The Players Cup II (PCII) Top 256 (for some, Top 128) double-elimination bracket tournament is coming up soon (read: this weekend!). For those who survived the qualifier period with enough Rep to make it into T256, congratulations for making it this far. It is an accomplishment in itself to have made it through those events. Those who have done so had to fight their way through 50 mini tournaments, up to 150 games, and a ton of other strong players playing a variety of decks (meta and rogue alike), all without giving up hope after those brutal, soul-crushing losses in the first round. If your run was in any way similar to mine, you had a handful of first-round losses in a row, and if you made it through the gauntlet with any hair remaining, you deserve a pat on the back.
Jokes aside, the first phase of PCII was a load of fun despite its grueling nature. The community did not have much of an opportunity to anticipate a meta with the way the tournaments were set up—outside of ADPZ being the top contender and deck to beat—so unfortunately we don’t have any significant data to take from the event besides spreadsheets and infographics that some players were kind enough to create for everyone. The spreadsheets mostly include small sample sizes with some detail as to how the games went. While that isn’t anything meta-defining, we can at least tell that if somebody went on a tear with a specific deck for 20 tournaments in a row, we should likely include that deck in our testing. The most popular strategies for deck choice for Phase 1 of the PCII were to either run the same deck throughout (potentially with slight deviations in variant or engine) or switch it up by cycling through a handful of decks.
For example, I started out toting Azul’s Psychic Mew3 Toolbox deck, but when there ended up being too many Eternatus VMAX and Centiskorch VMAX decks for me to succeed, I decided to run LucMetal/Zacian for a while. I then tried out a strategy where I would use LMZ for one event, Psychic Mew3 for the next, and ADPZ for the last. I was cycling between the three decks for a while, but I ended up seeing my best results with LMZ, so stuck it out with LMZ for around 30 or so Keys, which is where most of my Rep came from.
I finished at 107 Rep, which solidified me somewhere in the 100s for Top 256, and I am excited to be able to continue in the PCII as my first Players Cup ended with some poor luck where I came up a round shy of advancing to the third day of competition.
The Meta Moving Forward
The meta has been constantly shifting with the amount of online events happening nowadays. We can gather results from an average of one online event per day to figure out what deck would be the best choice for the PCII, so in a sense we are being spoiled by the influx of events lately. On the other hand, the amount of events with so little on the line means that players are more likely to make slight edits to their lists or switch up variants for their archetype of choice completely, with the rare case of a player deciding to go completely rogue and try out something outside of the established Top 10. Most of the top decks are decided as of right now, each toting different variations:
- ADPZ can aim for the ol’ reliable strategy and be consistent, or they can choose to run a Clay engine to attempt a three-turn win.
- Eternatus VMAX can use Power Plant, multiple 1-Prize attackers, a Poison package to pack an extra punch, or Scoop Up Net for more controlled damage placement.
- Centiskorch VMAX can play a Jirachi engine with Scoop Up Net and various support 1-Prizers, or be as linear as possible with 2 Crobat V, 2 Dedenne-GX, and 2 Eldegoss V, sometimes even choosing the path less traveled: Green’s Magneton/Centiskorch.
We have many ways to play the same deck, and sometimes when considering your matchup versus a deck it matters which variant you are playing against. This is the part of the equation that simplifies it for me—instead of favoring one variant over another, I would rather just beat them both. An example of this is: Centiskorch VMAX can beat regular Eternatus VMAX decks frequently but will have a harder time versus Poison Eternatus. When considering playing Centiskorch, do you want to tech for Poison specifically, take the loss, or just run a couple of Big Charm or Heat R Energy to get out of the range of Poison math? Personally, beating everything makes the most sense unless Poison is extremely underplayed, in which case you make a meta call.
It is only logical at this point to play a deck that not only is favored versus ADPZ and some of the other top decks, but doesn’t mind which variant of those decks they are playing against. Decks that immediately come to mind are ADPZ itself, PikaRom, Centiskorch, or Blacephalon UNB. Any of these decks care little about which variant they are playing against but mostly want to be able to answer any deck the same way. My issue with these decks is always the same thing: When they work, they can showcase some incredible options. When they don’t, it speaks to how generally inconsistent they can be and how draw-based this format has been. On top of that, Crushing Hammer can be present as a 4-of in any deck you face during the PCII just like it was during the qualifier period, and all of these decks (outside of Blacephalon) can lose a game to a single Hammer heads, with Blacephalon not meeting the same fate but being the least consistent out of these options.
Out of all of the decks like this that are the most consistent, I have liked the couple of Excadrill options the most; neither cares about what your opponent is trying to do, neither has to worry about a Crushing Hammer ruining them, and both operate to execute their respective game plans smoothly. Out of the Excadrill Beatdown and Excadrill Control variants, I prefer the greater of two evils: Control.
Excadrill Control has been underplayed since the rotation, as per usual for decks of this nature. The main reason for this is that the BDIF (i.e., ADPZ) has been favored versus Excadrill Control lists until Champion’s Path was released. Back in the Zoroark-GX days, we saw Control losing to some Tier 2 or otherwise not widely represented decks, which is why it was such a strong play for so many events. If a deck couldn’t beat Control and didn’t play specific tech cards for it, Control had free rein.
Excadrill Control has all the makings of a top tier deck (outside of that factor): consistency, a flawless strategy that can be easily executed from game to game, and a wide array of favorable matchups. Put all that together and take ADPZ out of the equation, and Excadrill Control could have been the best deck of this format.
With the release of Champion’s Path, however, Excadrill Control can pry wins away from ADPZ through Altaria CPA, which cannot be targeted by a single attacker in the standard ADPZ lists you see running around thanks to its Miraculous Charm Ability. With the release of Altaria giving you a chance to beat the ADPZ lists that aren’t running a tech for DeciGoon (which has its own issues at this point and likely doesn’t need to be teched for in the first place), I don’t see a single reason to not pilot Excadrill Control, and I see a fairly strong conversion from it in a best-of-three tournament. Odds are you can win all of your rounds in the first game, and if you have to scoop Game 1 to make time to close out Games 2 and 3, PTCGO doesn’t require as much shuffling as a real-life event would, so you will have ample time to complete the series.
Excadrill functions similarly to Control decks of the past, just instead of utilizing Zoroark-GX + Oranguru UPR you are using Cinccino SSH + Excadrill UNM which are the spiritual successors to that past duo. As peanut butter and jelly is to Nutella and marshmallow fluff, these newcomers are similar in almost every aspect, with a couple of small changes that keep them from being an exact replica:
- For starters, Excadrill is a Stage 1 Pokémon, which means you will need to keep 2 Drilbur in play the turn before you start locking (as opposed to just being able to bench an Oranguru and Resource Management to your heart’s desire).
- The other change is that Excadrill UNM retrieves 4 cards instead of 3, and shuffles them into the deck, making any of the 4 cards potentially live in your deck rather than being stuck on the bottom. This was constantly relevant for Zoroark Control, as you would hold Ball search and other shuffle effects to try and find Crushing Hammers again after putting them in. With Excadrill Control, you can even topdeck one of those Crushing Hammers, so you are slightly advantaged in that sense. On top of that, both decks require a discard from hand in order to draw 2 with Trade or Make Do, but now you are shuffling in an extra card, so that is going to slightly help your math at the end of the game when you are constantly needing to discard to keep up the lock and maintain a healthy hand size.
This deck has an out for everything and provides a fresh way to play the game right now. It is somewhat linear in strategy but overloaded with options for (1) what to Rototiller back and (2) exactly which route you will take to achieve your end goal of the perfect hand/board lock. An earlier rendition of this list can be found on my Twitter, where I had piloted it for a best-of-one Hegster Top Deck Tournament and went 0-2 drop. This will happen, for sure, but in best-of-three I am confident this deck has a great chance to convert, into Day 2 of bracket play and ideally the Players Cup Finals. The list has improved a lot since then:
2 Zacian V
1 Pal Pad
****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******
##Pokémon - 23
* 3 Minccino SSH 145
* 3 Cinccino SSH 147
* 2 Drilbur CEC 114
* 2 Excadrill UNM 119
* 1 Excadrill CEC 246
* 2 Swablu CPA 48
* 2 Altaria CPA 49
* 1 Type: Null UNM 183
* 1 Silvally-GX CEC 227
* 2 Jirachi PR-SM 161
* 2 Weezing HIF 29
* 2 Zacian V SSH 138
##Trainer Cards - 30
* 2 Chip-Chip Ice Axe UNB 165
* 1 Cynthia & Caitlin CEC 189
* 2 Boss’s Orders RCL 200
* 2 Ordinary Rod SSH 171
* 2 Reset Stamp UNM 206
* 3 Bird Keeper DAA 159
* 1 Giovanni’s Exile HIF 67
* 4 Quick Ball SSH 179
* 1 Team Yell Grunt SSH 184
* 2 Lt. Surge’s Strategy UNB 178
* 2 Galar Mine RCL 160
* 1 Scoop Up Net RCL 165
* 1 Pal Pad FLF 92
* 2 Jessie & James HIF 68
* 4 Pokémon Communication
##Energy - 7
Total Cards - 60
****** via SixPrizes: https://sixprizes.com/?p=82823 ******
As you can tell from most of this list, there are a hefty amount of 2-of counts in order to stretch out the number of options that you have available to you at all times. Some of these 2-of counts include Drilbur CEC and Excadrill UNM, which are both crucial to the success of the deck. There will be games where you prize a copy of one or the other and have to get a bit more creative, and there will be some games where you prize 2 copies and may have to immediately scoop and try again, but this is a risk we take with Control variants to make sure that we can fit every tool necessary for success. The games you win by running the extra resources will outweigh those that you lose to Prize card variance.
- The first is to handle PikaRom. In this matchup, you ideally can set up a single Altaria and win the game through attacking. Sometimes this doesn’t work out because your opponent sets up Tapu Koko p or Vikavolt V to either KO your Altaria or pressure you with Item lock from the get-go. Your best response to either of these threats is a 1HKO with Drill Bazooka, which will allow you to neutralize the Item lock and start your perfect lock, or KO the Koko and let you wall with Altaria until you take the rest of your Prize cards.
- The second application is when your opponent chooses to play by not doing anything besides playing a single Pokémon and attaching all of their Energy to it. You can answer this by attacking with Drill Bazooka with another Drilbur on Bench, giving up a Prize, Ordinary Rod, rinse and repeat. After the first attack you can hand lock so they do not have the opportunity to bench another Pokémon and their strategy comes back to bite them. Alternatively, if they choose to bench another Pokémon, you go for the normal strategy.
- Then there are those games where your opponent will try to stall out the clock after you have soft-locked them out of playable options or Energy cards. In this scenario, you want to spam Eleventh Hour Tackle until you win through Prizes, as it will usually be faster than trying to deck them out. Even if you cannot win, you may be able to force a Prize lead and win the game that way. On top of that, you even have a chance to win a Sudden Death scenario.
Altaria is effective against any deck that utilizes only Pokémon-GX/V and doesn’t have an answer. It is meant for ADPZ lists that aren’t playing a Decidueye counter, which most shouldn’t be right now as they will not have an answer to Decidueye DAA and Galarian Obstagoon SSH at the same time, so making sure you are consistent for all of your other matchups will surely pay off better in the long run.
Altaria is meant to be set up alone and then start attacking until you draw 6 Prize cards, or until you can deck your opponent out. We have a Scoop Up Net and Giovanni’s Exile to help clear up our board versus ADPZ, in case you have to use other Pokémon to help find the Altaria. Remember: Your opponent can take 2 KOs as ADPZ and still lose if you set up an Altaria, and digging for those KOs may result in your opponent running thin on cards and decking out before you will be able to draw all your Prizes. Sometimes you can push up Altaria and Reset Stamp when you lack the full lock, in hopes that your opponent cannot find Boss’s Orders for a turn, allowing you an extra chance to find the missing pieces to achieve the full lock.
Silvally-GX is a huge boon for the deck and has seen play at a 2-2 line, making it one of the staple draw options for the deck. Silvally’s value is present throughout the game as it can help you burn through the deck when your opponent is spamming Marnie, and later game it lets you refill your hand without having to discard cards.
I have opted for a 1-1 line because you absolutely do not require a Silvally-GX to win a game, but when you do have the Silvally it becomes much easier to maintain the hand lock while keeping extra resources like a 2nd Chip-Chip Ice Axe.
The Lock Combo
Jessie & James, 2 Lt. Surge’s Strategy, 2 Boss’s Orders, 2 Chip-Chip Ice Axe, 2 Reset Stamp, 2 Galar Mine, 2 Weezing HIF2
The combo is as follows: Your opponent goes down to 2–4 Prize cards, you use Lt. Surge’s Strategy, follow it up with Reset Stamp, and then Jessie & James to put their hand to 0—which you can do from 4 cards thanks to Weezing. Follow this up with a Boss’s Orders on a Pokémon that cannot currently attack (ideally a Dedenne-GX or something that will rarely, if ever, be able to attack), and then use Galar Mine so that your opponent will need 3 total Energy to retreat that Pokémon. Lastly, you are going to use Chip-Chip Ice Axe to make sure your opponent is topdecking a card they cannot use (keep in mind that a card can be dead in the moment but future topdecks can help that card become useful) and from there keep using Reset Stamp and J&J to force your opponent to discard cards until you inevitably deck them out.
When it works, this strategy is bulletproof. There is little in this format that can handle a 0-card hand. When you don’t have the full combo, you can use Reset Stamp to give your opponent less options (ideally) and then keep digging until you hit it. You have until the last Prize card has been taken to achieve the combo, so you don’t have to worry about things not going your way until well into the game.
Mawile-GX can be useful to force your opponent to bench Dedenne-GX or Crobat V when they don’t want to, and in a best-of-three series the threat of Mawile alone can have your opponent discarding those cards for you whenever they have them in hand, which is giving them less outs off Reset Stamp later in the game. When your opponent tries to set up only a single Pokémon and not bench anything for you to Boss up, Mawile-GX will be able to force a Pokémon down so you can still achieve the lock.
With Chaotic Swell being so present in today’s meta, you may not have the chance to stick Galar Mine when you get your lock going. For this reason, it could make sense to use a copy of Marshadow UNB to bump Swell and allow you to continue your lock. I have tried it before and I like it, especially with Capture Energy.
I have opted not to use Crushing Hammer in my build in favor of more space. Crushing Hammer provides a lot of pressure throughout the game at the cost of multiple deck slots. I would rather try to make sure I can achieve the lock more often instead of trying to use Hammers, but it is hard to argue that they can help a ton by slowing your opponent down and giving you more time. This likely comes down to preference.
This matchup is closer to even because you have much less time to set up compared to other matchups. ADPZ wins in four attacks; other decks will need six. This isn’t always relevant as we are running Altaria specifically to beat ADPZ, but it can matter when they play Duraludon RCL or another counter and you must try to lock them out of the game.
ADPZ is never an easy matchup but I feel in control against it more than I do piloting other decks. The worst-case scenario is when ADPZ runs Oranguru SSH because it not only counters your hand lock strategy, but it also can hit through Altaria. You don’t have to stray too far off the path here: attempt a hand lock (unless you see they play no Altaria counter), then set up an Altaria and sweep 6 Prizes. Attacking, unfortunately, is a must if your opponent plays Eldegoss V because they can attempt to loop Marnie infinitely to not deck out.
PikaRom: 70% Win Rate
PikaRom only has one out to your Altaria: Tapu Koko p. Unfortunately for PikaRom, they can’t do much when they are not allowed to actually use Koko for Energy acceleration, so they will likely not even take Prize cards and just use Boltund V or try for Vikavolt V to lock you out of the game from early on. You can usually close the game out by attacking with Excadrill into Koko and then clearing your board to sweep with Altaria. What makes this matchup so much more favored than ADPZ is that you can safely bench a ton of other Pokémon throughout the game and then Scoop Up Net and Giovanni’s Exile them away at your leisure later.
Eternatus VMAX: 70% WR
Eternatus VMAX has always struggled against Control because of how it is forced to eventually put something gust-able on its Bench and its deck is harder to thin, so its left with a ton of dead cards toward the end of the game. Altaria and Excadrill CEC can work in this matchup, but most games will end up being a bread-and-butter hand lock into deck-out. Sometimes you can get swept quickly because of how consistent Eternatus is, but most of the time you will be able to pull off the perfect lock without an issue. Eternatus being so linear means that you will not have to consider too much when planning out your options, and having less to think about is always ideal for Control.
Centiskorch VMAX: 70% WR
Centiskorch VMAX usually is an auto-win—unless they opt for the lone-Pokémon strategy. This strategy requires your opponent to open Centiskorch V or Heatran-GX and then never bench anything else all game, just using Welder a couple of times and attacking you with the lone Pokémon so that you cannot lock them.
If they aim for that strategy, you can set up double Altaria on your board and start attacking. This will force down a Volcanion eventually—and, with a well-timed Reset Stamp, you can potentially force your opponent to use Dedenne-GX or Crobat V to even find a Volcanion—or you will just continue to pressure with Altaria.
After three attacks from Altaria onto a Centiskorch VMAX, you can go into Eleventh Hour Tackle for 180 to win the game, or one attack if the lone Pokémon is Heatran-GX. This nullifies the lone-Pokémon strategy, and in the rest of your games they will probably not do it again, so you can safely pull off the perfect lock.
LucMetal/Zacian: 80% WR
This matchup is like ADPZ except they don’t have Altered Creation-GX. You can set up an Altaria and slowly deck the LucMetal player out, or you can play as normal and get the hand lock. This matchup is extremely easy because you have so many ways to win. The only thing to worry about is how many outs to Switch your opponent plays. Getting the lock and maintaining it is not always easy when you also factor in that your opponent can use Intrepid Sword every turn, so you may need to try and go for the Altaria strategy and win the long game.
There are plenty of reasons to play Control right now and it is an incredible deck whenever it is viable, but it never seems to see more than fringe play because of how the deck functions. People simply do not like to play Pokémon by locking their opponent out of the game, so it will never be a deck that sees as much play as ADPZ, even if every one of its matchups was 100/0. People would rather play a deck they enjoy and tech for Control than be the person doing the locking, whether that be because of personal preference, seeking the thrill of the back-and-forth KOs, not being confident enough to avoid making egregious mistakes, or simply not being capable of playing fast enough under pressure to win games within the time limit.
For those of you who are not interested in Control, I want to offer you the opposite end of the spectrum: Excadrill Beatdown. This deck is similar in that your ADPZ game plan is to hope that they are not playing an Altaria counter, but for every other matchup you are swinging for the fences and taking Prizes constantly. I won’t go into much detail on the deck as it is pretty much all about managing your resources while decking yourself out as quickly as possible, but I’d like to share the list because it is one of my favorite decks right now and it packs quite the punch, taking favorable matchups against most of the format while having near auto-wins versus Eternatus VMAX and PikaRom.
The biggest issue with the deck—and what is keeping it from being completely viable—is your ADPZ matchup is hopeless, but even then, you use a 2-2 Altaria line to steal games where you can.
1 Pal Pad
****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******
##Pokémon - 24
* 4 Drilbur CEC 114
* 4 Excadrill CEC 246
* 4 Minccino SSH 145
* 4 Cinccino SSH 147
* 2 Swablu CPA 48
* 2 Altaria CPA 49
* 1 Dedenne-GX UNB 57
* 1 Mawile-GX UNM 141
* 1 Oricorio-GX CEC 95
* 1 Phione CEC 57
##Trainer Cards - 30
* 1 Hapu UNM 200
* 3 Boss’s Orders RCL 200
* 2 Ordinary Rod SSH 171
* 2 Marnie SSH 200
* 4 Quick Ball SSH 179
* 1 Pal Pad FLF 92
* 1 Tool Scrapper RCL 208
* 4 Professor’s Research SSH 201
* 1 Great Catcher CEC 192
* 2 Pokémon Communication
* 3 Judge Whistle TEU 146
* 4 Great Ball SLG 60
* 2 Martial Arts Dojo UNB 179
##Energy - 6
* 6 F Energy SWSHEnergy 6
Total Cards - 60
****** via SixPrizes: https://sixprizes.com/?p=82823 ******
As you can see from the list, this deck is aiming to burn through cards quickly with the help of Cinccino, Judge Whistle, Oricorio-GX, and Dedenne-GX. From there, you want to try and pick off Crobat V and Dedenne-GX where you can and get some cheap Prizes. You have a Mawile-GX to try and force one of these Support Pokémon down as well. Martial Arts Dojo is going to help some of your math, allowing you to hit 220 damage with Eleventh Hour Tackle to take out a Zacian V or even boosting Drill Bazooka by 10–40 to 1HKO an Raichu & Alolan Raichu-GX or a PikaRom with a Big Charm attached. Phione is so that you can never deck out while going for the lone Altaria strategy.
This deck is a heavy hitter, very streamlined, and a ton of fun to play. I always have a blast playing Excadrill Beatdown—it feels like the best single-Prize attacking (SPA) deck in this format, and SPAs are always fun and thought-provoking.
Whether you play Excadrill Control or Excadrill Beatdown, it is safe to say that the Excadrill brothers are some of the coolest cards in the format and it has been a blast playing either deck. Control works like a charm and is the more difficult play for the PCII, while Beatdown is safer for those who have a reason to not want to play Control. Whether you play one or the other, or go with a different archetype altogether, I wish you luck moving forward. I will be participating in the Players Cup II as well and I am excited to try and make it to the Global Finals.
Thanks for getting this far in the article. I always enjoy putting out Pokémon TCG content and am looking forward to supplying more. For those who are interested in my personal lists and want me around for any burning questions, you can sub to my Patreon at patreon.com/daxptcg. You can also follow me on Twitter for free content @daxptcg. Best of luck to everybody competing in the Players Cup, and until next time,
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