Hello again everyone! The first major tournament to feature Team Up—the Oceania Intercontinental Championships—is in the books, and boy did the new set make an impact! Between the draw engine featuring Jirachi TEU, the powerful Pikachu & Zekrom-GX TAG TEAM, and the hyper-aggressive Zapdos TEU, the new metagame was shaped entirely around exciting new cards.
I want to talk about the four major decks to come out of this event. I’ll be cherrypicking lists from the event to showcase based on both performance as well as my personal opinions in terms of how I feel about the builds.
Before that, however, I’d like to analyze the overall results and draw attention to the breakout cards from the tournament.
1. Byron Isaiah Williams — Zapdos Jirachi
2. Stéphane Ivanoff — Zoroark Lycanroc Lucario
3. Kaiwen Cabbabe — Pikachu & Zekrom
4. Jose Marrero — Pikachu & Zekrom
5. Bert Wolters — Zapdos Jirachi
6. Lucas Henrique de Araujo Pereira — Pikachu & Zekrom
7. Henry Brand — Zoroark Lycanroc
8. Daniel Altavilla — Zapdos Jirachi
9. Christian Hasbani — Malamar Ultra Necrozma
10. Robin Schulz — Zapdos Jirachi
11. Azul Garcia Griego — Zapdos Jirachi
12. Rahul Reddy — Pikachu & Zekrom
13. Sam Chen — Pikachu & Zekrom
14. Karl Peters — Zapdos Jirachi
15. Jordan Palmer — Malamar Ultra Necrozma
16. Andrew Tandianus — Malamar Ultra Necrozma
17. Bastian Silva — Pikachu & Zekrom
18. Bryan de Vries — Zapdos Jirachi
19. Otavio Gouveia — Malamar Ultra Necrozma
20. Alex Silve — Malamar Ultra Necrozma
21. Darin O’Meara — Malamar
22. Pedro Eugenio Torres — Pikachu & Zekrom
23. Max Prescott — Zoroark Lycanroc
24. Preston Ellis — Zoroark Lycanroc
25. James Williams — Pikachu & Zekrom
26. Nicolas Galaz — Pikachu & Zekrom
27. Fabien Pujol — Pikachu & Zekrom
28. Joshua Sparks — Zapdos Jirachi
29. Raz Wolpe — Malamar Ultra Necrozma
30. Daniel Ross-Brown — Pikachu & Zekrom
31. Jon Eng — Zoroark Lycanroc
32. Zach Lesage — Blacephalon
33. Jarrod Taylor — Pikachu & Zekrom
34. Layton Rumble — Zapdos Jirachi
35. Mohamad Syahmi Abdul Razak — Malamar Ultra Necrozma
36. Nathan Hanns — Blacephalon
There are two major things to be drawn from these results:
First, there are only five archetypes represented in the entirety of the Day 2 field. While there is some deviation between builds, all of the decks fall under the umbrella of one of the following decks (in order of popularity):
- Pikachu & Zekrom,
- Zoroark, and
You can almost make the case that there are only four real decks in this metagame, as there were only a pair of Blacephalon decks in the second day of competition—one of them was piloted by Blacephalon expert Zach Lesage and the other finished 36th. On the other hand, we had 12 Pikachu & Zekrom decks, 9 Zapdos decks, 8 Malamar decks, and 5 Zoroark decks. While no Malamar decks did break into the Top 8, Christian Hasbani took 9th place on tie-breakers. In addition, there were a lot of copies of the deck between 9th and 21st place.
The second thing to draw from these results is just how truly impactful Team Up has been. Clearly Zapdos and Pikachu & Zekrom had whole decks built around them, but even Malamar gained a huge boost from the set. Malamar was always a strong deck, but it got even stronger with an improved engine built around the new Stellar Wish Jirachi and the new Stadium card Viridian Forest. ZoroRoc didn’t gain major improvements from the set, but Zoroark is still one of the best cards in the format and pairing it with Fighting-type attackers gives the deck pretty solid matchups across the new field.
What is also interesting is the complete drop-off of decks which had been very prominent prior to Team Up’s release:
- Lost March was hyped going into the event, and it placed zero copies in Day 2.
- Alolan Ninetales decks, such as Decidueye and Gardevoir, also saw no success. In fact, there were zero copies of Rare Candy in Day 2.
- Granbull and Buzzshrine decks have more or less had their metagame share replaced by the (likely) superior Zapdos decks.
- Even Blacephalon, the most popular deck previously, barely made a dent despite how much raw power the deck has.
I mentioned how Lost March had hype going into the event but failed to convert on it. One of the other decks that had hype but failed to show up was Venusaur & Celebi-GX. There was talk about walling behind its 270 HP while using a lot of healing effects to keep it alive. As a huge fan of Venusaur, I was hoping this card would be more successful than it was.
Jirachi TEU: I don’t think the success of this card comes as a surprise to many. Jirachi is a Basic that lets you grab a Trainer from the top 5 cards of your deck every time you use its Ability. While it comes with the downside of putting itself to Sleep, this can be negated by pairing it with switching cards (which also lets you use multiple Stellar Wish in a turn if you have multiple Jirachi). More obnoxiously, it works really well with Escape Board. Not only does the Tool reduce Jirachi’s Retreat Cost to zero, the Board’s previously near irrelevant clause about allowing retreating while Asleep is perfect with Stellar Wish‘s downside. Stellar Wish is more or less “free” if you use Guzma as your Supporter for the turn too. Jirachi is both an aggressive engine to get decks going quickly and also a great safety net against disruption. For decks that do not have access to Alolan Ninetales-GX LOT, Swampert CES, Magcargo CES, or Zoroark-GX, this is a huge welcome addition. I also feel like it weakens the popular Let Loose Marshadow.
Absol TEU: This card came out of left field, but its play is directly correlated to how popular Jirachi is. (If this is any indication, at the time of writing, Jirachi has skyrocketed to over $30 a copy, and it’s a non-GX. Let that sink in.) Absol increases the Retreat Cost of Basic Pokémon by one…this makes retreating Jirachi more difficult and offsets Escape Board. This slows down Malamar decks early, and can really disrupt Zapdos decks too. This isn’t a smothering effect, but any little hiccup over the course of a close game can change the result entirely. A lot of the new Lightning decks have available Bench space and can safely spend one on an Absol.
Electropower: This isn’t a new Team Up card, but its viability stems directly from the set’s release. A triple PlusPower is clearly absurdly powerful, but there were not any good Lightning Pokémon before. Now we have Zapdos, Pikachu & Zekrom, and I guess even Ampharos-GX. Ampharos isn’t quite good enough, but isn’t a bad card in a vacuum either. Between Electropower, Choice Band, Professor Kukui, and Shrine of Punishment, it is really easy for these Lightning decks to reach high levels of damage very quickly. All of the Zapdos & Pikachu and Zekrom decks played 4 copies of the card.
Thunder Mountain p: I don’t think it surprises anyone that a Stadium that shaves a full colored Energy cost off attacks is good. The card isn’t super necessary with the cheap attack cost of Zapdos, but reducing the cost of Pikachu & Zekrom’s Full Blitz attack is a major deal! While those were the most popular Lightning attackers, these decks also play an assortment of Tapu Koko p, Zeraora-GX, and Tapu Koko-GX as attackers that also benefit from the Stadium. The raw power of this card also pretty much demands that all other decks run counter Stadiums to prevent it from sticking.
Wondrous Labyrinth p: This is the other Prism Star Stadium seeing widespread play. It can slow down the aggressive decks early by maybe buying you a turn. It is also hilariously good against Lost March, a deck that traditionally does not run any Stadium cards. I’m not sure if Lost March just didn’t show up much or if the notable presence of this Stadium card pushed it out of Day 2, but going forward Lost March will need to have answers to this card.
Viridian Forest: Viridian Forest is obviously perfect in Malamar, but the card saw play outside of it as well, including in Zoroark/Lycanroc decks. Even when not being abused, Forest is a very stable choice for a counter Stadium in decks that may not benefit from other Stadiums but still need to counter the Prism Star Stadiums.
Four Major Decks from Oceania
1: Zapdos/Jirachi (Isaiah Williams)
1st, via Limitless
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 40
Energy – 8
I had the pleasure of playing against Byron Isaiah Williams at Roanoke Regionals (Spoiler: He bashed me.) so I was thrilled to see him take this event down. I also absolutely love his list. There are no frills, no bells and whistles, and no gimmicks. This build is extremely streamlined and aggressive, which is what I want out of a Zapdos deck like this. Rather than running additional attackers or backup plans, Williams went all-in on Zapdos.
One of the cards that really sticks out to me is Professor Kukui. With Kukui, Choice Band, Electropower, and Shrine of Punishment, this deck’s damage output can be absurd. Shrine is very strong in this deck, even though he did run a lone GX: Tapu Koko-GX. Tapu Koko is a great secondary attacker that has a bit more girth to it and a higher base damage output. On top of that, its GX attack is really potent. It is a necessary weapon against Pikachu & Zekrom-GX which is otherwise a tough KO.
The other card that kind of stands out to me is the Energy Loto. My guess on this is that it is an “Energy” that Jirachi can find, while also being a “9th” Energy that also thins the deck out as the game goes on.
Now that we’ve looked at a straightforward build of the deck, I do want to talk about a few of the variations that people played. One package paired with Zapdos is Buzzwole and Nihilego, running off of Rainbow Energy. (See Bert Wolters’ 5th place list.) These are both powerful 1-Prize attackers that have absurd burst at specific points in a game, letting you get additional “big” attacks off. Getting two KOs that don’t necessarily demand you blow through Electropowers is great.
Another popular partner for Zapdos is Jolteon-GX. (See Layton Rumble’s 34th place list.) Since Eevee’s Ability lets you evolve to Jolteon the turn you play it down, Jolteon offers a lot of pressure. Its first attack is similar to Jet Punch, letting the deck set up future KOs. Its second attack does 110 damage, and is pretty silly with Thunder Mountain. Finally, Jolteon offers a great GX attack that is similar to Moon’s Eclipse-GX out of Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX. Doing 110 damage, it prevents all effects of attack against it the turn you use it. Being able to wall off for a turn when behind is great. It’s not as good anymore since Jirachi decks are so apt at being able to Guzma or Escape Rope even. Still, it is really strong against Zapdos itself, and just a great aggressive partner.
Finally, there are weird hybrid “Lightning Good Stuff” decks I’ve seen which run some amalgamation of Zapdos TEU, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, Jolteon-GX, Zeraora-GX, and Tapu Koko-GX. (See Kaiwen Cabbebe’s 3rd place list.) All of these cards do run off a lot of the same cards, so they should overlap pretty well. I do think that I like the idea of picking and choosing a particular strategy and really running with it though. The format feels really fast and unforgiving. Those of you who have followed my performances over the years (…decades?!) know I LOVE a good setup toolbox deck favoring options over speed, but that requires an awareness of the format you are playing in. I stand by the fact that prior to 2009 that deck building rewarded being a bit more reactive as the damage output of Pokémon was not high enough for truly aggressive decks to pay off. It was the printing of Uxie LA, Broken Time-Space, Claydol GE, and the SP Pokémon that ushered in a new era of set design, and since then Pokémon has rewarded speed, consistency, and aggression. (Outside of nonsense stall decks.)
2: Pikachu & Zekrom (Jose Marrero)
3rd, via Limitless
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 34
Energy – 12
For those unaware of what this deck is trying to do, the goal of the Pikachu & Zekrom-GX decks is to either get a Turn 2 Full Blitz attack going first or a Turn 1 Full Blitz going second. Once you get one use of it off, your field snowballs hilariously with Energy and powerful attackers. Surprisingly, it isn’t that difficult to pull off the quick Full Blitz. Thunder Mountain reduces the cost of the attack by L. Tapu Koko p dumps 2 L into play, which either go directly onto the TAG TEAM or get there by way of Energy Switch or Multi Switch. Jose also runs a Rayquaza-GX (which is ironic, as I am beginning to view Rayquaza as his mascot Pokémon) which is used exclusively for its Ability to accelerate a L Energy into play to switch off.
Zeraora-GX is there both to provide Darkrai-EX DEX duty with its Ability granting free retreat and also to be a strong attacking option to power up after using Full Blitz. Tapu Koko-GX is also a good attacker that as mentioned, is really good in the mirror match. Watching the stream coverage from Oceania, I watched match after match come down to players trying to walk the line between getting their field powered up without exposing themselves to getting blown up by an opposing Koko.
I really like Jose’s Marshadow package—all of it. Marshadow-GX feels like a great counter for the mirror match and against Zoroark. I mentioned that I felt Marshadow’s Let Loose got worse, and I still feel that way, but I also really like it in this deck. Let Loose not only is a non-Supporter means to see more cards each turn when trying to chase an explosive start, but its disruption is valuable to this deck. I think everyone entering this event knew Pikachu & Zekrom would be a deck to beat and at least believed their deck had a gameplan against it. Since the deck is pretty linear in that it slams you with massive Pokémon-GX, it is counterable. Being able to have two shots at forcing the opponent to stumble is enough to win a lot of games.
3: Zoroark/Lycanroc/Lucario (Stéphane Ivanoff)
2nd, via Limitless
Pokémon – 22
Trainers – 30
Energy – 8
I skipped Stéphane’s list which took 2nd place in favor of discussing Jose’s deck first as I feel like this deck is very much reactive to the two new decks to the format. That is a little misleading, because I’m of the opinion “Zoroark decks” will always be good as long as the card is legal. I’m not of the opinion that this is a bad thing (at least in Standard) as I think the card is powerful and very skill-testing without breaking anything. Anyway, Zoroark benefits from being a good attacker against Zapdos decks, and solid against Malamar. It’s a bit anemic against Pikachu & Zekrom, but that is where Stéphane’s supporting Pokémon come in.
Lycanroc has long been a partner of Zoroark, as it offers a big-damage GX attack against decks which are tough to grind out, and its Bloodthirsty Eyes Ability is extremely aggressive. Now more than ever, having a Fighting-type attack is lucrative as it lets you pick on Pikachu & Zekrom-GX and Jolteon-GX too. What is really interesting is that Stéphane felt that Lycanroc wasn’t enough to beat these Fighting-weak decks on its own and ran a 2-2 Lucario-GX line as well. This card is more or less lights-out against Pikachu & Zekrom, and is pretty nice against Zapdos as well with Diancie p in play. (We’ll all pretend for a moment that the Diancie isn’t immediately eating a Guzma KO the turn after it is played.)
While none of the Pokémon (besides Absol!) featured in this deck are from Team Up, the deck did get a bit of help in the Trainer department. Viridian Forest lets the deck more reliably find its F Energy which is something I love. I always felt like the biggest setback I faced when playing Zoroark decks was missing Energy drops since so many lists ran extra greedy on their counts. Having a few more means to find them is nice. Forest also accelerates the rate at which Zoroark decks thin their decks out. Being able to discard useless cards thins the deck out for mid- and late-game draws. Also related to finding Energy is another card I am extremely happy to see in this deck: Mallow. I know a lot of people do not run this card anymore in Zoroark builds, but having a way to draw into your DCEs is important.
Pokémon Communication is a reprint that had seen heavy play previously and had a lot of hype when it got spoiled for Team Up. Unfortunately, compared to when it initially saw play, decks simply run a lot fewer Pokémon now. This means most decks don’t have a Pokémon density necessary to make this card better than alternatives. Zoroark, on the other hand, runs plenty of Pokémon. A general rule for Pokémon Communication is that any deck that ran enough Pokémon to make Great Ball good can upgrade those to Communication. Mainly this meant Zoroark decks and Lost March. I don’t think Poké Comm is a major upgrade or anything, but it does smooth the deck out a bit more.
Aside on Muk
I also want to talk about Alolan Muk SUM. This card absolutely excels in this deck. Turning off Leles, Marshadows (and the GX which is huge for Zoroark!), and now Jirachi really cripples a lot of decks’ engines. Most decks rely on their own Basics for draw power and consistency, but Zoroark subsists off of Trade once set up, so it is well positioned to leverage Muk. Also on the list of victims to Muk: Zeraora-GX, Tapu Koko p, opposing Dittos, Oranguru, and more.
4: Malamar/Ultra Necrozma (Christian Hasbani)
9th, via Limitless
Finally, we have Malamar decks. I wrote an entire article on Malamar last time so I am not going to go into too much depth for the archetype this time. While Darin O’Meara did pilot a straight Psychic Malamar deck to a Day 2 finish, the other seven Malamar decks all used Ultra Necrozma-GX as its big-cannon attacker. Here is the list used by 9th place finisher Christian Hasbani:
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 33
Energy – 11
The only really unusual inclusion here is the Acerola, which I think is awesome. Against any deck which struggles to 1HKO it, Acerola is a huge blowout. As in mirror matches, players will try and set up damage on Benched Malamars to be able to use Sky-Scorching Light-GX for a sweep. Acerola “rescuing” a liability can swing a game in the mirror match.
League Cups w/ Malamar
On the topic of Malamar, since the last article I wrote I played in a pair of League Cups with the deck. The first event was a Cup in Findlay, Ohio. I only had one finish for Quarter Two, and there were two Cups I could hit up to try and secure a second one. For these Cups, Team Up was NOT legal yet. I played my Spell Tag Malamar list, going 3-0-2 in Swiss and finally losing in the finals to Blacephalon when I played one total Supporter over both games despite the matchup being quite favorable.
As a result I didn’t bother to go to the Sandusky, Ohio League Cup the next day. I did go to the Quarter Three League Cup at Full Grip Games in Akron, Ohio the weekend after and played an updated version of my Spell Tag Malamar deck. This is the 60 cards I registered:
Spell Tag Malamar (Updated) (Chris Fulop)
Pokémon – 16
Energy – 11
I end up going 3-0-2 in Swiss and lost in the T4 to a Zapdos/Jolteon deck due to a combination of my poor draws and my equally poor play. This brings me up to 294 Championship Points for the season. With a little bit of luck I am on track to being able to secure an invite if I catch a few breaks at Regionals or NAIC.
I will be attending Collinsville Regionals this weekend and—surprise!—I will be playing a Malamar deck of some variety. We’ll see what 60 I end up settling on now that we have established “decks to beat.”
Until next time!
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