Every Pokémon Trainer starts their journey by choosing Fire, Grass, or Water as their first Pokémon companion. As one of the starting types, Water Pokémon have become incredibly popular, with Pokémon like Blastoise, Inteleon, and Swampert leading teams across generations of fans and games alike. In the Pokémon TCG, Water Pokémon are known for being one of the strongest energy ramp types, capable of attaching multiple Water Energy each turn and attacking with absolutely massive Hydro Pumps. Over time, they have become one of the most energy-efficient types in the game, which makes them a perfect choice for building your first Gym Leader Challenge deck!
Today's deck aims to take advantage of some of the natural synergies that Water Pokémon have so you can get your strongest attackers into position to dish out 100+ damage while your opponent is still trying to set up their bench. Instead of focusing on sniping or spreading damage, your deck will be trying to keep Stage 2 Pokémon in play that are hard to knock out and can put out enough damage to take on anything they might be up against.
If you haven't read the Gym Leader Challenge rules yet, GLC has a singleton deck building restriction, as well as a ban on all Pokémon with Rule Boxes. Luckily, there are plenty of Pokémon lines you can play that all reward you for having multiple Water Energy attached to the Pokémon, so you can adapt to whatever cards you get in your opening hand.
Big Blue (Water GLC Deck)
1 Aqua Patch (sm2-119)
1 Articuno (xy6-16)
1 Boost Shake (swsh7-142)
1 Boss's Orders (swsh2-154)
1 Brooklet Hill (sm2-120)
1 Bruxish (sm3-38)
1 Capacious Bucket (swsh2-156)
1 Colress (bw8-118)
1 Copycat (swsh7-143)
1 Counter Energy (sm4-100)
1 Cynthia (sm5-119)
1 Dive Ball (xy5-125)
1 Drizzile (swsh1-56)
1 Energy Retrieval (bw10-80)
1 Evolution Incense (swsh1-163)
1 Feebas (swsh7-37)
1 Frosmoth (swsh45-30)
1 Great Ball (swsh1-164)
1 Guzma (sm3-115)
1 Horsea (sm75-15)
1 Inteleon (swsh1-58)
1 Kingdra (swsh5-33)
1 Kyogre (cel25-3)
1 Level Ball (swsh5-129)
1 Manaphy (swsh45-24)
1 Mantine (swsh1-52)
1 Marnie (swsh1-169)
1 Marshtomp (sm7-34)
1 Milotic (swsh7-38)
1 Mudkip (swsh8-62)
1 N (xy10-105)
1 Nessa (swsh4-157)
1 Professor's Research (swsh45-60)
1 Quick Ball (swsh1-179)
1 Random Receiver (bw5-99)
1 Rescue Stretcher (sm2-130)
1 Seadra (sm75-17)
1 Skyla (swsh2-166)
1 Snom (swsh8-84)
1 Sobble (swsh1-54)
1 Sonia (swsh2-167)
1 Splash Energy (xy9-113)
1 Suicune (swsh3-37)
1 Swampert (xy5-36)
1 Switch (xy6-91)
1 Tate & Liza (sm7-148)
1 Training Court (swsh2-169)
1 Viridian Forest (sm9-156)
1 Wash Water Energy (swsh4-165)
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Big Blue is all about getting your powerful Stage 2 Pokémon onto the bench, powering them up with three or four Water Energy, and then switching into them to take on any high HP Pokémon your opponent may have in play.
Frosmoth (swsh45-30) is an incredibly impactful Pokémon that can attach multiple Water Energy to the Pokémon on your bench, which makes it very easy to accelerate your Pokémon into fighting form. Even if Frosmoth is unavailable, GLC is slow enough that you can attach energy over the first few turns while you have a damage-soaking Pokémon in the active slot. Once your Pokémon are ready, you want to have one of these high-damage Pokémon out and hydro pumping for at least 120 damage to secure a Prize every turn.
Since most of the frontline Pokémon in this deck need to have three or more Water Energy attached to them, your deck needs to be very efficient with how it uses the available Energy cards. To help with this, there are a lot of trainer and supporter cards that can help return your spent Energy to hand or find more Energy in the deck. That way you are always able to attach more energy and keep the water flowing.
With the deck building rules in Gym Leader Challenge, you will want to play a combination of Frontline Pokémon (Pokémon that you want in the active slot attacking your opponent) and Technical Pokémon (Pokémon that are better on the bench so they can generate value and still be protected). Additionally, because the strongest Pokémon are typically Stage 1 or Stage 2, you will also need a number of pre-evolved Pokémon that can offer value in a pinch.
In the Big Blue deck, the breakdown of Pokémon looks like this:
While your strongest Frontline Pokémon will be Stage 2 Pokémon that can be powered up over turns, they are also vulnerable to targeted attacks by your opponent. Now that Primal Trait Pokémon are allowed, Swampert (xy5-36) can be one of the strongest attackers in your deck, as their trait Alpha Growth lets you attach two water energy, rather than one. It also has the ability to search your deck for a card to put on the top of your deck through Diving Search, which is very powerful for setting up perfect draws while they are in play.
Backing up Swampert (xy5-36) are Inteleon (swsh1-58) and Kingdra (swsh5-33). While the Chilling Reign Inteleon can continually snipe damage onto your opponent's bench throughout the game, this deck plays the version with Shady Dealings, which lets you add two trainer cards from deck to hand when you evolve into Inteleon. Because of the singleton rules, it is a lot harder to have exactly the right cards in hand, so being able to pick any two trainers out of your deck can be a lot more impactful than damage in some games.
Instead of offering tactical support, Kingdra (swsh5-33) is all about serving up the combo punch to your opponent. The ability Deep Sea King makes it so you can move any amount of Water Energy off your active Pokémon to Kingdra if they are on the bench when the active Pokémon is knocked out. If your Swampert (xy5-36) has a full three Water Energy on it, knocks out a Pokémon but is knocked out in return, you can send in a fresh Kingdra loaded up with Water energy that is able to do 120 damage without any other investment! Being able to reestablish your tempo after losing a frontline Pokémon can change the course of a game, making Kingdra a powerful Pokémon on your team.
The most important Technical Pokémon in this deck is Frosmoth (swsh45-30), with their ability to attach additional Water Energy to Water Pokémon on your bench. Over the course of a game, you can expect to have three or four of your Pokémon knocked out, so being able to quickly reestablish your board with a strong Pokémon can make a key difference. Articuno (xy6-16) and Mantine (swsh1-52) both have attacks that, for one Water Energy, can add up to three Water Energy from your deck to your hand, and they are perfect Pokémon to start the game in the active spot to turn any opening hand from poor to powerful.
The Gym Leader Challenge format can make almost any supporter powerful in the right deck, so having a way to protect yourself from some of the more devastating supporters can be strong as your meta develops. Milotic (swsh7-38) may not do too much damage as an attacker, but their ability Dew Guard can be a useful tool against cards like Marnie (swsh1-169) or Avery. Expect to use Milotic more as your meta develops and your opponents find the best ways to hurt your deck.
While your pre-evolution and basic Pokémon will usually see play as a way to access stronger Pokémon, picking the right Pokémon for your deck can make your early game much better. Snom (swsh8-84) ability Call for Family can make it easier to get your technical Pokémon into the game faster and lighten the load on your important supporters like Sonia (swsh2-167). Other choices, like Mudkip (swsh8-62) and Marshtomp (sm7-34), can even start attacking earlier in the game while you find Swampert (xy5-36), which can keep your opponent off their strategy if they continue to take unexpected damage. Because GLC games are slower, it is important to take advantage of every opportunity to attack, gain value, or disrupt your opponent!
The singleton rule of the Gym Leader Challenger format means that having the right makeup of trainers is one of the most important parts of deckbuilding. Since you can only rely on one copy of a card, having the optimum amount of any effect is paramount. The best way to figure out which trainers you need to play is to decide which effects you need and how often you want to be able to use that effect. For Big Blue, the most important effects are:
You can break down the list of trainer cards in the above deck list as such:
Hand Reset or Draw:
Switching Your (or Your Opponent's) Pokémon:
Access to Pokémon:
Access to Energy:
Additional 'Tech" Cards:
Without access to some incredible draw cards, the singleton constraint makes it hard to find the important pieces of the deck like Swampert (xy5-36). Since Frosmoth (swsh45-30) lets you play out all the Water Energy in your hand on any turn, being able to constantly refresh your hand keeps you in control even if one of your Pokémon is knocked out.
Tate & Liza (sm7-148)
While the bar for evaluating a strong draw trainer starts at being able to draw at least five cards, there are a few cards in the list that offer astronomically more support for the deck. After turn three or four, Colress (bw8-118) reads as "shuffle your hand into your deck, draw 10" since both players' benches will be completely filled. Marnie (swsh1-169) and N (xy10-105) also serve the purpose of making your hand better and your opponent's hand worse by forcing them to draw a new hand, which can disrupt plays if you use one of them after your opponent searches up cards for future turns. Tate & Liza (sm7-148) offer dual support by giving you either a new hand of five or letting you switch in a new Pokémon to the active spot, which can mitigate having to spend Energy to retreat to put up a Frontline Pokémon.
Level Ball (swsh5-129)
While the draw-focused trainers give you access to more of your deck, there are plenty of cards that can find the exact card you need in a situation. Nearly every Gym Leader Challenge deck will be playing a full suite of different Pokéballs based on the needs of the deck. In this deck's case, you can play Dive Ball (xy5-125) as a unique-to-water Pokéball that can find any Water type Pokémon. Level Ball (swsh5-129) and Quick Ball (swsh1-179) can help you find basic Pokémon to fill your bench, while Great Ball (swsh1-164), Dive Ball, and even Evolution Incense (swsh1-163) are there to find Stage 1 or Stage 2 Pokémon to make sure you are evolving on the right turns.
Boost Shake (swsh7-142)
The two niche trainer cards focused on Pokémon access in the deck are Brooklet Hill (sm2-120) and Boost Shake (swsh7-142). Brooklet Hill can help you grab basic Water Pokémon from your deck and put them onto your bench, but is a meta call so long as your opponent isn't playing Water or Fighting Pokémon decks. While most stadiums offer symmetrical effects, playing stadiums where the effect is useless for your opponent can help your deck function. If you are planning on playing against multiple Water or Fighting decks, you may want to cut this card for something like Chaotic Swell (sm12-187).
The other niche card, Boost Shake (swsh7-142), is another meta call if you know your opponents are playing slower decks. Boost Shake is a powerful card that can evolve your Pokémon from the deck and bypasses the first turn or first turn played rules that stop you from evolving early, although it comes with the drawback of ending your turn when played. In your opening hand, this card can determine games if you can get a turn one Frosmoth (swsh45-30) or a turn two Swampert (xy5-36), but leaves you open to counter attack if your opponent has the means to punish you. It is also important to remember that one of your best evolution lines, Sobble (swsh1-54) to Drizzile (swsh1-56) to Inteleon (swsh1-58), has abilities that trigger only when evolved from hand, so be careful when planning your Boost Shake plays.
Capacious Bucket (swsh2-156)
Since the deck revolves around having access to lots of Water Energy, you will also want a fair share of cards that add energy to your hand either from the deck or discard. Sonia (swsh2-167), Capacious Bucket (swsh2-156), and Viridian Forest (sm9-156) can all search the deck for Basic Energy, but you also have access to a number of attacks that allow you to find Water Energy in the deck, so you won't need too many of this effect. On the other hand, each of your Pokémon wants a lot of Water Energy to be impactful, so focusing on Trainer cards that can add Water Energy from discard back to hand can be much more useful. You can even set up powerful combos over turns by using Kyogre (cel25-3) attack to discard the top five cards from your deck, then use a card like Nessa (swsh4-157) the next turn to add them back to hand!
The final section of trainer cards are cards that fulfill very narrow purposes, but can help the deck's efficiency. Random Receiver (bw5-99) is an item card that can grab the top-most supporter from your deck, essentially replacing itself as any of the supporter cards in your deck. Similarly, Skyla (swsh2-166) is a supporter that can grab any trainer card, whether that is a supporter, item, or stadium. While their effects may seem lackluster, these two cards effectively drop the number of cards in the list from 60 to 58, which can make your odds of seeing any particular card slightly higher in an opening hand.
A majority of abilities in this deck that care about your energies want them to be basic Water Energy. While there are a lot of useful Colorless Energy cards, most of the Energy in the deck can just be basics unless a specific Energy offers significant advantage.
Splash Energy (xy9-113)
Outside of the Basic Water Energy, this deck is only playing three Special Energy. Wash Water Energy (swsh4-165) offers safety against technical decks that are trying to utilize attacks that offer additional value beyond damage. This can also protect your Pokémon from being affected by Sleep, Confusion, or Paralysis if it is inflicted as the effect of an attack. Splash Energy (xy9-113) can be used to let you replay your frontline Pokémon if they get knocked out, or to let you sacrifice one of your Technical Pokémon to a particularly nasty attack without giving up your advantage. The final Special Energy, Counter Energy (sm4-100), can act as two energy if you have more prizes left than your opponent, which can help you battle your way back into a game you're losing.
One of the best aspects of the Gym Leader Challenge format is that there is no "best deck," and any deck can always be edited and changed to fit your exact playstyle. While this deck plays into the idea of using big attacks to knock out Pokémon, other strategies like Spread and Sniping are just as powerful with the right support. As new sets come out, you can go through the trainer cards and Water Pokémon to see if any new cards can make your deck better and change them as you see fit. If you prefer Blastoise over Swampert (xy5-36), you could even add the Blastoise (bw10-16) to your deck to have a second version of Frosmoth (swsh45-30) in your deck for added efficiency!
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My partner loves Water Pokémon, and the decklist above is one of our favorites that we have built for Gym Leader Challenge so far! One of the most entertaining parts of the format is finding the Pokémon that you love and making a deck out of them, so being able to make a deck out of some of our favorite Pokémon after playing Sword & Shield is a dream.
If you decide to build this deck or have a Water GLC list of your own, make sure to share it with me over on Twitter @TheZachkAttack, where I show off each of our in-house GLC decks. I even share the thought process on how we built the deck, and our quest to max rarity each of the decks we build!