Metagaming Blockholm — Metagame Evolution and Snorlax Control

Hey everyone! It’s Charlie and I’m happy to be back with another article. I just graduated from college and competed in Stockholm Regionals last week. It’s been tough to fit Pokemon into my busy schedule, but I’ve almost completed my Worlds invite now! Heading into Los Angeles as my last Regionals of the season, I’m within striking distance of my invite and hope to finish it either there or at NAIC. In a metagame that’s becoming increasingly diverse with every tournament, this means a good deck choice will be almost as important as playing well for the first time this format. After Indianapolis, we saw that Charizard ex was not invincible, as only Ian Robb made Top 8 with the deck. We also saw an explosion of Chien-Pao ex decks at the top tables, with four in Top 8 and another three in Top 16! Grant Shen’s second-place list was exactly 25% of the event’s Top 16, which is unheard of in recent formats, especially when the deck was not seen as the BDIF going into the event. Lastly, Origin Forme Dialga VSTAR was the big surprise of the event, as Andrew Hedrick was able to take it all the way to first place! Many of us had tried Dialga in combination with the new Metang to accelerate Metal Energy, but nobody had quite cracked the right way to build the deck yet. Andrew’s build was very consistent and had a favored matchup into the dominant Chien-Pao list as well as a solid Charizard matchup. While I don’t think this result is representative of Dialga’s place in the format, it’s nonetheless extremely impressive and shows that there’s still a lot of room for growth in this new format.

Today, I’d like to examine the topic of how formats grow and evolve, how discourse around metagaming has changed over the years, and how to “read the meta” and predict the best play for an event. I’ll take you through my process for this, including how different kinds of decks are affected by meta trends and when trying to predict the meta is even the right decision.

How Does a Metagame Evolve?

I started playing Pokemon in 2010, and to say that the game is different nowadays would be an extreme understatement. While a lot has changed within the game, including how cards are designed and how successful strategies look, the biggest changes have been outside of the game, and have everything to do with access to information. Back in 2010, some players were able to go on incredible runs because they just had better decks than their opponents. There was no Pokemon community on Twitter/X, no online tournaments, no Limitless for easy list access, not even Virbank City Gym or HeyFonte groups on Facebook. SixPrizes was the first article site for Pokemon and it was just a year old back then; we didn’t get the first PokeBeach articles until 2015. The best ways to access information were the PokeGym forums and the original HeyTrainer website, and this information didn’t update in real-time anything like today’s sites do. Players could go entire formats without a good list getting figured out for their favorite deck, with one notorious example being Frank Diaz in 2010, dominating events with CurseGar while nobody else could find the right 60.

As the information age evolved in Pokemon, we saw format development accelerate significantly. Once article sites were a dime a dozen and posting your list after an event became standard practice, almost every player in the game had access to top lists pretty much immediately. After the first Regionals of a format, we could reasonably expect the winning decklist to see significant play at the next one. This led to counters being much easier to develop and the metagame generally changing much more from tournament to tournament.

Lately, the metagame has started to develop even faster. The introduction of widely prevalent online tournaments made it much easier to get in relatively competitive games between events, and the open-list format plus publicly available results meant everyone could see what was doing well. While some players would hold back their best decks from these events, many also took it as an opportunity to try new things in a more real-world environment, which put them on display if they succeeded.

Alongside this, many streamers and YouTubers now create content pretty much constantly, giving players access to more high-quality information than ever. Just this season, we saw Caleb Rogerson take a Charizard list to the finals of the 2000+ person Charlotte Regionals that Azul Garcia Griego had posted on YouTube just three days before under the title “How I Would Play Charizard ex Right Now!” Caleb is an incredible player, but I’m used to a world where better players plus better decks equals better results, not better players plus good decks equals better results. What I mean by this is that the best players used to also have a significant deck advantage over average players on top of their skill advantage, and nowadays I feel they almost exclusively rely on skill advantages. There are obviously exceptions to this, notably at the beginnings of new formats (especially around ICs), where the best players often keep their cards close to their chest and we see the best lists only after the event. Two notable recent examples are Tord Reklev’s two strongest recent performances, his second-place finish at Worlds 2023 with Gardevoir ex and his first-place finish at EUIC 2024 with Charizard ex. Both of these lists were completely new at the time and incredibly strong, quickly becoming the standard way to play the deck after his success. This is mostly just another example of Tord’s greatness, but if people knew about these lists ahead of time, I think the makeup of the metagame at both tournaments would have been extremely different.

One last example I want to talk about is the hype for Lost Zone Giratina VSTAR going into Worlds 2023. In the west, Giratina was seen as an inconsistent, clunky deck, and it saw almost no success at NAIC. The only talk of it I remember was Henry Brand playing a version of it with four Jet Energy and going 6-3 (believe it or not, this was the first time a list like this was played by a top player outside of Japan!), and otherwise it was just crickets. Azul also went on record many times calling it unplayable and talking about how he didn’t understand its success in Japan at all. However, as Worlds approached, Giratina started to have some success in online tournaments and people began to refine the lists. In the long two-month gap between NAIC and Worlds, we saw Giratina ascend from practically nothing to one of the top three decks.

In years prior to online tournaments, I don’t think this ever would have happened. Giratina may have succeeded a lot more at Worlds too if it hadn’t seen a meteoric rise from unplayable to Tier 1 entirely through social media and online tournaments. I know that I personally observed this rise and started testing the matchup much more with the Arceus VSTAR deck I brought to Worlds. Without this information, I likely would’ve been caught off guard and destroyed by it. Was this discovery inevitable? I’m not sure, but it definitely came faster than in the past due to how information is shared in this new era.

In conclusion, the metagame changes faster than ever nowadays, sometimes over a matter of days rather than from tournament to tournament. This means it’s more important than ever to be tuned into the trends in the meta, following social media and online events (to an extent), and testing your deck against the most popular lists to be best prepared for a large event.

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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