This weekend in Philadelphia the North American Regional schedule kicks off with the first Regional Championship of the season. For this season, I want to try a new article format headed into big event weekends. This is an article format that has been used for other sports or e-sports, and that’s one in which you discuss a variety of topics all within a single article, and as the title implies there are five such topics in this article, so one way to think of it is as five mini articles within a single article, that all connect back to the larger theme, and that larger theme is basically going to be a snapshot of the meta and anticipated meta headed into the big weekend of events, as well as other important competitive play items.
1. The Shrine Meta and Deck Adaptations
As I predicted at the start of the season, Rayquaza GX / Vikavolt would be the BDIF to start the season. This proved to be a pretty accurate statement as it won the Melbourne Special Event and then put up solid showings at League Cups. As predicted, with the first weekend of tournaments players were playing suboptimal decks as well as suboptimal lists, with bad cards like Apricorn Maker in them, for example, so naturally a hard hitting, super consistent deck was primed to take advantage of that format, and that’s exactly what Rayquaza GX / Vikavolt did.
In the second weekend of tournaments, we saw some hard counters to Rayquaza GX / Vikavolt, as well as the ever present Zoroark GX decks come out in force. At the Santa Catarina Regional Championship in Brazil, we saw more than half of the Top 32 decks and 7/8 Top 8 decks include Shrine of Punishment to hit the GX heavy decks of week one.
The two primary versions that saw success were Buzzwole / Garbodor and Buzzwole / Weavile. At League Cups, we also saw some Shrine Spread decks and Malamar Shrine variants see some success, but the Buzzwole variants were the ones actually performing at the Regional level.
Of these two variants, if I were to play one, I would be heavily in favor of playing the Garbodor variant. I think it is much easier to play and build around Weavile. With Weavile, you can more easily control the number of Abilities that you have in play, limiting its damage output, and then you can easily out trade it by taking OHKO’s while healing your Pokemon with Max Potion or Acerola to stifle them in their 2HKO attempt, or knocking them out with a non-GX that they can’t OHKO back.
Garbodor is just so hard to play around, as using Item cards is so central to playing the Pokemon TCG. The power of Trashalanche is routinely underrated by players, but there is a reason that Garbodor has won 5 of the past 6 higher tier events, with the lone exception being Rayquaza GX / Vikavolt winning the Melbourne Special Event. (Zoroark GX / Garbodor won NAIC, Valencia Special Event, the Nashville Open, and the World Championship, while Buzzwole / Garbodor won Santa Catarina Regional).
Garbodor creates what I like to call the Bart Simpson Scenario in Pokemon, which is that of, “You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.” You either play your Ultra Ball, for example, possibly discarding two Item cards (because you need that Energy to attack, and that Supporter to draw next turn), to get that Pokemon you need to keep attacking…or you don’t play the Ultra Ball and don’t attack. Either route they choose, Trashalanche is negatively affecting them.
Weavile poses a similar threat…to Ability decks…when they have too many Abilities in play. So already, Weavile is only impacting a subset of decks, and within those subset of decks, players will still be able to play around it in some games by limiting playing down excess Ability Pokemon, such as Tapu Lele GX or Let Loose Marshadow. Sometimes players will be forced to play down these Pokemon, but often enough they can get by without doing that, and when they can do that, it suddenly becomes much tougher to win with Weavile.
Using Item cards, in comparison, feels like an inevitability, with at some point in most games a player needing to cross over the Item threshold for a Trashalanche OHKO to keep things going. Sometimes you draw well enough to avoid this, but these games are rarer than players think.
As far as adapting your deck to deal with the Shrine Decks, here are some general guidelines to follow.
1. Figure out non-GX Pokemon you can include in your deck.
These decks are built to prize trade with the opponent by leveraging non-GX Pokemon against GX Pokemon, trading one prize attackers for two prize attackers to gain an advantage. If you start incorporating non-GX Pokemon into your strategy, you can start taking away their prize trade advantage.
For example, if you are going to play a Vikavolt variant for the weekend, you may want to play a Dhelmise from Celestial Storm. It has 130 HP, which will make it difficult for the opponent to OHKO with Baby Buzzwole outside of the big Sledgehammer turn, and you need 7 Item cards or 3 Abilities in play before Garbodor or Weavile can OHKO it. This means that you will be able to OHKO everything in the Shrine decks with it, while often not being OHKO’d in return, allowing you to turn the tables and get a 2 to 1 prize trade in your favor against them.
2. Play attackers without Abilities
To counter Weavile decks, I think the heavy Ability based decks will need to play attackers without Abilities that they can go to in a matchup against a deck with Weavile.
Rayquaza GX / Vikavolt, for example, is probably one of the decks that most needs to adapt. I think some players may go for the foolhardy approach of switching to an inferior deck, such as Vikavolt / Tapu Bulu GX when what they should be doing is layering Rayquaza GX / Vikavolt with non-Ability attackers that it can go to when playing against Weavile decks.
3. Play more counter Stadiums or Field Blower.
A trend in the early lists from this format is that players decided to stop playing Field Blower for the most part. Some decks would have a counter Stadium, typically in a 3 count, but other decks, such as Vikavolt / Rayquaza GX or Metagross GX weren’t playing Stadium Cards, so if they didn’t include Field Blower, which was a rare inclusion for those decks, than they had no way to remove Shrine of Punishment from play.
Shrine of Punishment loses some of its power when it isn’t sticking in play for more than a turn.
4. Include a healing strategy into your deck.
This is perhaps one of the easiest ways to deal with Shrine of Punishment. To utilize this strategy, you need to be playing something that is outside of OHKO range and then use a card like Max Potion or Acerola to heal off your GX Pokemon when it takes a hit. All it takes is denying a a few knockouts while taking OHKO’s yourself to gain the lead in the prize trade.
5. Play more draw Supporter cards.
The more draw Supporter cards you have in your deck, the less likely you will be to have to rely on Ability based Pokemon draw to find the cards you need. Cards like Marshadow or Tapu Lele GX in Ability based decks, like Malamar or Vikavolt, are the cards that you need to avoid playing down to avoid getting hit with tons of Evil Admonition damage. The low Supporter builds also tend to have to play more Item cards to keep things going, powering up Trashalanche.
Case Study: Rayquaza GX / Vikavolt
Pokemon – 13
Trainers – 33
Energy – 14
Here, for example, is how you could build Rayquaza GX / Vikavolt for this weekend. This is still very much a Rayquaza GX / Vikavolt deck, but you have now nested in it a secondary strategy to where it can become a Vikavolt / Dhelmise deck when you go up against the Shrine of Punishment decks. I think this is a much better path to follow than playing a weak and inconsistent deck like Vikavolt / Tapu Bulu GX.
In this list, with 4 Guzma and three switching cards, it’s pretty easy to get around the drawback effect of Dhelmise’s Powerful Spin attack. Manually retreating and then using Energy Recycler to get the Energy back is another option for getting around the effect. When a Dhelmise gets knocked out, you have two Rescue Stretcher to bring it back. If they target down your Vikavolt(s) instead of attacking the Dhelmise, no big deal, as Dhelmise doesn’t discard Energy to attack so you will still have your powered up attacker on the field.
Dhelmise, while being amazing against the Shrine decks, also helps in other matchups. For example, if a Zoroark GX deck knocks out your Rayquaza GX with Dedenne, you can knock that out with Dhelmise, which is going to be more optimal in most scenarios than sending up a Rayquaza GX or Vikavolt to knock it out with, as if you send up a Rayquaza GX, the opponent may Rescue Stretcher the Dedenne back and get another knockout. Attacking with Dhelmise would force them to also have Guzma to attack into the Rayquaza GX again.
Closing Thoughts on Shrine
I do think the Shrine of Punishment decks are good and will have a presence in the meta. However, I’m not sure if Philadelphia will be the place for Shrine to shine. Something I’ve seen a lot in the “E-Sports era” of Pokemon TCG is that players have become more adaptable and switch decks more often, which leads to very quick meta shifts, so if you’re playing a Shrine deck in Philadelphia I would expect you to face counter strategies pretty frequently, especially as you get deeper into the tournament.
Matchups that may have been 70/30 in Santa Catarina may now become closer to 50/50 or even 40/60 as players make adjustments to their decks to account for the Shrine of Punishment decks.
With that said, I would not be surprised at all if the conglomeration of Shrine of Punishment decks is the most popular deck in Philadelphia. Players love playing one prize attacker decks when they can, so I would expect Shrine to be popular, especially after it completely dominated a Regional. With just a week in between Regional Championships, adjusted lists also may not have made their way into every testing circle causing some potential Shrine players ready for the punishment that awaits them.
2. Zoroark GX / Garbodor for Philadelphia
One of my favorite picks for Philadelphia is Zoroark GX / Garbodor. As mentioned in the previous section, Trashalanche is inherently one of the best attacks in the game and it’s won 5/6 majors since the start of July. Zoroark GX of course is ever present as a top card, and in a format with poor draw Supporters, Trade becomes an even more powerful Ability when non-Zoroark GX decks no longer have their own strong Ability (Abyssal Hand) or a strong draw Supporter (Professor Sycamore) to even things out.
Here is my current Zoroark GX / Garbodor list.
Pokemon – 22
Trainers – 30
Energy – 8
Zoroark GX / Garbodor has probably been overall my favorite deck in Standard ever since Stephane Ivanoff won the NAIC with the deck. I had tried porting over his build into the new Standard format, but was largely unsuccessful with it in the new Standard Format, losing Garbotoxin, N, and Puzzle of Time was too much of a loss to port that style of build over to Standard format.
The way I have built the deck is to give it different routes of plays it can take depending on the matchup. The deck has the ability to slip between being a Latios / Garbodor deck and a Zoroark GX / Garbodor deck, with Latios setting up easier knockout math for later in the game during the early stages.
I ended up not playing Devoured Field as I think you really want to commit to your Psychic attackers in the early game against the Buzzwole Shrine decks. Once you get past the Sledgehammer turn, then Zoroark GX becomes a more solid attacker to transition into. It’s also important to note that you’re a Trashalanche deck, so you really want multiple copies of Field Blower to be able to put Pokemon Tool cards into the discard pile to boost your Trashalanche damage.
Outside of that, there are a few things that I am a big advocate of in Zoroark GX decks for this format.
1. Playing a normal Supporter lineup.
Every time I’ve played one of the new Zoroark GX lists that is skimping hard on the Supporter cards I just end up dead drawing in the early game and usually lose the game because of that. The extra Supporter cards often become the card you Trade away as growing your hand is better than shuffling your hand in and drawing cards, and Lillie is unplayable with too big of a hand, but that’s okay, as they’re in there to add stability to the setup phase of the game.
This also is beneficial in the context of the current meta game. Playing less Item cards means you have less opportunity to fuel Trashalanche with Trade, and being able to more often naturally draw into your draw Supporter cards means you have to play less extraneous Abilities onto your bench to get setup when playing against opposing decks with Weavile.
2. You should be playing Double Acerola, Double Pal Pad.
If you’re playing Zoroark GX for this weekend, regardless of variant, I think you should be playing two copies of Acerola and two Pal Pad. This allows you to play a maximum of six Acerola throughout a game, which is more than enough turns of healing to get past your matchups against decks relying on 2HKO’s against you, such as the Shrine of Punishment decks.
3. Magcargo is super good.
I’ve become a strong believer in Magcargo in Zoroark decks, and would suggest you play a 1-1 line in any variant you play. Once Magcargo is in play, you will generally be able to execute whatever strategy you want for the rest of the game. Between your random Trades, and your targeted Trade, you will generally have the right mix of cards to do exactly what it is you want to do every single turn of the game.
Magcargo is particularly effective for creating endless loops. For example, if you are playing against a Shrine of Punishment deck, you can use Magcargo to constantly search out Acerola (or the Pal Pad) every single turn of the game to create an Acerola loop that lasts enough turns to pull you ahead in the prize trade.
Overall, I think Zoroark GX / Garbodor is still a strong contender and with the power of Trashalanche, it’s hard to count this deck out of many matchups.
3. Apricorn Maker is bad.
This card started to see play as a Brigette replacement, with Pokemon Fan Club as the other contender to replace Brigette. If you’ve looked at my Zoroark GX / Garbodor list, or read the title of this section, you can probably tell which of the two options I prefer.
When examining these cards, we should state the reason why we would include cards like this in our deck, and that reason is simple, to search out Basic Pokemon on the opening turn of the game. This is the card you want to go to during your setup if you have your continuation for turn 2 already setup within your hand.
The argument in favor of Apricorn Maker over Fan Club boiled down to, “It thins out your deck, so it’s better.” Here’s the issue with this logic, if thinning Nest Ball out of your deck is good, why are you playing those Nest Ball in the first place? If you’re going to Apricorn Maker as your turn 1 setup, just to thin your deck of Nest Ball, why are you even playing those Nest Ball in the first place when you don’t value them as a resource?
This is where I find Pokemon Fan Club superior. On turn 1 you can grab some Basic Pokemon with Pokemon Fan Club, but then on your turn 2 and beyond you are more likely to get more of your Basic Pokemon into play as you will still have your Nest Ball in the deck which can be used to search out more Basic Pokemon to further your setup. So while deck thinning is generally seen as something that helps your draw probabilities as the game goes down, immediately going down 2 Nest Ball unnecessarily just decreases your probability of establishing your proper setup.
Even Pokemon Fan Club is pretty situational, often Lillie is the optimal turn 1 Supporter, even for Zoroark GX decks. Sometimes though, you will have something like double Zoroark GX in your opening hand, so it makes sense out of an Ultra Ball to ensure the two Zorua when you already have another draw Supporter, such as Cynthia, already in hand.
The one thing Apricorn Maker has going for it is versatility of being able to search out Evolution Pokemon via Ultra Ball or Timer Ball, but I’ve found that using a draw Supporter in these situations is more optimal. Players are only playing one copy of Apricorn Maker for the most part anyhow, so to get it on turn 2, you would generally have to Wonder Tag for it, and if you’re using an Ultra Ball on turn 2 to search it out, you will often be able to just use that Ultra Ball to search out the Pokemon you want (say a Zoroark GX), and then use another draw Supporter, such as Cynthia and then draw into what you need off of the Cynthia or subsequent Trades.
I also think Apricorn Maker is a dumb card to be playing in context of the meta. As mentioned multiple times now, Trashalanche Garbodor has won 5/6 Major events since the beginning of July, Trashalanche is very strong, and using an engine that unnecessarily dumps Item cards into the discard pile to function properly seems like a foolish engine to use.
4. Buzzwole GX / Lycanroc GX is still rock solid.
One of the decks that is probably sneaking under the radar a bit headed into Philadelphia is Buzzwole GX / Lycanroc GX.
Here is my current list for the deck:
Pokemon – 11
Trainers – 35
Energy – 14
This deck is a solid choice I think for this format. It’s very balanced in its matchups, just as it was last format, and it really feels like you can beat almost anything.
The deck has solid early game consistency being able to attack for a single Energy attachment with Buzzwole GX or Buzzwole. As the game goes on, the deck unlocks OHKO potential, as you’re able to setup the Sledgehammer for 120 turn when your opponent goes down to four prizes, and you can take OHKO’s with Knuckle Impact, which you can setup with Beast Ring.
I’ve found it easier to use Beast Ring in this format without N. It takes a few more turns to get to the knockouts where Beast Ring becomes active, and since there is such little hand disruption format, you can often find yourself with a hand that has multiple Beast Ring that you can hold onto until your opponent takes the knockout you need to play them in the same turn.
Beyond that, you have Lycanroc GX, which can eliminate random big threats with Dangerous Rogue GX as long as your opponent has a sizable bench. Like Garbodor, Lycanroc GX forces the opponent into Bart Simpson Scenarios, where they can either play down more Pokemon to their bench and boost the damage output of Dangerous Rogue GX, or they hold those Pokemon in their hand and give themselves a weaker board setup.
The big new innovation that has come about for this deck in the early stages of the season is the introduction of Double Colorless Energy into the deck. Whoever thought to do this is a genius, as it really unlocks Lycanroc GX as an attacker. Making Claw Slash more accessible as an attack really brings together the deck for this format, and it also has the added benefit of opening up Tapu Lele GX as an attacker and giving you an easy way to retreat a Buzzwole or Buzzwole GX.
Lycanroc GX is a very strong asset for the deck in the Shrine of Punishment matchup. It doesn’t have a Psychic weakness, making it stronger against Garbodor (or Deoxys in the Malamar variant), and with Diancie Prism Star it can get up to 130 damage with Claw Slash to OHKO Buzzwole, Garbodor, and Deoxys. (Garbodor also generally needs Rainbow Energy to attack, so even if your opponent knocks out Diancie Prism Star, you should still be able to OHKO an attacking Garbodor).
Lycanroc GX is also an evolution GX, which is relevant against the Shrine decks. This is important, because against these decks you can leave the Lycanroc GX as a Rockruff on the bench. When it’s a Rockruff, it won’t take damage from Shrine of Punishment. You can then wait until you’re ready to attack with Lycanroc GX to evolve it, minimizing the amount of damage Shrine of Punishment may do to it.
The Zoroark GX matchup is much stronger in this format than it was last format as they no longer have Mew EX to quickly OHKO a Buzzwole GX, and players aren’t even playing Deoxys in their decks yet as they’re favoring using that tech slot for Dedenne to counter Rayquaza GX. The only Zoroark deck that feels like it can fight a proper battle with BuzzRoc in this format is Zoroark GX / Garbodor, I think this deck pretty well blows out the other Zoroark GX decks.
Beyond that, the deck has a fair enough matchup against Rayquaza GX / Vikavolt and if played well can go close to 50/50 against the Shrine of Punishment decks.
5. Handling the 19 Point Advancement at Regional Championships
For this season, any player with 19 match points or more will advance to Day 2 of Regional Championships with Day 2 Swiss. This is a change from last season, where 21 match points were required to be guaranteed a spot in Day 2.
The general consensus among the Pokemon community is that if you’re at 18 match points headed into round 9, you should intentionally draw to guarantee Day 2. Ahmed Ali did a poll of this last week, with 71% of respondents saying they would ID and 29% saying they would play for a higher seed.
I have to say that I disagree with the community consensus on this one and think that if your goal is to make Top 8 or win the tournament, than you should be sitting down to play round 9 most of the time, not to intentionally draw.
Some of the reasonings for going for the intentional draw are based around faulty logic or untrue statements.
One such example is that you should intentionally draw into Day 2 to guarantee cash. If you could intentionally draw into guaranteed cash, I would suggest you do that, as $250 is a nice thing to guarantee. However, Regional Championships don’t pay out cash, or even guaranteed packs to all Day 2 competitors, they only prize out cash to Top 32 and packs to Top 64, so if you don’t finish within those bands, even if you’re in Day 2, you won’t receive those prizes.
At North America Regional Championships, there should be zero Regional Championships in which Day 2 means guaranteed cash this season. The smallest Regional Championship from last season that is returning again this season is Roanoke, which had 401 players, and after 9 Swiss rounds had 40 players with 19 or more match points. Attendance will probably continue to increase at tournaments this season, which means the number of players in Day 2 will grow, which in turn will increase the points required to reach the various finish levels.
The second argument commonly thrown about is that you can’t win the tournament if you don’t make Day 2. While this is of course a true statement, it’s misleading. Another counter statement to this is that you can’t win the tournament if you don’t make Top 8, and if you’re taking Round 9 off, it will be more difficult to make Top 8 than if you entered Day 2 with 21 points.
I was able to find Top 8 data from every Regional Championship except Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Roanoke, and Madison. Of the data I have, ignoring Vancouver since it got axed, on the low end was Portland, with 469 players in attendance. At that tournament you needed 31 points to be the 8th seed, which means if you entered into Day 2 with 19 match points, you needed to go 4-1-0 for a chance to bubble in, or 4-0-1 to be guaranteed into cut. Comparatively, if you entered with 21 match points, you needed to go 3-1-1 for a chance to bubble in, and 3-0-2 to guarantee it.
On the other end of the spectrum is Collinsville with 1,066 players, where you needed 34 points to be the 8th seed. If you entered with 19 match points, you would need to go 5-1-0 to have a chance to bubble into cut, or 5-0-1 to be guaranteed. If you went in with 21 match points, you could get into cut at 4-1-1, or guarantee cut at 4-0-2.
Making Top 8 out of 19 match points last season already allowed little room for error, and with more players in Day 2, and perhaps larger attendance as well, the point bubbles will only increase even higher, leaving even less room for error.
There are some reasons why you may want to intentionally draw the last round, and they essentially boil down to you being unfavored to win the match. This can be for a variety of reasons, but the primary two would be an unfavorable matchup or playing against a better opponent.
If you’re playing Zoroark GX / Golisopod GX and you know your opponent is playing some Quad Hoopa deck, and they offer an intentional draw, you will want to take that, as you will just lose the matchup if you play it out. However, this requires having the information on what the opponent is playing, which might be hard to come across at such a large event.
The other reason would be if you are playing against a much higher Elo opponent than yourself, at which point you are going to have a high probability to lose. I don’t really like this reason for intentionally drawing, as part of your evolution into a better player will be figuring out ways to beat strong opponents, thus raising your own skill level.
Overall, I really love the idea of playing out the final round. If you win, you go into Day 2 with a higher record, giving you a higher probability to finish in the money and to make Top 8. Around 15-20% you will advance to Day 2 with 19 points from a natural draw. If you lose, the outcome isn’t so bad, as you will likely then be taking home a Top 128 finish, which still nets you 40 Championship Points. There will be plenty of players that play in Day 2 that walk away with nothing more than those same 40 Championship Points for Top 128, and more often than not they will probably be players that entered the day at 19 match points.
That’s it for today. I look forward to seeing how Philly plays out and good luck to anyone going.