A Look Back at the 2014-2015 Season

The 2014-2015 season was a turbulent one – each set released new archetypes that saw a lot of success into the game, and the meta was constantly shifting around as a result. From extreme aggro to super hard control, everything under the sun had a chance to shine at some point during the year. The season started off just after the release of XY Furious Fists – a set that was billed to bring strong support to the already-powerful Fighting Types that performed well at both US Nationals and Worlds the previous season.

While there were a couple of strong Pokemon from the set, these 3 cards were hyped up as some of the strongest out of the Furious Fists expasion. Fighting Stadium and Strong Energy would bolster the damage output of the already prominent Landorus EX, and the already aggressive starts provided by its Hammerhead attack would continue to keep opponents on the back foot, while Focus Sash would make it harder for decks to work their way back into the match. Lucario EX, while not as immediately powerful, would give the deck an important secondary attacker that did NOT share a weakness to Water, making life just a touch easier for you.

Hawlucha was another fighting-type that looked to make an immediate splash in the metagame. Hawlucha was a non-EX, so it only gives up 1 prize when it was KO’d. Its unique ability meant that it didn’t matter of the opponent carried resistance. For one single fighting energy, you could consistently output as much as 120 damage against an opposing EX pokemon, and its free retreat made it very easy to pivot between Hawlucha, Landorus, or Lucario whenever necessary.

These fighting types did not come out unchecked, though. Seismitoad EX brought a balancing force to the power of Landorus. Quaking Punch looks underwhelming at first glance – but by adding Muscle Band and HypnoToxic Laser/Virbank City Gym, you could do as much as 110 damage in a single turn cycle, while keeping your opponent’s items completely locked down. Against fighting decks in particular, this was huge,as they relied on many item cards in order to maximize their potential – Focus Sash, HypnoToxic Laser, Escape Rope, Ultra Ball, and Muscle Band, to name a few. Quaking Punch also took two colorless energy to attack, so in addition to being its own archetype, it could serve as a tech attacker in pretty much anything that ran Double Colorless Energy. Yveltal EX was the biggest benefactor from this as Quaking Punch would slow down the opponents and give you extra turns to put energy in play (which was crucial now that Dark Patch had rotated), but many other decks appreciated Seismitoad’s utility as well.

While all of the newly introduced cards above made an immediate splash in the competitive scene, perhaps the card that improved the most was one that had already existed for a couple of years. Donphan PLS could also make use of all the tools provided by Furious Fists – Strong Energy and Fighting Stadium would bolster its damage output, and Focus Sash could ensure that even if your opponent found a Lysandre to pull it off of the bench, they couldn’t KO you in one hit without a HypnoToxic Laser to go with it. Donphan was a very strong hit-and-run deck that made an IMMEDIATE impact at the regional level this season. Its strategy was pretty simple – Donphan would be used as the primary attacker, using Spinning Turn to hit the opponent for reasonable chip damage, and then hide away on the bench. This strategy had been seen in previous formats with things like Accelgor Flygon, but Donphan took a slightly different approach. Instead of hiding behind an item locker like Trevenant, or a wall like Suicune, it hid behind an unlikely trio of attackers.

The signature legendary dragons from the Black/White era all saw reprints in the Legendary Treasures expansion, which meant ALL of them were legal for play in the 2014-2015 season – and they just so happened to be perfectly positioned to hit the entire metagame for weakness. Reshiram cleaned up against Virizion/Genesect, Zekrom was most useful against Yveltal EX, while Kyurem hit all of the Landorus EX that thought they had free reign. Donphan could safely hide behind these beefy basic pokemon, who could then threaten large amounts of damage in response with Outrage. Opponents did get a chance to use Lysandre around them, but doing this turn after turn was very difficult to pull off.

November marked the release of pokemon’s next expansion – XY Phantom Forces. This was an absolute powerhouse of a set, and was lauded by many as the single most impactful set on competitive play since the release of DP Stormfront in 2009. Thanks to the incredible work and data collection of one player, Andrew Wambolt, and the amazing website that he used to run at this time called The Charizard Lounge, we have an amazing picture into what the metagame looked like around the country. Andrew worked very hard to keep track of results from City Championships around the country, which is no small feat considering that HUNDREDS of these events took place.

Night March would grow to be the most infamous archetype to come out of this expansion. In the next season, 2015-16, the release of Puzzle of Time would put this deck completely over the top as it could recklessly pile resources into its discard pile and re-use them later in the match. In 2014, it was still strong, but it was not nearly as dominant as it would be in later years. The goal of this deck was pretty simple – using Battle Compressor and other discarding effects, gather as many pokemon with Night March into your discard pile as possible. The early game damage at this time was a touch low, but over the course of a match, you would eventually amass enough pokemon into your discard pile to start taking one-hit KOs, and you would be attacking ONLY with single prize pokemon. Pokemon did make sure to release a counter to this new archetype – Lysandre’s Trump Card. At this time, it did just that – Trump Card + Seismitoad EX would be used to shut down strategies like Night March and Flareon PLF in the late game, but remember this card for later. It would become one of the most controversial cards ever printed in the game’s history.

Metal also gained a ton of support in this set, and variations of decks using Bronzong saw immediate success as well. Aegislash ended up being a crucial tech in multiple decks – as an attacker, you could load it up with metal energy and deal sizeable chunks of damage, while its ability could be used to protect yourself from the plethora of Double Colorless and Strong Energy that were running around in competitive play. A deck like Donphan could also theoretically hide behind Aegislash as a wall with its ability, although this was less commonly seen in the current timeframe. Dialga EX (pictured above), Cobalion EX, and Heatran also put in work as situational attackers, and were very useful depending on the matchup.

Phantom Forces also released 2 new mega pokemon into the fray, and debuted a new kind of pokemon tool – Spirit Links. Spirit Links allowed you to bypass the one big downside of Mega Evolutions, where you were required to end your turn immediately upon Mega Evolution. Manectric was the first of these pokemon to make use of the newly released Spirit Links – Turbo Bolt was rarely enough to OHKO anything by itself, but the regeneration of energy allowed you to slowly grind the opponents into the ground. Manectric EX could potentially be used to take OHKOs when necessary through Assault Laser and the newly released Team Flare Hyper Gear, to force Pokemon Tool cards onto your opponent’s pokemon. (Because Manectric EX didn’t mega evolve to use its Assault Laser, you didn’t have to equip a Spirit Link to be completely effective, and could instead use something like Muscle Band, making it easier to take KOs). Mega Manectric saw play with a plethora of different attackers – Seismitoad EX and other water-type pokemon were the most immediately popular, but as the meta shifted, different pokemon like Genesect EX would see results too.

The decks above were just the new archetypes that released – cards that were strong enough to center their own entire strategies around. Several other cards would slot in perfectly to decks that already existed. Robo Substitute was a fantastic addition as it was the PERFECT card to slot into the already-strong Donphan archetype. Donphan could now hit the opponent and hide behind something that didn’t give up any prize cards! Many decks still used the Black/White dragon pokemon,as they were perfectly positioned in the metagame, but as Yveltal EX and Virizion/Genesect fell more out of favor, Robo Substitute became the go-to wall. Wobbuffet also became crucial to many hit-and-run strategies. Bide Barricade completely shut down abilities from the opponent, which prevented them from using things like Jirachi EX to further their set up. The newly released Gengar EX would also work nicely with Wobbuffet as a secondary hit and run option. Gengar would combine with Trevenant XY as well, so you could have the option to lock either items OR abilities. Of all the cards in Phantom Forces, Crobat (and Golbat) would be the most impactful. Sneaky Bite ended up being a powerhouse of an ability in multiple different archetypes – Seismitoad EX appreciated the extra damage, basically ensuring Quaking Punch could take KOs in a reasonable amount of time. Landorus EX could abuse the Sneaky Bite ability in combination with Hammerhead, to pile up damage on the opponent’s bench super quickly. Raichu XY appreciated Crobat as well – as it always wanted more pokemon on its bench, and extra damage from Crobat allowed it to threaten legitimate OHKOs. Crobat itself also had resistance to Fighting (Landorus, Donphan, etc) and had an attack for a single colorless energy that could snipe 30 damage to the bench – so it could even function as an attacker in a pinch!

From the City Championships results above, we can see that Yveltal EX and Donphan stood on top of the format, but many of the next tier of decks were comprised entirely of Phantom Forces cards – many of which would only become stronger as the year wore on. The Winter Regional Championships (data courtesy once again of Andrew Wambolt) mirrored many of the same results, with Yveltal, Seismitoad, and Landorus/Crobat taking many of the top spots.

Primal Clash released in February this season, and this set had a very interesting competitive path. It introduced a new mechanic, Ancient Trait Pokemon. Ancient Traits gave pokemon the ability to do many different things, including accelerate energy, attack multiple times, evolve immediately after being played, and more! But here’s the caveat: ancient traits were NOT considered “abilities” so anything that shut off abilities would have zero effect on these special Ancient Traits. The two headliners of these special ancient traits would of course, be the two ancient legendaries that were brought back into the spotlight with the remakes of the 3rd generation video games – Primal Kyogre and Primal Groudon. Both of these pokemon did see a little bit of success at the State Championships level – they both won exactly 1 State Championships, but largely, the set flopped upon release. Some cards like Repeat Ball or EXP. Share would be slotted into decks that already existed, but it was not until later in the season that the full potential of this set would be revealed. The metagame largely remained the same at State Championships – Yveltal EX and Seismitoad EX continued to dominate, with Seismitoad EX seeing the vast majority of wins at these events. Virizion/Genesect saw a bit of a resurgence as well as it had such a strong matchup against both Primal Legendary pokemon as well as Seismitoad EX thanks to their shared weakness to Grass.

Spring marked the release of XY Roaring Skies, and with it, one of the most powerful draw engines in the history of the game. Shaymin EX singlehandedly turned the format completely upside-down. When the card was first revealed, players were generally excited. Set Up was an ability seen previously on Uxie from Legends Awakened, and it allowed the player an easily searchable way to refill their hand with resources. On the surface, Shaymin seemed more balanced than Uxie as it only drew until you had 6 cards in your hand as opposed to the 7 that were provided by Uxie. After players started testing the engine, however, it proved to be much more sinister than we initially expected.

What many players didn’t realize is that Phantom Forces, Primal Clash, and Roaring Skies FILLED the format with item cards that allowed the player to easily burn through their entire hand, and very consistently utilize Set up for 5 or 6 cards. Ultra Ball , which had been a staple in each of the past 3 seasons, played a big part here too as it could discard unplayable cards like Supporters or extra Energy, and just go find your Shaymin EX with ease.

In addition to the plethora of items at our disposal, the draw power provided by supporter cards in this format completely dwarfed those in the DP format by comparison. Any of these supporter cards could be used to see an additional 6 cards, if not more during your turn. As a result, it was a pretty common play pattern for decks to burn their entire hand of resources, use Shaymin EX to refill, burn their entire hand again, play one of the above supporter cards to see an entirely new hand of 6+ cards, burn through their hand yet again, and then play EVEN MORE Shaymin EX! It was really easy for players to plow through their entire deck of cards in 2 turns and blow up their board state before their opponents had a chance to react. Now you might be asking yourself, “Won’t these players deck out? You can’t possibly go through your whole deck in 2 turns without being susceptible to running out of cards in your deck!”

Remember this guy? The one we told you to remember for later? What started as a simple way to counteract Night March and Flareon ended up being one of the most disgusting engines for decks to run off of. Thanks to Lysandre’s Trump Card, you didn’t ever have to worry about decking out – Trump Card didn’t shuffle itself back into the deck, but it DID shuffle VS Seeker back in, ensuring you would always be able to re-use Trump Card, and re-shuffle your discard pile back into your deck. That is of course, assuming that you could play VS Seeker…

Seismitoad/Shaymin EX/Trump Card completely destroyed the format. Thanks to Seismitoad’s Quaking Punch, players would be locked out of the item-heavy engines that evolved in this metagame. More importantly, it also prevented players from using VS Seeker, which meant the Seismitoad player got to determine when Lysandre’s Trump Card got played. Seismitoad completely controlled the pace of play, and shuffling in all of its own cards, meant that you also shuffled in your tools for removing energy – Crushing Hammer, Enhanced Hammer, Flare Grunt, and Xerosic. Because players are only allowed to attach one energy per turn, it was possible for Seismitoad/Shaymin to remove the opponent’s energy turn after turn, completely locking them out of the game. Even Virizion/Genesect – a deck that by all means, should have been the perfect counter, couldn’t always stand up to consistent energy hate that Seismitoad provided. Seismitoad and other item lock strategies dominated the tournament scene after the release of Roaring Skies, and it led to a decision that hadn’t been seen since the Wizards of the Coast era.

Lysandre’s Trump Card was BANNED from the Standard and Expanded formats for the reasons listed above. Many players agreed in retrospect that it was the correct decision, and a lot of us were left questioning how we thought this card was a good idea in the first place. Regardless of the answers, the metagame shifted dramatically heading into the US National Championships. Seismitoad EX was still the top dog, but many other decks had a chance to shine now that they had a realistic shot of keeping their energy in play.

Mega Rayquaza EX was one of the decks that was most hyped coming out of Roaring Skies – thanks to Sky Field, you could bench up to 8 pokemon, and threaten 240 damage as early as turn 1 if you were going second! Sky Field aggro decks as a whole were some of the decks that posed the biggest threat to Seismitoad EX before Trump Card was banned – they had the ability to set up so quickly that they could run seismitoad over and end the game in as few as 3 turns. In addition to Mega Rayquaza, Raichu/Crobat was the other deck that could do this so efficiently. Ninetales from Primal Clash could lock your Sky Field in play, while Raichu only needed a single Double Colorless energy to attack, so dealing with Energy Removal wasn’t a huge issue. After Trump Card was banned, both of these decks were still looked at as top contenders going into the US National Championships. A variant of Mega Rayquaza called “MetalRay” evolved going into US Nationals as well – this deck used Metal Energy, Bronzong PHF, and a few metal attackers (including Aegislash EX, of course) to shore up 2 of the biggest weaknesses the deck had: Night March, and Energy hate.

Another cool evolution in the metagame was how Aromatisse gradually shifted away from the Mega Kangaskhan variant that was so strong in the previous season – as more strong EX attackers got released, Aromatisse relied more on shifting Rainbow Energy around, and using type advantage to take big KOs on opposing pokemon, while still keeping itself alive with Max Potion. But the biggest surprise of all was still to come, making a colossal splash at the US National Championships. Primal Clash would finally begin to make some noise in the competitive scene, with 2 previously unheard of decks performing well at US Nationals.

The first of these decks was based around Hippowdon – Eduardo Gonzalez used this nifty single-prize attacker to finish in the top 8 at US Nationals. Resistance Desert was an amazing attack – it protected you from EX pokemon on the following turn, which ran rampant in this metagame. Because this protection came from an attack and not an ability, things like Garbodor would be useless in trying to play around this. Hippowdon could also utilize Strong Energy and Fighting Stadium, to close the game out quickly once it was set up, and Focus Sash, so even if the opponent found a way to hit through the Resistance Desert attack, the Hippowdon would still have some level of protection. Unfortunately for Eduardo, he got paired against the 2nd rogue deck to do well at the tournament immediately in top cut. It was a deck that nobody expected to play against, and probably his worst matchup in the field…

The idea of one single player – Brandon Zettel, a local to my hometwon of Green Bay, Wisconsin, would completely change the trajectory of the 2015 season. After Brandon completely demolished his younger brother’s Raichu/Crobat build, our testing group went all-in, and weeks of testing and editing resulted in Wailord EX/Suicune Stall. When Trump Card got banned, it was once again possible for players to run out of resources in their deck. Many players were using a ton of item cards that ran through their deck very quickly, and very few cards to recover their lost resources. Wailord/Suicune took advantage of this, and slowly, but surely, ran the opponent out of cards in their deck by hiding behind the Safeguard ability of Suicune, and the gargantuan 250 HP of Wailord EX.

The more the tournament unfolded, the more Wailord EX became a fan-favorite at the event. Amusingly, Wailord was kept off stream for almost the entire event, because the stream team feared it would be boring for players to watch as the deck quite literally did nothing other than remove energy and heal. As mentioned before, Eduardo and his Hippowdon deck unfortunately got paired against Wailord in top 8 – 250 HP combined with all the healing and energy denial was simply too much for the Hippowdon deck to overcome. In the semi-finals of the event, While 3-time world champion Jason Klaczynski played his top 4 match on the main stage, many players were crowding around the side table that featured Enrique Avila (Wailord) vs Grant Manley (Mega Manectric/Garbodor). Enrique would eventually win by locking Grant’s Garbodor in the active position, and decking him out.

The finals of US Nationals pitted Jason Klaczynski, using a modified version of the Seismitoad/Shaymin/Garbodor deck he had won Madison Regionals with, against Enrique Avila, one of the players using the now infamous Wailord deck. While Enrique was able to put Jason in a checkmate position, the timer rules unfortunately benefitted Jason in this instance. In top cut of the pokemon TCG, games where 4 prize cards have been taken count as a “completed” game. After Enrique won game 1 fairly easily, Jason Klaczynski had completely run out of energy cards in game 2, and had no means of attacking, but he had taken 4 prizes before this occurred. As a result, when time was called, Jason was declared the winner of game 2, resulting in a game count of 1-1. When this happens, both players shuffle up and play a sudden death match, where the first person to draw a prize card wins. Because the Wailord deck played 0 energy cards, it could never attack or take prize cards, and as a result, lost the sudden death match in the finals, and Jason finally won a US National Championships – the last major tournament that had eluded him for so long.

While Enrique’s 2nd-place run is what people remember most of all, nobody in our testing group truly “flopped” with the Wailord deck. Between 6 of us playing the deck at the tournament, Wailord finished 2nd (Enrique Avila), 9th (Brandon Zettel), and 45th (Michael Lux), with the other 3 players (myself, Cody Walinski, and Austin Zettel) all finishing in the top 128, just 1 match point away from making day 2.

When the World Championships rolled around to finish the season off, no new sets were released, but the metagame was very different than what we saw at US Nationals. According to my friends who attended the event, there was a much wider variety of decks that popped up at the tournament, and it wasn’t quite as Seismitoad-centered as Nationals had been. The legal cardpool might have been the same, but the tournament results could not have been more different.

For starters, Metal decks were absolutely NOWHERE to be seen at the top tables – only 1 deck with Bronzong even appeared in the top 16, and that was Raichu/Crobat that simply used Bronzong as a tech to get its energy back. Wailord also wasn’t anywhere to be seen as many players started to tech Bunnelby from Primal Clash into their decks to counter it – Rototiller allowed them to continuously put their energy cards back into their deck, while burrow turned the tables and made the Wailord players run out of cards! Seismitoad/Crobat ended up being the highest-placing Seismitoad deck, with multiple copies in top 8 and top 32, while Seismitoad/Garbodor only had 1 copy in the top 32 decks.

In metas that were as wide open as this one was, decks that set up quickly and consistently are generally rewarded, and as a result, Night March scored its first top finishes in the standard format, placing in both top 4 and top 8 of the tournament. Donphan also saw a resurgence, placing Top 8 in masters, and placing 2nd in the Seniors division! As long as it avoided Seismitoad, it was in a pretty good spot. Both Primal Kyogre and Primal Groudon continued to see play – both decks placed in the Top 16 of US Nationals, and Primal Groudon repeated this accomplishment at worlds in the hands of Ross Cawthon! But one more card from Primal Clash would take the win on pokemon’s biggest stage.

Archie’s Ace in the Hole was difficult to make work, but the reward was strong. Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick had been dominating in the expanded format for quite some time, but Archie’s had only seen small sucess – only one copy in all of top 64 at US Nationals. It was the perfect call for an open metagame like this. Similar to Night March, ArchieStoise set up very quickly, and very consistently, often using many items before following up with Archie’s Ace in the Hole on turn 1 or turn 2. The lack of Garbodor is what really allowed this deck to shine at worlds – after your Blastoise was in play, you didn’t really need items too badly, so you weren’t too worried about Seismitoad ex. Keldeo did more than enough damage to threaten them, and could constantly remove poison and sleep with its Rush In ability. Jacob Van Wagner also included the Ancient Trait Aritcuno into his list – a tech that gave him the edge against smaller, single prize pokemon. This would prove to be crucial as Jacob got paired against Night March both in Top 8 AND Top 4 of the event!

The finals of the world championships pitted ArchieStoise against Seismitoad/Crobat. As alluded to earlier, past turn 1, ArchieStoise isn’t too worried about its ability to play item cards, and Seismitoad/Crobat doesn’t have any ways to prevent Blastoise from piling a bunch of energy into play. As a result, Jacob Van Wagner became our world champion with his ArchieStoise deck, winning the event in a dominating fashion, setting up a Blastoise and taking a KO on turn one in BOTH games of the finals.

As the tournament season came to a close, players looked back on the season with mixed feelings. It’s very easy to remember the presence of Seismitoad ex – a card that dominated the entire season in multiple different decks, and eventually was the cause of the first Standard Format ban since the WotC era, but I think a lot of people overlook the diversity of decks that came in this format. 8 different decks made up the top 8 at US Nationals, and 6 different decks made up the top 8 at Worlds. When building decks for this year, I ended up with 22 different archetypes just from day 2 of US Nats and Worlds alone, and some (such as Harrison Leven’s Bunnelby/Slurpuff deck) that I couldn’t even find a list for! In the face of Seismitoad’s domination, 2 completely new decks – Wailord and Hippowdon – rose to the occasion. I’m extremely lucky to have such a strong group of players in my area, because traveling to tournaments this season, seeing the metagame shift, and eventually the creation of Wailord are some of our best memories as friends.

I hope you found this window into the 2015 season enjoyable – I couldn’t quite cover every single detail and deck of the season, but if you want to see decklists for this year, check out my 2015 decklists here! Thanks again for reading, and hopefully I’ll see you at the next article!

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