Third Time’s the Charm — Top Picks for Players Cup III and Centiskorch VMAX

Happy New Year PokeBeach readers! I’m pumped to start off January discussing the current Standard format and what it will look like throughout the third Players Cup season. I also want to share my pick for the tournament if it starts tomorrow: Centiskorch VMAX. I’ll review the deck’s position in the meta, share my list below, and give some guiding tips on how to pilot it against each matchup. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s hop in.

Current Standard Format

Standard has a lot of boogeymen, but none so infamous as Arceus and Dialga and Palkia-GX  (ADP). Alongside Zacian V, these two cards have been in the spotlight since their takeover of the last Oceania International Championship back in February 2020. The deck dominated the UPR-SSH format that it pushed all single-Prize decks out of the format, as they lose to the mighty Altered Creation GX. Since the rotation to Team Up onwards, ADP lost almost nothing compared to other decks and continues to find success to this day. It only lost Custom Catcher, but it was replaced by the arguably better Boss's Orders.

However, while ADP / Zacian V hasn’t lost any key pieces to the rotation, more cards have certainly been printed with them in mind. The inception of Pokemon VMAX and their behemoth 300+ HP were a direct challenge to Altered Creation GX and Brave Blade. ADP / Zacian V’s strategy shifted from Knocking Out everything in a single attack to using Boss’s Orders and other gusting effects to Knock Out Dedenne-GX, Crobat V, and other ‘small HP’ two-Prize Pokemon while continuing to be a gatekeeper for single-Prize Pokemon decks. This is ADP / Zacian V in 2021. 

Despite a decline from its glory days, the space-time warping of ADP (hah!) continues to influence the Standard format. However, it is now dependent on the popularity of Pokemon VMAX decks to the point that single-Prize decks can make a run for the trophy. Despite being a deck you could avoid playing against at the Players Cup III, I wouldn’t play a deck without an answer to it. 

This brings us to the next topic: Pokemon VMAX. Initially, Dragapult VMAX and Inteleon VMAX ruled the Standard format, but they have been overshadowed by Eternatus VMAX, Coalossal VMAX, and my favorite, Centiskorch VMAX. Broadly speaking, these beefy Pokemon hit hard and can tank damage, giving them an advantage against Tag Team Pokemon-GX that don’t have as high HP. Yet, the Achilles heel of these decks are single-Prize decks, which have a strong Prize-to-damage ratio like Whimsicott or Blacephalon.

Lastly, single-Prize decks have the potential to run the show at the Players Cup III. Barring ADP, spread decks (unpopular outside of Dragapult VMAX), or decks that can heal off big attacks, single-Prize decks are a rock-solid investment. For example, Excadrill took down the biggest tournament in December, topping over 250+ players. Overall, if you’re confident your single-Prize deck can deal with the above issues as well as other single-Prize decks, there isn’t anything to worry about.

If you’re eagle-eyed, you’ll notice there’s one chunk of the meta that I didn’t examine: Tag Team Pokemon-GX. These decks fall between the other three; there are speedy glass cannons like Pikachu and Zekrom-GX, setup-dependent, chunky decks like Rowlet and Alolan Exeggutor-GX / Rillaboom, and balanced decks like Fire Box. These decks are in a tight spot since their strategies have to accommodate all of the above categories while being consistent enough not to choke. Sometimes this means throwing in some techs to deal with a bad matchup and other times introducing the flexibility of Mewtwo and Mew-GX into your list, usually seen in Pikachu and Zekrom-GX decks.

I wish I could say there is a fifth category: Control / Mill variants, but I have thrown in the towel for this type of deck. I attempted to make Seaking compete with the meta, but Boltund V’s Electrify, Pikachu and Zekrom-GX’s Full Blitz, Volcanion’s Flare Starter, and Welder were too much for Rippling Horn to deal with. Since there are those of you who want the pain of hitting six tails with Ripping Horn and Glimwood Tangle or those who can dodge the bad matchups, here’s my list for the Seaking deck if you are brave enough:

Pokemon (21)

4x Seaking (SWSH1 #47)3x Goldeen (UNB #48)1x Goldeen (SWSH1 #46)2x Persian (TEU #126)2x Meowth (UNB #147)2x Cinccino (SWSH1 #147)2x Minccino (SWSH1 #145)2x Cryogonal (UNM #46)1x Absol (TEU #88)1x Lucario and Melmetal-GX (PRSM #SM192)1x Zacian V (SWSH1 #138)

Trainers (32)

4x Marnie (SWSH1 #169)4x Boss's Orders (SWSH2 #154)3x Rosa (COE #204)1x Cynthia and Caitlin (COE #189)4x Quick Ball (SWSH1 #179)4x Pokémon Communication (TEU #152)4x Crushing Hammer (SWSH1 #159)3x Air Balloon (SWSH1 #156)2x Ordinary Rod (SWSH1 #171)3x Glimwood Tangle (SWSH3 #162)

Energy (7)

5x Water Energy (HP #107)2x Wash Water Energy (SWSH4 #165)

While Seaking flopped in terms of total Pokemon TCG domination, note that Cryogonal, Absol with Galar Mine, and Persian are powerful in their own right. By using Boss’s Orders to bring up a Dedenne-GX or Crobat V, Cryogonal’s Frozen Lock in combination with Absol or Galar Mine to increase your opponent’s Active Spot Pokemon’s Retreat Cost can a lock them there for several turns akin to the Trevenant list from my previous article. Once the opponent has a big hand size, Persian’s Make ‘Em Pay discards valuable resources. I look forward to seeing if this strategy can be reused in the Standard format with any cards from future sets. 

While Seaking is perfect for having some fun without saying Ultimate Ray or Full Blitz, here are my top decks in the running for the Players Cup III:

Top Decks for Players Cup III

Blacephalon

Blacephalon has the best of both worlds, thanks to being a single-Prize Pokemon and its Fireball Circus attack providing the heavy-hitting OHKO potential to a Pokemon VMAX deck. Yet Blacephalon can struggle against other single-Prize decks as it can be difficult to stream attackers plus matchups like Dragapult VMAX aren’t exactly a cakewalk. Marnie is an issue for building up to big attacks against Pokemon VMAX, but with Oricorio-GX, Jirachi, Giant Hearth, and Fire Crystal, OHKOs are possible. Fireball Circus is a great attack in Standard and Cramorant V often finishes games without needing too much juice. I’d include a Giratina since Scoop Up Net is included in the deck. Removing Coating Metal Energy against Lucario and Melmetal-GX / Zacian V can smoothen that matchup, while discarding a Hiding Darkness Energy or Capture Energy against Eternatus VMAX can buy you time. Of course, Giratina is useful against other matchups too. I’d pick Blacephalon if single-Prize decks aren’t popular, if Dragapult VMAX isn’t popular, or if you can draw well after being hit with a Reset Stamp!

Excadrill

Continuing the single-Prize category, Excadrill is a deck that saw success in the last Players Cup. With the popularity of Pikachu and Zekrom-GX rising, Excadrill boasts good matchups against it and several additional major decks like Eternatus VMAX, Arceus and Dialga and Palkia-GX / Zacian V (without Aegislash V or Duraludon), and Centiskorch VMAX. The inclusion of Altaria can wall off many matchups who aren’t prepared for it. But I have to wonder — by the time Players Cup III comes around, will techs like Aegislash V become popular to get around Altaria? Additionally, Excadrill can clunk up, missing attacks on occasion. For that reason, I might hold off on Excadrill but the deck should be considered as it boasts good matchups. 

Rowlet and Alolan Exeggutor-GX / Rillaboom

Rowlet and Alolan Exeggutor-GX / Rillaboom is a great pick for the Players Cup III — if nobody takes my advice above and runs Giratina in Blacephalon and nobody takes my advice below (slight spoiler) and runs Giratina in Centiskorch VMAX. Despite this, one can hedge the issue of Fire Weakness by adding a Mewtwo and Mew-GX into the deck to copy Rowlet and Alolan Exeggutor-GX’s attacks, in addition to Guzma and Hala plus Weakness Guard Energy. The raw consistency of Super Growth into Calming Hurricane into Tropical Hour GX by turn 3 attracts me to choosing this deck. Besides Altered Creation GX, Tropical Hour GX is the best GX attack in the game! Shuffling in all of the opponent’s Energy can be devastating against any deck setting up or mounting a comeback, especially when combined with Reset Stamp. With Dubwool V as a complimentary attacker once the initial Rowlet and Alolan Exeggutor-GX goes down, this deck can play a seven or eight Prize game. This can be nasty when Reset Stamp is involved. Even with the above counters, I’d only pick this deck if Fire-type decks are on the decline.

Centiskorch VMAX

Lastly, my favorite pick for the Player’s Cup III is Centiskorch VMAX! There are so many wonderful aspects that I wouldn’t hesitate to choose it. As I said above, Pokemon VMAX decks generally struggle with single-Prize decks due to the unfavorable Prize trade. Yet, with two and a half tech cards, I limited the degree to which this deck’s matchups are unfavored. Furthermore, this deck doesn’t mind any Crushing Hammer! Here’s the list:


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