User blog

Kevin Kobayashi

The Art of Deckbuilding

Kevin walks you through his deckbuilding process, highlighting the various questions he asks when building a deck, and showcases two rogue deck picks in Mega Tyranitar and Lugia.

10/20/2016 by Kevin Kobayashi

Trading card games typically revolve around a few key concepts. You have to possess strong intuition/awareness, have the Ability to create and deliver a sound strategy, and be mechanically adept. But to me, the most valuable part of a trading card game has to be deckbuilding. The reason why I feel that deckbuilding is the most valuable skill to have is because most players lack adequate deck construction knowledge. If you can master the concepts necessary to build decks, than you will hold a monstrous advantage over other players. It’s easy to copy a deck list online, but you are learning deeper aspects of the game when you learn to build decks, which makes you a stronger player. Deck building teaches you more than how to build decks. Have you ever wondered why a metagame is the way that it is, why a metagame has developed the way that it has, or how you can effectively counter a metagame? Deck building will provide insight on all of these things. Good deck building is critical if you want to dominate small areas, and have more knowledge on why/how a large scale tournament’s metagame will develop, leading to better prediction methods as well as providing more options when it comes to your deck selection. Smashing the local metagame by countering your counters every event is worth the investment, and with enough resilience and hard work, you can and will craft decks that other players will google to literally copy card for card. I will tell you from personal experience, there’s something extremely satisfying about logging on to PTCGO and playing against your own deck.

When you think of building a deck, do you first think about the core strategy, or are you more interested in the tech potential? What cards do you want to see in your opening hand? How do you take Prizes? Is your deck aggressive or defensive? What turns are most important to win? When do you need to capitalize? These are just a few of the questions that you have to ask yourself constantly throughout the deck building process. When I build a deck, I typically have a notepad with a black pen, and find a quiet space where I can work uninterrupted. I start to write lists out, realize that they’re incapable and turn the page. After about 20 minutes, I have written on 20 pages of paper. I may take a break because I am feeling flustered, then look again and realize that parts of each list may mesh together, or I perhaps have one really good idea or a plethora of good ideas. Sometimes none of my lists are good. That’s just how it is when you build decks. Sometimes you strike gold. No idea is bad, but rather suboptimal.

Before we continue, I want to stress how crucial it is to accept that you will make mistakes before you make improvements, a part of life and especially deckbuilding. Building a winning list takes a ton of effort, and sometimes it will take hundreds of failed lists before you even understand what you’re doing wrong. This is quite frustrating, especially when you’re trying to participate in a group of established players who already know how to build excellent decks. Sometimes I will theorycraft a list and post it, only to have no responses from anyone as I eagerly wait for a teammate to tell me how great my idea is. Sometimes, even your best ideas will fail. This is just a part of the process.

What cards your deck will draw and what you’re most likely to open with is important to keep in mind, and this idea is often ignored by less experienced deckbuilders. Since Pokémon limits the amount of a card that you can play to a maximum of 4, you will almost always want to establish a ‘core’ of which cards are most important for your deck. Cards like ‘Ultra Ball’ and ‘VS Seeker’ typically run at a 4 count in every deck. These are cards that you want to see often, so you always want to play a maximum count. Every card that you run 4 of will be the ones that you see in your opening hand most often. I like to go through every set and every card (especially promos) when I have a deck idea. Sometimes, one card can spark multiple ideas and I try to incorporate that card into my particular strategy. An example would be Tyranitar, a deck that is extremely complicated to build. Tyranitar needs multiple core cards, and then needs to tech against the metagame on top of that, leaving very little room for space and forcing you to cut some cards that are basically staples. Point being- you have to see if the idea is even worth pursuing in the first place. Why do you think that a certain card is good in the first place? Is it unique or does it fill a specific niche? Does it beat the projected metagame? 

The first step of the deck building process comes from the idea. In this segment, I will be building a Mega Tyranitar deck. I want to highlight my thought process to provide some form of transparency and to give you a better idea of how I think when building a deck. The sole reason why I want to play M-Tyranitar-EX is because it is the only Mega Pokémon that can equip 2 Tool cards at once. Klefki is a Tool card, making M-Tyranitar extremely powerful against other Mega Pokémon since it can abuse Klefki's Ability, "Wonder Lock", which prevents Mega Pokémon from damaging the Pokémon that it is attached to for a turn. Since Tyranitar can take Prizes very quickly once it sets up, one turn will be enough of an advantage to take control and put yourself in a favorable position.

Theory: Mega Pokémon make up a large majority of the current metagame, which puts Mega Tyranitar in a good position because he can attach 2 cards and abuse Klefki STS. When build effectively, M-Tyranitar should be able to beat every Mega deck in the game.

Now that I have my idea, I need to establish a skeleton.

Typically, decks run 14-15 draw cards. While this isn’t always the case, it is the most effective if you want to avoid issues in your consistency. 4 Sycamore, 4 N, 4 Ultra Ball, 2 Shaymin-EX is a nice core for draw, giving you 14 ‘outs’ in your opening hand. Ultra Ball counts as an out because it can search for Shaymin-EX, a critical draw card in both standard and expanded. If you are a new deck builder, I suggest starting with a core including these 14 cards, leaving you with 46 spaces to work with and ensuring some form of consistency with every deck that you build. I then want to begin thinking about how the deck will play itself out. Since the point of my deck is to keep Tyranitar immune with Klefki, I expect survivability and therefore do not require a huge Tyranitar line. I decide to play 3-2 just to be safe, and keep my deck spacious for other cards that help set up a Mega Pokémon. I need to play Items that help my Tyranitar set up, so I fit in multiple copies of Mega Turbo and Tyranitar Spirit Links. I need a starter to deal damage, since Tyranitar’s attack requires damage counters to be effective. Yveltal XY fits extremely well here, due to same typing, Energy cost and provides a solid non-EX attacker. I decide to play 2. Yveltal-EX and Lugia-EX are cards that I want to play to give me pressure if my strategy of setting up Tyranitar goes awry. There’s always a couple of matchups that will directly counter your deck, and a good deck is flexible enough to handle these hard counters. It is extremely important to select the proper techs for the deck to utilize your few spaces that you have left (if you’re lucky to have any at all). Since I play multiple-EX’s and want to set up smoothly, I decide to play a copy of Hoopa-EX. Hoopa can get almost everything in my deck, putting less pressure on our Ultra balls and making my deck a bit more consistent.

I then begin to ponder on how the deck would work with a focus on using Mew as an alternative attacker over playing more Mega support. I've already tested multiple variations of the deck, but haven't attempted to play with a Mew version before). I take out Hoopa-EX and the fluffy EX attacker (Lugia) and decide to play 2 Mew. Mew is a perfect starter for this deck and provides more than just that, it gives the deck a free retreat option, hits popular cards for weakness (M-Mewtwo) and can reliably abuse the attack options provided. After this, I need to fit in a few copies of Klefki, since it’s a core part of my theory on why Tyranitar is good. I want to establish some tech supporter cards at this point, since I decided on my core Pokémon line and my core draw engine. Teammates seems to be a no brainer, a deck like this can fall apart easily so I want to ensure that setting up is always as smooth as possible, and the supporter will be great with Mew. I play 2 copies. I also decide to play 2 Lysandre. Mega Destroyer King deals 110 damage, which is perfect to KO Shaymin-EX if I am unable to get any damage on my intended target. I like Ninja boy here as well, it gives you a ton of potential plays and also works as a switch card. I actually like the idea so much, that I decide to play Umbreon-EX in tandem with it as well. Umbreon gives me an even stronger matchup against Mega Pokémon, and doubles as a way to draw cards after a late game N or any sort of disruption. I also want to play a copy of Giovanni’s Scheme. This gives me an even bigger damage spike for any of my alternate-EX attackers and helps to get damage on the board vs Fairy decks. Umbreon with Giovanni’s Scheme and Ninja Boy is also quite threatening, and provides a ton of utility for only 3 slots. Although I feel reluctant, I also want to play an Absol which opens up big plays for almost all of my attackers. Aside from fueling a crucial KO from M-Tyranitar on an undamaged attacker, it makes Umbreon-EX much more potent.

Now I need to decide on some Item cards. I want to play Puzzle of time over Trainers’ Mail, since this deck should be much slower and therefore is projected to fall behind. Puzzle is more effective in a deck that requires multiple “pieces” to work, and is more reliable in a set up deck over a card like Trainers’ Mail when you play multiple copies of Teammates. Of course switch cards are pretty much staple as well, and I fit a Switch and Escape rope. You can play 2 of either or, but I like to have multiple options and will almost always play 1 of both instead of 2 of either. I then add 10 Energy cards, 4 DCE and 6 Darkness. This is just a hypothesis, but should be efficient prior to testing. Afterwards, I count my cards and see that I am 2 slots over the limit, so now it is time to cut the excess cards that will 1) damage consistency and 2) provide less than the slot allows.


I take a careful look at the list and start to ponder on a few things.

First, what does my opening hand want to look like?

I want to open with a Mew or Yveltal, an Ultra ball and some sort of draw card whether that is an N, Sycamore or Shaymin-EX.

What does my first turn want to look like?

I want to Bench a Tyranitar-EX with an appropriate Active starter (Mew or Yveltal), and attach an Energy card.

I decide to cut a copy of Mega Turbo, and also cut an N (since Giovanni is still considered a draw card). I can still access these cards with Puzzle of Time, which is a large reason behind my decision to cut those two cards. Now my deck is ready to be tested. Before I test, I need to figure out what how my list will trade other decks.

How does this deck trade with other decks?

While it is always matchup appropriate, typically you want to set up a Mega Tyranitar while pressuring the opponent with Yveltal and Mew. As long as you can stay almost even in the Prize exchange, or fall slightly behind you will win the game in the end. You want to set up for a M-Tyranitar sweep so you have to be aware of what your opponent’s deck is capable of, as well as when it’s time to play cards like Teammates, or what targets Puzzle of Time will net you. This deck functions purely on surprise and with any sort of hostility towards it in a tournament environment it will fail miserably. A rogue like this requires an established metagame with players who are not necessarily aware of what you’re able to do until you’ve already done it. With many surprise attackers and techs, you will be able to steal games that your opponent may think they have already won. It is completely fine to fall behind as long as you are planning turns in advance, allocating resources and keeping counts of what is Prized.

Last thoughts on the Destroyer King

Tyranitar is a project that I have worked on for multiple weeks, and despite writing out over 20 different lists I still cannot seem to combine the perfect 60 cards...yet. I love building playable decks out of cards that people do not value, I enjoy the challenge and surprise of my opponents when they cannot beat my rogue deck, and especially feel prideful when I have had no help from another player. Overall this has to be the most difficult decks in the format to build, because you have to keep multiple things in mind. A straight Tyranitar focus will always lose to decks that play Mega hate, whereas a thinner line will not provide enough support to consistently pull off your strategy. Aside from this, the double Tool effect is interesting but quite misleading. If you ply 4 Assault Vest, you open up the possibility of opening with multiple in your hand and those cards are basically dead on turn 1. Same idea with any other Tool cards in the metagame, none of them are particularly strong for Mega Tyranitar, aside from Klefki which is problematic because it can become a starter (although the benefits far exceed the cost). Nevertheless, Mega Tyranitar has a ton of potential, and while the list provided may not be the 100% best or worst way to play the deck, it still is quite fun and I encourage you to try it out for yourself and make adjustments to further improve it.

I’ve been working on a Lugia deck that can capitalize on an opponent’s weak early game and push the tempo into mid game, fighting Mega Pokémon with Bursting Balloon and damage modifiers while absolutely slaughtering set up decks or things that need to evolve to deal damage. I have had a bit of success on PTCGO, and I am still working to make the deck competitive in a tournament setting. It functions similar to Manectric Crobat from last format, but without Crobat, Bats may not be strong enough to justify 8 slots, and can potentially become anything else (including, but no limited to Garbodor, Raichu, Bisharp, or a plethora of the other strong stage 1 attackers in this metagame). As I continue to mix and match different things, the deck continues to evolve and improve. I think you could even play things like a Garbodor line, but the more I figure out the more the deck seems to evolve.

Anyway, that’s all I have for you guys today. Thank you for reading, and I hope to write again very soon.

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