06/05/2020 by Kevin Clemente
This past weekend was the fourth, final, and most massive Qualifier for the Limitless tournament series with 1,303 competitors checking in and playing. Going into the tournament, I was tied for 6th in the ranking for the invitational and needed a Day 2 to guarantee my spot. Due to this, I chose what I considered the safe, consistent play that I knew well and played PikaRom. Unfortunately, the tournament didn't go my way, and I dropped at 7-5. This put me tied for 14th for the invitational and just missing out on the top 12 cut. I do not regret the PikaRom play, but if I could go back, I probably would have played Spiritomb. In the end, this quote from my last article turned out to be accurate; "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". We'll get more to Spiritomb later, though. Let's move on to the results and how this will change things!
Table of contents
Many top-level players had spoken of the power of Combo Zacian before Qualifier three, and many, including myself, refused to listen. After watching some of the best players in the gameplay Combo Zacian for Q3 and fail to make Day 2, I thought the deck was overhyped and more of a theoretical build than a consistent one. Then I built it, tested it, and thought the same thing as before. As it turned out, some combination of misplaying the deck and making the deck incorrectly had occurred. After watching the power of the Jirachi Prism star combo with arguably the best card in the game currently, Zacian V, I do believe this is the most reliable deck in the format and one you either need to learn to play or learn to beat.
Initially, I had thought ADP/Zacian with a few changes was going to make a resurgence, and now looking back, I realize why Jirachi Prism is a more reliable partner for Zacian than ADP. The reason is, the meta currently relies heavily on three prizers and Dedenne. The 260 Brave Blade with an ADP GX does not OHKO a PikaRom with a Big Charm, due to resistance, but Zacian that snipes with 60 from Dusk Mane promo then hits for 210 does. It is the same number of attacks and gets the same relevant number of prizes. PikaRom no longer playing Jirachi means that the difference between four prizes from a PikaRom and three is irrelevant as you can win by KOing a PikaRom then KOing a Dedenne for three prizes by using the combo. This has allowed for Zacian to take a favorable match-up over the formally undisputed BDIF.
Just like ADPZ's inability to OHKO a Big Charm'd PikaRom with the +30 damage, the 260 Brace Blade is no different from a 230 damage Brave Blade when hitting into a 320 HP Dragapult VMax. The same logic as the PikaRom match-up can be applied to the Dragapult match-up if they ever bench a Dedenne; you can two-shot a Dragapult Vmax, then KO the Dedenne with the combo for three prizes. A good Dragapult player should never bench Dedenne in that match-up unless necessary. Without benching Dedenne, the Zacian player does have to pull off the Jirachi Prism combo twice and take four prizes from a Vmax then two from a single prizer. One thing Dragapult lists can and should do moving forward to prevent this is playing the Scoop Up Block Mime. This can force the Zacian players to keep their bench full and not be able to combo more than once in a game.
I'll stop staning Combo Zacian for a second and spend some time talking about the other "new" archetype to emerge in a top cut, which is Spiritomb/Ultra Beasts. I am excited to see Spiritomb Ultra Beasts do well as it was a whispered about the deck I had put some time into and bubbled out of top cut with at the Neil Pie Open the week before Qualifier four. Sadly, as mentioned above, I chickened out of playing a rogue archetype that looks to now be more established with the top 8 finish, and in total, there were 7 Spiritomb (Without ADP) decks in Day 2. Tomb does not quite have the overwhelmingly positive match-up spread that combo Zacian has. However, it does still boast some excellent match-ups with highly favorable versus PikaRom and Blacephalon UNB, an even Dragapult match-up. Still, it is going to suffer by taking an unfavorable combo Zacian which is undoubtedly going to be the most played deck moving forward.
The beauty of this deck is that Spiritomb can hit 220 with five damage counters and a Hustle Belt, which is a huge number all while being lower maintenance than stringing Blacephalon is. When you add in shrine sticking for one complete turn, you KO PikaRom, two turns to KO, and Raichu & Alolan Raichu and three turns let you KO ADP and Mewtwo.
You also have the valuable four prize turn where Buzzwole FLI hits for 120 damage, enough to OHKO a PikaRom with weakness, and Nihilego's two prize turn, which allows you to copy any of your opponent's attacks. This is valuable versus PikaRom, being able to copy a 200 damage Tag Bolt, decks with a Zacian on the field, hitting 230 with Brave Blade to OHKO a Zacian without metal goggles, and Mewtwo decks, copying Miraculous Duo for 200 damage of 400 with weakness. I think Spiritomb sits in a rightful place for the format moving forward, to the point where I have experimented in a version without the Ultra Beasts and focusing on Spiritomb.
This is my current tier list based on power level and match-up spread. The order of the decks in the tier is irrelevant. Any archetypes not here I do not consider currently viable enough to think for tournaments moving forward, as fun as it may be for me to play my Meganium deck. Everything in A tier is a good play moving forward and decks that you need to know how to beat and potentially should be playing. If you are testing things, not in Tier A, then you need to ask yourself how many of these decks are bad match-ups? I would imagine that if you were in a 100 person tournament, then about 60 of the decks would comprise these some combination of these four decks, and for a good reason. They are all robust, consistent, and can beat their counters.
B Tier is where things get a bit more exciting and include decks I have not mentioned yet. These are all strong decks that are missing a piece that the A tier decks all have. ADPZ struggles with speed. As the format got faster, my testing with ADPZ always felt like it was a turn too slow unless you drew insane. With that said, if your opponent ever stumbles early, ADPZ becomes a disgustingly substantial hurdle that is hard to overcome.
Both Welder and Ultimate Mewtwo are powerful, but they can suffer from a poor Dragapult match-up, with the current top Dragapult list running hammers, which prevents the Mega Sabeleye and Tyranitar from sweeping as well as Power Plant, as well as consistency issues. The speed of the format can make the occasionally clunky Mewtwo decks fall behind if you end up with an awkward hand turn one. The reliance on Dedenne is also exploitable by Combo Zacian, which can win in 3 turns by taking out a Mewtwo with Dusk Shot+Brave Blade than a combo OHKO on a Dedenne.
Spiritomb, both ADP and Ultra Beast variants, can run into issues with consistency, having to set-up large boards early, as well as an awkward Dragapult match-up and a difficult Combo Zacian assuming they play goggles or pans. I've already spoken quite a bit about Tomb above.
I think Goons sucks. It had to be said because everything else I say is going to make it sound like I love Goons and think it is fantastic. Goons take a lot of very favorable match-ups with Dragapult being the only evolving deck in my top 2 tiers. The question for Goons is can you set-up and do you have answers for the soft counters all decks have. Blowns has a bursting burn, PikaRom has paralysis with Raichu/Alolan Raichu, and Zacian has Mawile GX to force you to bench other Pokemon to gust around the Obstagoon.
You can potentially add something like a Lum Berry to improve these match-ups if you're not confident in your ability to find the doll and switch off the inevitable hand disruption that Spiritomb and PikaRom decks will throw at you the turn they go for the status condition play. Still, then you are adding things that potentially make your set-up weaker. The deck also has the best GX attack in the game, not called Altered Creation in Doom Count GX on Yveltal GX. This GX gives you a chance versus any Vmax you may run into that is otherwise not affected by Obstruct's primary lock if you are not playing Goons I would learn how to beat it because a good Goons player can and should take advantage of people who do not have experience in the match-up.
The last B tier deck I have down is control. Unfortunately, the power loses a bit of an edge with combo Zacian having a perfect match-up against it; hand lock/control still has a place in the meta. The ability to set-up the Chip-Chip lock and prevent your opponent from playing the game is powerful and, when piloted skillfully, can beat just about every deck in the format. The piloting skillfully is, of course, an issue there and something that needs to be practiced a lot. A big thing that control has to go for it over its sister archetype in the C tier, mill, is that your game plan comes to fruition in the end game, so new Marnie spam, while annoying, is not as detrimental. Control is probably going to be the least played of any of the decks I have in A or B tier due to time, the negative stigma and difficulty to pilot.
I will not go into as much detail for Tiers C and D, but I will point out a few thoughts. First is Toxtricity feels like a deck that can make a move up if the meta shifts in a specific direction. It is tanky, hits hard, and a weakness that is not used outside of Buzzwole FLI. If Baby Blacephalon gets pushed out, then Toxtricity might become a B tier deck.
The other thing that probably stood out to people as not belonging in C tier is Cinderace Vmax. I am a firm believer that Cinderace has untapped potential. It goes beyond the apparent ability to OHKO Zacian. A tanky build featuring Mallow and Lana as well as Hyper Potion means you can routinely heal off 240 damage in a turn if you have three energy attached, attach another, then use a counter to do 30+whatever your opponent hit you with. This is a lot of pressure to apply as all decks are already two shotting this 320HP behemoth, and now you can make it a three-shot with one turn of healing. The discarding two energy from Hyper Potion may sound like a high cost, but this has synergy with fire crystal and Ninetales to afford for natural gust. The biggest downside of the deck, currently, is a clunky set-up can force you to rely on Eldegoss and Dedenne to set-up and allow an opponent who draws well to gust around your Cinderace VMax.
My final thoughts on the meta, and the question I get always asked on my stream, is, "What do I play for _____?". The answer is just about anything if you play it well. This format is fast, some decks can feel like you never stood a chance, or your opponent never stood a chance, and the game was done by turn two, but the meta is wide open and has a ton of viable options currently. Skill and match-up knowledge are going to be rewarded here as a single misstep in the first two turns can ruin the game for you and give an opening for your opponent to strike. Pick a deck, play it well, and know your match-ups.
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