Experts' corner

Chris Fulop

North American Intercontinental Championship Review

Pokemon's Largest Tournament Just Concluded, Revealing A Wide Open Metagame At The Top Of The Mountain!

07/10/2017 by Chris Fulop

Hello again everyone!

The North American Intercontinental Championships – US Nationals – is in the books. On the topic of books, this one goes down in the history books as the single largest Pokémon tournament ever, with nearly 1,400 Masters alone! In revenge for American Michael Pramawat's victory in London earlier this year, Europe struck back with Tord Reklev and his Garbodor Drampa deck defeating last American standing John Kettler's Decidueye Vileplume deck in the finals! Beyond these two players, both of whom have had an absolutely stellar season, the entire Top 8 of the event was absolutely stacked!

Grafton unfortunately bubbled in 9th place, despite having the same overall points as many of the players who settled into the Top 8, and I feel like that makes his inclusion worthwhile here as well. Overall, we saw arguably 7 different decks make it into the Top 8 of this event, as while both John and Igor ran Decidueye decks, Igor opted for a version that omitted Vileplume entirely which in turn really changes the dynamic of the deck. The two decks are different enough I can't help but classify them as different archetypes despite the overlap. Grafton using Greninja carries a bit of weight to it as well, as it puts a 2nd copy of Greninja within the Top 8 point range, which really changes how you have to evaluate the archetype's overall performance. It is not just an isolated strong performance out of a top player that could potentially be an outlier placement, you now have two copies of the deck doing well and that is difficult to ignore. I'll break down all 8 of these lists later into the article.

I did not end up attending this tournament, as early in the week of the event, I am informed that registration had hit its cap online, and I had not yet pre-registered, leaving me effectively locked out of the event. I assumed there was a chance that they would end up taking on-site registrations anyways (I actually do not know if they did or not, and part of me would rather not know in retrospect.) but I was not going to make the fairly expensive trip on the off chance that I had a chance to be able to play in the event.

This was particularly disheartening because I actually had a deck I felt really good about going into the event, which was Mega Gardevoir. In retrospect, with Decidueye variants and Greninja doing fairly well, I'm unsure how I would have fared as those are two of the deck's weaker matchups. Both seemed relatively off the radar looking at prior tournament results and while I felt both decks were still pretty strong, that doesn't always translate to them seeing substantial play and I'd much rather have an extremely favorable matchup against Garbodor builds and Zoroark, arguably the top 2 decks going into the event, than worry about Decidueye and Greninja. Here is the list I would have registered.

Before I get into the breakdown of my card choices, I want to discuss a card I had totally overlooked for this deck: Absol from Roaring Skies. In Seniors, a player Top 4ed with Mega Gardevoir and included a copy of the card, and I think it is ABSOLutely brilliant. (I can't help myself sometimes) While Mega Gardevoir can hit for 190 damage – 210 with a Prof. Kukui – it is not a deck that can just routinely score OHKOs on EX and GX Pokémon. Assuming your smaller hits end up leaving some damage on the field, something that happens a reasonable percentage of the time, you are left with a nice battery of damage available for Absol to soak off of. This makes subsequent OHKOs substantially easier. Normally Absol is just too low impact to justify a spot in decks. It eats up a bench space, and only gets one use before sitting there uselessly. With Despair Ray, that is absolutely not the case! You can pitch Absol, and with Dragonite-EX and in my case a slew of Rescue Stretcher, you can reliably use it every turn! If you hit something for 120 damage early on and it gets benched, you can use Absol 4 times throughout the game rather easily. While it isn't easy to pull off, an Absol use and a Prof. Kukui lets you actually it for 240 damage in a turn. I run 2 Switch and an Escape Rope here, but with Absol, it makes me want to consider flipping that split as being able to force what is often a feeler attacker to the bench after putting some damage on it feels really beneficial with Absol.

The Pokémon count is not terribly unusual. 3-3 Mega Gardevoir is the perfect amount, especially with how many recovery cards the deck runs. You don't need more than that. A pair of Tapu Lele-GX is pretty normal, and while this is a deck that wouldn't hate redundant consistency and has a huge bench to work with, you also do not have any DCE and Lele doesn't really ever attack so it is not as useful as it is in most decks. Something suspicious looking is running only 3 copies of Shaymin-EX. With Dragonite-EX and 3 Stretcher, it is really easy to re-use your Shaymins and you rarely run out. I actually cut the 4th Shaymin for the 3rd Hoopa as Hoopa ends up being that Shaymin plus so much more. Hoopa is much stronger in the early game, and you have so many available "copies" of Shaymin due to Dragonite, Stretcher and Karen as the game progresses that I care more about that early game. Hoopa is also really important in being able to chain multiple turns of 190 damage attacks in a row.

With 3 Rescue Stretcher, the 2nd Dragonite – a terrible starter, useless attacker, and perpetual Lysandre target – seems a bit unnecessary at first glance. On the other hand, the card is just so unbelievably good in this deck that you just cannot afford to prize it ever. You always want to have access to it. Sometimes in the late game you want to Hoopa for both copies for a full bench fill-up for Despair Ray. You could theoretically shave it to one copy, but this is an instance where I would always take the conservative play with two.

Oricorio is an interesting inclusion, but you just want a way to better hit your Energy drops. This acts as an 8th Energy card that also ends up being searchable with Ultra Ball, while also enabling you to turn your Dragonite and Stretcher uses into potential Energy drops. This just smooths out the deck's overall performance quite a bit. Finally, we have an Oranguru as your N protection that also just helps give you an occasional boost of draw power throughout a game. I had been a bit critical of Oranguru in Mega Rayquaza as I felt that it did it's least in the matchups you needed the most help in... namely against decks that featured Garbotoxin... but Gardevoir actually does really well in those matchups so things change some.

One big problem that plagues Mega Gardevoir and Mega Rayquaza, two decks that abuse Sky Field and a Hoopa/Shaymin engine, is Sudowoodo. I'd been preaching for a long time now that there is no reason for players to keep playing Sudooodo at all. There were so few copies of Mega Rayquaza or Gardevoir in the field that in most cases it is a wasted space. Players clung to the card long after it was wise, and if you look at how this Intercontinentals played out, very very few copies of the fake tree wound up sleeved up. It was only a matter of time before this shift happened. Gardevoir is much stronger than Rayquaza is against Sudowoodo as well. While the damage output when cramped by Sudowoodo is actually similar, one of the biggest problems the small bench provides actually is what it does to your draw power. Both Mega Pokémon are very hefty... games with Sudowoodo often devolve into instances of two hit KO vs two hit KO, which can absolutely still be won. The problem is continuing to power up your attackers without access to your Hoopas/Tapu Leles/Shaymins. Since Despair Ray can free your bench each turn, this isn't an issue, and you actually get to set up really well.

This actually leads to an interesting inclusion as well: One Psychic Energy. This is solely here for Tapu Lele-GX's GX attack, which can heal two Pokémon. If you end up in this two-hit KO war, you can actually clean up two damaged Mega Gardevoir with one attack and likely win from there. This is one of the reasons I opt for Switch and Escape Rope over any Float Stones... you will often want to bench a damaged Gardevoir, and Float Stone clashes with the Spirit Links too much. The one Psychic Energy also literally cannot interfere with anything, as your attacks all require at least 1 Colorless Energy, so one off-type Energy is literally free. Even if I did not have access to any attacks which use it, I would run a rogue Energy just because it represents unknowns. You know it is pointless, but the opponent has to try and figure out what things it could enable your deck to pull off. The more muddled you make their decision making process, the better. This GX attack is also surprisingly strong against both Greninja and Decidueye, as they both try and set up a bunch of bench damage. It isn't miraculous or anything, because usually by taking a turn off, these decks can pretty much restablish similar pressure on your field, but it comes up enough where it is game winning.

Supporter wise, things are pretty common. With this many Pokémon aiding your draw, 2 Sycamore, 2 N, 2 Lysandre, and 1 Hex Maniac is pretty normal. I love the 1-1-1 split on Mallow, Teammates and Skyla as they are all really strong search draw. These types of cards are weaker in the average deck, especially as Shaymin play drops to an all-time low, but when this deck can effortless spam Shaymin for card quantity, being able to search up key cards reliably becomes much more lucrative. I actually do wish I had a 2nd copy of Hex Maniac as it is so good against Greninja, Decidueye, Vikavolt and Metagross, all of which are on the rough end for this deck. Vikavolt and Metagross, of course, did pretty poorly this event, but thats still a wide swath of the metagame and worth addressing still. One of the last cuts made was actually the 4th VS Seeker, which makes Hex chaining even harder. I know a lot of players have embraced this VS Seeker trimming gimmick, and I actually just flat out hate it unless you have an engine available to make up for it. Hedging slightly against Garbodor – a top tier deck for sure, but one that is still only a small fraction of the field – is just not worth it.

Karen is a great inclusion in this deck as it restocks your deck with all of your Pokémon. Oddly enough, you rarely use it because you have so much recover with Dragonite and Rescue Stretcher. I could argue it is expendable, but I left it in because it also pretty much guarantees you smash Vespiquen, which was another popular deck. It didn't do well this event, but it had a justifiable target on its head going into it. Tacking on Vespiquen to the list of Espeon Garbodor, Drampa Garbodor, and Zoroark as decks you are substantially favored against is really alluring.

Most of the Trainer counts are pretty normal. I mentioned before that I went with real "switching" cards over Float Stone, and there are a few more reasons why I did this. First, Float Stone's value goes down with Field Blower being popular. It often ends up as a one-time use Switch as it is. You could argue that the Switches feed Garbodor while Float Stone doesn't, but they end up blown away often enough it isn't like you dodge the liability entirely anyways. I also like how the non-Tool switching cards can actually get you out of status conditions. While not super popular as a whole, Espeon-GX's attack is a huge pain to deal with.

The last two numbers worth going over are the 3 Stretcher and 4 Spirit Links. When I first started testing this deck, I ran 3 Spirit Link and 2 switching cards. I quickly realized a lot of my losses came from failing to secure a turn 2 Despair Ray and almost every instance of this was because I missed a Spirit Link or couldn't get a Mega Gardevoir active. While 3 and 2 wasn't an awful split, the deck performed much better with those counts buffed some.

Rescue Stretcher is just so good in this deck it is silly. Once you set up, you can discard Dragonite-EX and any combination of Tapu Lele-GX, Shaymin-EX and Hoopa-EX. Each Rescue Stretcher then ends up grabbing Dragonite, which then grabs Lele and either Shaymin or Hoopa. From there you have such a reliable source of draw power every single turn. Your set up as the game goes on is so strong. I am not too off base when I say I am considering a 4th copy, that is how well it has performed. This is another reason why I like 2 Dragonite-EX. You can Stretcher for a Dragonite, and grab a Hoopa to grab another Dragonite, and pretty much fill your bench immediately from it.

I've gone over some of the deck's matchups in passing, so I wanted to go over a few I haven't touched on yet in closing. The deck is miserably bad against Mega Rayquaza. If I suspected it or other Gardevoir lists would be popular, my old enemy Sudowoodo can change these into very favorable matchups. Volcanion is actually a really close matchup, one where Hex Maniac is paramount in. You'll see in Ryan Sabelhaus' list, he actually ran 3 Fighting Fury Belt, which is actually a bit problematic since I omitted any copies of Field Blower. Volcanion can easily be made favorable with a 2nd copy of Hex Maniac, and some answers to Belt.

I am totally unsure how the deck plays against the Alolan Ninetales deck, although I think a Kukui does wonders there as well. Darkrai was a deck that a number of strong players actually took to this event, and that is definitely a favorable matchup, although I feel like the deck did poorly enough I wouldn't expect much of it going forward.

I've mentioned this before, but one option for the deck that I like is to run 1 DCE and a 1-1 Mega Rayquaza line. The idea is to end your first turn with Trait-induced Mega Evolution since the deck has no first turn attacks, and then you have access to 240 damage throughout the game. This actually makes Volcanion, Metagross, Greninja, Darkrai, Decidueye and Ninetales much easier matchups. The inclusion isn't extremely reliable, and running any Spirit Links seems unnecessary, so you do end up really only having the turn 1 window to power it up unless you want to take a turn off midgame.

I'd cut the Psychic Energy for a DCE, and then trim a Hoopa-EX and probably a Spirit Link for the Mega Rayquaza line. Hoopa is the most expendable card despite loving how good it is here, and with a portion of games offering Rayquaza as an attacker, the pressure on your Spirit Links certainly goes down. The fun part about the one DCE is that it also lets Tapu Lele attack, and is useful towards retreating cards like Hoopa-EX if they get stranded. It isn't as "free" as a Psychic Energy is, because it falls victim to anti-special Energy cards and cannot be grabbed with Oricorio or brought back with Mega Turbo, but it is still not going to impact things too often either. With Vespiquen falling off the face of the earth and with Mega Gardevoir being fairly strong in the matchup regardless, Karen could end up getting the axe for this build as well.

Now let’s get into the decks that placed at North American Intercontinentals!

I really like Tord's list, and not just because he won the whole event. I actually am just not a huge fan of this archetype as a whole. I am just biased against Garbodor, and feel like this deck lacks a degree of power. It is clearly tier 1, if not the best deck in the format, but it is not the style of deck I like to play. That being said, I love how Tord constructed his list.

Four Tapu Lele-GX is beautiful. It is so strong for consistency and it is just such a great attacker in this deck as well. I see a lot of lists only running 2 copies of this card, and I've generally run 3, and seeing Tord opt for the full play set honestly feels so strong. His Garbodor line and Drampa count is completely stock, and since he runs so many Lele, he doesn't have any situational fringe attackers, which is a totally different direction than Sam Chen took with his list. (We'll discuss that later!)

In the "Rainbow Energy vs Team Magma Base" argument, I've always favored the Rainbow Energy route, as they end up taking up less space in the deck while also offering more outs towards turning Drampa's damage boost on. On the topic of Energy here, Tord also runs a higher than normal count at 13. (You'll see Sam runs only 11) I just like how streamlined all of this is.

Getting into the Trainers, two things jump out to me: 4 Choice Band and 4 Float Stone. I love this. Choice Band is so important in this deck, and being able to always have them is important. If you end up attacking with a bunch of different attackers over the span of a game, suiting them all up is very lucrative. This deck shouldn't struggle with having access to all of these tools.

It seems like "One Teammates" fully entrenched itself as the accepted addition to a lot of these grindier style decks now. I always love this card, so I can't object at all. I do think there are a few tweaks I may make with this deck overall. I'd honestly love a Tapu Koko promo in the list, primarily. I've just been really impressed by how well that card has played. Beyond that, I just love how aggressive and smooth this build is. It isn't a coincidence that this approach was what came out on top at the game's largest event ever.

John has been heralded as more or less the premier Decidueye player for a while now, and this placement comes as a surprise to very few people I would imagine. John has played this game for as long as I can remember, always at a top level, and to see this run out of him this year is honestly just overdue. You'll notice something similar with his list compared to Tord's approach: There is very little fancy going on here compared to a stock list.

With the addition of Tapu Lele-GX in the deck, things have changed some. The deck gets a bit more consistent (Initial fear was that Decidueye decks had grown worse as a result of Tapu Lele's printing as Vileplume was hurt by how much easier it became to access key Supporter cards.) but it also gains a new primary attacker. You'll see John actually runs very few additional attackers as a result: He just has a lone Lugia-EX. No Tauros-GX. No Beedrill (Thanks Field Blower!) No Trevenant-EX. No second Lugia. He relies mainly on Decidueye-GX and Tapu Lele-GX as his attackers no.

The rest of his build is also pretty common place. The Trainers didn't really change much. The one Field Blower allows John to strip a Garbodor of a tool that snuck in under Vileplume so that he has access to Abilities for the rest of the game. I do wish he had some better means of being able to find the lone copy, but there isn't much I'd consider besides one Skyla as a Lele target. (I do like how this lets you get access to a Forest of Giant Plants, and to a less extent a Revitalizer, which MAY let you get away with only one copy of the situational Item card.) Olympia is a Switching (and healing) card that can both be played under his on Vileplume, but also one which can be grabbed easily on demand with Tapu Lele. To fit these, it seems he trimmed back on Level Balls and Trainers' Mail a bit, which is fine as the format as a whole has slowed down and is more forgiving. You'll get more grindy games in general.

I think my favorite addition is bumping up to a 4th Grass Energy. Traditionally, a majority of Decidueye Vileplume lists ran 4 DCE and 3 Grass Energy (Even many versions that opted for Rainbow Energy to allow other attackers only ran 7 total Energy.) I'd seen the deck stumble and miss Energy drops frequently. Now, this was always "fine" because the deck had such a power end game and can do a ton of work even when not attacking, so players just seemed to accept the hiccups. While that is defensible, I also like just adding that Energy and smoothing things out a bit more.

I guess I'll end up bringing up any potential additions or changes I'd make to each list now, and the only thing I'd even want to test on this front would be to trim the 2nd Revitalizer for a Skyla. This deck has a fairly rigid skeleton that makes the lists hard to really do a ton to, overall.

While Sam ended up on the same archetype that Tord did, you can see that the lists are quite a bit different! Sam has access to plenty of different attackers: Oricorio, Mewtwo and Tapu Lele join Garbodor, Tapu Lele and Drampa here. Oricorio is traditionally used as a counter to Vespiquen and to a lesser extent Gyarados decks (Which is not needed here as he does run Tapu Koko already.) With Vespiquen not making much of a splash, Oricorio winds up being fairly unappealing. I don't hate Sam's choice to include it. The deck had hype and momentum, and choosing to prepare for it is a fine hedge, but not one I'd take going forward.

I mentioned in my discussion of Tord's list that I really like the Tapu Koko promo, and am of course happy to see it in Sam's list. I will also be honest regarding the Mewtwo. I get what Mewtwo does. I like the strength against Espeon, and I like another non-ex attacker. I'm just not entirely sure if I know all of its applications in every matchup and worry I may be overlooking more nuanced plays with it. I just don't know if I like it enough to want to play it in here.

The big difference beyond attacker suite is Sam's choice to go with Magma Bases over Rainbow Energy. While I mentioned my preference to Rainbow Energy, Magma Base offers some strengths as well. You can get aggressive Drampa starts sooner than you would with Rainbows, and you have 4 cards that impact Stadium wars as they join the two Field Blower on that front. They can also sometimes actually put damage onto the opponent's field which is nice.

Sam went with a more conventional 3 count on both Choice Band and Float Stone. I'm fine with going 3 Stone here, but I really, really like opting for the 4th Choice Band with the way this deck plays out. On the other hand, Sam here has 2 Rescue Stretcher to Tord's split of 1-1 on Stretcher and a Super Rod. With Tord already running so many Energy cards, I think I just prefer 2 Stretcher. This is a card that just continues to impress me across the board.

Sam deviated from the full 8 Sycamore and N, which I think is totally fine with Tapu Lele now. I don't think I choose to play the full 8 in many builds anymore at all. My guess is that he converted the 4th Sycamore into the Prof. Kukui. I like having the ability to jump ahead in damage in this deck and it does offset my concern with only 3 Choice Band some. I prefer this 4-3-1 split over Tord's 4-4.

The final major change is Sam's choice to play 1 Hex Maniac. I mentioned in my assessment of my Gardevoir deck how strong Hex Maniac is in this format. Traditionally, since this deck has access to Garbotoxin, you don't need Hex Maniac. Hex is nice insurance in case you don't have access to Garbodor. It is also nice because it can't get Field Blowered away. Having a safe, reliable turn off of Abilities is great. Against Vileplume, it can also be searched for by Lele, and when played opens up a turn where you can stick a Tool on a Trubbish or Garbodor for further lock. With 2 Stretcher opposed to 1 (in case the Garb gets KOed) and a Hex Maniac, Sam's list is certainly better equipped to deal with Ability reliant decks than Tord's. This "awkward" Hex + Garbodor plan isn't new, it saw some play in Mega Mewtwo lists earlier in the season, but it still feels a bit counter-intuitive at first glance.

It is fitting to see the Top 4 of this event be Tord, John, Sam and Igor. All four of these players have had just outstanding years. Igor is the 2nd player in the Top 4 to be piloting a Decidueye deck, although this looks very different from John's Vileplume oriented build. The Trainers actually end up looking very similar despite this. The only major difference is the addition of a pair of Choice Band which helps the deck's damage output. Surprisingly, without Vileplume, Igor could play VS Seeker... and doesn't!

I actually had been discussing a similar deck to this with Zach Lesage heading into the event (He finished I believe 6-2-1? Close to this result.) and he ran 2 copies of VS Seeker. The big difference between Zach's list and Igor's is that Igor ran a 2-1 Alolan "Ninetales" line where as Zach allocated those spots to other numbers. I put Ninetales in paranthesis because I feel like the deck cares as much about Vulpix's free attack as it does the Ninetales and that the Ninetales ends up being a free throw on since it has a high HP count and the 50 damage sniping attack for a DCE is actually really synergistic with the deck's overall game plan.

With the absence of Vileplume, a few things chance to this deck. First off, you free up a lot of space. I mentioned with John's list that you don't have much space for innovation. Vileplume locks up 6 spot in your list, all of which go to clunky cards. Normally I'd argue that Vileplume also keeps you from playing VS Seeker, but Igor clearly doesn't even want to! I am sure some of this is mitigated by Decidueye's GX attack, Hollow Hunt, which lets you retrieve cards, but it is still surprising to me. Without trying to chase an early Vileplume, you can focus more on getting out Decidueyes as well, so you end up being more aggressive. Vileplume suffers from a few issues. First, it IS weakened by the consistency boost that Tapu Lele offers. On top of this, Garbodor's popularity has really turned decks off of extremely high item count engines, which Vileplume previously preyed on. While Vileplume is still clearly strong, it is no where near the threat it had been prior to Guardians Rising's release.

In this case, since you avoid Vileplume entirely and can be an overall faster, less disruptive deck, you do want to be able to put down more pressure. My favorite addition is Tapu Koko (I wouldn't mind looking at it as an inclusion in John's build either!) as it just spews damage all over the field. Espeon-EX is used solely for its de-evolution attack, which is just a huge pain for a lot of decks. While it punishes decks like Vikavolt and Metagross... decks which use Rare Candy... particularly badly, it is also strong enough against other Decidueye decks, Greninja builds, and I assume Espeon Garbodor as well. It is also strong against Mega Evolution decks, because you can pair it with Field Blower on Spirit Links and potentially buy free turns. This doesn't carry a ton of strength in the early game where it isn't hard to re-link something, but when you pair it with an N, or they are resource light, it can be backbreaking.

Despite finishing in the Top 4 opposed to the finals, I actually think this approach to Decidueye is stronger than pairing it with Vileplume, although I'm determined to sneak in at least 1 VS Seeker!

Andrew Mahone was the lone pilot to break into the Top 8 with Zoroark, a deck I pegged as being one of the best in the format going into the event. The deck actually overall plays a similar game plan to the Garbodor decks in the format. They are fairly grindy and try to leverage non-EX attackers with cheap attack costs. They have their pros and their cons, but they function similarly.

Andrew's Pokémon count is both very standard and really, really out there at the same time. The 4-4-2 Zoroark line, 2 Tapu Lele, 2 Drampa and 1 Shaymin is pretty normal. The Garbodor lists in Top 8 both omitted Shaymin, a huge liability on the bench, entirely, but I like that Mahone opted to keep 1 copy as a safety net. The card is still really powerful.

Beyond this, we get the more unusual stuff: Oricorio is a for Vespiquen, and to a lesser extent Gyarados, a deck basically pushed from the format by Tapu Koko entirely. It also has random situational uses to finish off damaged Pokémon. Oranguru is an anti-N option, and just pads consistency some. Now for the big surprise... Turtonator-GX. Complete with not enough Fire sources to ever use its bigger attackers.

Having spoken with Andrew about this inclusion, it is a great low-cost wall to promote and peck away with 20 damage that forces an opponent to work around it. It gives the deck time to be able to set up Zoroarks and to be able to get Energy in play in matchups where it is beneficial. Very few decks want to swing into the turtle and eat another 80 damage in feedback damage for their effort.

Beyond being an intriguing early game threat, it leverages it's typing well too. Decidueye and Metagross are both... interesting, matchups for this deck, and they are weak to Fire. At first glance, 20 damage isn't exactly where you want to be when applying a 2x modifier but with Choice Band and Kukui it adds up quick. Against Metagross, if they even swing into you, they leave themselves dead to a return KO from a Zoroark BREAK with a Band or Kukui, which really ruins their game plan.

One thing I love about this build... he is playing Magma Base to trigger his Drampas, but also opted to run 1 copy of a Rainbow Energy. This is both a 3rd means of turning on Drampa-GX's damage boost, but it also gives him access to the random situational GX attack off of Tapu Lele. Since this deck will often use Drampa's GX attack, it isn't the most appealing thing, but it comes up, especially with both Greninja and Decidueye gaining steam with this event. With Teammates, it is even totally reasonable to be able to get ahold of the Rainbow when it is needed.

The Trainers aren't too different than what we've seen out of Sam and Tord's Garbodor lists, besides the Special Charge (which is needed as the stress put on your DCEs is higher due to Zoroark) and the lower Float Stone count which makes sense both due to Zoroark's Ability and the lack of needing to turn on Garbotoxin. This also makes the 1 Hex Maniac near mandatory. Mahone also runs 4 Choice Band, which as I mentioned, I am a huge fan of. If you plan to leverage non-EX attackers it seems like a card you want in high numbers, and I really push for the full playset in all of these decks.

Wow, this is an interesting take on Volcanion, although it seems similar to an approach that has been gaining traction recently. This is certainly a slower build of the deck than it was months ago, relying on baby Volcanion and Turtonator's GX attack to power up the field more so than Max Elixir. I'd seen similar builds with ZERO copies of Elixir, which felt really off to me, and the two copies at least keep an opponent honest, so to speak. You may not reliably have access to them, but they have to acknowledge you COULD have them when planning their lines, and that changes a lot in and of itself.

My favorite part of this deck is just the monumental amount of Fire Energy it plays. I love it. This helps you reliably discard it to put back into play but it also lets you avoid clunky cards like Fisherman and Energy Retrieval. Starmie, coupled with your raw glut of actual Energy cards assures you'll have access to plenty of Energy over the span of a game. It also makes your Elixir even more reliable.

The card I am still not totally sold on is Brooklet Hill. It can grab you Staryu and Volcanion-EX as they are dual typed, but it feels like it tapers off pretty quickly in value as the game progresses. Ryan used its inclusion to trim on Ultra Ball down to 3... a decision I especially dislike as you are still often needing Tapu Lele-GX. I'd find something to cut... anything, literally, to fit the 4th Ultra Ball back in. An easy quick fix, in my eyes, would be an N or Sycamore, as often an Ultra Ball just becomes a Supporter if need be. Ultra Ball is another great means to dump Fire Energy early too. It just seems too strong. The 3 VS Seeker, on the other hand, I am fine with. Not because I don't want a 4th... 4 is definitely still superior... but there isn't room, and it is less desirable than the 4th Ultra Ball.

I'm not sure I like 3 Lysandre... it isn't that I hate the number, but I feel like the deck actively wants to pad other numbers more than it needs a 3rd Lysandre. My assumption here is that Ryan is trying to reduce the demand on Items to play around Garbodor... Brooklet is consistency that isn't an Item. No Retrievals. 3-3 on Ultra Ball and VS Seeker. In turn, the 3rd Lysandre due to less VS Seeker. I just think that it may be going too far for too small a percentage of the field. I'm not even trying to argue that Garbodor isn't one of the most popular decks, if not the most popular overall... but the field is WIDE open and no deck eats up a massive percentage of the field. After Seattle, I could see going this far off the beaten path to strength yourself against Garbodor, but I'm not as keen on it now. I'm not looking to revamp the overall approach, it did really well for him, but I think some of the numbers I feel are trimmed beyond what I'd say is reasonable can be widened some. (I'm still looking at you Ultra Ball)

Now to something I love: 3 Fighting Fury Belt. No one runs these anymore, due to both the option to run Choice Band, and because the HP boost is weakened due to Field Blower. Still, all of the attackers in this deck are hefty as it is. The damage output in decks kind of assumes Fury Belts are not going to see play, and this deck actually hits numbers that punish decks as they undershoot your HP totals now. You can also kind of overwhelm their Field Blowers as no one runs more than 2. This is by far my favorite approach this deck is taking.

As always due to the nature of the deck, you have to run a lot of switching cards, and Ryan runs 2 Switch, 2 Float Stone and Olympia. I always love Escape Rope, maybe more than I should, but I'm not sure I'd trim any those counts for it here. Volcanion is one of those archetypes that just seems to always be clinging on to tier 1 status and I don't see it going away any time soon. (In fact, I actually just bought all of the cards I needed to build Volcanion myself... only partially because the deck is dirt cheap to acquire!)

Gustavo entered the Top 8 in first seed, before being defeated by Igor's Decidueye deck. When Guardians Rising was released, Aqua Patch was one of the most hyped cards released, and the card with the most potential in people's eyes to abuse it as Lapras-GX. Lapras already saw success in Waterbox abusing Max Elixir, and as a powerful Water typed Basic, it could use Elixir and Aqua Patch and likely be an extremely aggressive and resilient threat.

While Israel Sosa did have some success with that style of deck, it never really took off like people suspected it may. Alolan Ninetales has kind of slid in that slot, although prior to this weekend it never really had a break out performance. It has seen play both alongside Vileplume, and now just Decidueye, and it has seen play in this style of deck using Aqua Patch.

Ninetales may "only" cap at 160 damage before modifiers, but it can buff that easily and also it can set up Pokémon with its sniping attack for only a DCE. It also benefits from a very rare weakness so it can carry itself as a deck's only primary attacker. If a deck can't OHKO Ninetales, it has to try and fight around it's extremely obnoxious GX attack which can just dump that damage onto the attacker. While Ninetales doesn't have 240 HP, it is still very hefty and a tough KO, and that is before Gustava incorporates Rough Seas into the mix.

One of the beautiful parts about this deck is that it can leverage Brigette well, and then you can also run Octillery. Octillery gives the deck a glut of draw power, and also lets you incorporate one of my favorite cards: Mallow. This makes finding DCE and Aqua Patch really easy. Since the deck isn't trying to give up KOs... it primarily attacks with a GX... you can't really use Teammates well, so having access to Mallow is great. One of the other great parts of this deck, and one of the reasons Octillery fits so seamlessly into this deck, is Vulpix's free attack which helps you set up. The deck is fast, and consistent, and applies a lot of pressure. It doesn't surprise me at all to see Gustava make it into Top 8 as the first seed at all.

Tapu Koko is a great attacker in here, as you generally use all GXes, so it plays the roll of "7th prize" well. The 20 damage across the field also sets up KOs for Ninetales well. This is the only deck in Top 8 to play Sudowoodo and the deck otherwise cannot beat Mega Rayquaza, so I understand it. I still feel like it is unnecessary, but that is with hindsight of what the metagame wound up looking like.

Karen is another card I don't think I'd play going forward just because I do not suspect much in the way of Vespiquen. Without that side use, I don't think you care enough about recovery to choose Karen over other options. I think this deck is extremely powerful, and despite the 1st seed placement, it seems to be getting less attention than Drampa Garbodor, Decidueye, and even Greninja as a result of this event. I wouldn't sleep on this deck going forward, especially since it loses next to nothing with any reasonable rotation.

Finally, we have Alex Krekler with his Greninja build.

Pokémon wise, we have a fairly standard Talonflame build. Alex runs a 3-4-4-3 Greninja BREAK line. Since Frogadier just dumps Frogadiers into play, you aren't super reliant on Froakie. Since you want to open with Talonflame off of its Ability, running 4 Talonflame and only 3 Froakie actually gives you a pretty reasonable chance to open with Talonflame. I'm not a stats guy, but what I do remember is the math Jason Klaczynski did back in 2007 regarding his Shifty ex/Lickitung Delta deck, which ran 4 copies of both Lickitung and Seedot. The odds of opening Lickitung wound up being somewhere around 65%, since you often see hands with both copies and you can choose. Therefore, if you reduce the undesirable starter to only 3 copies, that should certainly push the odds of opening Talonflame north of 70% which is great.

I am normally not even a fan of Talonflame... it feels... kind of weak. You wind up with a bunch of dead birds in your deck beyond the first. You want to use Water Duplicates early anyways. With Tapu Lele, a build where you can reliably see a turn 1 Wally seems totally buildable. Talonflame really corners how you can build your deck. The real selling point no is Talonflame BREAK. Obviously, you can't ever use the BREAK's attack without Fire Energy, but you can use the normal Talonflame's attack while being a Fire Type due to the BREAK's typing. This is huge against Metagross, and Decidueye, two iffy matchups.

Field Blower and Choice Band both really helped this deck's viability. The damage output goes way up against high HP EXes/GXes due to Choice Band and Kukui. Field Blower is finally an answer to Garbodor. Decidueye... a definite problem for this deck, and I'm not convinced Talonflame does enough against it... has seen a steep decline in popularity even if it sa a resurgence at this event.

Alex opts for a 7-2 split on Water and Splash Energy... I've yet to decide if I like 7-2 or 6-3 better, so I'll clearly defer to him here. The Trainers are not that unique except on a few fronts. First, he runs no Stadium cards. No Silent Lab. No Brooklett Hill. No Rough Sea. I don't mind that at all. I don't, in turn, like his choice to run 2 Max Potion opposed to 3. With Rough Seas, I'm fine with 2, but without I do like a 3rd.

Where I am really confused is the two copies of Rare Candy. I know their function, clearly, but this is a card that has more or less NEVER been included in this deck. I'd tried to argue for 1 copy as something to search up, and been almost universally shut down on the idea. To see 2 copies here is interesting and I really wish I had more insight as to what made him go against the grain and include them now.

I also wish I had access to Grafton's Greninja list, to see how similar to builds are, but unfortunately, I haven't been able to acquire it.

Overall this format seems extremely healthy and I cannot believe what a great job Guardians Rising did to rejuvenate this game! I'm curious to see what the upcoming set brings, and more important, I am thrilled to see what is announced for next season's rotation. Until next time! 

[+12] okko

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