Countering Mew VMAX in Fusion Strike Standard
Hi everyone! Since my last article, the Standard format has once again been shaken up by the release of a new set, Fusion Strike. While a couple of new archetypes have arisen from the new set, the meta has actually not changed a huge amount, with most of the decks that were strong in the Evolving Skies format still remaining strong plays. The biggest change to the meta has been the introduction of a new top-tier deck from Fusion Strike: Mew VMAX. While Mew VMAX is the core attacker of the archetype, the deck actually gains most of its strength from the absurdly powerful Fusion Strike System Ability on Genesect V. One of the strongest draw support Abilities in the game’s history, Fusion Strike System allows its user to fill their hand up to a number equal to their Fusion Strike Pokemon in play— and this can be used once per turn per Genesect V, meaning Mew VMAX players can see an absurd number of cards in any given turn.
Mew VMAX decks are typically being played with a full count of Peony, allowing players to search for whichever two Trainers they need most on a given turn, and bypass the “discard your hand” drawback by virtue of Fusion Strike System. The natural pairing of Peony and Genesect V means Mew VMAX is more than the sum of its parts, able to pull off huge combo turns with cards like Cross Switcher and Power Tablets, as well as increased ability to draw into answers for the deck’s counters, such as counter-Stadiums for Path to the Peak.
Mew VMAX has been covered in depth by a number of top players and content creators, including Isaiah Bradner, Azul GG, and Tord Reklev, so there’s not a lot more I could add to analysis of that deck in this article. But I haven’t been playing Mew VMAX so far this format— and I’ve also mostly stayed away from its most-played counter, Single Strike decks featuring Houndoom and Umbreon VMAX. Instead, I’ve found success with some less-played archetypes that can deal with Mew VMAX in ways that don’t just involve OHKOing it with Weakness.
Aside from just playing Dark-type decks, attempts to counter Mew VMAX have focused chiefly on two points: 1) shutting off Fusion Strike System with Path to the Peak and 2) taking advantage of Mew VMAX’s lack of Energy acceleration and reliance on Special Energy by running Fan of Waves. These are not bulletproof strategies, as Mew VMAX does have solid answers to both of them— simply running a large number of Stadiums to deal with the first issue, and Elesa’s Sparkle to deal with the second. However, the goal is to hope that the disruption cards either slow down Mew VMAX enough to make it a “fair fight,” or that they just outright brick Mew VMAX in a large enough portion of games. The decks I feature in this article either use one or both of the Path to the Peak/Fan of Waves strategies, or have another answer to Mew VMAX (in this case, Zamazenta V).
I’ll spend the first part of this article on the deck I’ve put the most work into and found the most success with so far, a Suicune V “disruption” list with Crushing Hammer and Path to the Peak. However, I’ll also provide lists I’ve used for Togekiss VMAX, Victini VMAX, and Zacian V/Zamazenta V, which are all strong plays in this format too.
So far, this has been the deck I’ve most enjoyed playing in the early Fusion Strike Standard format, and the one I’ve had the best results with (74% winrate across two tournaments). This list was built by myself and Luke Morsa in a flash of very-late-night inspiration as we were looking for a deck to bring to the GGtoor $500 event the next day. Luke and I both went on to make phase 2 of the GGtoor event, and I unfortunately bubbled Top Cut at 9th place. I then made Top 8 at the Jal Cup a few days later with the same 60. The deck is actually a lot better than I thought it was going to be when we built it!
Rather than trying to maximize Suicune V’s damage output with either a modifier (Ludicolo) or a secondary attacker (Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX), our list accepts that we’re going to be on the lower end of the damage spectrum, and seeks instead to win games with disruption cards, paired with the typical consistency of Suicune V decks. Obviously, our first and foremost goal was beating Mew VMAX. Two copies of Fan of Waves can sometimes be enough to accomplish this, but with an expected value of around two Energy discards from Crushing Hammer as well, you have some insurance. Meanwhile, Path to the Peak shuts down Mew VMAX’s engine entirely and is also pretty solid against Single Strike.
To fit all these disruption cards, we did have to make some adjustments to the Suicune V skeleton that involved cutting some consistency, which is why I thought the deck wouldn’t be as successful as it was. 3 Evolution Incense, 3 Level Ball, 3 Marnie, 3 Melony are all counts that make me cringe looking at them at first, but after playing the deck in two tournaments, I really have not had an issue with any of them. You can still set up more than adequately, and you don’t always need a full Bench or a bunch of Inteleon CRE early on to push for bigger damage numbers, because of the cushion that the disruption cards provide. You have to focus and make sure that every resource is providing maximum value, so the deck is somewhat difficult to pilot at a high level, but in the hands of a strong player I genuinely think this is one of the better decks in the format. Mew VMAX and Single Strike have statistically been quite favorable matchups for myself and Luke, with the deck’s poor matchups being chiefly Jolteon VMAX and Zacian V. It theoretically shouldn’t do great against other Suicune V decks, but I have done pretty well against those just from cheesing them with Energy denial or from simply playing better.
I’ll further discuss a few of the interesting card choices we settled on:
In my previous Melony decks such as my Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX lists I have often avoided running Raihan, since in my spreadsheet testing I was finding it to be low-value and it is always a dead card compared to Melony in the early game. However, in this list it makes a lot of sense to play one since there are no three-Prize Pokemon, and thus Inteleon SSH can quite frequently be leveraged as a “seventh Prize” attacker when paired with Raihan. I used that combo particularly in the Jal Cup, where I won multiple games as a direct result of attacking with Inteleon SSH.
3 Cape of Toughness
This card is crucial to the deck; Luke talked me up from two to three copies, and I’m thankful he did. With Cape of Toughness, Mew VMAX now needs two Power Tablets (instead of zero) to OHKO Suicune V. Very few Mew VMAX lists have been playing Tool Jammer or Tool Scrapper, so Cape of Toughness is likely to get value, and even if one is removed the next one or two are almost certainly going to stick. This means that Mew VMAX is frequently going to have to two-shot your Suicune V, and when you are two-shotting their VMAX Pokemon, you will be happy with that trade every time. Cape of Toughness is also excellent in preventing early OHKOs against Single Strike; it’s important in letting you survive the first two turns, after which you can stabilize and control the board state. Cape of Toughness has value in other matchups too and there is never a way it can hurt you to have it attached.
While we knew the deck would be low on damage, our early drafts of the list were too low on damage, running just one copy of Inteleon CRE. In addition to adding a second copy of that, we decided to add one Echoing Horn because in this deck its effect essentially reads “Suicune V does 20 more damage for the rest of the game” (and of course it can just be used to put a low-HP target on the board for a game-sealing KO too). People have been caught off guard by this inclusion on ladder and in the closed-list Jal Cup, and even a few opponents in the open-list GGtoor failed to play around it appropriately. It can legitimately be the difference between 2HKOs and 3HKOs on VMAXes in some scenarios, or in allowing you to push for a big OHKO on a V Pokemon.
This was another deck I played in tandem with Luke in a tournament, although he gets full credit for building the list. We played this in one of Zach Lesage’s Late Night Series events; both of us failed to reach phase 2, although we chalked this up mostly to just some poor variance on both our parts. The deck wasn’t as broken as we thought it might be, but it wasn’t bad, just a little bit slow and it feels like the list can still be refined. Below is the exact 60 we played, but feel free to mess with the counts and techs here in your own testing.
The goal of the deck is to compensate for Togekiss VMAX’s low damage output by 1) playing disruption cards such as Fan of Waves and 2) boosting damage via Powerful Energy and Quick Shooting. Because Togekiss VMAX does not require a specific Energy type, a Dark-type package can be included to hit for Weakness on the BDIF (Mew VMAX). Because it is almost impossible for any deck to OHKO Togekiss VMAX, Cheryl should get value at least once per game (possibly twice with Pal Pad), and using either Galarian Moltres plus Energy Switch lets Togekiss VMAX attack again that turn.
Because this is both a rogue deck (intended to counter the general meta) and an Inteleon deck (allowing for many 1-ofs), Luke and I did choose to include several niche techs, which I’ll explain:
While its V counterpart is an obvious inclusion to OHKO Mew VMAX and allow for Energy acceleration to power up attacks in one turn and combo with Cheryl, the “baby” Galarian Moltres is also a strong Energy-acceleration card and an underrated late-game attacker in this format. The numbers it can hit late-game, 220 and 270, are quite relevant as the former OHKOs most V Pokemon and the latter can finish off VMAX Pokemon that have been weakened by Quick Shooting damage throughout the game. Galarian Moltres also forms part of a cool combo with Klara, which I’ll explain shortly.
This is just an answer to decks with Psychic Weakness, most primarily Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX builds, but also Single Strike variants that might try to use Single Strike Urshifu VMAX to OHKO Togekiss VMAX. It can be theoretically powered up in one turn with Raihan/Galarian Moltres/Energy Switch shenanigans, but I found the card clunky and very low-value and wished it had been any other tech or consistency card.
Klara was an idea Luke got from Alex Schemanske, who recognized that if you have Galarian Moltres and two Dark Energy in the discard pile, Klara can put those cards directly into your hand and allow you to instantly accelerate two Energy into play. This can power a surprise Togekiss VMAX attack in one turn or allow you to easily attack with Galarian Moltres itself in late-game scenarios, as I described above.
My one contribution to the deckbuilding process here was promising Luke I’d scan through the entire catalog of Standard-legal Stadiums to find the optimal one while he was busy. I did so, and settled on Rose Tower, which isn’t particularly outstanding in the deck (your hand is generally pretty big), but there just isn’t anything better in the current Standard card pool. To be clear, there’s no particular combo in this deck that requires a Stadium, we just needed a copy of something to bump Path to the Peak to turn on Galarian Moltres V’s Ability at least once in a game. I did actually get significant value from this card in the Late Night tournament, funnily enough.
This is specifically a tech for Single Strike, as with Big Charm attached to Togekiss VMAX, a Single Strike Urshifu VMAX cannot OHKO Togekiss VMAX even with all of its four Single Strike Energy attached. This means you can always use Cheryl at least once in the matchup to hopefully come out on top in the Prize trade. Big Charm is a versatile tech though and you shouldn’t just slam it on Togekiss VMAX in matchups outside of Single Strike. Sometimes a few extra HP points for one of the other Pokemon in the deck can be huge.
This is my modification of my teammate Le Bui’s list, which he’s used for a few tournaments this format including a win at a Turtwig Series event. If you go first, the deck is very favored against most of the format, and if you go second, you can make up lost ground with the myriad disruption cards (full playsets of Crushing Hammer, Fan of Waves, and Path to the Peak). All those disruption cards make your matchup against Mew VMAX in particular pretty good, which is a big draw for the deck. I’ve found this deck to be good for mindlessly grinding PTCGO ladder or ticket events, since it has the ability to win pretty much every matchup yet is easy to play (although, due to the lack of switching cards and Energy acceleration, you do face some interesting microdecisions sometimes). However, I’ve found that in tournaments, the deck can struggle against good Single Strike players, and obviously doesn’t do very well against Suicune V and other Water decks.
My changes to Le’s list are relatively minor but not inconsequential. Le plays a 2/2 split of the two different Victini V (the other being from BST), with the main reasoning that the lower Retreat Cost on the BST one can sometimes be relevant. I’ve found this to almost never be actually relevant in-game, and the attacks on the SSH card are far more valuable, with the Energy acceleration from Spreading Flames adding a dimension the deck otherwise lacks, and Energy Burst being a better attack than Flare Shot because you can’t afford to discard Energy when you don't run any Trainers that accelerate them and don't have a one-Energy damage option. I also changed Le’s fourth Heat Energy to another basic Fire Energy to be a little safer against the heavy Fan of Waves counts a lot of decks have been playing.
I had this archetype ranked higher on my early Fusion Strike tierlist than just about every other player whose tierlist I saw, and in particular Luke and I have been arguing about exactly how playable this deck is. I kicked off the format with a Sunday Open Top 16 with the deck, where it did basically everything I expected it to do, and I think it definitely has a strong position in the format. Like Victini, it doesn’t have a lot of room for improvisation since you’re pretty limited in the Pokemon and attacks you can use, but my list is consistent and gets the job done.
Zacian V/Zamazenta V should ideally have roughly even matchups against what I consider the top three archetypes: Mew VMAX, Single Strike, and Suicune V variants. Against Mew VMAX, the idea is just to leverage Zamazenta V and Cape of Toughness, since Mew VMAX needs to use Max Miracle to hit through Dauntless Shield, and they either won’t find Power Tablets every turn or eventually will run out and the numbers will just be too much to overcome. (They could use Max Miracle with one Power Tablets every turn to theoretically two-shot two Zamazenta V, but this is a lot easier said than done. You also have Crystal Cave to help force three-shots.) Against Single Strike you can again leverage Zamazenta V and avoid OHKOs from Umbreon V and Single Strike Urshifu V with Cape of Toughness, or if you go first you can often just overwhelm their setup with an early Zacian V. And against Suicune V, your deck naturally plays with a limited Bench, Crystal Cave can heal Quick Shooting pings, and Tool Scrapper lets you OHKO at least one Suicune V.
One change I’ve been meaning to try but haven’t yet is trying to cram a playset of Cross Switcher into a Zacian V deck. Simultaneously gusting and resetting Brave Blade is strong, and you could reasonably find the necessary two copies with your Oranguru/Rotom Phone engine.
While I think it’s clear both statistically and anecdotally that Mew VMAX is the best deck in the format right now, it still has clear flaws that can be exploited. Mew VMAX is also one of the most expensive top decks we’ve seen in a while, with the central card also being a prominent chase card for collectors, so don’t despair if you haven’t been able to acquire a playset physically or on PTCGO yet. All of the decks I featured in this article can beat Mew VMAX and can perform in tournaments. I would recommend the Suicune V list most of all, although it is a bit more difficult to play.
If you want to pick my brain further about these decks or anything else Pokemon TCG-related, feel free to reach out on Twitter or on Discord (leukocyte#4843); I’m always happy to chat. As always, if you’re interested in coaching I offer that here, and my team can be found @UNDNTD. I’ll plan to write again soon on more Fusion Strike decks or any other topics that receive interest. See you then!