The Sideboard – Empoleon (2008)

2008 was an interesting time in the history of the Pokemon TCG – it was one of the very few formats that was absolutely defined by a true “tier 0” archetype that stood alone above the rest. Gardevoir/Gallade (also known as GG or Plox) ran the format once Secret Wonders released in November, and Great Encounters only further boosted its performance by giving it a second solid consistency option in Claydol. Majestic Dawn released in may, and it brought several decks that actually stood a chance against Plox – the biggest of these being Empoleon.

Other archetypes in this format were typically hard counters to Plox – they performed exceptionally strong against the one archetype, but then folded against many of the off-meta decks. Empoleon was favored because in addition to holding its own against Plox, it could actually stand up to the rest of the metagame as well. Empoleon was a diverse deck that could run off of a few different gameplans, and making the decision of when to start taking prize cards was crucial.

One of the things that makes 2008 one of my favorite formats is how truly deep the deckbuilding was in this format – even though Plox and Empoleon were clearly a notch above the rest of the field, both decks had not just a few, but SEVERAL unique variations and tech options available to them. When I look back on lists from 2008, it’s extremely apparent to me how much thought went into each individual card in the 60-card lists. Let’s take a look at a few of these lists from the 2008 season.


  • Tournament Placings and Notable Decklists
  • Skeleton Lists
  • What the Tech?
  • Conclusion

Tournament Placings and Notable Decklists

4 Empoleon MD
2 Prinplup MD
1 Prinplup DP
3 Piplup DP
1 Piplup MD
3 Claydol
2 Baltoy
1 Dusknoir
1 Duskull
1 Chatot
1 Holon’s Castform
1 Tauros CG
1 Mew Star
3 Steven’s Advice
2 Bebe’s Search
2 Celio’s Network
2 Roseanne’s Research
1 Copycat
1 Castaway
4 Rare Canady
3 Cessation Crystal
3 Warp Point
2 Night Maintenance
1 Windstorm
6 Water Energy
3 Call Energy
3 Scramble Energy
1 Double Rainbow Energy

Dylan Lefavour achieved 1st Place and the World Championships in the Seniors division with the above list – rather than relying on an alternate attacker to further Empoleon’s ability to spread damage around, Dylan opted for consistency and an easy set up. Empoleon by itself is pretty powerful against most decks, and it doesn’t always need support to close the game out. The extra deck spaces in Dylan’s list also went to some cool tech options that you don’t always see – Dusknoir is the most interesting. It gave Lefavour a way to control the opponent’s bench size, and minimize the responses opponents could have to a fully powered-up Empoleon.

Despite winning worlds in the Seniors division, I’ve found his list stands up pretty well to most archetypes, even the masters-division winning Plox list.

4 Empoleon MD
3 Prinplup MD
4 Piplup DP
3 Bronzong
3 Bronzor
1 Claydol
1 Baltoy
1 Unown Q
4 Roseanne’s Research
4 Celio’s Network
3 Steven’s Advice
3 Copycat
3 Rare Candy
3 Cessation Crystal
2 Warp Point
1 Night Maintenance
1 Moonlight Stadium
6 Water Energy
4 Call Energy
4 Scramble Energy
1 Double Rainbow Energy
1 Psychic Energy

This list was Jimmy O’Brien’s list from Top 4 at the World Championships in the masters division. Bronzong MD was by far the most common partner for Empoleon this year, as it set up KOs for Dual Splash very effectively, and the biggest deck in the format (Plox) ran almost purely off of Pokemon that had poke-powers. In addition to Pain Amplifier and Cursed Alloy, Coating was a neat way to deny prizes to the opponent and make late-game comebacks easier (on top of hitting Gardevoir + Gallade for weakness!)

There’s less space for unique tech cards in here due to the heavy Bronzong line, but Jimmy did include a Moonlight Stadium and an Unown Q to make it easier to switch between attackers. Jimmy was ahead of his time with the Unown Q tech – most of these Unown pokemon tools didn’t really take off until the following season.

Skeleton List

4 Empoleon
3 Prinplup
4 Piplup
1 Claydol
1 Baltoy

3 Steven’s Advice
2 Roseanne’s Research
2 Copycat
1 Copycat
3 Rare Candy
3 Cessation Crystal
2 Warp Point
1 Night Maintenance
6 Water Energy
3 Call Energy
3 Scramble Energy
1 Double Rainbow Energy
43 total cards

While the list seems pretty empty, the spaces for techs will fill up pretty quickly either with Bronzong, or with heavier consistency options. That being said, the few extra spots you do have for techs can pretty drastically change a few matchups, and they are all useful in different scenarios. Let’s take a look at the tech options that performed well this year.

What the Tech?

The Omastar Dilemma

Omastar was a popular tech in Empoleon, and it made a lot of sense to be included – Devolution pokemon have always gone hand-in-hand with spread decks (Jolteon ex + Espeon ex, Dark Tyranitar + Ancient TM Rock to name a few). However there was some debate as to which Omastar was the better version. Tobias Thesing finished 2nd at German nationals with the Majestic Dawn version – it was the more explosive of the two. Its poke-power devolved all pokemon on your opponent’s bench, and you could follow up with a Surf Together from Empoleon to land a strong attack and potentially finish the game.

The downside to this Omastar is that Primal Swirl is unavailable any time Poke-Powers were unavailable – which is a significant portion of the time in a format that is so centralized around Psychic Lock and Cessation Crystal. Power Keepers Omastar devolves everything (including the active) off an attack rather than a poke-power, so you are never locked out of this option. Even though it’s less explosive, it’s probably the more consistent of the two Omastar options. PK Omastar finished Top 16 at the World Championships this year, in the hands of Morten Gundesen from Norway.

Alternate Attackers

Bronzong we’ve already touched on in this article – Pain Amplifier spread damage around very easily, especially against Plox, and also had the potential to deny prize cards to the opponent in the late game. However, Empoleon also had 2 strong alternate attackers within its own evolution line. DP Empoleon was popular at the end of 2007, and was strong at the beginning of this season, often being paired with Lucario to keep pressure on the opponent early. Some lists (including one that got top 64 at US Nationals) chose to run one copy of this Empoleon over one from Majestic Dawn. Ice Blade seems like a bad deal when you can do 30 to 2 pokemon, but the extra 10 damage does matter in a lot of situations – it allows you to cleanly 2HKO Claydol, and the extra 10 damage can matter a lot in the mirror match after using Dual Splash to set the opponent up to 90. Aqua Jet also gives you a chance to continue spreading to the bench while throwing big damage down on the active.

Empoleon Lv. X wasn’t too popular – most people just went with a 4th copy of Empleon to have an extra attacker in games where they couldn’t find Night Maintenance. However, Empoleon Lv. X was situationally very strong – the 80 damage snipe allowed you to pick off weak targets like Claydol and Kirlia in one hit, potentially devastating your opponent’s attempt to set up. The extra 10 HP was also pretty crucial – a lot of Plox decks ran a Jolteon Gold Star to get the extra 10 damage against things like Empoleon – allowing you to 2HKO with Psychic Lock. Empoleon Lv. X gave you an extra 10 HP – putting you back out of range, barring shenanigans like PlusPower or Strength Charm.

Consistency is Key

All five of the above consistency options saw success at high level events. Furret is the most interesting – after Claydol released in GE, most people abandoned Furret entirely. Colin S took top 64 at US nationals with a list that operated off of Furret to set up a couple of unique attackers. It was also an underrated pokemon in general this year – Claydol was cool, but it doesn’t matter much when you’re under Psychic Lock or Cessation Crystal. Furret doesn’t get shut down by either. Sentret also adds another level of consistency to the deck, smoothing out the early draws.

Chatot and Phione were both pretty popular in evolution decks – both saw success in Empoleon and Plox variants. Phione makes it easy to set up your evolved pokemon so you can start Dual Splashing early, while Chatot was pretty nice with the large hand sizes in this era, as well as the free retreat. The last 2 options provided not only consistency, but also situational disruption. Pachirisu can act as an extra Call Energy and can also blow the opponent out of Cessation Crystals in a pinch. It’s nice to pair with pokemon like Dusknoir, so you can open up your ability to use Poke-Powers. Tauros has a similar Call for Family attack, but its Crush Chance poke-power acts as a searchable way to remove the opponent’s Crystal Beach or Lake Boundary, which could be crucial.

Spreading the damage around

Empoleon’s main goal is to spread damage around, and take its prize cards later in the match – allowing you to abuse Scramble Energy to its fullest, while your opponent doesn’t get that chance. Absol ex aids in this greatly, as Cursed Eyes can either move damage off of something that’s about to be KO’d, or it can stack damage onto one high HP target, allowing you to take it down out of nowhere. Psychic Pulse could theoretically be an option as well in lists that played Holon’s Castform, but 99% of the time it was just there for the ability. Mew Star was a powerhouse in the mirror match – with 1 water energy, you put a ton of damage on the opponent’s board, and if your opponent didn’t KO it immediately, you threated to snowball the game out of control. If they did take an immediate KO, you got to use Scramble Energy, and your opponent didn’t. Mimicry shouldn’t be underrated either – in the mirror match it’s very easy to copy things like Dual Splash or Surf Together, but with Holon’s Castform you can even situationally get off a Psychic Lock or some other strong attack.

Dugtrio is also a good tech for the mirror, but for the opposite reasons of Mew – it prevents your bench from being damaged, which makes it impossible for opposing Empoleon decks to execute their gameplan. They can use Cessation Crystal to play around this, but if you include Pachirisu or Windstorm in your deck, you can play around this as well.

Locking down the opponent

Colin S (the player mentioned above who used Furret) included this Pidgeot along with Holon Energy WP in his top 64 Empoleon list. It was a really cool option to shut down the opponent’s poke-powers – and Delta Reserve was practically impossible to get around. In addition to this, with Double Rainbow and Scramble Energy, Pidgeot could also theoretically function as an attacker in the mirror match, threatening to 2HKO opponent’s Empoleons. Palkia Lv. X was a nifty option – it allowed you to pull up something with a high retreat cost, trap it active, and use Dual Splash to just spread around this while the opponent was stuck. If you include Palkia Lv. X in your list, you’ll want to include Switch rather than Warp Point, to make it easier to navigate your board state. Energy Removal 2 was an inclusion by Alex Brosseau in his Top 32 Worlds list – in a format that centralized around special energy like Scramble, Double Rainbow, and Holon’s Castform, this card had the potential to take 2 energy off the field at once, which made it really hard to keep up with the spread damage that Empoleon was putting out.

Navigating Around Attackers

Moonlight Stadium was important in EmpoZong variants – it made it very easy to swap Bronzongs out without relying on Warp Point. Unown Q was less popular – as mentioned above, it didn’t really take off as a tech until 2009, where it was commonly played with Uxie Lv. X. However, it could still be nice in here, as you could swap out your Empoleons without wasting too many Energy – which tend to become a critical resource late in the match. Both of these techs also have the potential to bait out Windstorm – which makes it more likely that your late-game Cessation Crystals will stick.

Other Situational Trainer Cards

Premier Ball makes sense, of course, if you are including the Empoleon Lv. X in your deck. It’s an easy way to search it out without burning a supporter, and it can also grab it out of the discard pile, allowing you to save your night maintenance for the main line of Empoleon and Water Energy. Team Galactic’s Wager in combination with Cessation Crystal was nasty – it wasn’t as bad as Psychic Lock because the opponent did have outs in the form of Windstorm (or Pachirisu!), but locking Poke-Powers and setting them to 3 cards in hand could still be pretty devastating. Team Galactic’s Wager was a double-edge sword, as you could also set yourself to 3 – but it was the only real shuffle disruption that we had in this format.


2008, as you can see from the wide variety of techs above, is one of the deepest when it comes to deckbuilding selections. It often gets overshadowed because there is a fair amount of games that boil down to whether or not your opponent gets locked down immediately – but the games that don’t are some of the most phenomenal that this game has to offer. There’s a lot of back and forth interaction, and there’s a large emphasis on one’s ability to execute their long-term game plan. My friend Cody and I frequently used to play Empoleon mirror matches from this year because the gameplay was extremely fun and thought-provoking, and I hope you can enjoy this archetype as much as we did. Thanks for reading as always, and I hope to see you at the next article!

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