Gyarados’ New Groove – How Gyarados Got Really Good


Headed into the Orlando Regional Championship in October, Gyarados from Ancient Origins was the designated secret deck for the tournament. Despite the secret leaking out prior to the event, the deck put up an okay performance, snagging a 16th and 32nd finish at the event. Not groundbreaking levels of success, but still enough to make it the eighth best deck at the tournament, making it better performing than decks like Rainbow Road and M Rayquaza EX.

After Orlando, the deck dropped off the map, not making another Top 32 Regional finish in North America since then.

However, after Vito Flinker finished 4th in the Dutch Open with a revolutionary list for the deck this past weekend, the deck is now poised to re-establish itself as a major threat to many of the metagame’s top contenders.

Gyarados Strategy Summary

Before I get into Vito Flinker’s list for the deck, I want to quickly summarize the strategy of the Gyarados deck for those that aren’t familiar with the deck.

gyarados-ancient-origins-aor-21The deck uses Gyarados AOR21 with an emphasis on using its Full Retaliation attack. The attack does 30 base damage, and then 30 more damage for each damage counter on your Benched Magikarp.

In order to get damage counters on the Magikarp, the deck plays Team Magma’s Secret Base from the Double Crisis mini set, which is a Stadium Card that says whenever a player puts a Basic Pokemon from their hand onto their Bench (except for Team Magma Pokemon), that player puts 2 damage counters on that Pokemon. This means that each time a player plays a Magikarp with Team Magma’s Secret Base in play, that Magikarp goes onto the bench with 20 damage, fueling the damage output of Gyarados’ Full Retaliation attack.

team-magmas-secret-base-double-crisis-dcr-32-312x441With 1 Magikarp on your bench, you are doing 90 damage, 150 damage with two Magikarp, and a whopping 210 damage with three benched Magikarp, good enough to knockout powerful Mega Pokemon like M Mewtwo EX (Y) and M Gardevoir EX STS, as well as bulky Fury Belted Basic Pokemon like Yveltal EX.

The deck has traditionally played a heavy search line to get Magikarp into play very quickly, along with a heavy recovery line of Buddy Buddy Rescue to refill the bench when a knockout has taken place so you can hit for maximum damage.

Vito Flinker’s Gyarados

Here is the Gyarados list that Vito Flinker used to finish 4th place at the Dutch Open Special Event this past weekend.

Pokemon – 11

4 Magikarp AOR
4 Gyarados AOR21
2 Shaymin EX
1 Spinda PRC

Trainers – 45

4 Professor Sycamore
1 N
2 Teammates
1 Lysandre

4 Trainers’ Mail
2 Acro Bike
4 Dive Ball
4 Ultra Ball
4 VS Seeker
4 Puzzle of Time
4 Buddy Buddy Rescue
1 Town Map
1 Super Rod
1 Special Charge
4 Lucky Helmet

4 Team Magma’s Secret Base

Energy – 4

4 Double Colorless

via Complexity Card Gaming

The revolutionary part of Vito’s list is his draw engine. With this new Gyarados list, he has chosen to break away from traditional deckbuilding constructs to create a new draw engine that works particularly well in the Gyarados deck. The downfall of Gyarados earlier this season was the Garbodor plus N combo. Players found that to beat Gyarados they could use N’s hand disruption and then the Gyrados deck would draw into unplayable cards allowing for many comeback victories against the deck. Gyarados requires a three card combo to continue attacking for max damage after a knockout (another Gyarados, a way to recover Magikarp, and another Energy card), so N can be effective in stopping them from putting together that three piece combo.

lucky-helmet-ancient-origins-aor-77However, the new engine for the deck mostly eliminates this problem. The key new addition to the deck is Lucky Helmet, a Tool card that says when your Active Pokemon takes damage from an opponent’s attack, you get to draw two cards. Being N’d to 1 and starting your turn with a 2 card hand? That gives you a decent shot of dead drawing off of an N. Being N’d to 1 and starting your turn with a 4 card hand because of Lucky Helmet? Not quite as likely to see yourself keep dead drawing or whiffing the combo of cards you need.

Making Lucky Helmet even better in this deck is the Theta Double Ancient Trait that Gyarados comes conveniently packaged with. This trait allows you to attach two Pokemon Tool cards to Gyarados, meaning you can attach two Lucky Helmets to your Gyarados. Every time your opponent attacks into that Gyarados you will be drawing four cards. It’s nearly impossible to disrupt this deck when you add this new form of draw to the deck that makes Gyarados now essentially N proof.

teammates-primal-clash-pcl-141-312x441This list also plays 2 Teammates, which is a great Supporter in this deck. Once you’re setup in a game, following a knockout there are three pieces that you need to keep Gyarados’ game plan in action. You need a Gyarados to evolve a Magikarp and keep attacking with (Gyarados, Dive Ball, Ultra Ball), a way to get Magikarp back from the discard pile to get it back on your bench (double Puzzle of Time or Buddy Buddy Rescue), and a Double Colorless Energy. Teammates can get you 2 of the 3 cards, and with the draw power that you will be getting from Lucky Helmet, it’s likely that you already have at least one part of the combo in hand already.

Another good thing that Vito has going on in this list is a full committal to the Shaymin EX engine for draw. Early on players were heading to tournaments with an Octillery engine, but that was slower to setup and was shutdown by Garbodor’s Garbotoxin Ability, which had found its way into a lot of decks by that point. Shaymin EX, on the other hand, gave the deck a more explosive setup and could be used for draw power before an opponent was able to establish Garbotoxin. The best performing Gyarados deck at Orlando, piloted by Addison Powell, also ran Shaymin EX in it.

As Gyarados is such a hard hitting deck, it is rarely punished for having Shaymin EX on its bench. As it OHKO’s most opposing Pokemon, it leaves opponent’s scrambling to draw resources to re-establish another attacker to keep up in the prize race with Gyarados. When players are scrambling to setup an attacker they’re typically forced to use their Supporters for draw power and aren’t afforded the luxury of using a Lysandre for their Supporter for turn.

A cute addition into the deck is Spinda from Primal Clash, which both helps the deck, and can turn around and cause terror for it, which I will discuss in the next section. Spinda’s Uproar attack does 10 damage to each of your opponent’s Pokemon. Spinda allows you to setup damage for knockouts on Pokemon with 220 HP, such as a M Rayquaza EX or a Darkrai EX with Fighting Fury Belt attached.

The Counters to Gyarados

While Gyarados is certainly a powerful deck and is now a threatening presence to the metagame with this new Lucky Helmet engine, it is also a deck with some weak points that can be easily exploited, making it a deck that is very easy to counter and not something that can fight off its haters like Night March could, despite the other similarities between the decks.

The biggest exploit of the deck is the fact that Magikarp only has 30 HP, and also that all benched Magikarp should be living life with 20 damage on them. This means that the deck can be easily countered by anything that has a spread attack.

The most threatening are Azelf XY142 and Celebi XY93. Both of these Pokemon have attacks that place damage counters, meaning that they get through Mr. Mime if a Gyarados player chooses to play Mr. Mime to counter spread attacks. However, Azelf requires a Psychic Energy and Celebi requires a Grass Energy for their attacks, so neither of these Pokemon can easily be splashed into decks.

spinda-primal-clash-pcl-115However, there is a splashable counter to Gyarados and that is Spinda PRC. That Uproar attack we were talking about Vito’s Gyarados deck using to setup knockouts can be turned back onto the Gyarados deck to knockout multiple Magikarp in a single turn. This could be shutdown by adding Mr. Mime into the Gyarados deck, but anything that also has Garbodor or Hex Maniac can work around Mr. Mime to still get the knockouts.

Some other Pokemon that can also be used in this manner are Hoopa STS which some M Mewtwo EX decks play to setup knockouts in the mirror match and Galvantula STS, which sees play in Rainbow Road decks for its dual typing.

Another way to attack the Gyarados deck is to use Giratina EX’s Chaos Wheel attack to stop it from attaching its Double Colorless Energy. While this has been a proven effective strategy against Vespiquen decks, it probably isn’t as strong against Gyarados as it is Vespiquen. Vespiquen struggles to reach the 210 damage needed to knockout a Giratina EX with a Fighting Fury Belt. For Gyarados, however, 210 damage is a much more natural number to hit. This makes it easier for Gyarados decks to use Pokemon Ranger as an effective response to Giratina EX than it is for Vespiquen decks.

Additionally, Gyarados easily ramps up to 210 damage on the second turn of the game, making a Lysandre knockout on a Giratina EX before it gets setup a very valid play for Gyarados decks against Giratina EX variants. This is very unlike Vespiquen, which doesn’t start hitting that damage number until far too late in the game to properly respond to a Giratina EX.

giratina-ex-ancient-origins-aor-57-312x441However, while Giratina EX counters Gyarados decently, it probably is not a smart idea to try to counter Gyarados with Giratina EX at this point. Using one of the spread strategies to combat Gyarados will probably prove more fruitful as there isn’t really a high tier Giratina EX deck in the format anymore.

Despite getting some extra attention after a surprising Top 8 finish at the Dallas Regional Championship, Darkrai EX/Dragons has under performed greatly at the League Cups that came after Dallas. At League Cups, Darkrai EX/Dragons is actually performing worse than Gyarados (which would be considered non-meta last weekend) and has failed to make it past the Top 4 of any of the cuts it has made it in. A few other Giratina EX variants such as Xerneas BREAK/Giratina EX and Giratina EX/Hammers have seen some play at League Cups but little success.

My take on Giratina EX decks as a play for Regional Championships at this point is that they are good for locking down the one or two Double Colorless decks that you play at a Regional Championship, but the other 7 rounds are going to be bumpy as Giratina EX interacts poorly with most of the top meta decks right now.

Gyarados at League Cups

magikarp-xy-promos-xy143Speaking of League Cup results, despite being non-meta, Gyarados has put up some solid results given its position at the early League Cups. Here are its stats from the 37 League Cups that have been reported thus far.

  • 6 Placements (Tied for 12th)
  • 2.74% CP Share (12th)
  • 2 First Place Finishes (Tied for 5th)

While these aren’t the most impressive stats, it is worth noting that Gyarados is barely being played, so for it to have won 5.4% of the events played thus far is pretty impressive. Additionally, of the Gyarados decks that made it into the top cut of a League Cup, half of them have advanced to the finals of that tournament, with 1/3 of them winning the tournament. This means once in cut, Gyarados has performed very well.

The winners with Gyarados so far have been Bob Zhang winning a League Cup in New Jersey and Aaron Madison winning a League Cup with the deck in Wisconsin.

To see the rest of the League Cup results check out our League Cup results page.


While Gyarados won’t dominate the format, it is too easily countered, in any metagame where it isn’t being countered it is a threat to win whatever tournament it is being played in. While the deck had fallen off, I expect the deck to start seeing a sharp increase in play as the Lucky Helmet draw engine makes the deck legitimately good. Vito Flinker was able to make it all the way to Top 4 of the tournament before losing to a random Wailord EX deck, which was also making a surprise run at the tournament.

The deck may even get better with the upcoming Sun and Moon Expansion because of Rotom Pokedex, a new card which would allow Gyarados decks to get Magikarp out of their prizes without taking a knockout.

With Gyarados re-emerging as a threat in the metagame, to Spinda, or not to Spinda, that is the question.

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