As you may already know, I wasn’t able to attend the North America International Championships last weekend, due to a combination of a flight company employee denying me from boarding my plane because my passport was damaged, and then me testing positive for COVID. I spent the week leading to NAIC alone at home, recovering and rooting for my friends.
A few people have asked me what I would have played had I been able to attend the competition. The answer is, most likely, an evolution of the Liminal Deck with Lightning attackers, and a 1-1 Samurott VSTAR line. To understand what I call the Liminal deck, and why, I recommend you read my article on the topic. It’s a good starting point to understand the concept.
I didn’t want to give out the deck before the event since there was a chance that some of my friends and testing partners might end up playing it. In the end, none of them did though, so the deck that I was working up ended up being unused. That makes it, I think, the most secret deck of all: a deck so secret that it stayed unknown, even after the competition.
A disclaimer is needed before I dive deeper into the deck: I can’t guarantee I would have actually ended up playing this deck. I had high hopes for it, and it was doing well on TCGO, but I definitely needed more practice with the deck. I was planning on testing this deck heavily in Columbus with trusted partners so I could see if the Palkia matchup, in particular, still felt favorable when the opponent knew what they were doing and what I was doing. It’s definitely possible that, two days before the event, I would have abandoned it and stuck with a more conventional, boring but safe deck, such as Palkia.
However, I don’t like playing the most popular deck at an event, especially if I don’t feel that I can get a good advantage in the mirror match, and I also love having a bunch of options, some of which an opponent may not see coming. That’s why I think it’s likely that, unless popular matchups ended up being disastrous for me, I would have stuck with this concept.
****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ****** ##Pokémon - 22 * 1 Snorlax VIV 131 * 2 Galarian Moltres EVS 93 * 1 Galarian Zigzagoon SSH 117 * 1 Hisuian Samurott V ASR 101 * 1 Hoopa DAA 111 * 1 Galarian Obstagoon SSH 119 * 1 Hisuian Samurott VSTAR ASR 102 * 1 Galarian Zapdos V CRE 80 * 1 Raikou V BRS 48 * 1 Zeraora VIV 61 * 1 Manaphy BRS 41 * 4 Sobble CRE 41 * 3 Drizzile SSH 56 * 2 Inteleon SSH 58 * 1 Inteleon CRE 43 ##Trainer Cards - 30 * 1 Air Balloon SSH 156 * 3 Evolution Incense SSH 163 * 1 Training Court RCL 169 * 1 Pal Pad UPR 132 * 2 Boss's Orders RCL 154 * 2 Quick Ball SSH 179 * 2 Energy Search SSH 161 * 2 Raihan EVS 152 * 1 Klara CRE 145 * 4 Level Ball BST 129 * 4 Scoop Up Net RCL 165 * 1 Ultra Ball BRS 150 * 1 Choice Belt BRS 135 * 1 Professor's Research SHF 60 * 2 Sonia RCL 167 * 1 Rare Candy UL 82 * 1 Hisuian Heavy Ball ASR 146 ##Energy - 8 * 1 Water Energy SWSHEnergy 3 * 5 Darkness Energy SWSHEnergy 7 * 1 Lightning Energy SWSHEnergy 4 * 1 Fighting Energy SWSHEnergy 6 Total Cards - 60 ****** Deck List Generated by the Pokémon TCG Online www.pokemon.com/TCGO ******
I felt like I needed to show the deck list first but, as you can see, there are a lot of one-ofs, so in order to really understand it, I believe it’s better for me to talk about the process I used to build this deck.
One of my first thoughts about Astral Radiance was that Hisuian Samurott VSTAR was a powerful card. There are plenty of cards who can put damage on the board: Quick Shooting Inteleon, Medicham V, Galarian Zigzagoon… Hisuian Samurott VSTAR seemed like a natural partner to these cards, and it seemed like including even a 1-1 line could make Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX into an even bigger threat. It gave the deck a secondary attacker in a type it could already attack with, and it made it much easier to remove Dunsparce or Manaphy without using your attack in order to pave the way for a powerful Urshifu attack.
Knowing how powerful Urshifu had been ever since EUIC, and how powerful it remained in the hands of a top player (I was very impressed by Tord Reklev’s continued dominance with the deck, even when everyone played Manaphy), I felt like this was a concept I needed to explore. Urshifu with Samurott hadn’t been popular in Japan, but then again, Urshifu wasn’t played much there even without Samurott, and the deck was still good, so that didn’t stop me.
But more than Urshifu, I was interested in Samurott’s potential in a Liminal deck, aka Urshifu without Urshifu. It turns out that Urshifu struggles with the Palkia matchup, but what if you replaced it with some Lightning-type attackers? Zeraora VIV, which has free retreat, and Raikou V were both attackers that could OHKO Palkia VSTAR (the former requiring a Choice Belt).
Obviously, I’m not the first person to think of playing Lightning attackers in a Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon core. Given that the deck is an anti-meta toolbox, it only makes sense to play Pokémon that hit the most popular deck in the format for Weakness. A similar concept made Top 4 at Champions League Yokohama in Japan and, although it wasn’t my intention, I ended up borrowing a few ideas from that list.
However, where my deck list differs from every other one I’ve seen is that I’ve stubbornly kept Samurott VSTAR. This is a choice that seems to puzzle people, so let me explain.
A friend of mine asked me recently, “In what matchup do you use Samurott VSTAR?” The answer is all of them. Samurott VSTAR is the closest card to a main attacker the deck has. It’s just an efficient card. If you use its Ability, it hits for 260 damage for two Energy, or 290 with a Choice Belt. That’s a max damage Subspace Swell, and it deals very well with opposing Pokémon VSTAR.
The reason why I only play a 1-1 line of my “main attacker” is that the second Samurott VSTAR can’t use Moon Cleave Star, so it’s much worse. It requires Zigzagoon or Quick Shooting to even deal a base 220 damage, and it won’t OHKO a VSTAR. Plus, once you’ve used a Samurott VSTAR, you’re closer to the late game, where Galarian Moltres becomes the best attacker.
Obviously, Moon Cleave Star can also be used without attacking with Samurott VSTAR itself. You can use it in combination with Quick Shooting to KO a Sobble or Dunsparce, for example.
There is an obvious flaw in playing 1-1 Samurott VSTAR (apart from the risk of prizing one part of the line: Hisuian Heavy Ball can help if it’s the Basic part, at least). The opponent can KO Samurott V before it evolves and remove your access to Moon Cleave Star. I’ve found that it was generally acceptable to use Samurott V as a bait. Sometimes, even losing two Prizes is fine when it means the opponent leaves your Sobble and Drizzile in play and is using Boss’s Orders rather than a disruption Supporter. You can then retaliate with Zeraora or Galarian Zapdos V or Galarian Moltres, depending on the matchup and the board state. Against Mew, for example, I’ve often used Samurott as bait. Opponents tend to fear it and target it before they can evolve, which means they put a Mew VMAX in harm’s way and you can use Moltres to take the KO.
To be fair, I’ve contemplated the option of removing Samurott VSTAR from the list. I have another version of the deck that doesn’t use it (more on that later). However, after Milwaukee, I was convinced that Samurott VSTAR should stay in the deck. Arceus / Duraludon won and Samurott VSTAR was particularly effective against it, since it could deal massive damage before getting Knocked Out. It can also deal well with Blissey V, which came second in the same Regionals.
After NAIC, there’s one more reason to include Samurott VSTAR in the deck: to deal with Mewtwo V-Union in Sander’s Top 4 Stall deck. I’m unsure how popular the deck will be, but at the moment at least, the deck is being played in online tournaments, and for good reason, since it counters Palkia and Arceus/Inteleon decks. Samurott VSTAR can easily OHKO Mewtwo V-Union, and the rest of the deck has no issues with Miltank or Yveltal, so if you’re looking for something that beats Mewtwo Stall, this is a good choice.
Moreover, I’ve adapted to the metagame by adding Rare Candy and Galarian Obstagoon to the deck. Rare Candy is, in itself, a useful card in a deck with Inteleon, and replaces the fourth Drizzile that I usually play in this kind of deck. Galarian Obstagoon is a counter to Basic-only decks, the two most notable of which are Regigigas and Blissey / Miltank.
Regigigas, in particular, is an annoying matchup for this kind of Liminal deck, because its Pokémon are hard to OHKO. You can’t use Hoopa to take an early KO, so if you don’t get a turn two Samurott VSTAR, the opponent will usually start taking KOs before you, and you’ll end up losing the Prize race. Obstagoon, in theory, autowins the matchup. If the Regigigas player plays Escape Rope, they can still use Escape Rope and Boss’s Orders to KO Obstagoon, but they’ll need a few turns to assemble this combo, and in the meantime, you can get the Prize lead. Even if Obstagoon doesn’t last all game long, you can then use Inteleon and Moltres as attackers to close out the game.
Alternatively, you can Scoop Up Net all your other Pokémon, thus making sure that the opponent can’t remove Obstruct’s protection, and your Obstagoon will win the game by itself. This same strategy also applies to the Blissey/Miltank matchup.
I chose Galarian Zapdos V as my Fighting-type attacker. For a while, I hoped that it wouldn’t be necessary, but it soon became clear that Arceus VSTAR was still a big part of the metagame, and it needed an answer. Fortunately, Dunsparce is becoming less prevalent, due to Urshifu’s decline. Azul Garcia Griego’s winning Arceus VSTAR / Flying Pikachu VMAX deck list, for example, doesn’t play it, and even some Arceus / Inteleon (for example, Steven Varesko’s top 8 list) are now cutting it. This makes Galarian Zapdos V better in the metagame. It’s also effective against Arceus / Duraludon, and against Turbo decks, who tend to have three Pokémon V in play at some point in the game, including a Crobat V which Zapdos can OHKO.
I feel like there’s not much to explain about the rest of the deck, which is mainly consistency cards, Supporters and four Scoop Up Net. Air Balloon is an additional out to a free retreat Pokémon and works well with Raikou V’s Ability. The lone Ultra Ball replaces a third Quick Ball to give a bit more options to the deck. This is an idea I’ve borrowed from Tord Reklev’s latest Urshifu deck lists, but you could play a third Quick Ball instead. Obviously, Hisuian Heavy Ball is a godsend in a deck with so many one-of Pokémon.
I’ve gone through many iterations of this deck before coming to this deck list. In fact, I don’t think that this is necessarily the definitive list, but it feels close. That said, I feel I should discuss some cards that I chose not to include, to explain their merits or lack thereof.
First, I want to talk a little bit about Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX. Adding it would change the deck into an Urshifu deck, which is, I guess, a cousin of the Liminal deck. My main issue with Urshifu is that there are so many cards I wanted to fit in the deck. Compared to Liminal, it needs a little bit more mobility cards (Bird Keeper and Tower of Waters are needed to allow Urshifu to retreat after attacking), and it also needs a way to reliably find Rapid Strike Energy. While I don’t have enough experience playing with the deck against Palkia, Bryan de Vries assured me that the matchup was difficult, so I didn’t focus on it.
Similarly, I tried playing a 2-2 Samurott VSTAR line with Galarian Weezing, which to me would be a new variant. Weezing is not bad at all and it putting damage in play makes Samurott more effective without having to immediately use its VSTAR Power. However, the deck seemed a bit unreliable. If you got Weezing up too late, you weren’t doing anything with it. Also, Mew was harder than you’d expect since Weezing didn’t affect it that much and relying more on Samurott itself as an attacker was troublesome, since Fusion Strike Energy protects Mew VMAX from Galarian Zigzagoon, Quick Shooting and Moon Cleave Star, making it impossible for Samurott VSTAR to deal its attack’s full damage to it, and I wasn’t playing Temple of Sinnoh.
Once I was set on playing neither Urshifu nor Weezing, I tried a variety of cards. Here are some of them:
Medicham V (and Rapid Strike Energy)
On paper, the synergy between Moon Cleave Star and Yoga Loop is beautiful. You can KO a Sobble (or other 60 HP Pokémon) on the Bench and follow up with another attack. You can even damage, say, a Palkia VSTAR, then Knock it Out with Medicham V and on the extra turn, Knock Out another Palkia VSTAR with Zeraora or Raikou V. This way, you take four Prizes in one turn (technically two, but the opponent doesn’t get to react between them), and you can avoid Roxanne completely by going from four Prizes left to zero.
In practice though, Medicham V was hard to use. Requiring Rapid Strike Energy is especially annoying because it’s not easy to find it, except with Raihan (I tried Piers as well, but it didn’t work that well). For example, in order for the scenario above to work, you need to have Zeraora in play, use Raihan on the Zeraora, search for Rapid Strike Energy, use whatever else is needed (like Quick Shooting) for Yoga Loop, and on the extra turn, you need to have another Energy to attach to Zeraora, maybe a Choice Belt, and a Boss’s Orders to target the opponent’s Palkia V or VSTAR. Of course, that’s all possible thank to the Inteleon engine, but not all of the time, and space on the Bench can be an issue as you need Zeraora and Medicham in play on the turn you use Yoga Loop.
I think these kind of go hand-in-hand with Medicham V, as they allow it to OHKO Arceus VSTAR, especially after using Yoga Loop to remove Dunsparce. Supereffective Glasses also do a few more things for this deck. They let Zeraora OHKO Palkia VSTAR, even if it has a Big Charm. They let Samurott VSTAR OHKO Mew VMAX even if you can’t put any damage counter on it prior to using Merciless Blade. And they let Galarian Moltres OHKO Mew VMAX when the opponent has taken only two Prize cards.
Supereffective Glasses were generally good (although they don’t replace Choice Belt). I liked playing a second Zeraora and Supereffective Glasses instead of Raikou V and Air Balloon. However, the issue is that many Palkia lists play Tool Jammer, and against that, you need Raikou V or Tool Scrapper to get the OHKO. Since I opted for Zapdos rather than Medicham, there was one fewer reason to play Glasses, so I cut them.
In a deck with the Inteleon engine, especially with Rare Candy, there’s a case to be made for Irida over Sonia (since Irida can also be used to search for Pokémon). I tried Irida for some games and I felt it was okay, but Sonia tended to be better because it could also search for Energy, and getting Energy out of the deck, especially without using your precious Energy Search, is very valuable.
Energy Retrieval, Cape of Toughness, Ordinary Rod
These are all good cards and nice to have. My only reason for not playing them is that I couldn’t find the space; other cards felt more important. However, they are definitely cards to consider if, for example, you cut Galarian Obstagoon from the deck.
Rowlet and Bird Keeper
Even though Manaphy is in most decks now, Rowlet can still find easy KOs in the first few turns of the game, although the popularity of Irida and Battle VIP Pass together in Palkia may threaten this. Unfortunately, it was hard to fit Rowlet and Samurott VSTAR in the same list, both because of the lack of space and because when you’re using Rowlet in the first few turns, you have to focus on it, so setting up Samurott becomes harder. I’ve explained earlier why I felt that Samurott VSTAR was the way to go (especially because of Mewtwo V-Union), but if you hate the card, you can consider playing this instead:
****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ****** ##Pokémon - 21 * 1 Snorlax VIV 131 * 2 Galarian Moltres EVS 93 * 1 Galarian Zigzagoon SSH 117 * 1 Hoopa DAA 111 * 1 Galarian Obstagoon SSH 119 * 1 Galarian Zapdos V CRE 80 * 1 Rowlet DAA 11 * 1 Raikou V BRS 48 * 1 Zeraora VIV 61 * 1 Manaphy BRS 41 * 4 Sobble CRE 41 * 3 Drizzile SSH 56 * 2 Inteleon SSH 58 * 1 Inteleon CRE 43 ##Trainer Cards - 31 * 3 Evolution Incense SSH 163 * 1 Training Court RCL 169 * 1 Pal Pad UPR 132 * 2 Boss's Orders RCL 154 * 2 Bird Keeper DAA 159 * 2 Quick Ball SSH 179 * 2 Energy Search SSH 161 * 2 Raihan EVS 152 * 1 Klara CRE 145 * 4 Level Ball BST 129 * 4 Scoop Up Net RCL 165 * 1 Rescue Carrier EVS 154 * 1 Ultra Ball BRS 150 * 1 Choice Belt BRS 135 * 1 Professor's Research SHF 60 * 1 Sonia RCL 167 * 1 Rare Candy UL 82 * 1 Hisuian Heavy Ball ASR 146 ##Energy - 8 * 1 Water Energy SWSHEnergy 3 * 5 Darkness Energy SWSHEnergy 7 * 1 Lightning Energy SWSHEnergy 4 * 1 Fighting Energy SWSHEnergy 6 Total Cards - 60 ****** Deck List Generated by the Pokémon TCG Online www.pokemon.com/TCGO ******
This list is fairly similar to the previous one, but with Rowlet and Bird Keeper, as well as a Rescue Carrier to help use Rowlet multiple times (Rescue Carrier is also a great card to recover Sobble and Drizzile after they’re KO’d or the opponent plays Avery). With more mobility cards, I cut Air Balloon, and with more Supporters in the deck, I cut one Sonia. Apart from that, the deck is the same.
Since this list plays Rare Candy and Rowlet, you might be tempted to include Decidueye. However, Deciduye DAA doesn’t really solve any matchups. As for the new Hisuian Decidueye, it can be the deck’s Fighting attacker in theory, but actually, it doesn’t deal enough damage to be useful. You need four damage counters on an opposing Arceus VSTAR for Piercing Claw to be an OHKO (assuming no Dunsparce), and that’s just to hard to achieve.
There’s no denying it: I’m sad not to have been able to play this deck at NAIC, because I think that it had potential to be a surprise pick and go far in the tournament. I contemplated using it in online tournaments on Thursday or Friday, but it didn’t feel worth it.
One major advantage of this kind of deck is that even if people knew what kind of deck I was playing, they wouldn’t know my deck list, and would always have to play around various cards. For example, people usually bench Manaphy against this deck, even when I don’t play Rowlet, because they assume I have it. Similarly, it’s good to have a Mew player wonder if we play Temple of Sinnoh. Online tournaments have open deck lists, which would immediately give my opponent knowledge of what I do and do not play, and that would squander the deck’s potential. I do think that the deck works even if it’s not a complete unknown, but the element of surprise is something I value in huge competitions. You may have noticed that I often play at least one unusual card to try to get an edge (Leon in this deck for Lille Regionals, for example).
So, if NAIC is gone and I’m revealing the deck, does that mean it’s over? Yes… and no. With the Pokémon Go set available in only a few days, the way to build the deck should change. Radiant Charizard is a very powerful card for this sort of one-Prize deck, as it can replace Galarian Moltres as a late-game attacker, which means maybe we shouldn’t play a Dark package at all, but instead focus on Magma Basin and replace Hoopa with Moltres BRS. Unfortunately, that probably means that my 1-1 Samurott VSTAR line makes no sense anymore, but I’m excited to try out new variations on the concept and maybe make one of them work for Worlds!