04/25/2019 by Daniel Altavilla
Hey there 60cards readers, we have the European International Championship coming up in a week fresh off of Denver Regionals. The Mile-High party ended up with another #DDGWIN thanks to good ol’ Shredemer, and the trip overall was very fun, even though I got sick Friday night and had to endure that for the entirety of the event. Now that I’m not sick it’s time to look forward to Daytona Regionals, which is going to be a giant easter egg hunt because Expanded is always so puzzling in a fresh and exciting way because of all the viable deck options. And once this small Expanded distraction passes us by, it’ll be grind time yet again in an attempt to prepare for Berlin! This is really going to be a difficult couple of weeks, but I feel I have enough of a grasp on the Standard format to jumpstart my testing and ideally that will rub off on anybody who reads this article!
Table of contents
There have been a few constants in the Standard format that developed around Collinsville. The first being that
Marshadow (SLG; 45)
has a grip on the format. Our little Shuffle Draw friend has been the topic of controversy, as people are begging for a Marshadow ban. Let Loose is easily the best Ability in the game right now, allowing you to reset your hand in an attempt to stretch a turn out and giving you a chance to close the game out as soon as Turn 1. This makes for one of the worst attempts at player interaction we have currently because of the lack of strong Turn 1 options in Standard from some decks and the overwhelming amount of them in others.
I’d argue that Marshadow somewhat balances out the format because when Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) / Lycanroc GX (GRI; 138) perfectly sets up, there is little chance that Pikachu & Zekrom GX (TM; 162) can do anything about that. Which is why Let Loose is going to give them a chance to slow ZoroRoc down by even a measly single turn. This lets an aggressive deck like Pika be even more aggressive, in the same way Zoroark is a consistency machine turn 1 but has consistency in Trade as well. Without Let Loose, Blacephalon GX (LT; 52) / Naganadel (LT; 108) and Pikarom are still good, but they don’t have the opportunity for a big swing turn in most games like other decks do, and they are needed to keep Zoroark-GX in check in the meta.
I think in a 100-game sample size, Pikarom and Blacephalon will always come out to be the best performing decks. I was having this discussion with 60cards mogul Zach Lesage at Denver Regionals, and it feels that Zach turns to Blowns so often because of how many games he puts in. Once you hit a certain point, you’ve now played a deck that has 2 Let Loose and wins every game in 6 turns or less. You have the opportunity to close the Game out on turn 1, or to make your opponent stumble for even just a turn to put you ridiculously far ahead. The Alolan Muk (SUM; 58) helping to swing Pika and Zapdos and your already positive Zoroark-GX matchup makes for a deck that can’t really be beat in such a large sample size. You have double Let Loose, Beast Rings and Alolan Muk all as backup strategies that can cheese wins.
Similarly, Turbo Pikarom is going to have the potential for three big turns. You have the t1 Let Loose sometimes with Full Blitz, you have the KO/Let Loose turn somewhere halfway through the game or so, and you have the Tag Bolt GX turn. You can even Let Loose when you Tag Bolt and take a commanding lead right then and there. Both Decks having such a high chance of cheesing wins multiple different ways makes for probably the “two BDIFs”, with Zapdos/Ultra Beasts being the leading one-prize attacker deck and Zoroark-GX Control being the strongest Zoroark deck. There shouldn’t be too much deviation from this thought process going into EUIC, though there will continue to be plenty of both of the Lycanroc variants and a decent rise in Vikavolt (SUM; 52) / Rayquaza GX (CLS; 160) and Regigigas (CIN; 84) Stall.
This may be one of the crazier formats we have had with so many different strategies that have to be prepared for. It will most likely be a matter of picking whichever top deck you want and using the right Techs and then just hitting the correct Matchups on the day, there is likely no insane left-field deck that can show up and take the event by storm. Creativity will be seen more in lists than in actual concepts, so that is something to consider going into the event.
Some of the main takeaways from the Denver Regional Championship are truly just the legitimacy of some of the left-field decks we saw. A good Zapdos list will get you far but may not be the best way to win the event, with three new Decks that have pretty strong spreads. Control is by no means dead and has a pretty ridiculous matchup spread, but can be countered by 1-2 cards max in a lot of decks which makes it a risky play. I wouldn’t try to tech heavily for Control, but I’d have an option that gives the most value there and in other matchups at the same time. For example, you could run a Resource Management Oranguru in Zapdos and it wouldn’t hurt the deck very much and can be used elsewhere, compared to playing something like Girafarig which would devastate Control but will probably be completely dead in every other matchup. Vikavolt/Rayquaza and Gigas Stall are legitimate decks that must both be somewhere in Tier 1.5, boasting strong Tier 1 Matchups but having some poor overall consistency for what the format is capable of, especially when hit by Let Loose. VikaRay specifically has seen even larger success, with fellow writer Jose Marrero winning the Guatemala Special Event with it over Rahul Reddy’s Pikarom. I’ve tested the deck myself since, and it really feels like Lightning Box switching between a one-prize deck and a heavy-hitting GX deck instantly. I think the existence of VikaRay should cut Lightning Box out as a deck altogether, as Turbo Pikarom is the better deck if you want to play Pika and Rayquaza is the better Toolbox right now.
Gigas Stall has seen play from Alessandro Cremascoli at two events now, always played in different ways. I expect more Italians to be playing the deck this time around, and with the sheer numbers and results the deck has been seeing at Denver and Cups, we can expect it at EUIC with a strong representation. The deck has deceptively strong matchups against most decks, but currently folds to Control. I think Gigas players will easily figure out tactics to handle Control, but they’ve gained a poor matchup in VikaRay and the amount of Blacephalon at Denver has personally turned me away from the deck.
Celebi & Venusaur had a field day at the event, but I think most Zoroark-GX decks will be adding Oranguru, Celebi can’t really handle Control if they run Plumeria, and Blacephalon-GX will be represented enough for Venusaur to hit it 1-2 times in an event. If a Celebi deck can figure out a way to stop falling off after the first one gets KO’d it could probably see some alright results, I wouldn’t doubt one has a good enough day to make t16 or t8 at the event.
Overall, I’d argue that most of the archetypes in Standard right now are viable and should be constantly changing techs around for different metas to try and take advantage of meta trends. That seems to be what is happening at Cups, in between a LOT of Lightning deck wins. The one deck I think actually fell off is Malamar, because it picks up wins here and there but has a ton of abysmal matchups and should never confidently be played into a Lightning field. Lightning players in early rounds may have the potential to misplay compared to some opponents you’ll face in later rounds so Malamar might start off hot but it usually has closer games later into the event and falls off around then too for that reason. With that being said, let’s try and gather what the true BDIF of the format is, for many of these decks are worthy of the title.
Lightning decks are definitely the new hot commodity, but are they truly BDIF material? PIkarom has Let Loose shenanigans as do a lot of Zapdos lists, and if Zapdos starts Jirachi it probably never whiffs a combo for the rest of the game. I think there are a lot of games where Zapdos can lose from Judge or Let Loose at the right time, even if things are going well in the first couple of turns. Similarly, if the first Pikachu can be dealt with quickly enough, Pika completely falls apart. And a lot of decks can 2-hit Pika, which Zoroark decks are trying even harder to do with the addition of Dumbbells. This begs the question - are they too good because even with counters they are still picking up dubs, or are they worth playing into a meta where everybody in the room thinks their Lightning matchups are good? I’d argue those are definitely the qualities of BDIF, but there’s something that interests me more than that in the current meta: the ability for any deck to draw out of Let Loose turn 1.
Plenty of games are going to be thrown away due to Let Loose shenanigans, and I think Control, Gigas Stall and anything with a Jirachi start is going to have a big advantage because they all have the best chances to draw out of Let Loose. Anything else can fall off because of high Basic Energy counts or a lack of consistency or just by the low number of Supporters in general in Standard decks, so any deck with good matchups that can also take a t1 Let Loose to the face and still survive just seems really attractive right now.
I think the clear BDIF would have to be Zapdos/Ultra Beasts, but the more recent list that boasts a 2-2 Zebstrika line.
You have the heavy Zebstrika for Let Loose, Judge and Alolan Muk protection, so you can’t really be caught off-guard by those shenanigans. You still also have 4 Jirachi so you’re the most consistent deck in the format by far most of the time, and your matchups are overall pretty strong. Zapdos mirror is Zapdos mirror, but a good player can navigate their way through enough to leave it up to variance. What truly brings the deck together for me is the opportunity for the highest amount of swing turns, having 5 different options for a really big turn:
- Sledgehammer turn when your opponent has 4 Prizes left
- Nightcap turn when your opponent has 2 Prizes left
- Using 3 or more 30+ damage mods with Zapdos for a big KO at any point in game
- Tapu Koko’s GX attack
- Let Loose turn (can win t1)
Being able to do all 5 of these in a game is absolutely devastating, and creates the most openings to dominate a game for Zapdos. It’s like playing the 5 pieces of Exodia in your deck but you only need to hit 1-2 a game to win. The deck is so aggressive and the 2-2 Zebstrika line brings it all together, letting you dig into the combos. I’ve been confident about winning a game even when burning heavy resources away with Sprint and have been able to stay composed through Judge/Muk most of the time. Control seems to be the deck’s bane, which is probably going to be the biggest hurdle to get over. I expect plenty of Zapdos decks to do well, but Zapdos/Ultra Beasts seems to be the best overall option. A lot of people may favor ZapRoc though because it can steamroll Control sometimes, but there has to be some option for ZapBeasts to get around Control as well when you can see as much of your deck as Zebstrika allows. I’ll share my list below and give a quick run-down on the deck.
- 3x Zapdos
- 4x Jirachi
- 2x Blitzle
- 2x Zebstrika
- 1x Buzzwole
- 1x Nihilego
- 1x Marshadow
- 1x Tapu Koko GX
- 1x Tapu Koko Prism Star
- 4x Lillie
- 4x Guzma
- 2x Cynthia
- 4x Ultra Ball
- 4x Nest Ball
- 4x Electropower
- 3x Switch
- 2x Escape Rope
- 2x Choice Band
- 2x Rescue Stretcher
- 1x Escape Board
- 3x Shrine of Punishment
- 4x Rainbow Energy
- 4x Lightning Energy
- 1x Beast Energy Prism Star
4 Jirachi is necessary to maximize your Turn 1 with this deck, and in matchups that you don’t have to worry about Muk you’ll get a lot of value out of Jirachi. When paired with the 2-2 Zebstrika line, you’re going to be able to reach the bottom of your deck with Stellar Wish at the end of the game, which means you’ll hit literally anything you want to hit. I rarely whiff with the deck, and even when I do I can fall back on my swing turns. The 4 Lillie 2 Cynthia is somewhat greedy, but the 8 Ball cards more than makes up for the lack of Supporters by allowing you to find more Jirachi for more dig potential or to just set up 2 Zebstrika and constantly dig into whatever you want, even into the Supporters which will just elongate your turn. 3 Zapdos is more than fine because Zebstrika can be an attacker in Mirror and Zapdos is really only that necessary at 4 in mirror, and versus Malamar you’ll be able to use both Ultra Beasts so the lack of Zapdos shouldn’t matter. You also still have double Rescue Stretcher, so that’s a thing. The Lightning Package is in full effect in this deck, minus the Thunder Mountain which holds less value than just running 3 Shrine for the Zoroark-GX matchups. You also want to bump Wondrous and Aether, and Shrine is the best Stadium for the job. The 4/4/1 Energy count is fine, giving you a way to hit some extra damage on your Swing turns or to make Sledgehammer hit almost the same as a Zapdos even outside of Sledge turn. Tapu Koko <*> also helps keep you from whiffing, though it can happen.
I think 1 Escape Board is the correct number because of the lack of Blower, so even if my Escape Board gets knocked off it won’t matter if I have two Zebstrika in play, and if it doesn’t I just have it for as long as I do which means it becomes as valuable as the 3+ items I’m getting while using it. I think Absol is awful, but it’s still played enough for me to want to cut an Escape Board and there’s enough Muk that you can’t even use the card in a lot of your matchups anyways. Let Loose will compensate for those cards the Escape Board won’t see and it can also swing Mirrors and win you the game as soon as turn one, so I think the value leans more towards Let Loose here.
Your matchups are pretty strong spare Control and sometimes Gigas, though I’ve found myself getting Swing Around off for longer than I deserve vs Gigas which has won me games in itself. If there was a guaranteed one-card tech to solve both of these matchups I’d play it in a heartbeat, but nothing strong enough seems to exist and I worry that this deck may end up being shelved as a result. It is definitely the BDIF though, and something I’m heavily considering leading up to the event.
Something worth pointing out is the lack of Kartana-GX in my list. The card has seen some hype recently surrounding the Blade GX attack, which gives you a GX attack in Zap Beasts and can put you up a Prize without wasting too many resources. The combo seems to come one-a-turn, Let Loose, into Zapdos Guzma KO, into Sledgehammer, into Zapdos heavy damage mod KO, into Nightcap, into Blade or Tapu Koko-GX for the last prize. I think the Blade is mostly useless though, and all it does is give your opponent the opportunity for you to start two different GXs now, both being 170 HP which PIkarom would love to see. I think the Kartana is cute but you only run Koko because you need a ton of options for Pikarom and an out to Venusaur so you don’t want to get too gung ho with the GX Pokemon. Another thing to consider is the lack of Jolteon-GX, which has to be the best worst card in the game right now. 2 slots for decent Mirror value, but can get bodied by Koko-GX, Shrines, Sledgehammer, and plenty of other things. Jolteon is so almost good, and gets better when it’s a 2-2 line over 1-1, but is still probably the least necessary card in a Zapdos deck ever. You want to just accept the mirror at 50-50 and let the Let Loose turn decide who wins instead of getting too wrapped up in a hard counter and eating up deck slots. This is also another bad starter, even though it isn’t a GX until it becomes a Jolteon, and I see people tempted to Jolteon at the wrong times very often.
The thing I preach to everyone about Zapdos is to not be scared to just simply not use Sprint every turn, you are still required to be patient with some resources. I like to think of the deck as working in spurts where I sit on a combo for a turn, then drop it all down and double Sprint to set up. Then I Sprint to find a combo, sit on it, and then dig. Sometimes you dig in subsequent turns, but mostly against mirror where you’re in a rush to find resources over and over. The deck truly is a monster, and I hope that anyone who reads this article will walk away with some more Zappie knowledge.
I’ll wrap it up there, there are some cool surprises in store for us at EUIC as far as deck-building but I can’t expect much outside of the few new decks we were introduced to at Denver. The meta seems to be rounding out to a healthy mix of everything, and with any deck being able to beat any deck especially when aided by the Shuffle Draw 4 cards. The Let Loose decks have large advantages which means the decks that can draw out the easiest are advantaged as well, and my favorite out of those being Zapdos Beasts. Perhaps we see some new concepts brought to life through the Detective Pikachu cards, but nothing seems to be that possible besides Ditto shenanigans which can comfortably find it’s way to plenty of decks, maybe even should fit a copy into Zapdos/Ultra Beasts! Make sure to drink some water, check out the Team DDG Youtube channel, and stop by my stream twitch.tv/daxptcg ! Until next time,
- Danny Altavilla
Alolan Muk (SUM; 58)
Vikavolt (SUM; 52)
Lycanroc GX (GRI; 138)
Zoroark GX (SLG; 53)
Marshadow (SLG; 45)
Regigigas (CIN; 84)
Rayquaza GX (CLS; 160)
Blacephalon GX (LT; 52)
Naganadel (LT; 108)
Pikachu & Zekrom GX (TM; 162)
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