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João Lopes

State of the Meta

The results are in! With the City Championships almost over, let's take a look at which decks are dominant in this format.

02/04/2015 by João Lopes

City Championships are over in the US for quite some time now.  While this could mean we are experiencing a downtime as far as competitive play goes, some countries are just entering their City Championships season and other players are preparing for their State’s Championships or Winter Regionals.

Since our time to rest is about to be over, this is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the results from the several weeks of City Championships that happened in the US and get an idea about the current state of the metagame.

So, let’s start by taking a look at the top performing decks in those tournaments (considering a population of 68% of the top 4 results).

 

 2014-2015 U.S. City Championships Results

 

Credit goes to the Charizard Lounge.

 

As you can see I left out any entry that had fewer than twenty placements on the top 4 leaving us with ten different decks. For this analysis we will consider only the dominant decks in the format and ignore any one hit wonders or rogue decks.

By quickly looking through the list we can see that the first two winning decks make quite a distance from the others.

Donphan has been rising in popularity ever since all the new Fighting type support was released in Furious Fists. The pure consistency given by Korina alone grants the Donphan an unique engine that not only sets up numerous attackers but also fetches important items for any given situation. This added with Strong Energy and Fighting Stadium, turned the simple uncommon Who knew this would be such a dominant card...stage one Pokémon into one of the strongest powerhouses of the format.

With the release of Phantom Forces, Robot Subsitute has become the new staple in Donphan deck. It is a safe switch in that can be search for using Korrina and give the Donphan player time to accumulate even more damage in the opponent’s board. Not only does Donphan grant only one prize when knocked out, it also gains a few turns with the robots. Therefore, Donphan is able to get to the late game while attacking with only one energy, dealing far too much damage for its cost.

Being out of range from the opponents attacks, most decks cannot deal with the unfair trades of knock outs. The biggest victim is Virgen, who, even though it has an easier time dragging Donphan out of the bench via Red Signal, had to G-Booster a non- EX Pokémon making it difficult to keep up with such loss of resources. As such, the popularity of Donphan began to warp the format: Lysandre has become a more important tool, Pyroar decreases in popularity, Night cannot trade one prize for two and water has become a stronger type.

Even though Donphan’s price has risen quite a lot, it still remains a relatively cheap deck to make. As it is established that this is one of the strongest decks out there, many people have tried it out and so it is one of the most played decks.

Yveltal is, however, the archnemesis of the rolling elephant. From the non-EX version that only gives one prize while charging main attackers to the attack Y-Cyclone that preserves the energy on the board, Yveltal can be almost as resilient as Donphan. However, the core strategy of the Yveltal decks matches perfectly with each and everything Donphan players do not want to face. Let me illustrate:

With the loss of Dark Patch, Yveltal decks have relied on the non-EX version of the big badAnd you thought X-Ball was overpowered... bird (often nicknamed Baby Yveltal) to build up the energy on the board while still putting some pressure with Oblivion Wing’s residual damage. Of course, this strategy does not even compare to the burst of speed Dark Patch gave to Yveltal decks. However, the usage of a bulky non-EX attacker does solve some problems this archtype had in its inception by being a great counter to safeguard Pokémon without the need of Garbodor, and a way to force your opponent to take 7 prizes in order to win, while adding up the damage on their side of the board.

The problems that I mentioned would be present in the Donphan matchup if Baby Yveltal wasn’t a staple in every Yveltal EX based list. Sigilyph is being dropped from most Donphan lists just because it can completely useless against the most popular deck at the moment. Not only that, a fighting resistance added to the respectable 130 HP of Yveltal make it almost as hard to knock out as the big EX version.

This little bugger is also immune to Hawlucha and to make matters worse, it actually farms out of Robot Substitute – the Yveltal player develops its board faster than the Donphan player while wasting the latter’s resources.

The nightmare for the rolling elephant players does not end with Baby Yveltal.

The presence of M Manectric EX in the metagame forces Yveltal players to rely on Shadow Circle for protection. This does, however, grant them extra ways to counter Fighting Stadium depleting more of the Donphan player’s arsenal. Shadow Circle also poses a hard to time to Zekrom and Dedenne, the most used Yveltal counters in Donphah decks, to actually one hit knock out just one attacker.

Some versions of Yveltal run Hypnotoxic Laser. Those who do have extra ways to knock out Donphan. The two prime examples are Yveltal’s Darkness Blade with Laser and Virbank City Gym and Evil Ball with two energy on a Donpah with two energy (usually preparing to use Wreck via Double Colorless Energy on the following turn) while also adding Laser and Virbank.

Yveltal decks tend to run Hard Charm, Enhanced Hammer or even Max Potion. So…. Yeah, not an easy matchup for Donphan. Not an autoloss, but definitely not a matchup Donphan players are looking for.

So, what is left?

In third place, also an old deck: Virizion EX/Genesect EX, the deck known as Virgen. This When in doubt, play Virgendeck has been heavily played since its release in Plasma Blast and it is going to remain in the top tiers until Plasma Blast is rotated.  The deck is consistent, powerful and has a solid strategy that is not easy to break apart.

There is not much to be said about why the deck is still going strong. The deck, while not offering much room for creative plays, is not hard to play and its core strategy poses a threat to everything in the format.

Donphan and M Manectric EX may seem that they can escape the wrath of G-Booster. However, Deoxys EX is now a staple and thanks to him G-Booster can one-hit-knock-out M Manetric EX and Genesect EX can get rid of Donphan without wasting all the energy in the deck: just attach a Muscle Band and Megalo Cannon hits for 130.

Yveltal has a tough time against G-Booster. Not only there is no chance to build a big Yveltal because it just gets knock out, Genesect has do discard energy making it very hard to revenge KO with Evil Ball. For that reason, most decks must use a way to stop Genesect’s tool of destruction.

 

The others

In some way or another, the rest of the available options in the current metagame are inferior to the top 3.

Fairies and M Manetric have the option of healing via Max Potion. However, they can’t keep up with the pressure of Donphan and Virgen destroys any viable attacker in the format in one hit.

Pyroar stops Virgen and unprepared Yveltals but instantly loses to Donphan and any deck with M Manetric EX.

Metal has no support. It seems good based on how strong similar decks were in the past but this not the time for Bronzong to shine. Agislash is redundant with the reprint of Enhanced hammer – players are already prepared to minimize their use of special energy and Yveltal just eats anything that relies on having too much energy. Virgen just destroys their attackers with less set up, Donphan applies too much pressure to keep up, Manectrics are a pain to deal with and it even loses to Pyroar! So… Yeah… ANYTHING THAT IS HEAVILY PLAYED!

The deck beats fairies…. If they don’t have a solid M Manetric EX line. And that’s it! The way the deck functions is popular, I get it, the deck is a lot of fun to play. However, despite being the popular kid in the room, the deck is just…. Bad.

If only I had a decent stadium...Blaziken was popular, Dragonite delta was popular, Eeletric was popular. People WANT this deck to be popular as well, even if there is no support for set up and the meta eats it alive. I believe the sheer popularity of this deck made it into some top four spots. It is BY FAR the deck with the worst placement in this meta: everything is its enemy! Even Pyroar and Night March can at least beat Virgen… This deck just loses to all the top tier decks. And even some less low tier ones!

    But I digress…. There are a lot of options in this metagame but

   Manectric/Water (Plasma Kyurem/Kyurem/Keldeo EX/Black Kyurem EX) is the deck with the most potential besides the top three decks in the meta considering Kyurem can beat Donphan and Spiritomb can make M Manectric EX survive Genesect EX. However, something is lacking – a decent stadium to play.

Primal Clash brings M Manectric’s wet dream – Rough Seas. This way, that deck finally has a way to hit Yveltal for weakness without using a useless stadium. Maybe then the deck will be able to make its way into the top tier. 

Possible versions of the 3 titans of the meta.

One approach to Donphan is the inclusion of strong basics that lock the opponent in some way or punish him for attacking into it. The most popular choices are Sigilyph and Unova Dragon Trio – Reshiram, Zekrom and Kyurem – all packing the Outrage attack.

Sigilyph forces players to go out of their way just to take a single prize. However, many decks have strong non-EX attackers or a way to bypass the Safeguard Ability. For that reason, players either tend to focus on the Dragon route or just max out the consistency and increase the number of Hawluchas.

Below is the prototype Donphan list created by Igor Costa in the beginning of Portugal’s winter regionals season (our regionals were played with the current format – Boundaries Crossed to Phantom Forces).

The deck was piloted by me in two Regionals – with 2nd place and a top 8 finish- and by João Lagrifa – with a top 4 finish.

 

Igor made a bold choice in cutting the fourth Donphan. His reasoning is that it is very easy for a Phampy to be knocked out leaving a useless Donphan in the deck. Besides that, the opponent will always assume the Donphan player is running a full playset of the stage 1 Pokémon. Therefore, if he sees a lone Phanpy on the bench, he will gladly take the opportunity to use a way to get it into the active. This way, the fourth Phanpy is always useful even if it is just to bait the opponent into wasting precious resources.

The cut was in favor of Fighting Stadium. The full playset increases the probability of being able to play it early in the game and guarantees victory in the stadium war.

The Dragons are, however, predictable and while Kyurem does an excellent job in the mirror match, Zekrom does not propose a big threat against Yveltal. Against Virgen, Reshiram hardly does any harm since they have so many ways to send it back to the bench. More often than not, Hawluchas do a better job at being a wall than any of the three legendary Dragons. Besides, they don’t rely on Double Colorless Energy – a dangerous play with so many decks carrying Enhanced Hammer - and don’t need Float Stone to retreat.

Straight Donphan has become more popular since it is more consistent and less vulnerable to disruption. This is my current Donphan list:

 

 

Unlike Zekrom, Dedenne can take out an Yveltal/Yveltal EX by surprise. Furthermore, the higher Hawlucha count makes the deck more aggressive actually proposes a threat to Yveltal EX and Seismitoad EX. This build does not rely so much on special energy, this is important as decks running Enhanced Hammer/Drifblim have an edge against Donphan.

Speaking of Drifblim, with the reprint of Enhanced Hammer, Virizion/Genesect decks could finally use their favorite non-EX attacker to its full potencial. In fact, Driblim, Enhanced Hammer and Deoxys are the cards that enable Virgen decks to have 50/50 matchup against Donphan. Igor took that concept to the next level and created a list that puts greatr focus on Drifblim.

This is the Virizion/Genesect/Driflblim list that played Filipe Cardoso during the winter regional season. He managed to get a win, a top 4 and a top 4, all piloting this deck:

 

With so many decks relying on special energy cards, Drifblim can be quite the powerful attacker. It is also a way to deal with Pyroar decks and pushes back Fairy decks that use Rainbow Energy and even Night March decks. However, the whole balloon line together with the three hammers take away a total of seven slots. It does hurt a lot in terms of consistency and late game options. For that reason, another popular version of the deck is the Straight Virgen. Let’s take a look at the list piloted by David Ferreira during regionals, who managed to get a top 4 and two top 8 finishes:

 

Virgen’s straightforward strategy is enough to pose a threat to… Well…. Anything! G-Booster KO’s the opposing Pokémon. Period. Even M Manetric EX, the Mega Evolution Pokémon that sees more play, gets fall to a single blast from G-Booster with the aid of Deoxys. So, why not just focus on doing just that?

Although the deck loses the big late game powerhouse that is Drifblim, the boost in consistency and late game resources make this version a solid choice for any tournament.

Herbal Energy is an interesting addition. It often turns two-hit-knock-outs into three-hit-knock-outs though its inclusion is debatable since hammers are popular and having a single energy discarded can mean a huge loss in tempo.

So, how can G-Booster be stopped?

There are two way to approach this problem: Team Flare disruptive tools and Spiritomb.

Both Head Ringer and Jamming Net significantly slow down Virgen decks. Head Ringer is definitely the best out of the since their strategy heavily relies on being able to Emeral Slash on the second turn. Sipirtomb also prevents G-Booster from being attached to Genesect. While it does not slow down Virizion like Head Ringer does, the opponent cannot use Tool Retriever to escape the lock.

Bernardo Mocho used both of those weapons and added Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym to create an Yveltal deck with a full arsenal with solutions against the meta. He managed to win a regional and get to second place in another. He also won a City Championship on January 31st. Here is the list:

 

Although he didn’t use Shadow Circle, he manage to win against M Manectric EX decks using a combination of Seismitoad and Hypnotoxic Laser. He also used Darkrai EX as a main attacker in those Matchups.

His final version includes an AZ and a seconde Hard Charm. He also traded his Mewtwo EX for a fourth Muscle Band. In his words, the only bad matchups is Manectric decks with Max Potions.

I ended up losing to him on both regionals (the first one in the finals, the second one in top 8). That led me to try a couple of different version of Yveltal and see for myself how well it matches up against the other decks in the format.

I tried a tank version with M Manectric EX as a tech. However, that is one tech that consumes a lot of slots. I made a list that focused more on tanking Yveltals and added a VS Seeker + Jirachi engine to boost consistency, tech a couple of utility supporters and give myself more opportunities to use Lysandre. I used it on a City Championship on January 31st which I ended up winning (so, not the same one Bernado Mocho played in). Here is the list I used:

 

 

I respected the power of M Manetric EX and the frequency of stadium wars so I maxed out Shadow Circles. However, four seemed a bit overkill. I might drop one and add a Shauna since sometimes I can find myself starting with no supporters and I don’t like taking that risk.

Iris sometimes seems too cute of a tech and not really that useful. However, it can sit on the discard pile waiting for the right moment to use a VS. Seeker or even be fetched with Jirachi. It does come in handy to have a pluspower (or multiple as the game progresses) as an option.

So, let’s recap:

Yveltal, Donphan and Virgen are the top three decks in the vast sea of possibilities that is this season’s metagame.

Virgen has the most solid, straightforward and menacing strategy. Consistent builds are hard to stop. However, this old combo is predictable and always expected by all competitive players. It is not easy to outplay opponents with such a plain strategy and fun, gimmick decks like Pyroar and Night March can put this deck down for good in the early rounds of a tournament (ironically increasing the probability of facing more of those decks).

Donphan has the unique hit and run strategy.  That concept alone forces opponents to rely on their Lysandres and VS Seekers to even be able to hit Donphan. On top of that, the consistency provided by Korrina paired with the fighting type support released in Furious Fists make as solid as Virgen.  The deck has potential to open strong dealing huge chunks of damage and can also take the match to the late game with help from Robot Substitute. However, it is heavily hindered by Enhanced Hammer, a card with rising popularity in both Virgen and Yveltal lists. It may be the main cause of losses at the top tables for this decks. In the other hand, this deck dominated early rounds of swiss since it destroys any gimmicky or unprepared decks for this matchup.

Yveltal can come in many shapes and forms. However, the core strategy of the deck is enough to overcome must matches. Evil Ball and Y-Cylone is such a good combination of attacks that non meta/low tier decks can’t keep up. It matches well against Donphan who, in turn, takes care of heavy Manectric buils and Pyroars making it easier for Yveltal to reach the top tables. Also, techs like Garbodor and Spiritomb make the archtype flexible and adaptable to any specific field.

Baby Yveltal stops Night March, Metal is a favorable matchup, Seismitoad matches poorly against Evil Ball, Shadow Circle prevents Manectric from wrecking the deck… Yveltal is very well positioned in this meta.

The number of confortable matchups across the board factoring the popularity of each opposing archtype dictates their position in the tier list of the format. Even without going in number comparisons, it can be easily concluded that Yveltal has the most favorable matchups followed by Donphan and, finnaly Virgen. The results from the past major tournaments prove this statement.

Yveltal is at the top of the food chain. Ever dominant, ever popular since its release but never as dominant as it is in present times. Not even M Manectric EX, a machine that looks like it was made to hunt down the dark bird, was able to atone Yveltal’s dominance.

There were times were dominant, unstoppable top tier decks presented horror to all who thrive in the competitive field. PLOX and Luxchomp are some of the names that will never be forgotten…. However, our present king is a good king. It does not oppress the format in a way that you either have to play the best deck or straight up counter it. In fact, this is the most healthy and open metagame we had in years!

These are good times to enjoy this game…

 

Until next time, stay awesome.

 

P.S.: Special thanks to everyone who shared their list so I could include them in this article. 

 

João

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