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Chris Fulop

The Closing Stretch

With The North American Intercontinental Championships Less Than a Week Away, The Metagame Is Coming Into Focus! Let's Take A Look!

07/04/2018 by Chris Fulop

Hello again everyone!

I know I've said this type of thing often...and I know more often than not, it leads to me not actually attending the event...but I have officially registered for the North American Intercontinental Championships at the beginning of July.I deal with varying degrees of depression...something I don't normally draw much attention to for various reasons, but it really impacts my drive and motivation to travel to tournaments. I'm not looking for sympathy or pity, but I do feel I owe my readers some transparency as to why I have not been traveling to many events the past few years. That all said, I have registered for the event, paid for my room, and am locked in on this one. All that is left now is to figure out what deck to play, right?

Recently, the metagame had boiled down into arguably four viable archetypes: Buzzwole, Malamar, Greninja, and Zoroark. I'd even go as far as to seperate the tiers between Buzzwole and Malamar from Greninja and Zoroark. Not only do I feel like the prior two are objectively stronger decks, but I also felt that their metagame shares were higher and thus the more important archetypes to be prepared for.
No matter how well positioned Greninja is, it feels like it's player base has a low ceiling. There are almost never that many people that are willing to actually play the deck. Part of that is consistancy issues, part of it is difficulty to play, and perhaps there is just a lingering stigma attached to it that keep the average player from wanting to sleeve it up. I don't want to play it, but I've always have very opinionated views on certain archetypes and chosen to shy away from particular decks.

Zoroark is interesting. Even with proper tech, it really struggles against Buzzwole. On the other hand, it is still a stupidly powerful card and has pretty good game against the rest of the format. It has the best engine the game has to offer. As Buzzwole dominates less and less of the metagame share it has, Zoroark becomes a bit better. Zoroark gets this undeserved stigam of being a dumb autopilot deck due to how fast, consistant and powerful it is. It's Ability does really feel like cheating. That said, it is actually one of the harder decks to effectively pilot close matchups. There is a difference between being so strong that you can win in spite of subpar play, and being easy to play. Zoroark has a lot of options, and can be very grindy against certain decks. Of the top decks, it is the one I would feel least comfortable audibling to at the last second without proper testing uner your belt.

The Regional Championship in Sheffield shook things up a bit though. The stranglehold that Buzzwole and Malamar seemed to have on the format loosened a bit, as the top of the event saw a greater degree of diversity. Here is the top 8 from that event:

1.) Seb Symonds- Zoroark Lycanroc
2.) Magnus Kalland- Zoroark Golisopod
3.) Marc Lutz- Buzzwole Garbodor
4.) Ryan Moorhouse- Malamar Necrozma
5.) Juraj Schrojf- Buzzwole Lycanroc
6.) Luke Williams- Zoroar Lycanroc
7.) Tomas Just- Espeon Garbodor
8.) Tord Reklev- Buzzwole Lycanroc

Two things of note: Marc's Buzzwole Garbodor list ran Trashalanche Garbodor and sources of Psychic Energy and Ryan's Malamar list use the Psychic type Necrozma opposed to it's newer Ultra version. I've focused on the Sheffield Regional, but there was also a Special Event in Mexico City. I'll almost always weigh a Regionals over a Special Event ( And an IC over a Regionals ) but it is still worth looking at the top 8 from this event as well.

1.) Pablo Meza- Zoroark Golisopod
2.) Caleb Gedemer- Malamar Necrozma
3.) Eder Jarillo Soto- Zoroark Golisopod
4.) Juan Espinola Ortega- Zoroark Golisopod
5.) Abraham Morales- Malamar Necrozma
6.) Christopher Schemanske- Buzzwole Garbodor
7.) Gerardo Farias- Lapras
8.) Ryan Bruckner- Malamar Necrozma

The first thing I need to stress is that this event only had 36 Masters, so take the standings with a grain of salt. None the less, we saw 3 more Zoroark Golisopod decks place in the Top 4 here. There are 3 Malamar Necrozma decks as well, all of which are using the Psychic Necrozma GX as well. I wrote in prior articles that I really preferred the Psychic version to the Ultra alternative, and I'm not surprised to see the shift towards this build. To round out the top 8 were have Christopher Schemanske's Buzzwole Garbodor and Gerardo Farias's Lapras. I was pretty cold on Lapras in my last article, and I'm still not really sold on the deck being great, but it is reassuring to see it persist with some degree of success after becoming a known quality. I don't think the deck is necessarily bad, but I also just don't see the allure over one of the other top decks either.

I want to look at the biggest resurgent deck from the event, which in my eyes is Zoroark Golisopod. There were a number of players to use the deck, but I want to look at Pablo Meza's list, as it was the list that I like the most, and he is a player I am very familiar with the skill of. Here is his 60 cards:

A 4-4 Zoroark line is pretty standard as it is both the engine of the deck ( You'll see the deck plays so few draw Supporters since you are relying so much on Zoroark to provide your draw for you. ) and a fantastic attacker. A 3-2 Golisopod line is all you need, as more often than not, it doesn't get KOed very easily and you are able to heal it. You want extra Wimpods to make sure you are able to facilitate that loop. 3 Tapu Lele GX also help enable the toolbox of Supporters you run while also increasing the odds you see a turn 1 Brigette. Lele is also a pretty decent attacker in this deck.

Mew EX is your Buzzwole counter, and it also is pretty good at abusing the Psychic weak GX Pokemon in Malamar decks. This is one matchup where I do think the Ultra Necrozma build may be better suited. Tapu Koko is just a nice free retreater and a random source of 20 damage that has various uses. This is a card that I don't think is critical against many of the best decks but is so useful overall that it is a nice insurance against decks that have higher HPs that escape your OHKO range otherwise. Being a one prize attacker is another big selling point because your other attackers are GX/EX Pokemon.

So much of this deck is built around options. Puzzle of Time is at it's best in Zoroark decks, and the whole list gets crafted around this fact. Between Tapu Lele and these Puzzles, you don't need redundancy in Supporters. You'd rather have a variety. This does come with a bit of a risk. You are really weak to Garbotoxin, and run 3 Field Blower as insurance. Counter Catcher and Enhanced Hammer both perform at their best here due to the Mallow/Puzzle of Time gimmick.

One card I do really want to talk about is Parallel City. This card is good against both Malamar decks and Zoroark decks, and I expect it to see more and more play going forward. While clearly enough people picked up on Zoroark being a strong choice for these events, the average players was likely unaware. I think Parallel City will be more widespread going forward.

While talking about "Zoroark" decks, lets look at Seb Symonds' Sheffield winning list!

 

Again we have a full Zoroark line and the expected 3-2 Lycanroc line. Just like Zoroark Golispod, this is far from a "new" deck, and this list doesn't really reinvent the wheel, it just tweaks it some for a very defined metagame headed into the event. Clearly Zoroark needs to go over the top to be able to compete against Buzzwole, and the Mew EX plus Mewtwo ( Evo ) package gives you enough game to be able to do this. It also seems like Buzzwole Garbodor was preferred over a traditional more aggressive build and that feels like it would certainly be beneficial to Zoroark decks overall.

The Trainers are fairly standard for this deck, but there are a few inclusions worth focusing on. First, the two Parallel City. Not really out of the ordinary, but I do think they had to be important towards the deck's success. Timer Ball is superior to Evosoda in the Lycanroc build because it puts the Evolution into your hand. Since Lycanroc GX keys off of coming into play from the hand, this is important. Normally I would rather have a safe, reliable one evolution off of Evosoda if this didn't matter, but Lycanroc mandates the Timer Balls instead. Multi Switch is great in this deck because of how easy it is to search out and re-use. It makes powering up a Lycanroc GX much more reasonable. While Lycanroc is a servicable Fighting attacker here, I am curious to see how one Buzzwole ( non-GX! ) would do in here. It may not be necessary, but if Zoroark decks continue to raise in popularity I wouldn't be against having that extra insurance for the matchup. Seb only ran 2 Guzma, due to Puzzle of Time, and of course the Lycanroc GX. A little lower than I am comfortable with, but not unreasonable. I still think I'd play the safer 3 though.

The last card that I am just unsure about is Delinuent. I've never been a huge fan of this card unless your deck was designed to be very disruptive and grindy. I don't consider this to be one of the better Delinquent decks. I honestly cannot tell you what Seb's logic behind including the card was. I'm not saying this to undercut his choice, as he very clearly knows his deck well, I just don't know what his thinking was when it comes to including it.

The next biggest story from this weekend of events is Malamar Necrozma, and in this instance I feel the need to include two lists. Caleb Gedemer's ( and Ryan Brucker ) list is quite a bit different from Ryan Moorhouse's. There are certain things about each list that I like quite a bit.

Both lists run Dawn Wing Necrozma GX, Necrozma GX, Mewtwo GX and Marshadow GX as attackers, while Caleb incorporates a pair of Hoopa and a Clefairy as well, in place of the second copy of both Necrozma. Ryan opts for only a 4-3 Malamar line opposed to Caleb's 4-4 line. Ryan is cutting it kind of close here, as he only runs a lone copy of Rescue Stretcher, opposed to the two in Caleb's list. With 4 Sycamore, and 7 Balls which discard, this feels risky. Caleb is really forced to run 2 copies of the card since beyond the heavy presence of discard cards in these lists, he also has his attacker lines spread even thinner.

Dawn Wing Necrozma is not only a reasonable attacker, but it's Ability ( especially paired with a Float Stone although Guzma works as well ) lets you circumvent the downside of Malamar's Ability, which restricts the attachments to a Benched Pokemon. Necrozma GX is your big cannon of an attacker which can take out any attacker for enough Energy. Marshadow can copy a lot of different attackers in the deck, while also giving you a Fighting type attacker. With the resurgence of Zoroark decks, I'm definitely on board here. Unfortunately, it's 150 HP does make it vulnerable to being OHKOed by a Zoroark GX in return. Parallel City and Fighting Fury Belt in Ryan's list give you some nice ways to combat this though.

Mewtwo GX is a strong attacker, being another option for OHKOs with it's GX attack. It is also a great attacker when you are locked off of Abilities. Against Greninja, the pair of Giratina EX and Mewtwo's Super Absorbtion pretty much just flat out locks them out of the game. If they want to continue to use Shadow Stitching ( Which they do...as otherwise with Abilities, the game is just over. ) then they are limited to almost no net damage.

Caleb's Hoopas are interesting, and I could be missing something about their purpose still even. They are powerful one prize attackers, capable of OHKOing basically any of the main attackers out of the Buzzwole decks. They are also good attackers for the mirror match, as they can be used to pressure the opponent's Malamars while not exposing two prizes if that is the route you want to take. In general, being able to leverage a one prize attacker for pressure is great as it will often force the opponent to start the resultant exchange compromised. Forcing the opponent to answer a 130 HP attacker will often require them exposing the first EX/GX. With Clefairy, this build is offering a totally different game plan than what Ryan's list offers, in that it can actually really play a full game plan without using two prize attackers.

Clefairy is absolutely incredible, and a card I really want in this deck. It is great against Buzzwole, and great in the mirror match. It is the big thing I like about Caleb's list over Ryan's.

Trainer-wise, Ryan has the Belts and Parallels, but has less Stretcher and Field Blower. He is also opting for the 3rd N over the 4th Guzma. With Caleb's Hoopa game plan, I really like the 4th Guzma. I do also like 3 N in this deck. I think players in general are playing too few N in decks these days. I actually do not like the Belts going forward, as I suspect an increase in Field Blowers. Buzzwole Garbodor is becoming the go-to Buzzwole build. Zoroark and Malamar success should increase the amount of Parallel City. Both of these trends should inch players towards more Field Blower to combat them. As such, Belts sticking to provide the extra HP in this deck seems unlikely.

Here is the list I would personally use going forward.

 

I don't think Mewtwo GX and Giratina are worth it anymore. Greninja failed to make an impact at either of these events and I don't think it is a fluke. Buzzwole adding Garbodor on a widespread scale hurts it. The Malamar lists all ran Giratina. Golisopod burst back onto the scene. This is all very bad news for Greninja. Greninja, being hard countered by Giratina so easily, is always going to be cyclical in it's viability. If it is too well positioned it gets countered, and does poorly. As a Greninja player, you aim to catch this cycle as players just stop expecting the hate. In this case, I think even if every Malamar deck cut Giratina ( No guarantee this happens, of course. ) the bump in Garbodor, and more so Golisopod still puts the deck in a very bad position. Golisopod is really just too much for Greninja.

If we use Caleb's list as the template, as this is much closer to his list than Ryan's, I'm cutting the Greninja counters for a pair of Parallel City. Even with a rise in Field Blower, this card is very damaging. I also went up to a 4th Ultra Ball. I honestly just really want the extra consistency for the opening turns. With this, I cut the 3rd Cynthia for a Lillie. Not only is Lillie a great turn one play, but with all the discard outlets it is strong mid and late draw card too. Perhaps "strong" is a bit ambitious an adjective, but it isn't weak. It is also more palatable to play a Tapu Lele on the first turn if you are expecting more Parallel Cities to be thrown around. You can even Parallel yourself and Field Blower it away if absolutely necessary and it becomes a liability.

Tomas Just played a deck I expected to be a lot more popular at the start of the format in Espeon Garbodor. The deck has to have at least an above average Buzzwole game due to type advantage, while hopefully being able to leverage Garbotoxin into strength against Malamar.

 

Let me be the first to say that I've never really been a fan of this deck. It always felt like a mediocre archetype, as it was just not POWERFUL enough in comparison to the rest of the metagame. Still, it feels well positioned because Garbotoxin is really strong against Greninja and Malamar. It has type advantage over Buzzwole. Zoroark it can grind with, and that is a deck that does struggle with keeping it's discard pile clear of Items for Trashalanche. Drampa also does work against DCE.

As for this particular list, not a whole lot has changed from previous iterations outside of "upgrading" Ultra Ball to Mysterious Treasure. Oddly, this doesn't even feel like a strict upgrade, because you lose out on the ability to search out Eevee. With only a 2-2 Espeon GX line and 1 Brigette, it seems like actually getting Espeon out is not a guarantee. I've always felt this deck could go for a 3-2 Espeon line anyways. Maybe a 3-1 split in favor of Treasure to Ultra Ball. Maybe just trim something for the 5th Ball. The deck has 4 Float Stone, and as such actually getting an Espeon active on the first turn isn't that rare. I'd be a bit more interested in being able to facilitate a reliable early Eevee.

The one-of Acerola is also awkward. This card is very frustrating. I actually really like it in a deck list this because you have some tankier Pokemon and are a grindy deck. Acerola is obnoxious because clearly it is a fairly timing sensative card. There are certain windows in a game where the card is INCREDIBLE, but being dead most of the time. The odds you have the one copy of the card in those windows is not high though. On the other hand, you don't want a pile of them in the deck because, still, it is timing sensative and dead or subpar a lot of the time. Normally this is solved by Wonder Tag, but in a deck often using Garbotoxin, you cut off that avenue. You can still manufacture the play with your own Field Blower sometimes too. I'm not against the Acerola...I actually really like seeing it in here. It is just AWKWARD.

I'm actually not sure how I feel about this deck going forward though. I think it preys on certain decks, while being a little bit under powered in a vacuum. If the metagame is widening up, which I think it may be, then I am less confident in playing this deck.

While discussing Garbodor...

Marc brought an extremely unusual ( At least to me! ) list to the table. Unlike some builds, Marc built this list to be able to abuse both Garbotoxin and Trashalance. The result is a very clunky Energy base, made even clunkier by the decision to include Double Colorless Energy to attack with Tapu Lele. Clearly tis is not a deck that can use Max Elixir. Playing basic Fighting Energy is just not feasible if you are trying to also run Psychic sources. Beast Ring has to get the axe too. With that being the case, the deck has to embrace being extremely grindy. Marc runs 3 Acerola, and 4 Fighting Fury Belt to give his Pokemon the HP to make the most of them.

At first glance, I felt that attacking with Tapu Lele in this day and age just felt downright silly. ( Or at least underpowered! ) When you acknowledge it can be a 210 HP attacker with no weakness that is loopable with Acerola, though, it makes a lot more sense. I'm not sure how much I like it, but I get it.

One of the benefits of doing so much to deny knock outs is that you don't need to run as many copies of your attackers. Marc got away with running only a pair of Buzzwole GX and a lone Buzzwole! That is a little thin even for my taste, but it worked.

An important thing to realize with this deck is that it is not at all aggressive. I mean, it attacks early, but isn't often taking a lot of KOs. Jet Punch is going to put in work, and set up a lot of future KOs. This approach actually offsets one of my biggest complaints about Garbodor decks, in that they are prone to self destructing with their draws and are weak to N. Aggressive Garbodor decks shoot themselves in the foot often as they take KOs and walk into N while impacted by their own disruption. By fully embracing it's defensive role, this deck gets around a lot of that trouble.

One problem I do fear going forward with this deck is that it will be hurt by an increase in Field Blower. The deck really relies on Fighting Fury Belt being good, and if it ends up being far less likely to stick, the deck's game plan collapses to a degree. The downside of less aggressive decks is that they can't really "steal" games against decks featuring answers to them. Aggressive Buzzwole decks can sometimes just draw so well that they just steamroll a stumbling opponent. Defensive decks have to pick the right metagame to prey upon. I'm worried that is not the metagame we will be facing soon.

I really...really wanted to avoid talking about another "traditional" Buzzwole Lycanroc deck. Unfortunately, Tord Reklev made the Top 8 of Sheffield with one. I say unfortunately not because I dislik Tord...I think it is very difficult not to view him as the best player in the game right now. His recent track record is absolutely insane. For those Magic fans out there, this feels like a Kai Budde run right now. As a result, even if his deck choice is boring, I cannot in good conscience NOT include his deck choice.

Tord took the Baby Buzzwole build even further this time, with a 4 to 1 split with the GX. Clearly the deck plans to avoid using two prize attackers. Malamar decks are just too good at crushing that exchange. Not only did Tord trim the Buzzwole GX count to the absolute bare minimum, but he even cut the lone Tapu Lele GX that most lists ran as a safety net! I'm not sure I have the uh...courage...to do that. He replaced it with a 3rd Cynthia. ( This is, again, basing assumptions off the previous stock split of 4 Sycamore, 2 N, 2 Cynthia. ) I think if you cut the Tapu Lele, you have to increase the Supporter count to some degree.

The next big change is the decrease in Energy in this deck. Some players ( Such as Igor Costa ) ran 15 Energy to make the most of Max Elixir and Beast Ring. Tord took things the opposite direction ( I'm citing 14 as the safe "standard" for Buzzwole lists ) by going down to only 13 Energy. With 5 of these Energy locked up in Special Energy cards, this leaves the deck dangerously low on viable targets for Max Elixir and Beast Ring. Tord trimmed the Max Elixir to 3, which is probably fair as the card is far less impressive with Baby Buzz than it is with it's big GX brother. He also ran a second Super Rod. I actually think that if you are debating a 9th Energy or a 2nd Super Rod ( for the function of working alongside Max Elixir and Beast Ring ) that the Rod does more overall work. The 9th Energy does more to impact early Elixir plays, but in the mid and late game being able to stock your deck with as many as 3 lost Energy is going to make far more of an impact. The second Super Rod also makes it easier to re-use Buzzwole GX in those matchups where it IS desirable. With Brooklet Hill, Super Rod is certainly superior to Rescue Stretcher for that function in this deck.

The big take away from almost all of these lists is that players are really trying to figure out how to NOT just play GX haymaker trades. Malamar lists are incorporating one prize attackers just like Buzzwole lists are trying to do the same thing by deviating away from their GX. Golisopod and Buzzwole Garbodor decks are trying to deny KOs altogether. While we aren't seeing much in the way of innovative new archetypes, innovation is absolutely still happening within the archetypes we do see.

Now, which of these decks do I personally like the most? I don't think it is that tough of a guess, actually, if you noticed the archetype I included my own personal list for. I really like Malamar. Alright, I actually REALLY like Buzzwole, but I also think that there is just too big of a target on it's forehead and that people have figured out ways to combat it. Decks which are just bad against Buzzwole have been forced from the metagame. I know I've stressed that Zoroark is bad against Buzzwole, but even these lists are so full of counter measures that the margin of advantage isn't even that great. I like how powerful and fast Buzzwole is, and I'd love to justify playing it, but right now the metagame is too hostile. Malamar is also going to be a pretty big target as well, but the nature of the deck allows it to adapt. On top of that, I'm very well accoustumed to playing these types of decks. Blaziken. LBS. Metanite. Eelektrik. Bronzong. This is right up my alley. It fits my play style better than any of the other viable decks.

I'll be putting in a lot of hours testing in the next two weeks, hoping to find something with less of a target on it's back, but if that doesn't happen, odds are I'll be on Malamar! For everyone going to Columbus for the NAIC, come say hello! I'll be there. Legitimately. For real. I promise. Pinky promise. No jokes. Until then!

[+0] okko


 

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