An Early Look at SM9a and SM9b

Individual lists have been compiled in this spreadsheet: click here.



For the past two months, Japan has been playing a metagame that will remain unique to the rest of the world. While most other countries get a new set to play with every three months, Japan’s sets are a third of the size and released monthly. This means the format played in Japan is only ever the same as it is in the rest of the world for a maximum of one month, and never concurrently. Essentially, the release of these first two sets create a format irrelevant to non-Japanese players.

This data will still give us an early look into how playable some of these new cards are, but the results need to be taken with a grain of salt. It can also help illustrate the meta development leading up to the Chiba Champions League, of which the results are already well known (and can be found here). All the results below are correct as far as we know, however information is generally difficult to find so we are unfortunately missing some data. This article won’t go into a large amount of detail (as that will be saved for a SM1-SM10 metagame report which will be released in a month), but hopefully the data we have compiled thus far is still useful.

Summary

The more notable cards released over these two sets are the Tag Team Pokemon, Gardevoir & Sylveon GX and Buzzwole & Pheromosa GX, Dedenne GX, Green’s Search, Abandoned Powerplant, Lt. Surge’s Strategy, Electromagnetic Radar and Pokegear 3.0. It is interesting to note that Greninja & Zoroark GX has not seen any success at all (despite the hype it has seen) compared to its set counterpart Buzzwole & Pheromosa GX. However, it will probably be more successful in the Expanded format, as it has access to all the cards which made Turbo Dark Tier 1 in the past.

The SM1-SM9a format had seven City Leagues held in January and the SM1-SM9b format ten held in February. City Leagues are the Japanese equivalent of Cups, however a player may only play in one per quarter. Of these, we know 97 Top 8 archetypes out of a possible 136 and have deck lists for 44 of them. Due to the Champions League in Chiba being so close to some of these City Leagues, many lists were chosen not to be released.


SM1-SM9a
Jan 13 Tokyo
Jan 13 Osaka
Jan 20 Osaka
Jan 20 Chiba
Jan 27 Sendai
Jan 27 Tokyo
Jan 27 Aichi
Participants

94





1st
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Pikachu & Zekrom
Jirachi Zapdos W/ Buzzwole & Jolteon
Vikavolt GX
Jirachi Zapdos W/ Buzzwole &Jolteon
Lycanroc Persian
Jirachi Zapdos W/ Buzzwole
2nd
Pikachu & Zekrom
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Zoroark Lycanroc
Charizard
Jirachi Zapdos W/ Buzzwole & Jolteon
Jirachi Zapdos W/ Buzzwole & Jolteon
Top 4
Ultra Necrozma
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Ultra Necrozma
Pikachu & Zekrom
Jirachi Zapdos W/ Buzzwole & Jolteon
Pikachu & Zekrom
Ultra Necrozma
Top 4
Vikavolt GX
Ultra Necrozma
Passimian Koko
Top 8
Counter Spread
Jirachi Zapdos
Ultra Necrozma
Charizard
Passimian Koko
Jirachi Zapdos W/ SPAS Attackers
Top 8
Ultra Necrozma
Zoroark Lycanroc Ninetales
Pikachu & Zekrom
Top 8
Gengar & Mimikyu
Jirachi Zapdos W/ Buzzwole & Jolteon
Top 8




Jirachi Zapdos W/ Buzzwole & Jolteon

Ultra Necrozma

SM1-SM9a City League Deck Distribution

Jirachi Zapdos
10
Ultra Necrozma
7
Pikachu & Zekrom
5
Gardevoir & Sylveon
3
Zoroark
2
Charizard
2
Vikavolt GX
2
Passimian Koko
2
Counter Spread
1
Lycanroc Persian
1
Gengar & Mimikyu
1

SM1-SM9b
Feb 3 Osaka
Feb 2 Hiroshima
Feb 3 Aichi
Feb 3 Tokyo
Feb 3 Hokkaido
Feb 9 Aichi
Feb 10 Chiba
Feb 10 Niigata
Feb 10 Nagasaki
Feb 24 Fukuoka
Participants
128
107
88
128
70
89

63
60

1st
Lucario & Melmetal
Ultra Necrozma
Ultra Necrozma
Buzzwole & Pheromosa
Jirachi Zapdos
Buzzwole & Pheromosa
Ultra Necrozma
Zoroark Lucario Ninetales
Vikavolt GX
Counter Spread
2nd
Buzzwole & Pheromosa
Pikachu & Zekrom
Pikachu & Zekrom
Pikachu & Zekrom
Zoroark Lycanroc
Jirachi Zapdos
Pikachu & Zekrom
Jirachi Zapdos
Lost March
Buzzwole & Pheromosa
Top 4
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Pikachu & Zekrom W/ Jirachi
Pikachu & Zekrom
Jirachi Zapdos W/ Buzzwole
Jirachi Zapdos W/Jolteon
Gaskan
Buzzwole & Pheromosa
Jirachi Zapdos
Rayquaza/Buzzwole & Pheromosa/Vikavolt
Pikachu & Zekrom W/Jirachi
Top 4
Pikachu & Zekrom
Pikachu & Zekrom
Hitmonlee, Hitmontop, Hitmonchan
Zoroark Lycanroc Ninetales
Pikachu & Zekrom
Jirachi Zapdos
Ultra Necrozma
Pikachu & Zekrom
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Top 8
Jirachi Zapdos
Jirachi Zapdos W/Buzzwole & Jolteon
Cofagrigus
Pikachu & Zekrom
Zoroark Lycanroc Weavile
Pikachu & Zekrom
Pikachu & Zekrom
Pikachu & Zekrom
Pikachu & Zekrom

Top 8
Jirachi Zapdos
Pikachu & Zekrom
Pikachu & Zekrom
Lycanroc Persian
Pikachu & Zekrom
Buzzwole & Pheromosa

Top 8
Jirachi Zapdos
Pikachu & Zekrom W/ Jirachi
Pikachu & Zekrom
Ultra Necrozma

Top 8
Hitmonlee, Hitmontop, Hitmonchan



Charizard



Zoroark Lycanroc


SM1-SM9b City League Deck Distribution

Pikachu & Zekrom
21
Jirachi Zapdos
11
Buzzwole & Pheromosa
7
Ultra Necrozma
5
Zoroark
5
Gardevoir & Sylveon
2
Hitmonlee, Hitmontop, Hitmonchan
2
Charizard
1
Vikavolt GX
1
Counter Spread
1
Lycanroc Persian
1
Cofagrigus
1
Lost March
1
Rayquaza/Buzzwole & Pheromosa/Vikavolt
1
Lucario & Melmetal
1

Since these formats are, as mentioned previously, essentially irrelevant, deck list averages won’t be created. In our last metagame breakdown we included decks from Gym Battles (which aren’t as competitive as City Leagues), to give the averaged data more meaning. This time, only decks from the more serious City Leagues will be used. A brief introduction, as well as key observations to some of these decks are below.

Pikachu & Zekrom Variants

Variants are still split between using Jirachi and not. However, in general, builds have changed quite drastically since the release of Dedenne GX in SM9a.  With the added draw power, the deck can much more consistently hit a T1 Full Blitz. Electromagnetic Radar also gives the deck more searching outs to Dedenne GX and other pieces of the combo, as well as an additional way to discard Lightning Energy in the early game. And although Buzzwole GX has fallen off completely, the new Reset Hole Marshadow has given the deck an easy check if ever needed.

Since the deck can more consistently hit T1 attacks, counts of Raikou (previously very popular) have dropped to zero, and even Zapdos counts aren’t as high as they were previously. More toolbox-oriented cards like Jolteon GX and Aether Paradise have also generally been left out. Decks have started to run Field Blower however, to make sure Gardevoir & Sylveon’s Fairy Charm Electric doesn’t automatically win the matchup against them.

Jirachi Zapdos Variants

In the SM1-SM9 meta, Jirachi Zapdos variants had decreased significantly in popularity. However, there has been a large resurgence after the releases of SM9a and SM9b. This isn't due to to the release of any new cards however; outside of Reset Hole Marshadow, no new cards were introduced for the archetype. My theory behind its resurgence is that Zoroark variants have dropped in popularity (and by extension Alolan Muk) and Lightning decks have dropped counts of Jolteon and Raikou, making Zapdos Jirachi more attractive to play.

Like previous formats, many variants of Jirachi Zapdos exist: straight, with Buzzwole and/or Jolteon GX and Ultra Beast variants with Rainbow Energies. The most popular variant appears to contain two Fighting Energy, Buzzwole, a single copy of Beast Ring and Jolteon GX.

Ultra Necrozma

Ultra Necrozma received no new cards in either of the two new sets. However, it retains all the characteristics it has always had. It has Giratina as a consistent attacker that can swing Prize trades, and Ultra Necrozma to deal with the high HP Tag Teams, as well as its GX attack to deal with lower HP Pokemon in the late game. The decreased popularity of Zoroark more than likely explains why Choice Band and Beast Energy Prism have been cut from the majority of lists.

Buzzwole & Pheromosa

フェローチェ&マッシブーンGX

This new card was released in SM9b and thus isn’t in the calculations for the first portion of the meta. The card is an absolute unit at 260 HP, with access to the previously meta-defining Jet Punch. The deck can utilise many of the new Trainer cards that were also released, like Green’s Search - the general engine of the deck - and later in the game, Lt. Surge’s Strategy. It also has access to the Supporter Ultra Forest Kartenvoy enabling it to deal with pesky threats like Hoopa and other Safeguarders. Due to the limitation in benching other Pokemon, the deck makes use of the newly released Pokegear 3.0 to help with drawing through its deck.
Whereas most decks are generally hesitant to bench a three Prize Pokemon, this deck generally only runs four copies of Buzzwole & Pheromosa GX and nothing else. Two knockouts will win you the game. (Some variants also ran Jolteon GX and Lightning Energies, but this wasn’t popularised until later, closer to the Chiba Champions League.) The deck’s general strategy revolves around losing a Tag Team after it has spread some damage with Jet Punch. It can then pull off powerful combos, such as Lt Surge into Green’s Search (for two Beast Rings) and Lusamine Prism, enabling a three to six Prize turn, as well as preventing damage for one turn.
It is worth noting that the following set in Japan, Double Blaze, will be bunched with SM9a and SM9b to create the set Unbroken Bonds, which will contain quite a lot of Fire support, both for the existing Blacephalon archetype and the newly released Charizard & Reshiram GX. This in theory could change the dynamic of the format due to their favourable type coverage over Buzzwole & Pheromosa.

Zoroark Variants

Zoroark variants have decreased significantly in popularity since the release of the two most recent expansions. As seen in our previous post linked here, the last major tournament of the previous format had a Zoroark usage of an  upwards of 25%, the equally most played deck. Outside of Reset Hole Marshadow, giving the deck an answer to Buzzwole (which, again, isn’t relevant at all in the current meta) and Dedenne GX for immediate draw, Zoroark hasn’t received any new cards to help its place in the meta. It generally seems to be getting power-creeped out, as decks like Pikachu & Zekrom can set up extremely quickly, and are less worried about Counter Gain + Rogue GX from a Lycanroc GX due to this speed.

However, Zoroark will never actually die. It’s essentially immortal. The Japanese just haven’t optimised a list, let alone decided on the right variant.

Gardevoir & Sylveon

サーナイト&ニンフィアGX

Released in SM9a, Gardevoir & Sylveon instantly became successful, winning the very first City League in Tokyo, and gaining second on the same day at a City League in Osaka, getting donked in a very favourable matchup in the final.

The deck revolves around using Ribombee from Lost Thunder, which gives your Fairy type Pokemon immunity from opposing Supporters, most notably Guzma.  Fairy decks also now have access to a wide range of Charms, most significantly giving them immunity from Electric types, Ultra Beasts and Pokemon with Abilities.  Ribombee’s ability, combined with the Charms, a multitude of switching and healing cards, and the ability of Gardevoir to move its Energy safely onto a benched Pokemon with its second attack, attempts to create a board state where your opponent is unable to attack, let alone take Prizes. At some point if you can accumulate enough Energies, its GX attack can also single handily win a game.

Charizard

Charizard remains a very powerful one Prize attacking deck with inbuilt acceleration, although it retains the downside of being reliant on setting up multiple Stage Two attackers. The deck is boosted by a very favourable matchup against Buzzwole & Pheromosa, due to its typing. It is interesting to note Alolan Ninetales GX has not been common in this archetype.

Vikavolt GX

After almost two years of being banished to the binder, this card has begun to see play with the new Charjabug released, which acts like a Holon Pokemon from the EX era, enabling you to attach the Charjabug as a double Lightning Energy. Vikavolt GX always had a very powerful attack, but getting it, a Stage Two, out, as well as its non-GX variant, in order to power it up was too much to ask for. Electromagnetic Radar also gives the deck extra outs to find your Evolutions, as well as Electropower for ramping up damage.

Spread

Spread gains or loses nothing in the two sets of SM9a and SM9b. We have a functional reprint of Mr Mime’s Bide Barricade in the following set, meaning this is likely going to be the last format where spread is popular. Flying Flip is always going to be an efficient attack, but less so in a Big Basic format, as Bench sizes can be better minimised.

Hitmonlee, Hitmontop & Hitmonchan

This is the epitome of a combo deck. The deck has three attackers that must attack in the right order, otherwise the attacks fail. The combo starts with hitting the active with Hitmonchan for 30 with Strafe, then hitting a benched Pokemon for 90 with Hitmonlee, then hitting all Pokemon for 60 with Hitmontop. The deck aims to ideally do that one to two times, then finish off with a Magical Swap. Since the deck is based on Fighting types, it also attempts to take advantage of all the Pikachu & Zekrom running rampant with type advantage, as well as the omnipresent Zoroark.

Lycanroc Persian

Alolan Persian is an incredibly efficient attacker, able to hit up to 90 damage with an attack that requires no energy.  This means the deck can prod your opponent’s early attackers whilst safely attaching to the bench – to Rockruff, arguably one of the most dangerous Bench sitters in the game. Using a combination of both playable Lycanroc GXs, the deck is then able to transition into Claw Slash and Accelerock, as well as one 1HKO with a GX move. This deck is also hoping to take exploit its favourable type advantage over Pikachu and Zoroark decks.

Cofagrigus

Using a thick line of Giratina and Counter Energy, this deck aims to take advantage of favourable Prize trades with most decks in the format. Boasting 120HP, it takes multiple Electropowers from Zapdos to knock it out, something that isn’t sustainable in the long game. Due to Cofagrigus’ attack, it is also able to safely use two Prize liability bench sitters like Tapu Lele GX and Dedenne GX for setup. Since the deck generally caps at 120 damage, as well as the fact you aim to use Distortion door upwards of four times per turn, the deck will generally try to finish the game using Tapu Lele’s Magical Swap.

Gengar & Mimikyu

Using high counts of the newly released Startling Box and Peeping Red Card, this deck aims to hit the opponent for large amounts of damage with Poltergeist. The deck also uses Marshadow GX, a Malamar engine and Max Potions to make sure your opponent doesn’t win the game too easily. The four count of Gengar & Mimikyu itself indicates that a T1 Horror House usually enables the deck to try to snowball early from the turn advantage.

Lost March

The deck hasn’t gained anything notable, but still has large potential. Pikachu & Zekrom variants dropping its one Prize attacking options, as well as Ultra Necrozma dipping ever so slightly in popularity gives the deck a little extra breathing space. It also has little issues with the lock Gardevoir & Sylveon sets up. However, it gains a new unfavourable matchup in Buzzwole & Pheromosa, as it has no type coverage and is highly susceptible to Jet Punch, since it doesn't sport relevant resistance.

Rayquaza

An old deck that has attempted to include copies of Buzzwole & Pheromosa in order to have a slightly bulkier attacker. The deck can make use of the very powerful GX attack by using Vikavolt's ability to load up energies.

Lucario & Melmetal

ルカリオ&メルメタルGX

This cool deck aims to out-resource your opponent with incredible damage mitigation through Lucario & Melmetal’s GX attack and Metal Frying Pans. After the deck has GXed, Duskmane Necrozma becomes a very efficient one Prize attacker, requiring just one Energy to attack, with an effective HP of 190. Larvitar is also included, as it has great synergy with Duskmane, and aims to take advantage of all the Fighting weak Pokemon prevalent in the meta. The deck also benefits by being able to play Green’s Search.

Conclusion


Since the release of SM9a and SM9b, the meta has diversified quite drastically. Previously it could have been argued that the format consisted of only three playable decks: Zoroark, Ultra Necrozma and Pikachu & Zekrom. With the release of the additional sets, Zapdos Jirachi, Gardevoir & Sylveon and Buzzwole & Pheromosa have seen a large amount of play. The power level of the new Tag Team Pokemon, as well as the new tools Pikachu & Zekrom  has gained, cement their place in the meta and will ensure they remain viable with the release of Unbroken Bonds. Green’s Search, Dedenne GX, Pokegear 3.0 and Electromagnetic Radar are helpful additions to consistency for many decks, whilst Abandoned Powerplant helps keep in check many ability-based decks, like Zoroark and Pikachu & Zekrom. Lt. Surge’s Strategy also enables some interesting combos, meaning you always have to think twice about taking a Prize lead. The format has increasingly reverted back to a Big Basics format. We will see if the trend continues upon the release of Double Blaze with a meta report of SM1-SM10, due to be released next month! 

Individual lists have been compiled in this spreadsheet: click here.

Comments

  1. Thanks for posting these comprehensive meta-analyses of the state of play in Japan. It would be great to see some specific new lists for one City League event so we can keep up to date. And then follow up with these comprehensive assembly of lists. Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the kind words! We're in the process of translating some tournament reports and such from recent City Leagues (I'm a bit behind schedule since university has ramped up) so stay tuned. We are also preparing another metagame breakdown :)

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