Finding Creativity in an Already Creative Format


Hey, everyone! Are you excited for U.S. Nationals next weekend? I am! With just a week and a half until the biggest tournament of the season, now is the perfect time for players to narrow down their deck choices and test, test, test. Did I mention test? That said, the great thing is that we have a solid idea on what the top decks of the season are going into Nationals – that is, the decks that have consistently performed well and have earned their place in the current metagame. These include such decks as Night March, Greninja, and Trevenant, just to name a few.

Speaking of which, have you noticed a recurring trend? It seems that players have opted to play non-EX based decks to produce a favorable prize exchange while still outputting comparable damage. Personally, I think The Pokémon Company is heading in a fantastic direction with these types of playable Evolution cards, and I hope this trend will continue into the following season this fall.

Best deck in the format?
Best deck in the format?

At this past weekend’s Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio, players across the country competed in what was, essentially, a tournament comparable to a State Championship. With a trip to Worlds on the line, it’s no wonder why! Though the usual contenders made their appearances, one deck that stood out was a complete sleeper up until this point – Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor (catchy name still TBD). I’ve been testing it so far, and I will say it is quite explosive and can quickly overwhelm an opponent, especially if they opt not to play things like Xerosic and other forms of Energy disruption.

So, why are players suddenly flocking to this deck and wanting a list? The big reason is that the deck has an answer to a lot of popular being decks played at the moment. Dark-types have a field day with Trevenant; Garbodor’s Garbotoxin Ability wreaks havoc on Greninja; and Giratina’s Chaos Wheel can be devestating on decks like Night March that are reliant on Special Energy. See where I’m going?

As you can see, the decks I mentioned at the beginning of this article all potentially struggle against the Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor. Though a small group of players initially came up with the concept – you can find them on the Virbank City Facebook group – it appears that the “secret” is now out, and just in time for U.S. Nationals. However, this is just one example of how a deck can be creative and competitive at the same time – that is, how a player or group of players can come up with a concept that is different but still effectively holds its own at the tournament level. Without further ado, let’s jump into it, trainers!

Mostly Ghostly

I briefly went over the deck above, but I wanted to hit a few more key points on why it is viable in the current format heading into U.S. Nationals. I posted a deck profile video just a few days ago on our YouTube channel – you can find it HERE. However, as with most decks, I have made some changes that I think are relevant and add to the overall consistency and fluidity of the deck. This is my list in progress:

Pokémon: 12Trainers: 35Energy: 13
2 Darkrai-EX (BKP 74)
2 Shaymin-EX (ROS 77)
2 Giratina-EX (AOR 57)
1 Yveltal-EX (XY 79)
1 Latios-EX (ROS 58)
1 Hoopa-EX (AOR 36)
1 Trubbish (BKP 56)
1 Garbodor (BK 57)
1 Yveltal (XY 78)
4 Professor Sycamore
2 N
2 Lysandre
1 Cassius

2 Parallel City

4 Ultra Ball
4 Trainers' Mail
4 VS Seeker
4 Max Elixir
3 Muscle Band
3 Float Stone
1 Startling Megaphone
1 Super Rod
9 Darkness
4 Double Dragon
The card developers must love Darkrai.

The core strategy of the deck is simple – get as much Energy on your board as possible through the use of Max Elixir and Double Dragon Energy. With 13 Energy in the deck, it is relatively easy to get multiple Energy out each turn, especially when you make the effort to thin your deck out as frequently as possible. Compared to some of the sample lists I have seen online, I have added thicker Supporter counts while taking out things that may not be necessary in every matchup.

For example, I’m only using a 1-1 Garbodor line at the moment because its main use is to shut off Ability-based decks like Greninja and Bronzong. I also added extra copies of Professor Sycamore, N, and Lysandre to help you draw into them more often.

The great debate.

Another big difference is the choice of 3 Muscle Band. I’m torn between this and Fighting Fury Belt because both have their merits. Muscle Band allows for easier donks against 60 HP Pokémon like Froakie, while Fighting Fury Belt can offset the match against Night March and Zygarde, just enough to clinch the KO the following turn. I will continue testing, but I think the extra damage from Muscle Band seems a bit more worth it at the moment.

There isn’t too much else to mention as far as card choices, as the deck is pretty straightforward with its strategy. Cassius is preferred over AZ because we play Double Dragon Energy. Having to discard them is painful, while putting them back in the deck can open the door for some plays in the late game. I think Parallel City suits this type of deck well. It effectively reduces damage from Greninja’s Moonlight Slash from 100 to 80 – assuming it has a Muscle Band – which means it will now take three hits to KO your attackers.  On the flip side, it can also remove your liabilities, namely Shaymin and Hoopa, from your board to make things even more difficult for your opponent.

Looking at the deck, it is apparent that it was a perfect call for the Origins Game Fair – so much that 4 out of the 8 decks in Top Cut were variants of it!

Doctor Doom

My boy is back.
My boy is back.

Ah, Houndoom. Though the card saw a little hype before the release of the BREAKthrough expansion, it fell short of being good enough to see competitive play. I played a variant with Slurpuff for draw power during the City Championships to mixed success. Making Top 16 at nearly every event, I came to the conclusion that the mill deck simply wasn’t viable in a format where cards like Seismitoad, Hawlucha, and other one-Energy attackers were prevalent.

Adding to this reason was the fact that there was no form of good draw support for the deck. Slurpuff was clunky, Shaymin was – and still is – a liability, and Supporter cards like Judge and Professor Birch’s Observations just didn’t cut it. Thankfully, the addition of N and other new cards add new life to the deck, possibly to the point where it could be a sleeper pick for U.S. Nationals! Below is my current list:

Pokémon: 4Trainers: 49Energy: 7
4 Houndoom-EX (BKT 22)4 N
2 Team Flare Grunt
2 Team Rocket's Handiwork
1 Pokémon Center Lady
1 Xerosic
1 Hex Maniac
1 Lysandre
1 AZ

2 Silent Lab

4 Crushing Hammer
4 VS Seeker
4 Trainers' Mail
4 Super Scoop Up
4 Puzzle of Time
4 Repeat Ball
3 Fighting Fury Belt
2 Battle Compressor
2 Max Potion
1 Enhanced Hammer
1 Startling Megaphone
1 Super Rod
7 Fire

Compared to the list I posted a deck profile video of, thepuzzle-of-time biggest addition is Puzzle of Time, which adds to the overall consistency of Houndoom Mill in a number of ways. Firstly, the obvious benefit is that I can now reuse important resources like Super Scoop Up and Crushing Hammer. It also enables me to rearrange the top few cards of my deck, very useful in drawing a Supporter like N on the following turn.

I can now play thinner counts of cards like Silent Lab – which I think is still the Stadium of choice due to Carbink’s Energy Keeper Ability – and Enhanced Hammer, cards that can often be situational. Also, I love that there is finally a good use for Repeat Ball. While some players may prefer the Wailord route and use Pokémon Fan Club, I think Repeat Ball allows for a smooth setup with free search to boot.

Players previously used Hard Charm as a way to reduce damage done to Houndoom, but Fighting Fury Belt is a much better option. While Hard Charm can be nullified by attack that go through card effects, Fighting Fury Belt cannot since HP is considered a game mechanic. It also makes it that much harder for Night Marchers to KO Houndoom, as they will now either need 11 Pokémon in the discard or 10 and a Fighting Fury Belt. Between the constant milling and constant Energy disruption, this matchup is now favorable.

On a final note, I should mention that the one card that makes this deck now run smoothly is N. Being able to shuffle and draw 6 cards every turn is good, but the added benefit of constant disruption of your opponent’s hand is even better – you are still in the game even if your opponent is ahead as much as 4 prizes. This can lead to openings where you can Lysandre something with a high Retreat Cost and continue milling as they rely on top decks to secure the match.

Water-based decks like Greninja and Water Toolbox don’t seem to be going anywhere, so I’m not sure how viable the deck is heading into U.S. Nationals. That said, if you can manage to avoid these decks, you might just find yourself at the top tables!

Imagine Dragons

Just a few months ago, I can recall being at my local cardLatios-EX-Roaring-Skies shop with some friends, including fellow Kentuckian, Jacob Hope. Discussing good plays for upcoming State Championships while enjoying some casual games of Pokémon and DC Deckbuilding, we were talking about Vileplume variants such as Vespiquen were and powerful the concept of permanent Item lock as early as the first turn was. Jokingly, that led to the culmination of the deck that he would soon pilot to a 3rd place finish and share with other players for even greater success – Latios/Vileplume.

I was skeptical about the core strategy of the deck – I didn’t think it could be viable in a format where a meager 60 damage with a Muscle Band was enough to make an impact. However, as the format has seemingly shifted toward decks that rely on non-EX attackers, I think the deck is better than ever. The deck has now seen success at even the National level now, with it recently placing 11th in Norway. Below is a sample list to give you an idea:

Pokémon: 20Trainers: 34Energy: 6
3 Latios-EX (ROS 58)
3 Shaymin-EX (ROS 77)
1 Hydreigon-EX (ROS
4 Unown (AOR 30)
3 Oddish (AOR 1)
3 Gloom (AOR 2)
3 Vileplume (AOR 3)

3 Professor Sycamore
1 N
1 AZ
1 Lysandre

4 Forest of Giant Plants

4 Trainers' Mail
4 Ultra Ball
3 Acro Bike
3 Float Stone
3 Level Ball
3 Muscle Band
2 Battle Compressor
2 Revitalizer
4 Double Dragon
2 Psychic

Similarly to Vespiquen variants, this deck is focused on the turn one Vileplume and achieves this by burning through the deck as quickly as possible. Low HP Basics like Froakie, Phantump, and Pumpkaboo cower in fear to the fast-hitting Dragon-type that is Latios, with its Fast Raid attack being able to hit up to 60 damage on the very first turn of the game. Even against bulkier Pokémon-EX, the combination of early pressure and Item lock can be overwhelming.

Jolteon, be gone!
Jolteon, be gone!

Though Latios is the primary attacker, there are some other options as far as Dragon-types go. I included a copy of Hydreigon-EX because of its useful Dragon Road Ability, which reduces the Retreat Cost of it and Latios. Additionally, its Shred attack can 2HKO things like Jolteon, as well as go through effects on the opponent’s Pokémon. Another option is Giratina-EX for its Chaos Wheel attack to improve your Night March matchup, along with its Regenade Pulse Ability to swing matchups like Mega Rayquaza and Mega Manectric.

Finally, you could even tech in a Druddigon from the Flashfire expansion. Its Revenge attack combined with a Muscle Band  hits the magic number of 110, enough to finish something that already has 60 damage from a Fast Raid and to KO a Shaymin.

Revitalizer is a nice addition from Generations, as it lets you not worry so much if you have to discard Vileplume early to get the turn one Fast Raid. Jacob Hope’s original build played a single copy of Red Card, which could be especially game-changing if you can manage to draw into it on turn one, as if Item lock weren’t enough to deal with starting out. A second AZ could also be a great play given that Vileplume variants all suffer from an abrupt Lysandre to lock a player in and eventually deck them out.

I have to give full credit to Jacob Hope for this interesting and playable deck. What started out as a simple joke turned into a competitive deck that can be devastating in the right metagame. The ability to attack on the first turn was removed from the game just years ago, and with good reason – the card developers realized that being able to apply so much pressure and take KO’s so soon was too powerful. Though Latios doesn’t output as much damage as, say, a turn one Night Spear from Darkrai, I think it attests to the fact that the card is quite underrated and might even see play in other decks at U.S. Nationals!

Who Let the Frogs Out?

The last deck I would like to go over is one that needs no introduction, and that is Greninja. Having placed in the Top 8 at Kentucky State Championships, I have personally seen how powerful it can be. However, while I and most other players were focused on building standard versions of the deck, James Arnold placed in Top 8 at the same tournament with a unique build that was purely focused on damage spread as opposed to magic KO numbers. Here is the list he used:

Pokémon: 15Trainers: 35Energy: 10
4 Froakie (BKP 38)
4 Frogadier (BKP 39)
3 Greninja (XY 41)
1 Greninja (BKP 40)
3 Greninja BREAK (BKP 41)
4 Professor Sycamore
4 Wally
2 Skyla
1 Fisherman

4 Acro Bike
4 Dive Ball
4 Trainers' Mail
4 Buddy-Buddy Rescue
4 VS Seeker
2 Energy Retrieval
1 Professor's Letter
1 Rare Candy
10 Water

Focused solely on the turn one Frogadier, James opted to play cards like Acro Bike to cycle through the deck and guarantee the turn one Wally. This can make or break games, as being able to have a board full of Greninja on your second turn is a scary situation for any opponent. The most interesting card choice in the list is arguably Buddy-Buddy Rescue, which he played 4 of. This has synergy with both Acro Bike and the prize exchange in general, as he can now play up to 6 Greninja throughout the course of the game with relative ease.

In addition, he opted to run 3 Greninja from XY, while onlyGreninja-Shuriken a single copy of the one from BREAKpoint. The constant spread damage from the Water Shuriken Ability enabled him to sweep in games and secure Top Cut. Looking ahead, this Greninja is also useful because its Mist Slash attack goes through all effects, meaning that 2 Giant Water Shurikens and a Mist Slash can OHKO a Glaceon-EX.

With the metagame having shifted significantly since State Championships, some cards will likely have to be added for it the deck to stay as competitive. Trevenant can often be a terrible matchup for Greninja, but the inclusion of 3-4 Rough Seas could actually make it favorable, especially in James’s build where the turn one Wally is all but secured. N is also a must-have, both for early draw support and late game disruption.

With these additions, this unique speed variant of our favorite frog deck has potential to do very well next weekend at U.S. Nationals. It will be interesting to see whether or not other versions will arise as well. I have actually seen a Greninja deck online that incorporates the Dark-type XY24 promo! I’m not sure how viable it is since it loses this typing once it evolves into the BREAK and needs 2 Energy to attack, but this could provide another answer to things like Trevenant BREAK.


As you can see, there can be both creativity and competitiveness in the current format, and I think the decks above can attest to this notion. While vanilla Night March and Trevenant lists will certainly perform well at the tournament level, I think there is plenty of leeway here for unique decks that also bring something to the table. especially if piloted by players who are comfortable with them.

One one last note, please consider donating to our GoFundMe campaign HERE, which is set to end in exactly one week! Through your contributions so far, Top Deck Nation will be able to provide 100% free content to the Pokémon TCG community for two more years – I am incredibly humbled and will continue to work hard on the site to make it the best it can be. Any more money raised will go toward things like graphic design and new and useful features like a card database and possibly an web-based deck builder.

Together, we can make these things a reality! Until next time, trainers, and I will see you at U.S. Nationals!

Featured image credit:

Residing in Lexington, Kentucky, Zach Carmichael is a 24 year old who has been a Pokemon enthusiast since the early days of the original Base Set. A competitive player since 2012, he has won multiple City Championships and made Top Cut at various Battle Roads, Cities, and State Championships. Outside of Pokemon, Zach is a graduate student at the University of Kentucky where he studies music theory. This is probably why he enjoys deck analysis and theorymon'ing as much as actually playing the card game.


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