Much has been made about the Darkness Ablaze format, particularly with regards to the format-warping effects of Arceus and Dialga and Palkia-GX. There are multiple factors that have gone into the deck’s dominance, not the least of which has been the reliance of decks on Crobat V and Dedenne-GX. The speed of the metagame has made it so that many decks seemingly need to utilize those cards to keep up, which plays perfectly into the Altered Creation GX + Boss's Orders strategy utilized by ADP. Other decks have also found that Boss’s Orders strategies seem to be the key to victory — after all, why waste time attacking VMAXs, when you could take two easy Prizes on a Crobat V instead? The end result is a format in which the opponent’s attacker tends to be ignored completely, in favor of finding continually faster ways to KO an opponent’s Benched Pokemon.
If nothing else, this development has made the Darkness Ablaze format into one of the most boring on record. For the Players Cup II, apathy is as much a challenge as the actual earning of Tournament Rep; if you don’t like the format, it’s hard to justify spending 50 tournaments’ worth of time playing it. If you do enjoy playing ADP or one of the other aggressive decks, then you’re probably feeling alright, but if not, then I imagine you’re looking for something a bit different. The idea of a deck that can consistently beat ADP and beat other decks in the meta has been the dream for a bit now, but it has been exceedingly difficult to find a deck that can do both. With that said, players are adaptive; whenever there’s a centralization in the meta, you can bet that someone will find a way to take advantage of it. The two decks that I’m going to talk about in this article are excellent examples of players doing just that.
No Free Prizes
One of the biggest advantages that ADP has is its ability to punish any player utilizing multi-Prize Pokemon for consistency, be that Dedenne-GX, Crobat V, Oricorio-GX, Eldegoss V, or anything else. Those aforementioned cards have become necessities in our current format, which gives ADP an out to defeat VMAX or Tag Team decks that might otherwise be able to out-tank it. With the innovation of Mawile-GX in ADP, it’s become nearly impossible to play around that win condition, even if you do manage to set up and match their speed without using Dedenne-GX or Crobat V.
A theoretically easy solution to this is to simply not play any of those multi-Prize Pokemon, and thus force the opponent to deal with your attackers as opposed to gusting around them. Of course, this is much easier said than done. When you give up those targets, that means you are also giving up the card advantage that comes from having access to Dedenne-GX and Crobat V. That isn’t an easy obstacle to overcome, but it is doable. If you can avoid using any of those Bench-sitting GX targets, then you can force your opponent to abandon the Boss’s Orders strategy, and fight through whatever Pokemon you want them to fight through. In that way, you can fully take advantage of the bulkiness of Tag Teams or VMAXs — Pokemon that cannot be OHKO’d by the attackers in ADP (or most other decks, for that matter).
There is certainly historical precedent for this strategy; Gardevoir and Sylveon-GX, for example, thrived on a strategy of forcing the opponent to KO two of those Tag Teams. In our current format, there are plenty of tools to allow for this strategy to work well, it’s only a matter of figuring out how to do so, in a manner that doesn’t lead to the deck simply getting out-sped.
The solution to that “how” brings me to the titular topic of this article, which is a pair of decks that use Green's Exploration and Welder to effectively pull off the above strategy. To use a Green’s Exploration engine is a fairly natural extension of the idea of removing Dedenne-GX and Crobat V; for some decks that make that switch, no other changes would need to be made in order to include Green’s Exploration. The Welder aspect means that these decks can still keep up with the speed of the format, and can take advantage of some of the tricks that the Fire-type has to offer. This combination — tanky Fire-type Pokemon, Welder, and a Green’s Exploration build — seems to be the key to defeating many of the top meta decks in the format, including ADP. The success of these decks would mark an incredible change in the Darkness Ablaze metagame, from one which revolves around ADP, to one which is more balanced.
Green’s Exploration / Charizard and Braixen-GX
The first of the two decks that I’ll be going over is Charizard and Braixen-GX. This deck has been around for a bit, but it hadn’t quite found success in previous formats. In the current format, however, it seems to have found a useful niche as a deck that doesn’t fall prey to the Boss’s Orders strategy. Once it gets set up, this deck can become a bit absurd in its level of consistency control — between Brilliant Flare and Green’s Exploration, the deck can find five cards of their choice every turn. Thanks to Volcanion and Welder, the deck can attack as early as turn two, and thus can begin utilizing that search as quickly as any opposition deck can attack it. There are a number of goals that the deck can aim for from that point, be it healing, Energy disruption, hand disruption, or a combination of those strategies. In this list, I’ve tried to make it so the deck has access to each of those so that the player can use whatever is best for the given situation.
Here is the list:
List and Strategy Explanation
The list includes only the Pokemon that the deck needs. Since the deck revolves around early use of Flare Starter, you want to have the maximum number of Volcanion, and as few other Pokemon as possible, so that you can maximize the odds of starting with that Volcanion. Having only two Charizard and Braixen-GX can be a bit awkward if you have poor Prizes, but the added benefit of starting Volcanion makes it worth not including the third copy. With this list, you have a 66.49% chance of starting with a Volcanion, which is 5.37% higher than if you had included another non-Volcanion Basic Pokemon. Charizard and Braixen-GX is going to be your main attacker early-on, after which you have the option to switch to either Charizard and Braixen-GX or Reshiram and Charizard-GX to finish out the game. Reshiram and Charizard-GX gives the deck a way to hit higher damage numbers, as well as a way to damage Heatproof Bronzong. In order to fully take advantage of the tankiness of the Tag Teams, a player playing this deck should never put into play more than two Tag Teams and two Volcanion (or one against Arceus and Dialga and Palkia-GX) over the course of the game.
The ideal start is to go second and use Flare Starter to power up a Charizard and Braixen-GX. From there, you can start using Brilliant Flare to find whatever you need. Once you get to that point, things are golden, but before that, things can be a bit uncomfortable. With this deck, the early game is the diciest as far as consistency goes. When you don’t have Dedenne-GX, Crobat V, or Jirachi as outlets to help turn a bad hand into a good one, it is imperative that you minimize the odds of starting with one of those bad hands (or losing your hand to a Reset Stamp or Marnie).
While you don’t need many cards to get things going with this deck, you still do need to find a few pieces, and so you have to go a bit heavier on some of the Trainers than you might think. For Supporters, Green's Exploration, and Welder are the go-to for consistency; we also have a full four copies of Pokégear 3.0 to help us find those pieces early. Since we need to be able to find a Charizard and Braixen-GX as well as a Volcanion, I’ve included nearly as many copies of Quick Ball and Cherish Ball as we have Pokemon. That may seem to be a bit overkill, but in practice, not being able to find your Charizard and Braixen-GX means that your Brilliant Flare attack may be delayed by a turn or more, which can be the difference between winning and losing. If you do go first, or start in such a way that you can’t use Flare Starter, then you’ll still want to be able to find a Charizard and Braixen-GX if possible and attach an Energy to it so that you have the option to use Welder to still use that turn-two Brilliant Flare.
If that doesn’t work, then you’ll want to do what you can to attack as soon as possible, though that may mean using Flare Starter for one Energy. Green’s Exploration is great early for finding the Pokemon you need (via Quick Ball or Cherish Ball), an Energy (via Giant Hearth or Energy Spinner), a Switch, or a Supporter for a future turn. Once you can start using Brilliant Flare, then things become much easier as far as consistency goes — it’s hard to beat grabbing any three cards you need! This is where the Crushing Hammer, Great Potion, and Reset Stamp come into play. Other options for the decklist include damage modifiers, such as Vitality Band or Martial Arts Dojo, or more hand disruption cards, such as Jessie and James. At this point, if you don’t have Marnie or Reset Stamp, then you are going to be in a heap of trouble against this deck.
Charizard and Braixen-GX’s success will come from the fact that these first two matchups — the all-important ADP and Eternatus VMAX matchups — are quite favorable. The idea that the deck can beat those two consistently, while still putting up a fight against the rest of the format, has pushed this deck to a level of contention rivaling any of the other top meta decks.
Arceus and Dialga and Palkia-GX
Against ADP, the no-free-Prizes strategy shines, and gives Charizard and Braixen-GX the advantage. Even in a worst-case scenario, the math in this matchup clearly benefits the Charizard and Braixen-GX player; to fight through two Tag Teams, the ADP player will have to attack four times following the use of Altered Creation GX, whereas you can get away with attacking only three times if they get OHKOs on GXs and Vs. Considering that Altered Creation GX uses up a turn, that’s a massive two-turn advantage for Charizard and Braixen-GX — and that’s before you factor in any prevented attacks with Crushing Hammer! Even if things aren’t going perfectly for you, you have enough built-in advantage that you should still win. Things could go ideally for the ADP player — turn one Altered Creation GX, attacks every turn following, perfect draws — and so long as you can use Brilliant Flare on turn two, your opponent will still lose the Prize race. They can opt to not use Altered Creation GX to save a turn, but if they don’t, Volcanion becomes a threatening Pokemon, as it can OHKO both Zacian V and Mawile-GX. If it is clear that the ADP player won’t be using Altered Creation GX, you can easily start attacking with multiple Volcanion instead of the second Tag Team, and thus keep the opposing attack requirements the same.
In this matchup, Mawile-GX can be a decisive card. You’ll want to discard the Basic Pokemon that you aren’t using as fast as possible so that they can’t be put into play; for your opponent, an early Marnie or Reset Stamp followed by benching Mawile-GX will give them the best odds to force you to bench a second Volcanion. Crushing Hammer are great against ADP itself so that you can prevent them from using Ultimate Ray — this will make any later Crushing Hammer heads hurt even more. If they can use Ultimate Ray, then a great move is to target and KO their Zacian V, while using Great Potion to heal off the damage from Ultimate Ray so that it can’t get a 2HKO.
Against Eternatus VMAX, the four Crushing Hammer are pivotal to success. Most Eternatus VMAX lists remain frightfully vulnerable to Energy disruption, in that you can easily prevent a turn or more of attacking with some well-timed Hammers. In this matchup, you’ll want to quickly find your Big Charm and Heat Fire Energy, so that neither of your Tag Teams can get OHKOd by Dread End. You’ll typically need one of each attached to be safe so that you can get around both Galarian Zigzagoon and the threat of Dangerous Drill. Sableye V can also be dangerous, so try to heal off any chip damage from Hoopa or Spiritomb if you can. Because of the no-free-Prizes strategy, this turns into a 2HKO matchup, with both sides taking four attacks to get their six Prizes. If you can attack first, or prevent one of the Eternatus VMAX attacks with Crushing Hammer, then you will win.
Mewtwo and Mew-GX
This matchup can be somewhat tricky, as Mewtwo and Mew-GX has a number of GX attacks that it can copy in order to achieve a OHKO. After being attacked, it can use Incineroar-GX’s Darkest Tornado GX to get a KO; it can also use Charizard-GX’s Flare Blitz GX to hit for 300, or, if you don’t have a Switch, can get a KO through Muk and Alolan Muk-GX’s Nasty Goo Mix GX. Likewise, you can use Reshiram and Charizard-GX’s Double Blaze GX to get a OHKO on your end, to turn the Prize trade back in your favor. Overall, this is a pretty close matchup, but there is one crucial combo that lends this matchup to be positive for you and that is Reset Stamp plus Power Plant. If the Mewtwo and Mew-GX player fails to draw out of that, then there’s nothing they can do — not even attack. Crushing Hammer can also be helpful to stave off some of their higher-Energy attacks, but it is best left saved for use with that end-game Reset Stamp disruption combo.
Blacephalon is admittedly a tough matchup for Charizard and Braixen-GX — probably the toughest non-Water matchup that the deck has. Blacephalon can OHKO either Tag Team rather easily, and it isn’t affected by Energy disruption. Volcanion barely can’t OHKO Blacephalon either, so there isn’t much to do in this matchup but to use Reset Stamp and hope things go well. Likewise, the Blacephalon player here will want to do whatever they can to thin their deck and maximize the chances of drawing out of the Reset Stamp — if they do, they should win. Power Plant is useful in that it can shut off their Oricorio-GX and Dedenne-GX, and so can greatly increase their odds of bricking off of the Reset Stamp. Volcanion may not be able to OHKO Blacephalon, but it can KO both Jirachi and (if they put it into play) Zacian V. If you can, you should force them to hit into Volcanion whenever possible; this will cause them to both use up some resources, and to take an extra Prize, which means they will get one less card off of Reset Stamp. This matchup does require some luck, but it isn’t an auto-loss.
Lucario and Melmetal-GX
Whether this matchup is difficult or not largely depends on whether they are playing the Bronzong variant or the Weakness Guard Energy variant. Against the former, things can be tricky, as this deck only has one way to attack into it — and can only do so once. You’ll want to use Boss's Orders to attack any Bronzor you see, with whatever you can. If you can KO one, then you can use a boosted Double Blaze GX to KO the second; I have yet to see a list play more than a 2-2 line of that Pokemon. From there, even if they do play an Ordinary Rod, you should be able to win by KOing their other Pokemon in play. Thanks to Weakness, your GXs will be able to OHKO any of their Zacian V, Zamazenta V, or Lucario and Melmetal-GX without any difficulty. If they do play Weakness Guard Energy, then your route to victory will come through Crushing Hammer. Either way, this matchup is quite favorable.
Green’s Centiskorch VMAX
This concludes the public portion of this article.
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