Experts' corner

Zach Lesage

Why is Blacephalon my Top Pick?

This FREE article explains Blacephalon in our Standard format fully.

04/14/2019 by Zach Lesage


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Back from Denver

What’s up everyone? It’s me, Zach Lesage, your resident 60 Cards writer / manager and I am back with another Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  article. Before I see the jokes online, this article is FREE; I wanted to showcase the quality of an article that we would normally put behind the paywall. Anyways, Denver was a blast, I made T16, and I saw my Dead Draw Gaming teammate Caleb Gedemer win the whole event. The other fun fact is that Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  was approximately nine percent of the field Day One and fifteen percent of the field Day Two. What does this mean? Well, it shows that Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  was a great choice if you were looking to make Day Two in general due to its high conversion rate. The thing that has always boggled me is why does Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  always receive so much hate online? It has been labeled as an auto-pilot deck, a deck that you can’t outplay players with, and there are worse things that have been said about it that I don’t care to post about.

Regardless of players making jokes, the deck continues to put up solid results and I want to shed some light on the reasons why. In this article, I will be going over my updated list, the popular match ups, and a handful of tips that will be stitched throughout this article. Treat this one as a study piece because I think Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  is one of the most well positioned decks heading into Berlin for the 2019 European International Championships. Alright, let’s jump into it... And away we go! 


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The Evolution of BLOWNs

You can look at any deck that has seen multiple high placements throughout a season and it wouldn’t be possible for those decks to see success without adding any new cards or changing up the techs. You see, in Pokémon, we release a new set approximately every three months, and that changes up the metagame. Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  / Naganadel (LT; 108)  was created when Lost Thunder came out, is still relevant after Team Up has come out, and beyond Detective Pikachu being a promotional set, it looks like it will still have success after the release of Unbroken Bonds. This deck is not the only has been able to stand the rest of time, it has continued to be my number one pick for any major Standard event. Let’s peep at my brief timeline with Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  / Naganadel (LT; 108)  ever since it was released in November. 

  • 7th/630 @ 2019 Latin America International Championships in São Paulo, Brazil
  • 11th/664 @ 2019 Virginia Regional Championships in Roanoke, United States
  • 1st/80 @ 2019 CDMX Special Event in Mexico City, Mexico
  • 32nd/332 @ 2019 Oceania International Championships in Melbourne, Australia 
  • 1st/1056 @ 2019 Illinois Regional Championships in Collinsville, United States
  • 12th/640 @ 2019 Colorado Regional Championships in Denver, United States

As you may or not be aware, the lowest amount of Championship Points that I have earned at any major event with this deck is 80 Championship Points. Without going on a tangent, if any player were able to consistently earn 80 CP at every major event, they would be considered one of the all time greats. It is almost unforeseen that a single deck can earn this many CP for any single player. Look at it like this, let’s take my average amount of Championship Points per major event that I played this deck. 250 + 80 + 200 + 160 + 200 + 80 = 970 CP divided by six major events = 161.67 CP per event. With those numbers, I can almost expect myself to make T32 at Berlin if the metagame remains stable at the very least. Anyways, I can get caught up in tangents, so let’s look more into the deck. 

My most successful version of the deck, my Collinsville list, is widely considered the gold standard of Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  / Naganadel (LT; 108)  in general. If a player is playing the deck, they are usually at the very least playing that same strength of list or they are only a few cards off. Let’s look at it one more time before I reveal my newest list, the one I just played in Denver. 

As you can see, this list is a combination of consistency and the right blend of techs for the metagame. It was the perfect call from Collinsville and I didn’t even realize it at the time. Anyways, since the list is so similar, let me share the list that I played in Denver.

The difference between the decks are only two changes that I made the night before Denver. I ended up cutting an Ultra Space (FLI; 115)  for another Poipole (FLI; 55)  and cutting a Tapu Lele GX (GRI; 60) for another copy of Lillie (UPR; 125) . While these changes are minor in a sense, they seemed like the right change for the event. In the few games that I played the night before Denver with my Collinsville list, I found myself in multiple situations where I had a Poipole (FLI; 55)  prized, I would Bench the other two, and a Zapdos (TM; 40)  would swoop in to Knock Out one of them. That situation lead me to having only one Poipole (FLI; 55)  and one Ditto Prism Star (LT; 154)  for all of my Naganadel (LT; 108)  needs during the game. With the addition of the fourth copy in my deck, I was able to have a more reliable count of Poipole (FLI; 55)  in my deck and thrive off my late game Naganadel (LT; 108)  counts.

The other big change that I made was cutting the Tapu Lele GX (GRI; 60) , a staple since I originally pioneered the deck back at the 2019 Latin America International Championships. I have been questioned the most about this change, I have received countless messages on Social Media, and even my girlfriend has given me a few questionable looks. Well, it’s all because of the metagame that surrounds the deck. Ask yourself a few questions... Do you want to Bench a Tapu Lele GX (GRI; 60)  against a Pikachu & Zekrom GX (TM; 33)  deck? Do you want to take Shrine of Punishment (CLS; 143) damage when you are playing against a Zapdos (TM; 40)  deck? What if you start with it? There are a whole bunch of other questions that you could ask, but the easy answer is that it wasn’t the tournament for it. This might have backfired on me a bit, I did lose most of my games due to inconsistent starts (including my win-and-in against Zoroark GX (SLG; 53)  / Lycanroc GX (GRI; 74)  on stream), but I can’t complain with my tournament run. 

I have consistently been able to change a handful of cards in this deck between major Standard events and I have seen success because of that. Look at any other player who has played the same deck in six major Standard events and you will see that they haven’t approached 1000 CP. The real question is, why? Well, I think the biggest downfall of Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  is that every single top player isn’t playing it, I am the most successful player to ever put their hands on the deck. Trust me on this one. If Jimmy Pendarvis, Daniel Altavilla, Isaiah Williams, and Caleb Gedemer played this deck, they would see similar results as me. This falls more into the mindset of a top player giving into trends than them truly testing each deck in the format. There are two ways to look at this and I can only come to one result. I am an amazing player who can take a Tier Two deck to the top tables every event or the deck is better than most realize. Beyond natural variance in the game, I think that Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  carries me to the top most events and I combine that with my natural skill in the game. For any future tournaments that I consider playing this deck again, you can fully expect me to play a similar list that I have already played before. I encourage you all to look at the perceived metagame and make some choice about what you are going to expect.

This deck has the power to dominate at a local League Cup and it can potentially win the 2019 European International Championships in Germany. Let’s look into how this deck is supposed to be played quickly before jumping into the matchup spread.


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How to Play Blacephalon

If you have read any of my previous articles, you would completely understand that Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  / Naganadel (LT; 108)  is a speedy deck. For those parents or newer players reading this article, the deck has a lower skill cap than most which means it generally has a higher chance to do well. Don’t take offence if you choose to play this deck, I did too with great success, I’m just saying it doesn’t take much skill to Marshadow (SLG; 45)  your opponent into nothing while you draw three Beast Ring (FLI; 102) . The general strategy of this deck consists of attacking with Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  to take down bigger threats while you acquire Energy with Naganadel (LT; 108)  and Beast Ring (FLI; 102) . Burst GX is a spicy attack that can grab an Energy in a pinch, but do be careful of getting a leg up on your opponent; when you are ahead on Prize Cards they can use Counter Catcher (CIN; 91) , Counter Gain (LT; 170) , and Counter Energy (CIN; 100) .

The general game plan is to use Burst GX on your first turn, follow it up with a Mind Blown, and finish off the game with Mind Blown. You can always use Naganadel (LT; 108)  when you have three Prize Cards remaining, but don’t necessarily count on that being a huge strategy because cards like Guzma (BUS; 115)  do exist. If you find yourself running behind, you can always leave the game to Special Conditions by using Bursting Burn. Remember to abuse cards in play such as Ultra Space (FLI; 115)  to search our extra copies of Ultra Beast Pokemon to have a higher chance to draw into the cards you need. If you have ever watched me play the deck, I will often use multiple Ultra Ball (SLG; 68)  and Mysterious Treasure (FLI; 113)  during the late game to discard dead weight in my deck. This could be Alolan Muk (SUM; 58)  in a matchup that I don’t need or maybe it’s another copy of Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  that I don’t think I will use. Anyways, be sure to keep your options open during the game and keep your mind clear to see success.

I am sure you are all wondering what magical matchup spread this deck has and I want to provide that to you below. For the sake of consistency, I will only include the matchups that were relevant to the metagame in Denver. Let’s get to it!


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If you like this article, there are plenty of solid articles that are hidden behind our paywall. We use a paywall to support the site, pay our writers, and to support the lifestyle of professional Pokémon players. All of our writers are top notch and we hope that you will subscribe to our site. If you are looking to save some money, please use CODE: Pendy3 when choosing a subscription. Thank you again for your support.


The Matchup Spread

With decks like Zoroark GX (SLG; 53)  / Oranguru (UPR; 114)  dominating Denver, you might be wondering how to approach some of the more popular match ups heading into Berlin.

Zoroark-GX / Oranguru variants

Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX variants

Malamar variants

Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel variants

Pikachu & Zekrom-GX variants

Regigigas / Hoopa variants

Celebi & Venusaur variants

Well, I will be providing as much information as I can on each match up based on my experience from Denver.

Zoroark-GX / Oranguru Variants - Highly Favourable / Favourable 

While I know that my teammates on Dead Draw Gaming are going to shake their head at this one, I feel like my personal experience with Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  is more than their testing against my deck. This is a similar matchup to when I lost to Altavilla in the Top Eight of the 2019 Latin America International Championship and I have since added in two copies of Energy Switch (CLS; 129)  into my list. With these changes, they are not able to trap up a Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  and remove my Fire Energy (TM; null)  with Crushing Hammer (SUM; 115) . So you might be wondering what they are going to do in the matchup? Well, they can’t use any Energy denial strategy to great success because I am able to use Naganadel (LT; 108)  to power up my Pokémon infinitely. There are some rare circumstances where they can bounce between a Girafarig (LT; 94)  sending my resources to the Lost Zone and an Oranguru (UPR; 114)  that can get back copies of Crushing Hammer (SUM; 115) . Well, what actually happens? They are forced to attack me like any other Zoroark GX (SLG; 53)  deck, but they don’t have the damage modifiers to take a Knock Out in a single blow. They have to continuously use Lavender Town (TM; 147)  to assess how many Beast Ring (FLI; 102)  I have in my hand and decide if they want to use Judge (FLI; 108)  to shuffle my hand away. If I am able to top deck into a Beast Ring (FLI; 102)  or draw supporter,

I can often take the lead back into my hands. Remember, Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  can always take a strong early game with Burst GX or a Knock Out on a Zorua (SLG; 52)  early. I haven’t had any troubles with this matchup in my testing after the event and I invite you to try it out for yourself. 

Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX Variants - Highly Favourable / Favourable 

This is actually one of the most favourable match ups for Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  / Naganadel (LT; 108)  because Zoroark GX (SLG; 53)  / Lycanroc GX (GRI; 74)  can’t keep up. It doesn’t matter if they use Dangerous Rogue GX or if they get a big OHKO with Riotous Beating, they just can’t keep up. Similar to most match ups, you want to steal a Prize Card early with Burst GX and follow it up by Knocking Out either a Zoroark GX (SLG; 53)  or a single Prize Card Pokémon. You should be at either three or four Prize Cards at this point and you will need to Knock Out two Pokémon regardless of whatever your opponent throws your way. At this point, it doesn’t matter if they are able to Knock Out a Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  because you can easily use Beast Ring (FLI; 102)  to power up a Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  and clear a path for you to win the game. They might play a Weavile (UPR; 74) , a new Lycanroc GX (TM; 82) , or some other tech, but the result is almost always the same. Play around whatever tech Pokémon that they decided to include in their deck and follow along with the main plan as outlined above for success.

Malamar Variants - Favourable / Even

This is a matchup that can be tough, but it is usually only tough depending on the list that you are facing against. A deck such as Malamar (FLI; 51)  / Tapu Koko (BW; 31)  / Shrine of Punishment (CLS; 143)  is more difficult to beat than a straight Ultra Necrozma GX (FLI; 95)  / Malamar (FLI; 51)  deck. If you find yourself playing against a spread variant, you want to limit the Pokémon that you have on your Bench and keep your game plan simple. I usually have a Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  as my Active Pokemon, two Naganadel (LT; 108)  on my Bench, and I sometimes use a Marshadow (SLG; 45)  to draw cards / disrupt my opponent. Remember, if a Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  can draw at least two Prize Cards, it is often a neutral / positive trade in terms of Prize Cards drawn versus given. If you find yourself playing against an Ultra Necrozma GX (FLI; 95)  variant, you want to find out if they play Dawn Wings Necrozma GX (UPR; 63)  or not.

If they do, you need to hold onto a Guzma (BUS; 115)  or save your Burst GX for that exact moment that they use their GX attack. If they do not, you can safely go with the usual Burst GX, Mind Blown, and then some strategy. Try to isolate their copies of Inkay (FLI; 50)  / Malamar (FLI; 51)  with efficient uses of Mind Blown or you can attack with Naganadel (LT; 108)  too. Try to keep your Marshadow (SLG; 45)  use limited to a single copy because they can use Sky Scorching Light GX to snipe a few Prize Cards late game in combination with using a Giratina (LT; 97) . I have found mild success in getting out Alolan Muk (SUM; 58)  in the matchup, especially if they use Jirachi (TM; 99)  as a consistency crutch, but my results have varied. I like how it can shut off Giratina (LT; 97) , Marshadow (SLG; 45) , Tapu Lele GX (GRI; 60) , and any other techs that they may have included. 

Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel Variants - Even

I wasn’t going to include the mirror match, but after the deck saw a huge increase in play at Denver, I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea. I often lose sleep over the debate of going first or second in the mirror match. Personally, I have seen success in both scenarios, but I like going first slightly more. My reasoning is that I can often brick my opponent out of the game with a Marshadow (SLG; 45)  and I have more time to establish my board. I typically like to have a Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  in the Active, another Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  on the Bench, two Naganadel (LT; 108) , a Ditto Prism Star (LT; 154) , and a Marshadow (SLG; 45) . If you can’t Knock Out a Blacephalon GX (LT; 52) , don’t ever use Burst GX, you should try and bring their next turn (and potentially the game) to a Confuse flip with Bursting Burn. If they miss the Confuse Flip, you will be able to easily Knock Out the opposing Blacephalon GX (LT; 52) . The matchup is easily a race of who can draw a minimum of two Prize Cards before their opponent. If you are able to do that, you can easily follow up their Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  return attack with a turn filled with playing multiple copies of Beast Ring (FLI; 102)  and getting a return Knock Out. Naganadel (LT; 108)  with a Beast Energy Prism Star (FLI; 117)  on your three Prize Card turn can be very strong and getting out Alolan Muk (SUM; 58)  has some advantages. Another strategy is using Marshadow (SLG; 45)  right before you give your opponent a Beast Ring (FLI; 102)  turn because they might not get one off a limited hand. Since that strategy can work both ways, you can play an Alolan Muk (SUM; 58)  to shut off your opponent from taking your copies of Beast Ring (FLI; 102)  out of your hand in general. Out of most matchups, this is generally my least favourite because I feel like the game is often out of my control. As long as both players follow these instructions, which they should, the game is often decided by a single Confuse flip. If a player decides to not follow these instructions, they often will find their chances of winning this matchup getting lower and lower. I have thought about adding in Switch (CLS; 147) , Tate & Liza (CLS; 148) , or Big Malasada (SUM; 114)  into the list to help out this matchup, but the deck just doesn’t see enough mirror matches to make any of those inclusions relevant at this current moment. 

Zapdos Variants - Favourable / Even

This matchup is similar to Malamar because they can play Shrine of Punishment (CLS; 143) , a handful of different tech attackers, and can turn their deck into smaller single Prize Card attackers or bigger double Prize Card attackers. In general, I always focus my efforts on getting out a Ditto Prism Star (LT; 154)  and Alolan Grimer (SUM; 57)  to securely get out an Alolan Muk (SUM; 58) . Alolan Muk (SUM; 58)  shuts off the core of their deck, Jirachi (TM; 99) , which can sometimes instantaneously make their their deck brick hard. In the cases where they have an answer for it, you must have a Guzma (BUS; 115)  to get it out of the Active or sometimes you can get far enough ahead where it doesn’t matter if your opponent Knocks it Out or not. If they are able to take care of Alolan Muk (SUM; 58) , you need to play around Escape Rope (BUS; 114)  / Guzma (BUS; 115)  plays to the Bench which can often take out a Poipole (FLI; 55) or Marshadow (SLG; 45) . You need to use your ability to remember what they put in their hand off Jirachi (TM; 99)  because you can sometimes send up a Naganadel (LT; 108)  if you know they don’t have two copies of Electropower (LT; 232)  in their hand. The other threats that you have to deal with are Jolteon GX (BW; 173)  and Tapu Koko GX (GRI; 147) . Jolteon GX (BW; 173)  is similar to Dawn Wings Necrozma GX (UPR; 63)  so you can use Burst GX against it or you can have a Guzma (BUS; 115)  in your hand.

It is worth two Prize Cards which does make the matchup slightly easier in my experience. Tapu Koko GX (GRI; 147)  has two ways to Knock Out a Blacephalon GX (LT; 52) . It can either use two damage modifiers ( Choice Band (GRI; 121) and / or Electropower (LT; 232) ) or it can use it’s GX attack when you have four or more Energy in play. Alolan Muk (SUM; 58)  really helps out against this card, but you can pitch more Energy off of Mind Blown than necessary to play around it. For the rest of the matchup, it follows a simple Burst GX, Mind Blown, and then some to see how far you can go. The best case scenario is that you are able to draw three Prize Cards and then attack with Naganadel (LT; 108)  at your three Prize Card turn. Naganadel (LT; 108)  is a super efficient attacker and it really goes a long way in this matchup. Remember, Jirachi (TM; 99)  is Resistant to Psychic-type!

Pikachu & Zekrom-GX Variants - Unfavourable / Salvageable 

This matchup is downright bad, but there are a few ways that you can win. This matchup is bad because your opposing can target a Poipole (FLI; 55)  with a Pikachu & Zekrom GX (TM; 33)  and then use Tag Bolt GX to play around your Beast Ring (FLI; 102)  turn. This is what most players will do and it is why I tremble when i face against this deck. You can try to use Alolan Muk (SUM; 58) , by getting out a Ditto Prism Star (LT; 154)  and Alolan Grimer (SUM; 57) , because you can shut off a bunch of their Abilities. This might slow them down, but it isn’t guaranteed. If they are inexperienced in this matchup, they might just attack into your Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  directly or freely let you use Beast Ring (FLI; 102) . If they do that, this matchup instantly jumps back to being at least even because you have Pokémon that trade Prize Cards efficiently. If all else fails, you can always use Let Loose on Marshadow (SLG; 45)  to give them a less than stellar hand. It sucks to try and bring a game to your opponent bricking, but it does work sometimes. 

Regigigas / Hoopa Variants - Highly Favourable

This matchup is always talked about, but every single Unown Hand player talks about the Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)  / Naganadel (LT; 108)  matchup like it is even at the very worst. Well, after a single Tie against Darin O’Meara earlier this season at Roanoke Regionals, I have completely figured out this matchup to make sure that it is highly favourable. Your best starter is Poipole (FLI; 55)  because you can use Spit Poison to start ticking down damage on a Hoopa or Regigigas. They can’t Max Potion (GRI; 128)  off a Special Condition which means you have a damage modifier that sticks. Next turn, you can attack with a Naganadel (LT; 108)  and bring either Pokémon closer to Knock Out. Depending on if they have started a chain of Steven's Resolve (CLS; 145) , you either need to attack with Naganadel (LT; 108)  a few more times to waste their searches or go in with a Blacephalon GX (LT; 52) . Your board should be Blacephalon GX (LT; 52) , Naganadel (LT; 108) , and Naganadel (LT; 108) . You need to keep a Bench spot for a Ditto Prism Star (LT; 154)  to Evolve into an Alolan Muk (SUM; 58)  when it comes time to draw your last Prize Card and room for two Marshadow (SLG; 45) . I typically only use Marshadow (SLG; 45)  when they have two copies of Steven's Resolve (CLS; 145)  in their Discard Pile, but it is more efficient if they have three or four copies. The key is to play around their ‘wall’ Pokemon, don’t discard too many resources, value Energy Switch (CLS; 129)  / Guzma (BUS; 115)  wisely, and keep their hand low. Game One typically takes a long time which means that you should have limited time for Game Two. Since their deck is designed to win a long Game One, they often will speed up their game tempo in Game Two to try and win quickly. This often backfires for them and they might make mistakes in the process.

You have enough resources in Cynthia (UPR; 119) , Alolan Muk (SUM; 58) , and Marshadow (SLG; 45)  to keep them from hitting an Unown Hand or Deck Out win condition. Getting back to my strategy to win, I often draw a Prize Card from Naganadel (LT; 108)  / Poipole (FLI; 55)  using Spit Poison, I use Burst GX, and I get a Prize Card off of Mind Blown. This should put you at your three Prize Card turn which means that your Naganadel (LT; 108)  should be able to Knock Out a Hoopa (SLG; 55)  in play. For the remaining two Prize Cards, I use Mind Blown on a Regigigas (CIN; 84) , and use Alolan Muk (SUM; 58)  to make sure I can draw my last Mind Blown Prize Card against anything. Keep your head in the game, don’t Bench Alolan Grimer (SUM; 57)  / Alolan Muk (SUM; 58)  too early, and don’t overthink this matchup. Bursting Burn / Spit Poison are both suitable ways to help alleviate Energy constraints. Oh, keep your Energy flexible by not discarding them often with Ultra Ball (SLG; 68) . You can always get back a Fire Energy (TM; null)  after it has been taken away by Plumeria (BUS; 120) , but you might have too many in your Discard Pile if you abuse them in your hand. 

Celebi & Venusaur Variants - Highly Favourable 

I honestly don’t know how you could lose to this matchup, but it is a freebie win in my opinion. You hit Celebi & Venusaur GX (TM; 1)  for Weakness, you only need a handful of Energy to Knock them Out, and they can’t really play around your Beast Ring (FLI; 102)  turn. They could potentially get around your Beast Ring (FLI; 102)  turn with Special Conditions, but you can easily play around that by Retreating or using Guzma (BUS; 115) . If you see this matchup, just jump for joy! 


Read This: 

If you like this article, there are plenty of solid articles that are hidden behind our paywall. We use a paywall to support the site, pay our writers, and to support the lifestyle of professional Pokémon players. All of our writers are top notch and we hope that you will subscribe to our site. If you are looking to save some money, please use CODE: Pendy3 when choosing a subscription. Thank you again for your support.


See Ya in Berlin

Well, that’s a wrap! I hope that you can now see why I continuously choose this deck for each major Standard event and that there are layers to this ‘unskillful’ deck. As for me, my next stop isn’t Daytona Beach because I really don’t have a need to pick up Championship Points anymore and I have Easter plans with my family. This season is a bit of a weird one for me because I am already locked for a Day Two invite for the 2019 World Championships and I have already earned enough Championship Points for a stipend to the 2019 North America International Championships in Columbus. I guess my only push is to earn more money, represent myself to my fullest potential, and my chase to become the best player who plays this game. My next stop is Berlin, Germany and I will be the attending the event with my amazing girlfriend Michele Babin. She is on the hunt for the remaining Championship Points needed for her invite to the World Championships so hopefully we both see success. For those of you who don’t know, I do offer coaching services and I am actively accepting new clients. Feel free to message me on Facebook or hit up my DMs on Twitter if you are interested in learning from me. I am also active on Social Media and as a content creator so be sure to check out all of the links below to follow me on my Pokémon adventure. 

Twitch: zlesagepokemon


Facebook: Zach Lesage

YouTube: Team DDG


Zach Lesage

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