Experts' corner

Daniel Altavilla

The Naughty List - The Strongest Lock Decks In Each Format

Daniel talks about the merriest lock deck in each format.

12/25/2015 by Daniel Altavilla


Happy holidays, 60cards readers! Be prepared for your cheeks to glow a bright red from all of my Christmas-related puns and references in my attempt to make an article based on degenerate decks a bit more jolly. I've left you off with an article based solely on Bats decks, and since then, the meta has shifted in a way that lock decks can truly shine. Houndoom Mill and Sableye/Garbodor/Aqua's Base are incredible decks right now, but they come with a large misconception. People believe that the decks are based on the volatile strategy of going for a bunch of Crushing Hammer flips, hoping for all heads, and winning just like that. This isn't true though, and while Crushing Hammer flips are critical to success, they don't determine the outcome of the match fully. There are many little factors in each game that build up and can be the difference between a win and a loss. 

With that being said, there are plenty of games where you can assert dominance from the beginning and have such a strong grasp that you've taken the game right off of the bat. I've recently won a League Challenge with Houndoom Mill and earned 2nd at a City Championship with Sableye/Garbodor, and it's been proven to me through these experiences that lock decks have more control over the game state than any other deck. By this, I mean that you have the opportunity to decide if the game should finish out and you should win, if you should manage your resources in a way to force a tie, or if you should just scoop and move on to Game 2 or 3, pretty much within the first five turns. It doesn't take long at all to know if you're going to pull a game out and win it or not, which is an incredible thing. This kind of premonition is one that can only be shared between lock decks. 
Now that I've explained why I feel lock decks are so incredible, let's go into the first deck, Houndoom Mill.

On, Dasher! On, Dancer! On, Prancer and Vixen! On, Scoop Up! On, Crushing! On, Assault Vest and Ringer! 'Twas the night before Christmas, and on top of the deck, were two VS Seekers, man, what the heck?! Head Ringer was placed on Seismitoad with care, in hopes that Item-lock will never be there. 


If you haven't stopped reading yet, good! I'm about to go into one of the funnest decks in Standard right now. Houndoom Mill was a deck that I was shown by Austin Baggs, and the list I'm sharing is his own. I can't see any other changes to his list, so I kept it the same. The deck was a valid response to all of the Yveltal/Zoroark/Gallade, Seismitoad-EX/Crobat, and M Manectric-EX decks that were flooding Standard in the first couple of weeks. The idea is obviously to use your removal to control/limit your opponent's attacks, and mill while doing so.

If you do the math, your opponent starts with 60-8-6 = 46 cards by the first time you're able to use Melting Horn. This amount drops to 37 if they are to play Professor Sycamore, and 36 if they use an Ultra Ball. Assuming your first Melting Horn is done when your opponent has 36 cards in deck, and knowing they draw at least one card per turn, your opponent now only has ~12 turns to draw 6 Prizes. This is an incredible thing, because if your opponent doesn't know how to manage resources properly, this turn count drops to 8-10 or less, and with a Crushing Hammer, Assault Vest, Xerosic, Team Flare Grunt, Super Scoop Up Prize denial, etc. every turn, and with Bunnelby in the deck to act as only a Prize a turn, your opponent is going to have some trouble attacking, and then even more trouble actually obtaining knockouts. Shortening every game down to 8-12 turns is pretty incredible if you ask me, and being able to do so without too much effort is even greater.

This deck granted me a win at a League Challenge with almost no thinking involved. Every turn was "Remove this Energy, use Bunnelby over Houndoom this turn to try and not give up two Prizes, Lysandre this Pokémon so I have an extra turn without being attacked.” That was incredible! I had so much power over my matches that they were essentially dumbed down to the capabilities within my deck and my deck only, because every option in my opponent's deck either didn't stay long, or got milled away with Melting Horn and wasn't around period!

Houndoom Mill is all around an incredible deck, and if you want a deck that will win you games, troll your opponents, and not cost much all in one, you've found it. I mentioned its one bad matchup, and that matchup is only Primal Kyogre-EX/Regice. My reasoning is that Kyogre attaches two Energy at a time, so it's very tough to run them out of those Energy before you get destroyed. I would've mentioned Vespiquen with a Vaporeon tech, but I actually appreciate that matchup. Vaporeon makes it such an easy one to win! One important thing to remember is that Bunnelby has the same attack as Houndoom-EX, but is only worth one Prize. You can still mill and not have to stall too hard, and if you manage to discard a Double Colorless or two, the matchup becomes way too easy to be worth considering a difficult one. 

Other Options for This Deck

Slurpuff - With this card comes a Float Stone or two. If you run it, it would be best to have a 2-2 line so that it's easier to find. Slurpuff is meant to go through your deck more easily because this deck relies mostly on Shaymin for draw, which means you're dropping a vulnerable 110-HP liability. Slurpuff is still to be tested, but definitely an alright option.

Team Aqua's Secret Base - This card is probably best as a two-of. You use it to send up a useless Pokémon on your opponent's side of the field that can't Retreat because of its effect and most likely can't attack. For example, if you have this in play versus Manectric-EX, considering they probably don't play DCE, you've just forced up a Shaymin-EX that can do literally nothing. This means you have a bunch of extra turns to mill until your opponent finds a counter Stadium. This strategy is the same for Sableye and the same for Michael Canaves' Bunnelby Mill from Nationals '15.

Jirachi XY67 - Jirachi helps out a ton versus Night March and Toad variants. It also helps versus Vespiquen because they will want to get Vaporeon out against you, which means they won't have Flareon out to Blacksmith once you take off a Double Colorless Energy, and Jirachi will either grant you another turn of Melting Horn without consequence or it'll give you another DCE to force off if you get Lysandre'd. Pretty sick deal!

Anywho, now that I've shown you the most dominant deck right now in Standard, it's time to explain what I consider to be the most powerful deck in Expanded right now (and when the next set comes out too), Sableye/Garbodor.

Up on the house top, flip flip flip! Back up from the Discard Pile with old Sable/Garb!

I'm full of holiday cheer, and if you play this deck, you'll be full of cheer, too! The wonderful feeling of playing a strategic game on your end while your opponent can do next to nothing. Ever. This deck only has one bad matchup in the Expanded format, with every other matchup being almost a free win. The hardest matchup this deck has is Seismitoad-EX/Crobat, because of the bat damage hitting Sableye even when Seismitoad-EX isn't attacking. The big issue is that your opponent can set up their bats to OHKO Trubbish before you can get Garb out, and because you're under an Item lock it's impossible to drop down a Float Stone. Hypnotoxic Laser is always a big deal too, although not as much as the inability to use your Garbodor. If you ever get a turn to drop town Float Stone, you've most likely won the game though, so it's not unwinnable.

I appreciate decks like this so much! It's very tough finding a build that has the potential to beat EVERYTHING in such a diverse meta, and it's exceptional that the one deck we have that does just that is a deck that doesn't even do damaging attacks. There are a couple important things to go over with this deck and its matchups, so I'll lay out a matchup and the way to beat it below.

Sableye Garb versus....

Yveltal-EX/Darkrai-EX Variants

This matchup is a tough one. You have to deal with laser flips throughout the game, free Retreat so Aqua Stadium doesn't work until you can get a tool on Garbodor, and to make matters worse, Dark Patch is at a 4-of in these decks. The only way I can think of to beat them is to keep Ace Trainer and N'ing them out of their Dark Patches if you notice them stockpiling them in hand, and keep using trick shovel as often as you can to burn them out of resources. Garbodor seems like your biggest priority in this matchup, so I would even dare to say that you spend your first Ultra Ball on Trubbish over Sableye if you need him. Lastly, if your opponent decides to drop only two Baby Yveltal, just use Confuse Ray on the Active one until you flip heads. This'll cause them to want to Retreat and once they do you just do this again and keep it up until they Bench a Keldeo or a Darkrai or anything else, or just win because they won't be able to flip 24 heads in a row on confusion AND on Darkness Blade's effect.

Donphan Variants

Donphan is one of your toughest matchups, but the key to success here is your Stadium. If they ever get hasty and Bench a Hawlucha or an Eevee, you can bring out your Team Aqua's Secret Base, Lysandre up the Pokémon, and then Hammer away on their Donphan's Energy. This requires them to either 1) Waste their Stadiums or 2) Spend their turn's attachment to Retreat, and if they have to attach to Eevee and they only have Strong Energy in hand, they can't even do that. Another important thing to consider is that late game, Donphan WILL try and tie against you. This is when you start getting back Trick Shovel every turn and just start forcing them to get aggressive or to lose. Once all 9-10 of their Energy are gone, you just Bunnelby them to death.

Archie's Blastoise

Stoise is usually incredible, but in this matchup it really isn't. Their game plan is usually to dig for the Stoise, and then charge up as many Energy as possible onto Keldeo-EX, and if they can get a Float Stone onto Blastoise, even better. But this matchup is the most straightforward one for Sableye/Garb: get Garb out, Scrapper or Xerosic the Stone off of Blastoise, Lysandre it, and then Bunnelby for fifteen turns straight. GG.


This matchup is tough without practice, because what they'll do is only get out a lone Flareon and then keep spamming Blacksmith. Your options are to spam Life Dew and just deny them Prizes all game, and to Confuse Ray the lone Flareon. Having to flip to attack sucks, period. And if they keep whiffing attacks, you can keep Life Dew in play even longer. I used to be so afraid to face this deck, but now I'm excited when I get this matchup because of how easy it can be. Also, beware of AZ!


Four Team Flare Grunt, three Enhanced Hammers, two Xerosic, and a partridge in a pear tree. If they ever once attach to Giratina-EX instead of using Quaking Punch, you win. If they whiff an Energy, you win. If you keep Hoopa locked Active, you win. This matchup is a free win most of the time, as it should be! The only thing I cannot stress enough is that you WANT your opponent to go first in this matchup so that you can respond to their turn! This matchup is played out similarly to the toad mirror! Go second, Scrapper them, get a Ringer down, Enhanced whatever they've attached, and Bunnelby away in hopes of discarding their resources/shuffling back in your Supporters. Very easy matchup, which not too many decks can say about this deck!

M Manectric-EX Variants

If they don't play Mega Turbo, you have an easy matchup. Just always flip heads on Crushing Hammer! If they attach to an Active Manectric ever, you have a free turn essentially, because they've just misplayed and allowed you to take off one of their eleven Energy without making you flip! This game is always dependent on your flips and not much else. 


Rayquaza is an autowin, pretty much. You just Lysandre a Shaymin or a Hoopa and discard all of Rayquaza's Energy and just destroy them. Rayquaza isn't really meant to get six knockouts, anyways. The deck is mostly meant to win in three or four turns. Long games for Rayquaza are bad games, and Sableye gives it a pretty long beatdown. 

That's about it for the relevant matchups for Sableye/Garb, everything else you could face in Expanded is either way too autowin to mention or just not big enough to expect to play even once in a Regional. Hopefully this will have made it clear exactly how this deck is meant to be played, because so many people are just scared that they'll misplay or they assume they know what to do and they never actually do and end up misplaying way too much. A deck like this is an art form, and you have to have the eye for it in order to play it properly! That's why you see top players only ever really doing well with lock decks or mill decks and mostly not performing too well with things like Night March recently. It's because decks like this, Seismitoad-EX/Shaymin-EX, Toad/Garb, Wailord, etc. are all decks that are very tough to pilot properly and require a certain je ne sais quoi. 

All French aside, here are some things you can include to fit your playstyle.

Other Options for This Deck

Hypnotoxic Laser - Laser is mostly for the sleep flip. Any turn your opponent isn't attacking is a good turn for you. It also adds 10 per turn to Flareon so they're forced to Bench other Pokémon in the Vespiquen matchup. While this card doesn't guarantee an autowin, it still helps a bunch in that matchup and in the Yveltal one. It's also nice to have for when your opponent drops a Virbank of their own. Any Prizes you can sneak with Sableye Garb are usually nice, especially if Life Dew or Tool Scrapper or Super Rod get Prized!

Virizion-EX/Blend Energy GRPD - Nick Robinson and Kiernan Wagner both ran these cards in their Sableye builds for the last weekend of Autumn Regionals. The idea is to use Virizion to protect Sableye from Laser Flips and essentially making your Toad matchup an autowin. Trubbish PLS can use Tool Drop with Blend too, giving you a sneaky attacker for when your opponent doesn't want to Bench anything besides one attacker or for when you whiff a Hammer flip and just want to get a KO, because think about it, a KO is still denying Energy from being in play most of the time.

Hex Maniac - Hex shuts off Archie's Stoise on their first turn, giving you time to get out Garbodor, and it shuts off Bats for those matchups. It's also very nice for Night March and Vespiquen, slowing them down for a bit. 

Trainers’ Mail - This wonderful mailbox is in and out of various Sableye lists, and personally, I think it's okay as a one-of, but any more and you've sacrificed too much room in your deck. These can probably be interchangeable with Team Aqua's Secret Base. The point of this card in the deck is to 1) Get the cards you need out of your thin deck in the late game and obviously 2) to dig for whatever you need early game. One big thing this card helps for is when Trick Shovel or Life Dew or something important like that is on the bottom of your deck and Super Rod is in your hand. Basically, you can't Sycamore into your deck ‘cause you can't Super Rod that turn, and you usually can't spend a turn using Bunnelby to shuffle in two cards as your attack, so you'd rather just look at whatever you have left to find what you need.

Those are the best options for techs in this deck as of right now. Be on the lookout for that new Time Puzzle card that we'll be seeing in the next set, because it works wonders for this deck. One example of its usefulness is that you can Junk Hunt for 2 Time Puzzles every turn, and then grab whatever 2 cards you need based on whatever your opponent did on their turn, and they can no longer play against you, and instead just try to do whatever is safest, which will cause them to run out of options eventually.


That's all I have for you now! I would go into other lock decks, but the only other one we have is Durant, and I'd much rather not talk about that horrid deck! As always, I hope to have left you all with a bit more wisdom and with a newfound love for lock decks. Houndoom is a real beast, and Sableye is a stocking stuffer!

Make sure to check out my YouTube channel, The Tuff Puff! If you can get us to 1000 Subscribers by the end of Christmas day, we're planning on giving away a box of XY Breakthrough! Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and until next time,

Daniel Altavilla

[+5] okko


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