Meta Analysis – Where Each Deck Stands Heading into the Final Stretch

Editor’s note: This article was written prior to the Origins Special Event.

Hello everyone! Grant Manley here once again. Instead of going over specific decklists today, I’m going to mix it up a little bit. At the risk of biting off more than I can chew, today I’ll be talking about each and every deck that has existed in the current Standard format, Sun and Moon-Unbroken Bonds. So far, we’ve had two major events in America that used this format: Santa Clara Regionals and Madison Regionals. And we have two SUM-UNB tournaments remaining: the Origins Special Event and the North America International Championship. We’ve seen over a dozen different decks find some degree of popularity and success in this format.

Reshiram and Charizard-GX cemented its place at the top immediately, but the rest of the decks have had their own relatively inconsistent bouts of relevance. This kind of format is interesting to me. I predict that Reshiram & Charizard-GX will hold on to its position of king throughout this format’s lifespan, but I do expect the varying results of the other decks to continue. I’d say that Pikachu and Zekrom-GX is probably the next-most consistent deck in terms of results, but even that deck was quite underrated going into Madison. In fact, if not for Rahul Reddy’s squad’s good performance at Madison, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX likely wouldn’t even be in this conversation.

Anyway, today I’d like to analyze each deck’s position in the current meta. I feel that I have a solid read on what’s good and what isn’t, though that much may already be obvious to you. I’m going to take a look at each deck, moving down the list roughly in order of their placements at Madison Regionals. I’ll briefly discuss each deck’s results (or lack thereof) thus far, talk about their strengths and weakness, and offer predictions for upcoming events. I also have a pair of Malamar lists I want to share, and to finish up, I’ll go over my tier list and personal top picks.

 

Blacephalon-GX

Past

Blacephalon-GX flew completely under the radar for Madison Regionals, as it had zero notable placements at both Santa Clara and Sao Paulo Regionals. Ian Robb saw something in Blacephalon-GX when no one else did, though, and was able to take it all the way to first place in Madison. Ian told me that he didn’t even test the deck. Admittedly, Blacephalon-GX isn’t a terribly difficult deck to play, but Ian was smart enough to realize that this format had a perfect opening for Blacephalon-GX to come back in full force. Ian’s list stayed true to traditional builds of Blacephalon-GX, though he did make space for two Welder, a Field Blower, and a Lysandre Labs.

However, Ian wasn’t the only person to find success with the deck in Madison. Zach Lesage once again picked up his favorite deck and reached 17th. Like Ian, Zach played two copies of Welder, but he also managed to squeeze in a 1-1 line of Persian-GX in exchange for the more usual Alolan Muk line. The idea behind Persian-GX in the deck is that it guarantees that you find copies of Beast Ring when you need them via the Cat Walk Ability. It might not be used in every game, but it is certainly a powerful consistency boost.

Present

Blacephalon-GX still finds itself in a decent spot due to its favorable matchup against Reshiram & Charizard-GX. Some players say Blacephalon-GX is also good against Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, but I find this claim to be a bit suspect because Pikachu & Zekrom-GX can easily deny usage of Beast Ring with smart usage of Tag Bolt GX. While Blacephalon-GX certainly faces collateral damage from Water-type techs intended for Reshiram and Charizard-GX, this is more of an annoyance than a game-changer. In fact, some counter-techs such as Slowking and Frost Rotom rely on Energy in play, which Blacephalon naturally counteracts with Mind Blown.

Future

Blacephalon-GX is surely on notice now. No matter how invisible a deck previously was before, a Regional win will inevitably draw attention to it. In fact, I’d say Blacephalon-GX will become highly popular now, to the point where it will be a major player in upcoming events. In terms of popularity for the future, I’d place Blacephalon-GX right up there with the likes of Pikachu & Zekrom-GX and Zoroark-GX variants (though not quite at the level of Reshiram & Charizard-GX). Blacephalon-GX is a strong, easy-to-play deck that just works. There’s no reason it shouldn’t see mainstream play from here on out.

 

Reshiram & Charizard-GX / Jirachi

Past

Team DDG had huge success with Reshiram and Charizard-GX at Madison. Three players using the same list made Top 8, and as far as I know, the rest of the list’s users all made Day 2 as well. This should be no surprise: the best players using the best deck ought to perform well. Both DDG’s version and Pablo Meza’s first place Sao Paulo list featured four Jirachi, which seems overkill to me. Alex Schemanske’s list with just two Jirachi placed second in Santa Clara, and personally, I prefer that version.

Present

Reshiram & Charizard-GX is the best deck in the format. It is the king. It doesn’t care what you throw at it because it does its own thing. It’s insanely fast, powerful, and consistent. Most lists now run at least one Eevee and Snorlax-GX to beat Zoroark-GX decks, and non-GX attackers such as Arcanine to hold their own against one-Prize decks.

Future

While this should go without saying, I expect ReshiZard to firmly hold onto its top spot in the metagame. There is no easy counter to the deck. I expect the version with Kiawe and Jirachi to remain a little more popular than the Green's Exploration version. It is faster, more consistent, stronger against Let Loose, and better overall in my opinion. Even though ReshiZard is unfavored against Blacephalon-GX, which just won a Regional, the matchup is not completely unwinnable.

 

Reshiram & Charizard-GX / Green’s Exploration

Past

This variant of Reshiram & Charizard-GX, featuring four copies of Volcanion, won Santa Clara Regionals in the hands of Kian Amini. Cody Walinski also managed to make Top 8 at Madison with this variant, opting to include a copy of Ditto. These extremely strong results, combined with Reshiram and Charizard-GX natural power and dominance, makes this deck a central force in the current meta. I do feel that it is different enough from the Jirachi version to warrant its own section.

Present

This version of Reshiram & Charizard-GX also commands a dominating presence in the meta. Personally, I dislike this version as I consider it inferior to the variant with Kiawe and Jirachi. However, this version is still popular and must be prepared for. Volcanion offers a solid non-GX attacker, giving this deck its favorable matchup against Zapdos variants. Volcanion is also decent against Blacephalon-GX, forcing them to get rid of three Energy for just one Prize Card.

Future

Reshiram & Charizard-GX with Green's Exploration will continue to see play and success. While it may be an inferior build of ReshiZard, it still is ReshiZard nonetheless. Many of the positive traits I attributed to the Jirachi version apply to this build as well.

 

PikaRom

Past

After dominating the SUM-TEU format, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX took a hard backseat to Reshiram & Charizard-GX. Despite its Top 8 in Santa Clara, I had written off the deck as a worse Reshiram & Charizard-GX. Mew being included in most decks nullifies the main selling point that Pikachu & Zekrom-GX has, which is the Tag Bolt GX snipe effect. However, the deck took a few Day 2 spots in Madison, including a Top 4 finish from Xander Pero. I have started to reconsider my negative stance on this deck in the current format.

Present

Pikachu & Zekrom-GX is in a solid spot right now. Its Reshiram & Charizard-GX matchup is admittedly not the greatest, but it’s not terrible either. Much like its Fire counterpart, the Lightning deck has inherent speed and power that allows it to contend with just about any matchup. Especially notable is that it has a better Blacephalon-GX matchup than Reshiram & Charizard-GX does.

Future

Pikachu & Zekrom-GX will likely continue with its middling popularity. It’s not that it’s a mediocre deck, it’s just that the aforementioned Fire decks work similarly to PikaRom and are just a bit better in many ways. Pikachu & Zekrom-GX’s niche is that it’s better against Blacephalon-GX, though it pays dearly for this by taking a worse Reshiram & Charizard-GX matchup.

 

Zoroark-GX variants

Past

After taking 11th place in Santa Clara, Zoroark-GX took 7th, 8th, and 9th places in Madison. I personally ended up 5-1-3 with the deck, a sad experience that I don’t need to discuss further. For more information about Zoroark-GX, I encourage you to take a look at my last article.

Present

Zoroark-GX is presently in a bit of an awkward spot. It gained Triple Acceleration Energy and Persian-GX, which add an insane new dimension of power to the deck. However, Reshiram & Charizard-GX decks now most likely run one, if not two, Eevee and Snorlax-GX. The version with two Eevee and Snorlax-GX is just terrible for Zoroark-GX. KOing of them is at least manageable, but finding a way to deal with the second is near-impossible. The obvious solution would be to move to a Zoroark-GX build with one or more Bodybuilding Dumbbells, but then you would get in an awkward position managing your Tools. Choice Bandis essential in many matchups, so then what other cards would one cut to add the Bodybuilding Dumbbells? I do think Zoroark-GX should run both Bodybuilding Dumbbells and Choice Bands going forward, but I do not have a tested list for such a build.

Aside from the Eevee and Snorlax-GX-heavy Reshiram & Charizard-GX builds, Zoroark-GX has it pretty good in terms of matchups. Mew and Persian-GX lock up Pikachu & Zekrom-GX (although Pikachu & Zekrom-GX players will tell you otherwise), Slowking with Choice Band OHKO’s Blacephalon-GX, and the deck naturally packs answers to just about everything else. I was surprisingly not disappointed with the mirror match, which is fairly skill-intensive. Additionally, I think Dewgong is still terrible in Zoroark. Don’t play Dewgong. It’s a weak card and lots of decks play Mew anyway.

Future

Zoroark will still see play. It’s still really good. It is bad against double Eevee and Snorlax-GX which keeps it in check. I would place Zoroark alongside Blaceplalon-GX and Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, high in Tier 2.

 

Zapdos / Ultra Beasts

Past

Zapdos managed to take 3rd and 4th in Santa Clara, but had very few Day 2 spots in Madison (with its best being 11th place). After its initial strong showing, it has started to drop off a bit. The deck got a few new toys with Unbroken Bonds, but it seems to be getting power-creeped into oblivion.

Present

Zapdos is not good right now. I was surprised to see it do so well in Santa Clara. In a vacuum, the deck is great. However, it has bad matchups against almost everything else that is good right now. The Jirachi version of ReshiZard has Miltank to heal off all of Zapdos’s relatively weak attacks, and the Green’s Exploration version throws four Volcanion at it and wins. Zapdos also loses to Alolan Muk, a card commonly used with Blacephalon-GX and Zoroark-GX. Admittedly, Zapdos is pretty strong against Pikachu & Zekrom-GX and Quagsire variants, but that’s about all it has going for it. Zapdos also loses to fringe decks like Weezing and disruption decks.

Future

People like Zapdos and will continue to play it. However, I expect Zapdos to flop in upcoming events. What once was considered the second-best deck in this format is now positioned extremely poorly in terms of matchups. It will slowly drop off in popularity. I hesitate to throw Zapdos into Tier 3 just because it’s Zapdos and only had one bad tournament, but it’s certainly a level below all the other decks I’ve discussed thus far.

 

Malamar

Past

Malamar has been unloved in this format so far. It’s only had a sprinkling of Day 2 placements. Malamar got 19th place at both Santa Clara and Madison, but no better. I’m not entirely sure why Malamar is getting minimal amounts of attention and results. Both the straight Psychic version and the Ultra Necrozma-GX build have a lot of potential in this format.

Present

I think Malamar is quite strong currently. It’s good against Reshiram & Charizard-GX and Blacephalon-GX. The main thing holding Malamar back is its poor Zoroark-GX matchup. This is a hot take, but I will say that the Ultra Necrozma-GX variant is strongly favored against both Zapdos and Pikachu & Zekrom-GX. The non-Ultra Necrozma-GX version is not quite as good against Zapdos but is still good against Pikachu & Zekrom-GX. I am most likely going to play Malamar at my League Cups this weekend, though those are already done by the time you’re reading this. Although I have more reps with Ultra Necrozma, I am currently favoring the straight Psychic version due to its slightly increased consistency. I figure that a deck that consistently beats the three big beatdown decks, albeit with a weakness to Zoroark, has got to be worth trying out.

Here are my lists for both Malamar /Ultra Necrozma-GX and straight Malamar / Psychic attackers. Note that the Psychic-attackers list is for a undefined meta and does not include techs. For my League Cups I am considering techs such as Dewgong and Chimecho to give me a better shot against Zoroark-GX, though I probably would just opt for more consistency rather than techs at a Regional or NAIC.

Malamar / Ultra Necrozma-GX

Pokemon (18)

2x Ultra Necrozma-GX (FOL #95)2x Giratina (LOT #97)4x Malamar (FOL #51)4x Inkay (FOL #50)1x Ditto Prism Star (LOT #154)1x Mew (UNB #76)1x Dedenne-GX (UNB #57)1x Tapu Lele-GX (GUR #60)1x Jirachi (TEU #99)1x Oricorio (GUR #55)

Trainers (33)

1x Erika's Hospitality (TEU #140)3x Lillie (ULP #125)4x Guzma (BUS #115)4x Cynthia (ULP #119)4x Ultra Ball (FAC #113)4x Mysterious Treasure (FOL #113)4x Switch (SW #128)3x Acro Bike (PRC #122)2x Escape Board (ULP #122)1x Rescue Stretcher (GUR #130)3x Viridian Forest (TEU #156)

Energy (9)

1x Beast Energy Prism Star (FOL #117)2x Metal Energy (XY #139)6x Psychic Energy (BLW #109)

Mew is great both as an attacker and as a shield against Tag Bolt GX. Psypower sets up math on Reshiram and Charizard-GX and can also set up numbers for Sky-Scorching Light GX later on. Oricorio is actually very good as well and boosts the deck’s speed and aggressive potential. My Energy count isn’t low, everyone else’s is just high. Viridian Forest is very good in the deck, and a heavier count of those is better than more Energy. Three Lillie is a little greedy but has been fine for me so far. Jirachi is great for chaining Guzma and for overall consistency. I’ve always considered adding a second Jirachi but have not yet felt the need to pull the trigger on it. Regarding the four Switch: they’re just good. You have to take my word for it on that. I play zero Nest Ball because Nest Ball is terrible. It is only good on Turn 1 and is a liability past that. Never play Nest Ball in this deck.

 

Straight Malamar

Pokemon (19)

4x Malamar (FOL #51)4x Inkay (FOL #50)1x Marshadow-GX (PRSM #SM59)1x Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX (PRSM #SM101)1x Necrozma-GX (PRSM #SM58)1x Ditto Prism Star (LOT #154)1x Dedenne-GX (UNB #57)1x Tapu Lele-GX (GUR #60)2x Giratina (LOT #97)2x Jirachi (TEU #99)1x Mew (UNB #76)

Trainers (33)

1x Erika's Hospitality (TEU #140)3x Lillie (ULP #125)4x Guzma (BUS #115)4x Cynthia (ULP #119)4x Ultra Ball (FAC #113)4x Mysterious Treasure (FOL #113)4x Acro Bike (PRC #122)3x Switch (DP #119)2x Escape Board (ULP #122)2x Rescue Stretcher (GUR #130)2x Viridian Forest (TEU #156)

Energy (8)

8x Psychic Energy (RS #107)

This build is extremely similar to fellow PokeBeach writer Rukan Shao’s “GasKan” deck from earlier in the season. It focuses on favorable Prize trades with Giratina while also having the nuke option with Necrozma-GX if needed. It exchanges the strong option of Sky Sorching Light GX for more consistency. I initially thought Pokégear 3.0 would be great in Malamar, but it seems that Acro Bike is superior. Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX makes a return to this deck simply because it’s extremely powerful against Blacephalon-GX, though admittedly it is not very good outside of that matchup.

Future

I think Malamar’s fate is going to be determined by how much it is played. This refers not only to the volume of Malamar, but also to who plays it. If all of Team DDG walked into Origins with Malamar, I’m sure it would do well. Malamar certainly has a lot of potential to prove itself in this format, but it will likely remain unpopular as players favor Fire, Lightning, and Zoroark-GX.

 

“Baby” Blacephalon

Past

Blacephalon-GX‘s success has been minimal to say the least, with only a few Day 2 appearances across the two US Regionals in SUM-UNB. In my last article, I wrote about Blacephalon and hyped it up a bit. Blacephalon was among my top picks for both Santa Clara and Madison, and its low level of success has to be contributed to its minimal popularity among the player base. My last list ran two Stealthy Hood… so you’ll probably want to cut those.

Present

Blacephalon is extremely strong right now. My positive opinion on it has not changed. While it is definitely poor against Zoroark-GX, it wrecks both Tag Team decks and its GX counterpart. It one-shots literally any Pokemon with minimal effort, and chaining attacks isn’t too hard thanks to Jirachi, Welder, and Wishful Baton. In terms of matchups against the top decks, Blacephalon is pretty similar to Malamar.

Future

I think Blacephalon is in the same boat as Malamar. The deck is still very good but just isn’t that popular. It has the matchups and inherent strength to succeed, but will just not see a ton of play.

 

Quagsire / Naganadel

Past

Just like the other decks in the lower tiers, Quagsire has seen a few Day 2 placements and nothing more. Notably, Frank Percic caused a bit of a splash by adding Pheromosa and Buzzwole-GX to the archetype at Madison Regionals, though he ended up placing quite low in Day 2. Usually this deck will run one of either Magikarp and Wailord-GX or Pheromosa and Buzzwole-GX, as players don’t all agree upon which is better.

Present

Quagsire has one thing going for it and that is its strong matchup spread. Since Quagsire uses Water-type attackers, it has a natural advantage against the dominant Fire-type decks. It can also use Fighting-type attackers such as Onix or the new Quagsire to cover even more matchups. Although Quagsire has great anti-meta matchups, it is inherently strong and doesn’t rely on facing specific matchups. All of this makes Quagsire seem like the best deck in theory, but its results are lacking. This is because Quagsire is possibly the least consistent deck in the format. Quagsire is held back because it is high-maintenance and extremely inconsistent. Additionally, it is sometimes difficult for the deck to handle an attacking Tapu Lele-GX. Even in matchups that are thought to be extremely favorable, the deck falls apart on itself and loses anyway. I’m actually not entirely convinced that Naganadel should even be in the deck in the first place.

Future

Much like baby Blacephalon and Malamar, Quagsire will likely continue with its mediocre success. Quagsire seems to be a bit more popular than those other two, and this offsets the fact that it is actually worse. I would expect to potentially face Quagsire at any given tournament in the near future, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

 

Weezing

Past

Weezing is a deck that has been hyped a lot for absolutely no reason. Before Santa Clara, PTCGO ladder was almost nothing but Weezing. Weezing took a few lower spots in Santa Clara Day 2, retained a bit of hype, and then mostly bombed in Madison. Considering its popularity in  Day 1 Madison, I would have expected a few more than zero in Top 32.

Present

While I consider Weezing to be a terrible deck due to having a low damage output and literally no impressive attributes, the deck admittedly has a few good matchups. It was previously praised because of its extremely strong Zapdos matchup, but with Zapdos dying off, Weezing loses some of its luster.

Future

Weezing suffered some collateral damage from the resurgence of Field Blower to counter Shedinja, but since Shedinja decided to disappear for Madison, Field Blower counts might fall, and Weezing might become stronger. Even if that happens though, Weezing is still terrible. I think most people are starting to catch on to Weezing being terrible, which is why it’s on the decline. I do not expect a resurgence.

 

Shedinja

Past

I’ve talked about Shedinja a lot recently. This deck, which wins by draining the brain cells of both its user and its opponent, showed up big in Santa Clara where Team DDG played it and got two Top 8 spots. In hindsight, Shedinja seemed like a strong meta call for Madison, but literally no one (except for one person) played it! Shedinja was actually my second-ranked pick for the tournament, but I was scared of Zoroark-GX and didn’t hate myself enough to play nine hours of Shedinja in one day. I think I would actually go mad if I played nine hours of this deck in one day. (But I might have won Madison as well.)

Present

Shedinja is definitely still being talked about despite its absence in Madison. As I’ve said before, Shedinja’s matches come down to how many ways the opponent has to get around Shedinja’s Ability. If they have five, they can win if they go first. If they have six or more, they win. If they have four or less, they lose. This doesn’t hold true 100% of the time though, as Shedinja can sometimes get lucky with tricks like Trumbeak, Slowking, or Persian. Shedinja loses to any tech Oranguru most of the time, though that tech is nowhere to be found at the moment. Personally, I think Shedinja is an extremely strong deck right now.

Future

Going forward, Shedinja lists can and should be running Koga's Trap. I got this idea from Zachary Cooper but I’m sure he’s not the only one who’s thought of it. Koga provides a way to speed up games and disrupt opponents at the same time. It’s very good. I honestly have no idea how much of a pulse Shedinja has at the moment. It obviously didn’t show in Madison, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. The deck is still solid but I cannot guess how much play it will see in the future.

 

Disruption Variants

Past

The other “stall” archetype besides Shedinja, often featuring Lucario and Melmetal-GX and / or Vileplume, also did not show up in Madison after swarming Day 2 in Santa Clara. This is a bit of a trend for disruption decks, and I was honestly expecting it. I made a bit of a bold call by expecting zero at Madison, cutting Oranguru from my list and opting to not play Persian either.

Present

As much as I like Stall, especially with Lance Prism Star, the deck just isn’t in a good spot at all right now. It had insane success in Santa Clara when the format was still brand-new, but it now has a fatal weakness. It loses pretty badly to decks that run multiple Marshadow and also to Blacephalon-GX and Quagsire. Stall variants beat a lot of other decks pretty hard, but they just cannot beat all the decks that they need to right now.

Future

It is painful to admit, but I think Vileplume and other stall/disruption variants are dead for the foreseeable future. They can’t beat Fire!

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, my projected popularity Tier List would place Reshiram & Charizard-GX alone in Tier 1. Zoroark-GX, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, and Blacephalon-GX share Tier 2. The rest of the decks make up Tier 3, except for disruption decks, which are absent altogether. Some random decks that took a few Day 2 spots (such as Granbull, Vikavolt, and atypical Zoroark-GX variants) are fringe or rogue at best and don’t warrant discussion in a meta analysis.

My personal top picks are actually baby Blacephalon, Malamar, Shedinja, and Reshiram & Charizard-GX, in that order. However, as I play more with this format, these picks are subject to change. Like I said, I don’t really know if could actually play Shedinja for a major event, even though I do consider it a very strong deck. Reasonably recent lists for all of these decks (besides Reshiram & Charizard-GX) can be found either in this article or my last one.

As always, thanks for reading! I broke away from my traditional article structure today, so please let me know if this kind of article is helpful! I do like to mix it up every once in awhile.

– Grant

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