We’ve gone over the fundamentals of this deck: attach Fire
Energy to Blacephalon, use Fireball Circus, and repeat. As far as game plans
go, Blacephalon’s is pretty linear. However, there are two important concepts
to know in order to master the deck: sequencing and Prize planning.

Sequencing is the science of playing your cards or using
Abilities in the right order to maximize your odds of accomplishing your goal
for the turn (which, in this deck, is almost always to Knock Out the opponent’s
Active Pokémon). Since getting Fire Energy into your hand is the most important
element of your strategy, you should play cards in the optimal order to
accomplish this.

For example, you should play Fiery Flint before using
Jirachi’s Stellar Wish: that way, you remove four Energy cards from your deck,
increasing your odds of getting a Trainer card you want with Stellar Wish. To
stretch this even further, the best order to use your various ways to draw in one
turn is usually: Dance of Tribute, followed by Welder, then Heat Factory Prism
Star, and finally Stellar Wish. Drawing cards before using Stellar Wish lets
you dig deeper into your deck and select a Trainer card knowing all the other
cards in your hand. There are exceptions to this pattern, of course. Let’s say you
need to draw your deck’s last Energy cards: you should use Stellar Wish first
(and then Ordinary Rod if you have
it!), and only then use Dance of Tribute and your other ways to draw cards.

Sequencing is important in less obvious ways, as well. This
deck uses Scoop Up Net, but I’m very
careful with how I use it. Scoop Up Net is an interesting card that works very
well with Jirachi but makes sequencing harder. Let’s say your Blacephalon just
got Knocked Out, and you need to use Stellar Wish as many times as possible on
your turn. You have two Jirachi already in play, one with an Escape Board attached. You also have a Scoop Up Net
and a Switch in hand. Because your
Blacephalon just got Knocked Out, you need to promote one of the Jirachi to the
Active Spot. What do you do?

If your first move is to promote the Jirachi with Escape
Board, you’d be making a mistake! While it’s a natural instinct to bring up a Pokémon
that has no Retreat Cost, it’s incorrect in this specific case. Instead,
promote the other Jirachi. After using Stellar Wish, use Scoop Up Net, send the
Jirachi with Escape Board to the Active Spot, and use its own Stellar Wish.
Then, play the Jirachi you scooped up, retreat your Active Jirachi, and send
this one forward. Since you just played this Jirachi, it’s a new Pokémon, and
you can use Stellar Wish—for the third time in the turn! Finally, assuming you
managed to get a Blacephalon ready to attack, you can play Switch to move it to
the Active Spot.

Remember, sequencing is about having a goal in mind for that
turn and determining the order of cards you can play to achieve that goal. It’s
a fundamental element of Pokémon TCG strategy that will help you improve your
game immensely.

If sequencing is the way you play out one specific turn,
Prize planning is a similar thing on a longer time scale: it’s knowing in
advance how you’re going to take all six Prize cards in the fastest way
possible and win the game. Unlike with other decks, you can’t really choose
your targets with Boss’s Orders or Custom Catcher when you’re playing
Blacephalon. Most of the time, you’re going to attack whatever Pokémon your
opponent has Active. However, there are three ways to claim more Prize cards
than your opponent is offering.

The first is Great Catcher, which is usually played in the late game. If you have only two
Prize cards left to take, but your opponent’s Active Pokémon is tough to Knock
Out (for example a TAG TEAM Pokémon-GX or a Pokémon VMAX), you can play
Great Catcher to have them bring up a slightly easier target. Conversely, you
can also play Great Catcher when your opponent’s Active Pokémon only gives up
one Prize card, in order to bring up a Pokémon-GX and take more Prize
cards in one turn.

The second is Blacephalon-GX‘s Burst-GX attack,
which is just about the easiest way to get rid of a single Prize card. This
attack is best kept for the late game because it’s much easier to set up than
Fireball Circus (you don’t even need Welder!), and especially since your
opponent might play a Reset Stamp to make it harder to power up your
Blacephalon.

Finally, this deck uses a rather complex combination of Oranguru, Mr. Mime, and Jirachi Prism Star. It
works like this: Use Oranguru’s Primate Wisdom to put Jirachi Prism Star on top
of your deck (and draw another card in exchange). Then, play Mr. Mime and use
its Pantomime Ability to swap Jirachi Prism Star with one of your Prize cards.
The next time you get a Knock Out, if you have space on your Bench, take
Jirachi Prism Star (since you’ll know where it is in your Prize cards), and you’ll
get to take an extra Prize card thanks to its Wish Upon a Star Ability!

It may look complicated, but the benefits of such a
combination are huge. Taking one extra Prize card can often mean winning a game
that you’d have lost otherwise. It means you can win a game in only two attacks
by Knocking Out a three-Prize and a two-Prize Pokémon, something that happens
pretty often.

Scoop Up Net helps this combination a lot, for two reasons.
It can be used to free up space on the Bench to make sure you can play Mr. Mime
and Jirachi Prism Star. And in longer games, you can even get these two cards
back in your hand in order to use the combination a second time and get another
free Prize card!

While you can’t predict everything that will happen at the
start of a game, when you understand what kind of deck your opponent is
playing, you should have an idea of how you’re going to take all your Prize
cards, and how many turns it will take to do so. Here’s what your games might
look like against some of the most popular decks in the format:

This deck uses only Dragapult VMAX as an attacker, so you
can win in two attacks by Knocking Out two Dragapult VMAX. That’s not so easy
to do because of Dragapult VMAX’s massive HP! The game gets easier if your
opponent has to play Dedenne-GX, a prime target for Great
Catcher. In this scenario, you can win by Knocking Out Dragapult VMAX and Dedenne-GX, then ending the game with
Blacephalon-GX‘s Burst-GX attack,
or even taking three Prize cards for Dragapult VMAX and three for Dedenne-GX thanks to Jirachi Prism Star. Alternatively,
if you can get an early Knock Out on a Jirachi on the first or second turn,
then you could use Burst-GX for another Prize card, and finish the game
by taking four Prize cards when you Knock Out Dragapult VMAX, thanks to
Jirachi Prism Star.

This deck starts slow and doesn’t do damage until turn
three, but once it starts attacking, it takes Prize cards twice as quickly: a Knock
Out on Blacephalon will give your opponent two Prize cards instead of one
thanks to Altered Creation-GX! Fortunately, Blacephalon tends to win
this race, although it’s a close one. Once Altered Creation-GX has been
used, your opponent needs only three turns to win the game, so you need to be
faster. If you can get a Knock Out with Fireball Circus on Arceus & Dialga
& Palkia-GX before it can use
Ultimate Ray, then you’ll be in a great position! You can win the game in two
turns by Knocking Out the subsequent Zacian V and finally using Burst-GX.
Be careful, though: don’t put more than one Pokémon-GX or Pokémon V into
play if you can avoid it! If you have two two-Prize Pokémon on your Bench, then
your opponent will have the opportunity to win in two turns by Knocking Out both
of them.

Lists of this deck can differ quite a bit and use a variety
of secondary attackers. But they always start their offensive by using Pikachu
& Zekrom-GX‘s Full Blitz, and
most of their attackers are Pokémon-GX or Pokémon V. The easiest road to
victory is to get three Prize cards with a single Knock Out of Pikachu &
Zekrom-GX, then two more Prize cards by
Knocking Out the follow-up attacker, and the last one by using Burst-GX.
Compared to Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX,
Pikachu & Zekrom-GX can take
Prize cards earlier, but since it can’t take extra Prize cards per Knock Out,
it doesn’t win as fast. Sometimes you’ll need to sacrifice a couple of Pokémon
while you set up, but you should be able to catch up. Be aware that Pikachu
& Zekrom-GX‘s Tag Bolt-GX
can take multiple Knock Outs in one turn. If you’re having trouble beating this
deck, you can include Mew in your list
to protect yourself against it.

This matchup tends to be a back-and-forth where each player
takes a Prize card per turn. This means Jirachi Prism Star is very important
here: one additional Prize card means you’re one whole turn closer to victory.
Be careful with your resources, and don’t discard too many Energy cards to Quick Ball, Heat Factory Prism Star, or
Fiery Flint, since you’ll need a lot of them throughout the game. Keep Ordinary
Rod to get back Blacephalon and some Fire Energy in the late game so you don’t
run out of attackers, and target your opponent’s Oricorio-GX with Great Catcher as soon as it hits the Bench. You should use
Burst-GX to take your last Prize card, but don’t put Blacephalon-GX on your Bench before that, since it
gives up two Prize cards.

While Blacephalon is a very powerful deck, it’s not without
its shortcomings. Here are some cards and strategies to watch out for—or, if
you’re struggling to beat Blacephalon, here are some ideas you could adopt!

First, Blacephalon struggles against mill and control decks
that hide behind Lillie’s Poké Doll and
either discard cards from your deck aggressively with Bellelba & Brycen-Man, or discard your Energy and
your hand in order to control the game. Since this deck doesn’t have a
universal way to attack Pokémon on the opponent’s Bench, there just isn’t much
we can do against these strategies.

A much more common challenge to this deck is hand
disruption. Picture this: you played your first turn, you have a Jirachi, a
Blacephalon, a Zacian V, and you just used Intrepid Sword, getting a Welder for
next turn…and your opponent uses Marnie,
putting you back to four cards in hand. It’s only a minor setback, but in a
close game, losing a turn in this way could be decisive. Other opponents will
use Reset Stamp instead: it’s much
less effective in the early game, but it can be devastating in the late game.
The best way to protect yourself against Reset Stamp is to have Oricorio-GX in play, so if your opponent Knocks
Out Blacephalon, you can get more cards to get another one ready to attack.
(And, if they Knock Out Oricorio-GX
instead, at least you still have your powered-up Blacephalon, and you only need
to get Energy to discard!)

Finally, beware of Tapu Fini, which can Knock Out Blacephalon for a single Energy. It can be
used by decks that use mostly Pokémon-GX or Pokémon V to attack, giving
them an easy way to Knock Out Blacephalon with a Pokémon that only gives up one
Prize card. It’s especially effective in Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX decks, since Tapu Fini will take two
Prizes when it attacks but only gives up one!

Blacephalon is a deck that I’ve had a lot of success with
this season. It’s an easy deck to understand, but not as easy to master.
However, I hope this guide helped you understand its intricacies. I find that
there’s something profoundly enjoyable about choosing the best way to play a complicated
hand, drawing a bunch of cards in one turn, and finally discarding six Fire
Energy to take three Prize cards in one turn by Knocking Out a much bigger Pokémon
in one hit. If that kind of play appeals to you as well, don’t wait any longer—join
the Fireball Circus!

For more Pokémon TCG tips and analysis, be sure to check out Pokemon.com/Strategy.

Stéphane Ivanoff

Stéphane Ivanoff is a contributing writer for Pokemon.com. A longtime Pokémon fan, he has played the Pokémon TCG competitively since 2010 and is a former National Champion, seven-time Worlds competitor, and the 2018 and 2019 North America International Champion in the Masters Division. He studied mathematics and has a degree in probability and statistics, but he says that doesn’t help his game as much as you’d think! You can follow him on Twitter @lubyllule.


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