Brokan Deck — Finding the Sleeper Hit

About a year ago, Sina Ghaziaskar, unable to attend an event, built a deck list, dubbed it Broken Deck, and messaged it to a number of players. I find myself in a loosely similar scenario. I plan to attend Roanoke, but I will not attend the Latin America International Regionals, where Lost Thunder will debut. And so I too intend to publish my deck in an article and hope someone does well with Brokan Deck in my place.

This article follows up on my last one: Post Thunder. There, I reviewed Japan’s archetypes and discussed my early playtesting results. A month passed since that last article and I learned quite a bit since then. Before I reveal the list, I want share the methodology behind my deck development process. And so I organized this article in the chronological order of my play testing. I typically divide my play testing sessions into sets with a clearly defined objective. At the end of each session, I tweak my objectives and tackle those during the next session. In this article, I discuss the objectives and results of my most recent play testing sessions. By the end of the article, I finally provide core 60 cards to work with, a few tech options you may consider, and an updated objective for future play testing and deck development.

Public Enemy

In my last article, I set a simple objective: Try Out Some New Archetypes. But, nothing I tested during that session yielded positive results against Malamar. Which leads me into the first objective of this article: Find Decks That Beat Malamar.

Whenever I go to a tournament, I always value playing a sleeper deck. Malamar fit this bill for both Philadelphia and Memphis. At Philadelphia, few players possessed an optimal Psychic Malamar list, and thus few prepared for it appropriately. By Memphis, Psychic Malamar became a known quantity, but the inclusion of new tech cards such as Chimecho, Oricorio, and Lunala Prism Star still gave it an extra edge over past iterations. But, by the League Cups following Memphis, many successful Zoroark-GX lists ran both Sudowoodo and Deoxys.

At long last, I feared my bag of Malamar tricks had finally run dry. And with a first place finish off of both Memphis Regionals and Tokyo Champions League, Malamar sets a big target on its back leading into the Lost Thunder format. The addition of Spell Tag and Giratina can only reinforce this trend. So, naturally, I began theory crafting around the idea of Malamar as BDIF. Ideally, I would find a deck with a strong overall matchup spread in addition to a favorable Malamar matchup.

But where should I begin my search? A quick look at Giratina and Spell Tag tells me that Malamar’s matchup against single-Prize decks improves significantly. Giratina helps Malamar hit numbers against single-Prize Pokemon that tank a Power Blast from Deoxys. Its Distortion Door ability replaces the need to find Rescue Stretcher as the game progresses as well. And Spell Tag allows Malamar to swing the Prize race against other single-Prize decks. So in order to make best use of my play testing time, I chose to focus my early play testing around GX-centric decks, even if, in the back of my mind, I knew some single Prize decks could beat Malamar.

Burning Issues

Thus I began testing a number of GX-centric decks with the potential to beat Malamar. To name a few, Alolan Ninetales-GX / Decidueye-GX, Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX, and Sylveon-GX / Alolan Ninetales-GX. But as testing progressed, I discovered GX-centric archetypes in general tended to under-perform against Blacephalon-GX. Even Alolan Ninetales-GX / Decidueye-GX, with two copies of Water Alolan Ninetales-GX, still only went about 50-50 against Blacephalon. All these decks could simply whiff a single Knock Out against Blacephalon, and lose to Blacephalon’s constant pressure.

Blacephalon’s results definitely surprised me. None of the standard format OHKO decks I piloted in the past came close to Blacephalon in terms of speed or board presence. At first glance, Blacephalon looks like a clunky theme deck, running 17 Energy. But in practice, it just takes Prizes with less effort than Malamar. Unlike Malamar, it could start nearly every game with a Prize lead with its GX attack. Unlike Malamar, Ultra Space provides more utility than Friend Ball or Nest Ball. Unlike Malamar, Blacephalon does not need to switch from Bench to Active in order to attack. And unlike Psychic Malamar, Blacephalon can load a tremendous number of Energy on its Beast Ring turn, frequently to establish a checkmate scenario.

So, how does Blacephalon fare against decks with a larger focus on single-Prize attackers? I played a few games against a list similar to the 1st place Malamar Spread deck from the Tokyo Champions League. Blacephalon performed surprisingly well, all things considered. The 1st place Malamar Spread deck did not run any copies of Escape Board; as a result, Blacephalon frequently took a two-Prize lead against the clunky single-Prize deck. Malamar might start a Giratina in the Active with no way to retreat it. Blacephalon would casually take a Prize with its GX attack, another Prize with a Knock Out, and then simply win off the back of that Prize lead. However, Blacephalon would lose decisively in matches where Malamar Spread started with Tapu Koko in the active. Likewise, my further testing demonstrated a predictably poor matchup against my version of Malamar with four Escape Boards.

So to summarize, Blacephalon takes Prizes faster than almost any other archetype in the format. Its one weakness? It can still lose a Prize race to a single Prize deck. I would personally avoid playing Blacephalon due to its weakness against single Prize archetypes, but this round of play testing showed me I could not afford to ignore Blacephalon. So now, with a better picture of the upcoming metagame, I updated my play testing objective going forward: Find a Deck that beats Malamar and Blacephalon.

The Third Wheel

As I add more and more decks to the play testing objective, fewer and fewer archetypes fit the bill. And even fewer still do so while simultaneously boasting a high consistency. For example, the community hyped a White Kyurem archetype in reaction to earlier Blacephalon hype. But even if the deck can, in theory, beat both Malamar and Blacephalon, I would probably still find its consistency unsatisfactory. So imagine my pleasure when I found one that beats both without forcing me to stoop to White Kyurem.

The Pokemon of choice? Alolan Ninetales-GX. It provides a powerful consistency engine in the form of Beacon Alolan Vulpix and Fairy Alolan Ninetales-GX. But the option to include Water Alolan Ninetales-GX improves both the Malamar and Blacephalon matchups significantly. Water Alolan Ninetales provides a strong answer to Chimecho in Malamar. Against Chimecho, you actually prefer to target benched Malamar rather than Chimecho itself, as killing the Chimecho opens up a bench spot for an additional Inkay. Water Alolan Ninetales also hits Blacephalon for Weakness. But in both these scenarios, Ice Blade does not quite Knock Out a Benched Malamar or Active Blacephalon in a single hit. And so Alolan Ninetales-GX needs a bit more juice to iron out these two matchups.

That leaves us with the question: what do we pair Alolan Ninetales with? Two choices came to mind: Sylveon-GX and Decidueye-GX. Using the new Alolan Vulpix with the free retreat Ability in combination with Sylveon-GX allows the player to hit Magical Ribbon quite consistently when going second. I wanted to use Magical Ribbon to set up numerous Decidueye-GXs, then win the Prize race using a combination of Fairy attackers, Water Alolan Ninetales-GX, and Feather Arrows. The option to Plea GX also provided a powerful control option against board-centric decks such as Malamar and Blacephalon. Unfortunately, I found the deck ran into trouble against Blacephalon. Blacephalon can confuse Sylveon-GX for a single Energy, making setup all the more awkward and turn two Plea GX nearly unfeasible. And as I continued play testing, I found a single Magical Ribbon rarely provided enough hand advantage to insure three consecutive Knock Outs. Instead, I would frequently whiff a Knock Out one turn, and quickly lose if that happened. It felt like I needed a bit more draw power to hit Energy and Supporters to replace my attackers.

It seemed like Blacephalon would not go down so easily. And so I updated my objective yet again: Find the Best Partner for Ninetales.

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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