What’s up everyone! It’s been a minute since my last article, and so much has happened since then! At the time of that article’s release, the format was still a jungle waiting to be explored. By Seattle’s conclusion, the format had been turned upside down. Madison has now right the ship, and turned the format back right-side up.
The release of Guardians Rising has generated more discussion than any set I can think of in recent memory, has birthed a format that is more ripe for exploitation than any format I can think of in recent memory, and is something I simply cannot stop gushing over. I’m tasked with covering Madison and Seattle, and in doing so, hopefully I can shed some light on just where the next unbeaten path will lead us next.
The Transition: Seattle to Madison
As the first Regionals in the PRC–GRI format, Seattle had the responsibility of showing us what meta decks were strong and which were smoke. What we got was unprecedented. Garbodor, man. To my knowledge, there has never been a such a commanding performance by a single deck, occupying an impossible 75% of Top 32. Gardevoir/Gallade is the only reasonable comparison, but even then, I’m not sure even it reached those levels.
I don’t know the overall meta from Day 1, but I imagine that it had to be at least over 50%, which is likewise shocking. Decidueye/Vileplume, at its peak (Australia), had a dominant showing at something like 30%, which is a more standard percentage when one is dealing with an indisputable BDIF. Garbodor/Drampa’s dominance took anyone’s preconceived notions about the game and chucked them out the window.
What’s fascinating about this, though, is just why Garbodor had the showing it did. In his last article, Xander attributed this phenom to the fact that many players simply underestimated how impactful the card would be, while others capitalized on this misguided thinking. Everyone entering Seattle knew how much of a force Garbodor would be, surely, but nobody could have predicted what ended up occurring. Those that had the foresight to play Garbodor based exclusively on its merits as a card automatically found success. Xander is accurate in his overall assessment of what happened in Seattle, and I suggest you go read that for more. Figuring out how to cope with Seattle’s results in a week’s time was going to be a true test for Madison players.
At the dawn of Guardians Rising’s release, I was hyped to play Greninja. Field Blower, Choice Band, and Brooklet Hill all provided Greninja an incredibly power boost to return to the meta. A week before Seattle, however, I started playing Espeon/Garbodor, a deck I was enamored with, and one that I felt possessed a ton of in-game playing options every turn. The results of Seattle quickly turned me off from the deck, as the thought of constantly playing mirror matches was extremely unappealing (even though Espeon/Garb holds a slight edge in Garb-based mirrors).
This meant a week of discovery, until I resettled on Greninja. The reason for it was fairly obvious to me: Greninja held a slightly positive Garb matchup (assuming no bricking) and generally favorable matchups elsewhere, sans Green decks. The deck struggled with some natural inconsistencies, with it being an evolution deck and all, but the overall slowdown of the format meant that the deck wouldn’t be punished so severely for having a slow start.
I was able to pilot the deck to a decent 6-2-1 finish, bubbling out all the way at 45th seed with some pretty miserable tiebreakers. This line of thinking and the my deck choice may come off as anomalous, but I think it is actually a fairly ubiquitous approach to Madison.
Garbodor being public enemy #1 meant finding creative solutions to a different kind of uncharted metagame. Decks like quad-Brooklet Hill Volcanion and Lurantis (thanks to the legality of Tapu Bulu-GX) started seeing heavy amounts of discussion, as did decks like Vespiquen. The reason for all of these is the fact that their Garbodor matchups ranged from slightly to extremely favorable, at the cost of evening up matchups elsewhere. The perceived tradeoff is that, while Garbodor wouldn’t be as prevalent as Seattle, it would still show up in high numbers, meaning you would assuredly play against it at least a couple of times throughout Swiss. The other decks that one would expect to face would likely be more conservative approaches to conventional strategies, leaving those matchups relatively unchanged.
For many players, this went a step further. A lot of strategies that players toyed around with at the dawn of this format, while entertaining/exciting/etc, were deemed to not be feasible just yet. I wrote in my last article about how deckbuilding would change, going so far as to cover a Metagross deck that I believed to be an example of where deckbuilding was headed stylistically, and how certain ideas could flourish given the continued slowdown of the format. Then, Seattle happened, and the format hit the brakes. My predictions on which strategies could be viable in the event of this halt came true much sooner than I could have hoped, and many players embraced this at Madison.
Stealing the Show: Return of the Stage Two
Madison showed us what Guardians Rising can really do. Tons of decks saw play, but perhaps the two that stole the show were Vikavolt and Metagross: two decks overlooked even a week ago, but now considered legitimate contenders. It’s been quite some time since a conventional Stage Two deck was even imagined as viable, let alone actually playable. Greninja saw play exclusively thanks to its ability to skirt the evolution rules with Water Duplicates. Vileplume decks likewise “broke” those rules with Forest of Giant Plants.
Players looking at Vikavolt deemed it unplayable because its pre-evolutions were not Grass types, and Metagross was ranked in the “ask me again in six months” tier. The reality is that nobody could have predicted what Garb was going to do to the game, and only after that became clear they did did people truly give these gems another look. The results of Madison speak for themselves!
The memorable takeaway from this weekend is Christopher’s 2nd place finish, which shocked the world. However, a Vikavolt deck also managed to find its way into Top 8, piloted by Charlie Lockyer. Aaron Tarbell’s Decidueye/Vileplume also found its way into Top 8. In fact, Top 8 actually had six unique decks: Vespiquen (x2), Metagross, Vikavolt, Decidueye/Vileplume, Volcanion, Zoroark/Drampa and Espeon/Garb. Only one Garbodor deck in Top 8, compared to the six from a week before! Going further, the overall Top 32 only had eight Garbodor decks total, which is 25% – much more in line for what you’d imagine a BDIF to be played at.
In the wake of Garbodor’s destruction of Seattle, we saw a Top 32 that consisted of 10 broad archetypes, with some slight variations of the 10 thrown in for good measure. Day 1 took was a step even further in this direction, with a diverse pool of decks all vying for a spot to advance. I personally played against Darkrai/Dragonair, Waterbox, Decidueye/Plume, Xerneas/Giratina, Espeon/Garb, Greninja, and three Drampa/Garbodor. Sure, Xerneas/Giratina isn’t a real archetype, but the rest of these decks were either real, competitive decks or are rogues that have received significant attention.
What this tells me first and foremost is that the format is incredibly diverse. Not only are there a diverse selection of tier 1 and 2 decks, but there are also a handful of decks that came out of nowhere to have a strong impact, with the obvious examples being, of course, Vikavolt and Metagross. Secondly, this tells me that players are really taking a hard look at previously forgotten cards, understanding that potential exists in a lot more archetypes than we have now.
If Drampa/Garb hadn’t had quite as centralizing a performance at Seattle as it did, and if Metagross didn’t crush that deck as hard as it does, I don’t think we’d have seen that deck pop up. Yet, Metagross is now a tier 1 deck, exclusively because of Christopher’s performance. In the days of old, a player having a breakout performance with a rogue deck was enough to put said deck on the competitive map, yet we haven’t really seen as creative of rogues in the past couple of years due to the release of absurdly powerful cards or combos. This is a resounding shift back to the glory days, and one that should provide incentive to players to really start exploring the card pool available to us.
As such, I am beyond overjoyed at this. I’ve made a name for myself in the community as someone who complains, have made false predictions on the game rounding the corner many times, and have done both here, yet I feel vindicated knowing that this is finally the case.
In his report, Christopher mentioned that I’ve been a vocal critic of the game, and that this set should largely put my critiques to rest — he is absolutely right.
I love the game right now more than I have at any point since the BCR–PHF Cities format, and am super excited to see what Mexico, Origins, international events, and League Cups do to shake the format up more for North America’s International, which should go down as one of the most exciting tournaments of all time.
A Look Ahead: The Mexico Problem
Being this excited for the format has meant that I’ve been thinking about the game constantly. My mind has been racing at the possibilities of what the next big rogue for US Nats could be, which is possibly a little further out than what some of you might be looking for. I’m not going to Mexico City and am very likely missing out on Origins as well, so I’ve been thinking about what the format could look like in the future.
Just as discovering an optimal play post-Seattle was difficult, so too is discovering the optimal post-Madison play. The reason for this is because all of the decks that were good at Madison are…still good! Every single deck in Top 8 is still a good play, in my opinion, because all of them have a wide array of matchups strengths in such a diverse field. Madison was about figuring out how to deal with Garbodor, and an indicator of how decks should be built. Now that we’ve figured out the basics, all that remains is to refine the lists, wait for a meta to really crystallize, and then, if you’re willing, hunt for that juicy rogue deck to shock the world.
Return to the Hive: Vespiquen
Vespiquen faced a lot of adversity this weekend, as decks were running Karen and/or Oricorio. While these two didn’t see totally widespread play, they did actually see a fair amount. Every deck in the Top 4 had a Vespiquen counter, except for Vespiquen itself (2× Karen, 1× Oricorio). These counters help even a Vespiquen matchup, but they do not totally flip it in your favor, as was evident after it managed to win the tournament. I imagine more players will include either of these two counters in their decks going forward, and Vespiquen may struggle more than normal.
The inverse possibility is that everyone will assume everyone else is running the counter, won’t run one themselves, and then Vespiquen manages to hang on. It’s a strong tier 1 deck, and I think it’s here to stay, counters or not. The deck is incredibly resilient and I don’t think it’s possible to hate it out of the game. That said, I think in the absolute immediate, Vespiquen might not be the best play unless you’re absolutely comfortable with the intricacies of the deck. By the time something like Internationals rolls around, the Vespi hate should level out, making it a reliable play. I believe Pramawat’s list was posted in one of the Facebook groups, but if you can’t find it there, it will certainly be up on Pokémon.com shortly.
Metagross faced almost no serious adversity this weekend. Volcanion as a whole was surprisingly underplayed, though I expect that to change in the future. Other than Volcanion, I’m unsure what hard counters exist in the form of archetypes. Stage 1 decks can include type changers (and decks already using Eeveelutions will absolutely do so), to turn anything into a Fire type, but that’s about it.
The obvious alternative is simply to bump up your Hex Maniac counts or run a Garbotoxin and focus on getting it out ASAP. A dedicated Hex chain can overcome Metagross, but only if your deck is able to continuously output high levels of damage without your opponent’s assistance. I believe in Christopher and Danny’s Top 4 game, Danny was able to chain Hex for a chunk of turns, but because Christopher limited his bench size, Danny was unable to output enough damage to capitalize on that, and Max Potion bought Christopher the time he needed to outlast the Ability lock and take over the game.
In addition, Metagross has Lele as a competent backup attacker, meaning that offensive potential exists even under this ability lock. With that said, Metagross can suffer from the natural inconsistencies of being a Stage 2 deck, and a poor start does have the ability to be capitalized on by aggressive decks. I played Chris’ list with the changes he suggested on my stream on Monday night, and the deck proved to be extremely powerful. Be wary of a spike in Volcanion and Flareon to counter this, but dodging those can still yield great results.
Zoroark/Drampa is a deck that was created with the express purpose of hard countering Drampa/Garb, which it does exceptionally. Outside of that, I think Zoroark is an unbelievably underrated card, and I think that players should absolutely take note of it. While you can play around it by limiting your bench size, Choice Band provides a huge boost in additional firepower, which can give Zoroark the ability to still put out reliable 2-shots. In addition to this, I think Foul Play on Zoroark BREAK is an incredible attack that really makes the deck.
I was aggressively testing Zoroark with a ton of partners, just because I felt Foul Play was that strong. Danny doing as well as he did comes as no surprise to me, because he too recognized how good the line is. Being able to copy any opponent’s GX attack is insane, but even just copying normal attacks with the benefit of Choice Band can give you some insane trades. Zoroark can now return 1HKO a Drampa, Volcanion, Turntonator and Tapu Bulu (just to name a few), all with a Choice Band, for a single Dark energy — on a non-EX.
Sure, it’s essentially a Stage 2, but regular Zoroark BKT is more than a threat on its own, so you really have no problem manually evolving there. While this deck may lose some strength as Garbodor continues receding into a regular percentage of the meta, I still think the deck packs a serious punch and is quite versatile, thanks to the Break.
Espeon/Garbodor is the Garb deck that beats Garb decks. While Drampa/Garb may have stronger matchups outside the mirror, Espeon/Garb truly excels in all Garb mirror matches. Psybeam is an attack that is criminally underrated in value. Hitting a Drampa that has a Choice Band attached with Psybeam can singlehandedly swing an entire match. Divide-GX provides countless damage manipulation opportunities. Psychic damage really scales up quickly.
Furthermore, this deck packs a ton of disruption options in the supporter counts it plays, and because of Eevee’s Energy Evolution Ability, remains consistent all the same. This being the best performing Garbodor deck and the only one to make Top 8 really isn’t surprising; everyone gunning for Drampa/Garb really opened the door for Espeon to shine (as the counters aren’t universal and often don’t affect Espeon nearly as badly), and this is a deck that legitimately has a shot at winning almost any matchup. It’s an incredibly fun deck that’s surprisingly quite skill based, and a deck that can easily play a counter to Metagross without changing any aspect of it.
Vikavolt is the last unique deck in Top 8. This version opted not to run the GX as an alternate/main attacker, and chose simply to use Vikavolt SUM to repeatedly power up Tapu Bulu-GX for continued strikes. Both options are viable, I think, and both have their merits. Vikavolt-GX brings the deck a much larger attacker that isn’t susceptible to Metagross or most other threats. Focusing on Bulu does make the deck significantly more consistent, however.
It’s really a toss-up. I think if you expect a lot of Volcanion, going the Vikavolt-GX route may be better, as the option to easily 1HKO them still exists, but you put yourself at a much higher HP range. With Volcanion adapting for Garbodor, the two decks are at a much more comparable speed, meaning your chances of getting run over early are less likely. Similarly, running a Karen in the deck with Vikavolt-GX will all but guarantee your Vikavolt can never be killed by Vespiquen, turning that matchup into a much better one. Ultimately, either path is a good one, and the deck is a great choice.
I actually disagree with Christopher on Vikavolt being the superior Stage 2 deck, because Metagross can play off the board. Vikavolt’s energy acceleration is great, but all of the attackers are more expensive than said acceleration can handle.
By mid-game, you’ll very likely start running on fumes, and while some strong Energy recovery exists, it’s still something you need to hit at an optimal time for its greatest effect; Metagross doesn’t have this problem whatsoever. That said, Vikavolt isn’t weak to Volcanion. This deck is still a very worthwhile contender though, and one to look at.
A Flame Anew: Volcanion Reborn
Volcanion is the tried and true Fire deck of the format, and that’s not changing until it rotates. Azul’s list threw convention out the window to maximize your chance of beating Garbodor — the deck played no Max Elixir! Many assumed Volcanion could not function without such Energy acceleration, yet the slowdown of the format allowed a slower approach to even one of the fastest decks in the game.
The result is a more controlled burn, opting to bide time with baby Volcanion or utilizing an early Nitro Tank-GX as the preferred energy acceleration, and then trading comfortably through the rest of the game with any threat, thanks to Steam Up. This deck will certainly gain more attention with the arrival of Metagross, for obvious reasons. Turntanator having 190HP is also significant in a lot of ways; 180 is a fairly simple number to reach with Choice Band, but 190 is largely out of range, which isn’t something to overlook. The deck can fit in Elixir if you’re that uncomfortable with the slower speed of the deck, which will shift your matchup table a bit. Expect this deck in force.
Decidueye/Vileplume is a deck that really needs no discussion. Sure, the format has slowed down and items are played less, meaning Item lock is less powerful, but Plume is still Plume. If you go first and get T1 Plume, your opponent can still get locked out of the game, and Aaron proved that. The game is definitely moving away from this deck though, and I’m unsure if it’s still good, or if Aaron’s run was the result of hitting more favorable matchups.
Ultimately, the call for Mexico is tough for me to decide. If I were going, I’d strongly consider playing Espeon/Garbodor with a Flareon tech, simply because I think it has the most even slate of matchups and is immensely enjoyable for me to play. Whichever play you do make, know that it is still a good play, because many of the decks in the meta today are simply good. I believe that we are starting to move away from the rigid matchup based formats of the past couple of years and into a brighter game, though I know others may disagree. I love this format and am playing it constantly to figure out what that gem in the rough actually is.
That’s all I’ve got for you today! Good luck in Mexico, Origins, or at your Cups! As always, let me know what you think. Have a great day!
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