An Anti-Meta Opportunist — A Look at Espathra ex / Xatu

Hello everyone! We’re coming into the home stretch of the 2023–24 season, with only a handful of major tournaments remaining. It’s getting to be crunch time for anyone who is still chasing their invite! Of course, even if you aren’t, it’s still a great time of the season, as we’re starting to get a feel for what the format will look like going into the next Pokemon year.

Our first major tournaments of the F-on format have certainly been interesting, even if the overall meta has looked somewhat close to earlier predictions. The new decks — Iron Hands ex / Future Box and Ancient Box, plus other Roaring Moon decks — have performed decently well. There have also been a few other innovative decks seeing success, such as the new Pidgeot ex Control archetype, and Arceus VSTAR / Armarouge. As was expected though, thus far, the best deck has clearly been Charizard ex. It has won the EUIC and all but one of the Regional Championships thus far (and, even when it didn’t win, it finished second). While the format has maintained a good amount of diversity, there is no doubt that Charizard is the deck to beat. The deck is madly consistent and has few weaknesses, let alone poor matchups. There aren’t that many decks that sit down and think, “Man, I hope my opponent is playing Charizard!”

While I still wouldn’t say that Charizard is necessarily an exciting matchup to see, the deck in this article is one of the few that does have a favorable time against it. Espathra ex / Xatu is another newly emerging deck: while both of the cards are actually in Paldean Fates, it is only now, in the post-rotation Temporal Forces format, that the meta has shifted in its favor. Unlike some other anti-Charizard decks, Espathra ex has a solid matchup spread against the rest of the field, which makes it a good deck choice even in local metas that aren’t extremely Charizard-focused. In this article, I’m going to be taking a look at this new Espathra deck, and go over what makes it a good option against today’s metagame.

It’s All About the Birds

This deck is effectively Xatu plus a variety of Psychic Energy–using attackers, centered around Espathra ex. Xatu acts as both the Energy acceleration and the draw engine, setting up everything else around it. The various attackers, with Espathra ex and Banette ex being the main ones, are meant to deal with different elements of the meta.

To start, I have Braden Eifert’s list here. Braden has piloted the deck to two back-to-back solid finishes at the EUIC and Orlando Regional Championships, putting it on the map. If you encounter this deck, it will probably be either this list or something very similar to it. It’s a great list, and a good baseline to start with. It’s admittedly a bit straightforward — not too many tricks — but it’s hard to argue with the results that the consistency-oriented list has achieved. A bit later, I’ll have some more options for adding more techs, but for now, here’s the list:

Pokemon (20)

3x Espathra ex (PAF #6)3x Flittle (SVI #100)3x Xatu (PAF #26)3x Natu (PAF #25)1x Banette ex (SVI #88)1x Banette (LOR #73)2x Shuppet (SVI #87)1x Flutter Mane (TEF #78)1x Radiant Alakazam (SIT #59)1x Cleffa (OBF #80)1x Manaphy (BRS #41)

Trainers (29)

4x Iono (PAL #185)4x Professor's Research (SSH #178)2x Boss's Orders (Ghetsis) (PAL #172)4x Buddy-Buddy Poffin (TEF #144)4x Ultra Ball (SVI #196)4x Capturing Aroma (SIT #153)2x Super Rod (PAL #188)1x Energy Retrieval (SVI #171)1x Rigid Band (MEW #165)1x Hero's Cape (TEF #152)2x Pokémon League Headquarters (OBF #192)

Energy (11)

11x Psychic Energy (CRZ #156)

The Pokemon

One of the neat things about this deck is that the attackers don’t actually need Xatu to be online before they start being usable. That is, you can start attacking and applying pressure with Espathra ex or Banette ex before you find your Xatu, which gives you far more flexibility in your early-game approach. This makes your setup requirements far less onerous, since you don’t necessarily have to get a bunch of Basics into play before you start doing anything. Sure, hitting for 60 or 90 damage on turn two may not be much, but it does get things started, and that pressure can go a lot farther than just sitting there doing nothing would. So, while the deck does flow around Xatu, it doesn’t rely on it.

Espathra ex is this deck’s main attacker, as it’s a wonderful anti-meta option. Many of the decks in this format struggle with Dazzling Gaze, and its Tera typing conveniently allows you to hit Charizard ex for Weakness. To illustrate how effective an Ability Dazzling Gaze is, imagine how ineffective many of this format’s attackers would be with an additional Energy tacked onto all of their attacks. The precision that many decks play with — especially ones with limited Energy acceleration like Roaring Moon and Iron Hands — means that they aren’t designed to require more, and thus they’re likely to stumble when faced with the additional requirements. The damage output can also be surprisingly high, especially once you add in your opponent’s extra Energy.

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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