Thankfully, we’re finally starting to see the format settle in and define itself. I’m really excited to start analyzing the results from Regionals. This is right around the time in the season that I like to hone in on a few decks that I’m favoring for Internationals. I’ve been slacking as far as testing goes this year, so I’m planning to really ramp things up in the next few weeks. It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve started streaming so I’ll force myself to practice that way!
For today, I want to discuss the 3 decks I’ve brought to League Cups and why I did or didn’t see success with them. At the end, I want to talk about the PRC–GRI format and why I don’t think it’s incredibly healthy (though I’d love to be proven wrong). Let’s get started.
For my first League Cup, I piloted the Darkrai/Dragonair list that Travis Nunlist featured in his article last week. Quite honestly, I had absolutely no idea what to play even 12 hours before the tournament started. I wasn’t going to play Drampa/Garbodor, Vespiquen seemed too easy to counter, and very few other decks had any results to speak of at this point.
It was actually the night before Madison Regionals that I was deliberating about my deck choice, and Christopher Schemanske told me that his top choices were Darkrai/Dragonair and Metagross-GX. Thankfully, he chose not to play Darkrai but I thought it would be a fun pick and potentially strong. Unfortunately, I decided to cut the Dragonite ROS, which Christopher reported as a good way to 1HKO Garbodor (for 2 Prizes nonetheless), from the list.
At this League Cup, almost no deck in the room could match the speed and strength that unlimited energy attachment provides. 4 of the 6 rounds I had to play were against Zoroark/Drampa decks, which I found to be a relatively harmless matchup. Giratina’s Chaos Wheel can take easy 1HKOs and force them to dig for basic Dark. If you clear energy off of the board in the right order, you can stop them from attacking for a turn here and there. At this point, you’ve almost always just won the game. Even if you can’t get a ton of mileage out of Chaos Wheel, Darkrai’s consistent damage is too much for them to deal with if you can manage your bench properly.
Otherwise, many matchups for Darkrai/Dragonair are incredibly lopsided. It plays next to no Item cards, and only truly relies on using 1-2 per game. Garbodor also has to hit through Darkrai’s resistance, making it a relatively useless attacker. Once they bench an EX/GX or two, you essentially win. Giratina easily dispatches Vespiquen once you set up. Dark Pulse trades very well against most EX/GX decks, even things with high HP like Metagross-GX’s 250!
Even though I won the first Cup with ease, there were 2 reasons why I decided to table Darkrai/Dragonair for the rest of my League Cups. The threat of Pokémon Ranger was pretty intimidating to me, even though it was unlikely to see widespread play. Some Metagross lists featured it in Madison, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it if Glaceon-EX picked up steam in a deck like Israel Sosa’s Water Toolbox. Also, Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu was picking up in popularity, and I thought that would be a bad matchup. I haven’t actually tested it, but Vikavolt’s ability to 1HKO Darkrai with a Choice Band should give them the edge.
If I were to play this deck again, there are a lot of things that could fit well into the list. Tech Pokémon like Sudowoodo GRI and Giratina XY184 could help against Sky Field decks and Greninja respectively. Hex Maniac would probably be enough to beat Vikavolt decks, and also potentially Metagross (if you don’t get enough energy on the board). If I were to play a tech Supporter like Hex Maniac, I think I’d fit a few VS Seeker in the list over the 4th Lysandre and maybe the 4th Ultra Ball. Another tech supporter like Wally could be played instead of Skyla or Hex Maniac to keep up with a speedy start from decks like Volcanion or Vespiquen.
In the first episode of the new SixPrizes podcast, Christopher and I went over some of the decks that were popular in Madison. One of those was the Decidueye/Ninetales deck that Aaron Tarbell finished in Top 8 with. The more we talked about the deck’s matchups and traits, the more interested I was in testing the deck out.
I haven’t seen Aaron’s list yet but here’s the one I brought to a League Cup this past Saturday:
Pokémon – 24
1 Alolan Ninetales-GX
Trainers – 29
Energy – 7
Alolan Vulpix is incredibly good in this deck. Being able to search out any 2 Pokémon actually gives you a lot more freedom to get the T1 Vileplume in games where you otherwise don’t have enough of a setup to deal with turning off your own Items. Unfortunately, you often have to waste an Energy card to retreat an active Pokémon into Vulpix, and Decidueye doesn’t play enough to feel comfortable with wasting them.
I only played the copy of Alolan Ninetales-GX because I was already playing the Vulpix, and I’m not incredibly sure it’s worth the spot in the deck moving forward. You don’t really want the Vulpix to stick around for too long as your Bench space gets very limited. 50 snipe per turn is nice, and would have been incredibly useful last format when you could easily trap Hoopa-EX in the Active Spot, then never let it leave. However, more and more decks are playing cards like Altar of the Moone or Olympia (easily grabbed by Tapu Lele) so it’s hard to justify sniping 50 to the bench over another attack like Energy Drive from Tapu Lele.
I’ve seen lists cutting Trainers’ Mail entirely, and I completely disagree with this idea. This deck is very weak without the option to get out T1/2 Vileplume. Honestly, you’re probably better not even running the Vileplume line if you aren’t going to commit to getting the T1 Forest to set it up. While it may be helpful to not rely on Items as much, your Garbodor matchup is fine even with them.
At the League Cup that I piloted this list, I finished with an embarrassing 1-4 record. The format was Best of 1 Swiss and I got pretty unlucky in my first 3 games. These rounds can be summed up by saying I prized 2 Dartrix, then 2 Rowlet, then dead-drew. I was still in a position to potentially win all 3 of these games with a bit of luck, but it wasn’t on my side. In the final round, I lost to a T2 Alolan Ninetales-GX that I never had the right tools to dispatch. Ice Path-GX is incredibly difficult to deal with, much harder than Damage Change from Mewtwo ever was.
Moving forward, I still think Decidueye is strong in this metagame. It solidly beats some of the top decks like Vespiquen and Zoroark, and always has a chance against any deck. T1 Vileplume is the same beast it was last format. There are also less counters prevalent in the metagame (goodbye Wobbuffet!) so it’s poised for success.
Decidueye will be one of the decks I focus on as we head into Nationals. I’ll be starting the bulk of my testing with the list that Brad Curcio and Azul Griego played in Mexico. They included some interesting options in Tapu Koko and Drampa-GX that allow you to complement your normal aggro style with some control and some more dedicated spread. I’m all about having options in my decks, so I’m excited to see if this build can hold up to the rest of the format.
For my final League Cup, I picked up a Raichu list from my friend Sam Chen. He played it in Mexico, losing the final round of Swiss to miss cut with a 5-2-2 record. Sam asked me to keep the list private, so unfortunately I won’t be able to share it today. Instead, I would suggest trying to create your own list! You could start with Xander’s Raichu/Salazzle list if you’re unfamiliar with how to craft a base Raichu deck. Additionally, Pablo Meza profiled the deck on a recent episode of Tablemon, and it’s a pretty close starting point.
I think Raichu has a lot of potential to do well in the current format. Circle Circuit has the potential to deal with almost every threat in the format. Almost anything you can’t reliably 1HKO with Raichu is handily dealt with by 2HKOs from Lycanroc (with more staying power than Raichu’s 90 HP). You even have a big 1HKO option with Lycanroc’s Dangerous Rogue-GX in combination with Choice Band and Strong Energy.
In my League Cup, I beat a Darkrai, Decidueye (was a fluke win but doable if you keep the pressure up with constant gust from Lycanroc), Metagross (2×), Volcanion, Drampa/Garbodor, and Gyarados. My only loss came at the hands of a Sylveon deck, a matchup I think is winnable with Kukui and Choice Band, but I got unlucky in the middle of the game. Everything else I played against felt like a good matchup, leaving me with the impression that Raichu should be able to hang with the rest of the format. It’s not getting a ton of attention now, but I think it’s worth putting some time into testing.
Vespiquen: Still the Queen
One last deck I want to mention is Vespiquen, one of my favorites from this year. I’ve played it at multiple events and enjoyed it every time. Surprisingly, the deck has a relatively high skill cap, even though you’re usually just haphazardly throwing your Pokémon into the discard pile. It’s deceptively hard to perfectly sequence your actions to maximize either your damage output or your likeliness to draw into the key DCE.
After taking 2nd place in Seattle, I was sure Vespiquen was essentially dead. Oricorio was too easy to throw into most decks, and Rescue Stretcher lets you reuse it or find it with ease. So imagine my surprise when two Vespiquen end up in Top 8 in Madison, just one week later. Now the deck had fully proven itself as one of the top contenders and there was no way it could continue to do well. But then my friend Rahul Reddy made Top 8 in Mexico with Vespiquen this past weekend! At first glance, you might just assume that Mexico was behind the curve on the metagame and didn’t tech for it at all. However, Rahul played at least 6-of his 14 rounds against decks that included Oricorio, even winning many of them.
I asked Rahul a bit about how he deals with Oricorio and it seems that the strategy is to focus on Zoroark for the early game. If you put on enough pressure early, you can just clean up with Vespiquen later in the game. Choice Band helps hit key numbers and lets you keep your Pokémon count relatively low. As long as you’re careful about when you play Combee down, you can stop them from taking 2 Prizes with one Oricorio. A 2nd copy of Forest of Giant Plants can help to deal with this situation where you have to evolve to another Vespiquen.
Rahul also mentioned that he doesn’t really think that counters to Vespiquen are good enough to deal with the strength of the deck. Zoroark and Tapu Lele give you ways to deal damage even when a Karen or Oricorio threatens your Vespiquen. High HP Pokémon like Metagross are either done in by their Weakness (with Flareon and Vaporeon there to help out) or their lack of speed.
As far as decks that can/do beat Vespiquen, the 3 I can think of that do it consistently are Decidueye, Darkrai/Giratina, and Espeon/Garbodor. The Zoroark/Drampa deck that Danny Altavilla has been playing also has a shot at it, but that matchup is closer to 50/50 than favorable. Almost everything else in the format struggles with the Bees, and it shows through tournament results.
Moving forward, make sure you’re prepared to play against Vespiquen at Origins, League Cups, and Internationals. Don’t just assume that Oricorio is a magical answer; you’ll have to pair it with something else and plan out ways to score 2+ prizes with it!
Thoughts on the Format
I’ve been having some conversations with other players about the health of this format. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of it, even compared to the rest of the formats we’ve had this year. The matchups between most top tier decks seem very one-sided and polar, either due to decks countering each others’ strengths or easy to splash techs like Vaporeon/Flareon or Karen/Oricorio.
Essentially, my concerns about the PRC–GRI format can be summed up by saying that most games feel decided before you even pull out your deck. In past formats, there were usually a handful of decks that went 50/50 or so on the format, giving you a chance to win almost any game you played. This year, we’ve seen Yveltal and Decidueye fill that role at different times. Currently, I’m not sure that deck exists.
While it’s not necessarily a bad thing that you have to worry a lot more about your deck choice than ever before, I don’t particularly care for these kinds of formats. I’d prefer games and tournaments to be decided based on player skill at the table. Instead, it feels like TOM (the tournament organizer software) decides a lot with pairings.
Of course, my argument is somewhat flawed as we see some of the game’s best players consistently making Top 8 and better at these events. Every Regional Championship has included at least 2 of the Top 16 in the Top 8 cut, and many other top players keep doing well. So there must be some element of skill in the game past just your deck choice, right?
What do you think? Is the format better than it has been for the rest of this year, or worse? Is Standard skill based, or does it boil down to matchups and luck? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear your thoughts!
That’s all for today! I’m excited to start really grinding out some games in this format. Internationals is only 2 weeks away, and I’m getting a bit nervous as I feel behind the curve for my testing. Hopefully you all aren’t in the same boat I am.
Good luck to everyone competing this weekend at League Cups or Special Events at Origins and in Mexico! Hopefully you can lock up those final Championship Points.
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