From the Magikarp Salesman arc in the anime, to that guy with six Magikarp (who has a meme Facebook page dedicated to him) in the video games- Magikarp has always been a figure of mirth in the Pokémon universe. The pathetic, useless element of Magikarp has extended to its trading card game counterparts.
By contrast, Gyarados has always been a force to contend with in the trading card game. The current tournament legal standard format Gyarados (from Ancient Origins) is no exception. With the ability to hit 210 damage for the cost of a Double Colourless Energy, the deck has found some success on the competitive circuit in the Masters division. For example, the deck was used to earn a 2nd place at Sheffield Regionals, Top 32 at the Oceania International Challenge, Top 16 at Malmö Regionals, and 10th place at Utah Regionals.
However, the Gyarados deck could never occupy anything higher than a tier 2 power ranking. Prior to the release of Sun and Moon, opposing players could simply play a single Spinda or a Celebi EX to take multiple knockouts in one turn and swing the game heavily in their favour. Following the release of Sun and Moon, the popularity of Decidueye GX/ Vileplume saw players almost completely abandon Gyarados. Decidueye GX’s Feather Arrow ability meant that even Mr. Mime’s Bench Barrier could not keep benched Magikarps safe, and Vileplume’s item lock prevented Gyarados players from accessing half of their deck.
The latest Pokémon Trading Card game expansion- Guardians Rising- has brought Gyarados the tools it needs to take on Decidueye GX/ Vileplume. Utilising these new cards, myself and David Patane of CoolTrainerTV have designed a Gyarados deck list that could see it move to tier 1 (ok, maybe tier 1.5) in the Primal Clash to Guardians Rising format. The full list can be seen at the beginning of the video below:
This following is an analysis of our 60 card list, with focus on the notable differences between our list and the standard competitive Gyarados list.
Wobbuffet has primarily been included for the Decidueye GX/ Vileplume match-up. With a Wobbuffet in the active position, players are free to play items to set-up their board, and Magikarps are safe from Feather Arrows on the bench. Given that this list does not play Octillery, does play multiple Float Stone, and does not rely on Shaymin EX, the only disadvantage to having Wobbuffet in the active position is that the player’s benched Pokémon are not protected from damage by attacks (beware of Spindas).
Machoke (Guardians Rising)
The other issue with Wobbuffet is that the moment players wish to retreat and start attacking with Gyarados, opposing players have access to all their abilities. Notably, this means that Decidueye GX can knock out multiple Magikarps using Feather Arrow. This is where Machoke comes in. Machoke’s ability- Daunting Pose- protects the player’s benched Pokémon from damage and damage counters from the attacks of opposing Pokémon. It also prevents opposing players from using abilities to place damage counters on benched Pokémon. In this way, Machoke is superior to Mr. Mime (which only prevents damage from attacks to benched Pokémon). By having a Machoke in play, players are able to attack with Gyarados knowing that opposing Decidueye GX can ONLY place damage counters using Feather Arrow on the active Gyarados. Magikarps are completely protected.
No Trainer’s Mail
Most Gyarados lists rely on Trainer’s Mail to hit key resources. However, against Vileplume, these Trainer’s Mails can become dead cards in the player’s hand or deck. Instead of running Trainer’s Mail, we opted to include a Shaymin EX, Tapu Lele GX, and a Skyla. Shaymin EX and Tapu Lele GX can be used under item lock, and Skyla is a much more reliable way to hit any item in deck. In fact, running a Tapu Lele GX and a Skyla means that any card in deck is accessible through a search function, except Double Colourless Energy (though a Tapu Lele GX for a Teammates for two Puzzle of Time could retrieve a Double Colourless Energy from the discard pile). Tapu Lele GX is also a potential counter to Glaceon EX (the player’s only other out is the single Pokémon Ranger that this deck runs).
If you’re in a non-Decidueye GX/ Vileplume meta, the traditional Trainer’s Mail variant may be a better option.
Choice Band/ Float Stone vs Lucky Helmet/ Bursting Balloon
Traditionally, Gyarados players use Bursting Balloons to increase the amount of damage (and therefore reduce the number of benched Magikarps needed) on the opposing players field, and/or Lucky Helmets to ensure that they draw into all the pieces they need to continue the chain of Full Retaliation attacks for 210 damage.
In this list, we play 2 Choice Band and 3 Float Stone. With a Choice Band attached, Gyarados is able to deal 240 damage (rather than being capped at 210, which is not enough to one hit knockout many GX Pokemon including Decidueye GX), and the damage is guaranteed (unlike with Bursting Balloon). With 2 Choice Band attached (possible thanks to the ancient trait Theta Double), Gyarados can hit for 90 damage without having any damaged Magikarp in play. This is enough to knockout a Shaymin EX that has already taken damage from Team Magma’s Secret Base.
The choice to play 3 Float Stone instead of Lucky Helmet or additional Choice Band was a simple one. Float Stones are the only switching options in this deck. They are essential for manipulating ability lock with Wobbuffet, and are the only way to get Machoke or Tapu Lele GX out of the active spot (as this deck cannot afford to spend Double Colourless Energy on retreating). Lucky Helmet feels like a card that benefits you if you are falling behind, and can be discarded with Field Blower without achieving anything.
The Floating 60th card spot (currently occupied by Hex Maniac)
This is a 59 card list at its core, as we decided that Hex Maniac was not particularly useful. Very rarely will Hex Maniac be the player’s supporter of choice for the turn, as the Wobbuffet/ Machoke combination is enough to counter most offensive abilities, and Hex Maniac does not advance the board state. This is particularly important because the only draw support other than Supporter cards, is Shaymin EX and Tapu Lele GX (which are both unable to be used if Hex Maniac has been played).
Other options for the 60th card spot include;
- Wally: A delayed Machoke, a well-timed Spinda, or a Lysandre- savvy Decidueye GX player could completely wipe the player’s board of Magikarps. Wally allows you to set-up a Gyarados out of thin air.
- Pokémon Catcher: This card potentially allows you to use a Lysandre-Effect AND a draw supporter on the same turn. Alternatively, if you don’t have a VS Seeker or Lysandre in hand, Pokémon Catcher can be sought out through Skyla or Teammates. It could catch your opponent completely off-guard. However, aside from being a burnable card, it is almost useless if you flip tails.
- A 2nd Field Blower: Previously, Gyarados struggled to one hit knockout EX Pokemon with Fighting Fury Belts that pushed their HP to 220 or beyond. It also struggled against Turbo Darkrai, as Darkrai EX is able to keep energy in play using EXP Shares. A 2nd Field Blower could swing the match-up in Gyarados’ favour, as Darkrai EX can be easily one-hit knocked out when it has 180 HP, and their energy would hit the discard pile with them.
- A 3rd Choice Band: I would include this in an EX or GX heavy meta.
- A 4th Gyarados: In a meta that is heavy on non-ex/ GX Pokémon (e.g. many Vespiquen or Guardians Rising Garbodor decks), a 4th Gyarados could be very useful. Against decks that force you to take 6 x 1-prize knockouts, the player could be forced to take 6 knockouts through 6 attacks. Assuming a 1 for 1 consecutive prize trade, this could require as many as 6 Gyarados and 7 Magikarp throughout the course of the game. This means that players will need to get back 3 Gyarados and 3 Magikarp from the discard pile. With 4 Buddy Buddy Rescue/ Rescue Stretcher, 1 Super Rod, and 4 Puzzle of Time, it is possible to do so. However, if one Puzzle of Time is prized, or a Super Rod is not used efficiently, this could be a difficult task. A 4th Gyarados would lessen the burden.
Buddy-Buddy Rescue/ Super Rod vs Rescue Stretcher
This list runs 4 Buddy-Buddy Rescue and 1 Super Rod, a la the old Gyarados lists. With the release of Guardians Rising, it should run 4 Rescue Stretcher instead. This was a mistake on our part. Rescue Stretcher acts as a Buddy-Buddy Rescue that doesn’t benefit your opponent OR as a Super Rod for Pokémon (which is all you would ever use Super Rod for in a Gyarados list). I would still run a Super Rod or a Buddy Buddy Rescue in conjunction with 4 Rescue Stretcher. Having many ways to retrieve Magikarps from the discard pile is essential in this deck.
As we move into the Primal Clash to Guardians Rising format, it is important not to treat the cards from the new expansion as though they are in a vacuum. More often than not, the release of a new Pokémon TCG expansion sees an older deck or archetype re-emerge as a strong contender, as they are gifted the tools to counter their weaker match-ups.
Clearly, Gyarados is no exception. So, what are you waiting for? Dust off your Team Magma Secret Bases, and declare Full Retaliation for 270.
This article is part of a series for competitive Pokémon Trading Card Game players. Never miss an article! Follow me on Twitter here. You can find commentated matches featuring some of these decks at my Youtube channel here.