State Championships are a short week away! Of course, that leaves everyone with tons of questions. How do I prepare? What do you think about this tech? How much of this deck do you expect to see? Let’s be honest, though. All of these questions just lead to one big one…
Yes, that’s the question everyone wants to know the answer to. What deck should I play? If you know can answer this with certainty this far away from the tournament, you probably aren’t putting enough thought into it. Most competitive players (myself included) will tell you that they don’t pick a deck until the night before (or even the day of!) the tournament most of the time. Don’t believe me? When I won US Nationals in 2009, I stayed up until about 2 AM talking to Crim on AIM the night before the tournament. Right then and there we decided to run the same deck and added in a stupid Rayquaza LA tech to beat Flygon decks. It ended up being a terrible decision, but I guess it worked out in the end. If you want more proof, check out Jason Klaczynski’s Worlds report where he comments on his struggle to pick between two decks before he wins his second World Championship. Even Jay Hornung told us that he wasn’t planning on using the deck he piloted to a 3rd place finish at US Nationals, but he made a last minute decision to run it. So, if you’re confused, don’t feel left out.
Why do we struggle so much to pick out a deck for tournaments? Well, there are plenty of reasons. As much as I like to convince myself that Pokémon is a game decided by skill at the table, the reality is that you’re limited by the cards you’re using. You only get 60 cards to work with for an entire tournament, and you have hundreds to choose from. No matter how skilled I am, my Quad Heatmor deck isn’t going to give me a very good chance of winning a tournament. Depending on what other people play, some cards will be better than others. A perfect example of this is a card like Tool Scrapper. In the right environment, this card is an absolute game changer! Just one little card can keep Garbodor decks at bay, change combat math by discarding Eviolite or Dark Claw, and more. If nobody plays Tools, though, it’s absolutely worthless. Of course, there are plenty of other examples of how the playability of cards change based on the metagame, but the point is what matters. It’s difficult to choose what cards to run, and there’s no way to know if you’re making the right choice. When you have to survive Swiss rounds and a Top 16 cut at States, every card in your deck matters; this is why we see top players unable to decide on a list until hours before the tournament.
Outside of small decklist choices, maybe your entire choice of what kind of deck to use can change based on the metagame as well. If you’re expecting to play in a field of decks focusing on Landorus EX, maybe your Eelektrik deck isn’t the best choice. If you notice that everyone has started to put V-Create Victini into their decks, your Plasma Klinklang deck isn’t so strong anymore. You get the idea. For the most part, it is impossible to predict exactly what people will be playing. However, you can get a feel for what’s popular right now. Later on I’ll go over what decks are viable for States, but for now we’ll generalize.
In the first week of State Championships, we have an untested tournament format with a new set, so everything is unpredictable. For that reason, rogue decks are very hit or miss. If you go in expecting a set metagame, you may run into other people trying wacky things that you didn’t prepare for. On the other hand, you could strike gold with a deck nobody saw coming. For a good example of that, look at Curran Hill’s run with the Quad Terrakion deck at last year’s Virginia States. As he expected, he ran into a bunch of Eelektrik decks and swept through the tournament. Now let’s look at what happened to Dan Pang, another player using the same deck. While he was expecting a similar field of Eelektrik decks, instead he was met with Jason Klaczynski’s Mew/Vanilluxe/Vileplume deck. Two brutal losses later, he was eliminated because his deck was equipped to beat the popular decks, not this nonsense! But hey, that’s the risk you take when you run a rogue deck aiming to counter the metagame.
So, what kind of deck should you use for the first week of States? Traditionally I tend to go for a safe choice in the first week. What do I mean by “safe”? For one, I want to use a deck that has proven results in testing. It is consistent and doesn’t rely on any fancy gimmicks to win. To my knowledge, it doesn’t have any auto losses. Basically it has no glaring weaknesses. My deck may not have big advantages over other decks, but I will hope to win through consistency and solid playing. I won’t go overboard by adding a bunch of techs to deal with one matchup. Does that mean this is what you should do? Of course not! Do whatever you feel gives you the biggest advantage. In the past, playing too conservatively certainly has bitten me. Everyone is different. I’m just sharing what has worked for me. Clearly others have had success with riskier deckbuilding, too. Also, this doesn’t mean not to use cards from the newest set. Your testing should show you pretty clearly which cards work and which ones don’t. Go with what works the best for you.
Now that the generalizations are out of the way, let’s focus on some specifics. Going into States, there are a ton of options to work with. Here are some of the decks to consider.
Well, this one should be a no-brainer. Anyone who has played since the release of Dark Explorers knows just how good Darkrai EX is. During Cities it took a hit in popularity due to Landorus and Blastoise, but it surged back near the end of them and for Regionals. If anything benefits from the addition of Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym, it’s this deck. Overall, Darkrai’s biggest strength has been its ability to set up multiple KOs on the field at once with Night Spear. With Dark Claw, you could hit the Active for 110 and a Benched Pokémon for 30, an eventual setup for those 170 HP Pokémon-EX like Mewtwo, Keldeo, and Rayquaza. With Laser + Virbank, you can skip an attack essentially. Let’s say your opponent has two Keldeo EX on board. You play a Laser and Night Spear for 110 + 30, also hitting the benched Keldeo for 30. Next turn you Catcher up the other Keldeo, play another Laser, and KO both at once – a four prize turn! Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you can attack quickly thanks to Dark Patch, and you have Sableye to get back those precious Items whenever you want. Let’s not forget that a Laser + Virbank + Dark Claw with Sableye can KO any Pokémon with 60 HP or less, too. Hands down, this appears to be the most consistent and versatile deck in the format currently. It’s also hard to argue that it isn’t the best one.
Of course, you don’t need to run just Darkrai and Sableye. Since Night Spear requires a Colorless Energy in its attack cost, it allows you to run another type of Energy as well. What can you run with it then? Some people are considering Victini to deal with the Plasma Klinklang matchup. Another option is Landorus EX, which compliments Darkrai’s spreading and is great in a mirror match. There’s also Terrakion, but that lost a lot of power because Retaliate’s extra damage doesn’t activate if a Pokémon gets KOd by Poison from Hypnotoxic Laser. Mewtwo EX is always an option, as are Colorless attackers like Bouffalant and Tornadus EX. I’ve also seen some versions running Lugia EX and Scramble Switch to swoop in for an expected three prize KO on an EX. Then again, you could stick with the tried and true Darkrai/Hydreigon variant. Man, I don’t think Darkrai will ever go away.
Overall, I do feel that Blastoise/Keldeo took a big hit with the release of Plasma Storm. But it’s still a very good deck, and there’s no denying that. Unfortunately for those playing on a budget, you do need Tropical Beach to use this deck optimally. Now more than ever, there is a ton of pressure in the early parts of the game. If you don’t set up in the first few turns, all sorts of Darkrais and Lasers will be knocking on your door, and they aren’t polite; they will knock it down and barge in if you don’t answer. But, as always, a quick setup with Blastoise will result in a big advantage for you. Keldeo EX is great because it has a built-in counter to get around Poison: Rush In. Unfortunately, that 30 damage from Laser + Virbank doesn’t go away, making matchups against Darkrai and big Basic decks more difficult. As a result, you may have to run more Stadiums now, which is unfortunate considering it’s a Stage 2 deck tight for space.
Of course, Blastoise also gained a new friend with Plasma Storm, Black Kyurem EX. With Black Ballista you can OHKO any Pokémon in the format (besides things like Sigilyph), and you can power it up in one turn with Deluge. If you manage to use it in three consecutive turns, you can OHKO three EXs in a row to win the game. Yes, the Lightning Energy cost is a pain, but it’s certainly worth it to do 200 damage. For me, the problem with Blastoise lies in the fact that it’s too difficult to fit everything you want into 60 cards. If you try to tech for Darkrai by adding in healing cards, you leave yourself vulnerable to any Plasma Klinklang decks. If you add Fire Pokémon to deal with Klinklang, you mess up your Energy line by running too many types or by being forced to run Prism instead of Basic Energy. If you tech for everything, you lose consistency. What are you supposed to do? Still, I do believe this will be one of the most popular and strongest decks for States.
Even though I hate decks with no Energy acceleration, I have to admit that this one is growing on me. In a format dominated by Pokémon-EX, Plasma Steel is going to be an incredibly good Ability. Even though Metal attackers are extremely underwhelming, it doesn’t matter when you force your opponent to use sub-optimal attackers (non-EX) as well. Simply put, if your opponent has no attackers outside of Pokémon-EX, you get a free win. Even if you do encounter one or two normal attackers, it’s really not enough to take you down. Before cards like Bouffalant and Terrakion would be played in order to counter Sigilyph’s Safeguard, but what do those do against Cobalion and Cobalion EX? Sure, they make take a few prizes, but eventually they get worn down and lose. The same goes for the Blastoise matchup. Sure, the big turtle can attack, but you’re nuts if you think Blastoise on its own is a reliable way to take down an entire deck. Basically Plasma Klinklang is a deck that takes advantage of the current metagame and deckbuilding, where Pokémon-EX are a focus and normal Pokémon are an afterthought.
For as strong as the deck is, it does have weaknesses. It’s hard to argue that you wouldn’t struggle with a non-EX deck like Empoleon or Garchomp, as rare as they are. Of course, Garbodor decks also shut off Plasma Steel, taking away your only real advantage with this deck. In addition, Klinklang is extremely easy to counter. Unfortunately, Fire is one of the few types with cheap attackers that do tons of damage, and all Metal Pokémon happen to be weak to it. The most common counter will be V-Create Victini, which can do 100 for just two Energy. Blastoise decks can consider Moltres (NXD) instead since it takes one Fire and three Colorless to use Fire Blast. If Klinklang ever gets really popular, it will be countered and become way less effective. However, there is a window for it to do well; it is a deck almost completely dependent on the metagame.
During Cities, this big Basic beatdown deck was extremely successful. Now that we have Hypnotoxic Laser, it only gets more powerful! However, it feels like this deck won’t be as successful during States for some reason. Sure, it gained some powerful new weapons with Laser or even Ether if you want to go that route, but the deck just seems very “blah” to me. As good as these cards are, Laser almost makes them weaker because of how easily Sableye/Darkrai can take advantage of it. Yes, Landorus + Laser should be a winning formula against any Darkrai deck, but it doesn’t always play out that way. The giant retreat cost of Landorus makes it very susceptible to Laser. Sure, you can Switch out of Poison, but then you’ll also have to retreat back to it if you want to attack with it again. To adapt, these decks may need to run a Keldeo EX (Rush In and then Switch back), a free retreat Pokémon, or Audino/Full Heal over Switch. Otherwise, you may find yourself getting stuck with Poison. If you’ve played at all with Laser + Virbank, you know your Pokémon is as good as gone if you don’t get rid of that Poison immediately.
Another hurdle for the deck is the deck we discussed previously, Plasma Klinklang. How do you deal with Plasma Steel with this deck? In the past, you would add Terrakion to deal with Sigilyph’s Safeguard because this deck was so heavily focused on EX attackers. But can Terrakion really take six prizes against a Klinklang deck? Cobalion or Cobalion EX are going to KO your Terrakion at some point, and then what? Laser can do a little damage, but it won’t win you the game. Your best hope is to try to KO the Klink before they evolve. If you add multiple Terrakion, you tend to start with it more, taking away your goal with this deck: aggression. Right now I feel that this deck will decline a lot in popularity because it’s too difficult to fit everything you need into 60 cards.
When you look at it, you can see that Garbodor is probably an outcast in the Pokémon world. Let’s face it… It literally is a pile of garbage come to life. In the TCG, it’s a very similar feeling. It stinks to play against, but it’s always kind of around. At Winter Regionals we saw Garbodor variants burst onto the scene in response to the popularity of Blastoise/Keldeo decks, but will it survive into the States format? My guess is yes. Although it won’t be too popular, it will be a viable deck. Without a doubt, Garbotoxin is the most devastating Ability in the game because it shuts off everything else. Just think of all the decks that rely on those. Darkrai relies on Dark Cloak, Blastoise needs Deluge, and Eelektrik needs Dynamotor. Now that Hypnotoxic Laser is on the scene, decks are finding it harder to fit Tool Scrapper into their lists. Once again, the door opens for Garbodor.
What’s holding this back from being a popular contender then? Depending on which version you’re running, you may just be using an inferior version of an already established deck. For example, the most popular version is Landorus/Mewtwo/Garbodor, which did extremely well at the Mississippi Valley Regionals. Now that Hypnotoxic Laser is out, is it better to run Garbodor or Laser? Keep in mind that Garbodor requires a huge commitment of space, requiring at least a 3-2 Garbodor line and 5-6 Tools. Because of this, it has a hard time fitting Laser and Virbank. Can you really stack up against a deck with all that extra damage output from Laser? Also, Garbodor is one of the decks hit the hardest by Laser. If your Landorus is Poisoned, what do you do? If you Switch, you don’t have any free retreating Pokémon to allow you to send Landorus back out there. However, you must run four Switch in this deck because of Garbodor’s high retreat cost, so Full Heal really isn’t an option. As always, Tool Scrapper also gives the deck fits. Still, if you run into nothing but Klinklang and Blastoise decks, you’re going to have a good day. If not, you may have a short tournament.
No matter what cards come out, one thing holds true: Eelektrik never dies. When Darkrai EX came out, it survived. When Stunfisk came out, it survived. When Landorus EX came out, it survived. When Laser came out, it still survived. Yes, Rayquaza/Eelektrik is still a force to be reckoned with. True, Landorus and Darkrai are more popular than ever. Sure, a lone Tynamo going second is essentially a game loss. But doing 180 damage every turn with Rayquaza EX never goes out of style. The fact is this. If you set up completely with this deck relatively quickly, you beat everything. Whether or not you can do that consistently is the main problem.
In all honesty, Eelektrik is the biggest gamble of all the decks listed here. In my experience, either you destroy someone or have the same happen to you; not many games are close. Most of the games are decided in the opening turns. Are you able to get 3-4 Tynamos in play by the second or third turn? If not, you probably won’t win. But once the Rayquaza train starts rolling, it doesn’t really stop. Keep in mind that you will have to add something to account for the Plasma Klinklang matchup. Fortunately you’re using Fire Energy, so V-Create Victini is an easy fit. Other options are Shiny Rayquaza and Zekrom. Lightning and Fire are two good types to have on your side! In addition, you could run the “old fashioned” version of Eelektrik that focuses on Mewtwo, Zekrom, and Bouffalant. Unfortunately, this version seems to be outdated at this point, but it may pop up still.
Well, those are my predictions for what you’ll see at State Championships. Will there be other decks that pop up? I’m sure of it! The States format always brings us a few new archetypes and rogue decks that aren’t discovered at first glance. But if you’re still asking yourself, “What deck should I play?” I can’t really help you anymore. Now it’s your choice. Trust your testing, trust your judgment, and trust yourself. If you’re going to make any last minute changes, hopefully they’re good ones. In the end, there’s no way to know if you’re running the right deck or not. All you can do is hope your testing paid off.