The Vacuum Effect — Standard Analysis, Disruption, and More
Decks come and go, and that's something happening more and more in this Standard format. Buzzwole goes away, Zoroark-GX comes back, Buzzwole comes back... Time to figure out this mess together.
06/26/2018 by Caleb Gedemer
The vacuum effect is a phenomenon scientifically recognized worldwide, across all types of animal species. Well-known among biologists, the vacuum effect describes what happens when even some of an animal population is permanently removed from its home range. This applies to the Pokemon Trading Card Game, when a deck “disappears” from the metagame: everything changes. This has been happening back and forth in our Standard format, leading to some very confusing, but interesting shifts.
Table of contents
BREAKthrough through Forbidden Light Standard Format History
Most players attending “week one” events had just come off a stale Standard format that had been played for many different Regionals, including the most recent Canadian Regional event the week before. For this reason, I think there was a lot of mixed views on the format itself. Buzzwole hardliners stuck with the deck but played relatively undeveloped lists and had certainly not come upon the “optimal” sixty cards. Malamar (FLI; 51) also had been hyped to counter the Buzzwole decks, but Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) was there to counter the Malamar decks in return. This lead to a bit of a messy transition to the format, and even yours truly playing Turbo Lapras GX (SUM; 139) …
Week One: Figuring Things Out with Malamar and Random Zoroark-GX in Europe
- France: Rough Metagame Accuracy of 50%
- Mexico: Rough Metagame Accuracy of 90%
- Russia: Rough Metagame Accuracy of 5%
- South Africa: Rough Metagame Accuracy of 5%
The National Championship events are anomalies, as they took place in less-competitive countries that don’t have as easy of access to all of the cards. The Mexican event’s meta was starkly concentrated with Buzzwole decks, and I even played three myself. Malamar (FLI; 51) was around, too, especially with Ultra Necrozma GX (FLI; 95) (shortly dismissed as the “worse” version of the deck, however). The French Special Event was weird, though, with Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) winning the event and seemingly avoiding, or somehow beating, all of the Buzzwole decks that made up day two. Malamar (FLI; 51) is easy pickings for Zoroark-GX, so coming across those frequently, as it did, helped it out in the process to winning the whole event. Coming off of this event, Malamar was shown as a serious threat to Buzzwole, and Zoroark-GX started to cast a shadow over the format, daring Malamar players to play their deck.
Weekly Winner: Malamar
Week Two: Zoroark-GX is Back, Malamar Still Up There
Malamar (FLI; 51) became highly concentrated in the next Mexican Specials, but Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) was there to rear its head and beat it. Buzzwole shrunk in popularity and was also punished by the high frequency of Malamar decks. The Melbourne Regionals was extremely weird, showing off a variety of strange decks, and a unique Greninja BREAK list even winning the event. I don’t think this event was an accurate representation of the metagame, whereas the Mexican event was closer to actuality.
Weekly Winner: Zoroark-GX
Week Three: Buzzwole Dominance
- Chile: Rough Metagame Accuracy of 50%
- Malaysia: Rough Metagame Accuracy of 75%
- Wisconsin: Rough Metagame Accuracy of 95%
Buzzwole found its groove this week with its best list. Three baby Buzzwole was much too much for the Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) decks on the rise from the week before. Not only that, but the Pokemon-EX/GX-heavy Malamar decks did very poorly against the “broken” Buzzwole deck as well. All of this considered, Buzzwole dominated Wisconsin Regionals and did well elsewhere, too. While it wasn’t as common as it was in Wisconsin, that was more because less foreign players, if any, had access to the “new” list for Buzzwole with the three babies.
Weekly Winner: Buzzwole
Week Four: Crazy Stuff, Buzzwole Hanging Around, Greninja BREAK Resurgence
- Singapore: Rough Metagame Accuracy of 50%
I don’t want to say this week “doesn’t count”, but the Singapore event was much smaller and less concentrated with the game’s best players, giving it a little less accurate of a read into the state of the metagame. Obviously, many adaptations carried over from the previous weeks, but this event was overall a very strange mix of successful decks, with Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) / Lucario GX (BW; 100) winning the whole thing. I don’t think this week had a clear winner, but it was a bit of a foresight into the coming week as far as Zoroark-GX decks making an even bigger resurgence goes.
Weekly Winner: Not Applicable
Week Five: Zoroark-GX Takes Malamar Down Again
- England: Rough Metagame Accuracy of 95%
- Hong Kong: Rough Metagame Accuracy of 25%
- Mexico: Rough Metagame Accuracy of 90%
This week is extremely interesting, as the week one and two developments seemingly all took place within the same week; everything was meshed into one metagame-developing series of events. Malamar (FLI; 51) was played in high numbers to counter Buzzwole at these events and in turn, Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) dominated and won both of them! I even lost in the finals of the Mexican Special Championship to a Zoroark-GX / Golisopod GX (BUS; 129) deck, adding even more truth to this sentiment. I think the coming weeks will switch back to beating Zoroark-GX, or finding a happy medium between everything, which seems extremely difficult starting off. On with the vicious vacuum effect cycle we go, which deck will disappear next?
Weekly Winner: Zoroark-GX
It’s time to spice things up, this rock-paper-scissors of a format we’ve found ourselves in needs some new diversity. What can we do about it? It’s time to go over some creative ways to address, well, everything!
Now we’re back to countering Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) . Will Buzzwole come back? This is a weird spot, because the metagame can go in different directions. One, Malamar (FLI; 51) players could stick to their forte, playing it into a loaded Zoroark-GX metagame. Buzzwole will most certainly be more popular, but in turn, Malamar will do better… So, will anything change? It’s hard to say, as much of it depends on pairings and variance. I can say for one that I’ve been grinding games with Buzzwole / Lycanroc-GX trying to give it the very best possible Malamar matchup. Zoroark-GX is no matchup for Buzzwole / Lycanroc-GX as I’ve talked about, and the Zoroark-GX baring the best matchup is Zoroark-GX / Garbodor and nothing is guaranteed even in that.
Many of the successful Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) / Lycanroc-GX lists from the England Regionals only played four Strong Energy. As a result, Xurkitree GX (UPR; 142) could become an auto-win condition against those decks for decks that aren’t built to beat it as-is. Notably, Zoroark-GX / Garbodor could be one of those decks as it has the capability of using Lighting GX with Unit Energy LPM. This is a pretty fringe idea that won’t do anything in a variety of matchups, making it less good than some other options. Does it have use outside of mono-Special Energy decks? Not really, that’s part of the disappointment in this cards design, it just doesn’t have much else to offer.
Parallel City (BKT; 145) has dropped out of many lists as of late, a bit of an odd situation. I think part of this is due to Buzzwole dominating the boards, making Parallel City a less-good card, as it’s not extremely great against the deck. Also, in Buzzwole doing so well, Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) decks have died down, and decks that are weak to Parallel City don’t have to worry as much about preventing Parallel City plays by playing their own copy of the Stadium card. This card will pop up time and time again and maybe it’s time again to make it a staple in every list.
The coolest development out of England’s Regionals, the winning list was a Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) / Lycanroc-GX deck with a single copy of Delinquent (BKP; 98) . This is incredibly cool, and while it is a “cheesy” win condition that won’t always work, it’s going to be super powerful if you can pull it off and something that Zoroark-GX decks, for one, should start thinking about playing to give yourself an edge in any matchup and beat difficult ones in a last-resort style move.
This card can swing games in a heartbeat and is best fit in Zoroark-GX decks that have easy access to it at “all times”. Switching your opponent’s Pokemon without a Supporter is incredible, allowing you to draw extra cards with not much more effort. This is super disruptive right now since most decks don’t expect you to play an N and then Counter Catcher (CIN; 91) … so there’s merit to playing it in a variety of decks.
Most decks rely on Special Energy, aside from Malamar (FLI; 51) . Enhanced Hammer (DE; 94) is a great option to set your opponent back and with many Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) / Lycanroc-GX lists switching over to playing four Strong Energy and no Basic Energy, you can get even better value out of this cute little Item.
Peeking Red Card
When your opponent has a small hand size you can disrupt him or her with a Peeking Red Card (CIN; 97) . This isn’t applicable to larger hand sizes, but when it’s lower it can be deadly. This can steal you games as long as your opponent doesn’t have an Ability-based draw power like Octillery.
Red Card (XY; 124) is a pretty nice way to put your opponent’s hand size and then you can hit them with a Delinquent thereafter. This is probably the worst of all of these cards, but it’s worth mentioning.
Magical Ribbon won’t be coming back. Malamar (FLI; 51) is far too strong to allow a disruption deck to be powerful again. You can pair Sylveon GX (GRI; 92) with Garbodor, giving yourself a chance against Malamar. Field Blower is still going to get a Malamar player there on key turns. Aside from that, the deck plays a large number of Energy to begin with which will create big problems for you. I wish there was something cool like Sylveon-GX to answer the rest of the format, but alas, I don’t think it’s going to be feasible for it to see sustained success going forward.
- 4x Froakie
- 4x Frogadier
- 4x Greninja
- 3x Greninja BREAK
- 2x Staryu
- 1x Starmie
- 1x Tapu Lele GX
- 4x N
- 4x Cynthia
- 3x Professor Sycamore
- 4x Ultra Ball
- 4x Evosoda
- 3x Choice Band
- 2x Enhanced Hammer
- 2x Counter Catcher
- 1x Super Rod
- 1x Rescue Stretcher
- 3x Brooklet Hill
- 6x Water Energy
- 4x Splash Energy
Four Froakie makes this deck tick. It’s your best starter and what you want to have right away to get things going. You want to try and get two down on your first turn each game, and having a full set of four gives you the very best chance of doing that.
A single Gale Shuriken is okay, but it really stinks if you open with it when you want to use Water Duplicates. I think the downside of those off-starts makes it optimal to play a full set of this Frogadier. There aren’t many situations where the extra 20 damage hit matters very much anyways.
This is the best Greninja out there, by far. Shadow Stitching and Moonlight Slash are amazing attacks that both have their own uses. The other legal Greninja is trash.
Three Greninja BREAK
Accepted as the optimal count of the BREAK, I have never wanted more or less than this. Your win condition is usually getting two Greninja BREAK out, so having a whole three to get to the point of having those two is preferrable.
Most decks will target your Staryu early, and many times you’ll want to use a Pokemon recovery card to recover it anyways, so having two is super nice. Starmie is incredibly important to your strategy so two Staryu as a way to build up to them is never bad.
An incredible card in this deck, Space Beacon keeps your deck churning in the late game and gives you a surplus of Energy to the point that you should never miss a Giant Water Shuriken drop if you get going.
One Tapu Lele-GX
Making your Ultra Ball outs to a draw Supporter is incredible. Even though this deck doesn’t want to start Tapu Lele-GX, and it’s really bad when you do, still having the option is a must if you want to increase your winning percentages, consistency is extremely important for this deck.
N makes Greninja BREAK a viable deck. Without it, your opponent would almost always have access to what he or she wants since there is so much time given to setting up a Greninja BREAK deck. N with Shadow Stitching in the late game is one of the most toxic combinations in the game and scores wins on its own.
This deck wants to avoid discarding cards if possible, so four Cynthia gives you the opportunity to save resources that you’ll want for later while still drawing a reasonable number of cards in the process.
Three Professor Sycamore
Deck thinning is still important to Greninja BREAK and three Professor Sycamore helps you do it. Discarding useless cards like frog pieces once you set up can save you in the late game off N from your opponent, so playing Professor Sycamore is still a must. While it does hurt you more in the early game, that’s why you only want to play three, versus four.
Four Ultra Ball
Ultra Ball may seem weird, but there’s currently no better alternative to find Pokemon in this deck aside from Evosoda. It also helps you thin your deck which is nice and even creates an out to a draw Supporter in finding a Tapu Lele-GX.
More ways to get a Frogadier down as soon as possible is nice. Once your Water Duplicates pops off then you have more ways to get Greninja and Greninja BREAK down, speeding up your setup. I’ve seen some lists go down to three of these in favor of another Brooklet Hill, but that’s not something I’m incredibly fond of.
Three Choice Band
Choice Band makes a lot of numbers easier to hit, thus playing three is optimal in today’s format. With so many Pokemon-GX getting more and more HP, Choice Band softens things up and keeps you kicking. Greninja with a Choice Band use Shadow Stitching for 70, which creates a three-hit Knockout on a Buzzwole GX (CIN; 104) , for instance. Without Choice Band you would have to hit five times, which is really bothersome. Not only that, but two Shadow Stitching hits and a Giant Water Shuriken use gets you a Knockout on its own. You can do math, so I won’t bore you with anymore scenarios, but multiples of this card is super nice for this deck, plain and simple.
Two Enhanced Hammer
Disruption time! Enhanced Hammer slows down Zoroark-GX decks and even Buzzwole from time to time. I like two of them because it gives you room to play Counter Catcher, another disruptive card that works wonders for this deck. As a slower deck, you want to play disruptors to stop your opponent from popping off before you can fully set up.
Two Counter Catcher
Counter Catcher is a great addition to this deck. It gives you an answer to Giratina with Devour Light and gives you more ways to lock Pokemon up while you hit your opponent with a barrage of Giant Water Shuriken drops. Having a gust effect in this deck is particularly useful in general, as you can handpick what Pokemon you want to damage, or even knock out. A slow deck with some serious firepower in the form of Counter Catcher is scary, and there’s next to nothing that any deck can do to get around it.
One Super Rod
Putting Energy back into the deck when your Starmie isn’t serviceable is nice, not only that but Pokemon recovery is always strong. Giving yourself two different options between this and Rescue Stretcher is always nice, but having this option is cool too. I like playing “different” cards with similar effects in situations where you’re playing them for similar reasons.
One Rescue Stretcher
Immediately putting a Pokemon you want back in your hand is stupendous, and shuffling them back in is nice as well. Rescue Stretcher is played for the option to immediately get something back and again, having two different ways to recover Pokemon and/or Energy is nice to just spread your options out so you don’t regret not having one or the other.
Three Brooklet Hill
Finding Froakie quickly is very important, so having Brooklet hill aside Ultra Ball to get it out is a must. You can also naturally draw into it or just start with it in the beginning of the game, but Brooklet Hill smoothes things over for the times you don’t. Having another way to get Staryu down is very nice as well.
Six Water Energy
The optimal count for a while now, six Water Energy gives you solid chances to draw into them in the early stages of the game and still have some for later, all while you’re setting up Starmie to get an infinite supply of Water Energy once you’re all set up and ready to go.
Four Splash Energy
Getting your Pokemon back after they’re knocked out is really good. Since you’ll be using Shadow Stitching most of the time you’ll still have an Energy attached to your Pokemon and you’ll have the chance to get that Pokemon back with Splash Energy.
Buzzwole, Malamar (FLI; 51) , and Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) are the biggest decks right now. Greninja BREAK can beat most fringe outlier decks, so the focus of this matchup section will be on these, the biggest decks.
Mew-EX and Tapu Fini-GX are awful inclusions to “improve” this matchup. In fact, I think they make it worse. They both give up two Prizes, and give a Buzzwole player a turn of Abilities, in which he or she can pop off with Octillery and get things going. Aside from that, you’re going to just need to make it to the point in the game where you set up at least two Greninja BREAK. Try getting Starmie down so you can fuel those Greninja BREAK once they do come down, so then you can hammer your opponent with Giant Water Shuriken drops. You want to try to play around Beast Ring if possible, using Giant Water Shuriken to take two Pokemon-GX Knockouts at once. This is a lot harder with many lists taking Buzzwole GX (CIN; 104) counts down significantly, however. Shadow Stitching is particularly strong against this deck since it stops Diancie Prism Star, Lycanroc-GX, Octillery, and Regirock-EX from using their Abilities. These Abilities increase the damage output of the Buzzwole player and allow him or her to rip through his or her deck. Octillery is especially important to shut down, and you should also have your eye on it, Diancie Prism Star, and Regirock-EX as beefy Pokemon that you can “lock” up with Counter Catcher. This matchup is a war of attrition, and you need to avoid being outsped. Diancie Prism Star and a Strong Energy hurts when a Buzzwole or Buzzwole GX (CIN; 104) one-shots your Froakie or Frogadier early, but keep up hope because once you get a Greninja BREAK down it will be hard for your opponent to keep up if you run well and hit Giant Water Shuriken Knockouts. Most Buzzwole decks don’t play Giratina, no worries!
Malamar; Unfavorable to Favorable
If your opponent has Giratina this matchup gets a whole lot worse. You can certainly still win because Shadow Stitching is so strong, but many Malamar (FLI; 51) decks have moved towards a non-EX/GX concept with things like Mewtwo with Pressure, reducing your damage output to 20 with Shadow Stitching. For this reason you are either forced to use Moonlight Slash to take more efficient Knockouts, or just accept the fact that you will have to six-shot a Mewtwo. Again, if Giratina isn’t played, though, then you can rip through your opponent’s board with Giant Water Shuriken and even address those pesky Mewtwo. When faced with a Mewtwo, I do recommend that you use Moonlight Slash to speed up the Knockout process. This does give your opponent Abilities back, but it’s your only way to make any significant progress in winning the game. Malamar is a deck where playing Max Potion would be super nice, giving your more chances to attack with the same Pokemon by healing them, but it’s hard to find the space for it in addition to the disruption cards that you’re already playing. Cross your fingers, hope your opponent doesn’t have Giratina, and know when to break the Shadow Stitching lock if he or she does, it should almost always be after an N to a low hand size for your opponent.
Shadow Stitching, Counter Catcher, and Enhanced Hammer destroy your opponent, plain and simple. The biggest threat of a Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) deck is the Golisopod GX (BUS; 129) version, but you can even handle that one if you set up well. There are so many big Pokemon that you can drag Active with Counter Catcher to the point where it’s almost unfair for your opponent. Enhanced Hammer makes things a lot worse by removing Energy and in combination with N you can reduce your opponent’s chances of even attacking for some time. Shadow Stitching stops Trade, and Zoroark-GX decks don’t play too many draw Supporters. Often, many of those draw Supporters are N and once your opponent takes some Prizes then it won’t be of much value anyways. Giant Water Shuriken is the icing on the cake as it makes easier Knockouts happen and can eliminate threats like Golisopod GX (BUS; 129) before they attack. Most Zoroark-GX decks don’t play Giratina, so you shouldn’t worry about running into that. Lastly, three Choice Band is also very nice in this matchup as your opponent’s Pokemon usually have 200 or 210 HP, making them perfect three-hit Knockouts with Shadow Stitching (Giant Water Shuriken can speed that up even more).
Field Blower isn’t needed in this deck currently. I think it is much better to play more disruption cards in its place. The only fear is the slight uptick in play of Buzzwole GX (CIN; 104) / Garbodor, but I don’t think that deck is great enough to be a major bother. I think taking the “loss” to Garbodor is worth it in exchange for improving all of your other matchups by having more tech options.
I think based on this coming week’s predictions we will see a lot more Buzzwole decks doing well. Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) has high curb appeal to so many players and it’s like once they see that it’s doing well again the metagame gets flooded with people playing it. Greninja BREAK is a nice play once people cut down on Giratina again, which I can certainly see happening as Greninja BREAK has barely been played in the last few weeks. It remains to be seen if it will remain in Malamar decks to the point of just being a staple… Take care everyone, see you later!
Enhanced Hammer (DE; 94)
Red Card (XY; 124)
Parallel City (BKT; 145)
Delinquent (BKP; 98)
Lapras GX (SUM; 139)
Sylveon GX (GRI; 92)
Golisopod GX (BUS; 129)
Zoroark GX (SLG; 53)
Buzzwole GX (CIN; 104)
Counter Catcher (CIN; 91)
Peeking Red Card (CIN; 97)
Xurkitree GX (UPR; 142)
Lucario GX (BW; 100)
Malamar (FLI; 51)
Ultra Necrozma GX (FLI; 95)
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