Experts' corner

Nico Alabas

Nico's Notes - Standard Musings

Nico talks about the current Standard format going into Collinsville and Cannes.

02/21/2019 by Nico Alabas

What’s up guys, my name is Nico and this is going to be my first article for 60 cards. In this article, I will tell you my thoughts about the current format based on my testing experienced so far and the results of the Oceanian International Championship that wrapped up this past weekend. 
Testing leading up to OCIC 

As some of my teammates and other friends were going to play in the OCIC I already started testing weeks before the tournament to help them prepare and also to get myself ready for the upcoming Special Event in Cannes, France. For the first time in a long time, we’re able to take a look at Japanese tournaments because they’re playing the same format as us, just with new sets being available earlier to them. Their last big tournament (Champions League Niigita) featured Zoroark/Lycanroc and Ultra Necrozma/Malamar in the finals with big amounts of Zapdos/Jirachi and Rayquaza/Vikavolt in the Top64. Something very important to keep in mind is that during that tournament Tag Team Pokémon haven’t been introduced yet, so the impact of cards like Pikachu/Zekrom and Snorlax GX were only available from smaller tournaments in Japan, but it became pretty clear that Pikachu was making a big impact immediately after its release in Japan. So, going into playtesting the top three archetypes seemed to be Lightning based decks such as Pikachu/Zekrom GX based decks and Zapodos/Jirachi, Malamar variants in Ultra Necrozma/Malamar and regular psychic Malamar and ZoroRoc. Even though Rayquaza/Vikavolt had a great showing in Japan, we figured that it would first be still a very inconsistent deck and lastly would be in a pretty big disadvantage to Tag Teams. We also scrapped Zapdos/Jirachi pretty early on because we felt like its only reason for success on its own would be the non-presence of Pikachu/Zekrom GX at that point.  

As someone who played a lot of Zoroark during last season my eyes immediately fell to ZoroRoc as the deck, I wanted to invest the most time into. It already proved that it could take down Ultra Necrozma/Malamar in the Japanese finals and Lycanroc’s Fighting type should also put it in an advantageous position versus Pikachu/Zekrom or Jolteon GX. Things turned out differently than expected though when Pikachu/Zekrom was constantly beating Zoroark/Lycanroc due to getting outraced a lot of times and not being able to deal with Pikachu/Zekrom GX as efficiently as first expected. The Ultra/Necrozma/Malamar matchup also didn’t feel favorable in any way, so with psychic Malamar being the only deck that seemed beatable in a sufficient amount Zoroark/Lycanroc fell out of favor pretty quickly, because it couldn’t even handle Pikachu/Zekrom efficient enough, not even when we started putting in cards like Lucario GX for that specific matchup (a card that Stephane Ivanoff made use of in his Zoroark/Lycanroc list) but it still seemed like a super shaky matchup, so we focused our efforts on building the best Pikachu/Zekrom and Ultra Necrozma/Malamar lists. 

About two weeks before the tournament Tord Reklev published a Celebi/Venusaur GX deck on Twitter saying that it would be the deck that he would take to Australia if he was going. Knowing Tord he had already put in a lot of work into that deck so we decided to continue working on it because it seemed like a decent deck that wasn’t on everybody’s radar. Before Tord there have been others that tried to make Celebi/Venusaur work, but all those lists seemed to focus way too much on complete disruption with Crushing Hammer and Enhanced Hammer and shuffling them back into your deck with Celebi/Venusaur’s GX attack. Tord’s first list purely based its strength on being able to heal huge amounts of damage every turn to simply prevent your opponent from taking any prizes or even attacking, thanks to confusion on their active Pokémon. After some more testing we realized that the deck was in its strongest form when you had to force your opponent to ko two Celebi/Venusaur GX. To fix that we took out some basics that you wouldn’t want to bench anyways for Nest Ball to increase our options to get the Celebi/Venusaur on our first turn and attach energy to it as fast as possible. Nest Ball also didn’t hurt our flexibility to use Shaymin and Jirachi because you could simply grab them with it, if necessary. We also put in Choice Band for the Zoroark matchup because that was, aside from decks like Blacephalon or Rayquaza, one of the most difficult matchups because of Acerola. Even though we were pretty happy with the deck and the list we came up with, we still felt like it was more of a "play this if you don’t want to play one of the top decks” pick. The PikaRom matchup wasn’t the best, but it was definitely doable and Malamar was pretty fine with the help of Cyrus Prim Star. During the last few days, we spent testing before those who were playing Australia left, we all came to the conclusion that PikaRom was simply the best deck thanks to its incredible consistency and damage output so that was what most had in mind to play for the International Championship. 

The Oceanian International Championships 

I don’t know a lot about the testing that the Europeans did during the few days they had in Melbourne before the tournament started but it seems like that some of them had invested a decent amount of time into Zapdos/Jirachi which players like Bert Wolters and Robin Schulz ended up taking to the main event. In the end, the deck choices of most top players pretty much reflected my expected top three in Malamar variants, PikaRom, and ZoroRoc with the addition of Jirachi/Zapdos that in the end definitely was a better deck than I had expected. 

I can’t speak about the tournament from personal experience but judging from the games that were available on stream every region came to the same conclusion on what the top decks were. The most interesting part about this tournament was definitely the variety in which the top decks were presented. While the Americans with players like Azul Garcia Griego and eventual winner Isaiah Williams brought a super consistent Zapdos/Jirachi version with an unfavorable matchup against Zoroark due to completely relying on basic abilities that can be shut off by Muk and only Zapdos as an efficient attacker which can lead to problems later on by not being able to take Kos anymore due to the Zoroark player being able to use Acerola. The European list on the other side had a way better Zoroark matchup thanks to Zebstrika which isn’t affected by Muk’s ability and also Buzzwole and Nihilego which allow easy kos onto Zoroark when Buzzwole’s Sledgehammer is active and even a ko onto Lycanroc by copying its Dangerous Rouge attack with Nihilego when the Zoroark player has two prize cards remaining. In the end both Zapdos/Jirachi versions proved that they have their specific advantages against certain decks, but as we all know, the American version was able to take down the entire event in the end. 

The two most popular variants were the super consistent list that players like Pedro Torres, Fabien Puyol, Rahul Reddy, Sam Chen and almost every other player that made Day 2 in Australia played, but there was also a version that used Alolan Ninetales GX instead of Jirachi that was featured during an early round against Stephane’s ZoroRoc list. This version seemed very interesting but might be a little too slow, especially if the Alolan Vulpix keep getting KO'd. A way faster list was used by Jose Marrero in which he played a total of six energy switching cards as well as two Marshadows to have explosive early turns and get out a Full Blitz as quickly as possible. He even played Rayquaza GX to increase the number of energies that he can get into play. This version is a lot stronger in its early turn than Jirachi, but if you can’t manage to get the turn two Full Blitz you’ll be at a disadvantage in most matchups. I personally prefer the Jirachi version because it offers a lot of safer plays thanks to Jirachis on-board consistency and a non-GX attacker in Zapdos. 

Lastly there was Ultra Necrozma/Malamar which was mostly played as people expected it to be. An interesting card that some of them played was one Acerola to help in the mirror where Ultra Necrozma’s GX attack is a big win condition for the endgame, and also against Zoroark that sometimes want to take the two hit ko on your Ultra Necrozma GX. The most unique Psychic Malamar list was played by Darin O'Meara who played Gengar/Mimikyu GX as well as Chimecho that for a lot of players fell out of favor after the release of Team Up because it doesn’t help a lot against Zapdos decks. It’s still incredibly strong versus other Malamar variants or Zoroark decks so it definitely still makes sense to use it if you want to swing those matchups into your favor. Overall Malamar variants are still super consistent especially thanks to the addition of Viridian Forest and I’m convinced that they will stay among the top decks for the near future. 

The “last man standing” from the previous metagame was Blacephalon which had two showings in Day 2 but both of them ended up within the bottom five after Day 2 was finished (32nd and 36th). I think that was mainly due to Blacephalon GX not being able to keep up with the pressure that Ultra Necrozma GX and Pikachu/Zekrom GX apply, and also lacks the consistency that those two decks get thanks to Jirachi and Viridian Forest. Those two decks can get two GX kos way easier and more efficient so it seems natural that Blacephalon GX gets pushed out of the metagame. It’s definitely still strong when you get your set-up but it seems way too risky when you have the other two options. What surprised me was that Passimian had such a poor showing at the tournament because I heard a decent amount of people talking about the deck and it should be a very good choice to win the PikaRom matchup. Maybe there weren’t a lot of Passimians at the tournament or most good players decided to go for different decks which resulted into the non-presence of Passimian in Day 2. 
Going into Collinsville and Cannes 

I think that Day 2 of Melbourne was a very accurate representation of the metagame and also how it’s going to play out for at least the upcoming weeks. Naturally, a lot of people will start picking up the two finalist’s decks and make some personalized changes to them to adapt them to their own playstyle. Some players might also try to counter both Zoroark/Lycanroc and Jirachi/Zapdos but I personally don’t see a deck that constantly beats both of them without sacrificing the PikaRom or Malamar matchups. Right now, I would probably go for a similar PikaRom build that Pedro played, or a consistent Ultra Necrozma/Malamar version, but without Acerola because it’s too much of a “win-more” card than a card that you really need to swing matchups in your favor. Both decks have very even matchups against all the other top tier decks and I think that the PikaRom matchup versus Stephane’s version is not as disadvantageous as people might make it out to be after seeing that he beat almost every PikaRom that he faced in Melbourne. From my experience, There is way too much that has to go right for the Zoroark player to be able to handle all the threats, especially in a list like Stephane’s where he sacrificed consistency to fit in cards like Lucario GX + Diancie Prism and Wonderous Labyrinth. Passimian can also be a very good deck choice if you expect a lot of PikaRom and Zoroark to be at the tournament, so I decided to include a list for it that I think is very strong against those two. As for PikaRom and Malamar, I definitely think playing the lists that did well at the Oceanian International Championships can’t go too wrong since those players put in a lot of thought in preparation for a tournament that important and prestigious.  


I hope you enjoyed my view on the current format and I'll see you guys next time. :)


[+19] okko


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