Looking Through the Mirror

Since the beginning of the newfound interest in Retro Deck formats, Mirror Matches have been one of the most popular and interesting ways to play the game. Playing a deck against a copy of itself is one of, if not the ONLY way to ensure an absolute 50-50 matchup. While non-mirror matchups are of course, very fun as well, some can be lopsided when you take weakness or other effects into account, and starting both players with the same exact resources is an easy way to avoid this problem.

Below, I’ll talk about a few of my personal favorite mirror matches across the years of pokemon. Some of them are older, from when I first started playing the TCG. Others are more modern – as recent as the Sun/Moon era. Pokemon has had a ton of interesting matchups over the years, and while each person has a different idea of what the “best” matchup is, all of these matchups provide fun, interactive gameplay in their own unique ways.

Retro Era (HGSS and Earlier) Mirror Matches

2008 EmpoZong

Empoleon/Bronzong was one of the defining archetypes of 2008 because it stood up well against Plox while also holding its own against the rest of the metagame. Trying to decide between spreading damage around vs taking prizes is always a cool balancing act. One of the main strategies of Empoleon against Plox (and other decks) was using Dual Splash to set up KOs for late game – by not taking Kos early, Empoleon almost always had access to the full potential of Scramble Energy, forcing other decks to manually attach multiple times. Energy Acceleration was also done through Poke-Powers rather than supporter cards, so Cessation Crystal meant it was very difficult to run Empoleon over. On the other hand, you could also catch the opponent with a slower setup if you managed to stick an early Cessation Crystal, so you also had the option to use Surf Together and try to clean the match up early.

In the mirror match, however, it gets pretty weird. Since Empoleon generally likes to avoid taking prizes early, when it goes up against itself, that strategy obviously won’t work as well. It’s not difficult to get into an awkward staring contest with the opponent as damage racks up on the board. Breaking the stalemate can be done, but you have to pick and choose your spots well. If you invest too many resources into one Empoleon, the opponent can respond with a Scramble Energy and clear your board of attackers. Navigating into a position where you can safely Surf Together, or even acknowledge the potential incoming Scramble Energy attack can be tricky. Energy Attachments get awkward too – without consistent access to Scramble, you run out of Water Energy more quickly than you might expect.

Bronzong is also an awkward, but fun part of this matchup. Coating is a huge part of the Gardevoir matchup, as you smash a Gardevoir for weakness, while also dodging the response KO (barring Lake Boundary). Coating can still be nice in this matchup, as it makes Bronzong a massive pain to take out, but Pain Amplifier has its uses as well, as you can spread damage around the opponent’s field.

The above list is from my own personal Retro Deck library, but there’s still a lot you can do with the list. Jimmy O’Brien made Top 4 at Worlds this year with a 3-3 Bronzong line, for example, while Dylan Lefavour won the Seniors Division World Championships by excluding Bronzong entirely.

2008 Plox (Gardevoir/Gallade)

2008 gets a pretty bad reputation because of how dominant Plox was. Many other strategies in this year are based around shutting down the opponent’s set up options, and keeping them out of the game. Plox in many ways is no exception – some matches will quite literally boil down to winning a Team Galactic’s Wager, and then using Psychic Lock for the rest of the match. However, the matches that don’t are some of the most fantastic in terms of the depth of gameplay. Plox has a lot of tech options available, as demonstrated by the list above (Gino Lombardi’s from top 4 of the World Championships), and has a lot of back-and-forth as a result. Gardevoir is your attacker for most of the game, but Gallade, Cresselia Lv. X, and Jirachi ex all play valuable roles as well. Between activating Scramble energy, stealing an extra prize, or even mapping out your prize cards, Plox has a lot of interesting decisions that are not always easy to navigate.

Plox as a mirror match can also be cool because of how many different ways there are to build the deck – Jason Klaczynski won his 2nd Worlds title this year with a much more streamlined version than the one you see above (actually defeating the above list in top 4). Many different tech cards performed highly at events this year, including Muk SW, Furret SW, Absol ex, PK Jolteon Star PK, Breloom SW, Dusknoir DP, and many more. Each card has its own situational use, and playing two slightly different versions against each other can be just as interesting as playing a full 60 card mirror match.

2010 or 2011 LuxChomp

LuxChomp is one of the most classic Mirror Matches in the game at this point – this is the first answer many players will give you when you ask about the most skill-intensive matchups in the game. SP Matchups always had a lot going on – because they operate off of basic Pokemon as their attackers, there is a lot of extra space for cool tech cards. In addition, Power Spray lead to some really interesting decisions while playing the game. You had to plan your poke-powers wisely, as leaving it all on one lone Uxie could end up breaking the game wide open.

The list above is Erik Nance’s 2nd Place US Nationals list – the only changes I made were switching the 2-2 Garchomp and Luxray lines to 3-1. The debate on which is better has plagued the community for a long time, and there are strong arguments for both depending on the metagame. I chose 3-1, however, because I like this more for the mirror match. It’s very easy for Luxray and Garchomp (especially Garchomp) to target each other down while they’re on the bench, so having the extra basic pokemon down can be pretty crucial. If an opponent’s Garchomp C consistently snipe KOs your only Garchomp C off the bench in the mirror, it’s going to be pretty difficult to get your gameplan going.

Similar to the Gardy/Gallade archetype above, LuxChomp can also be fun when running 2 different approaches to the deck at each other. Other popular and high-performing versions of the deck included Dialga G LV. X, Entei-Raikou LEGEND, Infernape e4 Lv. X, Blaziken FB Lv. X, and Dragonite FB. Gardevoir SW also made top 16 at Worlds included in a LuxChomp list, but I believe its primary function was to counter to decks relying on Broken Time-Space. If building LuxChomp specifically for the mirror match, I don’t think it’s the best choice.

2010 or 2011 DialgaChomp

DialgaChomp is another classic SP deck that has a very fun mirror match to play out. The strength of DialgaChomp came from its ability to lock the opponent’s use of Item cards. In a format where you only had 30 minutes to play a game, it wasn’t difficult to run the match to time, and then use Garchomp to take a few quick prize cards as time expired. When playing the match to completion with friends though, the end game can be quite interesting. With no time constraints, choosing when to break the Deafen lock is pivotal. SP Decks usually play a high count of item cards, and this deck is no exception. Keeping your opponent locked down prevents them from healing with things like PokeTurn, or accelerating their plan with cards like Energy Gain. On the flip side, breaking the lock opens up much more powerful attacks. Garchomp C can take down crucial threat, Ambipom G can take KOs in response, and Drifblim FB can pick off pixies like Azelf or Uxie. You will likely end up switching in and out of item lock during the match rather than just shutting the opponent down all game, and this leads to some really fun decision-making during the matches.

SP Mirror Matches in general are considered to be pretty fun and skill-intensive. There are probably some fantastic ones from the 2009 season, but my retro library currently only has 1 copy of each of those decks, so I am unable to play mirrors in that season. LuxApe and DPL both look pretty fun for mirrors, but I haven’t tested them myself, so I cannot confirm that this is accurate. Likewise, I also only have one copy of each of my decks from 2006 and 2007, so while there are many fantastic matchups to play from those years, I don’t have any mirror matches I can confidently recommend just yet.

Modern Era (BW and forward) Mirror Matches

2014 Virizion/Genesect

Virizion/Genesect seems like a weird selection on the surface – the inherent gameplan is pretty simple. Use Virizion to get a bunch of energy into play, then abuse Genesect EX’s massive G-Booster attack to clean up and take KOs. Despite the inherently simple synergy, there are a lot of details and small decisions that can impact how the game plays out. Using Virizion EX to set up KOs with Megalo Cannon is pretty important, and plotting out how your muscle band/deoxys/red signals play out is pretty crucial as well.

2015 Yveltal EX/Seismitoad EX

Yveltal EX is one of the best attackers Pokemon has ever printed. It was tier 1 status in the standard format alone for three consecutive years, and spent even more time at the top with a plethora of variations in the expanded format. While the card is inherently simple, its design is perfect for choosing how games play out – one attack allows you to stack a bunch of energy and deal piles of damage at once. The other attack still deals a moderate amount while conserving your energy for later. Both attacks can be correct depending on the situation – you do want to take your opponent’s attackers out of the game, but you have to be sure not to leave yourself open to a huge response KO that removes all of your overcommitted resources.

In the 2015 season, Seismitoad EX was a popular partner for Yveltal – both of them used Double Colorless Energy flawlessly. Seismitoad did less damage, but it locks up item cards and can keep your opponent out of the game while you advance your board state. Similar to DialgaChomp in 2010, this mirror match often involves locking up items for part of the match, while putting out big damage with Yveltal EX at other times. The times you attack with Yveltal, you will be opening yourself up to some powerful item cards – HypnoToxic Laser, Enhanced Hammer, and Computer Search to name a few. Be sure you set up your board accordingly.

The decklist above was one that my friends and I used at the Wisconsin State Championships – it finished 2nd, Top 4, and Top 8.

2016 Expanded Yveltal/Maxie’s

As alluded to above, Yveltal in expanded continued to be a beast for multiple years. Having 2 different Yveltal lists to play mirrors with might seem odd, but the expanded version plays completely differently than the standard version. While the standard version focuses more on control, by limiting the opponent’s access to items and energy, the expanded version is much more explosive. It focuses on using Dark Patch to get attackers up quickly, while Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick allows you to put a Gallade directly into play, and start hitting nice chunks of damage. This version also doesn’t use the LaserBank combo that was so prominent in standard the year before – instead it has Fighting Fury Belt, which gives Yveltal extra HP to work with. While the deck does get attackers activated more quickly in general, additional HP and lack of HypnoToxic Laser means you generally aren’t blasting an Yveltal from 170 to dead – it’s usually a cycle of 2-hit knockouts.

While this format is much more proactive and fast, in the mirror match, the disruptive elements do generally play a huge part in how the match plays out. Fright Night Yveltal shuts off all Pokemon Tools, so you can potentially trap a pokemon with Float Stone in the active spot. Fright Night also softens up an attacker for later in the match, and at time threatens to take multiple KOs at once with pokemon like Jirachi EX and Shaymin EX playing crucial supportive roles. Silent Lab and Parallel City are both neat dual-threat stadiums in the mirror. Parallel City especially can be used against the opponent, to put them down to 3 bench pokemon, or “against” yourself, allowing you to remove a damaged EX pokemon from play. A lot of the proactive options in this deck have good counterplay available to them, so there’s a lot of back and forth.

When playing this mirror match, don’t be afraid to look for unconventional strategies, and jockey for positional gains rather than prize cards. When I played this deck to Top 32 Kansas Regionals, I played multiple mirror matches, and only one game that entire weekend ended up playing out through “normal” means. I won one game by decking my opponent out, and a few others by using Ghetsis to lock my opponent out. Another version of this list I played had Delinquent, which also offered some cool positional plays.

It should be noted that “normal” Yveltal/Maxie’s lists used an Archeops rather than a 2nd Gallade – if you make that lone card change, you’d have Treynor Wolfe’s 1st place Madison Regionals decklist. We have the 2nd Gallade in here because Archeops is a completely dead card in the mirror match, and prizing either piece of the Gallade/Maxie’s combo is pretty brutal. With 2 Gallades this happens half as often. I don’t remember if we actually played Archeops or not for Regionals, but I know we at minimum considered the 2nd Gallade pretty heavily.

PRC-GRI (2017 North American Internats format) Zoroark/Drampa

When Guardians Rising dropped in 2017, it completely flipped the metagame upside-down. Decks had to drastically reduce their number of items thanks to Garbodor, which resulted in the gameplay slowing down pretty significantly. Even decks with higher counts of items had to slow-roll their use of them, which drew out the length of matches. Zoroark/Drampa was one of the decks that emerged from this, but its greatest strengths in the format were pretty much all washed away in the mirror match.

Zoroark’s greatest strengths were its ability to punish the opponent for making normal gameplay actions. Zoroark itself did more damage the more pokemon your opponent placed on the bench, while Zoroark BREAK copied the attacks of the opponent’s pokemon for a single dark energy. In the mirror match, these two effects are pretty easily played around. Zoroark/Drampa doesn’t need a massive bench in order to keep its gameplan rolling – and Foul Play copying either of these attacks doesn’t really help too much. Drampa GX gives you legitimate OHKO potential, but also allows your opponent to potentially copy it, and OHKO in response.

As a result of the above, this mirror match was awkward, but very fun. Having such low HP pokemon trading 2HKOs with each other was something we hadn’t really seen since the DP era. There were also a few disrupting elements (Drampa’s Righteous Edge, Hex Maniac, and N) combined with other, offensive ones (Lysandre, Professor Kukui), so the end game usually came right down to the wire.


The above matchups are just a few of my favorite mirror matches in the game’s history – they are not a comprehensive list, nor would I claim that they are objectively the “best”. Every person has their own preferences, and you should play the game in ways that you enjoy. These are just a few of my favorites, and I think they are a fantastic place to start if you are looking to sleeve up a couple of mirror match decks yourself. Thank you so much for reading, and I’ll catch everybody at the next post!

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