Arceus VSTAR and Metagaming in the Astral Radiance Format

Do you remember Arceus VSTAR? This is a silly question, of course, but in this new format where Origin Palkia VSTAR is quickly becoming the number one deck in the format, it’s easy to forget that Arceus VSTAR is still an incredible card that can win tournaments. Some players may think about Palkia as a better version of Arceus / Inteleon, which was often considered to be the best Arceus variant in the Brilliant Stars format, but things are not that simple, and there are still plenty of arguments to make in favor of Arceus VSTAR. Many of them come down to metagaming, which is a topic I’ll explore in this article.



Header - My Runs with Arceus

Let me illustrate with an example. After winning Lille Regionals with Hoopa / Moltres / Inteleon, I played Arceus / Inteleon at my last two events of the format: Bremen Regionals and Milan SPE. I made Top 4 in Bremen, but did terribly in Milan, missing not only Day 2 but points entirely. What happened?

Me playing Arceus / Inteleon in Bremen was apparently a surprise to many. After all, I’d just won a Regionals with another deck. You’d probably expect me to stick with that deck, right? However, after Lille, I recognized that Hoopa / Moltres wouldn’t be the best choice, for several reasons.

First, I only won the finals in Lille through a combination of luck and a crucial misplay by my opponent in Game 3. Arceus / Gyarados (or, to be more precise, Jolteon and Memory Capsule) was a very difficult matchup and, apart from that misplay in the end, dominated the event. I expected that players would recognize that and that Jolteon would be more popular. I also thought that some players might change their decks to counter my liminal deck.

My first thoughts after Lille were to play the same deck, but with Galarian Weezing in it, since that card wins the mirror match and can also shut down Jolteon’s Ability temporarily, allowing me to use Shady Dealings. I scrapped the idea when I couldn’t beat straightforward Arceus decks with it, but I thought it could still see play.

Finally, there was also the matter that, despite me beating Arceus / Inteleon multiple times in Lille, I didn’t think the matchup was that good. Some of my opponents didn’t know my deck and what it was capable of, or didn’t play the matchup properly, or just got a bit unlucky. Without that element of surprise, I felt like good Arceus / Inteleon players would be able to beat Hoopa / Moltres.

With that in mind, I chose to play Arceus / Inteleon in Bremen. There were several reasons for this choice. First, as I just explained, I felt confident against Hoopa / Moltres. I also felt like I would have the advantage against the more teched out variants of Arceus, such as Arceus / Beedrill, that were gaining popularity. I had tested Arceus / Inteleon extensively before EUIC, including against variants with Jolteon, and I knew the matchup wasn’t bad. You can sometimes lose when the opponent has everything (Marnie, Path to the Peak, Jolteon, Memory Capsule, Trinity Nova) on turn two, but otherwise, I knew how to navigate that matchup. When going first, it was often easy to KO the opponent’s Eevee on turn two before it could evolve, robbing the opponent of their one advantage in the matchup. I also included Tool Scrapper in my list to have one additional answer to Jolteon.

The one downside of playing Arceus / Inteleon rather than Hoopa / Moltres was the Mew matchup, which changed from pretty favored to slightly unfavored. Mew was, in the end, my downfall, but apart from that, the deck performed extremely well. All day long, I felt like I had the advantage against decklists which were made to beat Mew or Hoopa / Moltres.

After Bremen, however, I didn’t expend nearly as much thinking about the metagame. There were three reasons for that: first, Astral Radiance was now playable on TCGO, so it was hard to playtest in the Brilliant Stars format, and I also wanted to focus on the new format myself. Second, after winning and making Top 4 at two back-to-back Regionals, and gaining back my Top 1 spot in the Europe rankings, I didn’t have the same drive to perform in Milan. Perhaps I was also too cocky and assumed that whatever happened, I wouldn’t do too badly. And third, I wrongly assumed that the metagame wouldn’t shift much since most players would focus on Astral Radiance, so they wouldn’t change what they were playing for the last Brilliant Stars event.

These reasons led me to keep playing Arceus / Inteleon, only cutting the Cross Switchers for a second Choice Belt and a second Path to the Peak, in order to slightly improve the Mew matchup.

However, Arceus / Inteleon might have been a great pick for Bremen, but it was a bad one for Milan. Jolteon was now much more popular, perhaps due to Philip Schulz’s win in Bremen with the card, and Mew was also doing better than in previous events. Don’t fall for the trap of binary thinking: it’s not that Arceus / Inteleon was suddenly bad. My friend Martin Guilbert made Top 8 with it, only changing three cards from my Bremen list. Arceus / Inteleon was still an excellent deck; the metagame being hostile to it doesn’t mean that you couldn’t do well with it, but that it was harder. In these situations, I think it’s useful to remember that there’s an element of randomness to the game. To do well with a deck that’s bad for the specific metagame, you need more luck: hitting the right matchups, winning opening coin flips (especially against Arceus variants with Jolteon), not getting donked by Mew, etc. This is, of course, in addition to the requirement that you play well.

I want to be clear that I’m not saying I did bad in Milan because I got unlucky. I’m saying that my choice of deck put me in a situation where I would need more luck to, say, reach Day 2. I could have got luckier, and that would have helped (I went second a bit too much against Jolteon decks), but more importantly, I could have picked a better deck for the event.

For the record, the deck I think I should have played was Arceus / Bibarel. My friend Ithiel Arki made Top 8 with that deck. When he showed me the list prior to the event, I only saw the weird part, the Granbull V (a tech against Urshifu). However, what made the deck good was: one, that it was as consistent as an Arceus deck could be without the Inteleon engine; two, that it was favored against Arceus / Jolteon, because Jolteon was useless against this deck; and three, that it could beat Mew thanks to four Marnie and four Path to the Peak, a game plan that was notably used by Philip Schulz to win Bremen Regionals.

I don’t think that Arceus / Bibarel is better than Arceus / Inteleon in general. The comfort of the Inteleon engine is just too good, and it’s not a coincidence that most top players have been playing Inteleon decks as much as possible. However, for that specific event, where Jolteon was a real concern, Arceus / Bibarel was, I think, the right choice. To understand that is to understand metagaming.


Header - Astral Radiance Format

First, let’s review how Arceus VSTAR fits in the metagame. Obviously, the metagame is never set in stone, and at the time I’m writing this article, there has been no official event with Astral Radiance yet, but we can look at online tournaments, not to mention results from Japan, to have an idea of what the meta will look like. It’s reasonable to expect that Palkia and Mew will be the two big decks. Arceus VSTAR will not disappear, but there’s reason to think it will drop considerably from its reigning position in the previous format.

Origin Forme Palkia VSTAR (208/189)

One reason for this is that Palkia VSTAR is kind of a more aggressive Arceus VSTAR. It doesn’t have the consistency afforded by Starbirth, but it puts a lot more pressure on turn two. Most Arceus / Inteleon lists (including lists that include other attackers, such as Birds or Beedrill) don’t play Galarian Zigzagoon and have no way to OHKO an opposing 220-HP Pokémon (Arceus V, Pakia V) on turn two if they’re using Double Turbo Energy. Palkia VSTAR, on the other hand, reaches that threshold if the opponent benches three Pokémon (or two, if it has a Choice Belt). There’s also the threat of attacking with Radiant Greninja to Knock Out multiple Sobble or other Basic Pokémon. If you’re playing Arceus against Palkia and you win the coin flip, you can do good damage on turn two, but you don’t threaten to win the game right then. On the other hand, if Palkia wins the coin flip, you have to Bench multiple Arceus (in case one gets Knocked Out), but also some Sobble and Manaphy, to be safe. Obviously, Palkia won’t always have everything it needs for the perfect turn two (it doesn’t have Starbirth), but the double threat of Subspace Swell and Radiant Greninja is still very dangerous.

Regieleki (051/189)Regigigas (130/189)Raikou V (048/172)Zeraora (102/264)

However, Palkia also has weak points. Its Lightning weakness is now being targeted: by Regieleki in the Regigigas deck, by Raikou V or Zeraora in various toolbox decks, and by some Pokémon V that can be paired with Arceus, such as Tapu Koko VMAX. And unlike Arceus, which can be protected by Dunsparce, Palkia has no way to remove its Weakness.

Palkia VSTAR’s damage can also be mitigated by opponents limiting their Bench. Not every deck can do that, but some decks can, in some situations, prevent a KO by making sure they don’t Bench more Pokémon than needed. This reliance on a full Bench also makes Palkia a bit weaker to Avery.

Roxanne (206/189)

Arceus VSTAR, on the other hand, is better than ever against the rest of the metagame, bar Palkia. Its Mew matchup is improved by Roxanne, a much more disruptive card than Marnie, which can be paired with Path to the Peak to enable comebacks. Since Roxanne shuffles decks, Mew players can’t use Rotom Phone or Switching Cups to keep a good card on top of their deck, like they do in preparation for Marnie.

Arceus is also great against other decks in the metagame. Regigigas, for example, is a popular deck right now*, and Arceus / Inteleon does well against it: Avery and Collapsed Stadium make it harder for the Regigigas player to always have their full board, while Dunsparce and Manaphy protect Arceus against Regirock and Regieleki respectively, making sure Arceus doesn’t lose the Prize race.

*although my guess is that it will have much the same trajectory that Rapid Strike Malamar had: a good deck in a vacuum, but that will get countered by popular cards and eventually fall down the tiers because it doesn’t beat good players and decks.

I don’t know how popular Palkia VSTAR will be at upcoming events. I would assume that many players will have invested in a Palkia playset, especially at Milwaukee Regionals and NAIC, but it’s possible that, just like Mew in Salt Lake City Regionals, Palkia will be heavily targeted and end up doing worse than expected. If that happens, I think Arceus / Inteleon is absolutely the play.


****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******

##Pokémon - 18

* 4 Arceus V BRS 122
* 1 Dunsparce FST 207
* 3 Arceus VSTAR BRS 123
* 1 Manaphy BRS 41
* 4 Sobble CRE 41
* 3 Drizzile SSH 56
* 1 Inteleon SSH 58
* 1 Inteleon CRE 43

##Trainer Cards - 31

* 1 Avery CRE 130
* 2 Evolution Incense SSH 163
* 1 Ordinary Rod SSH 171
* 1 Pal Pad UPR 132
* 2 Boss's Orders RCL 154
* 4 Quick Ball SSH 179
* 2 Big Charm SSH 158
* 2 Melony CRE 146
* 1 Roxanne ASR 150
* 4 Level Ball BST 129
* 2 Scoop Up Net RCL 165
* 2 Ultra Ball BRS 150
* 1 Choice Belt BRS 135
* 1 Professor's Research SHF 60
* 1 Marnie SSH 169
* 2 Path to the Peak CRE 148
* 1 Collapsed Stadium BRS 137
* 1 Cheren's Care BRS 134

##Energy - 11

* 2 Capture Energy RCL 171
* 7 Water Energy SWSHEnergy 3
* 2 Double Turbo Energy BRS 151

Total Cards - 60

****** Deck List Generated by the Pokémon TCG Online www.pokemon.com/TCGO ******


This deck list is extremely standard and the only new card is Roxanne. You could switch some cards around to add a third Scoop Up Net, a Tool Scrapper, an Escape Rope, etc., depending on your preference. I’m very confident that this deck can do extremely well if it doesn’t hit too many Palkia. I don’t have enough experience in the matchup yet to dive into it, I do think that this list is favored against Palkia if it goes first (don’t forget to play Path to the Peak to shut off Star Portal), but as mentioned above, it is extremely scary to go second.

Surfing Pikachu VMAX (009/025)

The finalist of Yokohama Champions League in Japan played a 1-1 Surfing Pikachu VMAX line in their Arceus / Inteleon deck, the idea being that it’s a Lightning Pokémon (hitting Palkia for Weakness) that uses Water Energy. I’ve tried cutting an Ultra Ball and a Big Charm from the list above to include this 1-1 line, but so far I haven’t faced Palkia enough to know if it’s worth it. The issue is that Surfing Pikachu doesn’t fix the matchup by itself. It’s good, sure, but Palkia VSTAR can still target it on turn two if it goes first. Just like Galarian Moltres against Mew VMAX, it helps, but it’s not an automatic win button.


Header - Arceus / Duraludon

Throughout the Brilliant Stars format, I’ve given Arceus / Duraludon more credit than, I think, most top players. I remained convinced that it would rise up at some point (especially after Urshifu gained more popularity), and while the deck did pick up a couple of Top 8 finishes, it did much worse than I expected.

I’m a broken record, then, when I say that while it didn’t do that well so far, now could be its time to shine. For real this time! Here’s why: Arceus / Duraludon is, by far, the deck that requires the smallest board of the metagame. Most of the time, it only has two Pokémon in play, and only one in the late game. That means that against Palkia, Palkia VSTAR’s damage will be very limited (usually 180 damage, 210 with a Choice Belt). With a Hyper Potion, Duraludon VMAX isn’t even 2HKO’d by Palkia VSTAR. And unlike Arceus decks, Palkia doesn’t have a Cheren’s Care to heal itself, so Duraludon will have an easier time taking KOs.

Arceus / Duraludon also matches fairly well into the rest of the metagame. Regigigas, with its reliance on Special Energy, needs Path to the Peak to deal any damage to Duraludon VMAX. Miltank is destroyed by G-Max Pulverization. Mew VMAX can beat Duraludon VMAX with a good list and some luck, but it’s not an easy matchup.


****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******

##Pokémon - 11

* 4 Arceus V BRS 122
* 2 Arceus VSTAR BRS 123
* 3 Duraludon VMAX EVS 123
* 2 Duraludon V CPA 47

##Trainer Cards - 35

* 1 Karen's Conviction CRE 144
* 2 Pokégear3.0 HS 96
* 2 Avery CRE 130
* 3 Hyper Potion SSH 166
* 1 Pal Pad UPR 132
* 3 Boss's Orders RCL 154
* 4 Tower of Darkness BST 137
* 2 Switch SUM 132
* 3 Quick Ball SSH 179
* 2 Big Charm SSH 158
* 4 Ultra Ball BRS 150
* 1 Single Strike Style Mustard BST 134
* 1 Choice Belt BRS 135
* 3 Professor's Research SHF 60
* 2 Marnie SSH 169
* 1 Energy Loto ASR 140

##Energy - 14

* 3 Fighting Energy SMEnergy 6
* 4 Double Turbo Energy BRS 151
* 6 Metal Energy SWSHEnergy 8
* 1 Single Strike Energy BST 141

Total Cards - 60

****** Deck List Generated by the Pokémon TCG Online www.pokemon.com/TCGO ******


Here’s the list I’m currently playing. There hasn’t been any incredible addition, although this list does borrow cards from successful Japanese deck lists. There’s a small Single Strike package that makes Tower of Darkness the best Stadium to run. Single Strike Energy helps Duraludon deal more damage, but it’s also an Energy that can be discarded to draw two cards. The newest addition to the list, Energy Loto, can help to find it, although its main role is to find Double Turbo Energy on the first or second turn of the game.

Karen's Conviction (216/198)

Another part of this Single Strike engine is Karen’s Conviction. It’s a situational Supporter, but this deck’s game plan is to make the opponent take two Prizes off an Arceus, then three and three off two Duraludon VMAX. This means that there will almost always be a point in the game where the opponent has one Prize left, and at this point, Karen’s Conviction increases Duraludon’s damage by 100. That’s enough to have it OHKO any VSTAR Pokémon (even one that has a Big Charm), so it’s a big boost in the late game. Thanks to Pal Pad, you can afford to discard Karen in the early game and recover it at some point in time for the end.

There have been some cuts to help make this happen. You may be worried seeing only three Quick Ball in the list, but honestly, I haven’t had an issue with it. Ultra Ball is the most important card, since it’s the one that gets Arceus VSTAR; Quick Ball becomes dead much faster.

Trekking Shoes is a card that deserves consideration in this deck. Arceus / Duraludon is a fairly linear deck. It doesn’t rely on a huge pool of options like Inteleon decks do, it just wants consistency, and Trekking Shoes can do exactly that. Despite that, it’s hard for me to find cards I would really be fine with cutting in this list, but it’s possible that the perfect Arceus / Duraludon list plays four Trekking Shoes. I will definitely be testing something like this!


Header - Conclusion

There are plenty of Arceus variants out there, and I haven’t tried all of them. Some ideas are probably best left to the past: for example, I don’t think Beedrill is a good partner for Arceus anymore, since the main new threat, Palkia VSTAR, doesn’t play Special Energy (some lists may play Capture Energy but they don’t rely on it). On the other hand, attackers that haven’t seen play in a long time, or ever, such as Tapu Koko VMAX, may find it’s their time to shine. Arceus is full of resources and you should definitely not discount it.

Arceus / Inteleon is a fantastic deck if Palkia VSTAR doesn’t dominate the metagame. Arceus / Duraludon is a strong choice if it does, but it’s not the safest deck against Mew (unless Mew drops the techs that help this matchup, such as Echoing Horn). There’s a high chance that whatever the specific metagame ends up being in Melbourne, Milwaukee or Columbus, there will be an Arceus list that will be perfectly suited to this metagame, just like Arceus / Inteleon was the right call for Bremen and Arceus / Bibarel without Jolteon was a great pick in Milan. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know in advance what this right call will end up being!

I’m very excited to see how this new format shapes up. Good luck if you’re attending one of the upcoming Regionals!

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