The Standard Blues and Top Picks for Memphis
Welcome back Flipsiders! My name is Luke Morsa and today I have a few exciting and important topics to cover. In this Pokemon TCG article I will be going over my frustration and issues with the current standard format, my top picks for Memphis Regionals (including lists), and a brief inclusion on my evaluation of Control/Mill decks for Memphis.
What’s up with Standard?
Depending on your involvement with and attention to the Pokemon TCG competitive community, you may or may not already know that many players are frustrated with the current standard format which is SUM-CST (Dragon Majesty has also been added). This will not be 500 words of me complaining about the game, rather I want the readers to know what is going on in my head to help better understand my writing. In this section I will be going over why I personally dislike our current Standard Format and potential fluctuations we may see with our next set Lost Thunder and other future sets.
The Advantage of Going First
The advantage of winning the coin flip and going first is much higher than it was in the 2017-2018 standard format. This is inherently an issue because depending on a player’s starting hand or the matchup of decks, a game can be unreasonably unbalanced from the start due to the coin flip or dice roll. Of course, decks can be built to have more comeback potential.
For example, the ZoroRoc mirror match at its core is incredibly dependent on who goes first and if they attach energy for turn. Playing high counts of Judge and/or Marshadow can potentially help the player who is falling behind early by disrupting your opponent and making it harder for them to draw to keep things rolling. Last season, this matchup was less skewed by who goes first due to Enhanced Hammer playing a sizable role in the mirror match. In comparison to last season’s standard 8 special energy in Zororoc, we are now seeing 4 Special 4 Basic as the standard due to Strong Energy rotating out of the format. I have been seeing this almost across the board in matchups, where there’s a much larger stress on deckbuilding to have a comeback potential and less of a payoff for it.
Low Comeback Potential
Rest easy my sweet.
Losing N to rotation is undoubtedly a detriment to all decks having comeback potential. Without N as a resource that any deck can include to inherently boost comeback potential, I believe that having the potential to turn games around after losing the lead is currently an inherent characteristic that some archetypes will naturally have and others will not.
Psychic Malamar is a standout archetype with inherent comeback potential due to Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX’s GX attack Moon’s Eclipse GX. Psychic Malamar can either take the early lead and keep it, or force a turn where the opponent does not KO a GX Pokemon by using Moon’s Eclipse GX while having a bench of one prize Pokemon. Having an adaptable gameplan like this is an important positive that the Psychic Malamar archetype has going for it.
Low Skill Floor / Medium Skill Ceiling
We have an overall low skill floor and too low of a skill ceiling in the current Standard Format. What does that mean? A low skill floor means that the optimal sequence of decisions is straight forward and more obvious. Decks that have a low skill floor tend to be more linear decks and have less decision points like Vika Ray or Buzz/Garb/Shrine. That doesn't mean that great players can't squeeze out every percentage point, it means that a less quality player gets a higher percentage of the deck's power in comparison to other decks. High skill floor decks mean that players below a certain threshold get a drastically different amount of equity out of their deck and have more decision points. Zoroark decks tend to have a higher skill floor.
Zoroark-GX variants had high skill ceilings across the board last format. They were consistent, had many options, and Zoroark-GX players were making twice sometimes thrice the decisions of a non Zoroark-GX player over the course of a game. Losing Brigette and Evo Soda to rotation has made Zoroark-GX variants less likely to set up, although they are still consistent. We have alternatives like Lillie, Nest Ball, Apricorn Maker, Fan Club, Great Ball, Timer Ball, etc. so this isn’t a huge problem but is still a detriment. Puzzle of Time no longer being an option would in theory make piloting a Zoroark-GX deck take more skill to pilot optimally due to managing resources, but players are now playing less one-ofs due to the loss of Puzzles. Puzzle is one of the most flexible cards possible, losing that combination of flexibility and power is why the change feels drastic. Overall I think that Zoroark-GX variants are still very good and do have medium-high skill ceilings, but due to increased variance within the Zoroark-GX decks themselves, low comeback potential versus high roll decks like Vikavolt/Rayquaza-GX, and the importance of going first, Zoroark GX decks lose their major upside, their reward for optimal play.
Having an increased amount of decisions is generally good for a deck, it means it is more flexible and able to maneuver out of more situations, but if the format doesn't reward this, it makes deck with a high skill ceiling a worse option because players aren't being rewarded for the extra decisions they are opting for. Decisions mean possible mistakes, which are a drain on win percentage points. This makes a format less satisfying to play, as decision points being encouraged in a format decreases. Obviously, not everyone wants to play hour long Zoroark mirror matches, but having the option is important for a lot of players.
But not all low floor decks are also low ceiling decks. I think of both Buzz/Garb/Shrine and Vika Ray as low skill floor decks. You can make less than optimal decisions and generally be fine. But Buzz/Garb/Shrine has a high skill ceiling due to searching any one card out with Magcargo and the grindy tendency of a lot of the matchups. Searching your deck for 1 card gives you a huge bevy of options, and lots of places to go wrong. Vika Ray has a lower skill ceiling as conventional builds don't have the flexible components.
Lost Thunder and Beyond
Lost Thunder is a massive set and has many new cards that are sure to see play. As I have been testing with Celestial Storm as the newest set for over 3 months now because of Worlds, I am really excited for a large new set. Pertaining to this article, I posit that Lost Thunder will positively affect the issues I currently have with the Standard Format.
Professor Elm is a new supporter card that allows you to search your deck for up to 3 basic Pokemon with 60 HP or less. This is for all intents and purposes a replacement Brigette for Zoroark-GX variants. Hopefully this will help rekindle the pre-rotation consistency that Zoroark-GX variants usually had for those players who have not become accustomed to the current Lillie and Ball search engine.
I think that cards like Stall Hammer are evidence that the Card Developers are aware of the current imbalanced advantage of going first. I don’t think Stall Hammer is a very good card because it is only playable on one turn IF you go second, but I think it is a hopeful sign that Pokemon realizes an imbalance in the game. The last time I remember such an imbalance, we got a reprint of N. While I hope that is not the case this time since we had N in the format for almost 7 years, I look forward to a good fix to this extreme advantage.
Counter Gain is another sign for me that card developers understand a problem in Standard Format. We already have Counter Energy as a potential kind of “come back” card, but this card is only available for non-GX attackers. Counter Gain directly fixes the imbalance in falling behind early, like in the ZoroRoc mirror as an example. If player 1 goes first and KOs the only Pokémon with energy on Player 2’s board on turn 2, there is a possible comeback play with 1 fighting energy and a counter gain to use Dangerous Rogue GX. Counter Gain is a card I am ecstatic to be receiving as it is a potential fix to two of my main issues with Standard.
As a player and deck builder that enjoys meta gaming and trying to find the most optimal deck with the best matchup spreads, I feel that this is all unproductive for our current format. There are many good established archetypes and more rogue archetypes popping up just last week like Steelix/Wailord and Quad Sylveon Control. There is also the threat of being high rolled by archetypes like Vika Ray, Vika Bulu, and Dusk Mane Necrozma/Magnezone. I feel that matchup spread is always important, but for Memphis I would focus on having a consistent deck that you are comfortable with that is favored vs. a few popular decks. Basically what I am saying is that I don’t think anyone is going to find a full proof deck that beats everything.
I am not attending Memphis regionals due to flight prices and having many regionals within driving distance this season, but I have been testing with and helping friends who are going while also attending league cups and league challenges. If I was going, my top two choices would be Buzzwole(FLI)/Garbodor/Weavile(UPR)/Shrine and Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX.
I played a list very similar to this one at a League Cup two weeks ago and really enjoyed its consistency and unique inclusion of two Acerola. Credits for the list that inspired this one go to Zachary Bohkari who piloted a similar Buzzroc list to day 2 at Philadelphia Regionals. The Zygarde GX is great against control/mill decks like Sylveon-GX because of its ability to continuously loop more energy onto itself with its first attack as they remove energy. This deck also has possibly the strongest Zororoc matchup out of the whole format aside from control/mill decks. I’ll give a quick layout of what I estimate the tier 1 matchup percentages to be for this deck.
Vs. Zororoc 65/35
Vs. Buzz/Garb/Weavile/Shrine 45/55
Vs. Ray 40//60
Vs. Psychic Malamar 35/65
As you can see I estimate this deck to have an overall negative matchup spread vs the tier 1 decks, but its consistency, lack of set up requirement, and overwhelming Zororoc matchup all make it very enticing to play.
I don’t feel like there’s much for me to say about this deck. Caleb Gedemer won Philadelphia Regionals with a very similar list and it is regarded if not the best deck then one of the best decks in Standard. My friend Brad Brown and I both tried 2-2 Weavile instead of 1-1 and I definitely like having the extra Weavile line in testing. I expect this deck to be in Top 8 of Memphis and I think it has a very good shot at winning back to back NA Regionals.
Sylveon-GX? Steelix? Mill is Back???
Frankfurt Regionals was won by Sylveon-GX and also had an interesting Steelix/Wailord deck in Top 8. These Control/Mill variants are usually very good when nobody is expecting them, a concept talked about in my article from last week. I do not expect these decks to be wildly successful at Memphis Regionals because players will likely be prepared for them with things like higher Judge counts, Marshadow SHL, Oranguru UPR, or simply by playing a deck that has a favorable matchup due to energy acceleration.
If there’s one piece of advice I have for you in regards to Memphis Regionals, it is play something you are comfortable with that is consistent. For me that is Buzzroc and Buzz Shrine, but there are so many great options that I think most players can find something that they click with. Good luck, and I’ll be back next week with another Pokemon TCG article!
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