I suppose I’m now liable for one of the most regrettable positions taken in the context of this game in recent memory. After Round 5 of this past weekend’s Madison Regional Championships, I dubbed Metagross-GX the worst deck I’ve played since Meganium Prime/Vileplume UD, which I made the mistake of entertaining at Worlds 2012. Once more, on Saturday night, I disavowed the deck as “possibly the worst I’ve ever played.”
It’s funny how these things work out. As you might’ve heard by now, that “worst” deck did me pretty darn well this weekend — a fact Kyle Sucevich didn’t spare me during his interview post-Top 4. In a way, my feeling in that respect is symptomatic of the recent state of the game, and just how much Guardians Rising has shifted the paradigm of how we play it. When I say the deck was “bad,” I didn’t mean in its ability to win games — after all, it was winning them!
Instead, here was the deck’s reality: a Stage 2 that naturally caps out at 150 damage, requires 3 Energy to attack, and is completely immobile. In complement, we have a fat anchor that utterly clashes with the premise of a first-attack Beacon from Alolan Vulpix and helps exactly one bit of obscure math. For that matter, there’s an evolving Basic whose purpose has nothing to do with evolving. When I say the deck was bad, I mean that this deck fundamentally didn’t fit the mold of what’s seen recent success. By the speedy standards of yesteryear, I should’ve gotten smashed.
But, with the release of Garbodor GRI, the game very literally came grinding to a halt. A year ago, my Beldum would’ve been toast at the hands of a local Night Marcher before it ever got the chance to evolve. A dedicated “starter” like Alolan Vulpix? Madness.
Many have mourned the state of Stage 2s over the last 3-6 years. One of the most vocal players about the nature of the game has been our own Michael Slutsky. He’s penned more than a few pieces over the past few years criticizing the state of the game, but I honestly think most of his and others’ concerns have been put to bed at this point.
So, when I say the deck was “bad,” it obviously wasn’t literally so — although, I’m a fundamental believer in the fact that bad decks sometimes win tournaments. When I call a deck bad, I generally mean that it feels unfit for its element or that the circumstances leading to its success were at least somewhat fortunate. For example, the number of high-caliber players playing Volcanion this weekend should’ve probably been a death sentence for Metagross, but I dodged them when it counted.
Much like Phantom Forces saw every one of its EXs be competitively relevant at some point during its Standard lifetime, it seems Guardians Rising is on its way to the same being true of its GXs — though, Kommo-o-GX might be a stretch. This is indicative of good card design, among other things, and it’s good to see.
Now, how does one conclude that Metagross-GX is the proper selection for any tournament, let alone a Regional that served as my last hope to vault into the Top 16 race? Well, for starters, apparently the key to that answer is to have the right group of friends, as Metagross had only fleetingly crossed my mind prior to 5:00ish Friday night. Sure, John Kettler and I identified it as having potential on a Super Rod Cast episode we did together, but it certainly wasn’t on my radar as a play. In fact, my list of potential plays at that point included Darkrai-EX/Dragonair SUM of all things. I’m not even sure to this point what exactly converged between the likes of Wes Hollenberg, Joey Ruttiger, Xander Pero and who knows who else, but I was left with a Metagross list to test.
“Test” might be a slight exaggeration: my brother and I played a few games, but I didn’t pilot Metagross in a single one. It shredded Garbodor GRI/Drampa-GX, which has to be worth something, right? I was at a total loss for answers, and when Xander returned later, we ironed out a final list. I oscillated back and forth between a list for M Rayquaza similar to what I played last weekend in Seattle and Metagross, literally down to the last few minutes before leaving for the venue. In the end, I suppose it worked out, but I literally didn’t play a game with the deck before I sat down for Round 1.
For those that prefer, a written copy:
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 35
Energy – 10
There’re a litany of things I’d change about this list in hindsight. Primarily, Dhelmise was terrible. I used the pseudo-PlusPower Ability all of once, and the attack could’ve been served by other purposes more easily. Critically, a retreat cost of 2 prevented many T1 Beacons, and generally meant that the anchor was stuck until it got KO’d or Lysandre’d around. Additionally, playing 3 Rare Candy was an unbelievably poor choice, and in hindsight, one of the Metang probably should’ve been a 4th Candy.
Wouldn’t have gotten as far as I did without Karen, and as such, I’m very glad I stuck with it despite considering it as a cut Saturday morning. Brigette seemed to be prized in half of my games, but when I did have it, it was transformational. The lack of Shaymin-EX was a weird thing to get used to, but the deck simply can’t afford to have the tiny EX on the bench. Professor Kukui played well on its own for dealing with things like Espeon-GX, but was theoretically there for a Dhelmise+Kukui+Choice Band KO on Lurantis-GX. I actually did pull this combo off, but it was the only use of the complete suite all weekend.
Well, that was the list, and while there’re things I’d change, I obviously can’t complain about the outcome. My tournament went as follows:
Madison Regionals // 523 Masters // Metagross-GX
R1 Gyarados AOR 21 (1-1)
R2 Lurantis-GX (2-0)
R3 Espeon-GX/Garbodor GRI/Flareon AOR (0-2)
R4 Alolan Ninetales-GX (2-0)
R5 Greninja BKP (2-0)
R6 Garbodor GRI/Drampa-GX (2-0)
R7 M Rayquaza-EX ROS 76 (2-0)
R8 Vikavolt SUM/Tapu Bulu-GX/Vikavolt-GX (2-1)
Day 1: 6-1-2, 27th seed.
Day 2: 9-1-4, 5th seed.
Through Swiss, I went 20-6 in individual games, which is pretty decent as runs go. My only loss in the Swiss portion of the weekend came to Espeon/Garbodor with a Flareon, and after that match, I’d honestly pretty much written the weekend off — in fact, I started researching League Cups for Sunday. My message to Alex Hill was something like “I’m 2-1-1, but no way I’m dodging Volcanion for 5 rounds,” to which he retorted “just ID one Round 9.” Lo and behold, my Round 9 was a Volcanion, and the ID presented itself.
Round 13 presented an interesting dilemma. Paired to Michael Pramawat, I could either ID and rely on a Round 14 tie or try to win either of 13/14 to make Top 8. In the end, I chose to push my luck with the ID. I was paired down in Round 14, so it almost didn’t work out, but in the end we played to a natural tie and both of us made Top 8. The Day 2 format provides a lot of oddities (like Rahul Reddy being paired up or down all 5 rounds this weekend in Madison), so it’s always hard to judge, but it fortunately worked out this time.
Throughout the weekend, the deck seemed like it was constantly on the precipice of totally falling to pieces, but somehow everything held up. I also managed to dodge Azul Griego’s Volcanion in Top 8, which was definitely a fortunate twist. Cut went as follows:
Top 4 and 2 were available for viewing on the official Pokémon stream, and will probably soon find their way on to YouTube or otherwise. Neither of my Top 8 or 4 opponents had a good way to do 250 damage, making the games not especially stressful, but Michael Pramawat’s Flareon AOR made finals a different story.
I’ve heard more than one theory as to how I should’ve played finals differently, but they’re not worth rehashing here. I won Game 1, but dropped the final two games in the series. Unfortunately, time played a role in Game 3, as with a bit more I’d have been able to force a deckout, but if I’d played Game 2 in a more effective manner, it wouldn’t have been an issue, so I have nothing to blame. Alas, these things happen.
The weekend saw Vespiquen’s continued presence, and I don’t think it’s likely to go away anytime soon. Even counters like Oriciorio GRI 56 and Karen only do so much, and not everything is capable of plopping a 250 HP wall in the Active spot. Metagross could be setup for a run in the future, but I find it more likely that Vikavolt takes advantage of the slower metagame and becomes the dominant Stage 2 deck.
My principle observations from this weekend:
- Alolan Vulpix is an incredible card, especially now that Pokémon search doubles as a Supporter option. I didn’t truly appreciate the depth of options it presents until this weekend, and I’m somewhat enamored with it as we’re heading into the future. Especially in decks that try to push EX/GXs, its ability to force the 7th prize can’t be understated.
- Garbodor may have centralized Seattle (and perhaps some of the other events around the world running alongside Madison), but Madison saw things level off. Rather than the speed-demon decks of times past, we saw a number of decks that take a slightly slower approach to the game. This is going to be a weird balance — now that Garbodor has been beaten back, and the slower Stage 2s seem to have somewhat moved in, does it become good to play something like speed Dark again, whose bread and butter is the suite of Items that made it bad against Garbodor?
- I was intrigued by the number of people that switched to Lurantis, Tapu Bulu, etc. — things that didn’t have any prior hype, but managed to come out of nowhere for this weekend. This is once again an example of the rise of social media in the game, as this definitely wouldn’t have been the case even 5 years ago.
- This list did more than a few things that I haven’t done in quite awhile: for one thing, there were no Stadium cards at all. I prefer playing some sort of Stadium as a counter move, but Field Blower is great in that respect. The only thing that’d be worth playing is Parallel City, and that’d only be as a one of. The other oddity, to me, was playing 4 VS Seeker. The last time I did that at Regionals was St. Louis, which feels weird to say the least. Especially in this format, remember to think creatively with list creation.
Overall, the list took 2nd, 17th, and a Top 128 in Masters, while a similar one took 2nd in Seniors, and Connor Finton took 9th with yet another variant in Masters. The deck certainly saw some good showings this weekend, and it’ll be interesting to see what comes in the future.
The remainder of the North American season brings us Mexico City Regionals and a trio of Special Events (1 in Columbus, OH; the other 2 in Mexico). There’s also a litany of Regionals in Oceania, and some other stuff around the globe, so the format is incredibly relevant to a number of people. For that matter, League Cups are of great importance to many of us, so odds are most players will be up to something before heading down to Indy for the inaugural North American International Championship.
I won’t be in Mexico City, so while I’m not going to be putting my proverbial “money where my mouth is” on this, I strongly believe a M Rayquaza list could be a good approach to next weekend. I somewhat suspect Metagross could have a few copycats, and Vikavolt will have more than a few representatives, so M Rayquaza’s speed makes things interesting. Here’s my first thought at a list:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 34
Energy – 8
The key now in my view is to have outs to hit 250 damage, which this does. The list may need to be tweaked further to have a better Garbodor matchup, but if it fades next weekend, this could be very strong. M Rayquaza hits hard and fast, and can be surprisingly Item-efficent, so it’s definitely something to consider.
The Tapu Koko promo is a boon for the deck, as it provides a bulky, free-retreating non-EX that can soften up a number of threats in the format. Getting Tapu Lele to 150 HP removes the need for Sky Field when using Emerald Break, and it’s quite useful against the likes of Metagross. If you’re looking to counter Metagross, this is a good way to go about it.
Otherwise, I’d possibly consider Vespiquen. Despite the counters it’s faced, it has persisted in its success. When a deck is the choice of so many top players in one weekend, that’s usually a hint that it’s poised to do well. Of course, Flareon is probably advisable, given Decidueye and Metagross both saw success this past weekend. I’d point you in the direction of any of the wealth of lists that’ve been made public through the success of good players (Jeffrey Cheng, Rahul Reddy) over the past few weeks.
As the season gets nearer and nearer to its end, the heat is ramping up. The battle for North American Top 16 is really a battle for 16th at the moment, but all bets will be off when the circuit heads to Indy. At the same time, many are trying to polish off the invitation to the World Championships, while others yet are simply after the bounty a single given event offers. This year’s circuit has catered well to a wide range of player motivation.
I’ve attended my last Regional of the year, which feels weird to say. I did manage to attain 8 finishes for the Regional+Special Event category, so whatever I come up with at Origins will simply be a bonus. Madison was a great cap to the Regional portion of the season for the USA, as Jimmy Ballard’s crew knocked it out of the park, as many of us are used to at this point. The game is fun because of the people, and I’m grateful for those I’ve been able to share this year with.
Stay tuned to SixPrizes as we head toward Indianapolis. We’ve got an article marathon running from right after Origins through the big day itself, and there may or may not be a fantasy competition in the works for the event as well.
As always, the best of luck in your endeavors, and perhaps I’ll see you around.