Yesterday, while looking at some other travel stuff, I was struck by a very disturbing sight: my Delta app informing me that Worlds is in a relatively short number of days! I’m still scrambling to get cards, and unfortunately my TCGO codes have been tied up in USPS-land, so I’ve been testing mostly with “older” decks to this point—your Buzzwoles, your Zoroarks, and your Gardevoirs.
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Today, I’m going to look at some Stage 2 decks that could be considerations for Worlds. I feel a bit gimmicky with an article related to a Stage, but the reality is that all of them do have some common threads based on the direction of the format, so it’s worth fitting a banner around to discuss their common viability. Of course, Isaiah took one of them last week with Magnezone/Dusk Mane, but there are still a surprising number of other contenders moving into Worlds. Let’s get into it!
We haven’t seen a truly mainstream Stage 2 deck since Gardy fell off the map after Europe’s International Championship. Arguably, my Top 4 there was on borrowed time for the deck, as the new Zoroark regime wasn’t too kind to things that evolved twice—a fairly surprising twist considering Zoroark itself evolves and on the surface doesn’t have any superpowers to shut down Stage 2s. But, as it turns out, the inherent consistency is undeniable—in fact, the last deck to do well with a Stage 2 was Zoroark, with a token Gardevoir presence.
Equally surprising was that Gardevoir fell off despite seemingly having the tailor-made Zoroark answer in Gallade BKT. In theory, it should exchange prizes favorably with Zoroark, while Zoroark has never had a great way to answer it back (even Mew-EX is a bit dicey when not being used to simply throw a Buzzwole-GX out the window). The fact that even a card as strong as Gallade BKT couldn’t keep Gardevoir relevant is probably the best indicator of Stage 2s’ issues in the recent months.
What’s changed now that I believe could shift the paradigm? For one thing, Buzzwole-GX has taken a massive dive. This is a dynamic that could change a lot between Day 1 and 2 of Worlds depending how things go, but for the moment, I do not believe Buzzwole is poised to be a big factor in Day 1 of the World Championships. Perhaps more profoundly, I don’t believe it’s a good play either. The Zoroark variants we’re seeing at the moment have finally cracked the code to beating Fighting down, and that’s a good thing for Stage 2s.
The primary brand of Zoroark we’re facing at the moment aims to exploit the rest of the format’s lack-of-exploitation of basic game rules. We’re actually in what I would consider almost a record-low for energy acceleration, with Malamar being one of the bigger examples of the genre in the game—and that suffers, conveniently, from a serious case of Zoroark allergy. Beast Ring is one of the only other types of Energy acceleration on the table, and it’s conditional, so decks have time to set up in front of it.
With Zoroark’s relatively-low damage output, anything that can beat out the control version’s ability to control has the potential to take a positive matchup. I believe a number of players, especially in Day 1, are going to overestimate their ability to succeed with Zoroark in the environment this format will create. Therefore, if I had to make it through Day 1, I’d want to be playing something with the implicit ability to overwhelm this control theory, whether that’s a Deluge-type Stage 2 or something else to be discovered. The calculus will shift a lot on Day 2 depending what makes it through, of course, but for most the concern is getting there first.
A succesful deck in Nashville will be able to deal with the control Zoroark while not having an impossible time with Garbodor. The other answer to Zoroark’s potential reign of terror over the format is shutting down Trade, and Garbotoxin is just the item for that task. As we saw in NAIC finals, Zoroark/Garbodor reigned supreme (this is despite what we’ve seen take hold of the popular play in the meta recently), and I think Garbodor as a card is effectively equipped to march into Worlds. Xander will cover a variant I think has particular promise tomorrow, but there’s no doubt in my mind that anything with Garbodor will implicitly place itself in a good spot to succeed in the new format.
Where pre-NAIC featured a triangle that many players considered to be Malamar, Buzzwole, and Zoroark, post-NAIC has evolved into a different triangle in my mind: Zoroark/Control, Garbodor, and things that can eclipse the control.
Obviously, that’s a lot simplified, as other Zoroark variants, Buzzwole, and others will all be lurking despite not fitting any of the 3 niches. Nevertheless, I believe these are the 3 major stylistic archetypes set to be successful at Worlds—and the ways to beat them. As it happens, many of the decks that can actually overwhelm the control concept are Stage 2s, which is what lands me with this article today.
At least the latter of those older-style decks I mentioned earlier, Gardevoir, is something Mike Fouchet will be talking to you about later this week. I’m going to stay away from it as a result, but I can tell you that I’m not as impressed as I’d like to be as we head into the final stages of the season. Obviously, I have a bit of history with Gardevoir on the season, and would’ve loved it to be good. Unfortunately, somehow, our Monkey overlords have managed to make life very difficult, but I’ll let Mike talk about that more.
The first deck I’m going to discuss today is entirely off-the-wall, and possibly terrible. Shall we?
The “other” Magnezone, part of the dual typing scheme we got for awhile, has some interesting potential with a certain hyped Rayquaza. I’m not sure it’s the best option for such, but it’s definitely an option, and there are some other interesting attackers to consider as well.
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 33
Energy – 12
But, Christopher, why wouldn’t we rather just play Magnezone/Dusk Mane? Mainly, the difference here is that this deck doesn’t have a board that self-implodes the second it attacks. The pitfall of Dusk Mane, or any other attacker that needs to burn itself out immediately and relies on an Ability to recharge, is that things like Garbotoxin or KO’ing the Stage 2 put you in a very difficult spot. In this situation, once your board is set up, it’s merely a matter of keeping it going, but that’s not nearly as tall a task as it is when presented with a 1-energy Pokémon and no options to rebuild.
That’s definitely not to say you’re impervious to issues. Setting up in the first place is something of a challenge, and even once you do, Rayquaza is certainly not immune to being KO’d. It still isn’t my favorite attacker in the universe, but the ability actually does offer something fairly interesting in this variant: once one Grass is in the discard, we’ll technically never be wanting for another, as the Ability allows the one copy to be recycled. Of course, that’s not a logistical certainty to work out in every situation—and the discard is ugly—but it helps smooth over some of the difficulties this concept would otherwise face.
What this variant does offer, though, is a way to deal with Sylveon-GX (and other Zoroark shenanigans) in a way that they can’t too-easily deal with: Xurkitree-GX. Sylveon fits best in DCE decks, and most DCE decks in this format are exclusively DCE. With Hex Maniac on its last days of legality anywhere—let alone the fact that it is long dead in Standard—this sort of strategy is going to emerge once again throughout the game, I believe.
I don’t believe the list has anything too egregiously worthy of explanation, but it’s definitely a work in progress. It’s possible that some craziness like Order Pad over the Octillery line and some other stuff could be better (after all, the win condition here is more “hit X combo of cards in this order” than it is even for most decks), but I’ve yet to try it out.
I suppose I should note that I’m fairly sure the lessened retreat and extra 10 HP makes Magnezone FLI better than Magnezone BKT, but it might be worth considering BKT’s better attack. I can’t think of any spots where it would critically matter offhand, but I never love a “can’t attack next turn” clause when it’s not going to KO something—and that’s pretty unlikely to be taking a KO.
Raikou BKT is mostly a floating attacker spot. It could be a 4th Rayquaza-GX, it could be a 2nd Xuriktree, or it may be worth considering something like Tapu Koko-GX. I think most games will see our GX attack consumed one way or another in a different utility, but Tapu Koko does have the ability to punish sloppy players and is a fairly high-density place to put energy. Raikou itself makes its way into the list because of its strength as a place to put energy—an opponent KO’ing it through Shining Body for a single Prize isn’t the best use of resources I’ve ever known.
A brief word on the pre-evolutions: the Ability on the Metal Magnemite is simply too good to pass up on when the others really don’t have much to offer. On the flip side, Magneton is a lot more complicated. At the moment, I’m taking the reality that we probably won’t beat Buzzwole, so the Metal typing doesn’t add anything too valuable. This leads me to the BKT copy, with the option to Paralyze.
Bottom line: It’s a bit quirky, and I’m afraid the consistency issues could come out to be a problem in the end, but conceptually I’m a fan of where this lies in the format. Of course, an important caveat exists in the form of Buzzwole—which ought to shred this—but at the moment I’m not too concerned about that. If nothing else, I hope it demonstrates the sort of thing I believe could be successful in this format.
If you told me in February that the last deck in my last article before Worlds would feature Vikavolt SUM, I’d have probably just quit the whole Top 16 thing and retired to a life of quiet obscurity. But, we’ve come to a wild world where Energy Acceleration is the key to overcoming the format’s bully, and Vikavolt is nothing if not the best form of Energy acceleration to grace the game in recent memory.
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 34
Energy – 13
The biggest issue I have with this list is the lack of space. Whether Rayquaza-GX is actually good in here or not is something I’m still somewhat unsure of, but the theoretical plan is definitely there. In theory, it’s part of that “don’t leave yourself a garbage board” theory of Stage 2 play I mentioned with Magnezone—but, Tapu Bulu is still too good of a card to not include here. Mowing through Zoroarks is still as good as it was a few months ago, if not better, and Bulu is broken in that respect.
I originally was working with a 4-0-4 Vikavolt line, but had to contract for space purposes. The 4th copy is great for both drawing into early and for getting a 2nd one on board (Do you want to see a really broken Rayquaza? That’s how to see a really broken Rayquaza). Like with Magnezone, the goal is to set up as consistently as possible, because when the deck sets up, it is hard to beat.
The advantage this has over Magnezone is that a late-game N is less impactful because it plays out of your deck rather than your hand. The added bonus of Rayquaza shows up in this element as well: in theory, a Rayquaza/Vikavolt “deck” would be very strong against the N-factor, being self-sustaining in multiple respects. In practice, I think such a concept would be too slow for our current game, so we have to strike an awkward balancing pose between Bulu and Rayquaza.
I’ve played a few games to decent success, but have admittedly not done the gauntlet I’d like to before coming to a number of conclusions. It’s early enough in the format that I’m more kid-in-candy-store than rigorously dedicated to a systematic testing method, so I don’t have a ton of games logged with any one deck, but I do think this is something potentially set to come back onto the scene. There’d be a special irony in it doing well at Worlds, too, after such a season of vitriol towards it—from myself, included, of course!
This is my last word on Worlds, and it’s a tad unfortunate that it’s so far out, but I’ll be back with the first word after the event. Hopefully everyone is able to see themselves off to an exciting next few months, whether that’s at the World Championships, the Nashville Open, or one of the starting events of next season.
Hopefully we get full information on next season from Pokémon very soon, as half-measured leaks are harmful to all involved. There are some things it seems they need to get in order, and hopefully that happens soon. As for us at SixPrizes, we’ll be back with some news on initiatives of our own for the new season soon.
As always, all the best to you.
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