The New Elite Four — Navigating the Tier 1 of Team Up

Hello everyone! With Collinsville Regionals right around the corner, we’ve gotten to the point where it’s time to finalize our decklists and decide on any last-minute changes. Thankfully, we now have a pretty good idea of what decks to expect, as we’ve now had our first major non-Japanese event with Team Up legal for play (congratulations to PokeBeach’s own Isaiah Williams and Stéphane Ivanoff for their 1st and 2nd place finishes)!

One of the most surprising things about the Oceania International Championship results was, well, the lack of surprises. Going into the event, most people predicted that Pikachu and Zekrom-GX and Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX would be the top decks to look out for, along with Zapdos / Jirachi and Malamar / Ultra Necrozma-GX. Sure enough, the metagame was indeed dominated by those four. Of the 36 Day 2 spots, 34 were taken by one of those four decks; the other two were taken by Blacephalon-GX players. Passimian and Lost March had some hype, and saw some play, but any predicted successes didn’t materialize. There was also a distinct lack of rogue decks, as most of the “surprise” factor with regard to deck building came from techs and list construction, rather than from new concepts.

With the OCIC Day 2 meta so centralized, it’s much easier to predict what decks we should plan to face in Collinsville. In this article, I’ll be going over each of the “elite four” decks: Zapdos / Jirachi, Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX, Pikachu & Zekrom GX, and Malamar / Ultra Necrozma. Even better, I’ll show you some ways that your deck can tech against them! Finally, I’ll also be going over an updated list of my own deck choice, keeping those techs and strategies in mind.

Zapdos / Jirachi

First, let’s look at Isaiah Williams’ OCIC-winning deck, Zapdos / Jirachi. In my most recent article, I tried to make the case that Zapdos was the strongest deck in Standard due to its aggressiveness, consistency, and solid matchup spread. In addition to winning OCIC, Zapdos decks finished with two of the other Top 8 spots at that tournament, as well as ten of the 36 Day 2 placements. On top of that, both Zapdos and Jirachi appeared in a number of Pikachu & Zekrom GX decks, the most-represented archetype in Day 2.

There were two list designs in particular that saw success: the European “Rainbow Zapdos” list, which utilized Rainbow Energy and attackers such as Buzzwole and Nihilego; and the American “Straight Zapdos” list, which focused on aggression and consistency rather than techs. Interestingly enough, both of these lists are drastically different takes than my own Zapdos / Jolteon-GX version, which I still believe is the ideal way to play the deck, especially post-OCIC (but more on that later!).

The Strategy

Regardless of the list, all Zapdos decks utilize the same general strategy. They want to start taking Prizes as early as possible, and continue applying consistent pressure with Zapdos throughout the game. The Jirachi engine is critical to this plan, as Stellar Wish gives the Zapdos player an opportunity to find whatever card they might need to continue their assault, be it a switching card, an Electropower, or a Supporter.

Matching the aggressiveness of Zapdos is rather difficult, but there are ways to slow it down enough to beat it. The easiest method is to hinder Jirachi, either by shutting off its Ability, by removing or disabling Escape Board, or by simply KOing all the Jirachi on your opponent’s field. By taking away Stellar Wish, you increase the odds that the Zapdos player won’t be able to find the cards they need on a given turn to keep up the pressure they need. Since Zapdos relies on a fairly straightforward, traditional aggro strategy, even a single turn without attacking can be the difference between it winning and losing. If you are playing another aggressive deck, such as Lost March or Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, you’ll want to try and hinder those Jirachi as much as you can. Absol and Alolan Muk are two excellent tech Pokemon that can do this.

Another way to approach the matchup is to take advantage of Zapdos’s limited damage output, particularly in the “Straight Zapdos” version. While Electropower, Choice Band, and Shrine of Punishment can add up to dangerous numbers, it’s still difficult for Zapdos to OHKO Pokemon with higher amounts of HP. This means that Zapdos usually relies on two-hit Knock Outs against these decks — and you can take advantage of that.

If you’re looking to improve your decklist against Zapdos, consider these tech cards:

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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