Remember back when the Pokémon anime was first starting out? Ash wasn’t getting along with Pikachu, some annoying girl named Misty was harassing him all the time, and then a giant flock of Spearow in a thunderstorm just about killed him. After all the excitement had ended, a rainbow had appeared. Flying across the sky, a giant, unidentifiable bird Pokémon passed by. What in the world was it? At the time, nobody knew; it was a mystery. Now we know that Pokémon was Ho-Oh, the Rainbow Pokémon. Well, the Ho-Oh deck is very similar to its inception in the cartoon. Nobody really knew what it was, what it could do, or how to explain it. So let’s go through the deck and try to figure out the mystery that is known as Ho-Oh.
If you’ve been following me at all on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been using a Ho-Oh deck during City Championships. Overall, I’ve had a ton of success with the deck, much to the surprise of everyone (including myself). In the eight tournaments I’ve used Ho-Oh, I’ve won four times, made Top 4 twice, and made Top 8 another time; we won’t talk about the other day. Somewhere along the way, I also racked up a nice 28 game winning streak. So, this leaves a lot of questions for people. How can you win that many games in a row? What’s even in this deck? Didn’t this deck exist before Boundaries Crossed? Why is it good?! In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what two-time World Champion Jason Klaczynski describes as “a deck that makes no sense.”
Before I start, I want to mention that I will not be sharing my decklist, and there are a few reasons for that. Number one is that I don’t like how publicizing lists discourages people from being creative. While this deck may not be the most unique idea in the world, I have put plenty of work into it to make it my own; you can do the same. Next, this is a tricky deck that you’re going to have to mess around with a few times to get the hang of it. If you copy my list and play it blindly, you’re not going to understand how it works. Again, deck building should be a process where you learn what works and why, and simply copying a list does not provide that. Finally, I would prefer not to play against carbon copies of my deck at events. The game is more fun when people come up with their own lists and use different cards. Part of what makes Pokémon so great is the creativity it allows. Subtle changes can be the difference between winning and losing. In fact, my list for the deck has changed drastically throughout Cities, and it might change again after I finish this article.
To start off, we’ll cover the basics. Now, I mean that literally, because every Pokémon in this deck is going to be a Basic. In general, the questions I’ve received about the deck have been pertaining to the Pokémon section, so it’s only natural to start here. Which ones should you run? How many of each do you run? What do you attack with? Honestly all of these are based on personal preference. But I’ll take you through the ones that definitely should be in your Ho-Oh deck and discuss why.
Okay, this one should be a no-brainer; the name of the deck has to come from somewhere. But what exactly is the purpose of Ho-Oh EX? Do you attack with it or not? Well, most of the time, the answer is no. To be honest, Rainbow Burn is a very mediocre attack on a 160 HP EX. In fact, in a lot of games, a Ho-Oh won’t even hit your field. Why is it here then? For the most part, we’re going to be using it for its Ability, Rebirth. Early on in the game, things are going to be slow normally. You’ll have time to manually attach to your Pokémon and power them up. As things start to pick up, though, you may find yourself needing an extra Energy in play in order to use a crucial attack. In those situations, you would use Rebirth to bring back a Ho-Oh with three Energy, and then use Energy Switch to power up the Pokémon you want. To give yourself this option, you’ll want to do what you can to get a couple Ho-Oh into the discard pile as soon as possible. Cards like Ultra Ball, Professor Juniper, and Computer Search will do this for you.
So when is Ho-Oh going to be most useful? Against decks with Sableye and Crushing Hammer, you would be dead in the water without it. Imagine if you could attach only one Energy per turn, and your opponent could get back two Crushing Hammers every turn. Odds are you would get your Energy removed over and over, and you would lose. However, with Rebirth on your side, you can pop three Energy out of nowhere and start attacking. In some situations, attacking with Ho-Oh will be your best option, and it’s normally against Sableye decks. On the other hand, you want to avoid putting it into play against Blastoise/Keldeo at all costs. When it comes down to it, Ho-Oh is a very fickle card that needs to be used with caution. If you’re not careful, you can give up two prizes very easily. Oh, and try to avoid starting with it; that’s no good.
If you’ve been playing the game at all in the past year, you know exactly what Mewtwo EX does. Hands down, it is the most versatile and powerful Pokémon in the game. In most cases, this will be your main attacker. In pretty much every matchup, attacking with X-Ball is going to be a viable option at some point. If the game degenerates into a Mewtwo war, normally you won’t mind because you should have a high Mewtwo count and Energy acceleration on your side. Just be careful when using it. If you aren’t, you can lose the game very quickly. Then again, the same is true for any deck using Mewtwo; it is the definition of a glass cannon. With just a Double Colorless Energy, you’re on your way to opening Pandora’s Box.
Without a doubt, Terrakion has to be the strongest non-EX attacker in the format. For just two Energy, Retaliate can hit for 90 damage, which makes it a 2HKO on almost any Pokémon out there. However, what makes it truly powerful is its type, Fighting. Why is this important? To put it simply, Darkrai EX is the answer. Since it was released, the big Dark Basic has been giving people nightmares, and the one thing to keep it in check has been Terrakion. All it takes is a few Energy after a Pokémon gets Knocked Out, and Terrakion is there to respond with 180 damage from Retaliate; that’s just enough to KO Darkrai EX in one hit! While this is the main function of the Cavern Pokémon in this deck, it is always going to be a solid card. 90 damage for two Energy on a 130 HP non-EX Pokémon is going to be good regardless. At the heart of it all, the Ho-Oh deck is nothing more than a glorified Mewtwo/Terrakion deck with a few extra tricks added in.
As the format has shifted more towards attacking with big EX Pokémon, Bouffalant has become that much stronger. Thanks to its Bouffer Ability, it’s going to survive a lot longer than a normal Pokémon would. If you pile an Eviolite on top of that, you’re taking 40 less damage from every attack! For those who really want to get crazy, Aspertia City Gym can give the Bash Buffalo Pokémon even more survivability. Of course, durability alone won’t make this a good card; it needs a good attack to go along with it. Gold Breaker provides just that. For three Colorless Energy, you can hit a normal Pokémon for 60 damage, and you’ll hit an EX for 120! If you can manage to power it up efficiently, Bouffalant is going to be one of the most cost efficient attackers in the game. In a lot of situations, you’ll be able to KO an EX in two hits, and they’ll be able to do the same. The difference is that Bouffalant gives up only one prize as opposed to their two! While it doesn’t fare amazingly well against the likes of Mewtwo EX or Keldeo EX, it’s going to put a hurt on Darkrai EX and Tornadus EX. An added bonus is that you won’t take much bench damage from Darkrai EX’s Night Spear or Landorus EX’s Hammerhead. Currently Bouffalant may be the most underrated attacker in the game. Look out for this guy.
Okay, so these are the main Pokémon that should be in your deck from the start. If you aren’t running these, I would start. Here are some others that you may consider adding, too.
Since you’re already running Fighting Energy, why not throw in a Landorus EX, too? In general, Terrakion is going to be the one covering your Fighting Weakness, so that’s why Landorus isn’t in the staple section. What is it here for then? Of all the Pokémon in this deck, none of them have a simple attack that can do damage for one Energy. Sure, Mewtwo can X-Ball for a DCE, but that’s not the same. Hammerhead gives you an option to put pressure on your opponent immediately with a simple 30/30 attack. If you’re worried about Rayquaza/Eelektrik decks being popular in your area, Landorus is a must. Being able to KO Tynamos for a single Fighting Energy is a game changer. On top of that, Land’s Judgment is just an attack that can provide “oomph” in certain situations. Sometimes you just need a Pokémon that can do 150 damage to KO a Hydreigon. Overall, it’s hard to argue against including Landorus in the deck, but there is one drawback – its weakness. If you start with this against a Blastoise/Keldeo deck, you might as well just have your opponent start with four prizes instead of six. All it takes is a Secret Sword for three Energy, and your Landorus EX is as good as gone. Is it worth running this guy if you already run Ho-Oh, a similarly bad starter against Blastoise/Keldeo? That’s for you to decide.
With the spike in decks focused around purely EX Pokémon, the natural counter was for people to start including Sigilyph into their decks. In fact, we saw this taken to the extreme when a deck based around four Sigilyph won the SEA Regional Championships. For a few weeks, just a single Sigilyph could be enough to ruin a person’s whole strategy. If your opponent had run out of non-EX attackers, a lone Sigilyph would sweep the rest of the game thanks to its Safeguard Ability! Personally I played a few games where my opponents decked out as they were unable to KO my Sigilyph. As time went on, though, the Avianoid became less effective as people began to counter it. So, that’s why the peculiar purple Pokémon is sitting in this section; it purely depends on the metagame. If people aren’t taking it into account, it’s very powerful. If they are, it’s very weak. You’ll have to decide if it’s good enough to make the cut.
When I suggest Tornadus EX, you can use it in two different ways. On one hand, you could focus a good portion of your deck on it with multiple Tornadus EX and Aspertia City Gym. That way, you can apply pressure early on with Blow Through, and a 190 HP Basic is pretty powerful. If you feel like this is the correct way to go, give it a try. Otherwise, you can just throw one of these guys into your deck. Overall, Tornadus EX is probably the most “neutral” card we have in the format. While it’s not especially good at anything, it’s not going to be bad either. Against a Blastoise/Keldeo deck, you can take advantage of their Tropical Beach by using Blow Through for 60 to KO a Squirtle. If you’re up against Landorus EX or Terrakion, Tornadus also comes in handy there thanks to the Fighting Resistance. Again, the big genie is never going to be a spectacular card, but it has its moments.
With the popularity of Blastoise/Keldeo, you may consider running a Shaymin EX to get an easy KO on a Keldeo EX. Once your opponent takes two prizes, a Revenge Blast will do enough (after Weakness) to take out the pesky pony. In addition, Shaymin EX can give you a final attack against a lot of decks, being able to max out at 180 damage. Unfortunately, Shaymin’s downfall is the same as it’s always been, its measly 110 HP. While it may seem like a good counter to Keldeo EX, the reality is that a Secret Sword with three Water Energy is just enough to OHKO the poor fella. Pretty much anything in today’s format will be able to do the 110 damage necessary to take Shaymin out, making it an extremely risky card. If you start with it, things are not going to end well normally. If you draw it too soon, you may be forced to discard it with a Juniper. So, even though Shaymin EX can win you games, it may be more trouble than it’s worth.
When I talk about Virizion, I’m referring to the one with Double Draw and Leaf Wallop. Even though this card is very weak for today’s standards, it does have its niche uses. For example, you can KO a Squirtle with Leaf Wallop on the second turn or hit a Keldeo EX for 80, setting it up for a KO on the following turn. In addition, it is one of the most efficient counters to Terrakion in the whole format, once again due to its type. On a good day, you can Catcher a Tynamo and KO it. Double Draw may be able to bail you out of a dead hand, too. Beyond this, though, Virizion has very little use. When it comes down to it, hitting for 40 damage just doesn’t cut it anymore. Some have suggested using the Virizion from Emerging Powers to OHKO Keldeo EX, but its attack cost is too hefty for it to work. If you really want to run a Grass Pokémon, Leaf Wallop might be your best bet sadly.
Is Sigilyph really popular in your area? Consider adding in Meloetta. For just one Psychic Energy, Psychic will be able to KO a Sigilyph that has two or more Energy attached to it. In very strange situations, you’d be able to KO a Mewtwo EX that has four Energy attached to it. Otherwise, this Pokémon isn’t going to be useful in many situations. Unless you’re hitting for Weakness, you’re normally not doing enough. Sure, the potential to attack for one Energy is nice, but the 80 HP is too fragile. In fact, you could lose to a Mewtwo EX + DCE on the first turn if you start with Meloetta! Unless you’re living in a world where everyone is using quad Sigilyph, you might be better off keeping this Pokémon out of your deck for now.
Okay, so you know what Pokémon are in the deck. What’s the goal? Well, that’s what makes Ho-Oh unique. For Blastoise/Keldeo, your goal is to get a Blastoise as soon as possible, load up a Keldeo EX, and Secret Sword to victory. For Rayquaza/Eelektrik, you want to get a bunch of Eelektrik into play and use Dragon Burst with Rayquaza EX to OHKO everything every turn. For Ho-Oh, you don’t really have a set strategy. First you want to see what Pokémon you start with. Then, look at your hand. Look at what your opponent is playing. Assess the matchup. Figure out your best plan of action for the situation, and… well, that’s about it. I wish there were an easy way to describe how to play the deck, but there isn’t. As such, Ho-Oh becomes a very difficult deck to play. If you bench the wrong thing, you can lose. If you attach Energy to the wrong spot, you can lose. If you attack with your Pokémon in the wrong order, you can lose.
If I could stress anything, it’s that this is not an easy deck to play perfectly. On top of that, you’re going to need a lot of patience. Ho-Oh relies heavily on solid fundamentals and making big decisions under pressure. Every turn you are going to be presented with a ton of options, and it’s going to be difficult to determine what the best one is. However, the randomness of your deck also makes it difficult for your opponent to deal with everything; that is the positive side. Even though I can’t give you a simple overview of how to use the deck, I’ll go through some popular matchups and see if I can explain how to approach them.
Without a doubt, this may be the strangest matchup in the format. In general, your strategy is going to make them KO two non EX Pokémon and two EX Pokémon. If you can lead off with Bouffalant or Sigilyph, that’s the way to go. Tornadus EX or Mewtwo EX are acceptable attackers, too. As long as you don’t start with Ho-Oh or Landorus, it’s going to be a close game. Basically all this game is going to boil down to is whether or not you can score big KO’s with your Mewtwos or not. If you can KO the only Squirtle on board before it evolves, definitely do that. Otherwise, focus on taking down three EX’s to win this matchup. Since you won’t really be able to use your Ho-Oh in this matchup, you’ll have to be very smart with Energy attachments. Double Colorless Energy is your best resource; don’t waste them if you can help it.
All I can say is that this is going to be a war of attrition. Both of you will have big Basic Pokémon barreling down on each other. The only question is which ones do you attack with? Early on, Bouffalant seems like a good option to nail their EX’s for a lot of damage. The typical response to this is either Terrakion or a Mewtwo EX’s X-Ball. If they decide to X-Ball, you can be content with starting the Mewtwo war. Basically the only difference between these two decks is that you run Ho-Oh, but they don’t. So, you can get some Energy acceleration while they can’t. Of course, the tradeoff is that they have room for more luxury cards like PlusPower, Max Potion, etc. So, it’s going to be a pretty even matchup. However, pay attention if they run out of non-EX attackers. You may be able to steal a win by walling with Sigilyph!
Since there are several different Darkrai variants, it’s tough to cover all of them. In general, we are going to assume that they’re using Crushing Hammer. If they aren’t, the matchup is pretty simple. Drop down Terrakion, power it up, and Land Crush to victory! If only things were that easy all the time. No, most of the time you’re going to have to deal with a barrage of Crushing Hammers, Enhanced Hammers, and Sableye getting them all back. Yuck! Honestly this is just one of those matchups that you’re going to have to play a few times to figure out. Overall, Terrakion is going to be your savior, but only if you use it correctly. If you bench it too soon, Crushing Hammer and Catcher will get it before you can do anything. Your best bet is to try to set up a big turn with Energy Switch to pull off a Retaliate OHKO on Darkrai EX. Early on in the game, you’re going to be trying to get Ho-Oh into the discard so you can Rebirth and get your precious Energy back onto the field. If you can apply some early pressure to KO a Sableye, go for it. Mewtwo will be your best bet at doing that. Otherwise, you’re going to be in for a long, drawn out game. Play carefully and don’t bench too many Pokémon that can be stranded by Pokémon Catcher. Really that’s all the insight I can give!
If you’re facing a version with Hydreigon, the matchup does change quite a bit. Obviously Max Potion is going to be your biggest enemy here, and Hydreigon as an attacker is pretty annoying, too. It’s all going to come down to that turn where you need to Retaliate with Terrakion to OHKO a Darkrai EX. If you hit it, you’re golden. If not, you’re in trouble. Lead off with Landorus EX if you can; just one of these guys can be enough to sweep an entire Darkrai/Hydreigon deck.
Of all the popular archetypes, this may be your toughest matchup. In a perfect world, you want to start using Landorus EX to Hammerhead and KO Tynamos as soon as possible. If you can’t cut off the Eelektriks, you’ll have to figure out some way to take all six of your prizes. Take advantage of the fact that you run a bunch of non-EX attackers like Terrakion and Bouffalant. Sometimes you’ll have to attack into a Rayquaza EX with Bouffalant and just hope they don’t have a way to attack you that turn. All it takes is that one turn, and you’re back in the game. Just like every other matchup with Ho-Oh, it’s going to be complicated. Take a look at your situation and determine what your best chance of winning will be. If you can KO all of the Eelektriks, go that route. Otherwise, try to take your simplest route to six prizes. Since their deck can be inconsistent sometimes, you may get a free win from early aggression. But we all know how scary it is to get Dragon Bursted for 180 every game. Once they get fully setup, you’re pretty much done for. Try not to let it happen.
Believe it or not, the mirror match does exist, and it is very complicated. Honestly your strategy will depend on what your opponent does. Both of you have the same cards, which means they’ll have answers to whatever you throw at them. Normally Bouffalant will be a safe bet to lead off, but Terrakion keeps him in check. Try not to start a Mewtwo war if you don’t have to. Sometimes it comes down to who draws a better hand. Other times it will come down to one player outplaying the other. With so many different dynamics, it’s impossible to know how things will play out. Just enjoy the ride!
If you’re just as confused about the deck as you were before you read this article, then I’ve accurately described the mystery known as Ho-Oh. Nobody really knows how it works or why it wins, but it does. The games are always going to be ugly. It doesn’t even have any good matchups! But when it comes down to it, the deck provides just enough options to get you through games. If you can master Ho-Oh, you’ll be wielding a powerful deck that has a chance to win any tournament. If you can’t, don’t feel bad. After all, the deck really doesn’t make sense. One day you could go 7-0, and the next you could go 1-6. But I hope I’ve at least shed some light on what has been the most intriguing deck of City Championships this season. If you have any questions about the deck, feel free to leave them down in the comments.
Will Ho-Oh make a showing at Regionals? We’ll find out!