Breaking Down the Japanese Meta: SM1-SM12a

For deck lists, please click the following: October (English); November (English); 10月(日本語); 11月(日本語)

The completion of the first City League season marks the end of the Sun and Moon era and the beginning of the brand new Sword and Shield format, with the Aichi Champions League to be held on 21 December. Before we get around to covering that tournament, this post will look back at and discuss the results of the first City League season.

The first City League season was held from 12 October to 24 November. With cards from Sun and Moon (SM1) through to Tag All Stars (SM12a) legal, the card pool was similar to that of the Tokyo Champions League (which you can read more about here).

In total, 20 City Leagues were held in October and 28 in November, providing a breadth of data.


Please find top 8 deck lists for October and November (unfortunately these results are incomplete as we were unable to collate all archetypes and deck lists). 




Tag Team decks continued to dominate in the SM1-SM12a format, with the top five decks being Reshiram & Charizard, Pikachu & Zekrom, Arceus & Dialga & Palkia, Lucario & Melmetal and Mewtwo & Mew variants in both months. These decks also made up the top five decks of the Tokyo Champions League - given the format has changed very little, this is unsurprising. One notable Tag Team addition that was absent from the Tokyo Champions League format is the emergence of Dusknoir & Trevenant decks.

Dusknoir & Trevenant 

This deck generally utilises two variants of Energy acceleration: Malamar and Shining Mew. Most decks ran copies of Let Loose Marshadow and Reset Stamp, allowing them to disrupt their opponent’s hands and then use Night Watcher, often being able to leave their opponents with two or less cards. These hand disruption tactics also make it easier to get a successful Pale Moon GX off.


Golurk achieved its own share of impressive results as the top performing single Prize deck in a sea of multi-Prize attackers, making 15 top 8 spots overall. The deck runs 0 to 1 Supporters (Gladion) and powers through its deck using Zebstrika and Oranguru while slowing down opponents by using Power Plant. The deck can trade favourably with Tag Team decks, being able to hit for 160 and upwards from turn two.

Arceus & Dialga & Palkia

Arceus & Dialga & Palkia found itself with multiple variants, either Keldeo, Silvally or Spiritomb versions, and dominated in November. Spiritomb variants seemed non-existent in the first half of the season, but sprang up out of nowhere in the second - this was perhaps due to one of Japan's top professional players, Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi, releasing an article about the deck (you can read about a successful City League run with the archetype here). Spiritomb variants made up a significant portion of successful Arceus & Dialga & Palkia decks in the SM-SM12a format, showcasing the strength of the deck. The deck makes use of multiple damage modifiers - such as Altered Creation GX, Hustle Belt and Shrine of Punishment - to allow Spiritomb to deal up to 250 damage at once. Quite a few of the lists also teched in a Throh, which can be a Counter Gain target and is useful against Fighting-weak Pokemon such as Pikachu & Zekrom GX and Silvally GX. The condition required for additional damage (if a Benched Pokemon has any damage counters on it) is particularly synergistic with Spiritomb.

Another variant that saw success in Japan which has not yet seen success in the rest of the world was Arceus & Dialga & Palkia Silvally, which similarly picked up use in November. The inclusion of Fighting Memory and Water Memory allow the deck to one shot most relevant Pokemon in format for an additional Prize card. Having such a heavy focus on Silvally GX renders the deck less susceptible to Reset Stamp, something the Keldeo variant may struggle with.

Despite the rise of these other archetypes, Keldeo variants continued to see success. The Victini-based engine, despite achieving top 8 in the Tokyo Champions League, was overtaken by Jirachi-focussed engines. Mawile GX found itself into a few of October’s successful decks, its Ability particularly game-changing with Guzma still in format.

Reshiram & Charizard

Reshiram & Charizard continued to top tournaments this season as it has since its release. The core of the deck has remained similar to the finalist of the Tokyo Champions League. Generally without non-GX attackers (aside from the odd Volcanion or Hoopa), many Reshiram & Charizard decks have opted to run Reset Hole Marshadow and Power Plant to give themselves an out against Keldeo GX. A couple of decks in October City Leagues even ran the combo of Shrine of Punishment and Mimikyu!

Pikachu & Zekrom

Pikachu & Zekrom survives in spite of Mega Lopunny & Jigglypuff GX featuring in a wide variety of decks, maintaining consistent results unlike what has happened in the rest of the world. This is likely thanks to Guzma still being in format, meaning that Pikachu & Zekrom decks can rely on Zapdos to attack in the early game, not having the need to bench many GX Pokemon. Some decks have even forgone Zeraora GX altogether.

Lucario & Melmetal

Lucario & Melmetal was played in both attacking and defending variants, likely partially due to the ongoing influence of Daichi Shimada’s Tokyo Champions League victory. Control variants took advantage of the newly released Bellellba & Brycen-Man, giving a way to accelerate their win condition. Attacking variants have no need for Welder (which we have seen at recent Regional Championships) as they still have access to Double Colourless Energy.


The legality of the new Sword and Shield expansions and the game-changing rotation are sure to drastically shift the meta as we know it. Will the rule of Tag Teams be usurped by V and V MAX Pokemon? Be sure to watch this space as we begin to upload translations of articles heading into the Sword and Shield era.

If you are interested in following along with the Aichi Champions League, the tournament will be streamed on Youtube on 21 December starting 8.45AM Japan time (5.45PM CST) on the official Pokemon TCG Channel.