Why play Pokemon when you can win games? Shiftry is a unique variation of donk decks that has grown out of the Expanded format. The strategy is simple enough: remove every one of the opponent’s Pokemon with the “Giant Fan” Ability. Using cards like Forest of Giant Plants, Devolution Spray, and Scoop Up Cyclone, the player burns through every card in the deck in a single turn, activating Giant Fan as many times as possible.
Shiftry’s entered the format quietly; Next Destinies was released in February of 2012. It was a widely overlooked card, overshadowed immensely by the likes of Mewtwo-EX. Shiftry eventually rotated in 2014, never having seen competitive play, until now. Forest of Giant Plants is solely responsible for the revitalization of Shiftry. With the arsenal of cards available in the new Expanded format, Shiftry not only has a chance to do well, it has the opportunity to dominate. However, because this deck relies on coin flips to win games, there has been a great deal of debate about whether it is effective enough to win a Regional Championships, or if it is another over-hyped gimmick. The answer is all in the math, and I can say, quite literally, I did the math.
In fact, Shiftry can be tested without even being built. All you need is this equation:
For those of you who don’t want to do the math, however, simply read on.
Since this deck doesn’t have a plan B, an optimal list is a firm requirement. After making dozens of small tweaks, I have decided that the list below is the most effective build. This is the list I used for all test trials below. There is very little explanation needed; every single card in this list either draws more cards, or facilitates repeated use of Giant Fan.
The majority of cards in this deck serve a very simple use. Either they are present to draw cards, or to facilitate Giant Fan. There are a few unique cards that I want to focus on in particular:
Well, let’s be honest, Shiftry is only as useful as its fan. In nearly any other deck I would be discussing HP, Retreat Cost, and attacks; none of that matters in the slightest. The only significant trait Shiftry has going for it is Giant Fan. It comes into play, it flips, it leaves, comes back, flips again, and that’s game. Shiftry flips more than my ex-wife…
Forest of Giant Plants
Ironically enough, Shiftry was considered a terrible card for years until Forest of Giant Plants was printed. Forest of Giant Plants allows the player to evolve their Grass Pokemon as many times they would like, on any turn, including the first turn of the game. With Forest of Giant Plants in play, Shiftry can evolve multiple times in a single turn, inciting a barrage of Giant Fan Abilities.
A single copy of Battle Compressor is a great convenience, but not required for the deck to function. Once Forest of Giant Plants is in play, Battle Compressor can be used at any point during the rest of the game to remove remaining copies of Forest of Giant Plants or other unneeded cards in order to optimize draw.
Thus far, I have yet to see this card appear in any other Shiftry list. At times, I found myself faced with the difficult inevitability of having to discard Items that would have been useful later. Likewise, an overstocked hand can reduce the reliability of Shaymin-EX and Bicycle. Enter Maintenance. Replacing cards that can serve a use later in the game in trade for something presently useful pays off big time. It is an efficient way to remove cards from the hand, without removing them from the game.
Recycle is a card commonly played in Shiftry decks. It is a completely justifiable card in this deck. This card lets a player reuse critical resources to gain addition Giant Fan opportunities. I chose to run Maintenance over Recycle for the simple fact that Recycle balances on a coin flip. Although Shiftry is an entire deck built on the foundation of coin flips, I wanted to reduce my chances for failure by using a card that had a guaranteed effect and granting better control over my hand.
In order to test the potency of Shiftry and discover the true validity of this deck, I had to organize and execute a series of binomial trials. I played 36 hands of solitaire games with the above Shiftry list. The number 36 is significant because it is the approximate quantity of games played in a Regional Championship, including top cut (assuming all rounds complete three matches); nine rounds of Swiss + three rounds of top cut x 3 = 36 individual games. Going first or second was irrelevant during trials, the only significant variable was the quantity of opponent’s Pokemon in play. Each of my opponent’s Pokemon was considered neutral, meaning I did not take into account Abilities that would prevent the use of Giant Fan. Trials carried out over one turn, at the end of that turn I recorded the results.
Below are the individual results of all 36 trials. The “Giant Fan” category represents how many Giant Fan Abilities were activated during that trial. The “Successes” category represents how many of those flips resulted in heads. The “Dead Hand” category signifies whether or not the deck suddenly failed to continue drawing cards at any point during the game, meaning lost Giant Fan opportunities. Finally, the “Deck Out” category signifies whether or not the deck ran out of cards in a single turn.
|—||Giant Fan||Successes||Dead Hand||Deck Out|
The given data from 36 trials showed 244 Giant Fan Abilities activated. Of those, 128 were successful. These results yield an average of 6.7 Giant Fans per game, with a success rate of 52.5%.
When facing a single Pokemon upon opening a game, Shiftry has a 94% rate of success. Against two Pokemon, it has an 88% chance of success, and a 72% chance of winning a game when facing three Pokemon. Here is where things begin to drop off. When the opponent opens with four Pokemon, Shiftry has only a 47% chance of successfully closing a game, a 25% loss than when facing three Pokemon. Shiftry has only a 27% rate of success in opposition to five Pokemon, and a dismal 16% when faced with a full Bench of five Pokemon.
Another noteworthy statistic is that with the list above, a single turn deck out occurred 72% of the time. Meaning nearly three quarters of the time this list will run completely out of cards in a single turn. During trials the deck would cease to run due to a dead hand 22% of the time. However, 50% of these cases it was found that the deck was able to maintain two or more successful Giant Fan Abilities, meaning that although the deck stopped drawing cards, it would have successfully removed several Pokemon from play before doing so. It is these situations that account for trials that showed the deck did not produce a dead hand, but also simultaneously did not deck out. In these situations the only remaining cards in the deck are draw-based cards and have no remaining value to the strategy.
Simply put, Shiftry was highly successful against a typical opening hand. This is assuming there are no Abilities in play that would prevent the use of Giant Fan. The odds of success begin to drop off against four Pokemon, and this trend continues as the number increases. If Shiftry fails to go first in a game, and the opposing player manages to bench three or more Pokemon, it becomes very unlikely that Shiftry will be successful. In many ways, this makes piloting Shiftry a gamble.
Because my trials were essentially performed in a vacuum, this does not account for specific variables. There exist several distinct hard counters to Shiftry that fan out the flames, so to speak.
Winning the opening coin flip can win the entire game for a Shiftry player. Going second is unavoidable, and can have a severe impact on Shiftry decks if the opponent is prepared. Latios-EX has the potential to Knock Out a lone Seedot with a turn one Fast Raid and Muscle Band. The reality of encountering this exact occurrence is possible, but not probable enough to debunk Shiftry’s potential.
Wobbuffet / Baltoy
Shiftry isn’t a big secret, everybody knows about it and most players will be prepared come Regional Championships. Wobbuffet is an easy hard counter to include in any list, and it is already commonly present in some decks to begin with. If the opponent opens Wobbuffet against a player’s Seedot, the game is over before it began.
Baltoy behaves similarly to Wobbuffet, but is not currently found in any metagame decks at the moment. It behaves as a hard counter to Shiftry’s Giant Fan Ability by possessing the θ Stop Ancient Trait. θ Stop states that Baltoy cannot be affected by the effects of any of the opponent’s Pokemon’s Abilities. In short, Giant Fan becomes inert if the opponent has a Baltoy anywhere in play because it cannot be returned to the player’s deck.
I have seen some players suggest that a single copy of Mewtwo-EX and a Double Colorless Energy may be a successful counter to Baltoy. The Shiftry player need only remove all Pokemon from play with Giant Fan, excluding Baltoy, then Knock Out Baltoy at the end of their turn with X Ball. Although I have not tested this combination, the thought has occurred to me that it may be difficult to put Mewtwo-EX into the Active position, as Super Scoop Up and Scoop Up Cyclone are primarily reserved for drawing cards and repeated use of Giant Fan.
On my best two playthroughs, I was able to achieve a maximum of 10 Giant Fan Abilities. Although it is statistically incredibly unlikely, I achieved three heads and two heads respectively. That signifies a 25% success rate of successful Giant Fans in my two best playthroughs. It may not be common, but a string of tails could have a player sitting awkwardly with their hands behind their back while slowly being taken down by Joey’s Rattata. Luckily the Regional Championships are played with best-of-three match-play, but keep this in mind if you forgot your lucky Charmander underwear.
In an Expanded environment, one cannot predict in entirety what will be prevalent. Wally, in combination with Trevenant, make it possible for players to fortify an immediate Item lock on their first turn. Perhaps ordinarily rare, this combination may be found in Expanded with Accelgor decks, should they see play. Much like Wobbuffet, Trevenant will instantly overthrow Shiftry.
There is not a thing players can do about the first flip of a game. For many, that flip holds the fate of an entire game. Shiftry is heavily impacted by going second. It gives the opponent all the time they need to react in order to fortify their defenses. For most decks, filling the Bench is the obvious answer. Pokémon Fan Club makes this easier, as does Shaymin-EX by serving both as an extra Pokemon and as draw power with the Set Up Ability.
For other decks the solution may not lie in a full Bench, but rather a tech. The aforementioned Baltoy, Wobbuffet, and Trevenant come to mind. Going first in a game gives the opponent a chance to find their choice tech card if it remains buried in the deck. Players need not dig deep to hit pay dirt against Shiftry.
Finally, M Sceptile-EX has the same θ Stop Ancient Trait as Baltoy. A committed player can use Forest of Giant Plants to evolve a Sceptile-EX on their first turn. The Spirit Link card is not required because although the players turn will immediately end, M Sceptile-EX will serve as a permanent barrier from a win condition for Shiftry.
Playing Shiftry is playing a numbers game. As simple as it is to win a game, it is equally as simple to tech for. It is a rare occurrence where a single card can deflate the entire function of a deck. The divide between going first and second can be immense. If an opponent can fish out a Wobbuffet or a Baltoy, the game is over. However, if Shiftry does go first, it will go off with a bang. Personally, I expect Shiftry to produce mixed results. It is so heavily impacted by its environment that a single Shiftry list can excel one day and completely flop the next. Decision making is a key factor in the results players will see. It is likely many players will make mistakes while testing Shiftry, giving it up as a result. Subsequently, players may let down their guard, and remove Shiftry counters from their decks.
Keep all of this in mind when preparing for the Fall Regional Championships. Regardless of what deck you choose, be prepared for Giant Fan. Even the most seasoned veteran of the Pokemon Trading Card Game can fall in a single turn to Shiftry.
Good luck players, and may the coin always be in your favor.