Experts' corner

Chris Fulop

Marching Onward Through States

With Night March storming through the first weekend of States, Chris gives his thoughts on where the metagame is going and suggests what to play next.

03/29/2016 by Chris Fulop

Hello again, everyone!

My initial plans for this article were to include a tournament report of my experiences at Michigan States, and to go over a few of these Standards decks I wanted to discuss but did not get the opportunity to cover in my last article. Well, on the first hand, I opted not to attend Michigan States, and the results from the first week of States was so impactful that covering that has somewhat overridden the importance of covering the decks I wanted to touch on prior.

Let’s look at a first statistics coming out of States. I want to give a shoutout to Andrew Wamboldt at The Charizard Lounge for putting in a ton of work to compile all of the statistics and results coming out of the weekend.

There were fourteen States this past weekend, and of these, exactly half of them were won by Night March. Beyond these seven First Place finishes, Night March also took Second Place at an ADDITIONAL seven States. (Night March put up a showing in the Finals of 12/14 States...two of the Finals were Night March mirror matches.) To further showcase its total dominance of the format, we have to look at its overall presence in the Top 8 of these events: A total of 35% of the Top 8s between all of the States were comprised of Night March. Beyond the fourteen copies which made it into the Finals, it placed another seven into Top 4, and seventeen more lost their Quarterfinals games leaving them with a Top 8 finish. 35% of the Top 8 across the whole country is FAR more dominating than it would even appear at first glance. The only times I can think of where a deck has held that sort of stranglehold over a format would be Darkrai-EX at Worlds 2012, SP decks in early 2011, and Gardevoir/Gallade or Empoleon in 2008. To have Night March not only put a HUGE number of players into cut, but also go the distance as often as it did pretty much dispels any argument that it isn't the lone Tier one deck.

The deck netted a total of 2670 Championship Points, whereas the next "best" performer, a collective of Darkness decks, brought in 990 total Championship Points. The performances per archetype taper off pretty hard from there. After Night March and Darkness decks, we see the top performers, in order, being Seismitoad-EX, Manectric-EX, Vespiquen/Vileplume, and then Greninja. The only decks to take home a 1st Place finish besides Night March were one Yveltal deck, two Seismitoad decks, two Vileplume/Vespiquen decks, a Greninja deck, and thanks to my new favorite player Jose Marrero, a Mega Rayquaza deck.

Worth drawing from the results is that Night March was such a presence that decks such as Seismitoad-EX and Vileplume/Vespiquen managed to push through to top finishes on the back of being able to prey on a huge field of Night March opponents. I feel like both of these decks are not quite as well positioned in a more wide open field. That said, it doesn't really matter, seeing how we don't HAVE a wide open field; we have a field full of Joltik and Pumpkaboo. Coming out of this week, I expect to see a field of Joltik and Pumpkaboo, and then a bunch of people playing archetypes specifically built to prey on them. Week one determined this isn't an open metagame at all, and that sort of extremely skewed metagame is going to lead to a very swift response from players opposed to us seeing a slowly evolving field.

Anyways, in my last article I discussed my plans to use Night March myself for Michigan, and I am left with a mixed bag of feelings regarding this. On one hand, I feel validated that I had very quickly zeroed in on what was definitely the best deck, even if I don't think it was particularly hard to pick up on. On the other hand, it makes me really regret my decision to not go to Michigan. I really, really hate two-day best-of-three tournaments, to the point where it made the prospect of traveling only three hours to the tournament really undesirable. I actually have really enjoyed PLAYING Pokémon this year, but on the flip side, I've never had less fun playing in actual tournaments than I have this year either. It puts me in a really awkward spot because for months I'd kind of sucked it up and just bit the bullet and traveled around and managed to acquire 195 Championship Points, and now I am just so frustrated with the experiences I've been getting at tournaments that I don't want to go at all. I'm going to San Francisco for Worlds regardless, but we'll see if I end up traveling to any States. I'm pretty sure I'll be going to Ohio States and maybe Indiana the week before, though. And unless something major changes, I'll be sleeving up some build of Night March.

On that topic, let’s go over the finalized list that I would have used for Michigan. It isn't too far off of what I had in my last article, but it does have a few changes worth looking at.

In my first list, I had three Fighting Fury Belt and two Float Stone. I cut the second Float Stone for an Escape Rope for a few reasons. First, the actual random "make them Bench their Active" spots do come up, although with this deck, where they have to keep up KOing your Active, it rarely does. Well, at least in a game-deciding capacity. Usually the games you don't want the Active KO are the games you're winning regardless. Second, it gets around Special Conditions, and can Bench a BKT Yveltal which turns off Float Stone. Neither comes up often, but they do. It also lets you Bench a Pokémon already saddled with a Fighting Fury Belt. Finally, it is a means by which to deal with Jolteon-EX. You can Rope it to the Bench after it attacks, and then you can Lysandre it back up and get the KO after its attack's effect falls off as it hits the Bench. This also works to get around a walled-up Jirachi that dumps off your DCE. Rather than run something like Gallade/Maxie, which I think is a mistake, this lateral shift on "switching" cards does not eat up any deck space.

The Jolteon trick doesn't work if they have no Bench though, and that leads into our final inclusion: one Target Whistle. This card is great in general, and it can ensure that you have a Benched Pokémon to do the Jolteon trick with. In mirror, and honestly any matchup as well, you can force a Shaymin to the Bench to help your Prize exchange. This comes up against decks that have big tankier Pokémon that you can't OHKO, as you can work around it in the long term. With Puzzles, you can definitely pull off 2-3 Whistles a game. (This is one time where Puzzle for a Puzzle and, in this case a Whistle, works great, letting you milk it for extra copies.)

I really like this list for the NM mirror, because it has a lot of tools to come out ahead. First off, the Unown reduce the odds you open a Shaymin-EX, which isn't a MAJOR edge but it does help long-term. They also do help prevent you from needing to USE Shaymin as much. (While I do run three Shaymin, you want to not have to resort to it unless you need to. This kind of changes versus EX-heavy decks, where you need a deep first turn, and you don't have to worry about the exchange as much.) Also, I got to use Unown past Wobbuffet before, which was pretty funny. I actually was able to convert Ultra Balls into them, and won a game off of it. No, that won't happen often at all, but it was pretty amusing that it did.

The biggest tools in the mirror are Parallel City and Target Whistle. These give you both ends of control over the "Shaymin game", helping get rid of your own Benched Shaymin while also helping to expose theirs. Finally, unless I KNOW my opponent is playing an Item lock deck, I ALWAYS opt to go second (which is clearly correct versus Night March) so with all of this, I think I managed some absurd 15-0 streak in mirror matches on PTCGO. It also helps that the list is pretty streamlined. I don't bother to include more than two Dimension Valleys, any Milotic or Bronzong, or Vespiquen.

For Week 1, I think all of that fluff was unnecessary. I saw a lot of good players running a Vespiquen/Night March hybrid, and I just do not think it is necessary at all. With Belts, the extra HP doesn't really matter, and it’s just a lot of extra space and clunkiness. This build has a very finite number of decks it isn't already really favored against, and the only one I care about Vespiquen against would be Seismitoad-EX decks, but even then, I think the impact just isn't that high.

I do say this while making some degree of assumptions. I've seen some lists, but not all of them, and the focus on Night Marchers versus Vespiquen could definitely be very different depending on the players using it. The problem I do see is that a light Vespiquen presence in Night March seems very underwhelming and unnecessary, and a more heavy Vespiquen presence just seems actually worse against the field.

Now, let’s fast forward a bit and look at what to do with the upcoming metagame shift. Night March should have had a huge target on its head week one, but in reality it was just more people hoping no one caught on and they just used Night March themselves. I expect a ton of Night March players, but I also expect a lot of people to try and beat it. Seismitoad and Vileplume/Vespiquen are two very good places to start, as not only are they pretty good against the deck, they got enough of a showcase with their States performances that they are on most players' radar now.

Before I go further, I want to highlight the utter, total flopping of Trevenant in Standard. The deck had a ton of hype and did absolutely miserably at States. It managed to put one pilot into Top 8 and another into Top 4. With the amount of hype the deck had, that’s a huge disappointment. (I’m particularly disappointed because mechanics aside, Trevenant is one of my favorite Pokémon to come out of XY, and I'd love to see it be very good.) This is good for Night March. On one hand, you could beat the deck anyways. If you go first and got a really good turn of setup, you could position yourself well enough to beat it past the disruption. Beyond this, even with counter-measures such as Head Ringer or the BKP Trevenant, the Shaymin-EX loop gameplan is still rather potent against them. To top it off, just naturally drawing Lysandre or Hex Maniac can snowball and win you the game. Still, it is one of the matchups I do not want to play against (as it punishes me for choosing, in the dark, to play second) and it likely will see a further dropoff from here. I think the deck is not quite good enough in the first place, but also suffering from the fact that Darkness decks are popular, and because people still believe they are a good "counter" to Night March (which isn't true. Night March is very much favored...more on this later).

Anyways, we clearly want some additional game against Seismitoad and Vileplume/Vespiquen, but the other two major threats are going to be decks using Focus Sash, and then the biggest issue of all, Giratina-EX.

Focus Sash can be dealt with by using Escape Rope, Lysandre, and Xerosic and Megaphone. I was torn between Xerosic and Megaphone in the first list, and I went with Xerosic because it was also able to combat DCE which I felt was important. It was also MORE spammable than Megaphone (which needs you to burn Puzzles to loop) which I think is better against Focus Sash. If I only devote one spot to an anti-Tool card, I want Xerosic. That said, I'm very open to running one of both, although I'm not sure at what I'd cut. I don't know what I'd pair with the Sash either, though. I'd mainly played against Garchomp decks using it, and Garchomp just seemed utterly terrible. The deck was just not impressive at all. I played versus some Medicham, and that was a bit better, but still not really able to exist if Sash could be answered. I'd like to see an attempt to update the quad Gallade decks which I think could actually be good. Gallade is the best Fighting-type attacker in the format right now. I also wonder if Fighting/Crobat could be good. The Hex spam, and the Fighting Fury Belt really do make Bat decks a lot worse against Night March, but if you pair them with Focus Sash, I think that is enough to make the matchup favorable. I'm just very concerned that the deck as a whole is just falling further and further behind in overall power level. If we expect Seismitoad-EX to become even better, I have to assume that bodes very poorly for Fighting/Bats.

Seismitoad-EX is a tougher puzzle to crack, because it is a pretty flexible start to a deck. I assume the best build is paired with Giratina-EX. (I cannot believe I am saying this, because I've HATED this deck pretty much since the release of Ancient Origins, but Giratina is so good right now.) I know builds using Garbodor did pretty well during the first week, but I'm not too keen on that. It isn't that I don't think the deck is’s just that if we're looking at a list of "decks to beat" that include Night March, Toad decks, and Vileplume decks, I'm just not seeing the appeal of the Garbodor. Still, if you go first and get an ideal turn one, it is possible to just OHKO a Seismitoad, and just take three KOs before they can get rid of all of your Energy. Fighting Fury Belt is a huge pain too, because it makes both Joltik and Pumpkaboo difficult KOs, so they actually do need to discard your DCEs. If they ever do get a Giratina up and successfully attack when you get hit by an Energy-removal card, you do kind of just lose though. The one good thing about Toad is that you are guaranteed to get one turn of Item use before Quaking Punch gets going, so that is great. Another path worth noting is that if you get to “go off" and are shy the OHKO, you can use Sky Return to start putting damage onto Seismitoad as set up hits while also protecting your DCEs from being stripped away.

Vileplume/Vespiquen is an interesting matchup too. I've played against it probably four times (I know, huge sample size, right?) and have gone second every turn, and just gotten IMMEDIATELY locked out of the game by a turn-one Vileplume. The deck fires off so consistently that I'm sure that is standard. If I got to go first, I feel like the matchup isn't even that bad, though! If you can go off and purge your deck of a lot of Item fluff, you really only need to hit a few attacks to win, assuming you can see your DCEs. They are pretty linear in game plan once Vileplume gets up, so if you are able to function past the lock to a moderate degree, I don't think it’s that bad. You are still a definite underdog as a whole, due to the whole "Can't win going second" issue, since you aren't nearly as favored when you do go first as they are when they do. You'll drop a lot more games when going first than they will, even if I think you may be favored on the play.

Finally, we have Giratina-EX. I'm looking at the card outside the realm of as a partner with Seismitoad-EX. I think some sort of Bronzong/Giratina deck, or even a Max Elixir build could exist. I won't pretend to say I've fleshed out every possible way to pair Giratina-EX with "Energy acceleration" but it seems strong. Reshiram is a good possible pairing, as it also looks as if it would pair the best with Max Elixir. It doesn't seem too unreasonable to run an engine that lets you reliably get a turn one Giratina-EX attacking now. This type of deck is extra brutal because if it does get going, it doesn't even matter if you are up by five Prizes, they just win if you are stripped of your DCEs and get hit. There aren't a ton of solutions to this issue either.

With all of these issues, I wanted to revisit Bronzong in Night March. While against the "fair" decks, Bronzong isn't necessary, as you beat them without it, but the Bronzong helps against the decks you struggle against.

The biggest issue re-adding Bronzong causes is that it eats up a LOT of space. It doesn't just eat up two or four slots to fit the big metal bell, it also forces three Metal Energy into the list, meaning we have to sacrifice 5-7 spots. This means Puzzle of Time has to go. This is actually not THAT big an issue. The deck was already a Tier 1 option prior to Puzzle of Time, and I insist that Fighting Fury Belt is a bigger boon to the archetype than the Puzzles. (Puzzle makes it EXTRA consistent and helps the "only four DCE" issue, but the deck was already very stable, and ran cards like Bronzong or Milotic for the DCE issue anyways, so it’s a slight overall upgrade on those fronts. Fighting Fury Belt granting your attackers extra HP is something that can't be replaced and helps shore up MAJOR weaknesses the deck faced. Even Assault Vest wouldn't help against Bats or Oblivion Wing.) Bronzong covers the "I need more Energy to attack with" front, which is the only part of the Puzzles which NEEDED to be replaced.

So the Puzzles are pretty much immediately torn from the deck because it is the only means by which to fit all of this stuff. I want to run a 2-2 Bronzong line (in the matchups you want the Energy acceleration, I can absolutely see wanting to get both in place to loop Joltik. The 1-1 Bronzong line was great when the gameplan was "I need Bronzong to provide one or two additional attacks when I'm out of DCE" but when the gameplan is "I need to function under heavy disruption," I think the thicker line is just better. To top it off, with a 1-1 line, ignoring Prize issues, getting the line out under Item lock is not easy. The thicker line helps a lot).

So the Puzzles shift into a Bronzong line, but we still need to fit in three Metal Energy. Unfortunately, the Parallel City and both Unown get the axe to do this. Unown have been great to me, but I've always acknowledged they were the first cards that can be cut if specific counters needed to be fit. This counts. Parallel City is just a necessary trimming as nothing else could go. 

Now, let’s look at how this shift impacts a few other decisions. First off, without Puzzles, Buddy-Buddy Rescue shifts from "luxury" to "mandatory". I mentioned how Parallel City was the clear "last cut" when you could argue in a vacuum that Rescue is in a similar boat. Without any other recovery, it can't go. I actually want to look at adding a second one, but there is no room. (Maybe a 1-1 Bronzong line with two Rescue and a space would work.)

Next, we have Xerosic. The debate between Xerosic and Megaphone is now clear-cut. Without Puzzle-looping, it’s definitely just Xerosic. Now that we have to deal with Toads and Giratina, the Energy removal option is also just very good.

I shifted back over to two Float Stone over the split with Escape Rope. Bronzong really wants Float Stone. Jolteon made a minimal impact, and my counters are being shifted over more towards beating more important threats. Jolteon did see play in Mega Manectric decks, but those didn't fare that well and I expect to see less of them.

Finally, we are stuck with two Fighting Fury Belt. I had trimmed it from three to two in my original list and that gets ported over, but I'm unsure if it is right. I was content with two because Puzzles could get them back. Without that, maybe a third needs to make its way back in.

Anyways, here is the list:

The last card I would like to add would actually be a Jirachi. Jirachi is great against Seismitoad and Giratina. (With Xerosic, you can strip a Giratina down to no Energy even once powered.) It isn't bad in the mirror match either, albeit not particularly great either. I also have to imagine it is really good against Vileplume/Vespiquen as they don't have a really good way to get around it and a very limited amount of Energy. I actually suspect Vileplume/Vespiquen is going to be overall a questionable choice just because it did just well enough to get a spotlight while being a generally pretty exploitable deck. Jirachi doesn't really work too well in the original build due to it eating up a DCE. With this deck having Metal Energy as well, Jirachi gets better. I wouldn't rule out fitting it into the original build acknowledging it is a lot worse, either. I am not sure what I'd cut for it. I guess if you went two Buddy-Buddy Rescue and a 1-1 Bronzong Line it would take up that freed up spot.

This is a pretty extreme direction to take the deck, but depending on whether you expect your specific States metagame to be hazardous to Night March or not, it could definitely be worth embracing.

Anyways, I still insist that Night March is still the play. I'd tweak it, not abandon it, in the face of a shifting metagame because I think it is just so much better than anything else. That said, if I had to change decks, I want to touch on a few options I wouldn't be upset to use: Seismitoad/Giratina, and Yveltal.

This deck actually gains a lot of space in Standard without running the Hypnotoxic Laser package. As a result, we can run a set of Puzzle of Times, which help at getting back DCEs and DDE, but also let us run a bit more of a toolbox on Trainers too. Teammates is just too good with Puzzle of Time, and as a result we'll run one in the deck even though it is pretty awkward with the whole "Belt up a Toad and spam SSU" gameplan.

The deck really wants to be able to deny Prizes while disrupting their engine until you get to take over with your Energy removal. Giratina can sweep up, and while you are breaking your Item lock in the transition, you can pair it with either a Judge or a Red Card to help mitigate that.

I'm running a weird one-of Battle Compressor, which isn't really abuseable, but it is useful towards getting cards in the discard to be able to Puzzle/VS Seeker. I don't want many, but it’s a second "copy" of most of your one-ofs as the game progresses. 

Lastly, the one Rough Seas seems a bit awkward, but I don't really like many of the Stadium options in the deck. It can be looped with Puzzle of Time if need be, but I don't feel the incentive to run too many copies. I know some Toad decks (such as Michael Pramawat's Expanded Toad/Crobat deck) really liked Silent Lab (he ran three copies!) but I'm not as sold on it in this build because it isn't as quick to close out games, and is a bit more likely to want to use its own Shaymin. I wouldn't rule out a copy, as it is really nice with the whole "Judge/Red Card into Giratina” transition, but it currently isn't included. There are plenty of preference cards included here, so if you want to add Labs there is space.

One of the biggest problems I had with Yveltal previously was that it loses to Night March, "ironically". Well, I feel as if the deck can actually be crafted to beat Night March with enough effort. In this build, we're running a Target Whistle (to exploit Shaymin!) a Parallel City (to discard Shaymin or an Yveltal-EX if you open with it) and a Megaphone alongside Xerosic. These help to get rid of Fighting Fury Belts, because the extra HP is really what sways the matchup.

The other big change over prior builds is the inclusion of Puzzle of Time. The deck in general has always struggled with running out of resources while setting up. This helps to fix that, while also letting the deck run a bit of a toolbox. To fit them, you can get away with trimming cards. The big thing is I reduced the deck to only running one Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick and one Gallade. I'm willing to make that sacrifice since what needs to be beaten has changed. The Puzzle of Times actually do quite a good job of helping to smooth the deck's draws out towards setting up Maxie as well.

I'm running one Belt and one Band right now, but I'm not sure which I like more so I'm experimenting with both since we have access to Puzzle of Time now. I've considered the new Darkness/Metal Stadium, as a one of, but I'm not sure what I'd cut for it. As a Stadium, accepting that this is being skewed to beat the best deck, the Parallel City is more important.

One cute trick worth looking at as well is that if you Sky Return into a Belted Joltik and promote a BKT Yveltal, the Belt turns off and Joltik dies. This is actually a fairly real deal. (This also matters if you say, Oblivion Wing onto a Pumpkaboo, and attach to that turn when you promote the Yveltal, you get the KO.) With all of the effort put to working around their Belts, and running Parallel City and Target Whistle, you wind up on pretty even footing against Night March, where whoever gets the first KO is again the big determining factor for who wins.

One thing I'd like to try at some point would be to run a Max Elixir and a Super Rod. This deck burns itself down to the last few cards of its deck very quickly, and you can pair the two (easily off of a Puzzle if you have to burn them earlier) to reload the deck with Darkness to reliably hit a Max Elixir. Even getting one free "Dark Patch" in a game does a lot of work for this deck. In this build there is absolutely no space to try something like that, so it’s really more of an idea that may be better suited towards being applied to a different Darkness deck. 

"Why would you do all of this work to make the deck close to a coin flip versus Night March!?"

Well, during Cities, this deck was arguably the best deck in the format. (It saw less success near the end because the metagame shifted around it, in a vacuum its likely still the best in that specific format.) It is a strong deck, and if we are expecting a lot of decks built to counter Night March, I imagine it'll be good against those decks more often than not. The deck loses the big target on its head. Therefore, if you can get it 50-50 versus the best deck, and beat the other decks that are geared to beating that best deck, while also being a powerful, proactive deck, then the deck is a strong choice. I'm not even saying this particular build is the BEST sixty cards for Yveltal, I've had only a few days to get some games with it, but I do stand by the fact that you can gear the deck to beat Night March, and if you do that, you have a real contender.

(One issue the deck DOES face is that it isn't too well-suited to actually OHKO Shaymin-EX if you DO manage to strand it on the Bench. You really need to use Zoroark, but it’s hard to get them with a wide enough Bench to capitalize on this. I suggest invoking the fear of BKT Yveltal plays to force them to expand their Bench. You need to get them to two Benched Pokémon and an Active so that Target Whistle provides the Shaymin and the OHKO with Zoroark. If they stay with two Night Marchers in play, you can put Oblivion Wing damage onto their attacker, and Bench BKT Yveltal. If they do not Bench another Pokémon, they face being Benched if you promote BKT Yveltal and then get a KO on their second Pokémon. That will bait them into a 3rd Night Marcher, which then walk them into giving up a Shaymin. You can also use Puzzle of Time to play multiple Whistles in one turn, but that’s asking quite a bit. Yes, Gallade is good for OHKO’ing Shaymin, but the way you have to play the matchup...avoiding the use of Shaymin...and even going so far as trying not to discard them so they can't be aren't too well suited towards actually manufacturing Maxie plays.)

To round out the article, I want to talk about Greninja, Manectric, and Mega Rayquaza. I actually have no idea how Jose managed to win a States in the face of all those Night March decks, and I do feel like a lot of it came down to pretty favorable matchups. Jose is a fantastic player, so I'm not undermining his accomplishment at all, but despite his win, I do not feel like the deck is well positioned. I say this as someone who would LOVE to find any excuse to recommend the deck.

Greninja did well enough, but I think it is just so bad against Night March that I can't suggest playing the deck. A lot of the decks I feel Greninja preys on are weak to Night March and will get pushed farther and farther from play. I haven't been the most kind to Greninja as a deck, but I really do like the deck! I think it is quite good, I just think the toxic presence of Night March warps the metagame in a way where it is just not well positioned.

Finally, Mega Manectric. It did well for itself...I'd actually say it overperformed. It’s the best shell for Jolteon-EX, which is good, but it also has access to a nice toolbox of attackers. This lets it be pretty flexible in what it wants to beat, so it can be pretty unpredictable. I still feel like it is pretty bad against Night March, but as Night March has to stretch itself thinner to beat new threats, and focus on mirror match, I expect it to grow softer and softer to Jolteon-EX.

Anyways, the next States I have a chance to attend will be week three in Indiana, so I have at least a week off from competing. My best advice is to play Night March, and adjust it to beating what you need it to beat, if you can. I've spoken to people who are looking for any excuse to NOT use Night March, for various reasons. Most people don't want to deal with mirror, or just hate the deck for personal reasons. I think that is the wrong mindset. Night March is THAT GOOD. It is broken, and imbalanced. It is so good that you should want to play it UNTIL you are forced off of it because things are just TOO hostile. I do not believe that enough people will gun straight for Night March AND successfully build a deck that can't be pre-emptively re-countered for week two to push you off of the deck. Night March will be a huge part of the field, but the rest of the field will be pretty diverse and that means playing a dedicated anti-Night March deck is really dangerous because it’s still likely that you'll play a majority of non-Night March matchups. Good luck at your States, regardless of what you choose to play!


[+15] okko


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