Experts' corner

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Chris Fulop

Last Call For Nationals

With US Nationals just around the corner, Chris covers three powerful Tier 1 decks to help you prepare for the event.

06/30/2016 by Chris Fulop

Hello, everyone!

Today I wanted to go over two of the most hyped decks in the Standard format headed into the tail end of National Championships, plus my current lists for Night March. I know I kind of beat a dead horse regarding that deck over the months, but the deck is extremely strong, and it is still my frontrunner for what I plan to use for US Nationals, and as a result one of the decks I wind up testing the most. I think the deck has more flexibility to it regarding builds than people give it credit for, as it is really easy to just look at the deck as perfectly linear and just play a stock list. I think this leaves you too open to decks built to beat it, and that the deck's raw strength which helps it win so many games on its own regardless, masks the fact that better builds can be found.

Before I get into this, I want to discuss something I am extremely excited to be able to announce. I've been working for quite a while on getting this organized and implemented, but I am thrilled to introduce the ARG Pokémon TCG Circuit Series!

I've teamed up with Alter Reality Games to add the Pokémon TCG to their already established Circuit Series, which currently supports other games such as Magic: the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Force of Will. The Circuit Series is a season worth of events located around the United States, culminating in the end of season ARG Invitational, offering thousands of dollars in cash prizes!

Each Circuit Series will over $1,000 in cash prizes, with the payout scaling if attendance ends up being high enough. Our first event is being held on July 31st, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Information on this inaugural FREE event can be found at the link posted above. (Future events will have reasonable entry fees.)

I am honestly so excited to be able to be involved with this project. People who know me know how critical I can be of this game, as I feel like it should be much more successful than it currently is. I've argued for third party tournaments for years now. I was involved with trying to make the Klaczynski Open a success. I traveled to Chicago in 2008 for Jimmy Ballard's pre-Worlds tournament weekend. (The name used for these events escapes me.) I remember even getting a group of friends together in 2001 or 2002 to rent out a few motel rooms to hold a pair of unsanctioned tournaments.

The big problem with all of those (The motel tournament having a laundry list of them, a gross backed up plumbing problem likely having been the worst offender.) has been a lack of infrastructure in place. ARG has been running these Circuit Series events for years now, successfully, and have the resources and infrastructure in place to be able to make this Circuit Series stable and successful.

The more successful the events end up, the larger we can grow them. We will have more information available coming out shortly regarding the specifics of the different Circuit Series events, as well as the first ever ARG Pokémon Invitational. We'll also be looking to do some sort of cross promotion with 60cards as well. We'll have more information for everyone as things get fleshed out and finalized!

With that out of the way though, I want to take a look at two decks I feel are making the most waves in Standard at the moment. The first is an exciting new Darkrai Giratina deck. The second isn't quite as out of the box. Greninja is a pretty known quantity, but my longtime friend and former teammate Pablo Meza just won Mexico's National Championship with the deck!

This is both a fairly stock, and fairly unorthodox list at the same time. A lot of the numbers seem pretty standard. The Pokémon are all as expected. A full Greninja line, 2 Jirachi, and a thin Octillery line to keep the deck flowing as the game progresses. 2 Jirachi seems to be the accepted number now, and while I've been suspicious that with the amount of recover present that it may be overkill, I'm going to defer to the masses here on this one. I do like having 8 Basics too, as going down to 7 is really asking to mulligan a lot. (Honestly, I feel 8 is low, too, but a necessary evil.) The 4-4-3/1 Greninja line is also pretty much stock, but the thing that sticks out is the inclusion of only 2 Greninja BREAK instead of the usual 3. This is probably fine, as you are able to search them up easily, and retrieve them easily enough as well with 2 recovery Items. I don't imagine too many games going to the point where you get out more than a pair, and those are likely games where you are so far ahead that winning is a formality.

The Octillery line is "shallow" as well, only going with a 2-1 count. This isn't really that unusual, although I haven't seen that sort of evolution line split in a while. You want to get out the Basics first (and this deck already has a small Basic count as it is.) and from there, you have a ton of search to get out your Octillery. You only really need one in play at a time. Sure, two can be beneficial, but there are heavy diminishing returns. If you bench 2 Remoraid, if they do manage to KO Octillery, with Sacred Ash and Super Rod, you're well positioned to be able to get it back out and re-evolved. The big downside of running 1 Octillery, especially in a deck with EIGHT balls, is risking it being prized. This isn't hugely likely, and if you need space in the deck for other cards, it is a risk worth taking overall.

8 Water Energy seems par for course with the deck, and I see no reason to suggest any other number is correct. I've always felt that the number played well, and just felt correct.

With the Trainers, we have 4 N, and 3 Sycamore. I think this is pretty solid. N is so powerful in this deck, and it is such a great first turn Supporter, too. On the topic of N, the one thing I did notice is that the deck has gotten rid of Ace Trainer entirely. I actually still like Ace Trainer as a one-of in the deck, even though it is clear that N is the superior card in the deck. There will be spots where it is superior to N. I guess it is fine to cut it since it is a "dead" card in a lot of game states, and if we are acknowledging that the 2nd Octillery had to be cut in order to fit in something, Ace Trainer is a luxury card that likely cannot be afforded either. I'd certainly add the 2nd Octillery before I'd add the Ace Trainer.

This brings me to my main criticism of the deck: 1 Wally. I like having access to this card more often, and I think I'd find a way to fit in a 2nd copy, at least. I think it helps increase the odds of the deck's "nut draws", and also helps to get set up even under Item lock. I really wish the deck would have run 1 Battle Compressor, just as a means by which to add a phantom "copy" of each of its Supporters. Having to naturally draw into 1 Wally is...dubious. It does shed additional light on Pablo's decision not to run a rogue Ace Trainer, though, due to the rest of the build's inadequacy at being able to cherry pick Supporters out of its list. That sounds more negative than it is, it is just a build preference that he chose to embrace.

That brings up another issue I do have. I love the Megaphone. I...like...the Muscle Band. I just hate how the deck has no actual ability to search these one-ofs out when you need them. Both of them are very situational cards that have a huge drop off in value in the "average" game state. The rest of the deck's skeleton is pretty ill prepared to get the most out of these cards at those numbers. Even Fisherman is really awkward, as you don't have a means to grab it if needed. I'm not entirely sure how you combat this issue, or if it is just better to hope for the best and pray that the draws line up. I'm sure the deck churns through itself pretty quickly when you are not under Item lock. One option would be a Teammates, as that can get you Megaphone and Muscle Band. It is also pretty good for chaining your evolutions in a war of attrition. I personally really like this card in general, as I think that is pretty apparent if you look at the lists I've posted over the past few months. It also lets you search out Supporters, like the Wally or Fisherman, although it then requires you wait a turn to use it. It is better than not seeing them at all though.

Skyla is another option, but I feel like outside of a few cards, the deck is more about card quantity than it is grabbing a single card. Battle Compressor can act as a phantom copy of the Supporters, assuming you have access to VS Seeker. The "best" fix I could see to making these solo copies of cards would be to run 1 Battle Compressor and a Teammates. The Compressor works well with the Teammates, as it gives you a second copy to be able to draw into. (This again, assumes you have one of your four VS Seekers available.) If I were to try to add these cards, my intuition suggests cutting 1 N, and 1 Ultra Ball for them. Both of those are consistency cards, and I think the functional roles played share enough overlap that it won't wildly change the deck as a whole in a negative way.

3 Rough Sea is extremely standard for the deck. The two recovery cards are as well, but I'm still not really sure if I like 1 Ash and 1 Rod, I almost feel like someone just realized "hey, we have 2 spots for recovery, what should we run? Why not try one of each!" and that just kind of stuck and spread. I don't really know what the right split is. I can't say the split is CORRECT, but I can say that it isn't bad, and works, seeing how no one has bothered to suggest a better alternative.

I'm not the most sold on AZ, but I do think this card is absolutely brutal in the Greninja mirror match. KOs are already near impossible to score once Rough Seas hits play, and once AZ factors in, I don't see how a Greninja player ever takes a KO once Ability locked by a Greninja. That seems like such a frustrating match to actually play out.

Greninja hadn't had the most success at many Nationals, but seeing it go undefeated in Swiss and then win the entire event in Mexico is pretty telling. I have a lot of respect for Pablo as a player, so when someone of that stature choses an archetype AND wins with it, I think it says a LOT about the strength of the deck as a whole. I felt the same way seeing Sebastian Crema's success with Primal Groudon earlier in the year.

I like Greninja a lot as a choice for Nationals not just because Pablo did well with it, but because it has two inherent traits that I really like for a big event like this. First, it offers a lot of play to it. You can really leverage your skill with all of the Bench damage and Ns. Also, the deck, with those Ns, and Greninja's attack, is extremely disruptive, putting it in a position to actually make comebacks. (This can be a double-edged sword too, since the time limit for events is so bad. It encourages you to chase losing games, rather than concede to try and squeeze out game 2 or 3.) Also, a lot of players who show up at a large event will not be the best at playing past heavy disruption. If you look at past Nationals, you'll see a plethora of examples of disruptive decks overperforming against a wide field. Greninja offers a lot of intangibles I look for with deck selection for an event like Nats.

One of the things I love about this deck is just how well everything synergizes! Max Elixir works extremely well on both Darkrai and Giratina-EX. Unlikely other hybrid Max Elixir Darkness decks, you don't have the awkward DCE conundrum. DCE is too good on Yveltal and Yveltal-EX, but pretty non-functional with Darkrai-EX. Double Dragon Energy isn't exactly the kindest card to pair with Elixir, but at least it pairs better with Darkrai, as when attached to a Darkness Pokémon, it does provide Darkness Energy towards it's attack.

Darkrai can hit like a brick once it gets going, and provides the deck with a huge threat once it hits a critical mass. I'm torn on the right number of Darkrai vs Giratina in this deck. Darkrai is a more reliable first turn attacker, but it doesn't become "great" for the next few turns until more energy gets to hit the field. Decks can also get KOs on Darkrai easier than they could on a Giratina-EX, which is more disruptive. I'm going with 3 Giratina and 2 Darkrai right now, but that split is pretty arbitrary to me at the moment, and it could easily get inverted.

3 Shaymin-EX is interesting, because this is a deck also running Garbodor (Which I will touch on shortly too.) The deck can be extremely explosive, and I want the ability to milk that. They clash with Garbodor's Ability lock, but they really are for different stages of the game. On top of this, Garbodor doesn't have to be used in every matchup either. This deck is very disruptive, but I want it to be proactive as well. With this deck running a ton of-EX Pokémon, Hoopa-EX is almost a mandatory inclusion, and one I don't think needs much explaining.

Garbodor is...optional, actually. I've seen builds with, and without it. I am partial to the build using it at the moment. I think pairing N with Giratina and an Ability lock is going to be really brutal for a lot of decks to deal with. I'm trying out a 2-2 line, but a 1-1 line may be functional too.

The final Pokémon to get the green light here is an Yveltal. This helps get energy into play, and since the deck is so heavy with-EX Pokémon, it is a "7th" prize.

I love that this deck can get away with running 10 Basic Energy AND 4 Double Dragon Energy. I've seen lists using Max Elixir with closer to 8 Energy, and while it’s functional, it isn't super reliable. I love being able to run more copies to ensure more hits. This is a deck that can get a turn 1 Giratina-EX, so you want enough Energy to make that more realistic. 
Going on to the Trainers, we have 4 Prof. Sycamore and 2 N. With the deck using a Hoopa/Shaymin heavy engine, as well as 4 Trainers' Mail, we don't need that many actual Supporters. Sycamore is your best turn 1 play, but this deck seems great with N too. 2 Lysandre is pretty standard. Hex Maniac, while great against Greninja and just being great in this metagame, isn't necessary since we run Garbodor. In a trash-less list, I'd run one, for sure. Xerosic is a great card in this deck. It gets rid of pesky tools, including your own on a Garbodor. This can be useful for shifting between a lock and not. It can let you use Set Up if need be mid to late game. It also clips any Special Energy that sneaks in play prior to locking them out with Giratina.

In order to facilitate Garbodor, we want a bunch of tools to turn its Ability on! 3 Float Stone help with the high retreat costs in the deck while also working with Garby. 3 Fighting Fury Belt are great in the deck, letting both of your big-EX attacks get 200+ HP to help tank, while also dealing more damage.

4 Max Elixir are clearly mandatory, as are the 4 VS Seeker, 4 Ultra Ball, and 4 Trainers' Mail. I don't think these need much discussion. The last 2 spots are Sky Field, and I'm not really in love with this card. I do want a pair of Stadiums, so I can counter an opposing Stadium (like Dimension Valley!) and lock them out with Giratina. Being a deck that wants to use Hoopa-EX and multiple Shaymin-EX (and benching a Garbodor in some matchups!) I think bench space gets cramped pretty quickly, so Sky Field gets the nod over...well, a bunch of Stadiums that seem really unexciting as a whole. I would love to try 2 Sky Field and a Parallel City as a means to purge my bench of liabilities, but I don't see the space unless we trim to a 1-1 Garbodor line.

Moving on, we have a pair of Night March lists I am torn between. I'm not really sure which I like better, as they have different strengths, and I'd lean towards one or the other depending on how I expect the metagame to play out at the last second.

In my last article, I discussed a Bronzong based Night March list because I felt that Metal Links offered a lot of resistance against the reintroduction of N to the format. This is true, and the second list I'll include here is an update to that build. This list is a much more "traditional" list using Puzzle of Time still. The big addition is a package I have long resisted but finally caved in on, and that using Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick.

I run Maxie, Gallade, and Marowak. Marowak is great against potential Seismitoad opponents, as it denies the Item lock otherwise offered by Quaking Punch. The deck's engine is strong enough to likely get Marowak out on the first turn, giving you access to Items all game, and likely crushing any Toad opponent. Marowak also turns off Greninja's Ability lock, which is huge. I like Night March against Greninja unless they can stick you with a bad N mid to late game. I'm running 3 Unown as N insurance...N-surance...trademark it guys. So between that and Shaymin-EX, I don't feel too bad about my ability to recover from an N late game if I have access to Abilities.

Finally, with the popularity of Darkrai Giratina, Marowak gimps Giratina's attack pretty heavily, allowing you to actually play, most importantly, your DCEs. If the build runs Garbodor, they can turn off Marowak, but you are able to Xerosic away their Tool and play DCE anyways. I think Marowak is extremely good in this metagame.

Gallade offers a few nice perks as well. Primarily, it is a means by which to actually KO a Jolteon-EX, which is another card gaining traction. The deck has always been able to find ways to work around a Jolteon, but I do prefer having a hard counter. Also, against some decks that go into a war of attrition, I love being able to transition, at the end of a game, into Gallade for a KO. If both sides are trading KOs, it depletes the opponent's energy supply in play, and by the time you bring up Gallade, it is a lot harder to score a KO on a 150 HP Pokémon than it is on a Joltik or Pumpkaboo, even if they are holding a Belt.
The big selling point of Maxie IS the Marowak, and the Gallade is more or less a free toss on. I also am running the Mew as well, it’s good in the deck, although I've been less impressed than I thought I would be by it. Don't get me wrong, the card is good, it just doesn't seem to offer a whole ton that the deck couldn't already do. I liked it more in my Bronzong build because it provided free retreat (important with Metal Links) and the Basic Energy could be paired with Dimension Valley to and a Metal to copy Joltik's attack for an energy. In here, it is more an additional Night Marcher, and may be better searched as a Buddy-Buddy Rescue.

Most of the Items are pretty standard with how I build this deck in general. I think 1 Target Whistle is just too good with Puzzle of Time. I have been a strong proponent of Acro Bike in this deck, just accepting the downside of it to help give the deck extra speed and consistency, but I've finally cut them. This isn't because I felt my logic was wrong, or that I've thought better of that stance. I've just re-allocated those slots to the 3 Unown.

Unown offers a few advantages over Acro Bike at the moment, beyond well, not nuking my own resources. First off, they are not Items. This lets you play them against Item lock decks. Sure, they just kind of replace themselves, but it’s better than a dead card in hand. Unown also works well with Shaymin-EX's Set Up, as you can "bench" a card, and later add it atop your new hand of six. Most importantly, though, is how much better Unown works with and against N. By stockpiling "cards" on your bench, you can have a safety net against dead drawing. Unown is also quite good with Puzzle of Time, too. I would not be against running a 4th copy, as I think people are really just banking on N to really be backbreaking against Night March.

A few cards I'd like to add to this deck are a Startling Megaphone, and a 2nd Hex Maniac. Megaphone is additional insurance against Fighting Fury Belt, Focus Sash, and tools on a Garbodor, allowing my Marowak to work its magic. Hex Maniac is so vital to the Greninja matchup...I think one is fine, especially since I can just concede if I prize it and play two other games and hopefully win those. A 2nd Lysandre would help against Trevenant, as would the otherwise unnecessary 3rd Sycamore. With this many Unown, I wouldn't be against a 3rd Float Stone (or an Escape Rope) because it helps assure I can get the first turn Night March off.

Now let’s look at an updated Bronzong build!

I cut the 4 Puzzle of Time, and the three pieces of the Maxie gimmick for 3 Metal Energy and a 2-2 Bronzong line. I then trimmed an Unown to 2 to add a Jirachi. Jirachi gets a lot better with Basic Metal energy and Metal Links. It also is pretty nice with Mew, as against decks it is great against you can get two copies of it.

Ignoring the strength of the Metal Links game plan against N, I really like what it offers against Giratina-EX too. They can deny me DCE all they want, but I can still attack through basic Energy. The Jirachi(s) also let me assault their DDE which they have a finite amount of. The builds running Garbodor will turn off my Bronzong, but I can use Xerosic to get around that and I only need 3 KOs. Also, since the exchange rate on KOs is so favorable, you can actually just take the time to Lysandre Garbodor without losing much ground. If they don't lock you out of Dimension Valley first, you can use Mew-EX to KO a Giratina for a Metal from hand, even. I actually think Night March, with Giratina in mind, is a huge favorite against the Darkrai/Giratina deck.

I'd like to fit a Buddy-Buddy Rescue, 2nd Hex Maniac, 2nd Lysandre, and perhaps a Startling Megaphone into this deck. Without Puzzle of Time, some of the thinner counts would be nice to expand on. This build has a pretty poor game plan for Jolteon-EX, and it can't really chain Target Whistles. I could go 1 Float Stone and an Escape Rope to at least set up the Rope plus Whistle play to get a KO on Jolteon, but Float Stone is so good with Bronzong.

Anyways, these are the decks I have been focusing on for the past week or so. I'm also still looking at that Mega Rayquaza Energy Switch build, although I've cut the Glaceon as it was just underperforming and have reduced that gimmick down to just 1 Jolteon-EX, 3 Lightning Energy and the Energy Switch. I like what it is offering so far, too! I've got a little over a week to go into crunch time and figure out what to play, but I feel like I have a couple of options I'd be really comfortable with now!

Hopefully this helps offer some insight into a few great choices for upcoming Nationals, and I hope that the announcement of the ARG Pokémon Circuit Series is exciting! Regardless of where you are in the country, we hope to get an event out in your direction at some point! I hope to see everyone in Columbus for US Nationals, and I hope to see a lot of you in Philly for the inaugural ARG Circuit Series tournament!

[+15] okko


 

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