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The Liminal Deck – Hoopa / Moltres, Reimagined

Indianapolis Regionals took place last weekend, with an impressive attendance of over 1,000 players in the Masters division alone. While there were a lot of interesting developments, starting with the success of Arceus / Inteleon / Beedrill after its debut by Japanese players at EUIC, and the victory of an Arceus / Inteleon / Birds list with Medicham V, this article focuses more about the Bilbao Special Event that was happening at the same time in Spain. More specifically, this piece is focused on the deck that I used to make top 16 there: Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon. There were about four times fewer players in Bilbao than in Indianapolis, but the best players in Europe were in attendance, so one would be unwise not to pay attention to it.

I didn’t originally plan on playing this deck. I wasn’t at my most motivated the week leading to the event, and I expected to default to either Mew VMAX or an Arceus VSTAR / Inteleon list similar to what I played in Frankfurt, but most of my French testing partners were set on using this deck, and after giving it a try, I was fairly convinced. I especially appreciated its effectiveness against Mew VMAX, since the Mew matchup was one of the reasons why I didn’t want to play Arceus / Inteleon.

Here’s the list that I played:

 

 

PTCGO Code

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

##Pokémon - 20

* 1 Snorlax VIV 131
* 2 Galarian Moltres EVS 93
* 1 Galarian Moltres V CRE 97
* 1 Galarian Zigzagoon SSH 117
* 1 Hoopa DAA 111
* 1 Galarian Zapdos V CRE 80
* 1 Rowlet SHF 6
* 1 Manaphy BRS 41
* 4 Sobble CRE 41
* 4 Drizzile SSH 56
* 2 Inteleon SSH 58
* 1 Inteleon CRE 43

##Trainer Cards - 32

* 1 Cape of Toughness DAA 160
* 3 Evolution Incense SSH 163
* 1 Training Court RCL 169
* 1 Energy Retrieval SLG 59
* 1 Pal Pad UPR 132
* 2 Boss's Orders RCL 154
* 2 Bird Keeper DAA 159
* 4 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 Choice Belt BRS 135
* 1 Professor's Research SHF 60
* 1 Sonia RCL 167

##Energy - 8

* 1 Water Energy SWSHEnergy 3
* 5 Darkness Energy SWSHEnergy 7
* 2 Fighting Energy SWSHEnergy 6

Total Cards - 60

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

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I’ll explain the choices in this deck list in the second section of this article. Before that, though, I’d like to address a weird phenomenon about this deck and the way we categorize deck archetypes.

 

Header - Classification of Decks

Back at the very start of this format, one of the first online tournaments with Brilliant Stars, the Sunday Open, was won by Japanese player Kosuke Uegishi playing a Hoopa / Galarian Moltres / Inteleon deck. I even wrote about that deck in an article a bit later.

And yet, in Bilbao, it was only on Friday evening, as I was sleeving up my deck, that I realized that this was the deck I was playing.

Here I was, playing a deck with Hoopa, Galarian Moltres and Inteleon, and I didn’t even notice that I was playing a new version of the Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon deck. I even had similar secondary attackers, like Galarian Zapdos V. Sure, the Supporter line in this new deck was significantly different from the way the deck was built in the early days of the format, and there were some cards like Rowlet and Snorlax which were new, but why was that enough to trick me into thinking I was playing something different?

Part of it is probably just me being dumb, but I think that there’s something a bit different here, and after thinking it over, I believe it has to do with the way we categorize decks.

In the Pokémon TCG, and specifically in the current format, there are some archetypes that are well-defined. Take Mew VMAX: that’s a well-known deck, and you can’t really mix it up with anything else. That doesn’t mean that Mew deck lists can’t change, but simply that the deck is easy to recognize. Whether it’s playing three or zero Double Turbo Energy, Rotom Phone, Cram-o-matic or Switching Cups, Echoing Horn or not, Marnie or not, Hero’s Medal or not, Mew VMAX is clearly distinguishable from every other deck in the metagame.

On the other hand, other decks, especially Arceus decks, are not that clear cut most of the time. Sure, Arceus / Inteleon, which plays Water Energy and Melony, is a different beast from Arceus / Birds, which includes Galarian Moltres, Galarian Moltres V and Galarian Zapdos V. But there’s not a clear line between these decks. You could mix and match them and end up with a deck with Arceus, Inteleon and Galarian Moltres, with Water and Dark Energy, like the one I played at EUIC. Is this Arceus / Inteleon, since it plays Water Energy? Arceus / Birds, since it plays Moltres? Something new altogether? If it’s a new archetype (and I tend to think it is, since most people will call this kind of deck “Arceus / Intelon / Moltres”), where is the boundary between it and Arceus / Inteleon? Between it and Arceus / Birds?

Unlike Mew VMAX, which has its own internal synergy and can’t really be combined with anything else*, Arceus decks tend to be comprised of various parts that can be added or removed. Obviously, adjustments are necessary and you can’t just put fit any cards together and make it work (if you’re playing Beedrill, you need Ultra Ball to help pull off Single Strike Mustard; if you’re playing Galarian Moltres, you need Klara to get easier access to it; you can’t really play both in the same deck because you’d have to cut down too much on consistency and because the Energy line would become a nightmare), but there’s a lot of modularity. Even the Inteleon engine (including cards like Scoop Up Net and Level Ball that go with it) can be swapped out for Bibarel in some lists, for example Arceus / Ice Rider.

* I know, a Mew VMAX deck with a 2-1 Arceus VSTAR line and Metal Energy (for Genesect V) instead of Fusion Strike Energy got top 4 at Champions League Aichi. It’s an exception, and even then, it’s still recognizable as a Mew VMAX deck (Genesect engine, Power Tablet, etc.), just one with access to Starbirth and Trinity Nova.

The weird thing about Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon is that it seems to be made up entirely of these modular parts that you can add or remove to a deck, but without a base to tie them to. Galarian Moltres and Galarian Zapdos V make it work in some ways like an Arceus / Birds deck, but without the Arceus VSTAR. Other cards, like Snorlax and Hoopa, are reminiscent of the way that Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX is built, but it’s not an Urshifu deck. It seems to exist between them, in the middle of various spectra, without a real identity of its own.

The concept of “liminal space” has evolved a lot in recent years due to exposition to the internet, but in its original meaning, it refers to places that exist only as transient. A corridor is a liminal space as it has no end goal in itself; it only brings one from one place to another. It hit me recently that Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon, in much the same way, can be described as a liminal deck.

Why does this matter? Because, as a result of its weird non-identity, Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon seems to be ignored by much of the player base. One prepares to play against Mew VMAX, against Urshifu, against Arceus, against Malamar and Jolteon and Durant, if one wants to be thorough! But I think many players have not touched, or tested against, Hoopa / Moltres, because it much more easily escapes the player base’s collective consciousness. In Bilbao, many of my opponents didn’t really know what I was playing, sometimes even after we finished a game. Some players would bench Manaphy after seeing me play a Snorlax or a Hoopa, assuming that I was running Urshifu.

The deck doesn’t really have a name! I’ve referred to it so far as Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon, because it seems descriptive enough, but it also feels wrong. Hoopa is just a one-of, and it’s not that important to the deck. But what else would you call it? LimitlessTCG calls it Moltres / Inteleon, which solves the issue I just mentioned, but it’s also terribly vague. Lots of decks play Moltres and Inteleon nowadays. PokéStats refers to the deck as Dark Toolbox, but that’s both inaccurate (Dark Pokémon don’t take a lot of space in the deck) and confusing (Dark Box has been used in the past, up until last season, to refer to decks revolving around Weavile-GX). Perhaps this is a situation in which a more poetic name is needed. Deck naming has lacked fantasy in recent years, and while this makes the game much easier to get into for new players (it’s easier to understand what “Arceus / Duraludon” is than “The Truth”), sometimes a weird name is appropriate for a weird deck.

For this article, I’ll keep calling the deck Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon. It’s not super catchy, but at least it’s understandable. As for the deck’s identity, I feel like this name works for any deck using this Dark attacker package and the Inteleon line, and not using Arceus VSTAR or any Pokémon V as more than a one-of. As we’ll see in the third section, there are some interesting one-of Pokémon V you can run in this deck, which in my opinion don’t turn this deck into a new archetype.

 

Header - Explaining the Deck List

Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon may be a strange deck lost between archetype, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely unknown. As I mentioned, it was played in Japan and used in online tournaments from the start of the tournament. More recently, multiple players played variations on it at the EUIC. This list takes ideas from both Grant Manley and Alex Dao’s deck lists, but I do like how my testing group and I combined these lists together and arrived at the final result. Let me explaing in detail.

Sobble (041/198)Drizzile (056/202)Inteleon (058/202)Inteleon (043/198)

As mentioned above, this deck has a lot of moving parts. Like with many other decks, the Inteleon line is the glue that holds it together. While many decks have moved to a lighter 4-3-2 or 4-3-1/1 Inteleon line, I prefer 4-4-2/1 in order to maximize consistency. This deck can do a lot of powerful things, but it needs consistent, reliable access to Shady Dealings to go from one line of play to another. With only three Drizzile, the deck would be tough to play, especially when one is Prized.

The other reason why a heavier Inteleon line is preferred is because Inteleon SSH itself is a good attacker. Hoopa needs to move from the Bench in order to work, and it can fall short of taking a KO on some one-Prize Pokémon. Galarian Moltres has a great ceiling, but it is ineffective in the early game. Inteleon, on the other hand, is easier to used, alongside a Boss’s Orders if necessary, to KO an opponent’s one-Prize Pokémon, such as Hoopa, Galarian Moltres, Meloetta (even if protected by Oricorio), and of course an opposing Drizzile or Sobble.

Inteleon CRE is not as fundamental to the deck, but it’s a good card to have. It’s a way for Galarian Moltres to deal even more damage in the late game.

Galarian Zigzagoon (117/202)

Speaking of damage boosts, Galarian Zigzagoon is also useful, especially since the deck runs four Scoop Up Net. For example, with Quick Shooting, Galarian Zigzagoon and a Choice Belt, Galarian Moltres can OHKO an Arceus VSTAR when the opponent has two Prizes remaining.

Rowlet (006/072)

Hoopa is of course a great attacker in the early game, perfect for Knocking Out a Sobble on the very first turn, but there’s another Pokémon that puts a lot of pressure: Rowlet. Bird Keeper lets Rowlet use Wind Shard for free, and that allows you to KO a Sobble (or Remoraid, or Bidoof with a Zigzagoon ping…) on the Bench. Of course, it is countered by Manaphy, which is in most players’ deck lists, but if you force the opponent to Bench Manaphy instead of a Sobble, that means you already succeeded, at least a little, in disrupting their setup. And in the best case scenario, Wind Shard can absolutely take over a game. Arceus and especially Urshifu decks need their Drizzile lines to work their magic. If they have a poor start and can only Bench one Sobble, you can absolutely punish them by taking it out with Rowlet. Using two Drizzile on turn two to get a Level Ball for Rowlet and a Bird Keeper is absolutely worth it, and it’s another reason why I like playing four Drizzile.

Snorlax (131/185)

While Hoopa, Rowlet, and Sobble’s Keep Calling are all good options for your turn one if you go second, you can’t use any attack when going first. The deck does have a good Pokémon for when going first, in Snorlax. It’s almost always worth using a Quick Ball on it if you can get it to the Active Spot.

Galarian Zapdos V (182/172)Galarian Moltres V (183/172)

Galarian Zapdos V is mostly an anti-Arceus card. It can of course be used against other decks, namely Jolteon VMAX and Gengar VMAX, but you won’t see a lot of these decks nowadays. Arceus decks will almost always play Dunsparce to be protected against Zapdos, but Dunsparce can also be taken out on the Bench by Rowlet. If the opponent also has Manaphy, you can use Hoopa and Boss’s Orders to KO the Dunsparce there.

Galarian Moltres V has several uses. One of them is to deal with Mew VMAX. In the Mew VMAX matchup, the opponent can use Mew VMAX in the early game, then when they take three Prizes and you can OHKO it with Galarian Moltres, they can use Psychic Leap to switch it for a one-Prize sacrifice, or simply attack with Meloetta instead, trying to win the Prize race. Galarian Moltres V adds a threat, as it can OHKO Mew VMAX earlier in the game. With Raihan and Direflame Wings, you can power up Moltres V in one turn. Moltres V also deals good damage in other situations. The 190 damage from Aura Burn and 90 from Hoopa’s Assault Gate are enough to KO Arceus VSTAR, and if you add in a Choice Belt and/or some pings from Inteleon and Zigzagoon, you can also KO a VMAX Pokémon. This means that Urshifu VMAX, for example, needs to heal after taking 90 damage, or risk a KO.

Raihan (224/203)Bird Keeper (066/072)Sonia (065/073)Professor's Research (147/172)

Raihan is probably the most important Supporter of the deck. It is used to power up everything from Galarian Moltres V to Inteleon to Galarian Zapdos V (especially when the opponent only plays down one Arceus). Being able to search for any card also gives you access to Energy, Inteleon or anything else you might need.

Bird Keeper is also an important card to play two copies of. Bird Keeper obviously works very well with Rowlet, but also with Hoopa. Adding three cards in your hand also helps you set up, so it’s generally a great card to play on the first turn or two.

Sonia can search for Pokémon such as Snorlax and Hoopa, but also for Energy. Getting Energy out of the deck is important, because while you can recover them from the discard with Energy Retrieval and Klara, you can only get them out of the deck one by one with Energy Search. In order to be prepared for the late game against Mew and many other decks, you need to have easy access to your Dark Energy, especially if the opponent plays Marnie. Getting two Energy out of the deck to play down an early Galarian Moltres or to attach to other Pokémon is often worth playing a Supporter for in the early game.

Finally, Professor’s Research is there when you just need a new hand. This can happen in the early game when you have a mediocre opening hand, and having a way to draw seven cards, unconditionally, is very strong. This might sound insane, but I think players underestimate this card. It’s not as sophisticated as something like Cynthia’s Ambition, it’s true, and I understand that discarding resources can be very bad in this kind of deck. That said, Gustavo Wada’s EUIC-winning deck ran Professor’s Research rather than Cynthia’s Ambition and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Professor’s Research is the equivalent of a hammer, a tool with nothing more to it than blunt force, but sometimes that’s what you need, and I think that deckbuilders sometimes handicap themselves by trying to get too creative.

Rescue Carrier (154/203)Cape of Toughness (200/185)

Rescue Carrier is one of the deck’s cooler cards. It is especially good to use Rowlet again when the opponent Knocks it Out; Klara would be too slow as you wouldn’t be able to play Bird Keeper on the same turn. Of course, Rescue Carrier also recovers Manaphy if it’s Knocked Out in the Urshifu matchup (or the mirror match), and perhaps more importantly, it recovers Sobble and Drizzile. Notably, after being hit by Avery, it is good to recover these cards immediately.

Finally, Cape of Toughness is especially good with Galarian Zapdos V, as it can protect it from a revenge KO from Arceus VSTAR. If you watched my round 6 streamed game against Arceus VSTAR / Sylveon VMAX, I misplayed on the very first turn by attaching the Cape to Galarian Moltres. In my defense, I didn’t know what my opponent was playing, and I wanted to be ready for anything. That said, I could have assumed that a deck running Sylveon V probably didn’t have a way to KO Galarian Moltres on turn one. Had I kept Cape of Toughness in hand, I could have attached on Zapdos on turn two when I benched it with a Fighting Energy on it. Because I didn’t, and I didn’t hit a Scoop Up Net off Professor’s Research to retreat Moltres into Zapdos, my opponent was able to KO Zapdos on my Bench. Had I used Cape on Zapdos, it would have survived and most likely taken the first two Prizes of the game.

Cape of Toughness can also be used in other matchups, for example to protect a low HP Pokémon such as Manaphy from residual damage.

You’ll notice that some cards, that you may have seen in other deck lists, didn’t make the cut. I already mentioned that I prefer Professor’s Research to Cynthia’s Ambition. The second Klara was cut since it didn’t seem important enough, and thanks to Pal Pad and Rescue Carrier, I never regretted that decision. Here are some other cards you could run, and why I didn’t use them:

  • Eldegoss: The Eldegoss line is one of my favorite new techs to come out of EUIC. Having a Pokémon on the board that can get any Energy makes you much more resilient against Marnie. Many Mew VMAX decks now play Marnie, and you need to be able to play a Moltres even after that. Eldegoss makes it much easier. What’s more, its Basic Pokémon, Gossifleur, has a Call for Family attack which is even better than Sobble’s Keep Calling. With that said, Eldegoss also takes space on the Bench, and while it’s great once set up, there are often more important Pokémon to get with your Level Balls and Evolution Incenses.
  • Cleansing Gloves: This Tool has two main uses. It lets Hoopa OHKO Meloetta even if there’s an Oricorio on the board, and it lets Hoopa OHKO Malamar. The first use is relevant, but the addition of Moltres V in the deck makes the Mew matchup more than favored even without it. As for the Malamar matchup, it’s already good too, not only because this deck is good at chaining attacks, but also because Quick Shooting Inteleon and Zigzagoon let you KO a Benched Inkay at some point in a game without even using an attack, letting you win the Prize race and sometimes even denying the opponent a turn of attack. For these reasons, Cleansing Gloves felt unneeded.
  • Ordinary Rod: This card is an alternative to Rescue Carrier, and I think it’s solid. There were times when I really wanted to get back Hoopa from the discard without having to use a Supporter, so I’ll consider this change going forward. That said, Rescue Carrier’s immediacy is a big point in its favor.
  • Air Balloon, Castform Rainy Form: Many Hoopa / Moltres lists, especially from Japan, included one of these cards in order to have a free retreater. This makes both Hoopa and Moltres easier to use (you often play down Galarian Moltres the turn you use it, so you have to retreat your Active Pokémon to let Moltres attack). However, this deck already has a lot of mobility thanks to the four Scoop Up Net and the two Bird Keeper. Also, Rowlet doesn’t need Energy, so when you use it, you can attach an Energy to another Pokémon. This way, by the time you’re using Galarian Moltres to attack, you should have a Pokémon with an Energy that you can send Active, that can retreat without needing an additional Energy attachment.

 

Header - Pushing the Limits

Since Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon is a combination of various techs and packages, there’s a lot of directions you can take the deck in. Here are some other cards you can try to fit in the deck, even if it might change the way it looks quite a bit.

  • Sableye V, Galarian Weezing: Both of these cards used to be popular in Japanese deck lists of this archetype. They go well together since Sableye V deals huge damage after even 40 damage from Weezing’s poison, and it also works well with Quick Shooting and Zigzagoon. Sableye’s weakness is that it is pretty frail with only 170 HP, so it will easily be KO’d back. It is at its most effective if it can trade with a Pokémon VMAX, but they’re not as popular as they once were. It’s not as effective as other attackers against Mew VMAX, although it can be strong against Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX, the other big VMAX in the format.
  • Medicham V, Shadow Rider Calyrex V: William Azevedo got top 16 at Joinville Regionals with a deck list that included both of these Pokémon as well as a pair of Double Turbo Energy. While his deck wasn’t technically a Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon deck because he didn’t actually run Hoopa, it is built basically the same way. Shadow Rider V is used for Astral Barrage, allowing it to damage the opponent’s Bench even if they have a Manaphy. Then, Medicham V’s Yoga Loop can be used to KO, say, the opposing Manaphy or Dunsparce. In theory, there are a lot of powerful plays you can make this way, but there is a downside: using these Pokémon means that you play a lot of two-Prize Pokémon, which is a bit counterintuitive to the way the deck approaches most matchups. On the bright side, Double Turbo Energy is also a great card for Galarian Zapdos V, allowing it to threaten Arceus VSTAR even when the opponent Benches no other Pokémon V.
  • Decidueye: Since the deck is already running Rowlet, you could include a Rare Candy and a Decidueye. This would give the deck an autowin against some decks that are only running V or VMAX attackers, such as Arceus / Bibarel variants and Whimsicott. Decidueye also walls Arceus VSTAR, which means you can put damage in play and buy time against it (and Urshifu VMAX). While I didn’t test this idea much, I think it mostly improves matchups which are already positive. Against Arceus / Inteleon, one of the deck’s closest matchups, Decidueye does nothing, as Arceus VSTAR can just Boss support Pokémon while Decidueye deals weak damage, then use Inteleon to deal with Decidueye. The Urshifu matchup is improved by Decidueye, but not enough to make it worth playing, in my opinion, so for now at least, I’ve abandoned this idea.
  • Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX: If you add a 2-2 Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX and three Rapid Strike Energy to this deck, you’ll end up with a Rapid Strike Urshifu / Moltres deck, which is outside of the scope of this guide. However, there’s room for a mix between the two. Caleb Rogerson won the EUIC in the Seniors Division with a deck that can be described as “Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon, but with 2-1 Urshifu VMAX and a Medicham V.” With Rowlet and Bird Keeper, Galarian Zigzagoon as well as two Raihan, his list has a lot of similarities with the one in this article. I think that his list was better suited to the EUIC metagame than to the current one, though. After Urshifu’s success, most decks have included Manaphy, which makes Urshifu a worse card. Right now, I think Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon works better with Galarian Zapdos V as a Fighting-type attacker, but if Manaphy ever becomes scarce again, then this kind of list could be an amazing play.

 

Header - Conclusion

Overall, this liminal list, as I like to call it, is a seriously powerful deck that should not be underestimated. Its matchup spread is pretty good, as it is favored against Mew and about even with Arceus and Urshifu. It’s also an enjoyable deck to play, because there are plenty of options and lines to take at every point in the game, so you generally feel in control as long as you don’t get donked. Right now, I’m strongly considering playing the deck again for Lille Regionals, and I’m not even sure I’d change anything in the list, although obviously I will test as many ideas as I can.

Thank you for reading and see you next time!

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