Hey all! I hope you have been enjoying your summer, whether you have to work or actually have had a nice extended break! My summer is coming to an end very soon—work starts back up again in just a few days for me. I have been trying to cram as much testing into my time off as possible and feel like I have a pretty solid understanding of the format heading into Worlds. I’ll be looking to move from Day 1 to Day 2 for the fourth time in as many years, so I am feeling the pressure to do well again! Today I am going to give you some insight into how my testing has been going and highlight a few of the lists I have found to be interesting and/or successful.
The Expected Metagame and Early Thoughts
First, let’s discuss the premises that most of my thinking has stemmed from: Zoroark/Magcargo, Zoroark/Garbodor, Buzzwole/Lycanroc, and Rayquaza decks will make up the majority of the field at Worlds. These four decks are very powerful and can beat almost any deck, even if the specific matchup isn’t the best. Before and at NAIC, Malamar decks were among the top performing decks, but I suspect they will take a sharp dip in play at Worlds. This is for a couple reasons: first, they take a very weak matchup against all the Zoroark decks and even more so against the two listed above. Second, Malamar variants tended to be popular amongst non-top level players, of which less are participating in the World Championships. Finally, Malamar does not even boast great matchups against the remaining two decks, BuzzRoc and Rayquaza. This is not to say that Malamar will be absent completely from Worlds, but it will certainly be less of a factor than in the less few months.
Testing so far has solidified my initial thoughts that these four decks will be the most powerful and popular. Zoroark/Magcargo is insanely broken—the ability to fetch any card from the deck every single turn should not be underestimated. Many of my ideas have failed because they did not take into account how easy ZoroCargo can fetch its counter play to a whole host of strategies—but more on this later. ZoroCargo’s biggest weakness in a tournament is simply the amount of time it takes to complete some games. Players bringing this to Worlds should be prepared to play fast and be ready to only finish one game in many series, especially in Zoroark mirror matches.
Zoroark/Garbodor remains a strong choice because it has one of the most even matchup spreads in the format and has two strong win conditions: be a Zoroark deck or be a Garbodor deck. The early aggression and consistency from Zoroark is often enough to win a game, but when it is not, Garbotoxin + N can steal a game from near defeat. Trashalanche provides a method to reach 1HKOs that other Zoroark decks can only dream of. Stephane’s victory has provided many players a consistent and appealing blueprint for a list, which I think the archetype was missing despite its continued existence for the last six months. I think the debate between Bursting Balloon or not is finally over, thank goodness —I was sick of telling people not to play a bad card in their deck. My current list of this is simply Stephane’s with Psychic Energy over the Unit Energy due to the importance of Enhanced Hammer in Zoroark mirrors and I dropped the Kartana-GX for an Oranguru UPR, also of importance in Zoroark mirrors.
Buzzwole/Lycanroc remains as inherently powerful as always. With the inclusion of one or two Field Blower, the deck can patch up some of the strategies that have been formulated to counter it. Other than that, BuzzRoc has not and will likely not change at all heading into Worlds. Its inconsistency is the major factor holding it back from completely dominating, as its matchups against the other three top decks are all positive in theory. Baby Buzzwole and Lycanroc-GX are annoying as ever for Zoroark, Rayquaza, Garbodor, Gardevoir, and many of the other ideas I have been testing out.
Rayquaza is the new kid on the block and the jury is still out on how good it is. Many players have conflicting opinions on the deck—some say it is amazing and some say it sucks. I fall somewhere in the middle—I think it is pretty good. Regardless of your opinion on the deck, you should still expect to play against it at Worlds. There will be enough players that think it is strong and is their best chance at making Day 2, as it is a pretty straight forward deck to play and will not be prone to tying. This is also the deck with the most disagreement on what variant is optimal: straight Rayquaza or Rayquaza/Garbodor seem to be the frontrunners. I have really liked the Garbodor variant. In particular, Rukan Shao’s version with three Red Card has shown the most promise, capitalizing on the pressure Rayquaza puts on decks along with Garbotoxin and a small hand size to potentially lock them out of the game. Zoroark decks really struggle to respond under Ability lock and getting their hand shuffled into their deck.
My thinking has boiled down to this: any deck I play has to boast even or better matchups against these decks, otherwise I should just play one of these decks.
Some of the types of decks I have messed around with include Garbodor decks, spread variants, Banette decks, Gardevoir decks, and more. Nothing has popped up that can take on all four of the above decks with any consistency.
Spread in particular has been interesting to explore, as I was so sure that some type of Shrine of Punishment deck could succeed in this format. However, after testing a few, I am pretty convinced on the exact opposite. The primary reason for this is Zoroark/Magcargo. Even with just one Acerola and one Max Potion in their deck, they can find them whenever they need them. After three Zoroarks have some damage on them (let’s say 60 or more, as that threatens Espeon-EX’s Miraculous Shine), the ZoroCargo deck can simply Acerola the active, Max Potion the bench, Puzzle of Time for these two back, and use Max Potion again on the third Zoroark. This negates two to four turns of work by the opposing deck and they still have the Acerola in hand, two more Puzzles, and Oranguru if they really need more later on! This is not a farfetched scenario, either, as we have to remember that ZoroCargo can get any card it wants every single turn. Spread decks do not put enough pressure on the ZoroCargo deck to force them to find other things, so they can simply search for the healing cards and Puzzles. Some of the spread variants I have tried include Decidueye, Garbodor spread, Yveltal with Shrine, and Banette spread. Below is the last Decidueye list that I tried before shelving it to try some other things. This may still have potential, but its difficult ZoroCargo and ZoroGarb matchups have me too concerned to keep testing it right now.
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 31
Energy – 9
A few notes on the list: I went for a Brigette-less version, as you just want a couple Rowletts and whatever your preferred attacker is in a matchup. Since you need Sylveon against Rayquaza, Nest Ball seemed a bit better since you cannot Brigette for it and other things. It also allows you to play a different Supporter on the first turn, further digging for the necessary Energy. The Buzzwole are there for Zoroark, as the devolution strategy did not work due to the aforementioned healing scenario that would occur. This deck does boast a positive Buzzwole matchup: Latios hits hard on Buzzwoles, Decidueye can 1HKO Lycanroc, and we can skip Sledgehammer (and sometimes Beast Ring!) turns pretty easily. Unfortunately, I think this deck is trying to do a bit too much to be consistently successful.
Gardevoir has become synonymous with my name this season, so I would be remiss not to discuss it a bit, especially as many players’ opinion on the deck seems optimistic. With the release of Rayquaza-GX and the success of Zoroark Control at NAIC, now rebranded as ZoroCargo, it would seem that Gardevoir should be in a good spot. I, too, had this thought and early testing was promising. However, as we became better at using ZoroCargo and Rayquaza lists became more refined, Gardevoir started winning less and less. It seems like a fine play all else withstanding, but I will be trying my hardest to find something else.
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 32
Energy – 11
This list is quite similar to the one I posted in my last article and the one I played at NAIC, just a bit more streamlined and built for consistency. Two Field Blower become necessary with Garbodor having more relevance and Weakness Policy in ZoroCargo. We cut down on the BuzzRoc techs a bit to make the deck just more consistent in setting up. The extra Kirlia and Mysterious Treasure go a long way in getting out multiple Stage 2’s more consistently. That said, this is still a Stage 2 deck and it is far from the most consistent deck in the format. Zoroark and Rayquaza are able to capitalize on this and turn on-paper unfavorable matchups for them into more wins than you would expect.
I would like to note the strength of Parallel City in the deck, as many people have asked if it is cuttable to make room for other things. Parallel City in a deck that can create a threat that can take multiple 1HKOs is very powerful, as it limits your opponent’s options of responding to a big Gardevoir. Further, it is the best card against Zoroark decks after the first Gallade: what I mean by this is that the best cards in the Zoroark matchup are 1) the first copy of Gallade, 2) the first copy of Parallel City, 3) the second copy of Parallel City, 4) the second copy of Gallade. If a Zoroark with no Choice Band hits into a Gardevoir under a Parallel it is impossible for a Zoroark to take a 2HKO on that Gardevoir, which comes up more often than you might expect.
Gardevoir’s inconsistencies and more even matchups than expected has led me to explore some other variants of the deck, like Gallade/Octillery. I haven’t done a ton of testing with this since Celestial Storm has come out, but I did test this a fair amount before NAIC. My main reservation for the deck back then was its abysmal Malamar matchup, but with Malamar taking a backseat, this could have some merit going forward. We even saw the deck Top 8 the special event in Valencia the week following NAIC. The following list is far from refined, but it demonstrates the idea.
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 36
Energy – 6
This takes the same consistent engine with Mysterious Treasure and is further enhanced by the Premonition + Abyssal Hand combination. Once going, the deck is pretty self-sustaining. Parallel City tends to hurt this deck much more than regular Gardevoir since you want Octillery, multiple Gallade, and sometimes Diancie. It is worth it to note that I omitted Regirock-EX from this list for a couple reasons: hitting 190 is less important with Ultra Necrozma seeing less play and BuzzRoc only playing a single Buzzwole-GX. Having the two-prize Pokémon is often a liability even in the matchups where it helps the math. Professor Kukui gives us the ability to hit 200 if we need to, which is useful against Lycanroc-GX as well. The Gardevoir and Fairy Energy are additions to help the Rayquaza matchup as well as just give the deck a bit more flexibility in its game plan. The recovery options—a split of Super Rod, Rescue Stretcher, and Special Charge—and the Supporter line are the things I am least certain about.
A final way to approach Gardevoir that I have discussed with some people is Zoroark/Gardevoir. I don’t feel the need to post a list here, as the deck has remarkably remained mostly unchanged from Tord’s list from Oceania Internationals. The deck has not gained any new cards of high value in the last couple sets—simply the metagame has come to a place where it could be a viable contender. It boasts a positive matchup against other Zoroark decks and is a bit more consistent than regular Gardevoir, but it takes a weaker BuzzRoc matchup. Its Rayquaza/Garbodor matchup is also a bit weaker than regular Gardevoir as you play less draw supporters and are more susceptible to Garbotoxin + N in the late game. I played some of this version but am not too high on it anymore for these reasons.
Conclusion and Strategies for Worlds
Many people have been asking me what my top picks are for Worlds. At this point, I think that question does not matter very much. We still have three weeks until the event, which is an eternity in my eyes. There are still lots of nooks and crannies to explore in this format. We have the largest cardpool of the entire season, so despite there being extremely powerful decks that will dominate the scene, there are plenty of other combinations worth exploring before the big event. If I had to play Worlds tomorrow, I would play Zoroark/Magcargo or Zoroark/Garbodor, as I feel like those give me the best shot at winning the most varied amounts of games and give me plenty of room to outplay my opponents.
Before I leave, I want to highlight three different ways you could choose your deck for Worlds (and any event, for that matter). There are likely more, but these are the different strategies I have found success with the last three years:
- Use a Tier 2ish deck that you like/are comfortable with. In 2015 I played Night March, which I had been playing on and off all season. This was before Puzzle of Time came out and Night March became a tier one deck. We saw Seismitoad/Garbodor win US Nationals that year, so Night March was a bit risky, but I felt comfortable in playing, enjoyed playing it, and thought it was a good enough meta call that I pulled the trigger. The deck ended up performing quite well that year at Worlds, so it ended up being a good choice.
- Create a rogue deck that beats the meta decks. In 2016 I played the Vespiquen/Yveltal/Octillery that Ross Cawthon ended up making Top 4 with. Ross had come up with the idea of the deck and my teammates and I helped test it. This deck beat Night March quite consistently, had a good Waterbox matchup, and had a high enough overall power level that it could compete with lots of different decks. We saw lots of rogue decks do well in 2016, with Mega Audino winning, Sam Hough’s Vileplume Toolbox doing well, and Ross making Top 4 with the same deck, so this strategy seemed to be the correct one this year as well.
- Play the best deck. In 2017 I played Gardevoir-GX. Going into this tournament many players were split on how impactful Gardevoir would be in the tournament, but it was clear from our testing it was just the strongest deck. It boasted a positive Drampa/Garbodor matchup and could compete even with its weak matchups, like Vespiquen and Decidueye/Ninetales. Of course, Gardevoir ended up winning the event and taking another Top 8 spot, so yet again this seemed to be a good strategy for this tournament.
Perhaps I was lucky that I picked the correct strategy each year, but I like to think it’s a bit more than that. By testing lots of different decks you should be able to see the bigger picture of the meta and how things might shake out based on what others’ thoughts are. This can lead to not only picking the correct deck, but the correct “type” of deck for a tournament. The last thing to note when picking a deck for Day 1 Worlds is how many rounds we will have. A tournament with eight or nine rounds this year may necessitate a different type of deck than last year where you only had to win four out of six rounds. A deck like Gardevoir was a bit stronger of a play in that format, as there are less rounds for the deck’s inconsistency to catch up to you.
Good luck to everyone playing in Worlds! If you are not, I hope you enjoy the coverage even if the format is inapplicable to you. I’ll be back some time after Worlds with another article and more podcast episodes.
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