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Hello, everyone! After retiring the mafia articles and taking a break from writing for the Smog in general, I'm back in full force (sort of). This article's goal will be to give you a summary of the current TCG format. As I'm writing this, States are still going on, with World Championships approaching. For people who are already actively involved in the metagame, this article won't tell you a lot of things that you didn't already know. But for those that know the basics of the game but nothing about the current cards, this is an article for you. I will be describing the archetypes that are currently the most popular. The Tier 1 Decks, or OU decks if you will. With the official Pokémon TCG online PvP simulator being released later this year, there couldn't be a better time to learn. If you want to learn the basics, then I recommend you read the first Smog TCG article, or follow some tutorials at the official website.
Disclaimer: I'm not by any means claiming to be an expert on this game. I have never played in a tournament in real life, and would probably lose to most good players who do. What I do have is a knowledge of the competitive basics. And sometimes I win games online. Just sometimes.
Before I can show you the ins and outs of the popular decks, I'll give a refresher course on the cards that can be found in most or every deck to set up. This will give you a better insight on which cards are searchable and which are not. Old school players might remember the insane draw and search power of Professor Oak, Bill, and Computer Search in the old days. The current format's draw and search is not quite as menacing as these thee cards, but still, compared to former metagames and other TCGs, it's a very fast format where you will be able to get a lot of key pieces in your hand and on the field as early as turn 1. Provided you get a decent hand, of course.
Sometimes, in one card's entry, I may be referring to a card I haven't gone over yet. Don't worry, just keep on reading, and read back later if you need to. It's all part of a large group of cards that fit together like a puzzle. It's a game played with 60 cards, after all, not just one.
Let's take a look at the most important searching cards first.
"Collector" is one of the best cards to have in your opening hand. You can't perform your deck's strategy without getting out your Basics, even if the core of your deck is an Evolved Pokémon. Three Collectors is a great amount and gives you lots of flexibility. Not only can you search out the Basic form of your attacker line, but you can also search the Basic techs that aid your set-up, mostly through coming into play Pokémon Powers (such as Azelf and Uxie), disrupt your opponent (Giratina and Mesprit), or cause extra damage (Crobat G). Almost every deck should run 4 Pokémon Collector cards.
Call Energy performs a similar function to Pokémon Collector: it helps you set up. However, instead of using your Supporter for the turn, it uses up your attack. This means you can use it on turn 1 even if you go first, and it provides C Energy (which means you can use it to retreat or attack). In addition, the Pokémon go straight to your Bench, which can often make the difference between a turn 1 or 2 win or loss if you start with only one Basic. However, the downside is that you only get two Pokémon rather than three, and you can't use their coming into play Pokémon Powers as the Pokémon are never played from your hand. Call Energy is a good choice for almost any deck, though slightly less so than Pokémon Collector. Running 4 of both gives you an enormous chance of getting your set-up going, but there's been many successful decks that run less or even none.
Collector and Call Energy can't get you Level Up or Evolution cards, so that's where these cards come in. They can get you every Pokémon from your deck (with the exception of Luxury Ball, which can't get any Pokémon Lv.X). They all have different pros and cons that pretty much speak for themselves, and most decks can generally make use of a mix of each. Almost every deck should be using one Luxury Ball, and Evolution-based decks should be running around 2-3 of each of the other two.
Twins is the quintessential comeback card. You get any two cards from your deck, but only if your opponent is ahead of you. Just one copy of these comes in handy in every deck, even the speediest, most offensive decks possible. But it's even better in slower decks that have to give up some prizes to set up.
This Supporter single-handedly established the viability of SP decks, which I will comment on later in great detail. It allows you to start a so-called Cyrus chain, where you use it to search out another Cyrus's Conspiracy until you run out of them. This gives you access to the broken Team Galactic Invention Trainers as well as an Energy for a good 4 turns in a row. It sees some play on decks not based around Pokémon SP, but not that often. Searching three cards from your deck also does a great job of thinning it, increasing your chance of topdecking just what you need.
I mentioned some Pokémon with "coming into play" Pokémon Powers earlier. Let me go over the two most important ones.
Uxie essentially says: "whenever you play me down, refill your hand up to 7 cards". It's an amazingly powerful card that provides raw draw power. Trying to play down all you can from your hand, then dropping an Uxie to draw as many cards as possible is a very common strategy. Uxie's Psychic Restore attack can and should be used when you have a window to do so, as it allows you to put Uxie back into your deck again. Not only does this free up a spot on your Bench, but it also allows you to reuse Set Up later. Uxie is used in pretty much every deck, even moreso than Pokémon Collector, although I recommend using only two or three in each. While we're on the subject of Uxie, you should take a quick look at...
One of the, if not the, single most expensive card in the format at the moment. Uxie Lv.X slides right into most decks due to Uxie being such a staple card. If you can find the time to get Uxie Lv.X on the table, you should do so. Trade Off allows you to dig through your deck much faster. Generally, the player who draws the most cards during a game has the highest flexibility, and therefore, has the best chance to win. In addition, Zen Blade does a solid 60 damage for the low cost of CC, making it a solid emergency attacker. Therefore, there's a place for the entire Uxie line in every deck. Only run one copy of this, if you do.
Uxie's pixie brother. Azelf allows you to look at your prizes and even write them down, which allows you to plan which prize to take. This alone is amazing, and reduces the luck factor of the game in general by assuring your last prize isn't the card you had been waiting for all game long. As if that isn't amazing enough, Azelf allows you to trade one card in your hand for one of the Pokémon cards in your prizes. Azelf allows you to run only a single copy of some cards, with the knowledge that if it ends up in your prizes, you will be able to fish it out. You should only run one of these, but it should be in pretty much every deck.
Now, I need to mention two important cards that accelerate Evolution. Normally, Evolution is fairly restricted. You can't evolve a Pokémon the same turn you play it down, and you can't evolve a Pokémon you already evolved that turn. These cards allow you to bypass those rules, and therefore speed up Evolution decks.
Rare Candy basically says "Evolve one of your Basic Pokémon into a corresponding Stage 2 Pokémon." You can do this regardless of when you played that Pokémon down, so this card allows you to evolve a Charmander into a Charizard immediately, without having to use Charmeleon.
And this Stadium basically says "Forget all rules about Evolution." With Broken Time-Space in play, you can play down your Charmander, evolve it into Charmeleon, and then straight to Charizard all on the same turn. Broken Time-Space is a must in decks that want to be speedy and make use of evolution, while Rare Candy is essential in almost any Stage 2 deck.
In summary, if you're going to build a deck, you should almost always include the following at a minimum.
- 4 Pokémon Collector
- 1 Luxury Ball
- 2 Uxie
- 1 Uxie Lv.X
- 1 Azelf
- 4 Call Energy
In addition, if you are running a deck based on evolutions, it would be wise to add 3-4 Broken Time-Space and, in case of a Stage 2 deck, 3-4 Rare Candy.
Now, let's talk about what you came here for.
These are not necessarily in any order. Except for the #1 deck, which is...
I will have to tell the entire fairy tale of the Pokémon SP ordeal anyway, so I might as well do it when talking about an SP deck.
Pokémon SP are Pokémon that are evolved by flavor, but technically in the TCG, they are Basic Pokémon. They are supposed to be Pokémon owned by the Elite Four, the Frontier Brains, the Gym Leaders, the Champion, and Team Galactic. These "alingments" are indicated by symbols or letters behind the Pokémon's name: 4, FB, GL, C, and G, respectively. An example of a Pokémon SP would be Luxray GL. Normally, Luxray is evolved from Luxio, which evolves from Shinx. But Luxray GL counts as a Basic Pokémon, and is played as such. They are generally not as powerful as full-blown Stage 1 or Stage 2 Pokémon, but they're a lot stronger than their unevolved forms. That means decks based around SP Pokémon are generally fast hard-hitters that try to prevent the opponent from setting up, usually by disrupting them and killing the Basics before they can evolve into something more dangerous.
Fortunately for SP decks, they were given just the right tools for this: the SP engine. This term is used for Cyrus's Conspiracy (explained earlier) and the four "Team Galactic Inventions" Trainers (there are five, but the fifth one sucks, so let's not acknowledge its existence here). Each of these have a crucial role in SP decks.
The most basic Galactic Invention is SP Radar. It's basically Bebe's Search, except it's a Trainer instead of a Supporter, so using it doesn't interfere with using Cyrus's Conspiracy or Pokémon Collector. It only searches out Pokémon SP, but for SP decks, that generally means you can search out almost everything except Uxie and Azelf.
The more interesting and evil ones are Poké Turn, Energy Gain, and Power Spray. Each of these essentially cheats the game by bypassing a basic rule of the game, which allows an SP deck to play faster and more disruptively than almost any deck in the format. Poké Turn allows you to pick up a Pokémon off the field, and all of the cards attached to it. This means all damage and status conditions on it are gone like the wind. There are and have been other "scooping" cards in the format, but they all had their drawbacks. Poké Turn's only drawback is, once again, that you can only use it on Pokémon SP. Poké Turn is more versatile than it might seem at first sight, but you will only be able to appreciate that when you've seen the other pieces of the puzzle.
Normally, you can only attach 1 Energy card to your Pokémon every turn. Energy Gain reduces the cost of its holder's attacks by C, which isn't quite the same as attaching more than once per turn, but the effect it has is pretty close. Often, you'll be able to use an attack one turn sooner than you otherwise would, and this allows SP Pokémon to start striking much earlier than anything else. Of course, you're only allowed to attach this to a Pokémon SP.
Finally, there's perhaps the meanest Invention of them all: Power Spray. It's literally the only card in the game that you're allowed to play during your opponent's turn. It instantly blocks a Power your opponent attempted to use. Its best use is most definitely unexpectedly stopping your opponent from refilling their hand with Uxie's Set Up, often leaving them with a small hand and therefore little options. Again, there's that SP-related drawback where you are only allowed to play this if you have 3 or more Pokémon SP in play.
I should also give a brief mention to Aaron's Collection. It's not nearly as exciting as the other cards, being a Supporter that often ends up being searched out with the 4th and last Cyrus. It's a recovery card that allows you to get up to 2 in any combination of Pokémon SP and basic Energy cards back from your discard pile. Pokémon SP are relatively fragile, the Basics rarely topping 80 HP and their Level Up forms hardly going over 110 HP, and some of them burn through Energy. So being able to get some of that back is a blessing.
These cards would not be half as effective as they are if you weren't able to search one of them every turn with Cyrus's Conspiracy. With that Supporter in hand even just once, SP decks are practically guaranteed to have a wide array of options for many turns to come.
Now that we've gone over the fundamentals of SP, we should take a look at the best SP deck there is: Luxchomp. It's a deck based around Luxray GL Lv.X and Garchomp C Lv.X. Bright Look on the former and Dragon Rush on the latter give these main attackers the ability to attack every Pokémon on your opponent's field, which means that they almost always have a way to get a prize. The deck's idea is basically to set up extremely quickly with the help of Cyrus's Conspiracy, disrupt the opponent from setting up by Power Spraying important Powers like Uxie, and KOing their Basic Pokémon before they can evolve. Damage can be healed off with Poké Turn or Garchomp C Lv.X's Healing Breath, which means that unless you are able to OHKO these buggers, you probably won't be able to get a prize off of them.
The strength of Luxchomp isn't exactly in its raw power: Garchomp and Luxray both have fairly low damage caps (80 and 70 respectively). They excel at flexibility, thanks to most Pokémon in the deck being searchable by Pokémon Collector, and almost every card in the deck being searchable with Cyrus's Conspiracy. This makes it the best deck, but also one of the hardest to play correctly.
This flexibility can also be found in the deck's tech section. Luxchomp lists often have a very large amount of single copies of a card. I'll only list a few important ones.
Toxicroak G (the Promo one, not the one from Platinum) provides the deck with a Fighting-type that can effectively do 70 damage with just a Psychic Energy and an Energy Gain, as long as one of your Pokémon was KOed last turn. This allows the deck to get a revenge kill on foes weak to Fighting, such as the deck's very own Luxray GL Lv.X.
Ambipom G and Dragonite FB are both Colorless attackers who mostly shine in the match against other SP decks with Garchomp C. They are both conditionally able to OHKO the Lv.X. Ambipom G also has some disruption going, with Tail Code sending your opponent's Energy to places he doesn't want them. Dragonite FB is a heavier gun, with more HP, more retreat cost, and more attacking cost, but its Mach Blow does 80 damage to any Pokémon SP.
Crobat G is only really used for its Flash Bite Poké-Power, which allows you to put a single damage counter on any of your opponent's Pokémon when you play it down. It may not sound like much, but this can be the difference between a kill and a whiff. It can be used again and again thanks to Poké Turn.
Bronzong G's Galactic Switch allows the deck to move Energy around between their Pokémon, allowing Luxchomp to alternate attackers very easily. Imagine if you have a Luxray GL Lv.X active with Energy Gain and two Lightning Energy on it, but you want to use your benched Garchomp C Lv.X's Dragon Rush this turn. You can Galactic Switch one of the Lightning Energies to Garchomp, Poké Turn Luxray to send up Garchomp, and attach the other Lightning and the Energy Gain you just picked up to Garchomp.
Lucario GL is often put into SP decks because of its Boundary Aura Poké-Body. Every Pokémon from the HGSS sets and onward have x2 weaknesses, but many common Pokémon have +30 weaknesses. To properly exploit the type advantage Luxchomp often has on its opponents, Lucario GL turns these +30s into x2s, allowing you to do that much more damage.
I could write a lot more about Luxchomp and SP decks, but I think this is all you need to know right now. Everything else comes from playing games, and discussing those games.
We might as well get all of the SP archetypes out of the way while they are fresh on your mind. Dialgachomp indicates we're talking about a deck that uses Dialga G and Garchomp C, and their Lv.Xes. Instead of really fast disruption, this SP variant takes a slightly slower approach to the game by creating a mammoth SP tank.
Dialga G has an enormous 100 HP, and its Level X even has 120. Its Metal typing allows it to make use of special Metal Energy cards. For each of those that's attached to Dialga G, it takes 10 less damage from attacks. As if that's not enough, Dialga G can be healed by Garchomp C's Healing Breath Poké-Power. Thanks to Poké Turn, Galactic Switch, and Warp Energy or Warp Point, this can be done over and over again.
All this durability wouldn't be good for anything if Dialga G had nothing worth attacking with, but fortunately for this legendary monster, that's not the case. Dialga G's basic form has two attacks. Deafen does 10 damage for MC (just M if you have Energy Gain), but locks your opponent out of Trainers and Stadium cards for their turn. This should slow them down significantly, giving you some set-up time. Second Strike isn't very interesting, doing a raw 50 for MCC, 70 if whatever you use it on has 2 or more damage counters. It has nice synergy with Crobat G and Deafen's minor damage, but oftentimes you'll want to be patient and keep the opponent "Deafen-locked".
But once you get out Dialga G Lv.X, everything changes. Its Time Crystal Poké-Body stops all other Poké-Bodies, except for those on Pokémon SP. I haven't introduced you to any Poké-Bodies yet, except for Lucario GL's (which is an SP), so you'll just have to take my word for the fact that lots of decks are based around Poké-Bodies, and disabling like that is often game breaking for them. Its attack is menacing but expensive: for MMCC, it does 80 damage and has the potential to completely, well, remove Energy from the game.
The best case scenario for a Dialgachomp is roughly as following: you open with Dialga G, a Metal Energy, and an Energy Gain. You start by Deafening your opponent into oblivion as early as your first Trainer turn, stopping them from setting up as fast as they would otherwise. Meanwhile, you use a Pokémon Collector to grab a Garchomp C, Bronzong G, and another Dialga G. To this second Dialga G, you attach as many special Metals as you can, and ideally an Expert Belt. Top off the cost of Remove Lost with other Energies such as Double Colorless Energy if you have to, and find Dialga G and Garchomp C's Lv.X forms. When you're ready to rumble, your active Dialga G dies or is Poké Turned back to safety. Bring up the Dialga G and Level Up, and start dishing out 100 damage per turn with Expert Belt and Remove Lost, destroying their half-done set-up and their Energy. When you've taken some damage and want to heal, attach a Warp Energy to Dialga G Lv.X to promote Garchomp C. Galactic Switch the Warp Energy to Garchomp C, then Level Up and Healing Breath away the damage on Dialga G and Bronzong G. Finally, simply Poké Turn the Garchomp C line with Warp Energy back into your hand and promote Dialga G again. Rinse and repeat.
Of course, you'll need some luck, or help from Uxie or Twins to get all of those tools needed into your hands. But when you do, you essentially have an indestructible tank that gets a KO almost every turn.
The deck has back-up firepower in Garchomp's Dragon Rush, as well as the various techs that Luxchomp has at its disposal, such as Toxicroak G, Ambipom G, etc. It has access to the same SP engine that Luxchomp does. It's a lot slower, but not to be underestimated.
The third and last "real" SP archetype (there are a lot more possibilities but you can't just cover everything). Sablelock is an SP deck that makes use of the Sableye from Stormfront in addition to a couple of Supporters, Trainers, and Pokémon that try to leave your opponent without anything threatening on the field or in their hand. When using it, you try to take control of your opponent's side of the field before they can set up.
Sableye is an interesting Pokémon. The main reason it's in this deck is the free Impersonate attack, which allows you to use a Supporter from your deck (without using up your Supporter for the turn). You can use this to grab your Pokémon with Pokémon Collector or start your Cyrus chain, but the actual "lock" part of the deck involves neither of those. Instead, the main use is to play Judge or Giratina from your hand, both of which involve both you and your opponent shuffling their hands into their deck, and drawing 4 new cards. This should leave both of you with very few resources to work with. To further hinder your opponent, Sableye can then Impersonate a Cyrus's Initiative (not to be confused with Conspiracy). With this Supporter, you flip two coins. If you flip at least one heads, you get to look at your opponent's hand and put one of the cards in their hand on the bottom of their deck. So on average, you will be leaving your opponent with just 3 cards, with that important Uxie or Pokémon Collector thrown to the bottom of their deck.
After disrupting your opponent, you may want to make sure they recover. Chatot G's Disrupting Spy Poké-Power helps with this, allowing you to re-order your opponent's topdecks so they don't draw into anything important. You can only use it when you play it down, but that's what Poké Turn is for. Garchomp C makes an appearance in an SP deck once again, for its marvelous ability to Dragon Rush any unevolved Pokémon before they can become a threat. The usual anti-Luxchomp cards such as Dragonite FB, Ambipom G, and Toxicroak G usually make an appearance in this, if only to fuel the ever-disruptive Power Spray. In case some straight-up offense is needed, Sablelock lists usually incorporate one or both of Honchkrow from Supreme Victors or Blaziken FB. The former's Riot attack does 30 damage plus 10 for every unevolved Pokémon in play, which is right up an SP deck's alley for obvious reasons. Blaziken FB's Luring Flame drags up Pokémon from the opponent's bench like Luxray GL Lv.X's Bright Look does, adding to the disruption, but it can also hit hard and fast with Jet Shoot.
What also adds to Sablelock's scariness is its ability to win as early as turn 1 or 2. It's not just Garchomp C and Blaziken FB that can help you win quickly, either. Sableye's second attack, Overconfident, does 40 damage as long as Sableye has more remaining HP than its opponent, for the low cost of one Darkness Energy. A Special Dark kicks this damage up by 50, and it can be aided further with Crobat G and Poké Turn. Sableye's Poké-Body also forces the Sableye player to go first, which means it can end games before the opponent has even drawn its first card. It's this ability that has given the deck the other moniker "Sabledonk" (donking means winning extremely early because the opponent has no Benched Pokémon left).
So Sablelock has the option to go for the donk, or disrupt the opponent completely and take out the few things they did manage to get down fairly quickly. If both of these strategies fail, however, Sablelock can be up the creek without a paddle as it often packs very thin lines of "real" attackers such as Honchkrow. Nonetheless, a deck that can end the game before it even begins is not to be underestimated.
Now that we're done with SP decks, it's time to delve into the world of "real" evolution decks. Vilegar is about as "evolutionairy" as it gets, as it combines the powers of Gengar and Vileplume. It's about the polar opposite of an SP deck. Whereas SP is often about striking first and rushing the opponent, Vilegar takes a slower approach.
The entire idea of the deck is to keep the opponent from using Trainers to slow them down by always having a Vileplume from Undaunted on the bench. Its Allergy Flower Poké-Body stops both players from playing Trainers at all. The idea is that Vilegar packs hardly any Trainers at all, whereas most other decks generally have a lot (think of all those Team Galactic Inventions). So, having this thing on your bench will slow your opponent down a lot, whereas Vilegar won't be slowed down at all.
While the opponent is a sitting duck with all those unplayable Trainers in their hand, the Gengar from Stormfront hits their active Pokemon with Poltergeist, doing 30 damage times the amount of Supporters, Trainers, and Stadium cards in the opponent's hand, for the low cost of PC. The synergy here couldn't be more obvious. With Vileplume on the bench, the opponent will have a very hard time reducing Poltergeist's damage, and also won't be able to mount a considerable offense to take down either Gengar or Vileplume, due to not being able to search Pokémon with Pokémon Communication or SP Radar, or healing with Poké Turn, or reducing attacking cost with Energy Gain.
Of course, getting two Stage 2 lines out is not a piece of cake, especially since you don't want to use a whole lot of Trainers like Rare Candy and Pokémon Communication to speed up matters. That's why this deck uses the Spiritomb from the Arceus set. It's pretty much tailor-made for this combination. Spiritomb's Keystone Seal Poké-Body does exactly the same as Vileplume's, except it only works when Spiritomb is active. And while Spiritomb is active, it can use its costless Darkness Grace attack, which allows you to put an Evolution card from your deck on top of a corresponding Basic on your bench. All at the cost of putting a damage counter on Spiritomb. This card considerably speeds up the process of getting out Gengar and Vileplume, while also slowing down the opponent.
The fun doesn't end there. Gengar has a lot more tricks up its sleeve than just Poltergeist. With just a P Energy attached, Gengar can use Shadow Room to place three damage counters on any of its opponent's Pokémon in play. And if you happen to choose one with a Poké-Power, you get to place another three damage counters on it! It's only 10 damage short of killing a benched Azelf, Uxie, or Crobat G that has done its job, and that's exactly what you should be using Shadow Room for.
However, Gengar can be taken down, with its relatively low 110 HP (low for a Stage 2, anyhow). But when you do take it down, make sure not to forget its Fainting Spell Poké-Power. Every time you Knock Out Gengar with direct damage, the Gengar player gets to flip a coin. And if they get heads, whatever killed it is dead as well. It's awfully cheap, and it may remind you of Destiny Bond from the video game. This Power can be bypassed in some ways (such as using Crobat G's Flash Bite to take off the last 10 Hit Points), but under a Trainer Lock this isn't always possible.
Gengar also happens to have a Lv.X that increases its HP to a considerable 140. Its Compound Pain attack does 30 damage to every Pokémon your opponent has in play that already has damage on it, but isn't worth mentioning with the steep cost of PPC. What makes it a worthwhile play in a Vilegar deck is the Level Down Poké-Power, which allows you to take off one of your opponent's Level Up cards and shuffle it back into their deck. This is mostly important for Dialga G Lv.X, whose Time Crystal Poké-Body negates both Spiritomb and Vileplume's Trainer blocking goodness.
There's even more versatility to Gengar, which is really saying something considering I already went over 3 attacks and 2 Poké-Powers, but for now this summary will do. Vilegar is a slow deck that does really well if it gets the lock going, though it's very vulnerable to bad starts due to the large amount of deck space the dual Stage 2 line takes up. If you don't manage to get a Trainer lock going off the start, you may end up being outsped and killed before you can fully set up. Thankfully, the Stormfront Gastly provides a Trainer lock with its Pitch Dark attack, which is a fine substitute if you did not manage to start with Spiritomb.
While we're talking about Gengar, you should also be aware of the threat of the new Lostgar deck. Lostgar is a deck that makes use of the new possible win condition that the Lost World stadium from Call of Legends offers. Instead of the normal means (taking six prizes, KOing all their Pokémon, or leaving them with no deck), Lost World allows a player to declare themselves the winner if, during their turn, their opponent has 6 or more Pokémon in the Lost Zone. This would not be a huge deal normally, since most Pokémon that send cards to the Lost Zone do so by Knocking Out (meaning you'd take a prize anyway).
But it seemed that Nintendo wanted Gengar to stay on top of the game forever, and thus Gengar Prime was created. This version of the creeper has 130 HP to work with, and once again they felt that just having two good attacks wasn't enough.
Hurl into Darkness is Gengar's main attack, which allows you to look at your opponent's hand and send as many 'mons from there to the dreaded Lost Zone equal to the amount of P Energy attached to Gengar. This is the quickest way for Gengar to get 6 of your opponent's Pokémon into the Lost Zone. With the aid of Seeker (which forces both players to pick up a benched Pokémon) and Spiritomb from Legends Awakened (which forces your opponent to shuffle their hand into their deck and draw 6 new cards), you can often make sure to have plenty of targets for Hurl.
If you do need to put pressure on the field, then Gengar's Poké-Body and second attack come in handy. Catastrophe states that every one of your opponent's Pokémon that ends up Knocked Out while Gengar is active will have to go to the Lost Zone. Which will generally mean anything you KO with Gengar Prime will add to their Lost Zone count. Unfortunately, the Cursed Drop attack costs PC and only places 4 damage counters, though you can put them on your opponent's Pokémon in any way you like. Generally, you'll want to use Hurl into Darkness to Lost Zone things, but sometimes there's a Pokémon on the field that's so troublesome it's worth taking the time to slowly but surely Cursed Drop them.
Lostgar obviously also has access to Gengar Lv.X, which offers 10 extra HP, and that amazing Level Down power. Compound Pain is more likely to help you in this deck than in Vilegar, as it combines nicely with an all-around Cursed Drop, and allows you to potentially Lost Zone multiple of your opponent's fielded Pokémon at once.
Twins is a very important card in Lostgar, since generally the deck isn't taking any prizes while its opponent often will. It's especially good for finding Lost World after you have sent 6 Pokémon to the Lost Zone.
Speaking of Vilegar, recently, people have been combining these two decks, fully exploiting the versatility of the Gengar line by providing the player with two different ways to win, and two entirely different threats for the opponent. To completely protect themselves against both Poltergeist and Hurl into Darkness, your opponent will generally have to get rid of their entire hand, which is once again made more difficult by Trainer lock.
For other important cards, aside from the Spiritombs from Arceus and Legends Awakened, there's Mr. Mime from Call of Legends. It has a Power that forces both players to show their hands, allowing you to get a better idea of which attack to use. Palkia G Lv.X is also thrown in occasionally, as players often try to avoid Hurl into Darkness by benching every Pokémon they draw into. Palkia G Lv.X's Lost Cyclone power forces players who have 4 or 5 benched Pokémon to Lost Zone Pokémon from their bench until they have 3 left. This can be a great way to send the last few Pokémon needed to the Lost Zone, especially since you cannot declare your Lost World victory after you have already attacked (since it says "During your turn").
Lostgar is rather fresh and new, so people are still experimenting with it. There's many different variants, but so far it seems the Vilegar/Lostgar hybrid is proving the most successful. Lostgar decks without Vileplume and Gengar Stormfront run into the issue that they generally cannot threaten their opponents in any way, since Cursed Drop is too weak to stop anyone from building a strong attacker and simply mauling all Gengar Primes before you can send 6 Pokémon to the Lost Zone and declare victory. The Vileplume variant slows down the opponent and gives the deck the versatility it needs.
Gyarados is the least complicated deck that I will be discussing so far. The only attack that we really have to look at here is Tail Revenge on the Gyarados from Stormfront, which does 30 damage times the amount of Magikarp in the discard pile. The premise of the deck is very simple: get one Magikarp in play, evolve it into Gyarados, get three others in the discard and start hitting for 90 damage. What makes this deck so good? Tail Revenge's attack cost. It's a free attack. Doing 90 damage for free opens a lot of doors...and a lot of deck space, considering you won't have to pack any Energy to fuel it.
Of course, we don't want our opponent to just knock off three of those 30 HP Magikarps and be behind by 3 prizes just to get one attacker going. So, we'll be using the Regice from Legends Awakened, which allows you to discard any 2 cards from your hand once during your turn thanks to its Regi Move Poké-Body. It has the sometimes pleasant side effect of forcing your opponent to switch out their Active Pokémon (provided it's a Basic) for one on their bench, which can be a good way of forcing a Spiritomb out of the way and escape the Trainer lock for the time being. An alternative way of discarding Magikarp is using Junk Arm, a Trainer that allows you to discard 2 cards from your hand to get a Trainer back from your discard pile.
To get all those Pokémon in our hand to field and discard, you'll want a good set-up Pokémon. The Sableye we discussed in Sablelock fits perfectly, Impersonating Pokémon Collector to get us our Regice and Magikarps. But there's an alternative: Smeargle from Undaunted. While Smeargle is active, you can use its Power to look at your opponent's hand and use the effect of one of their Supporters. This does not use up your Supporter for the turn, and thus accelerates your set-up greatly. Unlike Sableye, Smeargle stays useful throughout the game, as it can be brought up after a KO and use Portrait before retreating again. To do this, you'll want to attach Unown Q to it, which reduces its retreat cost from 1 to 0. Unown Q is a great card to run in general to save an Energy attachment, but with Smeargle it's an absolute must.
With all these possibilities for setting up and discarding, you're probably having no problem setting up a beastly Gyarados with 3 Magikarp in the discard. However, that 130 HP will be worn down sometime. That's where Gyarados decks run Super Scoop Up or Warp Energy + Seeker, which allow Gyarados to be picked up and healed, then placed back down ready for some more action.
But even such a healing system isn't enough to keep a permanent Gyarados on the field. It can get OHKOed, or you might not want to or be able to "WarpSeeker". With most "normal" decks, replacing your main attacker with a back-up isn't very difficult. But Gyarados relies on having 3 of its Basic form in the discard to function, so if your fourth Magikarp ends up in the discard pile, you're in trouble. That's why Gyarados decks run a great amount of recovery cards. Pokémon Rescue is a Trainer that allows you to take one Pokémon from your discard pile and put it into your hand. Simple but effective, and it can be reused with Junk Arm. Simply get a Magikarp from the discard pile to your hand, and either get the old Gyarados back or get a new one from your deck, put them down in one go with Broken Time-Space, retreat to it and continue to rampage! An even better way to resurrect Gyarados is Rescue Energy. By attaching it to Gyarados, you ensure that every time it's Knocked Out by direct damage, Magikarp and Gyarados return to your hand, ready to be played back down straight away!
So we have a Pokémon that constantly recovers itself and does 90 per turn for free, but it's "only" 90, which isn't all that impressive in the long run. That's why Gyarados often goes equipped with an Expert Belt. Expert Belt adds 20 to its holder's HP and damage output, turning Gyarados into a 150 HP monster hitting for 110 damage every turn. The downside is that if a Pokémon holding the Expert Belt is Knocked Out, the opponent takes an extra prize.
That's why Gyarados also has access to the same custom damage addition that SP decks have: Crobat G and Poké Turn. With just 2 Crobat G and 4 Poké Turn, that's up to 60 extra damage throughout the game. And it doesn't end there, since Seeker and Super Scoop Up can also be used to reuse a Crobat G. Vs Seeker can be used to reuse Seeker (as well as any other Supporter), and to top it all off, Junk Arm allows you to reuse Poké Turn, Super Scoop Up, Expert Belt, AND Vs Seeker. The combination of Expert Belt and a potential barrage of Flash Bites allows Gyarados to do far more than just that 90 per turn.
Overall, Gyarados is fast and hits hard. His main problem lies with the fact that it might take a while to get the Magikarp in the discard pile (although you can generally get 2 in there by turn 2 at the latest), and the four Magikarp that are in the deck leave it vulnerable to donks or early prize loss due to their low 30 HP. It also has the issue of always having to live on the edge due to the attack being fueled by Magikarp in the discard pile. If a Gyarados is KOed and you have no way to get both a Magikarp and a Gyarados back on the table, you're screwed. Regardless, Gyarados is powerful, durable, attacks for cheap, and has the fastest recovery in the format.
The last deck I will be going over is Machamp, and thankfully he is fairly straightforward. There are two Machamp worth using currently: the "normal" Machamp from Stormfront, and Machamp Prime from Triumphant. There is no deep, convoluted strategy going on with either of them: both of them simply aim to get on the board as fast as possible and kill six Pokémon.
Machamp Stormfront features 130 HP, and an old school +30 Psychic weakness. While the card lists three attacks, only one of them really matters. Looking at the other two, Hurricane Punch and Rage real quickly, we'll see that both are more expensive and more risky to perform. The former relies on coin flips, and the latter will only be useful if Machamp is at death's door. Instead, let's focus on the aptly named Take Out. Here's what it does: you attach a single Fighting Energy to Machamp, and you use it. If whatever it's facing is not an Evolved Pokémon, it's Knocked Out. It's cheap in every sense of the word, and thanks to Broken Time-Space and Rare Candy, you could say that Machamp goes toe to toe with Sableye when it comes to donking. Take Out is the bane of SP decks as well as any other deck based around Basic Pokémon.
The downside is that when Take Out isn't doing infinite damage (like against Evolved Pokémon), it only does 40. That's where Machamp Prime comes peeking around the corner. While it's on the bench, Machamp Prime's Fighting Tag Poké-Power allows you to swap it in at any time during your turn without paying Machamp Stormfront's rather hefty 2 retreat cost. Even better, the Power allows Machamp Prime to take over all the Fighting Energy that was on the previous active Pokémon, and use it to fuel its own attacks. And it sure needs to: while Machamp Stormfront's only real attack costs only 1 Energy, Machamp Prime only starts swinging for FCC. For this cost, you get to use Crushing Punch, doing 60 damage and discarding a Special Energy card of your choice attached to whatever is unfortunate enough to receive the blow. Attach another Fighting Energy and you'll be cooking with fire, doing at least 100 damage with Champ Buster, plus 10 for every damaged Pokémon on your bench.
So you will generally use Machamp Stormfront for early cheap kills, and Machamp Prime for the heavier work when your opponent has evolved their Pokémon. With Machamp Stormfront being able to sweep SP decks by himself and Machamp Prime being the long term Pokémon in every sense of the word, there should be little standing in your way.
Machamp is generally played in a "speed" variant, with 3 Uxie, 4 Broken Time-Space, 4 Rare Candy, and lots of Trainers to try and get the Machamps on the board as soon as possible. One of the most notable possible additions to a Machamp deck is Donphan Prime from the first HGSS set, which has 120 HP, a Poké-Body that reduces damage done to it by 20, and an attack that's almost as unfair as Take Out in Earthquake. It does 60 damage for the low cost of just one Fighting Energy, with the only catch being that everything on your bench takes 10 damage. Which isn't much of a downside and all considering it adds power to Machamp Prime's Champ Buster.
So what stops Machamp from taking the SP-dominated format by storm? Everything that isn't SP, that's what. Both Machamp have to deal with a nasty weakness to Psychic, which not only makes them weak to Gengar Stormfront's Poltergeist, but also to Uxie Lv.X's Zen Blade. And Uxie Lv.X happens to be a card that just slides into any deck, especially SP. With the aid of Lucario GL, Zen Blade does 120 damage to Machamp Stormfront, only a single Flash Bite away from being Knocked Out. So even though Machamp has the advantage against SP, we're not talking about an automatic win here. That just leaves Gyarados, with its 130 HP and Fighting resistance, making it extremely hard to OHKO for either Machamp.
Now, I could go more in-depth about match-ups here, but all I wanted to do was give you an overview of what the metagame looks like. I may (and probably will) write about actual match-ups in another article. I may also write an article on some decks that I didn't get to mention here, such as Tyranitar, Steelix, and Magnezone/Regirock.
Right now, even as someone who has never took a step in the modern metagame before, you should be able to pick up a deck and try to get a feel for it, while also having a good idea of what you would be facing.
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