The Sideboard – SableLock

Hey everybody! Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve posted my last article – as many of you would expect, real life got in the way, and I also wanted to take a bit of a break since I had been working on the site pretty much non-stop since booting the website up for the first time earlier this year. That being said, I am back, and I definitely plan to continue posting articles and decklist updates whenever I find myself available and willing to do so. Without any further ado, here’s the newest artcile on SableLock!

Historical Context

In the year 2010, SP Decks dominated tournament results all over the world. LuxChomp in particular saw tournament success that was almost on the same level as Plox in 2008. While modern decklists have evolved to have better matchups vs LuxChomp, at the time, there wasn’t a whole lot that was competing with it. One deck, however, flew under the radar for how successful it was in 2010 – SableLock.

Analyzing just how strong SableLock really was is a pretty tough task – in 2010, many players (myself included) were scared off from playing it due to it being perceived as a deck that was extremely difficult to pilot. Furthermore, SableLock was really pushed and developed by a few separate groups of players in a time where decklists weren’t shared much online. This led to a lot of variance in the tech choices that people chose to bring to tournaments. SableLock has also fallen pretty much into the void in modern events, with a “big three” of Gengar, Plox, and LuxChomp being far and away the preferred decks.

That being said, it is impossible to ignore the tournament results at the time. SableLock was 2nd in number of high-level tournament placements in 2010, including a 1st place finish at US Nationals. The only SP Deck that saw more placements than SableLock was of course, LuxChomp. While I might not be sure what the optimized decklist looks like, there is certainly a wide variety of tech options to choose from to make games with this deck fun for almost any player.


  • Tournament Placings and Notable Decklists
  • Skeleton List
  • Trainer Choices
  • What the Tech?
  • Conclusion

Tournament Placings and Notable Decklists

While I don’t think this is Con Le’s exact 1st place US Nationals decklist, I do assume that it looked pretty similar to the above decklist. This list was taken from Top Cut’s 2010 Retro decks page, and is a consistent, basic, and solid starting point. As the name implies, the goal of this deck is to lock the opponent out of the match, rather than taking 6 prizes as quickly as possible. In an ideal world you would start with Sableye and pretty quickly use Impersonate to find a Judge, putting your opponent down to 4 cards. The 2 biggest ways to draw cards in this format were Uxie and Claydol – both of which could be temporarily shut down by the use of Power Spray. Supporter cards typically didn’t draw too much in this era (with the exception of Cynthia’s Feelings), so very often your opponent would follow up with a Pokemon Collector or a Bebe’s Search to find some pokemon. On the following turns you could use Cyrus’s Initiative to look at your opponent’s hand and take out the most crucial cards to setting up, while Garchomp C Lv. X could target down specific pokemon – whether that was Draw Engines like Claydol, or attackers that didn’t have a chance to evolve yet. Toxicroak Promo and Honchkrow (non-SP) could also act as important attackers against specific SP decks if the situation called for it.

While this deck functions a little differently, a lot of the key pieces are the same. “Chenlock” named after its pilot, Jason Chen, placed Top 32 at US Nationals this year, incorporating a few other disruptive pieces into the deck’s main strategy. Blaziken FB Lv. X is the most notable, as it not only gives the deck a strong attacker against fire-weak pokemon like Steelix Prime or Dialga G, but its Luring Flame attack also allowed it to pull up and potentially trap pokemon with hefty retreat costs in the active position, such as Claydol (while also inflicting them with Burn, which shuts down poke-powers). Shedinja was another cool inclusion, as it couldn’t be damaged by anything that had poke-powers or poke-bodies. This was huge in a format where a significant portion of the main attackers (Gardevoir, Gengar, Luxray GL Lv. X) couldn’t touch it, although the 30 snipe for a single energy meant it wasn’t ever really a “dead” card in any matchup.

Skeleton List

4 Sableye
2 Garchomp C Lv. X
2 Garchomp C
1 Uxie
1 Azelf
1 Unown Q
1 Crobat G
1 Toxicroak G (Promo)
4 Cyrus’s Conspiracy
2 Pokemon Collector
2 Cyrus’s Initiative
2 Judge
1 Bebe’s Search
1 Aaron’s Collection
4 PokeTurn
4 Energy Gain
3 Power Spray
2 SP Radar
1 Pokemon Communication
1 VS Seeker
4 Double Colorless Energy
2 Darkness Energy
46 Total cards

Trainer Choices

Both of these supporters search for Basic Pokemon, and each of them are strong in their own way. Because Con Le’s version was likely more focused on Garchomp, Sableye, and Honchkrow, Pokemon Collector is a nice choice in that deck to get as many pokemon out as possible, and quickly enable Power Spray. All of his main attackers require only Dark energy (or colorless energy) to attack, so finding a specific energy type isn’t as important. Blaziken FB versions have a stronger argument for Roseanne’s, since they will often want Fire, Darkness, and Psychic (for Toxicroak) in their deck, and finding the specific energy types is a little more important. Cyrus’s Conspiracy does this job well enough in the more streamlined version with only Toxicroak needing the different energy type.

Almost all versions of this deck played only Judge – putting the opponent down to 4 cards in preparation for a Cyrus’s Initiative was pretty huge, and it didn’t give the opponent a whole lot of cards to work with. That being said, Looker’s Investigation does come with the added benefit of being able to look at your opponent’s hand, which can be pretty important. Not only can you prevent yourself from potentially shuffling in an opponent’s dead hand, but you can also see if they’ve got any evolutions/level up pokemon in their hand, making it easy to know which pokemon to target down with Garchomp.

VS Seeker was pretty underestimated in this format in general, and probably could be included as a 1-of in many other decks (we didn’t realize how powerful it was until much later, when we gained strong supporter cards like Professor Juniper or Guzma). In this deck, however, it was always a staple. Being able to re-grab Judge or Cyrus’s Initiative is HUGE in a deck that relies on locking the opponent out of the game, and it does occasionally pay to be able to re-grab a Bebe’s or a Cyrus’s Conspiracy. Level Ball is more of an optional tech – but it can be nifty if you find the space for it. Grabbing a Level X for free is pretty nice, and can come in extra handy if you play some of the tech cards mentioned later in this article.

The debate over the proper number of Galactic Inventions has raged eternally since they were introduced in 2010. While by this point, I would say most decks would prefer the extra Energy Gain as opposed to Power Spray (and possibly even cutting down to 3 of each), in this deck specifically, there is a very real argument for the 4th Power Spray. So much of your strategy relies on being able to shut down poke-powers like Set Up and Cosmic Power, and being able to do so for an extra turn can allow you to target down an attacker with Garchomp rather than their source of draw. The lists above were split, and I think there’s very real arguments to 4 Energy Gain-3 Power Spray, as well as the other way around.

What the Tech?

The Chenlock Options

These 3 were the signature inclusion of Jason Chen in his nationals list. I won’t dwell on them too much since I talked about them above, but note that including these in your decklist probably means you are dedicating a MINIMUM of 6 slots (plus fire energy), so you don’t get as much wiggle room as you might otherwise.

While Froslass GL didn’t see much play at the time, it is conceivable that this could be used as a standalone tech in light of Blaziken. Sleep is a powerful special condition, and potentially trapping something active unable to retreat can swing a lot of games. Froslass would later become popular in a couple of decks, after the release of Vileplume UD in the 2010-2011 season.

As they were in many other SP decks, Dragonite and Ambipom were both very reliable options in SableLock as well. Dragonite was arguably the stronger attacker in the mirror match, as it dunks on all SP pokemon, regardless of energy they may or may not have attached to them (especially Garchomp, which it hits for weakness). Ambipom however, gets the added bonus of being able to shuffle energy around your opponent’s field, which can be especially nifty in a deck that’s designed to lock players down. You do also get the cool play of being able to outright discard energy, if you “attempt” to move the energy to a pokemon that has Unown G attached to it.

All 3 of these birds have very strong situational uses in SableLock. Honchkrow G was probably the most common in other SP decks – Target Attack (which only costs 1 Energy with an Energy Gain attached) in tandem with Crobat G made it very easy to pick apart evolution decks that relied on getting their basic pokemon to stick. Many basics (most notably, Baltoy) only had 50 HP, so one Flash Bite was all it took to put them into KO Range.

Honchkrow SV had 2 unique uses – as an attacker, it was the hardest hitting option you had. With your own full bench, it hit for 80 (plus special dark/expert belt/flash bite) – any basics from your opponent and you were threatening KO potential. Against opposing SP decks, it was pretty much a free OHKO on anything you wanted. It also had a cool secondary use with its Poke-Power – it could grab any basic out of your OPPONENT’S discard pile, and put it back onto their bench (assuming they had an open bench space). This allowed you to potentially cycle free prize cards by re-grabbing low HP pokemon like Baltoy, Gastly, or Magikarp. (Theoretically you could also load a bunch of Magikarps onto Gyarados’s bench and leave them there to completely axe its damage output, but usually their bench was too full to accomplish this.)

The last option, Honchkrow Lv. X saw much less play, but it was still pretty strong. My good friend Yoshi Tate included a copy in his list for the Last Chance Qualifier this year. If you think VS Seeker is powerful, imagine how good it was to grab any card you wanted out of your discard pile. With special darkness energy included in the deck, it was very realistic for Honchkrow to be able to take KOs, and potentially recycle some of the more powerful disruptive card options.

Bright Look is going to be a strong ability in just about any deck that has the space for PokeTurns, but SableLock is another deck that could make a uniquely strong use for its disruptive ability. It didn’t become super popular until 2011, again, presumably for its ability to trap Vileplume UD in the active spot, but many players essentially combined LuxChomp and SableLock into one archetype. Bright Look fits in perfectly with a deck that wants to put your opponent down to minimal resources in their hand, and then target down specific threats for KOs, and it also gives you a couple different modes to play in case there’s a situation where the “standard” sableye/garchomp strategy doesn’t quite cut it.

Let Loose Giratina was another pokemon that was included by my friend Yoshi. Its high retreat cost did make it a bit of a liability in decks that had Luxray in it – but it had an incredibly high upside in matches where you could navigate around this weakness. The potential to on turn 1 – pokemon collector for Giratina and 2 SP pokemon, Let Loose, and then IMMEDIATELY use Sableye to find a Cyrus’s Initiative was pretty insane, and at times, immediately shut down all of the opponent’s options. Giratina Lv. X was much less common, as it was extremely clunky to set up, and often required the inclusion of Moonlight Stadium, but the benefit of causing the opponent to discard a card every time they attacked was also pretty incredible in a deck that revolves around ripping cards out of the opponent’s hand.

Chatot G was another powerful disruption tool that helped lock the opponent down once you had lowered their hand size. Disrupting Spy allowed you to look at the top cards of your opponent’s deck, and re-arrange them in any order you like. When combined with Cyrus’s Initiative, you could truly leave your opponent with absolutely zero options to get back into a match. Search and Escape also wasn’t the worst attack if you happened to start with Chatot – being able to find something like Power Spray, VS Seeker, or SP Radar was useful in a lot of situations. Jason Chen’s deck arguably makes the best use of this, as you can hide behind Shedinja after you shuffle Chatot back into your deck, but this is a strong inclusion in EVERY SableLock deck.

Chatot MD was much less common, as you really wanted to start with Sableye if possible, and have minimal extra pokemon taking up bench slots. However, I feel it’s criminal to not at least MENTION this pokemon as it provides a couple of nifty benefits. It’s a free retreater, so if you start with it, it wouldn’t be difficult to swap into Sableye, Mimic can be a nifty attack sometimes if you are struggling to get things going, but most importantly, Chatter is a very real threat in this format. It does zero damage to both Sableye and Spiritomb, potentially trapping both of them in the active position permanently.

Super Scoop Up was much less common, but it was another option that SableLock decks had. This made top 64 at US Nationals in the hands of a Zachary M (I’m assuming Zachary Mirman, who had several top finishes in this timeframe), and was also an inclusion in Yoshi Tate’s deck from the same tournament (he went 8-1 in swiss before unfortunately being paired against Regigigas in top 128, which is arguably this deck’s hardest matchup). Not only did this give you potentially a lot of extra ability uses out of Giratina, Chatot G, and Uxie, but this also gave you a potential switching option if one of your pokemon gets trapped active without an Unown Q attached (or by an opposing Chatot’s Chatter).


SableLock is, in my opinion, one of the most underexplored decks since its rotation in 2011. Many modern tournaments have little to none of these decks in top cut, and I think it has one of the biggest cardpools available to it for tech options. While some matchups can devolve into a nasty turn 1 lock combo, most of its matches are very skill-intensive, and there’s a lot of interesting choices the SableLock player has to make when it comes to taking KOs and disrupting the opponent’s set up. Hopefully this deck gives a good look into why this deck was so successful in 2010, and gives more players the drive to test their own versions of the deck going forward. Thanks so much for reading, and as always, hope to catch you at the next article!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: