By Joe Bernard, contributing writer
The all-new TAG TEAM trio Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX was released in the Sun & Moon—Cosmic Eclipse expansion and immediately staked out a position as one of the top contenders in the format by leaving a lasting impression during the Latin America International Championships. Trainers building decks around this powerful card managed to take home 1st place in the Junior Division, 2nd place in the Senior Division, and both a Top 4 and a Top 8 placement in the Masters Division.
The archetype was extremely popular during the main event in Brazil, with many different styles of the deck list finding success. These early performances make it clear that the core strategy is both potent and flexible, while at the same time sparking the question: what's the best way to build around these powerful Pokémon? Let's take a deeper look at this deck for answers.
Creation of the Deck
Let's first look into what makes the deck tick. Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX boasts two very strong attacks. Its Altered Creation-GX attack provides an increase of 30 damage to all future attacks and allows the player to take an additional Prize card upon scoring a Knock Out on the opponent's Pokémon. With these kinds of enhancements, it's easy to see why the archetype is threatening to both Pokémon-GX and non-Pokémon-GX based decks alike. The 30-damage buff can help you reach Knock Outs on popular Pokémon-GX such as Dedenne-GX in one hit with Ultimate Ray, and even helps Keldeo-GX's Sonic Edge attack reach a one-hit Knock Out on Reshiram & Charizard-GX thanks to Weakness. With the extra push of damage, it's easy to see how this deck can be very efficient in a Prize race, especially when using Great Catcher on the opponent's Dedenne-GX to grab a quick three Prize cards for the price of two!
Beyond the GX attack, Energy acceleration is the name of the game, ensuring that the Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX player has plenty of support Pokémon ready to attack on future turns. Ultimate Ray is very similar to a previous powerhouse of the format, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX's Full Blitz attack. They both do 150 damage and allow the player to search their deck for three basic Energy cards and attach them to their Pokémon. Where this attack differs from Full Blitz is that it has extra flexibility, since you can attach these three Energy in any way you like. This makes powering up multiple Pokémon at once much easier and provides you with more options against whatever attackers your opponent may throw at you.
You'll find a number of supporting Pokémon in most of the decks of this type. Both of Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX's attacks require Metal and Water Energy, so it's only natural to see other Pokémon that can use the same types of Energy for their attacks. Keldeo-GX is the most frequent partner and can be a real headache to opponents thanks to its Pure Heart Ability, preventing all effects of attacks (including damage) done to it by Pokémon-GX. This ability is complemented by another new card from Sun & Moon—Cosmic Eclipse, Chaotic Swell (a card that's quickly becoming a favorite of mine). This Stadium card works well with Keldeo-GX as it is able to gobble up a Power Plant and prevent the card from coming into play. Power Plant is one method many Pokémon-GX-focused decks will use to shut down Keldeo-GX's Ability in order to get a Knock Out, so denying this option makes Keldeo-GX far more likely to stay on the board for multiple turns. At the same time, Chaotic Swell naturally makes life difficult for a ton of decks that rely on Stadiums for setup: Ultra Space for any Ultra Beast archetype, Giant Hearth for Welder decks, and even Prism Star Stadiums such as Heat Factory and Thunder Mountain can get caught up in the Swell, slowing down many opponents' core strategies.
On the topic of new cards, Tag Call adds a lot of value to Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX decks. Tag Call not only gives you great access to your main attacker early and lets you begin attaching Energy, but this deck is able to make great use out of many of the TAG TEAM Supporter cards from Sun & Moon—Cosmic Eclipse.
To help against decks that can't reach one-hit Knock Outs on your attackers, Mallow & Lana provides a massive healing effect, removing 120 damage from your Active Pokémon. For example, Mewtwo & Mew-GX decks are usually forced to attack your Keldeo-GX with Greninja-GX's Mist Slash attack, doing 130 damage. If you grab Mallow & Lana at the right time, it can undo nearly all of that damage (the same can be said for the Malamar matchup and plenty of others). Mallow & Lana also has a switching effect, making Jirachi a natural partner in this deck to help you find Tag Calls and other Pokémon search cards in the opening turns, while helping you access important cards such as Great Catcher on offense or Reset Stamp on defense as the game progresses.
Cynthia & Caitlin can help recover a Supporter card from the discard pile while also drawing three cards (at the cost of discarding one from your hand). Not only does this help you accumulate resources, the effect can also help you create a game plan for the following turn by cherry-picking the right Supporter for the situation you find yourself in. Cynthia & Caitlin can also open up the possibility to play an unconventional Supporter count, knowing that you can recover situational Supporters at the right time.
Guzma & Hala has been a staple of many successful builds of this deck. Even including just one can be extremely helpful for getting a guaranteed Energy attachment, as well as helping you access important Tool and Stadium cards in the early game. As mentioned, getting an early Chaotic Swell out can really slow down many decks, and Choice Helmet is often a great way to protect your first Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX from being Knocked Out against aggressive decks.
Misty & Lorelei isn't necessarily a Supporter you would want to use all the time, but it can certainly be a game winner in the right situations. Like other options, its primary effect can be a means of finding Energy in the opening turns, but its secondary effect is where things get interesting. This Supporter allows your Water-type Pokémon to use an additional GX attack during the game! You can potentially churn out a lot of damage in short order, specifically with Keldeo-GX's Resolute Blade-GX attack. The addition of this card can really help cover one of the deck's few weaknesses: its lack of one-hit KO potential at times, especially against TAG TEAM Pokémon-GX.
Time for Change
The core setup for this deck is largely consistent among competitors, but the player base is pretty divided about the next steps when building this deck. The direction can change drastically due to a player's preference, whether they want to play aggressively and accelerate Energy even before using Ultimate Ray in order to use a GX attack quickly and offer a bounce-back to an opponent's early pressure, or prefer to simply manually attach Energy in the opening turns and focus more on defense.
N's Resolve is the usual means of getting Energy onto the board quickly, and players wanting to go fast will usually opt to play these in combination with multiple Dedenne-GX to help them draw a bunch of cards on the first turn to make a combo happen. Although getting to attack faster can be great for early-game tempo, there are no guarantees that N's Resolve can get you there—especially because you'll also need to find a switching card in order to attack, since N's Resolve applies only to Benched Dragon-type Pokémon. This is accompanied by concerns that both N's Resolve and the early use of Dedenne-GX may cause a strain on resources later on.
The more conservative route certainly can feel slow, especially when going second, as the opponent will usually have a number of turns to set up their board unchallenged. But this approach has obvious perks: There's much less pressure to plonk Dedenne-GX onto the Bench, so your opponent doesn't have that easy route to take Prize cards, and you are in complete control of the cards you have access to throughout the game. Deck space also opens up because there is less incentive to play such a high basic Energy count to improve the odds with N's Resolve. Usually this build will instead commit spaces to Guzma & Hala, as well as some Choice Helmets to provide extra protection to your Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX while it patiently powers up. Additionally, to counterbalance the lack of Dedenne-GX, Zebstrika is a common substitute to provide extra draw power and defense against opponents' Reset Stamps.
Players can also find a happy medium between these two schools of thought, and that is ultimately where I see the deck settling in the end. Being a one-trick pony can sometimes make it easier for your opponent to play against, and in best-of-three tournaments it's great to have both routes available.
If You Have the Space
There are still a number of cards that I believe should at least be considered for the archetype that aren't consistently found in decks, but could start to get more attention as the metagame matures.
The first is a TAG TEAM Pokémon-GX that featured in the winning deck lists of both Master Division finalists: Mega Lopunny & Jigglypuff-GX. One pitfall of the Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX archetype is its predictable damage output, and Mega Lopunny & Jigglypuff-GX can certainly mess that up for the opponent. This TAG TEAM creates scenarios where the opponent may have already played themselves into a sticky situation by Benching too many Pokémon-GX during the game.
Another TAG TEAM tech that's certainly worth considering is Lucario & Melmetal-GX. Without this card, Fairy-type decks will prove challenging. Most notable of these is the Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX matchup, a deck that may be on the rise as it naturally will have a favorable matchup with its type coverage until Lucario & Melmetal-GX balances the scales.
Drampa is a great non-GX option for the deck as it can easily deal with Dedenne-GX as well as Keldeo-GX in one shot (thanks to the Altered Creation-GX damage buff!). Drampa is certainly handy for mirror matches and any deck reliant on the Dedechange Ability.
Cryogonal has become somewhat of a saving grace in the format. Its Frozen Lock attack can deny the use of many key components of two control-based archetypes in the meta game—namely Pidgeotto Control and Florges/Lillie's Poké Doll. It can also save you in a pinch against all kinds of decks by forcing the opponent into an awkward Prize trade since you shut down their use of Great Catcher and Custom Catcher with Frozen Lock. Ideally that extra turn can help you find Reset Stamps or Catchers of your own to mount a comeback.
Although not much of an attacker, Phione can also put control decks on the back foot, particularly those hoping to buy time behind Lillie's Poke Doll. Its uses don't stop there—a searchable means of pushing the opponent's Active Pokémon back to the Bench can be enough to close games in all sorts of situations.
Absol is another Pokémon worth a mention thanks to its Dark Ambition Ability. Its main purposes are to disrupt the opponent's use of Jirachi and to make it more awkward for opponents to weave in their own Mallow & Lana to undo a chunk of your damage from previous turns.
Rayquaza-GX can be an alternative option for those N's Resolve skeptics among you who also value having the option to go fast when required. Stormy Winds, in combination with a few Energy Switch, may be worth a try. In contrast with an N's Resolve list, this lets you play a higher conventional Supporter count and has natural synergy with Cherish Ball and Mysterious Treasure. The main downsides are that you leave yourself more open to Mega Lopunny & Jigglypuff-GX and at the same time leave easy Great Catcher targets for the opponent to take advantage of.
Consider the Competition
If you want to have a better time against this deck in future events, be sure to have methods of dealing with a Keldeo-GX in one hit and have plenty of healing in your list, or ensure that your deck has methods of rushing down Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX before it gets a chance to use Ultimate Ray. The Naganadel & Guzzlord-GX/Mismagius deck seems to be the most direct counter strategy out there, as the deck ticks two of those boxes, with Mallow & Lana plus Violent Appetite available for healing plus Ultra Forest Kartenvoy as an easy way through Keldeo-GX. The winning deck from the Latin America International Championships, Reshiram & Charizard-GX, is probably the deck most able to rush down Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX with its use of Ninetales alongside early Welder to churn out big damage. The deck also comes with built-in responses to Keldeo-GX via Turtonator and Victini Prism Star.
With all kinds of ways to build and play around, Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX is one of the strongest newcomer decks we have in our format, as well as a fun deck to play. Good luck to everyone looking to pick up this deck...and to those striving to stay toe-to-toe with it at your next event! Be sure to look for more Pokémon TCG strategy and analysis at Pokemon.com/Strategy.