Experts' corner

Kevin Clemente

The Impact of Qualifier 3 and Preparing for Qualifier 4

The final Limitless qualifier is on the horizon, and the June qualifiers recently announced by Pokemon are shortly behind. Thankfully, we now have some tournament results to interpret to help us plan the new meta. With this being the last chance to qualify for the invitational, prepare for it to be the most competitive one yet!

05/20/2020 by Kevin Clemente


First, I'll introduce myself as no one has read anything from me before. My name is Kevin Clemente, but I go by Mellow_Magikarp on Twitch. I'm a second-year player who has had a bit of a breakout year with a Top 16 in Portland, a Top 32 in San Diego and securing my World's invite by December. In terms of the Limitless qualifiers, I have Day 2'd all three of them with 42nd, 11th, and 66th place finishes and going into the 4th qualifier; I am tied for 6th for points towards making the invitational. The biggest advice I can offer before getting into the details is to play a strong, consistent deck and play it well.


For qualifier three, I chose PikaRom, which is the deck in this format that certainly fits all of the aforementioned criteria. The deck is very consistent, being able to utilize multiple search cards to find your primary attackers as well as Dedenne. Not much changed for PikaRom, but the two additions it got made a big impact. These additions are speed energy and arguably the best late-game attacker, Boltund V. Boltund offers the ability to OHKO VMax and Tag Team Pokemon by being able to ramp up to higher numbers than the other Pokemon in the deck which typically could only OHKO a Pokemon with multiple Electropowers. 

The current builds are also thick in supporters and moving forward; I would imagine this to remain about the same. There are three primary builds that have surfaced, the Tag Call engine that Kim Pobega won the event with, the Jirachi-less version that Justin Farinango finished 2nd place with, and versions with Jirachi that ended 6th and 7th place. Moving forward into Q4 testing, everyone is grabbing the first-place list, and I would encourage you to play around with all of the different iterations of the deck to determine which consistency engine you prefer as I am not sold on one truly being superior over the others. 

Other than picking between the three, I do not imagine PikaRom changing much moving forward. Some things I am considering playing around with would be a Mew for the mirror, a Power Plant to help the Blacephalon UNB match-up by turning off their Oricorio's ability after you stamp them, and being able to slow down the mirror if you fall behind and a third Boltund and some more aggressive discard to allow you to transition into a turbo Boltund deck with Full Voltage GX in certain match-ups, such as the mirror or any other VMax you may run into.


The most hyped deck coming into the tournament was our shiny new ghost dragon, Dragapult VMAX. There was a ton of debate coming into Q3 on the best way to play Dragapult, and you still see some disagreements, but looking at the two lists that made the top 8, we can make some inferences about what Dragapult features will be standard moving forward. Both decks ran the net engine, unsurprisingly, and the tech cards of choice both featured Mr. Mime TEU with the Scoop Up block ability, Phione CEC, Galarian Zigzagoon, and Giant Bomb. Noticeably absent from both is Malamar, which had seemed to be a staple in a lot of builds I had run across on the ladder or seen people playing with. I cannot speak a ton to other techs for Dragapult as I tested a clearly inferior list for Q3 and gave up on it quickly, but I would imagine we will see more well-built Dragapult in Q4 and it will be a large part of the meta share. The most interesting option for me right now is Mimkyu CEC, with the Shadow Box ability to shut off opposing Zeraora and Oricorio GX to slow down decks. The more Dragapult can slow down the game, the better off it is going to be.

The issue moving forward is how Dragapult will need to change to make the PikaRom match-up favorable because right now I believe it is Pika favored as Pika can start punching turn one to 2 shot a Dragapult and vomit enough energy on the board to OHKO a second Dragapult with Electro Powers and Boltund V consistently. Mallow and Lana is a possible solution, but being able to set-up while using Mallow and Lana for the turn is likely more difficult than it sounds. Mew is another option for the match-up as Dragapult lacks an OHKO option to apply pressure to prevent the Tag Bolt option. Wobb is going to be a popular option, but the issue with Wobb is you need to find it turn one, most likely going first, and it buys you a turn at best. 


Coming into the Rebel Clash format, we heard a constant outcry of mill is dead, it doesn't stand a chance, Dragapult kills it, etc. I never bought this, and I know quite a few of you didn't either. Wilmer Johansson got top 4 with mill, and I am predicting a bit more mill this time around because of the results. Wilmer's version played a small control package with one reset stamp, one chip-chip Ice Axe, and an Articuno GX. I really like this version of the deck, and I do believe it will see a rise in popularity moving into Q4. This version is more difficult to pilot correctly than the classic aggressive mill, so if you want to play it, you should start putting time in now. Knowing when to mill and when to hand lock is not an easy choice, but it is one that you will have to make several turns in advance.

An important note on the deck is that this does not auto-win versus PikaRom, as you see many people say online. PikaRom is now playing 2-3 Boss's Orders as well as Eldegoss, so a smart player will be able to find their six prizes assuming you don't get lucky mills. This is what the control package is in here for. If the PikaRom player does not mill themselves quickly, grips their Boss's Orders for the right time to take out Mew and potentially set-up a 3 Prize Turn with a Tag Bolt on Zacian and a bench mon the game spirals out of control. This is where the hand lock matters, and you need to watch how your opponent plays the match-up. If the game is in Pika's control, you need to take a step back and set-up the handlock play as opposed to going the doll and aggressive mill route.

I do not believe the deck needs to adapt much to the meta moving forward because I do not think people are going to properly respect it. Above I pointed out the lack of Malamar in Dragapult, which opens up the opportunity for these decks to get a few hammer heads or yell grunts to set-up before Dragapult starts to spread. One thing I am going to try is putting capture energy into the deck. In the control list I tested for Q3 I ran two water, two capture energy and the capture energy were phenomenal and really helped the deck set-up and the lack of returning to the hand never hindered me though it does remove the opportunity of having a free pivot each turn with the recycle energy.

Blacephalon UNB

The final deck to find its way into top 8 was actually the first seed, and potentially the winner had it not hit its worst match-up. Also of note, Blacephalon UNB was five of the top 16 and 9 of the top 32. Both of these stats are right behind PikaRom, and not enough people are currently talking about the likely large meta share we are going to see from Blacephalon UNB. Blacephalon takes favorable to PikaRom, favorable to Dragapult that does not play Giant Bomb and has a chance versus anything else that shows up outside of mill and Obstagoon. An important note and something I see Blacephalon players talk themselves into constantly is the idea that the deck beats everything, and they only lose when they are unlucky. Sometimes the deck does get Marnie'd, or Stamp'd into a dead hand and ends up falling behind after a fast start. The addition of Scoop Up Net helps, assuming you're not against a Dragapult running Scoop Up Block Mr. Mime, but you do have to acknowledge that the deck is capable of losing to awkward draws, and this is not bad luck but in fact a feature of the deck.

I do not think the deck needs to change anything moving forward except arguably a tool scrapper if you think Dragapult will increase in prevalence with their Giant Bomb. Otherwise, I see Blacephalon as taking up a large portion of the meta share for Q4 and again will have a lot of success.

The Expected Meta

Now that we've covered the more successful decks from the third qualifier, let's look at the expected changes to the meta for qualifier four.

Most Played, Decks to beat:

  • PikaRom
  • Dragapult
  • Blacephalon UNB

Going in, I don't think anyone can argue that these three are the clear decks to beat. I would be hesitant to play anything that takes an auto loss to any of these three, and these are match-ups you should know. On the flip side, I believe all three of these are relatively safe picks as they have the power level and consistency to take you to Day 2 and beyond.

Lesser Played, Should still be on your radar:

  • ADP/Zacian
  • Mill/Control

We're almost done, and this is the first mention of ADPZ? I don't think I saw that coming before this weekend. There were only 2 ADPZ in the top 32, and I imagine it will have more success in qualifier four, but in talking to people in the community, most people seem to believe PikaRom and Blacephalon are both favored over ADP right now, and while I disagree, if this is the general consensus we will likely see less ADPZ than the above decks.

Mill is a threat and one you should respect. The reason it is here and not on the above list is that regardless of power, I do not believe it will be played in large numbers despite the success it will see. PikaRom with multiple Boss's have outs to winning, but you need to test it. Dragapult needs to practice how to win the stadium war and how to handle hammer spam. These are both decks I am expecting to be played noticeably less than the above three but should not be ignored if you are looking to make a long run.

Still threats:

  • Welder Box
  • ADP Spiritomb
  • Obstagoon
  • Mewtwo variants

I would not be surprised to be paired against any of these on Day 1 or to see multiple copies of these, making Day 2. ADP Spiritomb is an interesting one still. If you're like me, you jumped to it immediately for qualifier three and put it down due to frustration with inconsistency and the hammer spam that had been prevalent when everyone first jumped into the format. Seeing no crushing hammers in top 8, outside of the obvious inclusion in mill/control, makes this something to play around with again. Goons is another dark horse that should be tested against. Decks like PikaRom have viable outs to Goons, but you need to play it a few times to get a feel for when to paralyze and Marnie versus when to gust around the Obstagoon. Dragapult also has a favorable match-up but is one to test as the Goons player can end the game with a Doom Count GX, and Crazy Claws from Sableye V, and these are things to keep an eye out for.

Mewtwo variants are very interesting right now. I was very excited for Ultimate Mewtwo a week before qualifier three until lists became more refined and match-ups that had been easy in the first week after the set's release got harder. Mewtwo decks have a big advantage now of having a clear list of decks to worry about which allows them to tech properly but they also now have the unfortunate addition of Mimkyu CEC to Dragapult decks, assuming people tech as I think they should, which makes the match-up that much more annoying to deal with.

So what's the play?

The short answer is, I don't know. There is still a week and a half of testing at the time of writing this. I can safely tell you I am not playing PikaRom again. I played nine mirror in qualifier three, and most of my losses were against the mirror. I do not enjoy the PikaRom mirror, and I would expect it to be the most or second most played deck. That isn't to say you shouldn't play it, because the deck has answers to everything in the format, but I will not be playing it. My testing is starting with Le Bui's ADP Zacian list. Now that we have a defined format, ADP can make changes as needed, and I believe we could make it back to a tier 1 deck, much to the dismay of many of you reading this. I will also be testing Welder Mewtwo, but I am unsure if the Blacephalon match-up can ever be swung enough to make it worthwhile. Blacephalon is the last of the top decks I will put serious time in to. The results are amazing, but I may be scared off by the risk of inconsistency taking the games out of my hands.

Spiritomb Ultra Beasts is the last piece of maybe I'll play this that I'll leave you with. In the end, I'll probably test a lot and not play it and go for a more established archetype, but the deck does take many favorable matchups between multiple Jynx to power-up an OHKO out of nowhere on a Dragapult, Sledgehammer against PikaRom and being able to Boss's Orders up any 2 prizers that Blacephalon has to put down to draw out of the Marnie and Stamp that you throw at them. It does have some consistency issues, has no way to beat mill realistically, and ADP's GX attack is pretty bad for you, though. So it is probably not the secret play for Q4.

In the end, I am going to offer you the most boring advice that you do not want to hear about what to play in Q4. Play a strong deck, anything featured in the tier list above works, that is consistent without too many "spicy" techs weighing it down. Know your match-ups. When you see your opponent's decklist, you should immediately be able to imagine a couple of potential paths to take for a win condition that way no matter how awkward that opening hand maybe you are able to make plays that will advance you towards a win condition that you know is viable and have achieved before in testing.

Good luck to everyone, and regardless of your chances of making the invitational, I hope to see you in Qualifier 4!

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