A weekend ago in competitive Pokémon Cards, Fastbreak Sports in Nundah, Brisbane played host to a League Cup, a tournament with higher Championship Points on the line than your entry level League Challenge. A League Cup is a different affair to a League Challenge, featuring Swiss tournament rounds followed by a Top 8 knock out stage.
I had a fairly successful run on the day, finishing 2nd place to local Queensland player Bodhi Cutler. The field itself comprised of more than 30 players with a few challengers from Victoria travelling up for a shot at much coveted Championship Points – necessary to qualify for the next World Championship.
The deck I settled on playing was Espeon-GX / Garbodor – a reasonably popular archetype, but perhaps slightly under the radar with threats such as Golisopod and Metagross to contend with. Although I knew that these decks would appear on the day, I knew that every deck had a good chance of drawing a less than favourable matchup.
Let’s take a quick look at the list:
3x Eevee SUM
3x Espeon-GX SUM
4x Trubbish BKP
2x Garbodor BKP
2x Garbodor GRI
2x Tapu Lele-GX GRI
4x Professor Sycamore
4x Ultra Ball
4x Float Stone
4x Choice Band
2x Rescue Stretcher
2x Field Blower
1x Multi Switch
2x Parallel City
4x Double Colourless Energy
8x Basic Psychic Energy
In general, there are three reasons why I settled on this deck and why I have been compelled to try this archetype.
1. Built in consistency
This deck’s star, Espeon-GX, is able to evolve on the first turn via Eevee’s ‘Energy Evolution’ ability. This not only helps accelerate setup, it also offloads the task of searching out your attacking Pokémon to Eevee in the early stages, allowing you to dedicate your Ultra Balls to other Pokémon (especially Tapu Lele-GX). Having access to a unique and fast evolution path is something I value in the current format and is part of what makes this deck powerful. Its GX attack ‘Divide GX’ doubles down on this speedy setup, allowing you to potentially knock out a Pokémon before it can evolve which is extremely necessary for a deck like this in a format filled with high HP Pokemon (many featuring 210-250 HP). Espeon-GX/Garbodor toes a very fine line between speed and power – if it’s not doing good damage in a timely manner, it can lose control of a match easily – which further emphasises the importance of this consistency mechanic in ‘Energy Evolution’.
2. Matchups and Recent Success
As recently as the 2017 World Championship, we saw Espeon-GX/Garbodor reach as far as top 4. Although Drampa-GX/Garbodor had been more popular, Espeon-GX has some more favourable matchups, especially against Gardevoir-GX which won the World Championships and didn’t lose much to the Standard Format rotation. The evidence for the deck was solid, and the matchups I was looking to overcome or at least hang tough with lined up well.
3. Recent Practice
Of all the decks I was considering for the weekend, I was most recently practiced with this deck as well. I’m not a huge advocate of last minute deck changes or swaps, although I also trend towards mastering one archetype over devoting time to several at once. This is more of a consideration towards my free time and capacity to try different decks.
Diving deeper into the list, I don’t think there’s too much about the list to read into but there are a few minute choices (and one unorthodox one) which are worth exploring. I’ll go through a few decisions to provide some context and hopefully inform you about why it is constructed the way it is.
Despite being the main star of the deck, the line sits at 3 Eevee and 3 Espeon-GX. The reason for this is a combination of 3-3 being enough to last you the game (especially with two Rescue Stretchers in case of early discards) as well as Float Stone being at a hefty count of 4, which means that even if you don’t lead with Eevee, it isn’t unreasonable to expect that you’ll draw into a way to retreat whatever is active.
The list ran 2 Garbodor BKP and 2 Garbodor GRI rather than the common 1-of Garbodor BKP to 3 GRI we’ve seen in months past. The reason for this is that I predicted that the ability lock would prove to be more crucial – decks would be more reliant on abilities than Items throughout the early to mid-game and the two Garbodor GRI would be sufficient to close the game out.
I was somewhat split between two and three Tapu Lele-GX. Fellow writer Jessica was in need of a third Tapu Lele-GX and since I only had 3 it made the choice easy for me. The ideal set up for me would only dedicate two spots on the bench to Tapu Lele-GX, so I felt this number was enough.
These cards were run at a full 4 each. Without Shaymin-EX or VS Seeker in the format, I looked back to formats past for inspiration on how to adapt to the new Standard Format. High counts of Draw Supporters appeared to be the key to doing well for other decks which seemed to play the board like Espeon-GX does now. To that end, I made sure to include these draw supporters to ensure I could set up consistently.
This was the ‘wild card’ of the deck – something I included to bring the deck a hidden or unexpected option. Many people tend towards building whole decks (often called ‘Rogue’) around unique strategies they devise, but I mostly trend towards unique cards to create unexpected situations. Multi-Switch can let you conserve energy and keep up in energy attachments on board if a Pokémon is switched through the effect of Guzma for example. Ultimately, this card didn’t do very much, if anything, on the day, but I still believe in the potential and flexibility Multi Switch provides.
Finally I wanted to touch on the Parallel City pair. In the testing I did with the deck, I found Parallel City to be an impactful card. Whether it was faced to restrict the opponent’s bench to stifle their setup (preventing Tapu Lele-GX drops for example) or to remove your own Tapu Lele-GX from the bench and reduce damage from certain threats (Such as Ninetales-GX, Golisopod-GX or Volcanion) I found it to be relatively useful. With many tools in my list, it was also useful to force your opponent to choose between the stadium and several tools when they used Field Blower.
That is my explanation of the list in a nutshell. I wrote a quick version of my day at the tournament here, but I’ll reproduce that here.
Round 1: Win Vs. Gardevoir-GX
My opponent was a new player with a good list. However, his deck did not set up very well with both games being rather lopsided in my favour thanks to Espeon’s early pressure. When he showed me the list afterwards he lacked much in the way of initial setup and that is where the deck fell over.
Round 2: Lose Vs. Tapu Koko/Weavile/Espeon EX/Porygon-Z
Cool deck. The idea is to spread damage with Tapu Koko and Weavile, then de-evolve the opposing Pokémon with Espeon-EX and Porygon-Z’s ability. Eevee only has 60hp, which makes it difficult to mitigate the de-evolution KO strategy. If I were to re-run this match, I’d bench as few Pokemon as I could and stagger them as much as I could. A better player than me would have identified this mid-match and this is something I need to improve on.
The deck was a bold and original take on this kind of strategy (there are other takes on this strategy out there which have seen success as well). I won’t dive too deeply into it, but while it is tempting to throw conventional understanding of the metagame to the wind and try to create an original deck yourself, it is important to also recognise and respect that the top decks are considered top decks for a reason. Moreover, it takes more than just a polished and proven list to do well – it takes skill in decision making and play as well.
Players with these skills who are also able to craft strong decks others have yet to consider (like John Kettler setting the stage for Decidueye last season for instance) can be very successful indeed. This being said, if your goal isn’t necessarily to win an event, then I would encourage you to experiment and come up with an idea on your own if that’s what you enjoy!
Round 3: Draw Vs. Golisopod GX / Garbodor
The matches were really close and given how poor this matchup can be for me, I was happy to have won the first game at the very least. In game 2 we both began ‘dead drawing’ late game and he accidentally de-evolved my Garbotoxin Garbodor with his Espeon-EX, giving me a turn where I could have used Energy Evolution to get going. However, I failed to notice it before re-evolving and he was able to recover and win before I could get Espeon-GX online.
We had a few turns of game 3 before time was called.
Round 4: Win Vs. Gardevoir-GX
These were fairly short games against a senior division player (the age divisions were all mixed). Although he was relatively skilled, he wasn’t able to set up faster than I could take his board apart with Espeon-GX in much the same way as I did during round 1. Divide GX is an amazing attack.
Round 5: Win Vs. Metagross-GX
I lost a close game 1, followed by a donk (winning via knocking out a lone Pokémon) on my opponent game 2 (although it took me a couple of turns to get it). Game 3 was extremely close again – it took a Guzma top deck for me to win.
The matchup is difficult and comes down to whether you can stop them setting up 3 Metagross. A 250 HP Metagross-GX which resists your attackers is daunting, not to mention the constant healing via Max Potion, but it is winnable thanks to the ability lock from Garbodor BKP which slows the deck considerably and can force the opponent into keeping damaged Metagross-GX with energy attached long enough for you to take a KO. Early pressure is key, which Espeon-GX provides in droves.
Round 6: Win Vs. Gardevoir-GX
The last swiss round and my third round against this archetype. Consistent with my experience against this deck, my opponent was unable to set up an adequate response to early Espeon-GX pressure. In game 1 I had two Guzma amongst my early cards and was able to take KOs on key targets until I won. Game 2 played out slightly better for my opponent, but the consequence of the early pressure was that I could comfortably trade until I won.
After swiss I was on a 4-1-1 Win/Loss/Tie record, putting me at 6th Seed for Top 8.
Top 8: Win Vs. Volcanion/Volcanion-EX/Turtonator-GX/Ho-oh-GX
Another player who had either faced or knew this player’s list told me my opponent wasn’t running Field Blower, which is an interesting gambit in the name of min-maxing the deck’s strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, Espeon-GX with Garbotoxin Garbodor probably exploits this build better than most. I am able to capitalise on the deck’s relative low HP, high energy attachments and reliance on abilities to augment damage by utilising Espeon-GX’s Psychic attack and shutting down the abilities via Garbodor.
In game one I had two threats to deal with – a non-EX Volcanion with two energy and a Fighting Fury Belt, as well as a Turtonator-GX with 4 energy from a turn 1 Kiawe play. I decided to split the difference with Divide GX placing 5 counters on both which put them both into KO range from Espeon GX’s Psychic given the right conditions (Turtonator-GX had a Fighting Fury Belt which I needed to deal with first). I was able to dispatch his board handily from there. Game 2 played out similarly aside from the fact that we both had very slow starts.
Top 4: Win Vs. Ninetales-GX
In top 4 I played against young Max who is blitzing his first season in Masters division. We played 3 close games. I almost won game 2, but whiffed what I needed after a 3 card N. I think I needed any combination of Rescue Stretcher and one of 3 Psychic energy or a Double Colourless energy from 8 or so cards and I only hit the Stretcher. Game 3 finished in time. He conceded on his last turn of time because he couldn’t catch up in prizes but I had the necessary cards to win on that turn anyway – a Field Blower to remove my own Garbotoxin, a Rescue Stretcher for Tapu Lele-GX and a Guzma left in deck to take the last prize.
Finals: Lose Vs. Golisopod-GX / Garbodor
As happy as I was to be facing my good friend and old rival Bodhi (a multiple World Championship competitor) I wasn’t enthusiastic about the matchup. My main attacker is weak to Garbodor GRI, whilst his is not and even without that, Golisopod-GX has numerous qualities about it which give it the edge. Most importantly it only needs 1 energy to deal upwards of 150 damage whilst Espeon requires multiple energy on both itself and the opponent to deal big damage. Golisopod-GX is also adept at denying prizes thanks to cards like Acerola which also assist in activating the effect of ‘First Impression’, its main source of damage. Given that Espeon-GX usually takes two turns to take a KO, the matchup can be a struggle to say the least.
We played our games and they were a stomp unfortunately for me. In game 2, Bodhi didn’t have to play a single item (directly to his discard) to dispatch me. In retrospect, I might have done better if I’d exploited his list’s reliance on Lele and limited his bench with Parallel City. I’m not sure I’d have won, but if have put up more of a fight.
So that is how I finished 2nd place. 40 Championship Points on the board towards a World Championship invite and a full season ahead of me to earn the rest. The rest of the year will be relatively calm, but early next year Australia will play host to the Oceanic International Championship once again.
If you enjoyed this article, or have any questions, feel free to ask away in the comment section!