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A Ghost in the Snow – Gengar VMAX with Brilliant Stars

As you might have noticed, I didn’t play a lot of Standard in the Fusion Strike format. There are a couple of reasons to this. The VMAX-focused format didn’t appeal to me, especially in comparison with the wider variety of decks in Expanded, but the fact that the vast majority of large online tournaments were happening at what was nighttime for me also played, I think, a bigger role in my disinterest. With no way to compete in the largest events, my competitive drive was unsatisfied, and the format didn’t offer as many opportunities to tweak old decks or find new ones as Expanded did, so I mostly watched the format from afar, waiting for both Brilliant Stars’ release and the return of physical tournaments, one of which just happened, and the other is about to. While I wasn’t playing Standard, something strange happened: I saw Gengar VMAX rise to a high rank in the metagame. It was never seen as a bad card exactly, but in January and February, Gengar VMAX suddenly began to win online tournaments left and right, including major, prestigious ones.

This was strange to me, not because I didn’t see it coming, but because I thought it would happen later. I have been keeping an eye on the Japanese metagame for a while, with their equivalent of Brilliant Stars, and Gengar VMAX has been solid there. It gets better with Brilliant Stars, not only because it gets new cards (every deck does), but also because these new cards give it a better role to play in the metagame. Choice Belt, for example, elevates Gengar VMAX’s G-Max Swallow Up damage from 250 to 280. With some Single Strike Energy, it can OHKO even a Pokémon VMAX, and even without them, it deals with Arceus VSTAR. Choice Belt alone increases Gengar VMAX’s effectiveness significantly, and as I’ll discuss, it’s not the only way the deck can change.

So, if Gengar VMAX was already poised to improve greatly with Brilliant Stars, but it turns out it’s already great, is it about to be the best deck in the format? Perhaps not. However, there’s no doubt anymore that this deck will see a lot of play in the new format. If nothing else, its great matchup against Mew VMAX is reason enough to play it!

I don’t claim I’m an expert on Gengar VMAX specifically, but I’ve spent a lot of time researching the Japanese format, so in this article, I’ll discuss how the deck has been played, what it gains from Brilliant Stars, and how it can be played.

 

 

Header - The Fusion Strike Format

I’m not going to write a full guide about Gengar VMAX in Fusion Strike, both because that format is basically over, and because Alex Schemanske wrote a great piece on it already.

Here is the list that has got the deck its most notable successes:

PTCGO Code

4 Houndour BST 95
4 Houndoom BST 96
3 Gengar V FST 156
3 Gengar VMAX FST 157
2 Crobat V SHF 44
1 Single Strike Urshifu V BST 85

4 Professor's Research CEL 23
4 Marnie CPA 56
2 Boss's Orders SHF 58
4 Quick Ball FST 237
4 Battle VIP Pass FST 225
4 Cram-o-matic FST 229
3 Evolution Incense SSH 163
3 Urn of Vitality BST 139
2 Switch SSH 183
4 Path to the Peak CRE 148
2 Tower of Darkness BST 137

4 Single Strike Energy BST 141
3 Hiding Darkness Energy DAA 175 

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This simple, effective list relies on Houndoom, not only for Energy acceleration, but also for damage boosts, allowing Gengar VMAX (or Gengar V) to deal even more damage. The Trainer line is also straightforward: Professor’s Research and Marnie for draw, the Quick Ball, Cram-o-matic and Battle VIP Pass seen in Mew MAX and some Urn of Vitality to recover Energy. Note that this deck runs six Stadiums. Tower of Darkness is useful draw power, while Path to the Peak provides strong disruption against many decks including Mew VMAX, and give the deck a way to beat Duraludon VMAX.

 

Header - Updating for Brilliant Stars

I already mentioned how Choice Belt was a very significant addition to Gengar VMAX. It’s also worth mentioning that, as a straightforward deck relying mostly on Professor’s Research for draw power, and using a variety of Basic and Evolution Pokémon, Gengar VMAX also appreciates Ultra Ball for easier access to any of its Pokémon. I think Ultra Ball should replace Evolution Incense, which led me to the following list:

PTCGO Code

****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******

##Pokémon - 16

* 1 Crobat V DAA 104
* 3 Gengar V FST 156
* 4 Houndour BST 95
* 4 Houndoom BST 96
* 3 Gengar VMAX FST 157
* 1 Lumineon V BRS 40

##Trainer Cards - 37

* 1 Evolution Incense SSH 163
* 3 Ultra Ball DEX 102
* 2 Boss's Orders RCL 154
* 2 Switch SUM 132
* 4 Quick Ball SSH 179
* 4 Cram-o-matic FST 229
* 2 Choice Belt BRS 135
* 4 Professor's Research SHF 60
* 4 Battle VIP Pass FST 225
* 4 Marnie SSH 169
* 3 Urn of Vitality BST 139
* 4 Path to the Peak CRE 148

##Energy - 7

* 3 Hiding {D} Energy DAA 175
* 4 Single Strike Energy BST 141

Total Cards - 60

****** Deck List Generated by the Pokémon TCG Online www.pokemon.com/TCGO ******

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I removed the Tower of Darkness which don’t seem as significant now. Path to the Peak is much more impactful, and will only become more so as it can shut down powerful Abilities, such as Lumineon V’s Luminous Sign and, of course, Arceus VSTAR’s Starbirth.

Crobat V (104/189)

Speaking of Lumineon V, I replaced one of the Crobat V with it. While this deck doesn’t run a huge number of Supporters, being able to specifically search for a Boss’s Orders at the right time is strong, and of course, Lumineon V can always get a Professor’s Research when all you need is draw power.

There’s nothing very new here overall, but it should be mentioned that with multiple Houndoom in play, Gengar VMAX can reach OHKO potential on VMAX Pokémon fairly quickly, and shouldn’t be underestimated.

In terms of how the deck deals with important matchups, Gengar VMAX is still favored against Mew VMAX (both decks gain Ultra Ball, but even if it’s probably better in Mew VMAX than in Gengar VMAX, hitting for Weakness and having Path to the Peak means Gengar still wins that matchup). Against new Arceus VSTAR-based decks, Gengar VMAX benefits from being able to quickly KO Arceus VSTAR. It can OHKO Duraludon VMAX with a Choice Belt and three Single Strike Energy, as well as Path to the Peak in play. Even if the Duraludon VMAX has a Big Charm attached, a fourth Single Strike Energy lets Gengar VMAX OHKO it. It should be noted, though, that it is not necessary to OHKO the opponent and Gengar can be fine with a 2HKO. Given that the recent Full Grip Games event was won by Arceus VSTAR / Duraludon VMAX, this gives Gengar VMAX a nice place in the metagame.

 

Header - The Japanese Variant

While Gengar VMAX has been doing pretty well in online tournaments, in the Japanese Brilliant Stars format, it has also got its share of success. However, Japanese Gengar VMAX deck lists look pretty different from what we’re used to. Here’s what a typical matchup looks like:

PTCGO Code

****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******

##Pokémon - 18

* 2 Bidoof BRS 120
* 2 Bibarel BRS 121
* 1 Crobat V DAA 104
* 3 Gengar V FST 156
* 3 Houndour BST 95
* 3 Houndoom BST 96
* 3 Gengar VMAX FST 157
* 1 Mew CEL 11

##Trainer Cards - 33

* 2 Evolution Incense SSH 163
* 3 Ultra Ball DEX 102
* 3 Boss's Orders RCL 154
* 2 Switch SUM 132
* 4 Quick Ball SSH 179
* 2 Air Balloon SSH 156
* 2 Choice Belt BRS 135
* 2 Professor's Research SHF 60
* 4 Battle VIP Pass FST 225
* 4 Marnie SSH 169
* 2 Urn of Vitality BST 139
* 3 Path to the Peak CRE 148

##Energy - 9

* 3 Hiding {D} Energy DAA 175
* 4 Single Strike Energy BST 141
* 2 Darkness Energy EVO 97

Total Cards - 60

****** Deck List Generated by the Pokémon TCG Online www.pokemon.com/TCGO ****** 

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As you can see, there are a number of differences. Not all players in Japan are playing this exact list, but most recent successful lists look a lot like it, with the Bibarel line being a near-staple.
Bibarel makes sense in this deck for a few reasons. First, Gengar VMAX doesn’t use that much Bench space. Unlike the Urshifu / Umbreon Single Strike deck, the deck doesn’t need to set up multiple Houndoom as fast as possible, and it can function with only one Houndoom in play if you don’t whiff on Energy attachments. Bibarel is an efficient use of a Bench space, allowing you to refill your hand easily, especially in combination with Quick Ball or Ultra Ball.

Air Balloon (213/202)

One issue with Bibarel is that it’s not easy to get out of the Active Spot: both Bidoof and Bibarel have a Retreat Cost of two, they don’t benefit from Hiding Energy’s effect, and you can’t attach Single Strike Energy to them, so you’re pretty much forced to use one of your Switch to get them out of the Active Spot if you start with Bidoof. For this reason, the deck includes Air Balloon, which is a useful card to have in general. Gengar VMAX needs mobility, and Air Balloon lets you, for example, retreat your Gengar VMAX with Switch the turn after using G-Max Swallow Up, into a Pokémon with an Air Balloon attached, and then retreat back into Gengar VMAX.

Speaking of Pokémon with Air Balloon attached, Mew also finds a spot in this list. It’s not totally necessary, but with this list, you’re often going to need a pivot to retreat into or to send out after a KO has been taken, and Mew works better than other Pokémon in that role. One specific benefits it brings is that it makes it easier to draw into Choice Belt.

Choice Belt (135/172)

The ideal board for this deck is two Gengar VMAX (or Gengar V, if you don’t need to evolve to take a KO), two Houndoom, a Bibarel and Mew. Crobat V may be needed instead of one of these Pokémon, depending on the state of the game (for example, in the late game, you often don’t need a backup Gengar VMAX, so you can just use the second Gengar spot for Crobat).

On the other hand, in order to make space for these additions, both in the deck and on the Bench, some cards have to be cut. The Houndoom line is less important because Choice Belt makes it easier to hit important numbers, so 3-3 is seen as enough. Also, Cram-o-matic is out. While it works well in general, and especially on turn one to find Battle VIP Pass, it’s also a card that requires discarding a card for its effect. In combination with Quick Ball and Ultra Ball, that’s a lot of discard effects, and it’s not that easy to pay for them. Bibarel does provide with some refuel, but its draw power is far weaker than, say, the Genesect V engine in Mew VMAX, which allows that deck to run all these cards together. With Quick Ball and Ultra Ball being non-negociable in Gengar VMAX, Cram-o-matic makes sense to remove.

I’ve been testing this list a little bit and it has a lot of good aspects, but I can’t deny it’s a little bit clunky. When it sets up, it sets up very well, but there are also situations where it struggles. Battle VIP Pass can clog up your hand in the midgame, and you won’t always have a way to discard it, meaning that Bibarel is less effective. The Supporter line is thinner than I’d like too, making the deck a bit too reliant on Bibarel and Crobat V.

With that in mind, here’s the final list I’m offering. I’m still in the process of testing it, but I think it can combine the best elements of both Western and Japanese deck lists:

PTCGO Code

****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******

##Pokémon - 21

* 2 Bidoof BRS 120
* 2 Bibarel BRS 121
* 1 Crobat V DAA 104
* 4 Gengar V FST 156
* 4 Houndour BST 95
* 4 Houndoom BST 96
* 3 Gengar VMAX FST 157
* 1 Mew CEL 11

##Trainer Cards - 32

* 1 Evolution Incense SSH 163
* 4 Ultra Ball DEX 102
* 2 Boss's Orders RCL 154
* 2 Switch SUM 132
* 4 Quick Ball SSH 179
* 2 Air Balloon SSH 156
* 2 Choice Belt BRS 135
* 4 Professor's Research SHF 60
* 4 Marnie SSH 169
* 3 Urn of Vitality BST 139
* 4 Path to the Peak CRE 148

##Energy - 7

* 3 Hiding {D} Energy DAA 175
* 4 Single Strike Energy BST 141

Total Cards - 60

****** Deck List Generated by the Pokémon TCG Online www.pokemon.com/TCGO ****** 

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Compared to the previous deck list, the main difference is that I’ve removed the Battle VIP Pass, in order to limit the highroll aspect of the deck. To make up for the loss of an excellent turn one setup card, I’ve included a fourth Ultra Ball, as well as more Pokémon: a fourth Gengar V (156/264) and a full line of Houndoom. Playing more Basic Pokémon is a simple, but sometimes overlooked way of making your setup better. I’ve played with four Single Strike Urshifu V many times in Single Strike in the Evolving Skies format, for example, and I stand by this choice.

I’ve also improved the general consistency of the deck, by switching to a more classic Supporter line with four Professor’s Research and four Marnie, as well as a third Urn of Vitality since we’ll be discarding cards more often and rely on Houndoom a bit more. Also, with a full Houndoom line and more Urn of Vitality, it may be easier to get all four Single Strike Energy on a Gengar VMAX to OHKO a Pokémon such as Duraludon VMAX, if needed.

There are possible adaptations to make to this deck. For example, I decided to run a fourth Path to the Peak because I think, in a vacuum, it’s a very strong card that can disrupt many decks. However, depending on the metagame, it might be correct to cut one for another card, such as one more Energy or a third Choice Belt.

Lumineon V is another option here, although Bench space is limited, so I don’t want to play too many draw support Pokémon, and Crobat V is better in this deck.

 

Header - Conclusion

Gengar VMAX is a powerful deck, although it’s undeniably meta-dependent. Being paired against Mew VMAX feels just as good as being paired against Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX feels bad. If you’re looking for something that has a shot against anything in the metagame, you can do better (Arceus VSTAR / Duraludon VMAX is my recommandation). However, if you’re willing to take the risk, for example if you don’t expect a lot of Urshifu around, then Gengar VMAX is a powerful deck that gains new tools and will definitely have a place in the metagame.

It might even get better after May’s set because of Dark Patch, although I’m getting ahead of myself. Still, for a simple, straightforward Pokémon VMAX, there’s already multiple interesting support partners to combine with it, and I expect multiple versions of this deck to be played before a consensus can be reached.

Whether you’re playing Gengar VMAX or something else, I hope in any case that you’re enjoying the new format (I certainly am so far). See you next time!

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