Down the Rabbit Hole

A Comprehensive Rodent-and-Bird-Filled Guide to Post-Rotation, Post-Bellelba & Brycen-Man Control
“… here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.”

On the morning of July 31, I woke up as usual: brushed my teeth, got dressed, made coffee, etc. However, when I checked my phone, I realized that I had an abnormal amount of messages from friends. These messages shared a common theme: Bellelba & Brycen-Man (BBM) had been banned in the Standard format and I had been robbed of my favorite archetypes. The ban was completely unexpected, and I was left dumbfounded for the rest of the morning. I couldn’t comprehend what justification could possibly be behind the ban.

By definition, I don’t think BBM was worthy of a ban.

The card was good, but it never developed use in a way that warranted a ban. Most cards that get banned follow a general theme, which is that they could be used in a way to remove a deck’s ability to reach a fundamental win condition (i.e., win con). I know that’s worded a bit weird, so allow me to elaborate. The last ban we had in Standard was Lysandre’s Trump Card: a card that allowed the user to shuffle all cards from their discard pile into their deck (except for Lysandre’s Trump Card), and also forced the opponent to do so as well. Disregarding how crazy that effect is, it prevented decks from reaching a win con via deckout. This meant that an archetype built around stalling or milling was incapable of reaching a win condition before they even got to play a card. From my understanding, this was the criteria for considering a card bannable.

Along with BBM, Mismagius UNB was banned as well. Mismagius falls within the criteria I thought was used to determine bans. Although incredibly inconsistent, Mismagius could, in theory, force your opponent to take 4 Prizes on the first turn of the game. You could then use Reset Stamp, which would effectively give your opponent 3 cards to start the game with. Mismagius was never a huge problem due to its insane lack of consistency, but it maintained the ability to pull off such a feat and I can understand that ban. Mismagius had the potential to remove your ability to have an initial hand, which could prevent you from ever really playing the game.

If the hat fits. (Mismagius, I can see the rationale.)

BBM didn’t do this in any manner, so I didn’t understand the ban. The infamously good matchup for decks utilizing BBM was against Baby Blacephalon, but even that wasn’t guaranteed. The Baby Blacephalon player still had a win condition, it was just slim. The reasoning given with the ban was that the card ruined the fun of the game for the more casual player. However, I don’t consider this valid justification, as there are multiple cards within the game that are arguably worse in this way. A card that acts as a gatekeeper for a vast majority of single-Prize attacker (SPA) decks is far more troublesome than a card that doesn’t usually see widespread play and takes a heavily favored matchup against extremely linear decks. If anything, BBM can keep high-rolling, linear decks in check and promote a more skill-intensive format. Hence, I was quite confused with the ban.

Unfortunately, despite my objections, the card is banned. There is no reason to continue complaining about it. Time to move forward. Every deck I held dear to me has been crippled, and the archetype I innovated has been invalidated… What do we do now? How can Control or Mill work without their main method of accelerating their win con? We also lost Oranguru UPR, so it’s looking even worse. Let me walk you through my journey to revive Control.

My initial hopes for an alt-win-con (AWC) deck lied with Mill rather than Control. Cards such as Rhydon UNB, Magcargo CEC, Toxtricity DAA, and Palossand RCL all seemed promising. In theory, a card such as Toxtricity DAA could mill 5 with the assistance of Will. My initial thought process was that Toxtricity milling 5 and then an additional 2 when it is KO’d with a Cursed Shovel attached. Hypothetically, you could net 7 cards milled per turn, which, on paper, sounded pretty encouraging.

However, playing a few games with the deck, I could see the flaws in my logic. First and foremost, the deck takes a horrendous ADP matchup. Even in a perfect world, getting a Risk Taker off with a Cursed Shovel attached and Will to guarantee the flip turn two and every subsequent turn, you will likely only Mill around 21–28 cards (depending on who goes first and/or if the ADP gets turn one Altered Creation). It’s also important to note that Shovel won’t matter on the final knockout that your opponent takes, so it’s more realistically 19–26 cards. That is not enough. The only win conditions you’d have at that point were if the ADP player bricked, you landed a bunch of Crushing Hammers, or if the opponent decides to turbo through their deck for no reason (i.e., luck, luck, or negligence of the opponent).

The flaws of the archetype continue when you consider that the deck often isn’t consistent. You either built the deck with a thick Toxtricity line with lots of Will and Shovels, which is prone to bricking, or you tried to incorporate a draw engine such as Cinccino SSH, but quickly figured out that there isn’t room for all the pieces Toxtricity needs in order to reliably set up and chain attacks. The deck could highroll, but it wasn’t consistent.

With the presence of ADP, I realized that, even if I worked out the perfect list that ran smoothly 99% of the time, attacking Mill was somewhat of a lost cause. From there, I turned my thoughts to the two other major alt-win-con archetypes: Stall and Control. For Stall, there were a few options. Decidueye DAA variants were the easy choice. Deci could wall a lot of things out and can take games purely because the opponent cannot damage Deci. A lot of people initially dismissed Decidueye, as “everything plays counters.” However, I found this logic rather shallow and dismissive. Wall Stall decks adapt to what they need to wall, and saying that a single Duraludon RCL would take the entire game 100% of the time is just unreasonable. I messed around with a Decidueye list but I came to a few conclusions: This was the easy way out, and the deck wasn’t for me. I wanted to play a deck that’s interactive, with a high skill ceiling.

Decidueye, although it proved to be fun and it does have some interaction when faced with a counter, wasn’t the big-brain, mentally-rewarding archetype that I fell in love with in Mill and Control. I wanted to outsmart and outplay my opponent, and Decidueye wasn’t giving me that opportunity to the extent I wanted it to.

In addition, the deck has some inherent consistency issues, which I’m never a fan of.

Looking a little further into Stall, I contemplated a Doll Stall-esque deck with Munchlax UNM and Will, but the concept felt like it was missing an inherent method to close the game. I doubted its ability to prolong a stall, and it could be crippled by an untimely gust.

With all that in mind, I moved onto the most complicated and easily the most mentally rewarding of the AWC archetypes: Control. Despite losing both Oranguru and BBM, Control seemed the most promising. It has quite a few tools at its disposal, it just seemed as if it would struggle to close games without a reliable method of mill. However, as I’ve said time and time again, Control will adapt and overcome.

My first thoughts when considering a Control deck without BBM were about UPR–UNM Pidgey Control, a deck that became one of the most potent decks in the format without the use of BBM. Pidgey’s gameplan was to trap something useless in the Active (whether that be via gust-trapping with Custom Catchers or removing all the Energy off an attacker with Articuno-GX’s Cold Crush-GX attack) and hand-locking the opponent with Reset Stamp, Mars/Jessie & James, and Chip-Chip Ice Axe. After the hand lock, Pidgey could loop Crushing Hammers and Mars in order to ruin the opponent’s boardstate and remove the opponent’s resources. Considering the tools we have access to in the current Standard format, we could play to a similar win condition with Crushing Hammers, Galar Mine + Boss’s Orders, Lucario & Melmetal-GX, Reset Stamp, Jessie & James, and Chip-Chip. We don’t have Oranguru, but we do have Excadrill UNM.

However, I quickly realized the flaw with this concept: Pidgey was able to mill, in a sense, because it could discard reliably with Mars. The Pidgey player could perform a pseudo-mill by using Reset Stamp again and discarding random cards the opponent drew off of Reset Stamp with Mars, potentially discarding vital resources. Without Mars, this is far less realistic. Mars was extremely synergistic with Oranguru because, with a 0-card deck, Oranguru could order its Resource Management so that Mars was their topdeck and that allowed the Pidgey pilot to draw the other two resources they retrieved and discard the opponent’s cards. The actual line of play was a bit different, as they would incorporate cards like Pal Pad and Pidgeotto’s Air Mail Ability in order to maximize their resource recycling, but the concept is the same: Mars allowed for an efficient way to both draw cards and act as a pseudo-mill to make up for a lack of active mill.

However, we don’t have access to Mars anymore. Jessie & James is the closest alternative to accomplishing this goal, but it’s far too discard-intensive on the pilot’s side, and it’s hard to loop effectively.

J&J is not quite Mars.

Especially with Cinccino, which needs to discard in order to draw cards, the Control pilot would quickly run out of things to discard, which would leave you susceptible to a deck-out. It’s not realistic to loop with Cinccino. We still have access to Pidgeotto, but, even with the perfect boardstate, you would essentially be retrieving four resources, one of which would need to be J&J, two of which you’d want to discard, and you would still need to have access to Reset Stamp and Chip-Chip (ideally more than 1 Chip-Chip, as there won’t always be a bad card within the top three). You cannot fit all of that into one Rototiller, so you’d likely be attempting to do that once every two turns. However, at that point, you’d have minimal ability to loop Crushing Hammers as well. Essentially, Jessie & James as a pseudo-mill option is too high maintenance and unrealistic to loop.

So where does this leave us? We need a way to dispose of cards that break the lock. Otherwise, the opponent will eventually draw into their vital resources. By locking with Galar Mine and LucMetal-GX, there are four main resources that interfere with the lock:

  1. Switch,
  2. Supporter-based switch options such as Mallow & Lana and Bird Keeper,
  3. counter Stadiums, and
  4. Energy.
An attempt to thwart Switch.

Initially, Alolan Muk TEU + Scoop Up Net seemed like a decent solution, as it provided a way to aggressively target Switch, easily the most problematic card for the Control player to deal with. However, this didn’t deal with the other three problematic cards and it took Bench space that I quickly realized the deck couldn’t afford. Without BBM’s ability to limit the Bench, cards like Zacian V and LucMetal were on the field permanently post-lock. Bench space was never forgiving and Alolan Muk wasn’t synergistic with that reality. Moreover, Alolan Muk cost 2 slots in the deck, as you needed to run Grimer too, and that resulted in Alolan Muk being a space-costly, Prize-prone, and inefficient tech. We needed another answer.

In order to find a solution to the deck’s lack of inherent mill, I began to browse through all the legal Basic Pokémon in Standard. As a result, I found an option in Rhyhorn SSH. Rhyhorn has the attack Stomp Off, which mills 2 cards for a FC attack cost. Rhyhorn was synergistic with Excadrill, as it shared F Energy as an attack cost. Rhyhorn’s C Energy was also nice because you could use a F Energy and a M Energy to fulfill the cost. (The deck played M Energy in order to power up LucMetal’s Full Metal Wall-GX in one turn with a Metal Saucer, but the M Energy often proved useless after the GX attack.)

Once I added Rhyhorn to the deck, it dawned on me that I could situationally use Chip-Chip to stack a good card on top, allowing me to mill it with a Stomp Off. I dubbed this interaction “Reverse-Chipping” and started messing around with the concept. Reverse-Chipping began to become a centerpiece to my strategy: Chip-Chip locking until I found a good card, using Bird Keeper or Switch to pivot into Rhyhorn (as Galar Mine is in play) and disposing of one of the opponent’s few options to break the lock.

However, I began to notice another issue with the deck: It wasn’t running smoothly. The deck felt inherently clunky and its early game felt excessively vulnerable. I needed to streamline the deck, but also keep room for all the necessary pieces. This proved difficult. LucMetal itself removed a lot of inherent consistency by requiring a second Energy type, Metal Saucers, and a somewhat high-maintenance combo to pull off. It was at this point where a friend directed me toward Mawile-GX.

LucMetal’s main purpose was to provide an option to establish a lock without a reliance on the opponent benching something trap-able. An example of this would be Centiskorch. If Centiskorch were to start Centiskorch V, they could just load up the single Centiskorch VMAX, which inherently counters Energy denial and wouldn’t allow the Control player an opportunity to prevent a sweep. LucMetal gave an answer to this kind of situation. However, Mawile-GX could force the opponent to Bench something trap-able, and provided a less inherently-reliable but more space-efficient and lower-maintenance alternative. Mawile required no Extra energy type, and no Metal Saucers. All Mawile wants is a Surprise Box to increase the consistency of Captivating Wink. Suddenly, I could cut the M Energy for Capture Energy for a major consistency boost, and free additional space.

A boost in consistency? I’ll take it!

After replacing LucMetal, the deck ran considerably better. However, the deck still felt a bit awkward. I was running 3 F Energy and 2 Capture Energy, with my optimal boardstate needing 3 Energy, 2 of which needed to be F. Moreover, I’d need another Energy if I deemed Persian TEU to be necessary in that matchup (which was fairly often). It was at this point that I found Bunnelby RCL. Bunnelby’s attack Burrow discarded a single card for a single C Energy. Although the mill was inherently less powerful, it was far more forgiving on attack cost. With Bunnelby, I would be able to Reverse-Chip whenever the opportunity presented itself, as Bunnelby didn’t require any additional setup from a previous turn. Moreover, I could switch to an inherently more consistent Energy line of 2 F and 3 Capture.

While testing Bunnelby, I realized that it was far better suited for the Reverse-Chipping playstyle. I realized that milling a single card is more inherently synergistic with Rev. Chipping, as you can only set the first card to be a good discard. From there, the additional discard would be a blind discard. With the minimal outs the opponent has, it’s more likely that the blind discard will hit a bad card, increasing your opponent’s chance to draw a good one slightly.

With this final change, the deck felt like it was finally coming together. It ran smoothly a good majority of the time and it was taking games.

After a lot of testing, I’ve landed on multiple possible variants for Control in the post-rotation format. I’m not sure which is optimal, as they each have their advantages and weaknesses, but they all show promise.

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