The Fireball Circus is in Town — Not the Baby Blowns You Think

The metagame that emerged at the Latin America International Championship is already slowly changing. Mewtwo and Mew-GX and Arceus and Dialga and Palkia-GX were the most played decks, and Reshiram and Charizard-GX won the whole tournament but, instead of Tag Team decks, we’re actually seeing non-GX decks being picked up and quickly rising in popularity. This is partly because they can win the Prize trade, and partly because, with Great Catcher replacing Custom Catcher in many decks, having a deck that has no Great Catcher targets can be very strong.

Since rotation, the king of non-GX decks has been Malamar, for reasons I’ve outlined in previous articles: basically, with an infinitely recurring main attacker (Giratina) in a format with very limited Pokémon recovery, it’s more stable than other decks, and can also safely win the Prize race against other non-GX decks. And that’s still true to a certain extent: Malamar is still the gatekeeper that limits the potential of non-GX decks (say, Nuzzle).

However, Malamar is not looking too good right now. Mallow and Lana’s popularity in everything from ADP to Gardevoir and Sylveon-GX is a huge issue for a deck that aims for 2HKOs, as it can simply negate one of Malamar’s turns. As good as Giratina is, to improve its matchups, it needs to add more threatening attackers — Pokémon like Mega Lopunny and Jigglypuff-GX to deal more damage to GX-based decks, or maybe Trevenant and Dusknoir-GX to add some disruption to its game plan. However, by deviating from the Giratina + Spell Tag plan, its matchups against other non-GX decks get worse. That, plus the fact that Malamar is not that popular anymore (although I’m sure it will still make Day 2 at major events and win League Cups), means that other non-GX decks are having a better time now.

Which is why it’s time to crown a new king of non-GX attackers: Blacephalon. Thanks to its effectively unlimited damage output, it deals much better with Tag Team decks than Malamar, and doesn’t fear Mallow & Lana. Blacephalon / Pidgeotto got 9th and 11th place at LAIC with similar lists, and many players have picked up the deck recently. It won the latest Cardmarket Series Cup in Prague and has been performing just as well at many League Cups all around the world. It’s quickly rising up as one of the most powerful decks of the format and is gaining the trust of some of the game’s top players.

This article is not about Blacephalon / Pidgeotto.

As good as Blacephalon / Pidgeotto deck is, there’s an underrated deck that is, I believe, just as good, but has much less visibility. That deck is Blacephalon / Green's Exploration, and is one of my recommended decks for Daytona Beach Regionals. If I was attending, I would strongly consider playing it, because of the combination of surprise effect, good matchups especially in the metagame I expect, and pure strength.

In case you’ve never seen the deck before, it was first played (after the rotation) by Belgian player Brent Coosemans who got Top 32 and Top 16 with it at the first two European Regionals of the season. The deck was then picked up by other players, including Joshua Vanoverschelde, also known as Youtuber ZapdosTCG, who got 2nd place with it at the Paris SPE just before Cosmic Eclipse’s release. (He also beat me with it in the finals of a League Cup, which is how I became aware of the deck’s power.)

Blacephalon or Blacephalon?

You might be thinking, Blacephalon / Pidgeotto is already doing so well, why would Green’s Exploration be better? Obviously, one is not strictly better than the other. Both variants have pros and cons, which I’ll try to summarise here.

Advantages of the Pidgeotto Variant

  • It has a Pokémon-based draw engine. That makes it more resilient to Reset Stamp: even after getting your hand disrupted in the late game, you can still get the cards you need to get a KO. The Green’s Exploration variant has more trouble with that card.
  • Similarly, Pidgeotto makes it very hard for Pidgeotto Control to get any kind of lock, as you can simply draw out of it. That gives Blacephalon / Pidgeotto a good Control matchup, whereas the Green’s Exploration variant tends to lose that matchup once the Pidgeotto player controls their opponent’s draw and sticks an Energy-less Blacephalon in the Active spot.
  • With Professor Elm's Lecture and Air Mail, you’re not as reliant on Ultra Space to draw your Pokémon, and better equipped to deal with Item lock. That means that Chaotic Swell and Cryogonal in ADP don’t bother Blacephalon / Pidgeotto as much as they do Blacephalon / Green’s Exploration.

Advantages of the Green’s Exploration Variant

  • It’s faster at getting what it needs, since it doesn’t need to setup support Pokémon beforehand. It’s not unusual for this deck to hit 300 damage on turn 2, which means you can KO ADP before it can use Ultimate Ray (and sometimes, before it can use Altered Creation GX!). That speed also helps against Malamar (where you can win the Prize race by taking the first KO), which beats Blacephalon / Pidgeotto by being faster than it.
  • It has more space in the deck. That allows it to play cards like Beast Ring, which make the deck less reliant on Welder. That (and the previous point) means that the Green’s Exploration variant beats the Pidgeotto variant of Blacephalon in a head to head match: the Green’s Exploration player can attack every turn, whereas it’s likely that the Pidgeotto player will whiff a Welder at some point.
  • It’s not weak to Cross Division GX, so it fares better against Mewtwo & Mew-GX. Mewtwo & Mew-GX can KO three Pidgeotto in one turn (which is devastating combined with a Reset Stamp), but it can’t find favorable trades against the Green’s Exploration version, which gives the latter an edge.

All in all, which one to play depends on what you expect to face, as well as your personal playstyle. However, I believe that the Green’s Exploration variant is well suited to the Daytona Beach metagame: I’d expect more Blacephalon / Pidgeotto and Mewtwo & Mew-GX, and less Pidgeotto Control.

The List

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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