01/07/2019 by Mark Dizon
Hey 60 Card Readers,
I hope you had a great holiday! Can you believe it has been a full year already? What a Pokémon Year it has been. In our last article, we talked about the takeaways from Anaheim and Harrogate with the last two regionals of 2018 ending the season. We do not have a regional till Dallas in three weeks and we have league cup happening currently to tide us over. The alternating formats have thrown us for a loop here in North America with players having to choose whether they want to play in Expanded Cups or Standard Cups or even having to flip-flop between the two formats on a weekend. After talking about the big takeaways from our Anaheim Regionals so now its time to talk about what happened across the pond in Harrogate.
I think the biggest defining point when it comes to Pokemon the Trading Card Game is that we are always able to play and build the decks that we enjoy with the Pokémon we enjoy.If you want to win with Zoroark you can, If you want to win with Gardevoir you can. Nothing shows the more by the decks that are played over in Europe. If we compare the top 16 decks from Roanoke, we can see how vast the divide is. At Roanoke, the top 16 consisted of One Gardevoir Swampert Ninetales deck, six Blacephalon decks, four Zoroark decks, one Granbull deck one Ultra Necrozma deck, two Malamar decks, and one Lost March deck. If we cross the Ultra Necrozma and include it with the other Malamar decks, there would six archetypes. While in Harrogate we had three Zoroark decks, four Blacephalon decks, three Malamar decks, two Passimian decks, one Granbull deck, one White Kyurem deck, one Steelix deck, one Stall deck. That is eight distinct archetypes and if we extrapolated it to the top thirty-two, we would see that Harrogate's diversity was much larger than Virginia's. What causes this diversity? What separates the regions? Is it because the players in North America are more likely to stick with meta-focused decks while those in the Euro Region are more likely to try to innovate? While last season North American players were willing to switch to Buzzwole and ride that train when it was the best deck, those in Europe seemed to try their best to improve the Zoroark deck and find ways to defeat the expected metagame. It is quite odd that there was not a single Gardevoir Swampert Solgaleo deck in day two of the event. While that specific deck has been popularized in the North American Metagame with Jimmy Pendarvis winning the event. Also, interesting Is the performance of Lost March in a heavy GX Meta in Harrogate.
INNOVATION IS THE NAME OF THE GAME
In Virginia, we had the Hoopa decks come into play that were surely based on the ideas from Sander’s original Steelix Stall deck from Lille. We saw an amazingly innovative deck from Adrian Fjell. The deck major innovation was that it used Steelix as an offensive-oriented deck compared to the strictly defensive focused deck that the Stall decks were. Using the Steelix as an attacking option completely took opponents by surprise and it had an amazing matchup versus the field that involved Blacephalon and the single prize attacker decks.
Also, in the field was the new Blacephalon deck adding Shedninja from Lost Thunder which prevented the opponent from taking prizes like Life Dew in expanded. When I personally saw the Shedninja I had to pick up the card and read what it did. This card was great because most players had stopped playing Field Blower due to the value lost by the decline of SPAS shrine decks. With Zoroark playing more devoured fields to get rid of Shrine, the deck has begun to omit blowers. With Zoroark needing to prevent beast ring turns in Blacephalon, the Shedninja allowed the Blacephalon to get an even bigger edge in that Matchup. The Shedninja also provided value in the mirror as well and versus its worst matchup in Granbull.
When it comes to talking about the innovation let us not forget about the deck that won the whole tournament. Zoroark Gyrarados, who would have thought that those two Pokémon could be paired together and win a regional. I certainly didn’t, I honestly thought it was a joke. However, when you look at the deck and the simplicity involved in the deck's gameplan, it makes perfect sense in a field of Blacephalon. Gyrarados is a one prize attacker that can easily knock out Blacephalon with it having two Magikarps in the discard. This ability to allow Zoroark to take prizes from Blacephalon or versus one prizers without having to give up two prizes or needing the opponent to have multiple abilities provides the deck a leg up that on the North American side we truly haven’t found. Philip Schulz is also a savant that credit must be provided to him as one of the best players in North America. His deck would catch people off-guard. Will this deck be able to break out in North America or is it a one tournament deck like the last big European event in Lille being won by Poison Barb Spread, a deck that never gained much success on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Aside from the first-place deck, the last big surprise in the top sixteen was White Kyurem. Another card that not many of us would of thought of taking a regional top sixteen. Similar to Attacking Steelix, the deck was doing it’s best to trade up on the prize trade. It’s extremely interesting that the SPAS decks have switched away from running Buzzwole and have slowly begun using other one prize attackers to attack the metagame, which here it was the Water Based White Kyurem being used to attack the expected field of Blacephalon again. I wonder if going into Team Up will Blacephalon still be the main deck players are attempting to attack because based on League Cups the format has seemed quite varied. Another innovative deck that we first saw from the SPE in Chile was the Brazilian Shuckle Sceptile deck that focused on controlling the game and running the opponent out of energy with multiple hammers. The non-GX Sceptile also provided an out to the Blacephalon decks in the format as well as any Buzzwole decks because it doesn’t let Pokémon with Grass energy get damaged by ultra beasts and outside of the Lele in Blacephalon decks, the deck has all Ultra Beast Attackers.
A VARIED FIELD
We have come a long way from the previous format that was a rock paper scissors triangle that involved Zoroark-Buzzwole-Malamar in a never-ending cycle. With One deck always having a favourable matchup versus one angle of the triangle but the games were always quite close. You could metagame favourably because based on the event you were heading to you would be able to play one of those decks three to four times with the rest of your rounds involving two rounds each other, leaving one to two rounds involving you playing against a random deck such as Lucario GX or Sylveon GX. The difference in our new meta is that you could play against Blacephalon the most expected deck multiple times in the tournament, but your matchup spread in Standard involves so many archetypes that you might never get the chance to hit multiple good matchups. While I was involved in Roanoke regionals, my deck was all ready to play versus all the Blacephalon decks in the room as well as Malamar and most Zoroark builds. I was not prepared to play versus the decks worst matchup that was Zoroark Decidueye Ninetales twice, nor was I prepared to play against Quagsire Nagandel Lapras. This variety is a topic that can divide the community as I have heard many players say they are not enjoying Standard right now due to this diversity, but you can argue that this is exactly how the expanded format also is. I think the argument that these formats are harder for the “pro players” as they must navigate the matchups and there are so many matchups to know. If we look at the day twos of these previous events, we see the same players exceeding the expectations involving win rates and finding ways to either defeat the format or know their decks so well that they can navigate the field allows them to find ways to over come the variance and keep winning. To see a player like Philip Schulz come out of nowhere and take down a field with Zoroark Gyarados shows that the format does allow innovation and smart deck building to overcome the matchup variance. It is almost refreshing coming from the rock paper scissor formats of old to allow us this format that always has new decks coming in and out to surprise players. I recently played in a cup and defeated a player in a top eight that had just participated in his first cup and played a very interesting deck that involved Alolan Ninetales, Zoroark, Hydregion from Crimson Invasion and Giratina Lost Thunder to loop Giratinas and Take knockouts with Zoroark. To see such an innovative and new deck come forth really excited me to the possibilities as the format grows and we gain new sets.
January is going to show us the new expanded format in Dallas and we won’t have a standard regional till Collinsville in February. In February there will be a Special Event in Mexico and details haven’t been handled for that yet. That means all that is going to evolve standard for now are the cups and challenges that will be run. Unfortunately, as a means to get our worlds invite, we have been in a tough place because we have multiple cups on certain weekends and no cups on the other weekends. Stores should not be cannibalizing themselves and allowing multiple players to have the opportunity to earn those precious championship points. I recently got quite a few cups finishes a few seconds and a first and I’ll be talking about them later this week. Until then, hope you had a great weekend and got some cup finishes yourself.
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