ADP Dragonite in Expanded Deep Dive
I recently started a series looking at the expanded format. I love the expanded format and the many diverse types of deck that you can play. Many different decks are capable of getting results in the hands of a skilled player, but there are two decks which consistently recording top finishes in online tournaments. I’ve already looked at Shadow Rider in my first deep dive, which you can read here. It makes sense then to follow that article with a look at ADP Dragonite which is the other main contender for the title of best deck in format.
Before we get started, here is an example of a deck list from Wy Keen. This won Dave & Salvo’s Expanded tournament in March. Wy Keen has won a number of online tournaments with similar lists. Like most decks in expanded, players can adapt lists to their liking, so no single list can cover everything an archetype has to offer, but this list is a good representation of a typical ADP Dragonite list.
2 Dragonite V PR-SWSH 154
2 Dedenne-GX UNB 57
1 Crobat V SHF 44
1 Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX CEC 156
1 Naganadel & Guzzlord-GX CEC 158
1 Sudowoodo GRI 66
1 Tapu Koko Prism Star TEU 51
1 Vikavolt V DAA 60
1 Zeraora-GX LOT 86
1 Tapu Lele-GX GRI 60
2 Guzma BUS 115
2 Guzma & Hala CEC 193
2 Professor Juniper PLB 84
1 Marnie CPA 56
1 N FCO 105
1 Mallow & Lana CEC 198
1 Pokémon Ranger STS 104
4 Max Elixir BKP 102
4 Tag Call CEC 206
4 Quick Ball FST 237
3 Trainers’ Mail ROS 92
3 VS Seeker PHF 109
1 Computer Search BCR 137
1 Field Blower GRI 125
2 Float Stone BKT 137
1 Fighting Fury Belt BKP 99
1 Choice Belt BRS 135
1 Muscle Band XY 121
2 Stormy Mountains EVS 161
7 Lightning Energy 4
4 Double Dragon Energy ROS 97
ADP and Double Dragon Energy
I’m starting this deep dive with one of the namesake cards, Arceus & Dialga & Palkia GX which is one of the most powerful pokémon ever printed. 280 HP is huge, and Ultimate Ray is a nice option that combines a strong attack with serious energy acceleration. The real payoff for running this card however is the ridiculous Altered Creation attack. It combines two effects that completely break the game. Firstly taking extra prizes is extremely strong and brutally punishes one-prize pokémon. Secondly getting 30 extra damage for every attack for the rest of the game is so strong. Very few cards in the game can interact with this type of effect, which makes it even harder to combat. This card was a dominant force in Standard and forms the backbone of some of the strongest decks in the expanded format.
If Altered Creation has any drawbacks it’s that it requires two different types of energy and for a competitive deck, you need some form of energy acceleration to use it on the first turn. Double Dragon Energy completely laughs at these restrictions providing the solution to both problems. It only works with dragons, but it’s a totally busted card. This is arguably the best energy card ever printed, and as more and more dragons are printed it will only get stronger.
In the past ADP was paired with Zacian V, which meant ADP was the only pokémon in the deck that could use Double Dragon Energy. This was a little awkward, and pushed decks away from playing a full four copies of Double Dragon Energy. Once Dragonite V was printed in Evolving Skies, ADP decks ditched Zacian and embraced playing more dragons. Dragon Gale combined with Altered Creation does 280 damage which will knock-out the vast majority of pokémon. The energy cost on Dragon Gale looks intimidating, but as soon as you play it with Double Dragon Energy it becomes pretty easy to use. Having an attacker that can also use Double Dragon Energy and that trades favourably with almost anything makes the deck far more consistent and lets you run the maximum four copies of Double Dragon Energy.
In fact Dragonite V is so good because it isn’t reliant on ADP. Altered Creation might be a fantastic attack on turn one, but against many decks it’s simply better to just attack with Dragon Gale as soon as possible. This makes it viable to look at other GX pokémon with strong GX attacks that can be used in games where we don’t use Altered Creation. Naganadel & Guzzlord GX is a perfect fit. The GX attack is absurd and once again it pairs beautifully with Double Dragon Energy. In some games Chaotic Order will be stronger than Altered Creation, so having one copy of Naganadel & Guzzlord GX alongside ADP is very effective.
Lightning Energy, Lightning Pokémon and Acceleration
To attack with Dragonite V as fast as possible, you want to attach a double dragon energy and a lightning energy or a water energy in a single turn. Max Elixir is one of the strongest forms of energy acceleration in expanded when built around. For Max Elixir to work, you need to run plenty of basic energy. Because the deck already plays four copies of Double Dragon Energy, there is less space in the deck for more basic energy. APD Dragonite decks typically play seven or eight copies of Lightning Energy. This isn’t enough to make Max Elixir reliable, although the odds will be better than 50:50 in most situations. The usual deck thinning that occurs as you search your deck for cards will add a little consistency to the Max Elixir but you can’t rely on it finding energy every time.
Fortunately this deck doesn’t need a huge amount of energy acceleration because Double Dragon Energy is already great energy acceleration. One copy of Double Dragon Energy and a successful max elixir is enough to power-up Dragonite V in a single turn. Therefore ADP Dragonite is happy to play Max Elixir with fewer basic energies than normal, knowing that it can rip through its deck trying to play multiple copies in a turn. Personally I would play eight copies of lightning energy for a little more consistency, but seven copies is very common as shown in the example list by Wy Keen.
The reason lightning energy is chosen over water energy is because this type has a lot of useful pokémon and abilities. Tapu Koko Prism Star and Stormy Mountains are two good examples. Tapu Koko works really well as pretty reliable energy acceleration. A lot of cards that are used to search through your deck also discard cards, so getting lightning energy into your discard pile isn’t too hard whilst Tapu Koko is pretty easy to search out from the deck. As a prism star pokémon you can only play one copy so it can’t replace max elixir but this is a very powerful pokémon and exactly what this deck needs to start attacking as soon as possible with Dragonite V.
Every deck is incentivised to consider playing stadiums if only as counter-play to powerful stadiums like Sky Field that other decks are built around. Being able to search for dragon pokémon is great as these are the most important cards in our primary game-plan so playing this stadium and a bunch of singleton copies of powerful lightning pokémon is really effective.
Once you’ve decided to play Lightning Energy, you get access to even more tools. Float Stone, which lets you retreat for free, is one of the most played cards in the expanded format. Zeraora gives your basic energies the same ability and is very easy to search for from your deck. As we will see this deck often wants to boost its damage output with cards like Muscle Band so an alternative source of free retreats is especially welcome. Zeraora requires more set-up than a simple float stone but its a great option to have as a one-of in your deck.
With Max Elixir and Tapu Koko Prism Star in the deck, attacking with Vikavolt on turn one is a good alternative. Most competitive decks play a lot of items and item-lock can completely ruin them. This deck doesn’t have the tools to completely lock your opponent out of the game, but even one hit from Paralyzing Bolt can be a huge advantage. The 50 damage is even enough to kill Bunnelby from the mad party deck whilst Super Zap Cannon is good enough to kill support pokémon like Crobat V and can be powered up in one turn via Ultimate Ray.
After energy acceleration, the next feature of ADP Dragonite decks is the number of damage boosting effects you often see. It might seem obscene that you need them when Hurricane Gale does 250 damage and Altered Creation boosts this to 280. Certainly this is enough to kill many big threats like GXs, Vs and most important Tag Team pokémon. However this isn’t enough to kill everything in the format and there will be games where you want to attack with Dragonite V without using Altered Creation. These cards are all ways to complement or replace Altered Creation depending on your match-up. This means the choices you make here should take the current meta-game into account.
Perhaps the default option is Muscle Band which delivers a reliable damage boost no matter what the opponent. Twenty damage is a great boost and makes it possible to knock-out key pokémon like Mewtwo & Mew GX or Rowlett & Alolan Exeggutor GX without needing to use Altered Creation first.
The newest option is Choice Belt, which gives a bigger boost, but only against certain opponents. It’s definitely a powerful card and does see play currently in Expanded, but the threats here are so diverse, I prefer the more reliable Muscle Band.
Fighting Fury Belt is a fantastic tool, and is another option that often sees play as a 1-1 split with Muscle Band. Personally I think there are too many important pokémon with 270 hit points, so I prefer the second copy of muscle band. Like Choice Belt, it’s an option that you should consider.
Lastly is Leon. Importantly Leon is not a tool, so he can be used at the same time as tools like Muscle Band. Leon isn’t especially common in lists, but it gives the deck a way to reach the 320 hit points needed to knock out Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX in one turn. You need Leon, a tool and Altered Creation to do it which is a lot of set-up but that set-up is worth it considering how scary Shadow Rider is.
It should be no surprise to see Crobat V, Dedenne GX in any deck. Dedenne GX has the advantage of discarding basic energy for Tapu Koko Prism Star, but Crobat V is still fantastic at helping you race through your deck to get set up as quickly as possible. This deck has a lot of search effects that discard cards, so drawing until you have six cards is extremely powerful card draw.
Tapu Lele GX is another ultra-staple of the expanded format, making it that much easier to find those all important supporter cards. Sudowoodo is no where near as much a staple as these three other pokémon, but there are so many archetypes that rely on Sky Field it’s quite possible that Sudowoodo will see more and more play in expanded.
Double Dragon Energy maybe an amazing card, but we can only run four copies in the deck. Being able to find Double Dragon Energy whenever it is needed is crucial to the deck. Special energy is one of the hardest card types to find in your deck which helps to balance them against basic energy. Guzma & Hala also helps find stadiums like Stormy Mountains and tools like Float Stone and Muscle Band. This is a great selection of cards to dig out of your library and like Special Energy these card types are typically harder to find card types.
Being a tag-team trainer has its advantages and disadvantages. Needing to discard cards to find Double Dragon Energy makes it much worse when a game isn’t going to plan. On the other hand, being a tag-team card means we can make great use of Tag Call. As well as giving us access to everything that Guzma & Hala can find, it also finds ADP and Naganadel & Guzzlord GX. The combination of Tag Call and Guzma & Hala is what makes this deck so consistent at getting set-up extremely fast.
The next two trainers are staples found in almost every deck in expanded. Guzma is great for an aggressive deck that loves to target weaker two-prize pokémon like Crobat V and Dedenne GX. It also gives you a switching effect which is always useful. Meanwhile Professor’s Research is phenomenal card draw and is the benchmark for card-draw in the pokémon card game.
The next two trainers are also staples. These give you card draw as well as a way to interact with your opponent’s hand. Marnie and N are very similar and good in different situations. Marnie is very dependable and always draws you five cards, whilst N has the potential to ruin your opponent by leaving them with only one card. Like Professor’s Research and Guzma these are staples you see in almost every deck.
In this section I’ll cover some staple items that you see in many or most decks in the format. For this reason they don’t need a lot of explanation.
First up is one of the best cards in expanded. Computer Search can find any card in your deck, which is brilliant for a deck that wants to be as fast as possible, which means you need to be efficient at finding all of your key cards. It’s an expensive card, but it isn’t essential. It can easily be replaced with any other efficient option for digging through your deck like an extra copy of Trainer’s Mail.
Most, if not all of the pokémon in ADP Dragonite decks are basic pokémon, so anyway of finding basic pokémon will be fantastic. Quick Ball is usually the preferred choice because it puts cards like Crobat V into your hand so you can benefit from the abilities.
Whenever an archetype needs to get set-up as quickly as possible, it wants to see as much of it’s deck as possible. Trainer’s Mail is the best way of doing this since decks in expanded will be filled with items. It doesn’t do anything apart from replacing itself so it can seem like a pointless card, but it makes your whole deck more stream-lined and efficient. It’s great for a deck that is focused on a primary game-plan that revolves around a small core of key cards that can all be searched for with items.
Float Stone is one of the most played staples in the format. It ensures your attackers can get into a position to attack, and keeps weaker support pokémon out of danger. In particular your dragon pokémon have very high retreat costs so switching effects are essential if you want to use Altered Creation on one turn and then attack with Dragonite V on the next turn. Float Stone can also be searched for with Guzma & Hala, which is why only two copies of such a strong card are found in lists. Notably the attackers in this deck have lots of hit points, so retreating a badly hurt pokémon can deny prizes if your opponent needs multiple attacks to take knockouts.
Supporters are amongst the most powerful cards in the game, so being able to reuse them is fantastic. This deck also draws and discards a lot of cards, so VS Seeker often gets a lot of options for you to chose from. It also makes discarding a supporter you don’t currently need but might need later much less painful. VS Seeker is the reason you see decks in expanded only playing one copy of really powerful supporter cards.
Finally in the staple section we have Field Blower. It cleanly answers two different types of cards that can otherwise be difficult to answer. There are some very powerful stadiums and tools in the game that can be the lynchpin of a deck’s strategy, so Field Blower is always a good option to have in your back pocket.
The last section are all cards you see from time to time. Expanded is a format where you can tweak and tune decks to suit your personal preferences or to try and get an advantage over the meta-game. This is why deck-building in expanded is so interesting. All of the cards I discuss here are interesting cards that are definitely worth considering.
Once you are relying on Tag Call to find all of your important cards, it’s worth looking at other tag-team trainer cards. Mallow & Lana isn’t the best switching effect you can play, but switching effects get much better when they are easy to search out. The healing effect is also situationally useful with pokémon that have plenty of hit points. I’m not the biggest fan of playing this card, but it’s hard to evaluate the way it makes Tag Call a more flexible and powerful card.
Lots of decks play Pokémon Ranger as a way specifically to nullify Altered Creation. It’s a great answer, so it might be surprising to see it in the same deck as ADP. In fact it works perfectly when going first. If your opponent uses Altered Creation as their first attack, you can cancel it with Pokémon Ranger and still use Altered Creation yourself. If you expect to be playing mirror matches, Pokémon Ranger would be a good way to find an edge against other ADP Dragonite decks.
All of the pokémon I have discussed so far are basic pokémon. This is great for search effects like Quick Ball and deck building as you aren’t forced into playing sub-par pre-evolutions. Unfortunately it leaves you vulnerable to pokémon like Pyroar from Flashfire which is immune to basic pokémon. Pyroar is popular in stall decks that try to lock you out of the game. Eelektross is a really efficient answer to Pyroar. It doesn’t require any pre-evolutions, and can knock out Pyroar in one turn by attaching all of the energy it needs from your other pokémon. 130 damage for four energy is normally a bad deal, but in this particular scenario it’s the perfect solution to that troublesome lion.
Speed Energy is an interesting option that ensures you have a special energy that is compatible with both Guzma & Hala and Vikavolt V. By searching up Speed Energy and using Max Elixir for acceleration you can realistically attack with Vikavolt V on your first turn. This is really powerful, but I’m not sure if it is worth playing more energy. You are already running plenty of Double Dragon Energy and enough Lightning Energy to make Max Elixir functional. The cost of adding an additional energy is high, and I don’t know if Speed Energy is good enough, even if I think it’s a clever idea.
Quick Ball is fantastic, but this deck features a lot of search effects that discard cards. This can be awkward if you are running out of cards to discard. Running an alternative to Quick Ball can help with this. Net Ball can find the same targets as Quick Ball, but it doesn’t put the pokémon into your hand, so you can’t profit from finding pokémon like Crobat V or Dedenne GX. Nest Ball is still great at finding other important pokémon so it’s a perfectly fine alternative or compliment to Quick Ball.
Heavy Ball is a much more restrictive search option, but it does also find Eelektross as well as the big dragons.
Raihan can attach a Lightning Energy from your discard pile and find a double dragon energy from your deck. This means it can power up Dragonite V in a single turn, which is very impressive. Raihan is clearly powerful, but it comes with the big drawback that you can only play it when one of your pokémon has been knocked out. I really like the idea of having a powerful catch-up card like this for when things aren’t going to plan.
One way to fight against this deck is to avoid putting soft targets into your bench that can be switched into play and attacked. Decks like Shadow Rider Calyrex VMax can try this doing this because it’s very hard for Dragonite V to kill Shadow Rider VMax in one turn as I discussed earlier. Echoing Horn can counter-act this strategy by forcing your opponent into playing those weaker pokémon for you to attack.