As many have probably heard by now, there have been some major changes to the tournament organization. Unfortunately with these changes we are left with no September League Challenges as they don’t have the system quite ready for tournaments yet.
As a result of this, I am going to make this article about something that should hopefully be helpful all year long instead of focusing just on deck lists as there won’t be a sanctioned tournament until Fall Regionals, most likely, to use any decks in.
The topic of this article is going to be about building decks, particularly rogue decks, as well as considerations that should be made when choosing your decks for a tournament.
After this previous season ended, I reflected on where I found the most success and where I saw the most failures, and I realized that I have seen more success come from tournaments where I was playing what could be considered a rogue deck. I have made placements/top cuts at Battle Roads, City Championships, and U.S. Nationals with these types of decks. Here is my list so far:
- 2011-2012 City Championships: Top 4 with Tyranitar Prime/Cobalion NVI/Kyurem NVI/Vileplume UD/Reuniclus BLW
- 2012-2013 Fall Battle Roads: Top 4 with Darkrai/Chandelure
- 2012-2013 City Championships: Top 4 with Quad Sigilyph/Mewtwo EX/Cresselia EX
- 2012-2013 Spring Battle Roads: Top 2 with Kyurem PLF/Deoxys EX
- 2012-2013 Spring Battle Roads: Top 4 with Landorus EX/Lugia EX/Deoxys EX
- 2013 US Nationals: Top 128 with Sableye DEX/Garbodor DRX
Not all of these were my own creations, and some of them have become fringe parts of the metagame, but in this article I will discuss where to find ideas for these types of decks and how to get on the forefront of using them for a metagame that isn’t ready for these decks.
I think deck building will play a crucial role in tournament success this season, especially if we synchronize with Japan and no longer are able to start where their format left off.
Why Play a Rogue Deck?
The main reason anyone would play a rogue deck, or any deck for that matter is to give themselves the best chance at winning a tournament. This should be kept in mind when building any deck, especially rogue decks. If you are aiming to be competitive, don’t just build a rogue deck because you just want something different, but instead to improve your chances of winning the tournament.
Rogue decks have a few unique features about them that can make them stronger plays for a given tournament than a meta deck.
First, a given metagame simply might not be ready to deal with a rogue deck, giving the rogue deck player a huge advantage. If the other players at the tournament don’t have the means to deal with whatever the rogue deck’s strategy is, they will simply lose to it, greatly increasing the rogue players chances of winning the tournament.
Secondly, even if other decks do have the means to beat the rogue deck, the players at the tournament might not be able to figure out the strategy to beat it quick enough, allowing the rogue player to capitalize on the confusion and misplays of their opponent.
In general, I have found that when building a rogue deck, you should focus on point #1 instead of point #2. Relying on your opponent’s confusion will only get so far, and after word of your deck has spread as the rounds go on, the good players, the ones you will encounter in Top Cut, will likely have figured out something close to the best strategy to use against your deck.
I experienced this first hand when I played the Quad Sigilyph deck at a City Championship. The deck was an unknown deck at the time, so I was able to capitalize on that for a strong Swiss performance. Come Top Cut, one of the opponents I played in Swiss came back with the right strategy to beat the deck with his Blastoise, and I was pretty hopeless in winning after he figured it out.
The Different Types of Rogue Decks
With rogue decks, there are some underlying strategies that can be used when thinking about what type of deck you want to build. Most of these decks work on taking the existing metagame, and then finding some way to exploit it to give the rogue player an advantage.
A. The Undiscovered Deck
This type of rogue deck doesn’t necessarily depend on countering a given metagame, it is just a combination of cards that has been overlooked and will end up as part of the metagame after it has its coming out party.
This type of deck isn’t necessarily built to counter anything about the given metagame, but is instead just a deck that has solid all around matchups that has somehow been overlooked by the majority.
A good example of this is Ho-Oh EX decks that sprung up during Fall Battle Roads this past season. The deck had some pretty even matchups against most of the metagame, and was just a card combination that was overlooked heading into tournaments.
B. The Accelerator
As a metagame establishes, there will be a number of main decks that have a variety of tempos. Once these top decks are established, the high and low tempos of the metagame become set. So one way to gain an advantage against a metagame is to build a deck that is able to accelerate the damage and/or the Prize exchange faster than your opponent’s deck.
Plasma Pokemon present the greatest form of accelerator rogues in the format, as they are able to put on a great deal of damage fast with strong attacks, support from Deoxys EX, and Energy acceleration from Colress Machine. In addition to this, they have Lugia EX, which takes an extra Prize when it knocks out a Pokemon thanks to its Overflow Ability.
Decks like Landorus/Lugia EX and Lugia EX/Cofagrigus were built because they can accelerate the speed of the game to a point that their opponent can’t keep up with. With Lugia’s Overflow Ability, the game can end on Turn 3 either by knocking out 3 non-EXs, or by spreading damage with Landorus/Cofagrigus, and knocking out two EXs.
C. The Lock/Control Deck
The strategy of these decks is simple. The goal is to create a game state where you are able to take control of the game and your opponent isn’t able to do anything to stop your deck from winning if you get your deck successfully setup and your strategy executed.
Ross Cawthon’s The Truth deck is a great example of this type of deck. In that format, most Pokemon fell short of OHKO numbers without PlusPower, allowing the deck to create a game state in which none of its Pokemon could be knocked out.
Other recent examples are both of the Accelgor variants from this season and last. With Chandelure and Dusknoir, the deck attempted to create a perfect paralysis lock that prevented the opponent from ever attacking once the lock went up.
The Sableye/Garbodor deck that I played at Nationals also falls into this category. Once all my opponent’s Energy was removed and their Lasers in the discard there wasn’t anything they could do to take any more Prizes.
D. The Counter Deck
The counter deck is built to, as the category states, counter the other decks present in the format. It does so by looking at the key weaknesses of the main meta decks that can be exploited and then an ensemble of Pokemon are assembled to counter the main decks. The more overlapping weaknesses that the main meta decks have, the better positioned a counter deck will be to do well in a format.
Dylan Bryan’s Flareon deck that he played at the World Championships is a great example of this. He had Flareon to counter Klinklang, Fighting Pokemon to counter Darkrai, Garbodor to attack Ability reliant decks like Blastoise (as well as take a knock at shutting off Abilities for most other decks as well), and Drifblim to counter Plasma.
E. The Improved Meta Deck
Sometimes the right rogue answer is to get creative with the meta decks of the format and add a new twist onto them that improves them past the standard archetype and sometimes creating a new sub-archetype of a deck.
A big example of this is Jay Hornung’s Darkrai/Mewtwo deck that he piloted to third place finishes at both the 2012 US Nationals and World Championships. People had toyed around with Mewtwo EX in Darkrai variants a little bit, but before Jay’s breakout performance with it, no one really had figured out just how strong going heavy Mewtwo EX could be in Darkrai.
Sometimes a strong concept for a deck is already in place, it’s just waiting to be improved upon to become a serious threat.
Approaching the Rogue Realm
Deciding to test the tournament waters with a rogue deck can always be a nervous experience, especially for a player making that dive for the first round. In this section I am just going to give some general guidelines I have developed when it comes to rogue decks.
One of the biggest things when it comes to creating a successful rogue deck can be your attitude towards the game. During times when you’re not really feeling the game it can be difficulty for creativity to spawn as you’re just not into it. During times where you’re not too invested in the game it can be best to just stick to the basics, otherwise a bad tournament performance with a rogue deck can further demotivate you to play the game. I’ve seen plenty of players play an under-tested rogue deck when they weren’t too heavily invested in the game, have a bad performance, and then just rail on how stupid the format is.
Where creativity will spawn more often is when a player is heavily invested in the game and super excited about playing the game, so they actually go out and play it often. When someone is playing a lot of games, they will be able to gain a better vantage point of the intricacies of the format and will better suited for building a deck to exploit the format.
The truth about rogue decks is that most of them will never turn out to be a success. The meta decks are meta for a reason, because they actually are good. Most of the strong ideas are found early, which leaves rogue decks to come from the less obvious, which means that more of these ideas are bound to fail. It is important to accept criticism about your rogue deck, as you might get so caught up in your own little bubble that you overlook major flaws in your deck’s strategy.
The approach I take to a given format is to consider rogue decks secondary. I always want to try to look for something that exploits the format in some way if I can, but if not, I’ve learned to not push something just for the sake of playing different.
I think if something gets to the point where it’s a pet deck for you, then it probably will never end up being a good rogue deck. The reason? If it was actually good, you would have had some success with it, and others would have picked up on it too. If you’re continually not having success with a given deck, then it isn’t a good concept or your list is bad.
Therefore, I think the best approach to a format is to find 2-3 of the main meta decks that you like and really learn how to play those decks. By doing this, if nothing comes up in your search for a good rogue deck, you have a good Blastoise or Darkrai deck to fall back upon, allowing you to succeed even when you fail in finding that next good rogue deck.
The toughest part about making a good rogue deck is getting an accurate read on the metagame. I think the larger the scale of tournament, the harder it gets to make a good rogue deck.
At the local level it is much easier to do well with a rogue deck, because you can get a more accurate reading on the metagame. Most players at the local level just find one deck that they like playing so you can often go into a local tournament knowing what most of the players in the field will be playing, making it more easy to build a deck that counters their decks, or even just finding a neat tech to swing these matchups in your favor.
When picking out my decks, I generally go build them taking into account about what I consider the top half of players in the tournament will be playing, because I intend to be at the top tables playing against their decks, so I want something that can beat them. At the local level, you have the core group that you expect to do well, the wild cards that could go either way, and then the non-competitive players who won’t do well because of poor decks. I think it’s best to just focus on what the people you consider as threats of winning are playing, as well as any overwhelming local trends when picking your deck.
At larger events, it becomes a lot harder to do this, because you don’t have that knowledge of what others really like playing. You can do some research online, but it’s hard to nail down what the metagame will completely look like at a big event.
Some examples of getting it right: At the 2012 National Championship, there was a lot of hype behind Hammertime headed into the tournament, but it wasn’t the best decision because of decks like CMT and Eelektrik which accelerate Energy being popular. John Roberts saw this, and was able to avoid his auto-loss condition (Enhanced Hammer) and pilot Klinklang to first place.
At this past National Championship, I think most players pegged Tool Scrapper as not being a likely inclusion in most people’s decks. This allowed Ryan Sabelhaus to keep his Life Dew on his Pokemon, giving his Plasma list an advantage over others playing different ACE SPECs.
I personally got the metagame wrong for Nationals this year. I thought Blastoise and Darkrai with a bunch of Keldeos to be a lot more popular than they were. Since these decks weren’t too popular at the tournament, Gothitelle was able to avoid its toughest matchups and run rampant in the tournament.
My deck did a good job countering most of the format, but I knew going in I had an auto-loss to Gothitelle, which I was fine with, because I didn’t expect to play it. The problem? Even though my deck did well enough for me at the tournament, I had 0% chance of winning the tournament because no matter what else I did in top cut, I would have eventually ran into a Gothitelle and been knocked out of the tournament.
Finding Rogue Decks
We all hope to have that one defining deck we create all on our own, through our own playtesting an originality. Seldom that happens, but there are other ways to take advantage of rogue decks by piggybacking on the work of others.
Most new ideas don’t come in solitude. One of the best ways to come up with something new is to have an open dialog with other players. When players are just speaking freely with each other, they can bounce ideas off of each other and really work on hammering down a concept until it’s in a workable form. There will be a pass back of one player throwing out an idea of something and then another either seeing how to take that idea further, verifying that it is a good idea, or finding a flaw in the idea to help figure out if it’s an effective strategy or not.
The internet is a great resource for finding new rogue decks to use. The Quad Sigilyph deck I played came from a Facebook post I saw saying that the deck had won a Regional Championship in Singapore just a couple hours prior. I went to building this deck after breakfast, thinking it would be good to counter the EX-heavy meta from the previous day’s City Championship. The deck was in no way an original idea from me, but I did recognize it as something I could get use out of before others had knowledge of the deck.
The results threads for tournament series that get posted on places like PokeGym can also be a good source of information in rogue. If you see an interesting deck idea pop up in the placements it can be good to take the idea and build it, and then test it to see if it is any good. Too often players can discard good deck ideas as just being obscure results allowing you to take an idea while it’s in its infancy and use it for your own success.
Lastly, I think keeping tabs on message board conversations can provide you with good framework for building a rogue deck. For example, the Quad Kyurem with Deoxys deck that I played at the first day of Battle Roads this Spring came from discussion on HeyTrainer discussing how most players were preferring to lead with Kyurem with its Frost Spear attack on turn one, and then use Blizzard Burn, an attack most players considered good.
With this information in hand, I jumped to the idea of building a streamlined Plasma deck that used Kyurem as its only attacker. Since I was only depending on Kyurem to attack, I could play basic Water Energy instead of Special Energy that allowed other Pokemon to attack. Since I was running basic Energy, I could use Exp. Share to conserve my Energy and stream attacking Kyurem.
After some strong testing with the deck, it became obvious that it was a strong concept, and I was able to have some early success with the deck just because it wasn’t a concept that most players knew about so they weren’t teching or making deck selections with it in mind, allowing me to do well at the tournament.
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