Spearing the trophyDark variants almost always consist of Darkrai EX. Weavile, Tornadus EX, Mewtwo EX, Zoroark, Shaymin and Smeargle are also sometimes added into the mix. Darkrai is the main attacker, and you power it up with Dark Patch and attack with it hopefully by the second turn. Darkrai gives great board control with his snipe. Things that you could only 2HKO can easily be made into OHKOs, and the snipe can usually KO your opponent's bench sitters in about 1-3 turns. Catcher can help even more to secure control of the field, getting rid of your opponent's support Pokémon, or Pokémon that they are building up to attack with. Even though Darkrai's 90 damage attack seems small, Darkrai with a Dark Claw or 2 Special Darks can KO everything you would ever need it too, except for an Eviolited Thundurus. A Darkrai can be very annoying to get rid of when all of your opponent's Eelektriks or Celebi are being OHKOed. With Eviolite and occasionally some other techs to help keep it alive, that Darkrai is going to be there for at least the two turns it deserves.
Main StrategyThe main strategy is to discard as many Dark Energy as early in the game as possible, and attach to a Darkrai EX on the first turn. The next turn, charge up the Darkrai EX with Dark Patch and attach either Eviolite or Dark Claw, depending on the situation and matchup. Use Darkrai EX's snipe to jump ahead in the prize trade or to set up KOs (the second is usually not needed very often). If your opponent plays down any babies or 30hp Pokémon (free retreat Tynamo is a big one), that misplay can win you the game. They just let you draw an extra prize card without making you move a muscle. Basically just react based on what your opponent does. Some cards that can be used can really easily turn a 2HKO into a 3HKO or worse. Super Scoop Up and Potion are two pretty prominent cards that work well for that.
How to deal with teched Terrakions:
Now, there is one obvious and pretty easily teched card that can be dangerous to Darkrai. That card is Terrakion. Not mono Terrakion (I will explain more about that later), but a Terrakion teched into CMT, ZekEels, or even the mirror. A teched Terrakion can really hurt your setup and your attack plan, sadly, you have no way to OHKO it without having 2 Special Darks and a Dark Claw on your Darkrai. Your best strategy against a Terrakion is to just simply deal 100 or more to it through Special Darks or Dark Claw, and deal 30 damage to something that you can take a KO off of next turn. Then, pray to god they don't have a second Fighting energy (If you play Weavile, I suggest Claw Snagging the turn before for this reason). If they do, you might as well scoop then. If they don't, the next turn you can Catcher up that Pokémon you dealt 30 to last turn. OHKO that Pokémon and KO the now benched Terrakion with your snipe. If that Terrakion had an Eviolite, use the same strategy but do not Catcher a benched Pokémon, instead attack the Terrakion twice and hopefully KO something benched with the two snipes.
3 Darkrai EX
4 Professor Juniper
4 Dark Patch
4 Junk Arm
3 Professor Oak's New Theory
2 Super Scoop Up
2 Dual Ball
2 Ultra Ball
1 Random Receiver
8 Basic Dark Energy
That's only 37 cards! That is one of the great things about Darkrai, it leaves a huge amount of room for style and techs. You can tune a Darkrai deck to be however you want it, and Darkrai has many techs that work just amazingly with it. The most common builds for Darkrai are Darkrai/Terrakion and Darkrai/Sableye, both of which I will be going over in this article. Each one is great in it's own separate ways, and because of the power of Darkrai no matter what techs or build you decide to use, it will probably still be very good.
This guy is one of my favorite cards in the HGSS block. An extra supporter every turn? Yes please. He can get you out of a bad hand, or if you for some reason didn't manage to get the turn 2 Darkrai he can help you to get it back. On top of giving you an extra supporter, he is also very useful mid-late game because he can give you a look at your opponent's hand which can tell you valuable things about your opponent's current situation.
This card is your energy acceleration. It lets you take any basic Dark from the discard and attach it to one of your benched Dark Pokémon. With this card, you can get Darkrai fully charged up by turn 2, or even turn 1 if your very lucky and have a very good start. Dark Patch can also be used later in the game so that you can charge up more Darkrais quicker. Because it only attaches to benched Pokémon, it's good to always bring up something that has free retreat when your opponent brings up something, so that you can Dark Patch to the Pokémon you are going to attack with and then retreat into it. The annoying thing about Dark Patch is that it only attaches to Dark Pokémon, so you can only manually attach to Smeargle.
Super Scoop Up:
This is a great card. It has so many uses, and whatever you use it for it's very good at. You can pick up damaged Darkrais, Smeargles that you need to get out of the active, and other cards that you may want to pick up for one reason or another. Picking up a Darkrai can put you far ahead in the prize trade and can save you resources that you can't afford to lose. Even though it only works 50% of the time, when it works, it's game changing.
This card can help you so much, especially in the CMT, Groudon and Terrakion matchups. It basically wins you the CMT matchup, as you already have a pretty good advantage, but now Tornadus EX can't 2HKO you and Mewtwo needs 4 energy to 2HKO and 8 to OHKO. That's especially good, as CMT has no way of getting 4 energy on one Pokémon in one turn unless they use Shaymin or Energy Switch (or I guess regular Tornadus). In the Terrakion matchup, it forces them to use Pluspower which can be hard if they don't run too many copies and they don't have ways to get it because of Weavile. In the Groudon matchup, if you don't have damage already on you they now need two Pluspower to OHKO instead of just one, which can win you games, as Groudon also does not run many copies of Pluspower.
As well as being able to get up to two Dark Energies in the discard with a single card, it can also search out every single Pokémon card in the deck. Getting the Darks in the discard is one of the most important things to do, and this paired with Junk Arm and Juniper makes that task a lot easier.
3 Darkrai EX
1 Mewtwo EX
4 Professor Juniper
4 Dark Patch
4 Junk Arm
4 Professor Oak's New Theory
3 Super Scoop Up
2 Dual Ball
2 Ultra Ball
2 Random Receiver
1 Energy Search
1 Super Rod
Darkrai/Terrakion focuses primarily on having a very good mirror matchup, sacrificing the ZekEels with Terrakion matchup to help achieve that goal. Darkrai/Terrakion uses Darkrai as the main attacker, taking cheap KOs and using the snipe for more KOs or setting up more things for OHKOs. Terrakion is used for things like an Eviolited Zekrom, Raikou EX, or opposing Darkrai.
Terrakion is great in the mirror and pretty good in the ZekEels matchup. If your playing against the mirror, it forces your opponent to focus all of their attention onto Terrakion, leaving everything else on your field untouched. This puts you in a very good position, especially if you have an Eviolite on Terrakion, as it wastes two of your opponent's attacks that could have been used to knock out your Darkrai. If they do not focus on the Terrakion, your going to take 2 (or even more) easy prizes as soon as your opponent knocks something out.
Shaymin is not only your only way to charge Terrakion in one turn, but it also opens up many opportunities to make great plays that you could not do without it. Those plays could be moving energy off a damaged Darkrai to pick it up with Super Scoop Up, or attaching to a Smeargle in order to retreat it and then moving that energy onto a Darkrai to be able to attack.
Occasionally your opponent might try to be pro and put 7-9 energy on a Mewtwo so that they can OHKO your Darkrais. Well, if you pull out your own Mewtwo, they just lost a ton of resources and you just turned a game losing moment into a simple prize trade. Mewtwo can also be used in other matchups, such as Terrakion, Groudon, CMT and mirror.
Pluspower can be super useful when your opponent's Darkrai has an Eviolite attached, because it makes it so that Terrakion can OHKO that Darkrai even with the Eviolite. Darkrai can also use Pluspower to overcome Eviolites on opponent's EXs, and other times that it may just need an extra 10 damage to turn a 2HKO into an OHKO.
Energy Search is basically a reusable Fighting-or-Dark energy. It's great in any deck that has two different basic energies, and Darkrai/Terrakion is no different. Another great aspect of Energy Search, besides functioning as a Fighting or Dark energy, is that you can use Junk Arm to get it back into your hand. This makes it so that if you are stuck one energy short, all you need to do is have a Junk Arm and you may have just turned a loss into a win.
Darkrai/Sableye: Slightly Favorable
While the energy removal that they use can be very annoying, Terrakion should definitely be able to bring you back and win you the game. Unfortunately, because of Crushing Hammer you cannot Land Crush the turn after you Retaliate because they will probably get rid of your Fighting. There may be a turn or two where you are unable to attack if you draw bad and they hit a few Crushing Hammers, but because of Dark Patch you can pretty easily get them back and like I said, Terrakion will make up for those lost turns.
ZekEels without Terrakion: Favorable
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, if they play 30hp Tynamos you almost certainly win, assuming you get a semi-regular start. The reason this matchup is in your favor is because you can OHKO everything they play. If you Catcher their Eelektriks and pile your snipes onto another one, they can very soon find themselves struggling to get more out. You have options for everything they send out. If they send out an Eviolited Zekrom, Terrakion can easily take care of it. If they send out a Mewtwo, your Mewtwo will make quick work of it. Super Scoop Up puts you even farther ahead in the prize trade, and this matchup should be a pretty easy one.
ZekEels with Terrakion: Unfavorable
This all depends on if they can draw 2 Fightings in consequential turns and how well you react to their Terrakions. Unfortunately, because you don't play Dark Claw or Special Darks you need to attack the Terrakion twice to knock it out, instead of attacking it once and then sniping it. You can use Pluspower though, which would do the same thing, Mewtwo can be used occasionally if you really need it, but watch out as there is a huge probability that it will get revenged by their own Mewtwo.
CMT (Celebi/Mewtwo/Tornadus): Slightly Favorable
They have no way to even 2HKO you if you have Eviolite other than getting 4 energy on Mewtwo or Regigigas. Even if they manage to just turn it into a prize trade, just snipe those Celebis all day long to get that extra jump. Always remember: You win prize trades. But, if they do get a really fast start you can get behind in the prize trade, and your Terrakions are mostly just a burden in this matchup unless they play Regigigas. Use your Mewtwo if they get a Mewtwo with a lot of energy.
Quad Terrakion: Slightly Favorable
This matchup is a teensy bit harder for this build than most because it doesn't play Dark Claw or Special Dark. Obviously, Pluspower can be used in their place, but it is less consistent as you need to draw into the Pluspower or Junk Arm every turn. Like what you do against random Terrakion techs, even though you can't OHKO it, your snipe comes back to save the day. Attach an Eviolite as an extra caution. Do 100 to the Terrakion with energy (make sure it's the one with energy!) and 30 to a benched one. Then next turn, Catcher up that benched Terrakion, KO it and KO the benched one with energy with the snipe. Because that Terrakion was on the bench when it was KOed, Exp. Share is not triggered and they are left with no more energy. If they run Potion, this can get quite a bit harder to do, but if you can get it off once your good for most of the game.
Straight Groudon: Unfavorable
This matchup is a definite toughy, especially if you go second. If you go first, you can do pretty well if you can get the turn 2 Darkrai and hopefully 2HKO their Groudon if they don't play any healing cards or don't manage to get an Eviolite on it. If they do play healing cards, you lose. If you go second, they get even more time to take more prizes. This matchup is very, very hard and they would have to run very badly in order for you to win.
3 Darkrai EX
4 Crushing Hammer
4 Professor Juniper
4 Dark Patch
4 Junk Arm
3 Professor Oak's New Theory
2 Super Scoop Up
2 Lost Remover
2 Dark Claw
2 Dual Ball
2 Ultra Ball
2 Random Receiver
1 Super Rod
4 Special Dark
The strategy of Darkrai/Sableye is to deny your opponent of energy with Crushing Hammer, Enhanced Hammer and Lost Remover, using Sableye to get them back from the discard in order to use them even more. The opponent's lack of energy paired with the intimidation of Darkrai puts your opponent into tight spots while they scramble to get the energy in order to attack.
This is an awesome card to attack with turn 1. You can get back Dark Patches, Random Receivers, Crushing Hammers, and basically any trainer that you may need. It's an awesome card all around, and it's the card that makes the energy removal factor of this deck work like it should. While Sableye is amazing turns 1 and sometimes 2, it can also be used later in the game to get that clutch trainer that you need to win the game.
This card not only practically autowins any deck without energy acceleration, it also gives you pretty good mirror and CMT matchups. The reason it does this is because, paired with Sableye, you can just keep reusing Crushing Hammer over and over, depleting your opponent's energy so that hopefully they will be unable to attack you. Even though it only has a 50% chance of working, because you can get back two with Sableye you should be able to hit at least one heads and get rid of one of your opponent's energy.
Another great card for getting rid of your opponent's energy. Double Colorless Energy and Special Dark have nowhere to run from Lost Remover, and what's great about it is that there is no flip involved, so if your opponent has a Special Energy it's automatically sent to the Lost Zone. Note: Contrary to popular belief, Lost Remover is in fact better than Enhanced Hammer.
I love this card. With 2 Special Dark and a Dark Claw, you're OHKOing Terrakions and Eviolited Zekroms, things that otherwise can be very hard to play around, and being able to OHKO them can sometimes be game changing. It also helps in many other situations. A great example of one of those situations would be if your opponent's EX had an Eviolite attached. Without 2 Special Dark or a Dark Claw, you would be forced to 3HKO the EX instead of 2HKOing it. With Dark Claw, you can turn that back into a 2HKO.
Darkrai/Terrakion: Slightly Unfavorable
Stalling them with Crushing Hammer is a really good play in this matchup, as it lets you attack while they are sometimes scrambling for energy. The bad thing about this matchup is their Terrakions. They can take an easy 2 prizes with it, so the second it comes onto the field OHKO it with a Darkrai with a Dark Claw and 2 Special Darks. Hopefully they may eventually run out of Fighting energy, or it will cost them too many turns to give Darkrai more energy to make up for the ones you Hammered off.
ZekEels without Terrakion: Favorable/Slightly Favorable
Like I have been saying, if they play 30hp Tynamos there is a huge probability your going to win, so long as you get a regular start. Otherwise, Catchering Eelektriks is a good game plan as the more you get rid of the tighter their plays need to be. As soon as a Zekrom hits the field, immediately snipe it once if it isn't Eviolited to put it in OHKO range of Darkrai with a Special Dark or a Dark Claw. Eviolited Zekroms can be a huge pain, but try to OHKO them with a Dark Claw and 2 Special Dark, and if you can't do that, Pokémon Catcher around the Zekrom for one turn and then OHKO it with just a Dark Claw. Like most matchups, Crushing Hamemr and Lost Remover will work pretty well, and should make them waste some resources trying to get energy back on their Pokémon.
ZekEels with Terrakion: Unfavorable/Slightly Unfavorable
Thankfully, Crushing Hammer saves you from the possibility of losing 4 prizes from a single Terrakion because you can Hammer the Fighting off of it. Unfortunately, Terrakion can still easily take 2 prizes as soon as you knock something out. Basically, just use the strategy you would for ZekEels without Terrakion, but try to always keep a Hammer handy, and try to always have a Darkrai with a Dark Claw and 2 Special Dark so you aren't forced to 2HKO Terrakion, wasting you a turn where you could have knocked something else out.
CMT (Celebi/Mewtwo/Tornadus): Favorable
Crushing Hammer and Lost Remover are amazing in this matchup. Because CMT has only limited energy acceleration, you can stall them really badly by getting rid of their energies. DCE is also very important for them, and getting rid of that with Lost Remover can be amazing. Along with that, with an Eviolite anything non-Mewtwo they run can only 3HKO you (and a Mewtwo would need 4 energy, which is hard when they are constantly hammered by the Hammer) while you OHKO everything non-EX and 2HKO everything EX. When your also taking prizes off of benched Celebis, it should be easy to take all 6 of your prizes.
Quad Terrakion: Highly Favorable
Crushing Hammer, all day every day. Quad Terrakion has no energy acceleration, you can Crushing Hammer away all of their energy. Because of this, you can have the same effect as a turn 1 Darkrai with you going first. No deck can keep up with that, especially when your OHKOing every Terrakion because of the 2 Special Darks and Dark Claw you made sure you got while you were stalling. Crushing Hammer away the active's energy before you knock it out when you can to seal the deal.
Straight Groudon: Highly Favorable
This matchup should go about the same way the Quad Terrakion one goes. You practically get a turn 1 Darkrai going first, but in this matchup you only need a Dark Claw to counter Eviolite. Potion can be annoying (you would need 3 Special Dark to counter Potion, but that's too hard to get because of Lost Remover), but it shouldn't do more than slow you down because best case scenario they will never get to use a single Giant Claw (especially because most builds usually play low counts of EXP Share, if any).
Techs and Additions
Some people consider this a very necessary card in any Darkrai variation. I don't really see what it brings to the table that Darkrai doesn't. It does 10 more damage than Darkrai, but it isn't boostable by Dark Claw or Special Dark and it doesn't have the snipe. It isn't even that good against Terrakion. They 3HKO you and you 2HKO them, which ends up in an unfavorable prize trade for you. It is a lot better against Groudon though, as Trample doesn't put enough damage on it and Groudon can only 3HKO it while being 2HKOed back. The reason I don't play it just for the Groudon matchup is because it takes up a lot more room because you need to run Shaymin/Energy Switch and DCE in order to play it. It also should be noted that Tornadus EX with an Eviolite is amazing against Donphan.
Don't go trading those Mewtwos for Darkrais just yet! Mewtwo is still an amazing card, and like always you use it mostly for countering your opponent's Mewtwos. If your opponent runs Shaymin or other cards that can put a ton of energy onto a Mewtwo in one turn, you are in one huge pickle. But if you play your on Mewtwo, your opponent just wasted lots of resources and you just gained 2 prizes. The reason I do not play it is because in order to really be able to use it, you have to run Shaymin and/or DCE so you can charge it in one turn.
Weavile can be a very interesting tech. Weavile's Poke-Power, Claw Snag, has the ability to completely turn a game around if it is used at the right time. If you Snag your opponent's only supporter out of their hand, they could be stranded with nothing to do for as many as 3-4 turns! Weavile can also grab something clutch that your opponent needs, such as a Fighting that they were going to charge a Terrakion with, a Switch they were going to use to get something bulky out of the active, or a Junk Arm which they would have grabbed a clutch trainer with. Sneasel is also a great thing about Weavile. It has free retreat, which can make it easier to get the turn 1 or turn 2 Darkrai, and with a Dark Claw and maybe a Special Dark Sneasel's first attack, Fury Swipes, can knock out Tynamos and Oddish with only a single heads.
Zoroark Dark Explorers:
A Dark build with Zoroark pretty much has to be build around Zoroark in order for it to work like it is supposed to. Zoroark is a little harder to spam than Darkrai as it is a stage 1 and constantly needs a full bench, but it does a lot more damage with it's 120 damage attack with a full bench. With a Dark Claw and a Sp. Dark your doing 150, which puts most EXs into sniping range of a Darkrai. The reason I do not like Zoroark is because a full bench is sometimes hard to get, and it being a stage one certainly doesn't help it all that much.
Shaymin: and Energy Switch:
I like Shaymin or Energy Switch in basically any build as it allows you to have more mobility. They can be used in lots of situations, whether it's moving energy off of a damaged Darkrai so you can pick it up with Super Scoop Up, attaching to Smeargle and retreating it, then moving the energy to your attacker, or moving energy onto a Terrakion or Tornadus EX which need it in order to be charged in one turn. I highly suggest this, no matter what build you are using.
This card helps Darkrai OHKO so many things it couldn't without it. 2HKOing EXs even if they have Eviolite is a big one, but being able to OHKO Tornadus is also pretty useful. You also wouldn't be able to use your awesome strategy against Quad Terrakion unless you had this or a Special Dark attached. Dark Claw can also make Sneasel a formidable foe if you run it.
Potion actually turns many 2HKOs into 3HKOs, especially if you have an Eviolite attached. Think about it. Darkrai has 180 health. With an Eviolite, an opposing Zekrom or Darkrai with a Dark Claw is doing about 90-100. Now you add a Potion, and you heal 30 damage. That Zekrom last turn now technically only did a meager 70 damage, and that Darkrai only did 60. The opposing player now can only at best 3HKO you, except if they play a card like Zekrom EX which can deal a very large amount of damage.
Sableye:, Crushing Hammer: and Lost Remover:
It isn't needed to run all or none, you can easily any of them without the others or two of them without the third, but it is great when they are used together as it gives you a lot of energy denial. It pretty much autowins you any decks with no energy acceleration, notably Groudon and Terrakion. The reason for this is that it technically gives you a turn 1 Darkrai going first every game against them, as you can stall them by denying them of energy while you are charging up a Darkrai. Then, when you are ready, you can go on the attack and do quite a lot of damage. It's also good against decks that tech Terrakions, because you can Crushing Hammer away their Fighting energies.
I actually ran this in my original list. It helped to keep energy in play and took a lot of pressure off of needing to get those Dark Patches. I eventually took it out as Dark Patch served the purpose just fine and it took up too much room. Eviolite and Dark Claw are pretty important to have attached anyways. It's still a good tech to try out though, and it could definitely work in some versions.
As I hope I have shown, Dark variants are very fun to play and I think that they have very good matchups all around, and only a few bad ones. They are arguably the best decks in the format, but even if you don't agree with me you should definitely test it and against it as you will certainly be seeing it in tournaments. Thanks for reading, and I hope that you learned a lot about Dark variants!