12/17/2018 by Gabriel Semedo
Hey everyone! This last weekend was intense in the Pokémon TCG world, as we had many important high-level tournaments in November and the start of December. After Latin America International Championships (LAIC) and Roanoke’s Regionals, the metagame has changed drastically. We had the Zoro Control deck dominating at LAIC, and I feel like most players didn’t expect such a controlling, strong and efficient deck. As for Roanoke, we had a more prepared metagame to deal with such control decks, but still we had some big showings from Hoopa/Steelix. In the end, we could see that the decks which had some “natural” advantage against control decks ended up doing better, liker Gardevoir-GX and Blacephalon-GX. Both archetypes have enough resources to go toe-to-toe against Control decks and do not need to play techs that won’t go with flow of the deck. Cards like Oranguru ULP and Girafarig LOT are cards that won’t make it into these decks.
In short, prior to LAIC, non-GX focused decks such as GasKan, Granbull, Exeggutor, and Tapu Koko spread were quite popular because they could easily deal with all decks that had Pokémon-GX in them. Then Zoro Control arrived and the non-GX decks began to have serious problems, since most non-GX decks have limited capabilities. Sylveon GX – who had good appearances in tournaments, even winning a Special Event in Chile – was no longer popular and not a deck that the players expected at LAIC, especially with Malamar around, which was the BDIF of the American format before the arrival of the Lost Thunder. Without a good control deck on the radar, the format was theoretically free for limited resource decks, and because of that, Zoroark-GX Control proved to be the perfect fit for LAIC. Control Decks only work when the format does not expect a deck with this strategy, so the hint for upcoming tournaments is already there – if the format does not have any control deck, be smart, you need to prepare yourself somehow to face this kind of deck. Someone is sure to be preparing something to win the tournament, or you can start preparing a control deck to surprise the format. After LAIC, the control decks proved strong enough to hit most of the format decks, so the way the players found to guard against the control decks was to use decks focused on Pokémon-GX again like Gardevoir-GX, Blacephalon-GX or even VikaRay, since the Pokémon-GX offer Abilities and super strong attacks, something that control decks can’t deal with. Basically that was how the metagame developed in recent times.
I’m wondering now: How will the metagame behave itself from now on? What will be the evolution or change in the metagame? What is the correct call for the next Regional?
I feel like I have the answer for the questions above and some other questions. So, come with me and enjoy the read!
The beginning of everything: Champions League Tokyo – Japan
16th September 2018
Even before the Lost Thunder was officially released to the rest of the world, the Japanese were already playing a 1235-player tournament with the new collection. This tournament served as a reference for us, as Lost Thunder is a collection of great impact in the format with several good cards. What we saw in the Tokyo Champions League was a completely different metagame than we were playing with a wide variety of decks and Pokémon. The thing that caught my attention in this tournament was the large number of decks focused on Pokémon-GX. I confess I found it strange, since our metagame was filled with decks focused on non-GX and tons of Shrine of Punishment. I did not think most of the decks I saw in Japan would end up being used in our metagame. Decks like BuzzTales with 4 Buzzwole-GX did not fit in my head to be part of our metagame, since the best in deck in format was the GasKan (Malamar / Psychic box), even more with the arrival of the super hyped Giratina LOT.
Japan has always been famous for its crazy ideas and unusual decks. They are quite experimental (sometimes too much) and have always used creativity to gain advantages in the Worlds Championships and surprise the world. It is part of their DNA to think outside the box in the Pokémon TCG. The metagame there is always very wide, since their tournament is always the first of all with the new collection, so it is difficult to know what the metagame will be. Because of this we always see a wide variety of deck in the top 32 of Japanese tournaments.
I believe that if everyone in the world played the same format at the same time, we would also have a larger and difficult metagame to decipher. Another thing that reveals a lot about the Japanese school of Pokémon TCG is with regard to deckbuilding. It is said that the Japanese generally use inconsistent or poorly constructed lists, especially for the entry of tech cards. I particularly like the Japanese school, drawing inspiration from them to make my own creations, but I confess that they risk even with regard to consistency. In defense of the Japanese, it can be said that in order to have several answers to a broad and unknown metagame, it is sometimes necessary to abdicate a little consistency. In addition, playing a new and unknown format with little preparation time is natural that the lists are not perfect and the margin of error is much greater. In the end it depends on the point of view of each one.
The great truth is that the Japanese players have always done well at the Worlds Championships, the only tournament we have opportunity to play with them. I would love that Japan would also be part of the world circuit, would be more fun and the tournaments would have been even higher level. But anyway, this is subject to another article.
In the end, LAIC’s metagame looked like Champions League’s in Tokyo and that impressed me a lot. The change in metagame was confirmed and Lost Thunder had a significant impact.
Did we get too inspired by the Japanese metagame or would that be the natural transformation of the metagame after the arrival of Lost Thunder?
The first IC of 2018/2019: Latin America Internationals - Brazil
16th November 2018
Now the players have little time to prepare for the Internationals Championship, since the collections are always released 15 days before each CI. Perhaps this is one of the factors that led our metagame to be similar to Japanese format. In addition, I believe the Japanese have done a great job of exploring the Lost Thunder collection, bringing several new decks with potential. The rest of the world took the trouble to pick up the Japanese metagame and sharpen it. Some players have managed to bring unprecedented ideas that we have not seen in the Champions League in Tokyo, especially Gardevoir GX / Alolan Ninetales GX by Robin Schulz and Zoroark GX Control by Daniel Altavilla, along with their Team DDG partners.
Robin Schulz's Gardy is a new thing that arrives in the Tier 1 of the metagame arguably, bringing back the strength we already know Gardevoir GX has. Zoro Control by Daniel Altavilla is an in-depth metagame reading and a direct response to all decks that do not have enough resources to deal with a control deck, which in the end was the great part of LAIC's metagame.
ZoroControl that dominated the LAIC has all the merits possible, since the good reading of the metagame enabled the Team DDG players to build a super suited deck that could exploit a great weakness of the format. Decks like VikaRay, Blacephalon-GX and Gardevoir-GX can beat Zoro Control, but that does not mean that the match is easy. Before the LAIC, little was heard of Zoro Control, so most players did not even train against this deck right, some did not even consider the possibility of a deck of that appearing in the tournament. Even Blacephalon and Gardevoir-GX players lost to Zoro Control because of lack of training and lack of knowledge of their opponent's list. Yes, the surprise factor of a new and unexpected strategy deck has the power to turn a bad match into a winnable match. And it was indeed what happened.
A deck built specifically to play a large tournament. This was the case with Zoroark-GX / Control. After LAIC, the deck lost its surprise factor. Now everyone knows the cards in the deck, everyone learned how the deck works and especially, everyone started to prepare properly to face Zoroark-GX / Control.
For many players it was clear that Zoroark-GX / Control would no longer be a winning deck after LAIC, but they knew they had to prepare against it.
Regional Roanoke - United States
24th November 2018
With just one week difference in time from the LAIC, Roanoke Regionals would show us what the evolution of the metagame had turned itself into. Did the players find the best solution to stop Zoroark Control in time without losing their equity against the other decks of the format?
What we saw in Roanoke was mostly other variations of control decks. The great controversy of the tournament was precisely about the power of this type of deck, which can beat the best old decks of the format in a slow and tedious way. Some say that this type of deck is bad for the game, providing boring games and with little competitiveness. At the end of the day none of these control decks showed up in the Top 8 and that conversation was brushed aside. Five decks that were in the Top 8 had accelerating Pokémon or energy recyclers like Gardevoir-GX, Naganadel, and Malamar and in addition they also possessed Pokémon able to reach very high damages to the point of knocking out any Pokémon in the metagame. Infinite energy and high damage to knock anything out proved the perfect answer to detain control decks.
And now, what will be the next step? If the control decks cannot beat energy recycling decks that deals high damage, then would the way be to go back to the non-GX decks? And if non-GX decks with limited resources come back, do the control decks come back again?
The next step: A look at what's to come
Theoretically the metagame has entered into yet another of the famous cycles of Pokémon TCG. The essence of the Pokémon has always been to have this cycle since its birth, with Venusaur, Blastoise and Charizard making the famous cycle of weaknesses.
Charizard > Venusaur
Venusaur > Blastoise
Blastoise > Charizard
Non GX > GX
GX > Control
Control > Non GX
Of course we can’t take it as the supreme truth. We have lots of cards that can change what was stated above.
You do not necessarily have to use a VikaRay deck to beat Control decks. Cards like Oranguru ULP and Girafarig LOT might be enough to deal with these decks or to at least get a tie. And the good part is that these cards can get into any deck. The bad part is you having to place these two cards in any deck that is not adequate enough to handle a control deck.
Oranguru ULP has the function of making sure you will not lose by decking out, as well as bringing your resources to continue fighting against Plumeria, Crushing Hammer and Team Skull Grunt infinity of the opponent.
Oranguru ULP alone will not be enough to deal with control decks. Oranguru ULP will give you the chance to stay alive in the match, but it will hardly be able to bring you the victory, since the opponent will also continue to remove your resources nonstop.
Girafarig LOT has an attack capable of breaking the Oranguru ULP loop. His "Get Lost" attack puts two of the opponent’s discarded cards into the Lost Zone. This makes Oranguru ULP have fewer and fewer options for recycling with its "resource management" attack. Girafarig will gradually eliminate the opponent's chances or even letting the opponent's run out of cards in the deck by playing as many cards from the opponent to the Lost Zone. Oranguru ULP can return three cards of discard to the deck, but in a match where the two players have control features, it is necessary to use much more than just the three cards addressed by Resource Management. Team Skull Grunt, Crushing Hammer, Enhanced Hammer, Plumeria, Guzma, Counter Catcher, Energies, Acerola, Cynthia. It takes a lot of cards to stay in the game for a long time and little by little the Girafarig LOT is cutting those features and damaging the opponent's life.
Both Oranguru ULP and Girafarig LOT are good cards and can be useful in several matches besides matchups against control decks, so even though you lose at least two deck slots to place this pair, you can use these cards in several other cases against several other decks. Girafarig LOT can send Malamar’s psychic energies or Blacephalon’s fire energies into the Lost Zone and Oranguru ULP can recycle that Guzma to finish a match.
It is worth remembering that Judge is also required to win some control decks that use the Unown Hand to win the game if the opponent is able to collect 35 cards in the hand. Like Oranguru ULP and Girafarig LOT, Judge is not a card that players would like to use, but I think it's also necessary to win against control decks. Some deck variants rely heavily on Steven's Resolve, which allows you to retrieve any three cards from the deck and put them in the hand. Steven's Resolve is a very strong Supporter in this type of deck, because the deck hardly performs attacks, most likely you will use one or no attack in most matches. To prevent the opponent from accumulating the best cards and having an answer to all your moves, Judge is essential to win against this type of deck.
Is it the end for control decks?
I think so for now, just for a while. It is much easier to choose an incredible deck like VikaRay, Gardevoir-GX and Blacephalon-GX that can play against any deck of the metagame, even with chances of winning against control decks, than risking yourself using a deck that has a horrible game or almost auto-loss to control decks. I do not think that control deck players will risk using the deck and come across difficult matchups that are present in the metagame, regardless of the popularity of the control decks. Decks such as Malamar / Necrozma can also reappear once more, as they can play against the aforementioned decks and have unlimited feature against control. In addition, any deck of the format can use Girafarig and Oranguru, leaving a bad matchup in a balanced and time-consuming match, with great chances of at least one draw.
Players can also revert to non-GX decks, such as Granbull or even a Buzzwole / Weavile / Garbodor with Shrine of Punishment, a deck that was BDIF early in the season and has great deck features focused on Pokémon GX.
Anyway, I believe that the format is open again for the non-GX decks and I believe that the control decks will decrease a lot. In my opinion I believe the moment is to bet on the strength of GX Stage 2 decks like Decidueye-GX / Alolan Ninetales-GX / Zoroark-GX or Gardevoir-GX / Alolan Ninetales-GX or basic GX like Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel or VikaRay.
What is the play for the near future?
With all this metagame analysis, I believe we have some decks with potential, but I have a specific deck that I find well suited in the format, to be able to deal with control decks, decks focused on Pokémon-GX without having such a bad match against non-GX decks. I'm talking about Solgaleo-GX / Alolan Ninetales-GX / Swampert.
Solgaleo GX / Alolan Ninetales GX
- 1x Ditto Prism Star
- 2x Alolan Ninetales GX
- 4x Cosmog
- 1x Cosmoem
- 2x Solgaleo GX
- 2x Solgaleo GX
- 2x Mudkip
- 1x Marshtomp
- 2x Swampert
- 2x Alolan Vulpix
- 2x Tapu Lele GX
- 4x Professor Elm's Lecture
- 3x Cynthia
- 1x Lillie
- 3x Guzma
- 4x Ultra Ball
- 1x Timer Ball
- 1x Nest Ball
- 1x Energy Loto
- 2x Choice Band
- 4x Rare Candy
- 2x Max Potion
- 6x Metal Energy
- 2x Fairy Energy
- 4x Double Colorless Energy
- 1x Super Boost Energy Prism Star
I used the same structure as Robin Schulz's Gardevoir-GX deck at LAIC. I believe his list revolutionized the Stage 2 lists, with Alolan Ninetales-GX and Swampert, making a deck with three evolution lines run consistently with only 8 Supporters (4 Elm Lecture and 4 Cynthia) and 7 Pokémon Search Cards ( 4 Ultra Ball, 1 Timer Ball and 2 Brooklet Hill), saving precious slots in the deck to invest in consistency. In LAIC we saw different builds of Stage 2 decks, mainly with Decidueye-GX. In my view the structure of Robin Schulz's deck is superior to all others and my main reference at the present time to build Stage 2 decks.
The deck is even slightly more consistent than the Gardevoir-GX deck because of Solgaleo-GX SUM's GX attack. Its GX attack allows you to fetch 5 energies from the deck and attach to your Pokémon, filtering the deck even more and solving the Pokémon's energization problem. Though, in order to Solgaleo's GX attack to be perfect and safe it is necessary to have two Solgaleo-GX on the field, otherwise the energies of the GX attack will have to be attached in Cosmog and Cosmoem, easy targets to be knocked out in the sequence.
While Solgaleo-GX promo has a great attack against energy denial strategies, it also hits 120 and attaches two energies from the discard in a pokémon on the bench. The other Solgaleo-GX from SUM has the ability to switch a Pokémon of yours, that is, the opponent can't stall with Counter Catcher and Guzma. In addition, we have the Solgaleo Baby to handle Hoopa SHL. This deck has features to deal with the main threats of a deck control.
Against GX-based decks, especially the ones with Stage 2 with high HP, we have Solgaleo-GX SUM's attack, that does 230 damage. To knock out a Decidueye-GX, either play down a Dhelmise or a attach Choice Band to reach 240 damage.
Against non-GX decks, Solgaleo-GX Promo is our main attacker. With the help of Dhelmise, Solgaleo-GX will hit 130 and knock out most basic non-GX format Pokémon such as Baby Buzzwole. I don't expect too much Baby Buzzwole and Tapu Koko Promo, so I decided to cut off Dhelmise, but it is still an option for the deck depending on the metagame.
Gradually, the format of the season begins to take shape, but we still have a very wide metagame full of surprises. The format allows us to bring irreverent surprises to each different tournament, since we have many Pokémon with great qualities. It all depends on reading the metagame and a bit of luck to face the correct matches. A good example is the Lost March deck. At LAIC we had only one Lost March in all top 64, because the metagame of the tournament was not at all favorable to the deck. On the other hand, in the Roanoke Regionals we had many more appearances of the deck; we even had Charlie Lockyer doing an incredible 9-0-0 on day 1 and in the end conquering a top 8 in the event. In addition to this example we had other Lost March players who managed to move to day 2. This shows that the metagame is constantly changing, and any well-resolved deck strategy can work. We are like a Japanese metagame, a large format where any deck can succeed with a well-assembled list and a little luck in the pairings.
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