Hello everyone! I’m Tyler Rathbone, a relatively new player with only a year of Pokémon experience, though I have been playing competitive card games for about ten years now. I’m here to talk about my choice for Roanoke amid an uncertain standard meta. Roanoke will be our second major Standard tournament after Lost Thunder, with LAIC only having finished up a few days prior to the writing of this article. I hope that I can help make the choice a little bit easier for you, especially if you’re anything like me and don’t much care for the top cut decks from LAIC. We’ll be looking at two builds of a deck I think has real potential going into this format, one of which is a particularly spicy variant. However, before we can talk about how to beat the potential meta, we need to talk about the most likely decks you’ll see.
While there were a lot of decks represented in Day 2 of LAIC, the most likely decks we will see in Roanoke are going to be those that made Top 8, with a few honorable mentions from the rest of the day 2 cut thrown in.
What did well in LAIC?
Zoroark GX Control
This deck was the most represented deck in Top 8 with three slots being taken up by it. It is potentially the biggest boogeyman of the format in a format full of boogeymen. The deck’s main focus, as the name implies, is controlling the board through completely exhausting the opponent of resources, locking them out with GRI Sableye, or using UPR Oranguru to recycle resources such as Hammers and Max Potions to mill them out. Against the “fair” decks of the format (meaning decks who rely on attaching energies one at a time and need multiples to attack for any significant amount of damage), this deck completely dominates and fills the rest of its slots with techs against the majority of the meta. Bulu has no issues against energy disruption cards, as we attach many more energies than they can reasonably get rid of, and almost all of our knockouts require discarding.
Blacephelon GX/Naganadel (with or without Choice Helmet)
One of the most hyped decks since it was spoiled months ago. The numbers this deck can hit are insane, however, it’s very much limited by its ability to only attach a single energy per turn to their Blacephalons, assuming it’s not a Beast Ring turn or that they aren’t teching in energy switch cards. With Ultra Space and Heat Factory the non-Item/non-Supporter consistency of this deck is also insane. With Choice Helmet, it requires Zoroark to find another piece of the puzzle to OHKO Blacephalon, as they will always be 30-damage short without a Field Blower. Bulu has no problem hitting 180 through Choice Helmet thanks to Choice Band.
This is by far my most hated deck of the format; I don’t feel like single-prize attackers have any business dealing 160-190 damage, even if it requires a condition. With the cards we have in current Standard this deck works out to be very consistent, between Oranguru and Magcargo and the wealth of ways to discard two cards from your hand to draw the one you need. My only hang-up is the brain drain you are very likely to experience playing this for nine rounds, plus those extremely awkward ‘Instructs’ where you end up with one or more unplayable cards forcing you to attack for only a measly 30.
Buzzwole GX/Ninetales GX/Lycanroc GX
Buzzwole GX saw significantly less play than previous formats before Lost Thunder due to the nature of an unsupportive meta; getting one shot by Psychic feels very bad when you only dealt chip damage the previous turn. With the introduction of LOT Ninetales GX into the format things are heating back up for Buzz-boi, but the real winner in this deck is Brooklet Hill. Being able to find not only your primary attacker but also your consistency engine is amazing. No more missing Beast Rings (assuming they don’t hunt down your Vulpixes), and with the prevalence of Professor Elm’s Lecture bringing back 60 HP Basics, Jet Punch is a great attack once again. I would expect to see this deck quite a bit, as Buzzwole has always had some pretty dedicated players and even more so now with it’s strong showing in Brazil.
Zoroark GX/Decidueye GX (with or without Ninetales GX)
This is the Zoroark variant that arguably benefitted the most from the printing of Professor Elm’s Lecture, as nearly every single Basic in the deck has 60 HP. You will have no problem accessing your turn-one setup, the only real question the deck has is “which ones do I get?” This is also the Zoroark variant that is potentially the most threatening to Bulu as their math to reach 180 is made a lot easier thanks to ‘Feather Arrow.’ It is also impossible to OHKO a Decidueye; the best you can hope for is to soften it up as a Rowlet with Horn Attack, then capitalize on that later with Nature’s Judgement + Choice Band. However, more often than not you’re just going to find yourself chasing down the Pokemon that you can OHKO.
Spread Variants (Malamar, Passimian)
I feel compelled to put this into the list as it is always making its way into people’s predictions for what will be seen at tournaments, and it has a positive matchup against Bulu. The current Passimian variant has the highest placements among spread decks in the most recent events, however, I would not be surprised if some are still playing the Malamar variants for the Buzzwole matchup. The Passimian variant is focused on hitting huge numbers against Evolution decks—especially Zoroark thanks to its weakness to Fighting—spreading damage with Tapu Koko to potentially set up a huge finish with Tapu Lele’s Magical Swap with a Counter Energy to take three to five prizes in a turn to win the game. This happened to me in Memphis when I played against Jimmy Pendarvis, who took five prizes against me with Magical Swap in the last turn of time to give us a draw. Had either of us won that match, the day could have been very different as we both ended up missing Day 2 by inches. Malamar is roughly more of the same but hits consistent numbers no matter what deck it is playing against, thanks to Shining Lugia and Giratina, it also has the same potential end game with Magical Swap or even a surprise Black Ray GX which could take all six prizes in a single turn.
You can hit 210 on turn two extremely consistently, and with Bulu’s lack of weakness you don’t have to worry about this Wild-wild-west Standard format ruining your fun with bad pairings and the weakness mechanic. Now, thanks to the inclusion of Lost Thunder and the options it affords you, turn two Rare Candy + Vikavolt is more consistent than ever. So now you must be asking “Why not VikaRay?” That one, I think is even easier to answer. Because it has a weakness to Fairy, and as your opponent evolves into Ninetales they can easily search the Choice Band that spells OHKO against Rayquaza.
The Mild Build
This is easily the most vanilla variant of Bulu I have built up to this point and this could be perfect as is for some people, so I thought it would be a disservice to not to start with it. The one you might be scratching your head at is Aether Paradise Conservation Area, so if you’ll follow me down I’ll be glad to explain. I will also be skipping over the obvious cards such as Ultra Ball as I don’t believe they require any explanation.
I will be breaking down the entire deck here, however for the spicy build I will only be explaining the choices that vary, so just refer to this first list if you need reminding.
3 Tapu Bulu GX
This is the namesake of the deck and your ideal starter, just so you don’t have to worry about switching it into the Active. Hits insane numbers: flat 180 or 210 with a Choice Band. Both of those are currently very relevant in standard as 95% of Pokemon currently fall within that range.
3 Grubbin/3 Vikavolt
This is a standard count. You absolutely need at least a single Vikavolt in any given game to stand a real chance of winning, but don’t necessarily need more than one so the sweet spot is 3-3.
2 Tapu Lele
You need outs to your Supporters and this is the way to get them, especially a clutch Volkner for the turn two Vikavolt, or a potential game-winning Guzma.
Basically, the only way to draw cards outside of the Supporters in this deck. Necessary for the dead hands that can tend to happen in non-Zoroark variants.
1 Zeraora GX
Almost the best card to come out of Lost Thunder for Bulu, this solves the problem of being Guzma stalled as now you turn every single one of your Lightning Energies into a Float Stone. It also solves the issues of having the awkward Lightning Energy in your hand after a Tapu Bulu discard attack with no out to get a Grass attachment. Additionally, the GX attack is no slouch if you find yourself in a situation where your Energy Recyclers are prized or used up. I would very much consider playing another copy and splitting the deck 50-50 on Bulu and Zeraora but sadly Zeraora is weak to Fighting which happens to be a very relevant typing in current Standard.
2 Net Ball/2 Nest Ball
Net Ball is also beyond amazing in this deck, giving you an out to your Grubbins as well as an out to get the crucial Grass Energy for Nature’s Judgement. However, you need this split on search balls since Nest Ball is your only out to Zeraora and Oranguru.
With Zeraora you could cut this down to three, however in this build I chose to stick with four as it is still incredibly powerful in Bulu for the mobility and targeting down two prizers.
I find Lillie to be the best draw Supporter in a Rare Candy deck because you’ll often find yourself with half of the combo and want to just draw more cards instead of shuffling and potentially drawing the other half of the combo and making no progress.
The things I just said about Lillie would make a lot more sense if we had better draw Supporters in Standard currently, but we have to work with what we’ve got. You can also cut two Cynthias for two Sightseers if you would like, but I just can’t bring myself to stomach that card yet.
This card is much better in the deck thanks to the inclusion of Zeraora, as now you also have an out to the Lightning Energy if you find yourself in a position to attack with him. It also gives you direct access to your Rare Candies and Choice Bands.
4 Choice Band
I would not consider playing less than four Choice Bands except in a case where space is extremely tight and something else really needs the slot. This is how you always hit that crucial 210 damage to OHKO Zoroarks and Buzzwoles. If you’re still one of those players that just slap down your Tool cards wildly before playing your draw Supporter, you should really reconsider unless, of course it’s against a single prize deck, in which case carry on.
4 Aether Paradise Conservation Area
This is my absolute favorite part of the deck. Remember how I said Bulu is amazing at taking one-shots? What if I told you that now Bulu also becomes amazingly resilient thanks to this Stadium. This is what makes your Zoroark and Blacephalon matchup so much better, requiruing them to find even more cards to be able to take the return KO. If they miss and hit you for 150, especially Blacephalon, you get to end your turn with Tapu Wilderness GX (aka No U GX) taking two prize cards and healing all that damage, leaving your opponent in even worse shape than before.
3 Rare Candy
Some would consider it sacrilege to play less than four Rare Candy, but in my testing I have not once missed the fourth Candy, with as many outs as we’re playing to find the three we have. However, you wouldn’t be wrong for trying to find space for it.
2 Energy Recycler
I would never in my life consider cutting this to a single copy, even with Zeraora’s GX attack; single prize attacker decks have never been more popular and we are not playing Dhelmise due to space constraints which means to KO with Bulu we have to discard netting us only a single prize instead of two.
Cards To Consider
This card has great synergy in any deck with Oranguru as it is a burnable card at any point in the game. If you prefer this version and are feeling lucky then go ahead and cut 2 Volkners, a Guzma and an Aether Paradise. May the odds forever be in your favor.
This would be a one-of copy to help out against the chip damage of Shrine, I’m still only mildly considering it as it does reverse an entire turn of Shrine, however with Aether Paradise none of your Basic Grass/Lightning pokemon take damage from Flying Flip, even while on the bench.
Life Forest Prism
This card is a consideration for a similar but decidedly very different reason than Champion’s Festival. It can combo extremely well with Aether Paradise. Assume your opponent misses the KO on your Active thanks to Aether Paradise and you do not have access to Wilderness GX. With Life Forest, you can move your damaged Bulu to the bench with either Guzma or Zeraora’s Ability and attack with a fresh Pokemon while also healing the damaged one. The only reason I’m not playing it is that this is situational, and I worry that I’ll find it completely useless while wishing it was another Aether Paradise if my opponent bumps my Stadium and finds the KO through Aether Paradise.
An Additional Lightning Energy and Rainbow Brush
This is another heavy consideration in this variant. With a thicker count of Volkner it gives you direct access to a Grass Energy if you find yourself without Net Balls in the deck. Rainbow Brush also would give you yet another out to having incorrect Energy in hand.
Truly the card on this list that I’m having the hardest time letting go of. Dhelmise hits that crucial 130 damage that every SPAS deck relies on, especially without discarding your energy. However, I find it easier to forget about it when you realize it isn’t that painful to discard from Bulu with two Energy Recyclers and the potential to attack with Zeraora, who also doesn’t require a discard.
I talked about this briefly above, but for the people who prefer to skim I’ll reiterate. Sightseer lets you selectively discard and draw which can be an absolute miracle in a Rare Candy deck, but only drawing up to five cards is keeping it out of my lists currently. Your mileage may vary.
This card is a very low-level suggestion as it would only be for the Gardevoir matchup to hit the OHKO, however, Gardevoir is not very popular and this card does absolutely nothing against Decidueye. But if you have the hot scoop that Gardevoir is going to be in full force then, by all means, play it.
This card is the lowest on the list as the only card I consider worthy of blowing away is Spell Tag. Chip damage is annoying for Bulu as it can set them up for 2HKOs but isn’t enough damage to warrant a Wilderness GX in most cases.
The Extra Spicy Bulu List
The biggest and most prominent change you can see is that now we’re running a 2-2 line of Alolan Ninetales instead of three Volkner. We now play one copy, with cuts also being to the Oranguru and Aether Paradise.
I’ll be completely honest with you, this was the version I started with and have really worked backward from to get to the vanilla list you read about above. Alolan Ninetales is absolutely insane and really makes Volkner look like a chump. With direct outs to immediately grab an Ultra Ball and a Rare Candy you cannot ask for more. However, with great spice comes a great need to prioritize correctly. First and foremost, your job as the Bulu player is to get a minimum one Vikavolt online, so don’t lose sight of that by trying to prioritize the new shiny toy. Vikavolt may be well worn but he is still the best.
Now the reasoning for the cuts. The bench space in this variant is very tight and monkey man had to take a timeout. Stadiums can also be just as effective as a three-of instead of a four-of, so it was the most sensible cut. Volkner was cut as well, since we’re playing a Pokemon that does the job much better. You can also consider making room for a higher count of Nest Balls as it is your best out to turn one Vulpix, and no one in the world could fault you for looking for the room to put Oranguru back in.
Zoroark GX Control – Favorable
The main reason I think that Bulu is such a great meta call going into this coming Regional. With Zoroark Control taking such a big slice of Top 8 and winning the entire thing, you can bet you will be seeing this deck a lot. The most recent version of this deck plays zero copies of Kukui or Devoured field so the threat of being OHKOed is non-existent. Their Energy denial is not nearly as effective in a deck that plays twelve with two Energy Recyclers. Your threat of being Guzma-stalled is also extremely mitigated by having Zeraora, however, don’t throw away your Guzmas or you’ll find yourself in a position to get Guzma stalled with a Muk backing it up. Lysandre Labs are taken care of by Aether Paradise, so one-shot away.
Blacephalon GX/Naganadel – Even
I might catch a little flack for saying this matchup is even and not unfavorable, however, in my testing it has been going fine so long as you hold your Stadiums until the threat of them attacking for big damage comes up. The part that can really turn this game around is the Beast Ring turn, but such is the way of every Ultra Beast deck. You have no way of skipping this turn, and as such your best course of action is to take two prizes and hope they can’t find. Past that point it’s more of the same as other matchups, though if they’re playing Choice Helmet you will need your Bands to OHKO, otherwise you have natural 180 without a Band. You’re going to need a little luck to come through this one with Beast Ring in the format, but otherwise, you should be fine thanks to not having a weakness and Blacephalon needing five Energies or other modifiers to KO a Bulu through your Stadium.
Granbull – Unfavorable
Zoroark may be the boogeyman of the format but Granbull is the pink boogeyman. This matchup is very hard as they have access to Magcargo to generally bump your Stadium on demand and hit crucial numbers. The best you can really do is hunt down the Magcargos/Slugmas first and then target down the monkeys to remove their ability to stream empty hand KOs. You will need to play this one by ear though, as with any deck they often have to discard precious resources to empty their hand. Keep an eye on their Stretcher count, and if you suspect Diantha coming into play you really have to consider not killing the pink dog no matter how much you might hate him.
Buzzwole GX/Lycanroc GX (with or without Ninetales GX) – Even
This is a strange matchup and unfortunately, again you have no way of taking them off of their Beast Ring turns naturally. You have an easy time OHKOing Lycanrocs and Buzzwoles, especially considering Lycanroc is weak to Grass. It is in your best interest to hunt down Vulpix to keep them off their Beast Ring turns if they are playing that variant. Your main priority in this game should be setting up multiple Vikavolts—as it is weak to Fighting and will be a prime target—while trying to focus down their primary attackers and any Rockruffs that get an Energy on them. Zeraora is also weak to Fighting and you should avoid Benching it if you can help it. Assuming your deck doesn’t laugh in your face with the order you draw your cards, you should be able to pull through in a best of three.
Zoroark GX/Decidueye GX (with or without Ninetales GX) – Even to Slightly Unfavored
This is the hardest Zoroark variant for Bulu to play against, as they can hit 180 thanks to ‘Feather Arrow,’ even through Aether Paradise. Hunt down the Rowlets as quickly as you can to avoid them becoming menaces later, however, if you can find yourself in a position to start the prize trade off by taking two Prizes you would not be remiss to do so depending on the board state. You have exactly zero ways to OHKO a Decidueye unless it was previously softened up with a Horn Attack, so it’s in your best interest to take your OHKOs on the Zoroarks or Ninetales.
Spread Variants – Unfavored to Even with practice
These decks have mostly fallen out of the meta but because it’s such a hard matchup for Bulu I thought to include it. This is the matchup where Aether Paradise fights against you a bit, with an Aether Paradise on the field you must discard your energies on Bulu to take a knockout on a Tapu Koko. I would consider Malamar to be the harder variant to play against as it can hit larger numbers on your attackers than Passimian since your main attackers are Basics. Below are some tips to keep in mind against these spread variants.
Against Malamar you must hunt down the Malamars and Inkays as best you can, while against Passimian always hunt down the one that can attack.
Now the matchup isn’t all bad as you can still OHKO them without issue. Your best bet will be to attack with Zeraora against Malamar with Aether Paradise active so you don’t have to discard your energies and you can pivot into Bulu so you can string attacks. Meanwhile, your opponent’s Flying Flips will deal no damage to your Basic Grass/Lightning Pokemon.
Against the Passimian version, you absolutely do not want to use Zeraora unless you have to because, again it is weak to Fighting.
Let the spread player play the first Stadium so you can maintain Stadium priority.
VikaRay – Favorable
You can hit 180 very easily and you benefit from Aether Paradise while they do not. The tips for this matchup are the exact same as the inverse, try to hunt down the Vikavolts/Grubbins as best as you can and hunt down the Ray with the most Energy on it secondarily. Thanks to Aether Paradise they need seven energy or six + Choice to OHKO and you can OHKO them without a Band, or with a Band and your GX attack to really push the advantage.
Gardevoir Swampert – Even to Slightly Unfavored
This matchup can be very hard because you cannot OHKO a Gardevoir without professor Kukui, no matter which way you slice it. Your best game plan against this deck outside of chasing down the Basics, of course, is to try and soften up the Gardevoirs with a Horn Attack before committing three Energies for the full 210 Nature’s Judgement, or taking out their Swampert to hopefully leave them without draw power. If they’re playing Ninetales it is best to try to find your prize cards there as you can take an OHKO and discard all your energies. Thankfully, if you don’t needlessly load up your attackers without discarding them, the Gardevoir player will be forced to find a minimum of four energies + Choice Band if you have a Bulu with a single energy and no Stadium, or a maximum of seven when you have Aether Paradise and they don’t have Choice Band. This is probably the only deck where it gets easier for you if they’re playing Ninetales.
Overall, I would say that Bulu is very well positioned to do well in Roanoke assuming a couple more people play it than me, however if not, I plan to make it a 100% conversion rate to Day 2, if not the finals. You absolutely have the surprise factor going into the tournament if your opponent is ill-prepared to play against Bulu, as it has been completely shelved for quite some time. I hope to see everyone at the tournament and if you have any questions or suggestions do feel free to message me on Facebook; I’m very easy to find with my unique name.
I’m including this deck because it was my original play for Roanoke and I’m still convinced that someone could take it and potentially sweep the entire tournament. I’ll be giving a quick summary and then explain the game plan and the spicy card choices.
If you thought the Bulu build was wild I’m sure you don’t even have words to describe this. I call it Zoroark Toolbox. Your game plan first and foremost is the same as any Zoroark deck: set up as many Stages 1s as possible and start taking strategic KOs. However, this deck has access to what I would consider the best card in Standard without a home in Solgaleo GX promo. This card is absolutely insane, with everything about it being amazing. You’re always hitting a consistent 120 while attaching energies, have a GX attack that practically gives an auto-win against spread variants, and an Ability that makes the Fighting matchup extremely trivial, AND to top it all off you hit for weakness on one of the most popular cards in Standard in Ninetales GX. The deck is designed around hitting for weakness as much as possible and completely mitigating weakness for yourself. First and foremost, you should prioritize first turn Elm to get your setup going and making Zoroarks, however in the matchups where weakness matter you should very much prioritize getting out Solgaleo as fast as you can. Do not get greedy as this deck rewards carefully planning out your turns.
So, by this point you’re probably asking, well if it’s so great why aren’t you playing more? I’ll be glad to explain.
Card Choice Explanation
- Solgaleo GX and Rare Candy
Solgaleo is amazing, I literally cannot sing its praises any harder, however it suffers very heavily from diminishing returns. Once you get a single copy setup you have absolutely no use for the next one and he’s not necessary for every matchup
Ditto Toolbox (Machoke, Muk, Naganadel)
I may have gotten a bit carried away here but I think all three of these Stage 1s pull their weight in their respective matchups. The Machoke is the go to against spread and Decidueye, while Muk is amazing against Shuckle, Granbull, and other Basic Ability-centered decks. Naganadel can OHKO Buzzwole GX with a Choice Band, which is normally out of range for OHKO in Zoroark variants.
This is what I have found to be the best pair for the deck, as it requires the least amount of care and watering of the other potential Zoroark partners and can attack for a single attachment, which can’t be understated. It also hits for weakness on Lycanroc, which I would daresay is still relevant.
2-2 Nest Ball/Timer Ball
Even with 4 Elms, you need outs to your 70 HP Basics and Nest ball is the only way to achieve this. Timer Ball is your out to find all your Stage 1s and Solgaleo. You could potentially cut a single Elm for a single Apricorn Maker, if you felt so inclined.
Gladion and the 1-of Items
This deck is built around the power of its 1-ofs, and as a result you absolutely NEED Gladion to function. Sometimes variance will bite you when prizing part of your Solgaleo Evolution line, but Gladion really mitigates this. Gladion can also provide some utility if you prize any of your silver-bullet Items, since you can just play Gladion and to grab them.
Again, feel free to reach out to me about either deck. I am always glad to talk about them and am open to any feedback. Thank you so much for your time and especially for this opportunity to speak directly to the community!