Back in Black(smith) – Three Unique Decks for Standard Cities!
Hello ‘Beach goers! Cities are upon us and I couldn’t be more excited. This is my favorite time of time of year! The holidays are approaching, the seasons are changing, and, thanks to Northeast Ohio’s bustling Pokemon scene, I’ll have the opportunity to compete at a high level of play, twice a week, for nearly a month and a half! I’ve been able to attend about 10-12 City Championships each of the the last few Play! Pokemon seasons. This provides a great time to develop friendships, but also marks the time of year that I grow most as a TCG player. Cities are famous for their deep development of a singular format. Metagames can change from week to week, even day to day! It’ll be a little odd this year that Cities results will be split between Standard and Expanded formats, and we won’t get a Regional conclusion of our Standard Cities format. However, this hasn’t dulled my excitement for the new Standard format at all!
In fact, in this article I have three thoroughly tested, and consistent, City-Championship-ready lists that I’m sure you’ll find interesting! My testing as of late has really paid off and I am anxious to share my lists with you. I take a lot of pride in each of these decks as I consider them to be “home grown,” or constructed by myself and a few close friends straight from the ground up! My hope is that no matter how experienced a player you are, you find something here that you haven’t seen or thought of yet! I don’t want to just feed you the lists that everyone else is running. So let me know what you think in the comments section of the article!
Standard requires players accustomed to the Expanded format to totally re-haul the way they make decks, which has proved to be quite a challenge. In Expanded, players can easily build decks that conserve resources with the strong shuffle draw options like N and Colress. In Standard, however, the most powerful draw engines tend to be “burn and draw” options, rather than shuffle draw. The difference is stark and, in practice, it requires players to tightly manage resources while generally playing more “resource recovery” options than they may be used to. In Expanded, Professor Juniper, N and Colress reign as the all-powerful staples that can make just about any combination of Pokemon run smooth enough. In Standard, though, I have found that we cannot simply “replicate” these draw Supporters with Professor Sycamore, Judge and Professor Birch's Observations. I have played too many games where I play a Birch early, flip tails, and dead draw into oblivion! If you, too, are sick and tired of Professor Birch, look no further! The three decks in this article play a whopping zero Professor Birch between them! Let’s dive in to the decks and show you what all this fuss is about.
It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World
I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of inspiration for deck building on PTCGO. I very rarely get inspired to build a deck based on my pulls from Trading Card packs. In fact, I highly discourage the practice. Build decks based on what cards you think will be well positioned in the format, not the cards that randomly grace you with their presence from packs! But sometimes, allowing spontaneity to take control can produce solid results! My girlfriend, Kirsten, and I both bought Pikachu-EX boxes recently and each pulled a Full Art M Houndoom-EX in our packs! We were both impressed with how amazing the artwork on the card looked and expressed our desires for the card to be playable. The same week, I got absolutely decimated by a M Houndoom-EX deck on PTCGO. The deck didn’t play anything flashy. No Bats or anything. Just consistency. The deck attacked turn one with Houndoom-EX and went from there, slapping me for massive damage turn after turn. I was playing my Night March deck, which I considered to be the most powerful deck in my arsenal at the time, so I was definitely on tilt after the match concluded. I blamed it on poor variance and Prizes and moved on.
But later, Kirsten and I found ourselves talking about Houndoom again! We decided, “Let’s just build it to play for fun at League!” You have to have fun sometimes, right? Immediately, we were blown away by the deck’s power and consistency! I didn’t realize Houndoom would be attacking on turn one nearly as often as it manages to. Additionally, Houndoom-EX’s attack, Grand Flame, sets up more Houndoom on the Bench, which allows the deck to lean on Blacksmith a little less than it would otherwise. Combine the turbo Blacksmith engine with a few copies of Pokémon Catcher and we have a beefy deck that is far more potent and aggressive than I anticipated! M Manectric-EX has already asserted itself as a powerful entity in Standard, but Houndoom’s speed and power make the Hound valid competition for “Top Dog” honors in Standard format. Let’s take a look!
4x Professor Sycamore (XY #122)
1x AZ (PHF #91)
4x Battle Compressor (PHF #92)
3x Houndoom Spirit Link (BTH #142)
When playing M Houndoom, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to M Manectric-EX. Both are 210 HP, canine-inspired Mega Pokemon-EX that attack for two Energy. Both decks set up phenomenally thanks to Hoopa-EX‘s Scoundrel Ring Ability, and both decks make great use of the Battle Compressor / Trainers' Mail engine. Both decks accelerate Energy from the discard, and both decks share their struggles when competing with Vespiquen and Night March, two of the strongest decks in Standard. Houndoom does not have as many tech options as Manectric does because of the mono-Fire requirement of Houndoom’s attacks, but Houndoom does boast overall higher damage output while not suffering from Manectric’s “Virizion-EX syndrome,” requiring an Energy drop turn one in order to set up consistently and not attacking significantly until turn two. Manectric is granted access to the awesome Rough Seas Stadium, which contributes to the deck’s overall tankiness; but Houndoom is more explosive overall, boasting the ability to take big turn two KOs while not suffering from the same linear and predictable Energy acceleration pattern of Manectric. Though the decks have their similarities, they play out very differently in practice, and, in my opinion, Houndoom is far more entertaining to play! Let’s review the most significant components of a good Houndoom deck, along with my unique additions!
The Blacksmith Engine
Some of you may be familiar with a good Blacksmith engine. Camerupt-EX has been popping up in XY-AOR Standard results as a hard-hitting archetype alongside Team Magma's Camerupt, and I’ve even seen quite a few “quad Entei” decks when playing PTCGO. Houndoom is the newest addition to this emerging engine and a welcome one at that. The idea is to max out your copies of Battle Compressor, get Energy into the discard quickly, and accelerate that Energy using Blacksmith as the Supporter for turn. Four copies of VS Seeker along with two copies of Blacksmith gives you to access the Supporter early via Battle Compressor / VS Seeker, or simply drawing into the Supporter naturally. Trainers' Mail allows you to hit your Battle Compressors, VS Seekers and Ultra Ball more consistently. Ultra Ball combined with Hoopa-EX is an insane way to set up the board turn one. Most early Ultra Ball plays turn into a Hoopa-EX Scoundrel Ring for two copies of Houndoom-EX and a Shaymin-EX to draw to six. This will usually net you the cards you need to pull off a turn one Blacksmith. If you combine a turn one Blacksmith with an attachment for turn and the accelerating effect of Houndoom’s Grand Flame attack, it’s possible to get four Energy into play on the first turn of the game!
I’ve considered dropping the number of Battle Compressor in the deck to three, simply because once the first Battle Compressor hits the discard, I usually don’t find myself needing another. However, four is definitely optimal as it allows for the most consistent early Blacksmith plays. I often find myself using Battle compressor to ditch other Battle Compressors later in the game, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. It’s nice to have the option to thin your deck out and ditch those one-of Supporters in order to access them with VS Seeker later. Four Trainers’ Mail has been amazing as well. I wouldn’t compromise on anything included in this turbo engine when looking for free space to include techs. The engine works wonderfully as is.
3x Pokemon Catcher
Pokémon Catcher is an interesting and often forgotten about card in the Standard format. My friend and fellow PokeBeach writer, JW Kriewall, turned me on to the idea of experimenting with Pokemon Catcher in many of my lists, and it just so happens that Pokemon Catcher fits in perfectly with Houndoom. Since we will be playing Blacksmith quite a bit to build up our board position, it is often difficult to find time to play Lysandre. Pokemon Catcher allows the deck to target specific threats on the Bench with Grand Flame early on so M Houndoom-EX can tear through them later with massive Inferno Fangs! It also gives the deck great access to Benched Shaymin-EX and makes the deck all around more aggressive. I can’t speak enough on the power of Pokemon Catcher in Standard! It reminds me of Super Scoop Up in Landorus-EX / Crobat and Seismitoad-EX / Crobat decks from last year. Though the card hinges on a flip, the outcome is so powerful that its inclusion is worthy in many lists! Especially in Standard, decks are utilizing Shaymin-EX as well as other setup Pokemon in order to draw consistently. Pokemon Catcher gives aggressive decks an increased opportunity to exploit those weaknesses while still playing their own Supporters to set up their board position. We still play one copy of Lysandre to fall back on late game; however, it’s nice having the option to play Professor Sycamore, grab the resources you need to attack, and hit the Catcher heads to attack your ideal target. Don’t knock it until you try it for yourself!
1x Teammates / 1x Judge
I mentioned earlier that Standard decks cannot simply play Professor Birch's Observations to replicate the sturdy shuffle draw available to us in Expanded. The Standard format is just a different game! Try to play Birch to set up and you are bound to be let down. I have found that in place of Birch I prefer to play Judge and Teammates as my mainstays alongside Professor Sycamore. Teammates allows the player to be selective and conservative on turns they would rather not ditch their hand with a Sycamore. Additionally, players can set their hands up with successive Teammates so they can carve out a path to victory! In a format where hand disruption is far less prevalent, this is a valuable strategy for any deck to employ. Although Judge is not nearly as potent as N, the card is still a powerful hand disruption option, and I have still won and lost many games at the hands of a late Judge! Judge should end up finding its way into most decks as at least a one-of. An early Judge can spell disaster for a lot of decks. If you have already set up your board with Hoopa-EX, Judge could be a nice option for the opening turns of the game, especially if you cannot Blacksmith.
1x Parallel City
Parallel City is quickly becoming one of my favorite Stadiums in the game and it is a great inclusion in any deck that uses Hoopa-EX or Shaymin-EX to set up! Parallel City’s function is twofold in our Houndoom deck. First, as I mentioned, it allows you to bump your weak or useless Pokemon-EX from play so that the opponent cannot take advantage of them. When used to reduce your own Bench, the card also decreases attack damage from Fire, Water and Grass types on the opponent’s side of the field! This is extremely useful versus Vespiquen, who will have a hard time reaching the 230 damage required to OHKO a M Houndoom. Speaking of Vespiquen, top Vespiquen and Night March lists have started to play their own copy of Parallel City to bump their own Shaymin to the discard. Against these lists, it can turn into a race to see which player can bump a Shaymin off the board with Parallel City first, since Parallel City cannot be played once it is already in play! The first player to activate their Parallel City will reap the benefits of a limited Bench while the opposing player may need to sit with their Shaymin in play all game. This is not as big of a deal for Night March decks which play their own counter Stadiums. But Vespiquen will rarely have room for Stadiums outside of their own copy of Parallel City! This is an interesting Stadium interaction that I anticipate will be quite common in the new format.
2x Tool Retriever
This is another one of my “don’t knock it until you try it” cards. Tool Retriever is actually a really good card in decks that play Spirit Links. It allows you to remove your Spirit Links from Mega Evolved Pokemon-EX, which means they can be re-used on Pokemon-EX that still need to Mega Evolve! The two copies of Tool Retriever make your three copies of Houndoom Spirit Link go the distance. They also free up your M Houndoom-EX so they can be equipped with Muscle Band! Muscle Band fixes Inferno Fang’s math quite nicely, elevating Houndoom’s damage ceiling to a desirable 180 damage. There are other ways to fix Houndoom’s math such as Giovanni’s Scheme and Crobat; however, neither of these work as effectively and consistently as Muscle Band. Float Stone gains more mileage with Tool Retriever as well, giving the deck more mobility all around. I’m still considering a couple other Tools to run in the deck, potentially Assault Vest and maybe even Weakness Policy or Hard Charm! Both Weakness Policy and Hard Charm would assist your Mega Manectric matchup quite nicely while Assault Vest would make it nearly impossible for Night March and Vespiquen to take OHKOs on your Houndoom that are equipped with them! Teammates makes it easier than ever to pull off the Tool Retriever swap maneuver, so don’t worry! This really works. Give it a shot!
This concludes the public portion of this article.
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