The Pink Menace — Gardeon and the post-Worlds Metagame

Worlds is over, but the 2020 season has started. For the first time in years, the results from Worlds will be directly applicable to the post-Worlds format, and there’s a lot to take away. Sure, expected decks like Pikachu and Zekrom-GX and various Malamar variants showed up, but that’s not the whole story. As usual for such a unique and high-level competition, players from all around the world brought surprising picks — some we expected, and some we certainly didn’t. I won’t talk about all of these decks in this article. However, I want to give you a picture of where the meta is heading, at least as I see it, based on what we saw at Worlds. Then, I’ll talk about my own unexpected pick for Worlds, Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX.

Worlds Takeaway

The main mistake I made in the articles I wrote in the month leading to the World Championships was underestimating the importance of gust effects. Obviously, everyone knew that any deck that could include Custom Catcher should do so, but I gave lists of decks such as Malamar, Blacephalon-GX and Dark Box that didn’t include them. Although my understanding of the format evolved especially as we reached Worlds and my playtesting intensified, I took too long to realize what Worlds made evident: gust effects are not simply strong, they’re fundamental. Almost every deck that wants to have a shot in this format needs to be playing one. Every single deck in the Top 16 of Worlds played either Custom Catcher or Ninetales. Some only include three copies (or two) of Custom Catcher since they can’t access it reliably enough to use more than one pair in a game anyway, but the general idea is the same: whether you’re Malamar, Dark Box, Blacephalon-GX, Mewtwo and Mew-GX Box… you need to be playing Custom Catcher. Decks that can’t use it, unless they’re some kind of Stall or lock deck, have no place in the metagame.

In addition to being a gust effect, Custom Catcher can also be used to draw cards. It’s obviously not its main use but I’m certain that every player that included Custom Catcher in their list has used it more than once during Worlds to draw. Whether you’re trying to come back from a Reset Stamp, digging for a Welder to use, or simply desperately trying to save yourself from a terrible opening hand, Custom Catcher’s single effect is valuable. It’s especially strong for aggressive decks, since they’ll often have to face Reset Stamp, and they’ll generally have more ways to get rid of cards in their hand than slower decks.

Here’s another observation: Welder is the best Supporter in the game by far and, in my opinion, the best card in Standard altogether. There were 24 copies of this card in the Top 8 of Worlds. In the Top 4, every deck played four Welder! There are several reasons for that. First, it combines well with Giant Hearth, Fiery Flint, and Fire Crystal. Second, as an Energy accelerator, it is the simplest and most effective one. Sure, one Malamar will accelerate more Energy over the course of a game, but it’s a Stage 1 that must be put into play, instead of a Supporter that can be instantly played as long as you have Energy (that you can easily draw into). Finally, as a draw Supporter, it simply adds cards to your hand, unlike Cynthia that reshuffles or Lillie that requires you to thin your hand beforehand. This means that Welder works better when your goal is to get two Custom Catcher in your hand — something which, as I wrote above, is a central part of the game right now.

So where does that leave us? It’s obviously nothing more than a modelization, but I identify four categories of deck in the format.

A. Aggressive Decks

You know what I’m talking about: Mewtwo & Mew-GX, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel, Reshiram and Charizard-GX / Jirachi. These four decks can draw cards very quickly thanks to Dedenne-GX, use Custom Catcher or Ninetales to target vulnerable Pokémon, and simply aim to take Prize cards as fast as possible. Of these four decks, three use Welder, showcasing its incredible power. The last one, PikaRom, has its own forms of powerful and reliable Energy acceleration.

I don’t think it’s possible to rank these decks yet, since despite similar game plans (put a bunch of Energy in play and use the most powerful attacks available), they have different strengths and weaknesses. Mewtwo & Mew-GX, for example, is the most versatile, but is uniquely weak to Power Plant. Blacephalon-GX trades favorably with Tag Teams, but requires more set-up than the other decks, which means it can be outsped, as we saw in the finals.

Aggressive decks are very well-suited to the new format as they can already do very strong things (Reshiram & Charizard-GX, for example, can hit for 300 damage on turn 2 with Double Blaze GX, even on a Benched Pokémon thanks to Ninetales), whereas slower decks don’t have powerful options yet. Usually, the way this balance works is that decks with Big Basics will be strong early game but might struggle to take their last Prizes whereas slower setup decks, typically Evolutions, will require more time but do stronger things once set up (the perfect example was the Greninja BREAK deck). However, Evolution decks are basically a joke in the current format. The balance is broken, and the metagame clearly favors huge Basic Pokémon, so if you’re searching for a deck to play, you should look there first.

B. Green’s Exploration decks

There are two Green's Exploration decks in the format: Reshiram & Charizard-GX and Gardevoir and Sylveon-GX. In both cases, they trade speed for defensive options. They can still do a lot of damage early (Reshiram & Charizard-GX can do 230 damage on turn 2 pretty reliably, for example) but not as much as the decks in the first category; however, they can make better use of Power Plant, Reset Stamp and, in the case of Gardeon, Fairy Charms. Green’s Exploration also gives you a very reliable way to search for Custom Catcher, which mean that the biggest issue of the format (the lack of Gust effects) is not one for these decks.

C. Defensive decks

If there’s a meta, there’s anti-meta decks. GX Pokémon, especially Tag Teams, dominate the format, so it makes sense that anti-GX decks would pop up. This third category is not as well-defined as the others, but I include decks that work because they target weaknesses in the format. For example, Hampus Eriksson advanced to Day 2 with a 6-0 record playing Beheeyem. This deck works because Mysterious Noise prevents the use of many key Items such as Custom Catcher, and Alolan Ninetales walls many decks in the format, including every deck in the first two categories. (It’s possible to tech for it, but most players didn’t.) Dylan Gunn made top 32 with a Stall deck featuring Keldeo-GX and Bronzong which, again, capitalized on common weaknesses in aggressive decks, namely a lack of answers to walls such as Alolan Ninetales and Bronzong. It should be noted that neither of these decks run Custom Catcher, since it’s not needed for either deck’s win condition.

A third deck that can fit in this category (although it’s debatable) is the Pidgeotto Control deck brought by Team DDG and friends. I haven’t had time to look closely at the deck so I’m not sure how it will perform in the meta, but it does fit some criteria of anti-meta decks.

D. Malamar

Let’s not beat around the bush: Malamar has performed terribly at Worlds, both in Day 1 and Day 2. Despite being the second most-played deck in the room in Day 2, its best result was 24th place. I believe this is because everything Malamar does is done better by other decks. Aggressive decks can outpace it and win while Malamar struggles to set up. Malamar lists without Custom Catcher simply don’t bring enough to the table, but Malamar lists with Custom Catcher are even more inconsistent. Despite having some advantages in the new format, overall, Malamar simply isn’t as well-equipped as other decks.

I expect Malamar to drop off quite a bit in popularity in the events to come, but I believe there’s still a place for the deck in the meta, and that is as an anti-anti-meta. As I’ve discussed in past articles, Malamar benefits from having the best non-GX attacker in the game: Giratina. Decks were well prepared for it, with Hoopa being particularly popular, but that will probably change since Malamar hasn’t done well. In that case, I can see Malamar decks being played to counter the Keldeo-GX and Beheeyem decks that might get more popular. In the absence of its specific counters, Malamar can trade well enough with more aggressive decks, as long as it has a good enough opening few turns.

If I was attending a League Cup tomorrow, I’d probably play either Mewtwo & Mew-GX or Beheeyem. The former has a lot of options and can win many games through sheer aggression, whereas the latter works pretty well against GX decks as long as they don’t tech heavily for you.

A Look at Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX

My own deck at Worlds was Gardeon, a deck I’ve liked since its release in Unbroken Bonds, despite its lack of success. I felt very early that the deck could be strong post-rotation. I actually remember discussing it with Henry Brand, who also had the idea independently, while we were playtesting for NAIC!

The idea of Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX came to me as I was looking for decks that would be perfectly suited to the new Standard environment. Unlike Malamar for example, which certainly could still be played but didn’t seem made for the format, Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX had some traits that were interesting:

  • The lack of Guzma wasn’t an issue, since it could run Green’s Exploration to search for Custom Catcher. I’ve discussed above how important Custom Catcher is to the format, and having a deck that can reliably use it seemed very strong to me.
  • It could still run Cherish Ball to search for its Pokémon, where other decks would have more consistency issues.
  • With no Field Blower in the format, its Tools (Choice Helmet and the various Fairy Charms) became much better. It could wall decks that weren’t prepared for it.

The main issue for Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX in the pre-Worlds format was its weakness to Reshiram & Charizard-GX but, with Choice Band gone, it couldn’t get OHKO’d anymore for less than six Energy cards, so it would survive much better.

I didn’t want to use Mismagius since it was impossible to search for Misdreavus anymore (I didn’t want to include Mysterious Treasure in the deck for this sole purpose), so I looked at other cards that could be searched in the deck. Cherish Ball allowed us to search for GX Pokémon, so I looked at those and found Xerneas-GX. This was the perfect inclusion in this deck. Since it only gave up two Prizes, even if the opponent were to Knock it Out, they would still have to KO two Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX. More importantly, Xerneas-GX’s Sanctuary GX fit perfectly in the deck. Gardeon used to run many healing cards such as Acerola and Max Potion but these rotated out. The new plan, instead, was to simply retreat when a Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX was damaged. I could then tank a hit with another one, and finally send out Xerneas-GX and use Sanctuary GX to heal completely and KO my opponent. With this plan, I didn’t need to include Mixed Herbs or Super Scoop Up, which would even be too weak, and could focus on building my list to add more defensive options.

While I was working on the deck, Reshiram & Charizard-GX lists also became more and more focused on healing. With Great Potion, Mixed Herbs and Choice Helmet, they adopted a very defensive mindset as well, but with the opportunity to deal more damage. Some people told me they didn’t see the point in playing Gardeon when Reshizard was better. While I admit that Welder is an amazing card, there are some reasons to play Gardeon instead:

  • Thanks to Fairy Charms, some of its matchups are better. Blacephalon-GX struggles with Fairy Charm UB, although the new inclusion of Heatran-GX may change that. Pikachu & Zekrom-GX plays Lysandre Labs to deal with Fairy Charm L, but if they don’t get it in time, they’ll simply have to hit a wall.
  • Magical Miracle GX is a great option and can win games you shouldn’t win. Combined with Power Plant or Wondrous Labyrinth Prism Star, it can simply lock the opponent out of the game.
  • Speaking of Power Plant, Gardeon uses it better than Reshizard since the latter sometimes need other Stadiums in play, such as Heat Factory Prism Star or Giant Hearth. It can also use Fairy Charm P to protect itself from Gengar and Mimikyu-GX, a threat to Green’s Exploration decks.

On Day 1 of Worlds, I was surprised to see that many Japanese players, but also some Americans and Europeans, had brought Gardeon. From what I saw of the Japanese players, some of them played lists that were very close to mine! That meant that my own pick wasn’t a surprise, but it was also reassuring to see many Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX make it to Day 2, as it proved my deck choice was viable. After a long hesitation, I decided to stick with the deck.

The List

Here was my list for this event:

Pokemon (5)

4x Gardevoir and Sylveon-GX (UNB #130)1x Xerneas-GX (FOL #90)

Trainers (45)

4x Green's Exploration (UNB #175)4x Coach Trainer (UNM #192)2x Bill's Analysis (TEU #133)1x Mina (LOT #183)4x Pokégear 3.0 (UNB #182)4x Custom Catcher (LOT #171)4x Cherish Ball (UNM #191)4x Switch (HS #102)3x Tag Switch (UNM #209)2x Reset Stamp (UNM #206)2x Great Potion (UNM #198)2x Fairy Charm L (UNB #172)1x Fairy Charm UB (TEU #142)1x Fairy Charm P (LOT #175)1x Choice Helmet (LOT #169)1x Energy Spinner (UNB #170)4x Power Plant (UNB #183)1x Wondrous Labyrinth Prism Star (TEU #158)

Energy (10)

10x Fairy Energy (EVO #99)

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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