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Marc Lutz

Exploring the Standard Format

Marc Lutz talks about the current metagame in the Standard format.

11/04/2015 by Marc Lutz

Hello, my dear readers. Today I want to take a look at the current Standard format, because I feel like nobody has really written about it with actual results. The results I want to use are from the Premier League Challenge in Essen, a League Challenge that awarded City Championship-level Championship Points and had a bigger prize support that any League Challenges or City Championships because it was directly organized by our local distributor in Germany, Amigo Spiele. I didn't participate in the tournament, but I asked a bunch of friends who did participate which decks where played, and of course, which decks did well. The tournament itself took place at the "Spiel," which is a convention for traditional board games, and of course, card games like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!. Since Amigo's booth wasn't just used for Pokémon, there was limited space for the Premier League Challenge, which resulted into just twenty-five Masters, which is a lot less than a regular City Championship. Even tough the tournament was pretty small, the Top 4 of the tournament were all pretty well known players, at least in Germany.

Fatih was the Winner of the first Arena Cup in 2014 where he piloted a deck with Pyroar and Seismitoad-EX to counter the most expected decks, like Fighting variants with Landorus and Lucario, as well as Yveltal variants. He also made it into Top 4 of German Nationals last year with his Gardevoir deck, where he lost to Niklas Lehnert-Rappel, the winnor of the ECC. Fatih also made it through Day 1 at Worlds with a very uncommon deck, Dragon M Rayquaza-EX. His latest achievment was a Second Place finish at this year's Arena Cup in Würzburg where he used the Japanese Yveltal/Archeops build to make it to the Finals where only Robin Schulz was able to stop him.

Speaking of Robin, he was the person to finish Second at the Premier League Challenge in Essen. Robin is a pretty well-known player in Germany, but he was never able to make it big. His biggest achievement so far is his First Place finish at the Arena Cup in Würzburg, using his Seismitoad/Giratina deck, which quickly became very popular and got picked up by a lot of players, especially in the United States. The next player who made it into Top 4 was Tobias Thesing, one of the most consistent players in German TCG History. He already made it into the Finals of German Nationals three times (2008, 2009, 2011), but since we always had flights for Top 2, and sometimes even Third Place, it was always enough to get the free flight. One very important aspect in his playstyle is that he always tries to use very uncommon decks, and tries to not stick to the metagame, as we can see with his Medicham deck. His latest achievement is also from the Arena Cup in Würzburg, where he made it into Top 4, with another uncommon deck, Accelgor/Vespiquen.

The last person in the Top4 was Matthias Luppa, a player that has been around for a very long time. He started playing in Seniors almost ten years ago. After his Senior years, he took a break and almost only participated in tournaments that were close. This changed in the past season, where he decided to travel further distances. This helped him to almost make it to Top 22; all that was missing was a high placement at German Nationals.

Before we take a closer look at the decks that finished Top 4 in Essen, let's have a look at the metagame overall.

It was very suprising that every deck that made it into Top 4 was basically a one-of, since I don't think that anyone played a deck similar to these ones. The rest of the metagame consisted of the expected decks like Manectric, Mienshao, and Vespiquen, with Manectric being the most popular. There were also some surprise picks like Sceptile-EX, but most people stuck to the meta. The only Top 4 deck that was played more than once was Gengar/Wobbufet.

So let's get to the interesting part, an in-depth look at the Top 4 decks, starting with the first place deck.

Vileplume/Regice

As some of you might know, I already took a look at this deck in a previous article where I talked about Vileplume variants and how good they are. I already said that I felt like this deck has a lot of potential and it looks like it's now here to show it. The basic strategy of this deck is pretty simple: set up Vileplume as fast as possible, while building up Regice. Most decks have a lot of trouble against Regice's second attack, Resistance Blizzard, since it prevents attacks from Pokémon-EX. That means you're pretty safe to win against any deck that uses a lot of Pokémon-EX to play out their strategy. The next thing that helps against any other decks, or even against decks that try to run non-EX attackers to have an out against Regice, is Vileplume. In a metagame where decks are using Item cards as their main setup tool, Item-lock is obviously pretty strong and gives most decks a very hard time.

The only matchup where Regice wouldn't be as good is against non-EX decks like Night March, Mienshao, and Vespiquen, but these decks are the ones that rely on Items the most. If you get out your Vileplume before they're able to set up, Night March and Vespiquen won't be able to play their Battle Compressors or Ultra Balls to discard their Pokemon to hit for high amounts of damage. Even if they manage to get enough Pokémon into the discard pile, they will still struggle once you get out your Vileplume because they probably won't be able to get an attacker going each turn. The Mienshao matchup is probably on of the easiest for any deck that runs Vileplume because Mienshao doesn't follow the strategy of heavy-hitting attackers; instead, it tries to abuse the combination of Focus Sash and Eco Arm to prevent the opponent from Knocking Out any Pokémon.

The next matchup I want to talk about is the Seismitoad/Giratina one. This one is probably one of the matchups that depends on the starting coin flip the most. Whoever gets to go first is usually the one who wins. If the Vileplume/Regice player gets to go first, he will usually be able to attack with Regice before the Seismitoad/Giratina player is able to block the Double Colorless Energy with Giratina-EX's Chaos Wheel. Other than that, it really depends on the draw for each player; if the Giratina player is able to get their Xerosics or Flare Grunts, he will have a easier time, but drawing cards under Item-lock when you need them is pretty hard. It's also possible to try Knocking Out the opponents Vileplume to be able to use your Hammers and Scoop Ups again, but since you're not able to Knock Out the Vileplume in one hit, you'll also have to hope that your opponent doesn't have an AZ. The last possible option is Hex Maniac, but it also puts you into a position where you have to hope for the right cards.

The last matchup I want to talk about is the Manectric/Regice one, since I feel like this is one of the most interesiting ones. This matchup can really play out to anyone's favor, especially since Manectric has so many options for attackers and disruption cards. Since most Manectric decks use Hex Maniac and AZ, you already have two pretty strong cards against Vileplume/Regice. Combining these with non-EX attackers like Regice and Articuno makes this a very decent matchup overall. But you still have to take the Item-lock into consideration, as you will have a rough time if you don't bring your Spirit Links into play as fast as possible.

Seismitoad/Giratina

Next up is Seismitoad/Giratina, a deck that has seen a lot of play in Expanded after its victory in Würzburg. Even with the loss of Hypnotoxic Laser, there are still players that are using it in Standard, and as we can see by the result of this Premier League Challenge, it's still doing well. The strategy of this deck is to lock your opponent with Giratina-EX or Seismitoad-EX. Seismitoad-EX has been a very strong card almost ever since it was released, but it lost a lot of its power with the loss of cards like Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym, so players had to find new partners for him. A lot of players tried to use either Manectric variants with Crobat and Seismitoad, or Seismitoad/Crobat, a deck that did pretty well at Worlds.

Both of them are doing pretty decently, but they're not able to win as easy as Seismitoad did before, because it's either missing the hard lock factor of Seismitoad-EX (in Manectric's case), or it's built aroung Quaking Punch, but is missing the power of Hypnotoxic Laser. That's where Giratina-EX from Ancient Origins comes in handy, as it also locks your opponent, but deals a lot more damage than Seismitoad-EX usually would. But Giratina-EX is facing one very big problem: it doesn't block your opponent's Items (except for Tools), so they're able to freely use cards like Enhanced Hammer and Xerosic to discard the Special Energy that are attached to Giratina-EX, but in a metagame where players don't use these cards, Giratina-EX is definitely one of the strongest Pokémon of the moment.

I already talked about the Vileplume/Regice matchup above. The Mienshao Matchup is pretty self-explanatory, since all you have to do is attack with Giratina to prevent your opponent's Focus Sash. You'll have to be pretty careful with your Special Energy since a lot of Mienshao players like to run Enhanced Hammer and Xerosic to make the Giratina matchup a lot better. To prevent your opponent from getting his Tools into play in the first place, I suggest you to use Seismitoad-EX's Quaking Punch to build up a Giratina-EX on your Bench in the meantime.

Medicham

The next deck I want to talk about is a deck that has been around since the release of Primal Clash, but until now, it has only seen play by beginners, or on the Pokémon Trading Card Game Online program since it's a very cheap attacker with a pretty decent Ancient Trait, but it was never taken as a serious competitor for either Standard or Expanded since it seemed pretty weak compared to other metagame decks. So what has changed that made Tobias try out this deck on a competitive level? First, let's take a look at how players tried to make the deck work before Ancient Origins was released. The most obvious choices were the regular Fighting cards like Strong Energy, Korinna, Fighting Stadium, and Focus Sash. Another attempt from some players was to also include Machamp from Furious Fists to boost Medicham's damage output even more.

But as soon as you take a look at Medicham's second attack, you will realize that you're going to need options to hit cards like Manectric-EX or Darkrai-EX for Weakness since Medicham's second attack doesn't apply Weakness or Resistance. That was the point where a lot of players decided to pair Medicham with Celebi-EX or Shrine of Memories to be able to use Meditite's attacks too, so you would also hit for Weakness. But since Celebi-EX was released in Boundaries Crossed, you have to use Shrine of Memories in Standard because you won't be able to hit for Weakness otherwise. But playing Shrine of Memories brings one obvious downside with it: you won't be able to hit for the bonus damage from Fighting Stadium.

Fighting Stadium is still going to be included as you don't have to hit for Weakness every time, and that's the time where you will need your Fighting Stadiums. Other cards that were usually included were Hawlucha and Lucario-EX, both from Furious Fists. Hawlucha is still going to be included since it's a very cheap attacker against Pokémon-EX which is also able to hit for high amounts of damage. But all of these cards weren't enough to make Medicham a decent deck, so now let's take a look at which cards from Ancient Origins made Tobias choose this deck for the tournament in Essen. The card that stands out the most has to be Eco Arm since he helps the deck a lot to keep hitting for high amounts of damage without even losing your attackers almost every turn. These cards made Tobias chose the deck for this tournament and as we can tell by the result, it paid off.

But enough talk about how he made his decision; let's take a look at the matchups against the other decks that made it far, or atleast the ones that are popular. First of all, the Vileplume/Regice matchup. This Matchup really depends on how the Medicham player can get his setup going while being Item-locked. Once you can get a decent set up by using cards like Hex Maniac and Lysandre to your advantage, it's actually not as difficult as it might seem. You're able to Knock Out Regice and Miltank in one hit, which will put the opponent into a rough position to get out new attackers each turn. You could also Lysandre the Vileplume and KO it if you've got two Strong Energy attached, or if you managed to sneak in a Muscle Band before Vileplume came into play.

The next matchup is Seismitoad/Giratina which is one of the worst Matchups by far. Like Mienshao, Medicham wants to abuse cards like Focus Sash, Strong Energy and Fighting Stadium, which are all blocked by Giratina's Chaos Wheel attack, which takes a lot of power from Medicham. Even if you play cards like Enhanced Hammer or even Xerosic, it's going to be pretty rough to beat Giratina, as it's able to one-hit KO your Medicham as well, and the only option to attack with Medicham for damage would cost you two Energy if you don't want to attack with Meditite. Even Hawlucha is not as good in this matchup because you would have to attack a Giratina three times without Muscle Band, Fighting Stadium or Strong Energy. This is probably the worst matchup for Medicham.

The last matchup I want to talk about is the Mienshao one, becauise this is probably the matchup that finally made Tobias chose this deck, as Mienshao is very popular, and Medicham beats it pretty easily. The main strategy for Mienshao is to abuse Focus Sash, and as I already explained, if the deck doesn't get to abuse Focus Sash, it looses it's strength and get beaten pretty easily. The strategy to win versus Mienshao with Medicham is to use its second attack so Focus Sash won't activate, so you can Knock Out Mienfoo or Mienshao with a second attack right after. This sound pretty simple, and it is, so if a lot of players play Mienshao in your area, definitely take a look at Medicham as your tournament choice.

Gengar/Wobbuffet

The last deck I want to talk about is Gengar/Wobbuffet, a deck that on paper basically beats all of the top decks that where played in Essen. The first matchup I'm going to talk about is Vileplume/Regice, as usual. From any Standard deck, Gengar/Wobbuffet is probably the one that has the best matchup against Vileplume/Regice, simply because it runs every card that you could probably want to beat any Vileplume variant. The combination of cards like Crushing Hammer and Enhanced Hammer together with Wobbuffet makes this a very easy matchup because Regice's biggest weakness is getting all its Energy discarded, as you can't power it up in one turn. You will still have to be lucky with at least some Crushing Hammer flips, but if you don't flip tails on every single one, it's pretty easy to beat the deck. Even if you're not able to discard every Energy, it's still not impossible to win, as you can simply Lysandre up benched Shaymin-EX or other weak Pokémon to draw your Prizes while stalling with Robo Subsitutes or Wobbuffet.

The Medicham and Mienshao matchups are pretty simple, as they both use pretty much the same strategy. Against both decks, you will have to use Gengar EX's second attack to knock them out in one hit, and Poison them as well to play around Focus Sash. Another approach against Medicham would be to damage a Meditite or Medicham with Gengar's first attack and finish them off with Wobbuffet, while using Dimension Valley for both attacks, so you would only have to use one Energy overall. Using Gengar's second attack, however, is still the best option if you want to win the matchup. Medicham also has a pretty rough time if you don't let it set up at all, because Medicham's second attack costs two Fighting Energy, which you can prevent by using Crushing Hammer. If the opponent happens to set up a Medicham, you'll lose one pretty important aspect of your strategy: you won't be able to stall with Robo Substitutes because they can Knock Out either two of them, or Knock Out one, and also damage either one of your Wobbuffet or Gengar-EX. Other than that, both matchups are pretty simple, especially the Mienshao one.

The next matchup I want to talk about is the Seismitoad/Giratina one because I feel like this deck is going to be very popular in both Standard and Expanded. The Seismitoad/Giratina player will have to use Quaking Punch in the first couple turns; otherwise, you will be able to easily discard any Energy attached to Giratina by using Crushing Hammer and Enhanced Hammer. To beat the Seismitoad, you want to power up one of your Gengar-EX on your Bench to hit the Seismitoad-EX and Poison it as well. This way, the opponent will have to flip heads on their Super Scoop Ups, and if they don't manage to do this, they will lose Seismitoad-EX. Other very important cards in this matchup are Xerosic and Head Ringer because they prevent your opponent from attacking at all. This way, you will win pretty easily.

Now let's get to one of the hardest matchups for Gengar/Wobbufett, Manectric/Regice. The Manectric/Regice matchup is very difficult to win because they don't need too long to set up heavy-htting M Manectric-EX. The strongest point of Gengar-EX is that it hits for a decent amount of damage while Poisoning the Active Pokémon as well, and that's where it gets difficult when playing against Manectric. Your opponent is going to be able to easily switch out from the Poison damage so you won't be able to deal as much damage. Another very strong card for the Manectric deck is Rough Seas, as the Manectric player can move a damaged Manectric to the Bench and attack with new, undamaged ones while healing the Benched one. Another card that makes the matchup pretty hard is Regice, as you won't be able to damage it with your Gengar-EX after a Resistance Blizzard. The only possible ways to shift the matchup in your favor is to use Crushing Hammer and Head Ringer to prevent your opponent from attacking, but as soon as they mange to get Turbo Bolts going, it's very unlikely for the Gengar/Wobbuffet player to win. Overall, I feel like that this deck could be a pretty solid choice if you don't expect that much Manectric in your tournaments.

Looking at the results, you can pretty much see which decks had the biggest impact on players' deck choices. The biggest impact was probably Mienshao, as a lot of players don't like to play against it because most decks don't really have a counterplay against it, so these players chose decks that beat Mienshao pretty easily. Another impact-heavy deck probably was Vespiquen as it had a very strong showing at U.S. Regionals and a lot of players probably expected it in Standard as well, and they were right. It wasn't as played as some people might have thought, but it still had a decent amount of players that went with it. Looking at the Top 4 decks separately, I feel like the Gengar/Wobbuffet should have won the whole tournament, but as it didn't have a top cut, you had to go atleast X-0-1 to win the whole thing, and Matthias probably lost to one Manectric deck, which prevented him from winning the tournament.

That does it for this article!  I hope it was interesting and that it helps you choose a good deck for your next Standard tournament.  See you next time!

-Marc

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