Check Check, Is This Thing On

Shifts in Standard, Malamar: the Squid-surgence, Sequencing, and a Checkmate Update

commons.wikimedia.orgHey everyone! It’s been a hot minute since my last article, and since my last tournament, really. For those unaware, I recently started college at the University of Illinois this year. I’m excited to be taking this next step in my academic career and life. However, college has greatly reduced my ability to play Pokémon. There’s one card store in Urbana, but besides that, from what I’ve gathered, the closest League is over an hour away. League Cups/Challenges are nonexistent, and my testing progress is hampered by my disinterest in the format and lack of competitive stimulation.

I also have yet to jump ship from my home-brew Naganadel Checkmate deck for any tournaments I attend. I might go to Knoxville; it depends on my workload that week. If I go, I’ll likely be playing Checkmate solely because I want to play that deck as much as possible. At the end of this article, I’ll go over the changes I’ve made since Worlds and my current thoughts on the deck’s position in the meta.

On a completely different note, I’d like to thank you all for continuing to read/support my articles. November will be my 3rd anniversary of writing for 6P, with January being the date I started writing for Underground. Thanks to Adam as well. I know that I’ve grown as a writer, player, and educator since the beginning of my Masters Division career.

Without further ado, let’s get into the article!

Shifts in Standard

Though I’m at a distance from the competitive scene, it’s still quite easy to keep track of what’s doing well because of social media posts. Almost all tournaments have their Top 8 posted, and most sponsored players post their list after each tournament. It’s been interesting to see the meta shift due to changes in popular opinion. For one, AbilityZard has become AbilityNoZard, with most lists playing 0 Reshiram & Charizard-GX! On another note, has become one of the popular decks of the format. Most notable players have always spurned Malamar, instead choosing to play more consistent decks. Magically, Malamar has started working, probably because people have put time into optimizing the list and perfecting their play. Although Malamar has a low skill floor, it has a relatively high skill ceiling because of the sheer amount of sequencing required to play it optimally.

Another major surprise in the Standard format was the lackluster performance of Jessie & James in Sheffield. Fabien Pujol’s Pidgeotto Control list played 0 Jessie & James, which goes to show that the card was overhyped in terms of its power level. Perhaps Poipole Stall—covered by Peter Kica a few weeks ago—can make better use of the card. The only other place I can think of is in a hand-locking deck, similar to that in Scott Creech’s article or what Frank Percic has played on his Twitch stream recently. Personally, I tried to mess with a Naganadel-GX version of hand lock, but the deck was absolutely horrendous.

Lastly, I want to touch on the non-success of Green’s ReshiZard. This deck’s popularity and tournament finishes have hit the fan since AbilityZard’s introduction into the format. However, a few people continue to play it because of its low variability and lack of a distinct counter. I think Rahul’s list is incredibly strong because of Stealthy Hood and the Dojo combo. These cards should swing the AbilityZard matchup. With additional healing cards, the deck can be better suited against Malamar.

Malamar

Speaking of Malamar… here’s what I consider to be the strongest list. All credit goes to Grant Manley.

Pokémon (20)

4 Inkay FLI

4 Malamar FLI

4 Jirachi TEU

2 Giratina LOT

1 Mimikyu GRI

1 Mew UNB

1 Espurr UNB

1 Ditto p

1 Espeon & Deoxys-GX

1 Latios-GX UNM

Trainer (32)

4 Cynthia

4 Lillie

 

4 Acro Bike

4 Mysterious Treasure

4 Pokémon Communication

2 Switch

1 Adventure Bag

4 Spell Tag

2 Escape Board

 

3 Viridian Forest

Energy (8)

7 Psychic

1 Recycle

The Squid-surgence

So, what makes Malamar different than it was before?

  1. First, I think the main reason it has started winning is because it’s being played more frequently. Now that the deck has gained some respect, more people play it, and therefore it wins more often. However, that’s not the only reason for its success.
  2. Malamar has strong matchups against a majority of the format. Its shortcomings are when the deck fails to set up (which is alleviated by better sequencing, correct decisions, etc.). The hardest decisions for Malamar are the easiest for other decks. For almost all other decks in the format, how you set up is the easy part.

To go into more detail, AbilityZard wins by playing Welder for as many turns as possible. Your setup is simple: dig for Welder, play Welder, and then try to play Welder again. This is an easy strategy to follow. The difficulty when playing AbilityZard (and AbilityNoZard, too) is in planning your 6 Prizes. What Pokémon should I target with Ninetales in order to cripple my opponent’s board state? How can I win if I miss a Welder?

Each deck has their own version of “which aspect of my game plan is most difficult to execute.” The point I’m trying to get at is that sequencing and making objectively correct choices are more important when playing Malamar than other decks.

Examples of Sequencing

Last time when I wrote about Malamar, I emphasized the importance of placing Spell Tags correctly. (If you haven’t read that yet, check it out!) Here, I’ll focus on some of the in-depth sequencing I said earlier.

Ideally, you want to set up 2–3 Inkay, , and a Jirachi by turn 1. It’s important to bench Giratina (either manually or with Distortion Door) in order to get a free Energy attachment. This means you’ll only need 1 Malamar in play in order to use Shadow Impact. The most reasonable way to accomplish this is by first grabbing Inkay, then grabbing Giratina. Once you play your Supporter, you’re somewhat likely to draw another out to a Pokémon.

One common mistake I fall into is prioritizing Inkay over Jirachi. Benching Jirachi ASAP is important because it allows you to put the Escape Board in the correct spot. If you end up putting Escape Board on Inkay, it will be much more difficult to find the 2nd copy or continually use Switch in order to pivot a sleeping Jirachi. If I have an Escape Board in my hand, I’ll grab the Jirachi. It’s relatively likely I’ll be able to find a 2nd Inkay off of Lillie/Cynthia.

Acro Bike before using Stellar Wish.

This is a common example of small sequencing that makes the difference between attacking and passing. The first reason to use Acro Bike before Stellar Wish is because you have fewer possible decisions to make. If you need a two-piece combo to attack, then you need to get one piece off of each card/effect. When you Acro Bike first, you give yourself two chances to hit either, then five chances (off of Stellar Wish) to hit the remaining piece. This is better sequencing because it’s easier to hit the 2nd piece off of Stellar Wish than Acro Bike.

Here’s a quick list of other reasons:

  • If you hit a Psychic Energy off of Acro Bike, you have the knowledge that it’s discarded. (You don’t need to find a Mysterious Treasure/Viridian Forest off of Stellar Wish.)
  • If you Acro Bike into a Supporter, you can then Stellar Wish after the Supporter.
  • It saves a small amount of time if you play a search card after Stellar Wish.

Don’t play Acro Bike unless you need to.

If there isn’t anything for you to dig for, there’s no reason to play Acro Bike. Your opponent might make a play on the following turn that elicits a different choice off of Acro Bike. This is the same logic as holding Trainers’ Mail in Expanded or in previous Standard formats.

Matchups

Mew Box

This matchup should seem incredibly easy on paper because of their Psychic Weakness, but Jirachi-GX puts a quick stop to that. You can KO it with 2 Distortion Door, Spell Tag, and Ear Kinesis, but that setup is relatively difficult to pull off. It’s much easier to win by KOing 2 Mewtwo & Mew-GX. To that end, you’ll need to swing with Giratina twice and place the remaining 10 damage with Distortion Door or Spell Tag.

Latios-GX is also quite useful in this matchup, but be sure to dodge their GX attack. You won’t have time to attack with Clear Vision-GX, but it’s a somewhat safe attacking option since its only counters are Giratina LOT and Double Blaze-GX. Giratina takes a turn to load up, so the main threat is Double Blaze-GX. I personally think it’s safest to swing with Giratina, but Latios-GX has great niche use when the opponent isn’t expecting it.

AbilityZard

The AbilityZard player will simply try to KO a Malamar every single turn in order to dodge Spell Tag and cripple your board state. Since they’ll let your Giratina live, you should get the 2nd copy into play and begin loading that up. Mimikyu is also an Energy-efficient attacker as it can swing for 130 into a Heatran-GX (or more if they ever use Reshiram & Charizard-GX). Mainly, your goal should be applying as much pressure as possible. Per usual, prioritize a T2 Shadow Impact.

If you can ever manage to KO Ninetales, you should do so. This prevents them from circumventing Spell Tag and can allow you to set up Espeon & Deoxys-GX. On another note, Cross Division-GX can get up to 4 Prizes by KOing Dedenne-GX and a damaged Heatran-GX. Simply play to how your opponent is playing and everything should be fine.

Blacephalon-GX/Naganadel

This matchup comes down to drawing Spell Tag, dodging Beast Ring, and finding ways to use Espeon & Deoxys-GX. If you can pull of Cross Division-GX, the game should be pretty easy. The difficulty comes in setting it up over two turns without getting KO’d. One way to do this is by taking a Prize with Giratina, swinging into a Blacephalon-GX with another one, then pivoting into Espeon & Deoxys-GX (for 100 or 200 damage) to dodge Beast Ring. This strategy is effective when they aren’t putting many Energy into play with Charging Up. If they can put 6 Energy in play, then your Espeon & Deoxys-GX can be KO’d after being Custom Catcher’d.

Checkmate, Fool

Not much is different since the last time I wrote about Checkmate; I’ve only made a few changes that I’ve debuted on stream. I’ll repost the list here in case anyone missed it and decides to play it for Atlantic City/Köln/São Paulo.

Pokémon (22)

3 Poipole FLI

1 Poipole LOT

3 Naganadel-GX UNM

1 Naganadel-GX FLI

 

1 Ditto p

1 Aerodactyl-GX

1 Dewgong UNB

 

1 Buzzwole FLI

1 Dusk Mane Necrozma SM107

1 Naganadel LOT

1 Nihilego LOT

1 Pheromosa FLI

 

2 Snorunt UNM

1 Froslass UNM

1 Hoopa UNM

1 Mew UNB

1 Dedenne-GX

Trainer (30)

4 Steven’s Resolve

2 Tate & Liza

1 Brock’s Grit

1 Grimsley

 

4 Custom Catcher

4 Pokémon Communication

3 Mysterious Treasure

2 Pokégear 3.0

2 Reset Stamp

1 Beast Ball

1 Spell Tag

 

4 Ultra Space

1 Power Plant

Energy (8)

3 Triple Acceleration

2 Rainbow

1 Beast p

1 Recycle

1 Water

Changes

Persian-GX is useless, Melmetal-GX is only good against , and Marshadow UNB was a Power Plant counter against Green’s ReshiZard. I’ve instead opted to bulk out the consistency, adding 2 Pokégear 3.0 to increase the probability of a T1 Steven’s Resolve. Power Plant gives the deck a better matchup against because it can shut off Jirachi-GX for a turn. It may also stick off of a Reset Stamp if you’ve already KO’d their Marshadow UNB.

More Ideas

As the title says, the list is nowhere near finalized. I’m always thinking of new ways to take the deck in order to improve some matchups. My newest idea involves bulking up the Froslass line and swapping Recycle Energy for Water Energy, which would help the AbilityZard matchup. (If they purely use single-Prize attackers, you would set up a Stinger-GX checkmate by hitting a Dedenne-GX for 140 and something else for 10 HP remaining. Psypower can clean them both up.) This would also work well against , which you can checkmate with Stinger-GX with Psypower or a Spell Tag KO. Spiritomb UNB also does the same as Froslass but with different numbers.

Alolan Ninetales TEU is the best replacement if you still want to play a GardEon counter. Current GardEon lists don’t play a counter to this, and Safeguard can win games against or Mew Box if the opponent fills their Bench/exhausts their GX attack, respectively.

Pokégear 3.0 act as flex spots right now. Drawing the T1 Steven’s Resolve drastically increases the win rate, so putting the last remaining spots toward that makes sense. I’m sacrificing certain auto-losses like GardEon, but the Pokégear 3.0 may make up for it by turning a loss somewhere else into a win. One final change I’m going to try before Knoxville is cutting Dusk Mane Necrozma for a 3rd Pokégear 3.0Steven’s Resolve is better than Ultra Conversion. Lure Ball may also be worthwhile, as it can retrieve or Naganadel-GX, meaning I can discard those first with Ultra Conversion, leaving the remaining niche Ultra Beasts left in the deck.

Concept List

Here’s a concept list involving a revamped Cynthia engine and thicker single-Prize attackers.

Pokémon (24)

3 Poipole FLI

1 Poipole LOT

3 Naganadel-GX UNM

1 Naganadel-GX FLI

1 Ditto p

1 Seel UNB

1 Dewgong UNB

 

1 Buzzwole FLI

1 Dusk Mane Necrozma SM107

1 Naganadel LOT

1 Nihilego LOT

1 Pheromosa FLI

 

3 Snorunt UNM

2 Froslass UNM

1 Hoopa UNM

1 Mew UNB

1 Dedenne-GX

Trainers (28)

4 Cynthia

2 Tate & Liza

1 Brock’s Grit

1 Grimsley

 

4 Custom Catcher

4 Pokémon Communication

3 Mysterious Treasure

2 Reset Stamp

1 Beast Ball

1 Spell Tag

 

4 Ultra Space

1 Power Plant

Energy (8)

3 Triple Acceleration

2 Rainbow

2 Water

1 Beast p

 

This list is better against Reset Stamp, but I’m unsure if it’s better against the meta overall. It has better control over placing specific damage counters, but may be weaker because of reduced consistency.

Conclusion

Malamar is a strong deck that has continued to increase in popularity since Sheffield. I expect it to be relatively popular at this weekend’s events despite its inability to rapidly finish Bo3 50-minute sets. One proposed idea is to scoop Game 2 immediately (assuming you’ve won Game 1), especially if you have a poor start. This is one way to guarantee most of your matches to be wins or losses.

Mew Box is poised to be the best deck for this weekend. The deck is strong against everything and has plenty of tools to shut other decks out of the game. Cross Division-GX and Welder are the two most powerful concepts in Standard, and Mew Box utilizes both of them. It also makes use of Custom Catcher and (sometimes) Reset Stamp, which give the deck more options than those that do not include them.

As for my own personal motives, I would play the Steven’s Resolve Checkmate list. I don’t expect lots of GardEon, so I’m not including Alolan Ninetales. Pokégear 3.0 is absurdly powerful and I expect it to remain in the list so long as I don’t need to allocate those spots toward fixing matchups. Even then, I’m hesitant to take them away because Pokégear 3.0 has been insanely good.

I plan on going to Knoxville in October and Brazil in November. Hopefully I can make it out to more Regionals in the latter half of the year. As always, school comes first. I’m already halfway to my invite because of the DC Open and a pre-Worlds Cup, so at least I don’t need much more to qualify. For those going to upcoming tournaments, good luck and I hope to see you there!

Xander


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Reader Interactions

3 replies

  1. Daddy

    Xander — what cards from Cosmic Eclipse do you see as possible inclusions? It seems like the new stadium is a definite as well as the new TT supporters — C&C and G&H as well as Tag Whistle and Great Catcher. Your thoughts?

  2. Daddy

    The flip side of including new cards from Cosmic Eclipse is this — does Great Catcher end Checkmate as a viable deck? It becomes much easier to target the Nagas with that card.

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