The U.S. Pokemon National Championships are over, and it was truly an event where the best players in the country gathered to prove they deserved to become the U.S. National Champion. This year, we saw a very unusual deck revolving around Wailord-EX that seemingly popped out of nowhere, and took the entire event by storm (it made it all the way to the finals).
How Does it Work?
“The Great Whale” is a deck that focuses on being an indestructible wall that your opponent is unlikely to break. Because you are never attacking with this deck, you will never take any Prizes, and have to win by decking out your opponent. I feel this deck performs really well in a best-of-three series, as it can take a long time to deck your opponent out in game one, and time often runs out in game two, securing a win in your favor.
Wailord-EX / Suicune
Boasting a massive 250 HP, there are not very many Pokemon that can OHKO Wailord-EX. Wailord’s job is to be a huge wall that can sponge a couple hits before needing to heal itself. It will never attack, as the deck runs zero Energy.
Cassius / AZ / Max Potion
These cards are the reason why Wailord-EX is so good. Being able to remove all of the damage on your Wailord effectively undoes your opponent’s turn, and keeps the wall standing for at least another turn. With VS Seeker and Dowsing Machine, you can potentially heal a total of 17 times in a single game, which should be more than enough to deck your opponent out.
Team Flare Grunt / Xerosic / Enhanced Hammer
Another way to undo your opponent’s actions is to remove their Energy cards. As we have seen with Seismitoad-EX decks in the past, one of the best ways to stay alive is to prevent your opponent from attacking you.
Hugh never saw any competitive play since its release in Boundaries Crossed, but it has a very important use in this deck. An opponent could try and stall you out until you have few cards left in your deck, and then play a Colress, shuffling tons of cards back into their deck. A well-timed Hugh can force your opponent to discard so many resources that they need to win the game, and prevents those cards from going back into your opponent’s deck.
Rough Seas / Hard Charm
Sometimes, your opponent does not attack for a lot of damage and you want to save your other healing cards. Hard Charm helps turn 2HKOs into 3HKOs, which gives the Wailord-EX player a bit of breathing room, choosing to hold onto their other healing options for another turn.
Rough Seas softens your opponent’s blows even harder, as those 3HKO’s could easily become 4HKO’s or more. Healing 30 every turn for free is wonderful, and it keeps the wall standing.
Sacred Ash / Pokemon Fan Club
I really like this card combo in the deck. Eventually, one or two of your Pokemon might get KO’d, or discarded. You can Sacred Ash several Pokemon back into the deck, and search them right back out with Pokémon Fan Club, so that they are ready to go right away.
One of the great things about this deck is that it runs a lot of Stadiums, while most decks typically run only three. Most of the time you are going to want Rough Seas in play, but if you find yourself against a Night March deck, this can help prevent Mew-EX from attacking after they have exhausted all of their Dimension Valley. Silent Lab also help against decks that rely on Keldeo-EX, as they will not be able to Rush In if you decide to Lysandre a Pokemon with high Retreat Cost on your opponent’s Bench.
Checks and Counters
Believe it or not, there are a few ways to defeat Wailord-EX. I think one of the biggest factors for its success at Nationals was the surprise. Many people did not test for this matchup, and it caught them off guard. Now that Nationals is over, and Wailord is a viable contender, we look to some ways to counter the strategy.
Energy Accelerating Decks
One of the strengths of Wailord-EX decks is that they remove your opponent’s Energy with cards like Team Flare Grunt and Enhanced Hammer. The best way to combat this is with decks that accelerate Energy from the discard pile. Bronzong and M Manectric-EX are two decks that come to mind, as they prove to do so fairly easily. While Bronzong offers acceleration before attacking, M Manectric-EX deals consistent damage while accelerating simultaneously. This should be enough to outpace your opponent’s Energy denial options, and win you the game.
Primal Groudon-EX decks have a huge reputation of being slow, but that is all fine and well when your opponent isn’t attacking you. Primal Groudon’s Ancient Trait Ω Barrier will stop your opponent from trying to remove your Energy cards with Team Flare Grunt, Enhanced Hammer, and Xerosic, and give you all the time in the world to attach your Strong Energy to Primal Groudon-EX and hit for 280 with a Stadium. Of course, this is boosted by Fighting Stadium, and if Suicune is a problem, play Silent Lab or Regirock.
I remember a lot of people hyped Bunnelby as soon as Lysandre's Trump Card was banned, as it was a neat way to deck your opponent out. Bunnelby has the Ancient Trait Ω Barrage which allows it to attack twice, and since it is never getting KO’d, Bunnelby has the advantage of discarding more cards from your opponent’s deck than how many it can discard yours.
Another option for Bunnelby is to put cards back in your deck with Rototiller, as you will never deck out against your opponent. No matter which way you choose, Bunnelby is the best choice to counter Wailord-EX.
2nd Place Nationals Deck List
4x AZ (PHF #91)
3x N (DEX #96)
Interview with Enrique Avila
I was fortunate enough to catch an interview with Enrique Avila, who piloted this brand-new Wailord-EX deck all the way into the finals.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How have you been doing this season prior to Nationals?
“I am a pre-med student at UW Madison studying biochemistry. I have played Pokemon a little more this year than last year, and I decided to go harder for my invite after taking 2nd at Wisconsin States with Yveltal-EX / Seismitoad-EX.”
That’s pretty exciting! So why Wailord? Was it something that you’ve been testing for a while?
“My friend’s brother Brandon Zettell actually came up with the deck. Austin Zettel texted our playtesting squad that they broke the format and wanted to buy our Wailord-EXs. I immediately hated the deck, and continued to hate it until a week before Nationals when I finally saw the potential, haha.”
This deck definitely had a huge surprise factor this weekend. How often would you say your opponents were ill-prepared against the deck during the event and when in the event do you think people started catching on to your strategy?
“I’d have to say about every round, including the finals, where Jason was simply able to outplay me. He played that match incredibly. Some people thought they had a plan to efficiently deck me out first, but it always back-fired on them. Other people would try to just draw pass me, but we practiced that quite a bit, because we knew it’d be the first strategy people would think to beat us.
People started catching on and not going ham with their Professor Junipers and Shaymin-EXs around round five or six of Swiss on Day One. During the previous rounds, they would try to be more conservative in game two, but never really stuck to that plan.”
I noticed that all of the top 8 deck lists were revealed a day early. Did this affect your approach going in to top 8? Did you have to adjust the way you played, or did you just stick to what you knew?
“It upset me a bit because people learned I only played one Trick Shovel, but other than that I knew my strategy for every matchup anyway and I now knew their exact counts so it was a lot easier to pull off.”
Tell us about the finals. Did you think you were going to get as far as you did? Not very many people get to experience the finals at an event of this caliber, and to top it off, you went against the best player in the game’s history. Were you nervous?
“I did not think I would perform this well. I knew I needed at least a top 16 for my Worlds invite, and we all thought this was our best chance for me to do it. I was very nervous in the finals. Those headphones can be irritating at times with the white noise.
Even though I know I played those games well, the nerves did get to me because I do remember a few plays I could have played differently. Overall, being in the finals was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I can’t be mad or upset because I got 2nd place at Nats! There was no one else I’d rather lose to than the GOAT (greatest of all time).”
Do you have anyone you’d like to thank for your success? Any shout outs?
“I’d like to thank Brandon Zettel for creating the deck, Yoshi Tate for the advice on the Trick Shovel and weird strategies to test against, and the squad consisting of Austin Zettel, Cody Walinski, Sean Worcester, Alex Bunker, and Alec Apps for all the hours of playtesting and perfecting our list. And shout out to UW Madison for being the best school on the planet! Oh, and Michael Lux for making top 64 and only picking up the deck the night before.”
Alright, well congrats on your 2nd place finish, and good luck in the World Championships this year!
I’d like to thank Enrique Avila for the interview, I really enjoyed hearing his input on such a wacky deck. What do you guys think about Wailord-EX? Is it the “deck to beat” for the upcoming World Championships? It certainly proved to be a viable contender at Nationals, but is it a one-trick whale? Or are we going to start seeing a lot more conservative play in what is otherwise a very turbo-based format? Let me know what you think in the comments below!