Can Lightning Strike Twice? — Team Up’s Best Decks in the UNB format

Players often gravitate towards new decks in the early days of any format. For the current SUM UNB format, this manifested mainly in an influx of three decks: Reshiram and Charizard-GX, Zoroark-GX / Persian-GX, and Weezing. Reshiram & Charizard-GX was the most hyped new deck of the format, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s not a stretch to call it the best deck of the format. Zoroark-GX / Persian-GX consistently does well, but it seems that players haven’t reached a consensus on what is the best way to run the deck. My own opinion is that far too many players decided to run the very situational Slowking instead of the far more versatile Dewgong — something that didn’t work out in the end, since the two Zoroark-GX / Persian-GX / Slowking players in the Top 8 of Madison Regionals lost to Reshiram & Charizard-GX in top cut. Finally, Weezing had a good start, but has been trailing off recently — it only got three spots in Day 2 of Madison, and none of those reached the Top 32. I believe that this is due both to an unfavorable metagame (Miltank‘s popularity and Field Blower counts increasing) and to players learning how to play against it correctly. It’s not a bad deck by any means, but it’s not as good as its early results may have led you to believe, and I’d classify it as a situational pick.

As the format develops however, these new decks lose their novelty and players move back to the strong decks they left. We saw Ian Robb win Madison regionals with Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel. As you may know, it’s the second time this specific deck is doing well in a new cycle. One of the best decks in the Lost Thunder format, Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel was pronounced dead after Oceania Internationals and the debut of Team Up by Zach Lesage, the deck’s most fervent supporter — only for him to win the biggest Regionals of the season soon after. Now, once again, Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel is winning a Regionals when people least expect it.

And with good reason: Ian Robb beat three Reshiram & Charizard-GX decks in a row (two with Jirachi, one with Green's Exploration) in the top cut in Madison, showing that Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel can contend with the new format’s BDIF and maybe be a counter to it. Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel’s unlimited damage cap is an asset against Reshiram & Charizard-GX, which is too slow to contend with Blacephalon-GX. In the event of a quick Knock Out, Reshiram & Charizard-GX would have to deal with Beast Rings in response.

I’m not here to talk about Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel, since I don’t particularly enjoy the deck and haven’t tested its latest version enough. However, if this deck from six months ago can perform today, what other decks from the past can find a new path to success in the current metagame? Can the previous format’s frontrunners Pikachu and Zekrom-GX and Zapdos / Ultra Beasts find success now? Can lightning strike twice?

Obviously, these decks have not been forgotten the way Blacephalon-GX was. But they have to adapt to the new format and this transition hasn’t been as smooth as expected. In this article, my goal is to talk about what to expect from these decks: The conditions that are necessary to their success, the cards that should be ran, and the ones that you should not. I’ll also talk about Malamar, another deck from a past format that I believe has very good chance right now.

Even though the North American Regionals are over for the season, Latin American players will gather this weekend in Santiago, Chile for their final Regionals, and Europeans will do the same in Jonkoping, Sweden the week after. Therefore, the metagame will evolve before the North American International Championships. If you’re attending NAIC, you should definitely pay attention to these events or the metagame will leave you behind!

1. Zapdos / Ultra Beasts

After great start, winning Sydney Regionals on the first weekend of the new format, Zapdos has been a bit disappointing. In Madison, only three players made Day 2 with the deck. Why is there a lack of success, despite the deck having a good matchup against Reshiram & Charizard-GX?

It turns out that things aren’t that easy for Zapdos. Up to four copies of Volcanion is featured in almost every Reshiram & Charizard-GX list and it deals extremely well against Zapdos thanks to its 110 damage and 120 HP (putting it out of range of Thunderous Assault + Electropower). Techs like Acerola and Max Potion are very effective since they can heal a Tag Team Pokemon before Zapdos can 2HKO or 3HKO it. Zapdos decks do run Tapu Koko-GX, which does very well against Reshiram & Charizard-GX, but they can actually limit their amount of Energy to prevent a Knock Out.

Apart from the Reshiram & Charizard-GX matchup, Zapdos has other issues to deal with. Zoroark-GX decks use the aforementioned Acerola and sometimes Max Potion, which works perfectly with Triple Acceleration Energy since you won’t have any Energy to discard anyway. In addition, Buzzwole is not as strong in this matchup as it once was. Zoroark-GX lists can use Dewgong — another 120 HP Pokemon that Zapdos has trouble with — to take two Prize cards in one turn and skip the Sledgehammer turn. Even those who don’t run Dewgong can take their second Prize with Persian-GX’s Slash Back GX, forcing the Zapdos player to have Buzzwole, a Special Energy and Guzma in order to Knock Out Persian-GX or Zoroark-GX.

Fortunately for Zapdos fans, I think the worst has passed. The most successful decks in Madison Regionals are capable of OHKOs, making healing techs irrelevant. They should see less play in upcoming tournaments, which means that damage from Zapdos will stick. Stall seems to be on the decline, and the continued success of Arcanine (a card that deals perfectly with Vileplume, Hoopa, and Energy denial) should make sure it stays down. That’s one less bad matchup for Stall to deal with. That’s why I predict that Zapdos will do better this weekend in Santiago, and possibly in Jonkoping.

There’s the Zoroark-GX matchup to deal with, especially since it seems to be more popular in Europe and Latin America than in North America. This is where I need to talk about Zebstrika. It was absent from the lists of Michael Catron and Mike Morton (who both made Top 4 in Santa Clara) and Drew Cate, the highest-finisher Zapdos player in Madison. However, things are different in the rest of the world. Zebstrika was played by three of the four players who made Top 8 in Sydney (including Aaron van der Kolk, the winner), and in Sao Paulo, Alex Silva (the only Zapdos player in Top 8) ran a 2-2 line. Sao Paulo was the most recent Regionals where Zoroark-GX had the most success and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Zebstrika is necessary to deal with Zoroark-GX, for two reasons. One, it lets the deck draw cards in the face of Alolan Muk. Two, it’s a way to draw Rainbow Energy or Beast Energy Prism Star when you need to play Guzma in the same turn, in order to use your tech attackers such as Buzzwole at the right time.


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