An Early Look at SM10a and SM10b


Decklists from SM1-SM10a can be found here and decklists from SM1-SM10b can be found here

Japan has had its first taste of the cards which will first be legal for the rest of us at the World Championships, namely the sets GG End, Sky Legend and Miracle Twin, which will comprise Unified Minds. Japan had multiple City Leagues (Japanese League Cups) with GG End and Sky Legend legal, as well as the recently concluded Japan Championships (Japanese Nationals) with Miracle Twin also legal. While these tournaments had a format including cards from SM1 onward, the World Championships will impose a new format (not even seen yet in Japan), requiring cards to be Ultra Prism on. While this means that the Japanese results may not be an accurate place to begin testing for post-rotation, this does not make Japanese results completely irrelevant. We can still learn of some new combinations and archetypes, and, more fundamentally, it is interesting to look at how the Japanese metagame has developed with the release of the aforementioned recent sets. 

This article details Season 4 of the City Leagues (essentially Quarter 4). Shortly after this season finished, Miracle Twin was released and the Japan Championships occurred. Early indications show the meta generally didn’t deviate significantly at the Japan Championships, apart from the introduction of a Mewtwo & Mew GX Box and the resurgence of Fossil archetypes. While everyone eagerly awaits the cumulation of deck lists from the Japan Championships on LimitlessTCG, this article will detail how the meta transformed in the two months preceding. The article will be a general overview of the season, including only successful City League lists without winning Gym League lists. Less emphasis has been placed on comparisons to our upcoming meta due to the incompatibility of it with rotation.

SM1-SM10a was a relatively short format, containing only four City Leagues. The Kyoto Champions League however was in the middle of this format. Due to the lack of meaningful data, we choose to hold off releasing an article on this format, combining it with the much larger SM1-SM10b format, which had nine City Leagues. This format also had 2 Expanded City Leagues, but the results of them have not been included in this article. Due to the different ban lists, the format is drastically different to what the rest of the world has come to expect from the Expanded metagame. However, if there is interest, we may include results of Expanded tournaments in the future.

Summary


The previous format showed the meta was made up of four main archetypes: Reshiram & Charizard, Jirachi Zapdos, Zoroark variants and Pikachu & Zekrom. Although there were no new major deck archetypes expected to come from the release of GG End and Sky Legend, the controversial Reset Stamp became legal, which was expected to have a large impact on the game.  

We know the deck archetypes for each top 8 placing of every City League. For SM1-SM10a, we have 11 out of a possible 32 deck lists. For SM1-SM10b, we have 50 out of a possible 72 deck lists. Out of the 61 deck lists we collated, 51 of these lists contain Reset Stamp, suggesting that this card is one of the bigger introductions we’ve had for some time.

SM1-SM10a


SM1-SM10a
April 7 Tokyo
April 21 Yokohama
April 21 Osaka
April 21 Hiroshima
Number
136
128
100
80
1st
Reshiram & Charizard 
Reshiram & Charizard
Zoroark Dewgong
Reshiram & Charizard
2nd
Reshiram & Charizard 
Blacephalon GX
Ultra Necrozma
Zoroark Dewgong
Top 4
Pikachu & Zekrom 
Reshiram & Charizard 
Zoroark Lycanroc
Garchomp & Giratina w/o Malamar
Top 4
Reshiram & Charizard 
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Blacephalon GX
Garchomp & Giratina
Top 8
Ultra Necrozma
Weezing
Salazzle Hand
Jirachi Zapdos w/Ultra Beasts
Top 8
Vileplume
Reshiram & Charizard
Weezing
Zoroark Lycanroc
Top 8
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Jirachi Zapdos w/Ultra Beasts
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Garchomp & Giratina
Top 8
Granbull
Zygarde Counters
Reshiram & Charizard
Weezing

Observations

  • Much like the previous format, Reshiram & Charizard was the most successful deck. However, its usage among the top decks has increased, doubling the second most successful archetype. However, its success rate decreased in the last three City Leagues succeeding the Champions League. Its prevalence in that tournament probably meant that more decks had incorporated countermeasures for it.
  • Zoroark variants’ success rates have increased. This is not unexpected, as the deck can make better use of Reset Stamp than any other deck in the format. However, it is interesting to note it had no placings in any City Leagues in the first weekend.  Zoroark, a notoriously fifty-fifty deck, is generally not suited for an unknown meta, as it thrives off being able to pick and choose the right tech cards. The first City Leagues, combined with Kyoto Champions League (where Zoroark also underperformed) allowed the meta to settle down, meaning the deck could be refined.
  • For reasons unknown, Jirachi Zapdos saw its least successful format since the cards were released. It may have been due to the resurgence of Zoroark, and thus Muk. However, its matchup spread against everything else is generally positive. It also should have enjoyed the release of Reset Stamp, not least because it does not suffer much from hand disruption given the Jirachi engine.
  • Pikachu & Zekrom also suffered a heavy decline in success. This may be because of the increased success in Reshiram & Charizard.
  • Gardevoir & Sylveon remains a relevant deck. This means players have to be careful in deckbuilding and include outs to the Fairy Charms the deck runs.
  • Malamar has found a new partner in Garchomp & Giratina, showing a similar slice of results to Ultra Necrozma.
  • Internationally well-known players Shintaro Ito and Takuya Yoneda achieved a top 8 finish with Vileplume and a top 2 finish with Blacephalon GX respectively.  Unfortunately, these lists are hidden behind a paywall.

SM1-SM10b


SM1-SM10b
April 28 Aichi
April 28 Yokohama
April 29 Osaka
May 5 Hiroshima
May 6 Osaka
May 12 Tokyo
May 26 Aichi
May 26 Yokohama
May 26 Sendai
Number
102
128
120
80
120
128
102
128
66
1st
Ultra Necrozma
Ultra Necrozma
Jirachi Zapdos
Zoroark Dewgong
Reshiram & Charizard
Reshiram & Charizard
Hoopa Umbreon
Gourgiest
Reshiram & Charizard
2nd
Melmetal Mill
Zoroark Lycanroc
Ultra Necrozma
Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno
Jirachi Zapdos
Zoroark Lycanroc
Jirachi Zapdos
Reshiram & Charizard
Gourgiest
Top 4
Zoroark Dewgong
Zoroark Lycanroc Frosslass
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Reshiram & Charizard
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno w/Quagsire
Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno
Reshiram & Charizard
Gourgiest
Top 4
Rowlet & Alolan Exeggutor-GX w/Vikavolt
Zoroark Persian
Pikachu & Zekrom
Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno w/Quagsire
Jirachi Zapdos
Zoroark Dewgong
Zoroark Lycanroc Frosslass
Garchomp & Giratina w/Malamar
Garchomp & Giratina w/Malamar
Top 8
Weezing
Reshiram & Charizard
Zoroark Lickilicky
Whimsicott
Gourgiest
Reshiram & Charizard
Reshiram & Charizard
Zoroark Lycanroc
Pikachu & Zekrom
Top 8
Meganium Box
Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno w/Quagsire
Gourgiest
Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno
Nidoqueen Meganium
Nagadanel Quagsire
Psychic Malamar
Zoroark Lycanroc
Reshiram & Charizard
Top 8
Pikachu & Zekrom
Jirachi Zapdos
Ultra Necrozma
Reshiram & Charizard
Garchomp & Giratina
Reshiram & Charizard
Garchomp & Giratina w/Malamar
Turtonator Nagadanel
Reshiram & Charizard
Top 8
Zoroark Lycanroc
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Zoroark Lycanroc
Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno w/Quagsire
Gardevoir & Sylveon
Reshiram & Charizard
Gourgiest
Weezing

Observations:

  • Reshiram & Charizard retains its spot as the most dominant deck for the third format in a row.  The gap between the top two decks has only continued to increase. The deck however did struggle early in the SM1-SM10b format, only achieving a singular top 8 placing over the first three City Leagues in the first weekend, suggesting players were wary about new potential counters.
  • If you disclude the top deck as an anomaly, the results of the format are actually quite varied, with many decks having similar amounts of use.
  •  Zoroark retains its spot as a tier 1 deck. Dewgong variants showed a small decline in use, contrasting with a heavy increase of Lycanroc variants. The introduction of Frosslass in SM10b gives the deck a techable stage 1 line to help the Reshiram & Charizard matchup.
  • Gourgiest, a rouge deck that has cropped up here and there previously but which had never seen any mainstream success, finished the format very strongly, ending up as the third most successful deck of the format. A large part of this success was due to the creation of a list by Takuya Yoneda and Team Torchic which was distributed to some friends.
  • Players remember that Jirachi Zapdos is a playable deck, moving its way back into numbers of relevance.
  • Players realise that Ultra Necrozma is the better Malamar partner over Garchomp & Giratina.
  • Although the card has been delayed and won’t be released in time for the World Championships, Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno saw a surprising amount of play, with many different strategies used to charge up its awkward attack cost.
  • Although it only saw fringe use in the previous format, the introduction of Tapu Fini, despite being included in very few decks, saw both Blacephalon variants disappear.

Decklists

The available deck lists can be found in the following links:
SM1-SM10a and SM1-SM10b.

Here are some small observations on the most popular decks made when collating the lists.

Reshiram & Charizard

  • Like what we’re seeing in the Unbroken Bonds format, there is still mixed debate on whether the Green’s Search or the Ability-based Reshiram & Charizard archetype is superior. In the SM1-SM10a format, Green’s was shown to be more popular, yet in the SM1-SM10b the Ability-variant was significantly more successful. Despite being generally an aggressive deck, both variants can make easy use of Reset Stamp if they happen to fall behind.
  • Many decks are running two copies of Heatran GX, a card with an Ability not dissimilar to Tapu Koko GX’s. This gives the deck a lot more flexibility and means the deck doesn’t get punished as much for things such as making risky Welder plays. It allows you to spread your Energy on multiple threats, yet retain the ability to take a surprise GX knockout at any point.
  • Miltank and Acerola aren’t used particularly commonly. However, Max Potion was, regardless of if the build or not.
  • Tag Switch has been notably absent from almost all lists, despite having seemingly great synergy.
  • Giant Stove has been a major consistency booster for the deck. Fiery Flint counts have subsequently decreased.
  • Despite the resurgence of Zoroark, Eevee & Snorlax GX has been in very few lists. This might potentially be explained by Lycanroc GX being the preferred partner over Dewgong in their meta.
  • Despite Mill’s relative success at the Kyoto Champions League, very little respect has been given to Mill, with Stealthy Hood and Evolution lines notably absent.
  • The lists don’t seem to care about the one prize matchup with a lack of one Prize Pokemon and Miltank. This might be reflective of Zapdos’ decline.

Zoroark

  • Reset Stamp means it is far easier for Zoroark to get off the infamous ‘hand disruption + Muk’ combination. Zoroark, having Trade, also isn’t hurt by being subject to Reset Stamp itself. Followed by the newly released Supporter, Jessie & James, this can be particularly devastating.
  • Both in Dewgong and Lycanroc variants, Slowking has been a seeming staple.
  • The release of Frosslass gives the deck a more consistent answer to Reshiram & Charizard. However due to the clever design of the card, Rainbow energies can not be efficiently used to power the card up. Water Energies, or Manaphy (SHL) can be added to counteract this.
  • Despite the introduction of Black Belt, lists seem split on using it versus the original Counter Gain.
  • Martial Arts Dojo seems to have supplanted Devoured Field and Brooklet Hill as the Stadium of choice, despite being essentially not used at all when it was released.
  • In SM1-SM10b there was a notable change in Zoroark Lycanroc lists and their Energy counts. The deck moved away from Unit Energies to Basic Fighting Energies. The lists did not include Viridian Forest. This might be reflective of Mill performing well at the most recent Champions League. Two Fighting Energies seem to be standard, a decrease from four that was the previous norm.

Gourgeist

  • The thick Zebstrika + Jirachi core gives the deck ample draw power, helping the deck chain Gourgiest + Tools + Energy.
  • The main reason the deck has performed so well is U-Turn Board, giving the deck a free 160 damage every turn, on top of any other modifiers.

Gardevoir & Sylveon

  • Gardevoir lists are almost always a reflection of the expected meta, so lists usually do have large variations. Reset Stamp has however given the deck the comeback card the deck has been craving since its release and has prefect synergy with Mismagius and Green’s Search.
  • Tag Switch is a huge addition to the deck, allowing you to switch between Pokemon much more easily, and it is not reliant on using both searches from Green’s on Energy Switch. 

Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno

  • The awkward Energy requirement for the deck means there are multiple ways to charge your Tag Team up.
  • The most popular method is to use Quagsire, Articuno and Rainbow Energies. This option doubles as being a strong deck simply with its positive Fire matchup.
  • Welder and the fire engine (Fire Crystal, Fiery Flint, Giant Stove, Victini) combined with Tapu Koko Prism. Although clunky, this method means you can theoretically attack from as early as turn one.
  • The Quagsire variant can also make use of Keldeo GX, which has Holy Heart, an Ability akin to Safeguard. This can serve as a barrier while attacking, biding time to create a strong board state. However, do note that its Ability won’t work under Power Plant.

Pikachu & Zekrom

  • Pikachu & Zekrom remains at an awkward crossroads in the meta. The deck is inherently very powerful. However, it has been power crept out by Reshiram & Charizard, and doesn’t appreciate the resurgence of Lycanroc GX
  • Some lists have attempted a less aggressive game style, utilising Power Plant and Choice Helmet
  • Almost all lists have included a copy of Raichu & Alolan Raichu GX. In theory this gives the deck a better change at dealing with Reshiram & Charizard.

Giratina & Garchomp

  • For some, this Tag Team has become the preferred partner of Malamar, over Ultra Necrozma. Giratina & Garchomp GX is essentially a three Prize Ultra Necrozma GX without needing to discard Energy. However, this means its damage is capped at 240, requiring a Choice Band to knock out, say, a Reshiram & Charizard GX. It is possible for Ultra Necrozma to achieve 270 damage by discarding three Energy and having one Distortion Door tick.
  • Essentially, the difference between the two decks is sacrificing unfettered damage output for more consistent damage.
  • The builds are very similar to Ultra Necrozma, relying on Viridian Forest to hit the required Fighting Energy.

Weezing

  • The resurgence of Zoroark, and thus Muk meant the deck has experimented with running counts of Zebstrika and Larvitar. Frost Rotom and Mimikyu have continued to see play to help the Reshiram & Charizard matchup.
  •  As a deck that generally grinds out long games, almost always falling behind, Reset Stamp is a perfect inclusion to the deck.
  • With the introduction of a new 60HP Koffing, the deck now can run Professor Elm’s Lecture if it so chooses. This Koffing also has Tackle, meaning the deck can run Normalium Z, creating opportunities to use a GX move.

Conclusion

This brings us to the end of Season 4 of the City Leagues. There will be no more City Leagues held in Japan until around October, though Trainer Leagues (League Challenges) and Gym Leagues (League) will still be held. There is no news yet of rotation for Japan next season, though perhaps they will follow TPCI’s suit and make it SM5 onwards. It will be very interesting to see how Japanese players, having already been exposed to Unified Minds cards, will adapt to the fresh metagame of the World Championships.

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