Last weekend, Japan had its first major event since the start of the pandemic. 1600 players gathered in Aichi for the Champions League. I followed the event live on YouTube, which screwed up my sleep schedule, but it was nice to watch an IRL event again – not to mention to follow my friend Antoine who made Top 4 at the event. Antoine is French but currently lives in Japan. You might know them as @ToineLay on Twitter, that person who posts translations of new cards and comics about the TCG.
As I like to remind my readers basically every other article, I think that despite Japan’s reputation as having weird decks or inconsistent builds, it’s very instructive to look at their metagame to have an idea of what works well and many of my successes in international competitions have come with decks that were inspired by Japanese decklists. Even this season, you saw Japanese deckbuilding in action from closer than usual since many Japanese players have been playing in online events and one of the things they brought was the Tag Call variant of LMZ, which I’ve found more enjoyable than and at least as good as, the Professor’s Research variant.
Therefore, I’d like to start this article with…
This section will be short, if only because, at the time of writing, there’s not that much info on the results of the tournament, especially decklists. Still, there are some things to note.
First, the format of the tournament: it was Standard, from SM9 Tag Bolt to S5a Matchless Fighters. This corresponds roughly to our current format, with two notable differences. First, Matchless Fighters is a mini-set which will account for about a third of the June set, Chilling Reign. It includes cards such as Galarian Zapdos V (the Eternatus killer) and Spiritomb (the Mad Party killer). Second, some of the cards from the Team Up set come from the Japanese mini-set SM8a Dark Order. This includes Jirachi and Tapu Koko Prism Star, which makes them not legal in Japan.
These differences affect a few decks, but most of the decks playable in our format are the same.
The most popular decks in the format were (in order):
- Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX / Zacian V
- Welder Decks
- Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX
- Eternatus VMAX
- Dark Box
Most Welder decks had Victini VMAX as their main attacker, but also included alternative attackers such as Heatran-GX and Reshiram & Charizard-GX. There were also Mewtwo & Mew-GX-based decks, but I’m unsure if they were classified in the “Welder” category or not.
Rapid Strike Urshifu was much more popular than Single Strike Urshifu, which I found slightly surprising. The issues plaguing the deck haven’t changed: Mew is still a popular tech, for instance. That said, Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX can be combined with other attackers much more easily than its Single Strike counterpart. It was seen on stream with partners such as Dragapult VMAX and Gengar & Mimikyu-GX (two different decks, not one with all three). If all such decks were counted as Rapid Strike Urshifu decks, then I can understand it ranking so high.
Even with Galarian Zapdos V in the format, Eternatus was still popular! It turns out that not everyone can tech the Fighting-type bird and apart from that, Eternatus is still a consistent and popular deck. Matchless Fighters gave it Galarian Moltres V, which acts as Energy acceleration (thanks to Energy Switch) and as a secondary attacker, so it seems to still have bright days ahead of it!
Finally, Dark Box – yes, the same concept that some players have been trying to make work since Unified Minds – made a surprising return. The core of the deck is getting Energy into play, with the help of Red & Blue and Galarian Moltres V, then using Weavile-GX to move the Energy to your attackers. The main attacker is Mewtwo & Mew-GX and it can copy attacks from Umbreon & Darkrai-GX, Mega Sableye & Tyranitar-GX and more. Silvally-GX also features in the deck since it works well with Red & Blue and gives it some draw power. The most interesting part of the deck is its amazing compatibility with Tag Call: the card can search for all three TAG TEAM Pokemon mentioned above, plus Greninja & Zoroark-GX, but also Red & Blue, Cynthia & Caitlin and even Sabrina & Brycen.
After nine rounds, here are the decks that made Top 16:
- 3x Welder Mewtwo & Mew-GX
- 3x Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX
- 3x Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX / Zacian V
- 2x Victini VMAX
- 2x Centiskorch VMAX
- 1x Inteleon VMAX
- 1x Eternatus VMAX
- 1x Blacephalon
Welder decks had an impressive showing and that remained true until the end: the Top 4 decks were two Mewtwo & Mew-GX, a Victini VMAX and the Inteleon VMAX, which thrived in such a metagame. Inteleon defeated Victini in Top 4 but fell to Mewtwo & Mew-GX (and to be honest, its own bad hands) in the finals.
Looking at these results, my analysis is that Mewtwo & Mew-GX performed better than expected and there are two factors that can explain it. First, many players expected Victini VMAX as the main Fire deck, but Mewtwo & Mew-GX works well against it because Victini is efficient against V decks, not GX decks. Also, Mewtwo & Mew-GX was able to use Aurora Energy to patch its difficult matchups. Thanks to Galarian Zapdos V, it was able to beat Eternatus, one of its toughest matchups ever since Darkness Ablaze.
The other deck to have a great performance was the finalist, Inteleon VMAX. Perhaps it’s no surprise that it did so well in a format full of Fire decks and no Pikarom (remember, Koko Prism isn’t in the format). But the deck’s strengths go further than that, so now, let’s take a deeper look at it.
Inteleon VMAX is not a new card by any means. It’s been played since it came out, with moderate success. One of the deck’s main limitations is the titular VMAX’s Lightning Weakness, that was especially relevant back in the Rebel Clash metagame since Pikachu & Zekrom-GX was one of the most played decks in the format. After rotation, when Electropower and Thunder Mountain Prism Star left us, Pikarom disappeared for a while, which led to a rise in Inteleon’s popularity. Tord Reklev himself played the deck in the final phase of the first Players Cup.
However, Pikarom soon came back and established itself as a tier one deck once again and Inteleon VMAX fell out of favor. Still, in Taiwan and Japan, where Pikarom isn’t a deck, it has recently been performing very well. And while Pikarom is still a factor in your current Standard, it’s not clear yet at which place it will settle. Depending on its popularity, Inteleon could have a lot of potential, because it got some help from Battle Styles!
Inteleon VMAX needs Frosmoth to work and Frosmoth enjoys Level Ball a lot. Is it worth playing Level Ball only for Snom and Frosmoth? Debatable. But thankfully, there’s another partner that benefits from Level Ball: Inteleon! The Stage 2 one, I mean. More specifically, Sobble and Drizzile.
Yes, this is one of these rare cases where adding a Stage 2 line improves a deck! Drizzile turns Level Ball into a consistency card if there’s a Sobble in play. It can grab a Supporter out of your deck if needed, but also other cards such as Boss’s Orders, Air Balloon or Evolution Incense (for Inteleon VMAX). It can then evolve into Inteleon later in the game to grab even more useful cards.
One reason why that works so well is thanks to Capacious Bucket. Inteleon VMAX needs Energy acceleration to become a threat (specifically, to use Max Bullet on turn two), but it doesn’t need that much of it, unlike, say, Lapras VMAX. One Capacious Bucket and Frosmoth is often just what you need to get attacking and Drizzile provides an easy way to get that, with minimal setup. If Inteleon VMAX’s Energy costs were higher, then Drizzile would not be enough and you would need heavier draw options such as Dedenne-GX, but as it stands, it fits perfectly.
In addition to OHKOing every Fire-type Pokemon, including Victini VMAX and Centiskorch VMAX (assuming no Heat Energy or Big Charm), Inteleon VMAX also has a strong weapon against Mewtwo & Mew-GX, in Mimikyu. Mewtwo & Mew-GX is often played in decks with Fire attackers, whether it’s Welder M3w or a Victini VMAX deck that techs Mewtwo & Mew-GX. In both cases, Inteleon VMAX can use the Bench damage of Max Bullet to put damage on Mewtwo & Mew-GX and make it useless. This forces the other player to use Fire-type attackers, which Inteleon can deal with easily. Mimikyu fits well in a deck with Level Ball and it’s also useful against Oricorio-GX, among others.
I mentioned Pikachu & Zekrom-GX above but there’s another reason why Inteleon is better in the Japanese format than ours: the existence of Rapid Strike Inteleon in Matchless Fighters. Rapid Strike Inteleon has the same Ability as Decidueye-GX, so once you have Drizzile in play, you can evolve it into a Pokemon that puts two damage counters on an opponent’s Pokemon every turn. This can facilitate KOs, including on the Bench (you can KO a Dedenne-GX on the Bench in two turns instead of three, for instance) or take an easy KO on, say, a Mew, over a couple turns. You can also easily put damage counters on a Mewtwo & Mew-GX, Silvally-GX or other similar Pokemon whose Ability you want to shut down with Mimikyu.
That said, having seen the deck in action, this Ability is a nice bonus, but not a core component of the deck, so I think Inteleon VMAX does have potential in your current Standard format. In fact, I’m very confident about it: the deck has already won a 174-person event! This was before Pikarom started to rise again, sure, but it still shows that the deck can do very well against many decks in the metagame, including ADPZ, the bane of everything that’s good and pure.
Hello to those of you who just skipped to this section! The list below is adapted from the one Vini Fernandez used to win the event, which in turn was inspired by my own decklist, which, to be fair, I made by mixing and matching decklists from the Taiwan Regionals. This is how deckbuilding works in most cases!