Hey everyone, and welcome back to another article! This time around, it’s my 50th one! I want to thank all of you for supporting me, talking to me at tournaments, and simply reading articles when they come out. It’s been a long journey since my debut a few years back, and I’m glad to still be here years later.
This past weekend, we saw a variety of decks storm Collinsville and Cannes. Stall/Mill decks have found a new partner in Vileplume BUS, a card designed to counter the Basic–focused meta we’re in at the moment. Team Up introduced Zapdos and Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, which are the two main targets Vileplume hopes to capitalize on. These two cards were most popular at Oceania Internationals last weekend, so it’s no surprise that their popularity carried over into the second weekend of Team Up’s legality.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you like Standard) we’re mostly past the realm of SUM–TEU Standard. The next North American Regionals are Toronto and Greensboro—both are Expanded. This Standard format was incredibly short-lived on the major stages, but League Cups will continue to be relevant, especially those in the near future that are directly influenced by these past results.
In today’s article, my goal is to take a look at what happened this past weekend, summarizing and analyzing different decks that succeeded, and ultimately leave you with a few first words on Expanded (BLW–TEU). Greensboro will be my first tournament since Dallas, so I’m excited to prepare and optimize a deck in a relatively unexplored format.
Zach Lesage won the tournament with his tried-and-true Blacephalon-GX/Naganadel deck that he has played at almost every tournament since its release. This came as a surprise to most players, including myself, as there was little reason to believe that the deck could compete with Zapdos. For an incredibly linear deck like Blowns, the 2-shot nature of Zapdos/Jirachi should be overpowering due to its extra consistency and capability to attack immediately. However, Zach’s list contained a 1-1 Alolan Muk line, which is something I’ll touch on in a bit.
Surrounding the success of Blacephalon-GX/Naganadel was Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX/Lucario-GX. Basically, this deck took the Zoroark-GX core and surrounded it with the best Fighting Pokémon possible. Lycanroc-GX continues to offer Bloodthirsty Eyes, and Lucario-GX is useful in 1HKOing Pikachu & Zekrom-GX. Like Blowns, and basically every non-Jirachi TEU deck, it includes a 1-1 Alolan Muk line.
One surprising deck that made an appearance was Peter Kica’s Lucario-GX/Buzzwole-GX deck. It capitalized on the heavy aggression that most Fighting decks can employ. Not only does it have a great matchup against Zoroark-GX (for obvious reasons), it can compete against Electric variants by looping Lucario-GX’s Aura Strike with Acerola. Jirachi TEU gives all Acerola decks a Pokémon to go into, essentially boosting the consistency of any loops. This is a slight buff that may have pushed this deck over the edge, alongside the meta shift.
A major pitfall of Peter’s deck is its inability to deal with Malamar or Blacephalon-GX/Naganadel. However, these are the calculated risks that anyone must take when choosing a deck for a tournament. People knew Malamar would be popular, but having a field of good matchups with one bad is usually the BDIF. It takes luck to win a tournament, and Peter’s luck ran out in Top 8.
Note: I’m personally a player that enjoys picking decks that match up relatively evenly across the entire field. To this effect, I’ve mainly played Zoroark-GX in both formats this year. However, my success this season hasn’t been as high as in prior years. My big tournament runs are those in which I chose an off-meta pick and took it far: Mega Gardevoir-EX STS, Espeon-GX/Garbodor, and most recently Zoroark-GX/Banette-GX. I’m unsure which strategy is best, as the former nets me consistent finishes, while the latter results in hit-or-miss runs.
The reason why Lucario/Buzzwole can’t handle Blowns or Malamar is because both can easily take 1HKOs, circumventing the entire Acerola strategy. Naganadel can 1HKO Buzzwole-GX and Lucario-GX with a Choice Band because of Weakness, so there’s a negative Prize trade there. On top of this, there’s always the hump of KOing a clean Blacephalon-GX.
The last piece of the format I’ve yet to talk about is Malamar, specifically Ultra Necrozma-GX/Malamar, which makes up the last piece of Collinsville’s T8. I’d consider Malamar as “Ol’ Faithful” because it’s remained strong since the start of the year. Ultra Necrozma-GX has become the variant of choice because it can easily take 1HKOs against all bulky GX and TAG TEAM Pokémon. Giratina LOT equalized mono-Psychic and Ultra Necrozma because there’s only one spot required for a single-Prize attacker. In the past, multiple copies of Deoxys CES were required.
Alolan Muk’s Polarizing Effect
Alolan Muk SUM was regarded as a terrible card upon its release, but has since become a staple in countering Jirachi TEU and Ditto p. A major component of its initial toss-aside is that Garbodor BKP was still in format, which meant that most Ability-locking decks would prefer to use that instead (and have Trashalanche as an option, too). Also, there weren’t many strong Basic Pokémon with Abilities at the time. This trend has since been abandoned as we’ve seen Basic Pokémon like Sudowoodo GRI and Jirachi TEU define a format.
In today’s format, Alolan Muk is necessary for decks to stand a chance against Zapdos/Jirachi. We saw Isaiah Williams’ success with the deck in Oceania in a slightly saturated format. I believe more decks picked up Alolan Muk from that weekend to this one, but Electric.dec continues to succeed regardless.
Decks have begun to choose a side: Alolan Muk or Basic Abilities. It’s interesting to see that almost every successful deck (aside from Stall) is on one side, and that there are very few decks that can compete while being neither. Malamar is the only example, but even then I’d characterize it as a Basic Ability deck because of Giratina LOT and the occasional Jirachi TEU.
Standard Moving Forward
Adapting to Stall Decks
As I briefly touched on earlier, Stall/Mill decks have adapted to the new format with Vileplume BUS. However, that’s not to say that non-Stall decks can’t adapt as well. Jolteon-GX is the main idea that comes to mind for Electric decks. While it looks like a mediocre card, it actually has plenty of tools that allow it to excel in Zapdos/Jirachi decks. Its first attack, Electrobullet, does 30 damage with a 30 damage snipe—the same as Jet Punch. This is important for setting up key KOs with Zapdos’ Thunderous Assault, which hits for an awkward 80 damage.
Most importantly, Jolteon-GX is a counter to Vileplume BUS. With a good enough start, Electric.dec can set up a Jolteon-GX to KO each Vileplume. You want to attach an Energy to it every turn because Plumeria is expected. You’ll also want to have an Electropower to 1HKO Vileplume if it’s undamaged. Regardless, Electrobullet can preemptively tag it for 30 damage.
Oranguru UPR may be worth adding into decks like Zoroark-GX or Zapdos. Stall has continued to gain popularity—as well as improved its position in the meta—so continue to expect it at any upcoming local tournaments. If I was taking Zapdos to a League Cup, I’d run at least a 1-1 Jolteon-GX line, but likely a 2-1 line.
Eevee SUM is a great starter because of Volkner. You can search for an Electric Energy and an Electropower, guaranteeing a T1 60-30 attack. This is enough to KO most Basics while also softening a GX or other Pokémon for Zapdos. If your Jolteon-GX survives, it can then swing for 110 with either its regular or GX attack. Jolteon-GX is an amazing initial attacker that doesn’t require a Zapdos loop. Jolteon-GX is less effective when played alongside Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, though. That deck is more focused on setting up a quick Full Blitz, which then leads into a Tag Bolt-GX.
If there’s one deck I’d consider to be at the top of Standard, it would have to be Zoroark-GX/Fighting. This deck saw widespread success in Collinsville by those that played it, and had a high conversion rate from Day 1 to Day 2, and from Day 2 to Top 8 contention. I think that Zoroark-GX has answers to most of the format, aside from Mill (without Oranguru UPR) and Blacephalon-GX/Naganadel. Acerola and Alolan Muk let the deck succeed against Zapdos, and Lucario-GX gives the deck a strong matchup against Pikachu & Zekrom-GX. All I can say is that there’s a reason Stéphane had great success, and Danny the same, in the two weekends.
Here’s Danny’s list for reference:
Pokémon – 22
1 Ditto p
Trainers – 30
1 Pal Pad
Energy – 8
Honestly, there isn’t anything I strongly dislike about the list. The only two cards I’d think of changing are Counter Gain and Rainbow Energy, but I’m unsure what I’d add in place of them. Counter Gain is, of course, there for a surprise Dangerous Rogue-GX. However, whenever I played Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX, I never found a use for it. It’s definitely different now that there are more aggressive decks out there like Buzzwole-GX/Lucario-GX, and Zapdos, but I’m still unsure if it deserves a final place in the list.
Rainbow Energy is puzzling because there isn’t an immediately powerful Pokémon to use it with. Its one major use is to loop something with Acerola, but I’m unsure where that may come into play usefully. It definitely leaves open the option, though, so there’s no reason to play a 4th Fighting instead. The potential benefits of Rainbow Energy outweigh the problems that come from the 10 damage or the inability to search for it with Viridian Forest. And who knows—perhaps Tapu Heal GX is game-winning in the right scenario.
Fully Pumped: Blowns
I think that Blacephalon-GX/Naganadel is an enigma. Inherently, it’s one of the strongest decks; any deck that misses a beat against it all but loses. It’s one of the few decks that can set up multi-turn checkmates based on an opponent’s missed turn, and is one of the most linear decks of the past few years. So how can it continue to see success?
I think the main reason why it continues to see success is because of constant adaptation of the decklist. For a deck that requires very little thought during the game to play, a majority of the skill involved in creating/piloting it stems from the decklist. Moreover, its resilience in the meta is a factor of one’s ability to adjust the decklist accordingly.
As I said earlier, Alolan Muk is one such reason the deck continues to be strong. It’s both a narrow and wide medicine, as it targets multiple decks while also severely hampering them. Theoretically, Alolan Muk slows Jirachi decks just enough so that Blowns’ 1HKO strategy remains effective. And against Evolution decks? Blowns is fast enough to win by trading Prizes, notably against Zoroark-GX decks. No longer are people playing Alolan Ninetales-GX/Decidueye-GX, one of Blowns’ harder matchups due to Sublimation-GX and Feather Arrow. The meta has shifted back into the deck’s favor.
Since we last looked at Expanded, Dean Nezam won with an unconventional Zoroark-GX/Golisopod-GX list. In essence, it was an anti-Seismitoad-EX/anti-mill Zoroark-GX deck. I think the first thing to understand when looking at Expanded now is that Seismitoad-EX/Zoroark-GX may become unplayable, immediately, because of Pikachu & Zekrom-GX. It’ll be a nightmare for Control to stop the onslaught after one Full Blitz. It’s definitely possible to build a list that will hit Full Blitz over 50% of the time on T1 because of Tapu Koko p, Thunder Mountain p, and, most importantly, Max Elixir.
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 37
Energy – 11
This list is something I threw together very quickly, but it’s where I’m going to start in exploring this archetype. I brought together everything that makes the deck strong in Standard while also adjusting some counts in order to add in strong Expanded cards like Professor Juniper, Max Elixir, VS Seeker, and Battle Compressor. Regarding the lack of tech cards like Field Blower, a 2nd Stadium, and Sudowoodo GRI, it’s important to begin with a linear list—with max-consistency counts—before involving inconsistencies. Those will also come as matchups are tested, such as vs. Zoroark-GX/Garbodor or a Parallel City deck.
Here’s the true thing we’ll have to ask ourselves as we move to Expanded: is Fighting still viable? I believe the answer is yes. If Lucario-GX remains strong (which by all means, it likely will) then Pikachu & Zekrom-GX should remain in check. Time will tell!
Thanks for reading! It’s somewhat sad to kiss the SUM–TEU Standard format good night so early since its inception, but that’s how the tournaments line up. If you’re looking for more Standard action, I hope your Cups are what you desire! Or if you’re an early bird looking to discover Expanded, I hope the articles in the next few weeks will satiate your desires.
I’m excited to see what other writers and players will reveal of Expanded’s mysterious mist in the next two weeks. Toronto, like Oceania, will be a scattered field with some general understanding of the strongest decks. As more content about the game has been created, I feel like most players gain a general knowledge of what’s strong and what isn’t. The days of subpar lists are in the past, which is neither objectively good nor bad. It’s simply a change birthed out of the game’s increasing popularity, which is good.
I hope you thought this piece was interesting, and perhaps a different beat from the normal articles you’ll read. I think it’s important to synthesize, especially at the end of something, in order to gain a peaceful conclusion to a format. Perhaps that’s just the English student inside me preaching a conclusion’s importance. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed reading, and I’ll see you all in Greensboro.
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