Experts' corner

Daniel Altavilla

The Zebstrika Bible, Pt. 1

Danny goes over everything you need to know about the differing applications of Zebstrika in the Standard Format.

11/06/2018 by Daniel Altavilla

Hey there 60 Cards readers! We just wtinessed my fellow Dead Draw Gaming teammate Jimmy Pendarvis completely obliterate the Portland Regional Championship with our broken Seismitoad EX (FRF; 106) / Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) / Tirtouga (PLB; 27) deck that showcased how powerful a good meta call can be, and even further showed that any format can be pushed to its limits. The list played no cards out of Forbidden Light or Celestial Storm, which means that this could’ve been a concept last Season and would’ve still been extremely good because Ghetsis (PF; 101) , Hex Maniac (ANO; 75) ,  and Puzzle of Time (BKP; 109) don’t affect this deck too heavily. If you have a Seismitoad-EX with a Fighting Fury Belt on it, your opponent is still incapable of getting an OHKO with Zoroark-GX, so there aren’t many opportunities to lose this matchup, barring them killing your hand turn one with a strong Hex or Ghetsis. My point here is that it is always possible to delve deeper, because even if a format seems “solved”, the existence and power of the top decks in said format could make a new deck rise to relevance, which is a perpetual cycle.

Portland wasn’t it for the fun, though, as during the weekend of Portland there were also some Lost Thunder prereleases going down! Lost Thunder is an extremely large set with a whopping 200+ cards, making it one of the biggest sets of all time. There are plenty of decks to come out of the set, and I have been extremely excited to be able to test them. The format went from pretty boring to being busted wide open by this expansive set, and for good reason — there are a ton of new and interesting cards that Pokémon went pretty crazy on with their card design! This is going to open up a plethora of new and interesting strategies some of which have never been seen before. Personally, I’ve been really enjoying messing around with the new things first, like Granbull (SM8) (JP; null) ’s minigame attack, the  Giratina (LT; 97) combo with Cofagrigus (LT; 100)Shuckle GX (LT; 215) shenanigans…the list is way too long!

With Brazil Internats right around the corner, (I’m literally leaving in ten days), a lot of people might have the big issue of getting lost in all the new sauce and not having a real focus on any specific concept. Most people can agree that you are often lost on what to play for any given event up until some of the final moments, and obviously nobody can afford to be lost going into such a prestigious event with so much on the line. I’m going to forumlate here a couple series of articles I am dubbing the  Zebstrika (LT; 82) Bible so that instead of throwing those of you who are lost a couple decks and sending you on your way, I’ll leave you with about half of the decks I’m currently testing, all with Zebstrika as the bread and butter, and you can ideally just mess around with them and potentially find something worth running, or simply take the info I give you on Zebstrika’s various uses and apply that to your own deck to make it even better! I’m also going to showcase a couple bonus Expanded options in the second half of this series, so if you have no interest in Standard or are playing in both formats, feel free to check out the Zebstrika Bible Pt. 2 article in a couple weeks!

                  Chapter I: Earn Your Stripes

So before jumping into any decklists, let me explain why I chose Zebstrika as the Lost Thunder card of focus for Brazil over the likes of Alolan Ninetales GX (JP; 132)Sightseer (SM7/SM8) (JP; null) , {card 5115}, Giratina or any of the other broken cards that were just printed. Clearly I think that Zebstrika’s Ability to discard your entire hand and then draw 4 cards is very impressive, and that’s for good reason.

There are so many times that a Deck wants to be able to just discard their entire hand and start fresh; this is undeniable. Sometimes maybe you’re looking at one or two cards in your hand and thinking to yourself, “I really wish I could play these down so I can Lillie for more” because your Deck plays four Lillie and once your hand clogs it, well, kinda stays that way. With no N and more than likely Marshadow remaining a 0-1 card in most decks (even more so now due to Zebstrika’s Ability and the fact that Alolan Ninetales-GX is going to use whatever it grabs same turn anyways), you can bet that you won’t get a new hand, so you can either draw, hold your large hand, and Attack, or you can just Zebstrika your hand completely away, maybe losing a couple resources in the process but not really caring in the grand scheme.

Zebstrika also only gives up a single Prize Card, and if you start to think about it, it's kind of the same as having two Zoroark-GX in play! Now you must be considering the drawback that Zebstrika discards your entire hand, and Zoroark-GX only discards a card of your choice, and I feel that the only two things setting these phenomena apart are deck composition and overall Ability usage. What I’m saying here is that although we know having two Zoroark-GX in play is going to be better than having a Zebstrika in play when it comes to overall resource management, we need to consider that you don’t have to build an entire deck around Zebstrika to make good use of it. In fact, I have found myself putting a Zebstrika package in a lot of different Decks and I’ve been really enjoying how much more space I have over a Zoroark-GX engine. It isn’t grabbing me everything I need every single turn like Magcargo would, but I’m also less upset about my Zebstrika getting KO’d, because after a couple of Sprints you should be able to thin your Deck out so hard that you’re not too worried about whiffing things anymore.

I’d like one last word before hopping into our lists here, that being that the Zebstrika package I mentioned above consists of whatever my Zebstrika line is, 4  Apricorn Maker (CLS; 124) and heavy Ball cards; which I’m averaging around 4 Ultra, 4 Nest, 3 Great Ball in most of what I’m playing. A lot of decks that are aiming to set up a Zebstrika are attempting to do so ASAP to overpower the game, and this usually means that they are going to want to either use  Lillie (SUM; 147) or Apricorn Maker on turn one to get the ball rolling. I think the randomness of Lillie makes it less attractive than Apricorn Maker for Zebstrika, because one Zebstrika is grabbing us 4 cards so we are totally okay with the tradeoff of not seeing ~15 cards turn one when we can just build a board presence instead. Lillie may have been better in Zoroark-GX variants or in decks that simply want to draw cards because it does just that, and it is clearly better in decks with no built-in draw engine because you need the Supporters throughout the entirety of the game, but Zebstrika mitigates this quite a bit with Sprint, so I think decks with no prior draw engine may just want to consider our Zebra friend. One of the decks that most easily and obviously utilizes the Zebstrika engine is Feraligator (DM; 24) / Oranguru (SUM; 113) , which is currently sort of a joke deck and nothing worth focusing on. But when Zebstrika gets added…

Chapter II: A Cold-Blooded Killer: The Gator’s Steed

Now here’s a deck that has it all — 2 Johto Starters, our trusty Zebstrika pal to help us draw cards, an immediate and obvious use for the Zebstrika to ease our way into the card, and a fun little gimmick to keep testing fresh and exciting. This deck is so simple and fits on a single page when you build it on the Pokémon Trading Card Game Online, which is usually a dead giveaway that your deck is either extremely consistent or lacking something, and I can’t really figure out what this deck could possibly include besides what I’ve come up with. The whole Zebstrika engine is taking up a decent amount of space in here but that isn’t really an issue because once we get set up this deck is a powerhouse. You are realistically just trying to play down whatever you can while discarding with Zebstrika early, and then at some point your Attackers will have whittled down and you can start setting up another Zebstrika line.

The idea here is that at some point, we can lose a Feraligatr, meaning two Waters in Discard, and then draw a Water for turn, Sprint two or three times and then Downpour the last 4 Waters to have an amount of Water Energy in Discard somewhere between 9 and 12, depending on how heavy you are reaching for the knockout on this specific turn. Another cool thing about this list in particular is that I’m choosing to run four Apricorn Maker AND two Lillie, because I don’t like Tapu Lele-GX in Standard very much at all right now, so I want to have the best chances at a strong first turn without the use of Tapu Lele-Gx. I think Tapu Lele-GX is a huge target, and while it is also a versatile attacker in decks that can pump an Energy Drive out of nowhere, it isn’t going to do us much good in a Feraligatr Deck where most of our Damage is coming from these Water Energies. We also just want to stick with the non-GX theme of the Deck. This is more necessity than anything else, because I think Tapu Lele-GX starts or having to play it down in general can just spell trouble for this deck, especially when setting up is probably going to require giving your Opponent a couple Prizes in the first place.


Just so I don’t throw a 2-0-2 Meganium in your face without explaining, my thought with the Meganium was that because of Zebstrika forcing us to discard our entire hand and draw four, two things become relevant. The first being that we are burning through our deck like nothing and probably discarding some valuable resources along the way, and the second being that because of this heavy Draw we want to cut out the middle men, being Rare Candy and Croconaw, and go from Totodile into Feraligatr even as soon as same turn. This gives us the best chance to keep streaming Feraligatr one after the other, and is insanely consistent. You can just chill until you find a Meganium, and then Rare Candy the Chikorita and then free Candy the Feraligatr. This now opens up a branching decision for your opponent: KO the Meganium which allows another Chikorita or Totodile to be benched and lets Gatr get a free attack off or KO Feraligatr and let me set another up immediately, not including the one I’m envisioning as the 2nd one which I would already aspire to have in play. Which would you rather do, give me the free Attacker again in favor of making me dig out my NEXT Attacker, or try to keep up with a Prize trade that is completely unfavorable for you? I think it is pretty clear that this Deck is a real contender and I would not be surprised to see it go far in an event.

Something else important to sell you on with this deck is the Blacephalon-GX/Naganadel matchup. Everybody is worried about the Clown and we have the perfect answer — a Water type! With a 6-Water discard pile we are capable of OHKO’ing anything within the Blacephalon-GX Deck, and will win the Prize Trade because Naganadel can’t return OHKO a Feraligatr. Naganadel is said to be capable of beating the Baby Buzz one-Prizer decks, but let’s face it — anything Naganadel can’t ohko outside of your Turning Point turn and can also make short work of Blacephalon-GX itself is going to be a really strong Deck.

Gatr isn’t the only deck I’d like to go over though, I’ve come up with a build for Granbull that I’m pretty happy to share with you all. I think Granbull is a concept that was quickly looked over but never fully explored and my current list for it explores the Deck in a way that is unprecedented. (Please allow me to pretend that “unprecedented” and “the set just came out so people are probably not making Granbull lists yet in favor of the more hyped up cards” mean the same thing).

Chapter III: Is it Progression if I Keep Putting My Own Hand to Zero?

Granbull is the deck I was most excited for when I saw the set list. I knew Granbull would have some sort of wonky list that on the surface looks like complete garbage but plays smooth as butter and I’d like to gloat that I was completely correct — Granbull is a great deck! Is it what I was expecting? Will it completely shake the Meta? I wish I had enough testing to know for sure, but I can guarantee you that the deck will see success whether with my 60 Card list or with some other concoction a given person would be able to cook up. With that in mind, I’m going to keep testing Granbull and see where it needs to be, but for now I’m almost positive this is the way to go:

There you have it, the list that is going to take over Lost Thunder’s Standard format by storm! This Deck is incredible and extremely fun the entire time, but still has some things that must be pointed out, so I’ll go ahead and run over the whole list.

 4-4 Granbull — This is the only count you can run of your main Attacker! Why cut it any lower? There is absolutely no need besides finding a better main Attacker, and what else can do 160 for a single Fairy energy?

2-2 Magcargo — Cargo is in here to serve as our guarantee that we can get our hand to 0 every turn, and allows us to dig for specific combo pieces, because we have a lot of moving parts that we need to find in this Deck. Magcargo is a pretty gross bench-sitter and can get targeted, which hurts half of the time, but sometimes you can run so well without it that you don’t miss it, and you can Diantha back whatever you want eventually anyways, so Cargo will probably not be gone for very long. Either way the card is completely necessary and vital to our success for at least some point in the game, and even on turns you don’t have to use it, the Smooth Over is still absolutely fine to have.

2-2 Zebstrika — This is the boy that we are all here for, I only run a thin line of Zebstrika, but it gets the job done and may even get thinner over time. I mostly just want to explain Zebstrika’s versatility, and the whole point of Zebstrika in this Deck is that yeah you can use it early to start setting up, and we run 4 Diantha so we are fine playing out of the Discard Pile, but we obviously don’t need to mill a perfect hand in favor of more cards, so Zebstrika acts more as a Bench sitter who is capable of completely fixing my hand if I can’t reach 0. I can just use Zebstrika, discard my otherwise useless hand, and potentially hit the resources for a 0 card hand. This is even easier if you throw in that you can Smooth Over first, ideally for Diantha, and then just discard your hand, Diantha for an Ultra Ball and whatever else you need, and as long as your hand has 1 in 4 playable cards, you’re in business! Zebby isn’t the main focus of this Deck as much as it was in Feraligatr, but you can’t hate on the versatility and overall options it provides for the Deck.

1 Oranguru SUM — This card is like a Basic Zebstrika. I’m only even using it for Smooth Over/Instruct combos, and I’m honestly not even quite sure I want it, but the Shintaro list ran 3 of these babies so I’m assuming that 1 has to be in the Deck. This is one of the first cuts I keep trying to make and will make once I find something better. For now, and if all else fails, Banana Master will have to do.

1 Ditto <*> — Remember that one day when your parents told you, “60Cards Reader, when you grow up you can become anything you put your mind to!”? Yeah, Ditto is just the same sentiment but as an Ability on a Pokémon Card. Insane card, one of the coolest cards to come out in a while. I absolutely love my Ditto on Bench turn 1 because I can just evolve it into whatever I lack instead of having to devote 2 different Bench slots to 2 different Pokémon to try to set up.

4 Apricorn Maker — I’d like to go further into detail on the Apricorn Maker, but I’m not sure it really needs an explanation. This deck uses it past turn one to find an Ultra Ball, and besides that it is used turn one to find Basics. Besides these uses, pretty dead card.

4 – Diantha — This is the first time I’ve seen an actually competitive deck use the likes of Diantha. People were sleeping on Diantha in Granbull for whatever reason, but they shouldn’t have been, because the synergy is obvious. You need to be able to get resources back in a deck that is so totally okay discarding these resources willy nilly. If not for Diantha, I wouldn’t be able to complete games because I would always whiff a Granbull turn at some point when things got shaky and then it would just all go downhill. There were some games where my Magcargo was getting KO’d and I wasn’t able to just bench a Slugma then find the Cargo out of my discard again with Diantha and basically this card saved the deck from the usual treatment: Good result in Japan; awful performance when we pilot it.


1 Professor Kukui — This card is going to be huge in the Zoroark-GX matchup, allowing for you to hit 210 damage without Shrine of Punishment in play or without needing the two Shrine ticks first. This card also lets us hit more than 210 after more Shrine ticks, so it helps us reach Gardevoir-GX and the like more consistently. Kukui is also just a super good card in general to hit numbers you normally shouldn’t be hitting.

4 Ultra/4 Nest/4 Great Ball — These are the Ball cards that I run in here, my personal feelings toward the Ball cards go something like this: Ultra Ball is great to guarantee what you’re getting, and is vital for the Deck. Great Ball and Nest Ball help us set up, and we want these maxed because the less Ultra Ball we use early the better off we usually are. There could be other Ball cards in this Deck, but I honestly don’t see them doing much so we can probably stick with the current ball counts.

3 Choice Band — This is obviously for EX/GX Pokémon, who all have an obnoxious amount of HP, and for our trusty Granbull to hit 190 on said EX/GX Pokémon. This is a math fixer, maybe not vital all the time but definitely will be turns where if you don’t have a Choice Band it will hurt you. Three is a great number, 2 could also be sufficient maybe with Diantha but having to grab Choice out of the discard over and over again sounds like a pain.

2 Pokémon Catcher — This card is in here to serve as a Guzma-esque card, Custom Catcher took up too much space, Counter Catcher requires you to be losing in Prizes which Granbull is literally never trying to do and Guzma is just awful in this Deck, so I am trying the two Poke Catchers. My thought was that if I ever NEED the Guzma I can just grab both out of my discard and try to hit a Heads off of a 75% chance, or I can dig one out of deck and go for a similar play. Pokemon Catcher is super clutch when you flip Heads, and usually rarely changes the game’s outcome on a Tails flip, so it is extremely worth trying out in here.

2 Rescue Stretcher — Stretcher is a great card that is going to allow you to keep getting back your flimsy Pokémon, and I have 2 in here so I don’t have to keep grabbing Pokémon back with Diantha. It is nice having the throwaway Stretcher and then the practical Stretcher, or just using them both to get back a Slugma or something.

1 Switch/1 Escape Rope — I was running 1 Switch/0 Escape Rope up until a paragraph ago and then I quickly realized Escape Rope is loads better than Guzma and cut it immediately for the Rope. A Switching card that gets Shuckle-GX and other pests out of the Active position at the same time AND you can grab it off of Diantha and use it right away? Yeah, Escape Rope was always meant to be in here. Consider Switch an Escape Rope minus the Shuckle relevance.

1 Mysterious Treasure — This card is wonderful in here because sometimes you have playable cards in hand but you need to still hit a 0 card hand. Treasure allows you to do this with no issue and can also get you to 0 if you have a 2 card hand, for example let’s say your hand after Prize + Top Deck is Diantha Mysterious, you can literally Diantha for whatever you want and then Mysterious the 2nd card away, or Instruct, Diantha for whatever 2 cards you want and then Mysterious the final card away. Having the option is better than not in a Deck where we are so focused on completing our minigame to Attack for more.

1 Field Blower — This card is meant solely for Spell Tag. I only lost to a Malamar in testing because of his Spell Tags, so now I’m just going to Diantha for Field Blower every turn and stop the Spell Tag nonsense. It can also be clutch against a Dragon type Pokémon with a Weakness Policy on it I suppose, though I’m not sure how relevant that will ever be.

2 Lost Blender — This card is going to do the same thing Ultra Ball is doing but you’re putting the cards in your Lost Zone instead of your Discard Pile. Not really an issue because you get to draw a card after, though if you didn’t Smooth Over first this can royally screw your turn up.

1 Pal Pad — I just have a Pad in here in case I ever get all four Diantha in Discard. Do I need the Pad? More than likely not. Is it good? Extremely.

2 Shrine of Punishment — Our Stadium of choice for this Deck is none other than good ol’ Shrine, which is going to whittle away at the opposing Pokémon-GX to allow Granbull to reach the perfect numbers. Shrine at a two-of is only because I have Field Blower which is otherwise a third Shrine. This deck is kinda cool because it can just keep bumping the opponent’s Stadium until Shrine sticks if it needs to do so which is pretty nice.

6 Fairy Energy— No less because of consistency issues and hard draw issues, no more because of Diantha. 6 will be just fine. I have yet to lose a game over the six Fairy, even if once or twice I may end up grabbing one off of Diantha.

That’s the entire list for you! It is an extremely good deck and I’m excited to see it in action. I wanted to have a Matchups section in this article, but Granbull is the kind of Deck with pretty straightforward matchups. You don't really care much for what your opponents are doing and I'm pretty sure I covered the specfic techs pretty well, so all you really have to know is that sometimes it isn't as cut and dry as getting your hand to zero. You must keep in mind that even though this is necessary every turn you can still set up and don't want to forget that your board still needs to be improved as you continue your minigame. 

Chapter IV: All Endings Are Followed By Beginnings

This was a pretty fun article with some solid knowledge; I can talk about Zebstrika for hours and I’m glad to finally be doing so for my first article back writing for 60 Cards. This time I’ll make sure not to take another random hiatus and just keep pushing out content for you all! As always I’m very happy to be a part of this and looking forward to what kind of craziness people can throw into my Decks. Stay tuned for Pt. II of the Zebstrika series, and make sure to check out Dead Draw Gaming for any of your TCG needs and the Team DDG YouTube channel for new content every single day! Until next time,

Daniel Altavilla

[+21] okko


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