Welcome back! Last week, I wrote about consistency cards, and how the upcoming set, Brilliant Stars, will bring new options and therefore change the way we build decks. If you haven’t read that article, I strongly recommend you go check it out first, since I will rely on some points I’ve made last time in this article.
I spent a lot of time discussing the various merits of various cards, and especially comparing Pokémon-based draw engines such as Bibarel and Inteleon. But is there ever a reason to forego all of these cards? Can it be right to decide not to run Bibarel, Inteleon, Cinccino or even Basic Pokémon such as Crobat V and Lumineon V?
The short answer is yes. Not running a Pokémon like Crobat V or Drizzile that can turn an Ultra Ball (or other Pokémon-searching Item) into a new hand definitely makes a deck less consistent, but some decks accept this loss of consistency and trade it for other advantages. If you played a couple of years ago, you may remember that some decks would forego such Pokémon in exchange for access to the powerful Green’s Exploration, for example.
Even without Green’s Exploration, there are still (non-consistency-based) benefits to cutting powerful support Pokémon from your deck. The deck I’m writing about today, Arceus VSTAR / Duraludon VMAX, trades access to Crobat V and friends in exchange for a stronger control over the flow of the game (that is, the Prize race). It is currently a top tier deck in Japan, and I have no doubt that it will keep this status in the rest of the world as well.
In this guide, I will explain what makes this deck strong and how its unique approach to deckbuilding gives it specific advantages compared to pretty much every other deck in the format.
Duraludon VMAX is a very bulky Pokémon. With 330 HP, an amazing Ability that protects it from damage from Pokémon that have any Special Energy attached to them and no Weakness, it is tough to KO. The Skyscraper Ability is especially strong against Pokémon that rely on Special Energy, such as Gengar VMAX, Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX, and Mew VMAX.
Whenever it’s too hard to KO a Pokémon, a common strategy is just to take Prizes around it. By using Boss’s Orders or Escape Rope, or simply attacking Benched Pokémon directly with an attack such as G-Max Rapid Flow, many decks can try to beat Duraludon VMAX by simply taking Prizes off other, weaker Pokémon. Even in games featuring less tanky Pokémon VMAX, it is common to end a game by taking the last Prize(s) off a support Pokémon. Can’t hit Mew VMAX for 310 damage? Bring up a Genesect V from the Bench and OHKO it for two Prizes.
What’s the counterplay? Simple: just don’t Bench any support Pokémon! They can’t take Prizes off Crobat V if you don’t play Crobat V. I would like to bring newer players’ attention, even (especially!) if they don’t play Duraludon VMAX, to this specific point. Always think about whether you should Bench a Pokémon or not! I’ve often seen players with a board advantage throw their lead away by Benching a Pokémon that’s easy to KO, giving their opponent an out to win. If your opponent has two Prizes left and you have a VMAX and a Sobble in play (and they can’t OHKO your VMAX), don’t use Crobat V to draw cards, even if drawing a Boss’s Orders this turn would win you the game! As good as the odds may be, if you whiff, you expose yourself to a loss if your opponent can Boss your Crobat V. Since you can’t lose on the next turn, you can just wait a bit longer; might as well use Professor’s Research to dig for that Boss’s Orders for next turn.
With a deck like Duraludon VMAX, though, where the whole point is to take advantage of a Pokémon’s defensive prowess, Crobat V will always be a liability. Therefore, the best strategy is to not play it at all, and build your deck in such a way that you won’t need it. This way, there’s no risk of having it in play, for example because you started the game with it.
The same goes for Lumineon V, Inteleon or other cards. Duraludon VMAX chooses not to play any of these weaker Pokémon. In exchange, the opponent has a much tougher time taking six Prizes against a Duraludon VMAX deck. They will typically have to KO two Duraludon VMAX.
In the current Fusion Strike format, Duraludon VMAX has managed to become a powerful archetype. The deck is fairly slow, since it doesn’t have any Energy acceleration (except the situational Raihan), but it eventually reaches a point where it’s very hard to deal with. The vast majority of recent successful lists only play a Duraludon VMAX line, and two Zacian V.
Zacian V acts as a support Pokémon that can also attack if necessary. While it is much easier to KO than a Duraludon VMAX, it only gives up two Prizes when Knocked Out. Therefore, even if your opponent has KO’d a Zacian V, they still have four Prizes left to take, which means they still need to KO two Duraludon VMAX (as long as you don’t Bench any other Zacian, and can evolve your Duraludon fast enough).
This is another aspect that’s reminiscent of Green’s Exploration decks. Green’s Exploration / Reshiram & Charizard GX, for example, would usually let the opponent KO exactly two Volcanion, and force them to take the remaining four Prizes off two Tag Teams. By limiting your Bench and not putting any easy targets on the board, you can force your opponent to play a certain way, which puts a unique kind of pressure on them.
While Zacian V currently plays the role of the two-Prize Pokémon, it is not perfect in that role. However, with the release of Brilliant Stars, it will be replaced in that deck by Arceus VSTAR. As a two-Prize Pokémon, Arceus VSTAR fills the same role as Zacian V. However, it has many more advantages, some obvious, and some others not so. Let me explain.
Let’s start with the obvious: Arceus VSTAR provides Duraludon VMAX with Energy acceleration. It’s not always easy to get three Energy onto the big metal dragon, especially since it requires two different Energy types. Trinity Nova and Double Turbo Energy provide a way to search for these exact three Energy and attach them to Duraludon VMAX, making it a faster threat than previous variants of the deck. You can expect to use Trinity Nova on turn two, and G-Max Pulverization on turn three. If you’re going second, you can even use Arceus V’s Trinity Charge on turn one to power up Duraludon VMAX instead. Then, depending on whether Arceus V survives or not, you can evolve it into Arceus VSTAR or not, but you’ll still be able to use G-Max Pulverization.
Double Turbo Energy isn’t a dead card after you start attacking with Duraludon VMAX, by the way. You can combine it with Hyper Potion and heal Duraludon VMAX by only discarding it, letting you pay with one Energy attachment instead of two. Hyper Potion fits very well into Duraludon VMAX’s defensive game plan. Imagine the frustration of a Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX opponent hitting for 150 damage with Gale Thrust, only for that damage to be completely negated by a Hyper Potion and a use of Crystal Cave!
The other incredible benefit of Arceus VSTAR is, of course, its Starbirth VSTAR Power. There will be games in which you simply don’t get to use it, as your Arceus V gets KO’d on turn one after using Trinity Charge. However, in most games, you will be able to use it, and it will provide a fantastic consistency boost. The downside of not playing cards like Lumineon V or Drizzile is that you have to rely on draw Supporters such as Professor’s Research, which means that sometimes you won’t draw the card you want at the right time. Starbirth lets you, once per game, get the perfect turn. Need Hyper Potion and Boss’s Orders? You have them.
A common play is to Starbirth on turn two to get the Double Turbo Energy (or other card) needed to use Trinity Nova, maybe alongside a Duraludon VMAX or a draw Supporter. In some cases, you won’t be able to use that. Say you attached an Energy on turn one to your Active Arceus V, which got KO’d by Meloetta because your Mew VMAX opponent got a fantastic start. You promote your second Arceus V, but you don’t have an Energy on it.
In this situation, you can use Starbirth to search for Raihan and Double Turbo Energy, then play Raihan to attach the Energy and get whichever other card you need (such as Duraludon VMAX). Even though you had no Energy in play at the beginning of the turn, you still get to attack.
As good as that play can be, it’s nothing in comparison to the other situational Supporter that Starbirth enables: Single Strike Style Mustard. That’s right! A deck that plays many Supporters to make up for the lack of Lumineon V or an Inteleon engine, without the kind of crazy Battle Compressor / Acro Bike / Trainer’s Mail engine that defined Archie’s Blastoise, can still play Single Strike Mustard, all thanks to the power of Arceus VSTAR. Use Ultra Ball and/or Quick Ball to discard any cards you can’t play, then use Mustard to get a Duraludon VMAX from your deck. And then Trinity Nova some Energy onto it!
This is not just a fun trick – it fits with the core strategy of focusing on denying the opponent easy Prizes. Duraludon V has an effective 250 HP thanks to its Hard Coat Ability, but it can still be OHKO’d by some Pokémon. If you Bench Duraludon V in the midgame, there’s a risk that your opponent can KO it (in one turn or more, if you can’t evolve it immediately), which ruins the plan. And it’s not always easy to get multiple Duraludon V out and evolve them before, say, turn three. Single Strike Mustard solves this problem: you can Bench one Duraludon V and evolve it manually, and get another Duraludon VMAX directly from your deck, bypassing its weaker stage.
All in all, depending on your draws and the matchup, you should aim to play either one Arceus and two Duraludon, or (if you don’t get a Duraludon on turn one or your first Arceus is likely to get KO’d) two Arceus and one Duraludon. One Duraludon VMAX can be enough: against Mew VMAX, for example, you can only get hit by Max Miracle unless they get two Basic Energy and no Fusion Energy on a Mew VMAX, and you can heal that damage, so one Duraludon VMAX can last the whole game, even though two is safer.
If your opponent plays Echo Horn, don’t play two Arceus VSTAR down! Rapid Strike Urshifu might be totally walled by Duraludon VMAX, but if you play two Arceus, they can KO both of them fairly easily, then Echo Horn an Arceus V and KO that one to take six Prizes without touching a Duraludon VMAX, which is what the deck specifically wants to avoid.
Just like last time, I’ve done a lot of research into Japanese deck lists to understand this deck better. I’ve found multiple variations on this deck, which I’ll discuss a bit further, but here’s a deck that I really like. I actually took ideas from multiple lists, but in the end, I noticed I had just circled back to one of the lists I had selected, which got second place at a City League in Ishikawa on January 30. Here it is:
****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ****** ##Pokémon - 12 * 3 Duraludon VMAX EVS 123 * 4 Arceus V (BRS) * 2 Duraludon V CPA 47 * 3 Arceus VSTAR (BRS) ##Trainer Cards - 35 * 4 Professor's Research SHF 60 * 4 Marnie SSH 169 * 4 Boss's Orders RCL 154 * 1 Raihan EVS 152 * 2 Single Strike Style Mustard BST 134 * 4 Quick Ball SSH 179 * 4 Ultra Ball (BRS) * 3 Big Charm SSH 158 * 2 Switch SUM 132 * 1 Evolution Incense SSH 163 * 2 Hyper Potion SSH 166 * 4 Crystal Cave EVS 144 ##Energy - 13 * 4 Double Turbo Energy (BRS) * 6 Metal Energy SWSHEnergy 8 * 3 Fighting Energy SWSHEnergy 6 Total Cards - 60 ****** Deck List Generated by the Pokémon TCG Online www.pokemon.com/TCGO ******
One benefit of Single Strike Mustard is that you can run the rare and elusive 2-3 line. Playing fewer Duraludon V means higher odds of starting the game with Arceus V, which is better. On that note, the Duraludon V from Champion’s Path is better because of its Ability, which fits perfectly with the goal of the deck. However, if Fire decks were to become popular, I could see changing one of them for an Evolving Skies Duraludon V, whose lack of Weakness would be better against them.
Generally speaking, defensive cards are more valuable in this deck. Instead of Choice Belt, which wouldn’t provide a lot of utility, Big Charm is preferred here. It gives Duraludon VMAX even more tankiness, and can save Arceus VSTAR from a KO (Malamar needs eight cards instead of seven to KO Arceus VSTAR if it has a Big Charm, for example), or even protect Arceus V on the first turn.
Ultra Ball and Quick Ball (and one Evolution Incense since getting Arceus VSTAR on turn two is so important) help us set up. As long as we can get an Arceus VSTAR up, we can then patch whatever holes are in our setup by getting the missing pieces (Double Turbo Energy, Duraludon VMAX, Single Strike Mustard, etc.). Since there’s otherwise no way to search for the specific cards we want during the game, we max out our counts of key Supporters.
Crystal Cave completes the picture: it adds some healing to the deck (letting Duraludon VMAX survive longer) and it also counters Path to the Peak, which shuts down Skyscraper and Starbirth and is the main way some decks (like Gengar VMAX) can beat Duraludon VMAX.
As long as you don’t add other Pokémon, there are multiple changes you can make to the deck. Plenty of classic cards can fit here: Escape Rope, Tool Scrapper, Training Court, etc. Generally speaking, changes can pull the deck towards one of three directions.
The first direction is offense. Choice Belt is still a good card that can help Trinity Nova KO some Pokémon V on turn two, so it’s still an option in the deck. Karen’s Conviction can also be played to let Duraludon VMAX deal up to 100 additional damage. With both, you could completely turn the tides in a mirror match.
The second direction is defense. As I mentioned before, I think this deck’s strength is its defensive ability, and you could include other cards that fit. Team Yell Towel is a more reliable healing card than Hyper Potion, so you could play fewer Double Turbo Energy and replace the Hyper Potions. Cheren’s Care can also be used to deny Prizes off a damaged Arceus VSTAR, letting you use multiple Arceus in a game more safely.
An alternative to Single Strike Mustard is Boost Shake, which also gets Duraludon VMAX out in one turn. Boost Shake is slow, but you can play it on turn one in order to evolve into Arceus VSTAR and guarantee the turn two Trinity Nova.
The third and final direction is disruption. Crushing Hammer, Flannery or Avery can slow down an opponent and give you an advantage in the long run. I think this direction is fairly situational. Avery, for example, can be very effective against a deck such as Malamar, but very underwhelming against Arceus VSTAR decks who will just discard Lumineon V.
As always, there’s no universal, perfect list, and we’ll need to adapt to how the metagame evolves, but I think that this provides a good presentation.
As a final note, Pokégear 3.0 tends to be valuable in decks that don’t play a Pokémon-based draw engine. It’s effectively a Supporter, but it is a bit more versatile and it’s less clunky to play Pokégear and 10 draw Supporters than 14 draw Supporters. The list above doesn’t really need it since it’s streamlined, but if you want to add situational Supporters, especially Supporters that you’re not likely to play on turn 2 (when you’ll use Starbirth most of the time), such as Karen’s Conviction or Cheren’s Care, you should consider Pokégear.
Last week, we saw how new cards could change the type of decks that we play, and how engines such as Bibarel and Inteleon have various advantages and drawbacks. In this article, we see that sometimes, playing none of these consistency cards (except the best of them, Arceus VSTAR) has its own benefits.
Don’t worry, not all decks will use Arceus VSTAR! The number one archetype in Japan is still Mew VMAX (though I believe that all Arceus VSTAR decks combined make up a higher portion of the metagame than Mew VMAX), and many other decks, including one-Prize decks, are also doing very well. But I think that the best way to illustrate the variety of decks in the new format was by explaining Arceus VSTAR’s versatility, by showing how two Arceus VSTAR decks can be built upon very distinct bases and have different strengths. Arceus VSTAR alone lets us build multiple archetypes (we’ve barely scratched the surface!), so if the rest of the format follows suit, we’ll have a fantastic format on our hands!