first two options because you are clearly choosing a different approach then simply playing a meta deck while still using mostly meta cards. I think most of the decks I will discuss today will certainly fall somewhere in #2 or #3 and I will do my very best to explain under what circumstances I would play one deck over another.

When preparing your own deck for the North American International Championship, a final introductory point that should be of note is that it is important not to worry about every single deck. Doing that will be an unnecessary amount of stress and lead to potential poor decision in your final few cards in a list. This is a problem that I know I have personally struggled with for most of my career and only recently do I think that I have finally addressed it within my own line of thinking. Simply put, you will never be able to beat every deck that every player will choose to play and if you go out of your way in an attempt to do so, your list and play will likely suffer.

It is very important to think of the fringe decks as a slight possibility and still work on gearing your decks toward the Big 3 (and perhaps a few others). You have nine rounds and need to win seven, and in theory, if your deck is good enough against the majority of the room, you can suffer those early losses and still make cut by beating everything else. The fringe, lower tier decks have the potential to beat any good players but there are just mountains and mountains of statistics that prove that these decks are seldom capable of making day 2 at a big event.
Dusk Mane Necrozma-GX/Garbodor may have the best matchup against you that you could possibly imagine, but knowing that almost no one will play this deck, you should not worry about playing or teching for it. Take the loss should you be unlucky enough to face it and move on. As mentioned previously, this is a game of luck and every top player who has won a massive event has always had to get lucky a couple of times to get where they are. Play to the higher percentages and hope that luck happens to be in your favor that day and beyond that, there is nothing you can do but play your best and hope for the best! With that in mind, I pray that everyone takes these decks seriously but certainly do not go out of your way to worry about them.

Being a constant worrier, I know how easy it is to let even seeing one person playing in the open play area playing your worst matchup get to you but I promise once you attempt to maintain some degree of “metagame stoicism,” your life will become all the easier.


Volcanion-EX has fallen quite a long way from the very start of the season and is close to forgotten at this point. I personally think this to be the weakest of the three decks I will discuss today, but after reading through recent League Cup results, I have seen that it is showing some signs of light and so I wanted to discuss it.

Since the rise of Zoroark-GX, Volcanion-EX was able to maintain some semblance of a presence by somewhat “countering” the best card in the format. Zoroark-GX lacks any meaningful way to do much beyond a 2HKO while 210 is still an achievable number number with multiple Steam Ups. I have a good friend who has played this deck for a majority of the season and even won a League Cup recently with it in a sea of Buzzwole, so perhaps it is much better than we are giving it credit:

Pokémon – 12

4 Volcanion STS
4 Volcanion-EX
2 Tapu Lele-GX
1 Staryu BKP
1 Starmie EVO

Trainers – 34

4 Professor Sycamore
4 Guzma
3 Cynthia
2 N


4 Ultra Ball
4 Max Elixir
2 Field Blower
1 Super Rod
4 Choice Band
3 Float Stone

3 Brooklet Hill

Energy – 14

14 R

This list is within a few cards of what my friend Sam Liggett used to win a Memphis League Cups a few weekends ago, and while I am personally skeptical, I trust Sam. Perhaps it is because I related to Sam in some capacity as both of us are former top players who have let life get the better of them while letting our time in Pokémon decline, but still, we both try to do our very best when we are able to make it out to tournaments and so despite my general skepticism, I will give his results the benefit of the doubt.

Volcanion has always worked by doing its best to annoy you with the effectiveness of the non-EX Volcanion that serve to soften up most Pokémon while powering up your major threat. 130 happens to be a very difficult number for a lot of decks to hit right now which should give each non-EX the means to attack multiple times. Beyond that, you have Starmie and plenty of R Energy to attempt to make Steam Up as effective as possible each turn and hopefully win a long game through consecutive 1HKOs on large threats.

As a deck, I would argue that it occupies a similar space in our RPS Triangle as Lapras-GX. You forgo the brokenness and utility of Beast Ring and simply attempt to chain as many fast, big knockouts as possible while not giving your opponent enough time to stabilize and respond. There are a handful of fringe decks I would imagine you are very favored against, while obvious decks like Greninja are likely unwinnable. Under perfect draws, I can think of various game states where both Buzzwole and Malamar decks can be winnable, but I would be lying if I said I did not remain cynical.

Zoroark-GX decks are probably manageable, especially if Golisopod-GX ends up being the partner of choice in Columbus. I think this deck certainly does have more viability than we give it credit for, but I cannot help but believe that it is simply a worse iteration of the popular non-GX heavy Buzzwole list. You have Max Elixir and Beast Ring to provide the same acceleration that that baby Volcanion can offer and the ability to chain multiple 1 Prize threats but you lack the power of Lycanroc-GX. Furthemrore, 180 HP on your main attacker happens to be perfectly vulnerable to Moon’s Eclipse-GX and you reliance on a full board makes Parallel City all the more effective against you.

Alolan Ninetales-GX

Every season I play, I tend to have a pet deck that I come back to every format to try and make work. Last year, I spent far too much time across multiple formats trying to make Lurantis-GX work (ignoring the actually competitive, but vehemently unfun, Vileplume deck) before acknowledging that it was not going to be better than tier 3, and this year, this deck happens to be Alolan Ninetales-GX. I am reasonably confident in my assumption that I have spent more time on this deck than any other player in the world. A large part of this is undoubtedly due to the fact that I cannot get enough of the Pokémon since it has always been one of my favorites and I am at least somewhat happy to report that the deck is still fine. Not great, but not bad either, and with powerful enough draws, I think it could easily score a 7-2 record.

If Lapras-GX is still considered a viable option then I think Alolan Ninetales-GX should be considered because I think it is strictly much better than Lapras. I functions very similarly and wants to stream consecutive 1HKOs on the entire format and I think it does so better for multiple reason. At the cost of needing to evolve (though Alolan Vulpix still has one of the best attacks in the game) you get a Pokémon with more HP, attacks that do more damage and a GX attack that actually impacts the board. Ice Path-GX is better against Zoroark-GX decks and has limited viability against Buzzwole and Malamar but it is just so much better than Ice Beam-GX.You also get the added utility of the Safeguard Ninetales that proves incredibly difficult for several decks to handle and while I still write this one off as a pet project, it is hard to beat when you draw optimally.

Pokémon – 16

4 Alolan Vulpix GRI
3 Alolan Ninetales-GX
1 Alolan Ninetales BUS
2 Remoraid BKT 32
2 Octillery BKT
2 Tapu Lele-GX
1 Mewtwo EVO
1 Latios SLG

Trainers – 31

4 N
4 Professor Sycamore
3 Guzma
2 Professor Kukui
1 Brigette


4 Ultra Ball
4 Aqua Patch
4 Choice Band
2 Float Stone
2 Field Blower
1 Super Rod

Energy – 13

9 W
4 Double Colorless

Not a lot has changed since the last time I wrote on the deck (or since the fall). The biggest addition has been the non-GX Psychic Pokémon that seemed to have made an appearance in so many decks this format, and that is for good reason. You just simply want as many options as possible against Buzzwole and few cards do a better job of that than Mewtwo and Latios. As an added benefit, the spread factor has always been important in this deck to help Blizzard Burn reach 210 and so an early Latios can be key to preparing Alolan Ninetales-GX to deal with Zoroark-GX or a Fighting Fury Belt’d Buzzwole-GX. The most obvious omission from the deck is Brooklet Hill. I am pained to not be able to fit it in the list, but ideally we will still play against Buzzwole a majority of the time and can take advantage of their own copies of the card.

This deck is harder for me to gauge within the RPS Triangle, and I think that is due to the somewhat-inconsistent nature of the deck. Aqua Patch is an incredible card, but some games it will do next to nothing, while in others you’ll have four Energy on the board by your second turn and have no problem streaming all the KOs that you need. At risk of sounding too bold, I will say that I think this deck beats everything with good enough draws, and across the board, I think it has a chance in every matchup that does not feature metal energy or Gardevoir-GX.

As bold as this may sound, the overall consistency of the deck does leave something to be desired, and while I remain confident and consistent in my own testing of the deck, I know that there are some games you will lose simply because you missed the early Brigette, failed to get Octillery on the board on fast enough, and so on. 7-2 remains a realistic end for the deck, and assuming you are fine against the Big 3 and most fringe decks, it seems like a fine play to me. But, I think the deck I talk about next is almost the exact same thing, but more consistent, and so let us save our final verdict before discussing it.

Tapu Bulu-GX/Vikavolt

While riding on the momentum of the last bold claim, I would be remiss if I did not begin this section with an even bolder one: Tapu Bulu-GX straightup beats every deck (except Gardevoir-GX, maybe Mikey is really onto something) when it draws well. Now that I have (hopefully) captured your attention, I will caveat that claim by saying that while the deck is incredible, it is also incredibly inconsistent at times. Even with the best lists, the concept as a whole is forced to play a handful of awkward cards that are so useless if you do not have them at the right times.

This deck is the ultimate highball deck right now, and in a event as large and as difficult as the NAIC, your best attempt at greatness is to risk it all with something like this. When you get turn two Vikavolt into a turn two Tapu Bulu-GX attack, it is almost impossible to lose, but in every game where that does not occur, you tend to struggles and suffer. This deck has been little more than a meme for the whole season, and I think it has maintained this status for obvious reasons.

I think my own view on the matter has been somewhat skewed on the matter, as there is a local player in my area who has never diverged from this deck for the whole season. His list is suboptimal and his own play with the deck leaves even more to be desired, but I have never seen him with anything less than an above average record and I think that is why the deck has been on my mind since Madison. I will let you the readers be the final judge on this matter, but I think my list does have a few new tricks to it that are certainly worth your consideration!

Pokémon – 15

4 Grubbin SUM
3 Vikavolt SUM
3 Tapu Bulu-GX
2 Tapu Lele-GX
1 Xurkitree-GX
1 Oranguru SUM
1 Mew FCO

Trainers – 32

4 Professor Sycamore
3 Guzma
3 N
2 Skyla
1 Brigette


4 Ultra Ball
4 Rare Candy
4 Choice Band
2 Field Blower
1 Nest Ball
1 Heavy Ball
2 Energy Recycler
1 Max Potion

Energy – 12

7 G
5 L

The core of the deck is as evergreen as it has been, and like most lists, I owe most of my choices to the KicaBulu list. You want to play as many cards as possible in order to maximize your odds of the turn two Vikavolt, and for that reason, cards like Skyla remain necessary to play. Brigette is often not found in this list, but I think it is too good to ignore in this current format. In any game you fail to get multiple Grubbin on the board simultaneously, you can lose to just anything as they will go out of their way to target them down and prevent you from achieving anything.

The only real tricks that I have added to the list are Xurkitree-GX and Max Potion. The logic for the former is that most Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX list have opted to away from any copies of basic F Energy and simply play 4 Strong and 4 DCE, and if that is the case, you get an automatic win. Some Zoroark-GX/Garbodor lists also only play DCE and Unit Energy, and provided they do not have Garboxotin in play, you will provide a great annoyance with Xurkitree-GX’s ability.

Max Potion is a card I have added as a result of my own time playing against the deck and its justification is simple. Most decks struggle against healing in the current format, and against Tapu Bulu-GX, you have to try to go out of your way to get them to trigger Tapu Wilderness-GX at a suboptimal time in order to have a chance against them. Thusly, the logic: if healing is already difficult for some decks to overcome, then another added healing effect is likely to make close matchups ever-so tilted toward your favor now. Like Tapu Wilderness-GX, it can be difficult to use perfectly but in the games where you find it at the exact right moment, you will devastate your opponent and likely sweep the game from there.

I made an attempt to hint at this in my Alolan Ninetales-GX section, but to put it clearly, I think that this deck does everything that the two previous lists attempt to do more effectively. Instead of Aqua Patch, you play a Stage 2, but get the benefit of finding the energy from the deck instead of out of the discard and with plenty of Choice Band, you can make short work of almost every attacker in the game. Tapu Wilderness-GX is similar but usually better than Ice Path and you get the added benefit of Mew to threaten Psychic-weak Pokémon as well.

There is probably an argument to be made to play Mewtwo or Latios over the Xurkitree-GX, and that is definitely something I am considering as it hedges further against the Fighting decks and gives you another attack that can take some pressure off your poor Grubbins. Truly, it pains me to say that I am considering this deck for this weekend. I know it has issues and somewhat skews to the inconsistent side but when it draws well, it feels unstoppable and I am struggling to ignore that. The real question on this deck: how lucky are we feeling this weekend?

Closing Thoughts

Well, there you have it! I hope I have done a successful job in bringing your attention to some less popular decks for the NAIC. Calling any of these decks “rogue” is of course somewhat of a stretch but as most of our attention is justifiably focus on the Big 3, it is still important to think about the less popular options out there. None of these decks will be popular but I do think that they will all be played in some capacity. To close, here are (in order) the decks i expect to be the most popular this weekend:

  1. Buzzwole/Lycanroc-GX
  2. Buzzwole-GX/Garbodor
  3. Zoroark-GX/Golispod-GX
  4. Psychic Malamar
  5. Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX

I think that you can likely make an argument to rearrange any of the decks but I feel fairly certain that this list will prove itself to be very close to the truth. Right outside this deck are probably Greninja followed by Ultra Necrozma-GX/Malamar and maybe even Espeon-GX/Garbodor. What do you think the list should look like? Please feel free to let me know how you would adjust this big 5!

I cannot remember the last time I felt this excited about an event. Like many, I am praying to find some of those kicker points to finish my invite this year but naturally I would love to win it all if the opportunity presents itself. I was in a similar position last year and was able to close my invite with a 5-1-3 finish so doing better than is my primary goal. I want to wish everyone the best of luck in Columbus and cannot wait to see many of you there.
Until next time!

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