Breaking Down the Japanese Meta: Sword and Shield

For deck lists, please click the following: December (English); January (English); 12月(日本語);1月(日本語) 

The second City League season has just ended in Japan, having run through December and January. The format for this season had a stable card pool, with the notable exception of the Zacian + Zamazenta Box released on 27 December. This introduced Galarian Meowth with Evolutionary Roar, which gave players a way of searching for Galarian Perrserker. This format is also different to the upcoming Oceania International format in that Japanese players are not allowed to play Rainbow Energy or Lusamine (among a few other cards).

The Aichi Champions League (an event equivalent to a Regionals) was also held in the middle of this season. You can read more about that here.

In total, there were 22 City Leagues held in December and 34 in January. While our data is incomplete, we have collected around 300 deck lists and even more archetypes. For deck lists and further information detailing individual City Leagues, click the following links: 
December (English); January (English); 12月(日本語);1月(日本語) 





Note: No tournaments were held in the week ending 5 January, and only one tournament was held in the week ending 22 December, so those weeks have been omitted.

Some general observations:

  • The December results had the same top five decks as the Aichi Champions League, albeit in a slightly different order;
  • Compared to the Aichi Champions League, non-Tag Team decks saw far more success in City Leagues;
  • Arceus & Dialga & Palkia Zacian had an explosive start, taking up almost 40% of Top 8 spots in the first week of the season. It was the most popular archetype in both months, completely dominating in January. This is likely due to it gaining access to the new Galarian Meowth, allowing the deck to run Galarian Perrserker and hit key numbers (especially against Tag Team Pokemon);
  • The release of Galarian Meowth probably also influenced more players to play Straight Zacian (without Arceus & Dialga & Palkia);
  • The Psychic variant of Mewtwo & Mew was not played very much until it began gaining popularity on the week ending 29 December – this was likely due to the deck’s successful run at the Aichi Champions League;
  • Pikachu & Zekrom overtook Arceus & Dialga & Palkia Zacian as the most successful archetype multiple times, but seems to be on a downwards trend;
  • Baby Blacephalon (exclusively the Ability variant) shot up to being the fourth most successful deck in January, having useful type advantage and being a one Prize attacker;
  • Wall/mill variants were very popular in the first week (players likely wanted to catch opponents off guard with new cards like Morpeko V, Cinccino and Galarian Obstagoon);
  • Apart from Morpeko, no VMAX Pokemon have been particularly successful; and
  • The Fire variant of Mewtwo & Mew almost completely dropped off in January despite being the third most successful deck in December.
Arceus & Dialga & Palkia Zacian

Arceus & Dialga & Palkia Zacian performed consistently well, defending its top spot over both months. While the December decks were quite similar to successful lists from the Aichi Champions League, lists changed drastically upon the release of Evolutionary Roar Galarian Meowth, which almost every deck began running. The ease of setting up Galarian Perrserker caused the deck to be less reliant on other inconsistent or hard-to-find damage modifiers, like Shrine of Punishment, Vitality Band and Galarian Zigzagoon, to knock out high HP Pokemon like Mewtwo & Mew GX or Raichu & Alolan Raichu GX. Due to this, Chaotic Swell became the most played Stadium, despite not being played at all prior. Jirachi counts dropped substantially in January decks, with many lists opting to run none at all.

Most decks over both months preferred to play the safer, slower version of the deck with no Energy Switch, sacrificing the potential turn one Altered Creation GX for more consistency. Most decks also opted to take the Custom Catcher route (instead of trying their luck with Pokemon Catcher). More decks began running Oranguru after the Aichi Champions League, likely being inspired by top performing decks at that tournament. Oranguru can help conserve these Custom Catchers before using Dedenne GX or Professor’s Research, as well as being able to guarantee a Metal Energy attachment from Intrepid Sword in certain situations.

The deck has a few flexible spots, giving it the ability to run different techs depending on the meta, with players running everything from Druddigon to Wobbuffet V. Phione is a notable tech option, with the potential to be useful in any game, but particularly in Wall matchups. Phione can force Lillie’s Poke Doll to the bench, allowing the Arceus & Dialga & Palkia Zacian player to take Prizes without needing to expend Custom Catcher (assuming there is only one Lillie’s Poke Doll in play). It can similarly be useful against Galarian Obstagoon. Absol was another popular option, incredibly useful for slowing down opponents, especially against decks that use Jirachi. Its attack can even be used to knock out Trevenant & Dusknoir GX.

Psychic Mewtwo & Mew

Psychic Mewtwo & Mew was the second most successful deck in January CIty Leagues, and for good reason. It has a plethora of GX attacks of which to take advantage, Energy acceleration and potentially game winning hand disruption in the form of Marnie and Night Watch. The deck even has the potential to donk the opponent if it goes second, using Horror House GX on the first turn. This buys Psychic Mewtwo & Mew an additional turn to set up Malamar and get more Energy on board.

Many decks are now running Ultra Necrozma GX, which, with Giratina’s Distortion Door, can allow the deck to set up some game-winning Sky-Scorching Light GX plays, sniping low HP Pokemon like Jirachi or Phione. Photon Geyser is also easy to charge up with Malamar, and with the right amount of Energy can knock out anything, often being able to close out games. Running Ultra Necrozma GX requires Aurora Energy however, and some players have opted to instead run only Psychic Energy. Despite having access to fewer attackers, this allows for more consistent Energy acceleration and attachments.

Despite being a Mewtwo & Mew deck, many players stopped running Mega Lopunny & Jigglypuff in January, likely due to the prevalence of V Pokemon. Quite a few decks are instead running Blacephalon, being the perfect attacker after losing a Tag Team Pokemon. Fireworks Bomb can knockout unsuspecting Bench sitters, or help set up perfect math for knock outs with attacks like Trevenant & Dusknoir GX’s Night Watch.

Mewtwo & Mew GX decks are generally no longer running Indeedee V, instead running Stealthy Hood to allow Mewtwo & Mew GX to use Perfection under Shadow Box Mimikyu. Many decks are also running Big Charm as an additional Tool, making it difficult to one shot the deck’s Tag Team Pokemon without Lysandre Labs in play. The fact that the deck predominantly runs Chaotic Swell makes this even more difficult.

Pikachu & Zekrom

Pikachu & Zekrom was the second most and third most popular deck in December and January respectively, seeing continued success due to its sheer speed. While nothing from the new set has changed the fundamentals of the deck, with Professor’s Research now in format, it’s easier than ever to get off the previously elusive turn one Full Blitz.

Notable additions from the new set include Tapu Koko V and Big Charm. Tapu Koko V is a reliable and high hitting attacker, particularly useful for being able to reach high numbers without needing to use Tag Bolt GX. With one Electropower, it can knock out Zacian V. Not being a GX Pokemon, it also doesn’t increase damage from Mega Lopunny & Jigglypuff GX’s Jumping Balloon. Big Charm has become almost a staple, serving a similar purpose as in the Psychic Mewtwo & Mew deck. Big Charm forces multiple damage modifiers from Zacian decks (or Lysandre Labs).

Baby Blacephalon

Baby Blacephalon was the most popular single Prize deck, coming back after a short hiatus. The deck has shifted from variants relying on Green’s Exploration or Pidgeotto’s Air Mail to dig through the deck. The deck now depends on high counts of Jirachi, as well as Zacian V’s Intrepid Sword and Oricorio GX’s Dance of Tribute to see cards. Zacian V’s Intrepid Sword, while never attaching any Energy, is especially useful as a Supporter cannot be played on the first turn. It can also be used in the mid- or even late-game to help set up large knockouts on slower turns. Oricorio GX helps to recover from a powered up Blacephalon being knocked out, as well as from Reset Stamps or hand disruption from Marnie. The deck, needing so many different pieces to successfully attack with Fireball Circus, often falls prey to hand disruption, which has lead to the inclusion of the newly-released Lucky Egg. Another new card that has been included in the deck is Cramorant V, an easy Welder target which can close out games by sniping Dedenne GX for two Prizes. The deck generally doesn’t run gust (apart from Phione), so Cramorant V is an easy addition.

Walls/Mill Decks

Despite these types of decks not being prevalent in Japan until recently, Morpeko, Cinccino, Magcargo and Galarian Obstagoon decks have seen success this City League season.

Cinccino is Sword and Shield’s reincarnation of Zoroark GX, and Zacian V acts as a pseudo Tropical Beach, drawing three extra cards at no cost. The deck walls with Lillie’s Poke Doll while establishing a loop of Bellelba & Brycenman thanks to Pal Pad and Oranguru’s Resource Management. Once down in Prizes, the deck can mill even more quickly using Lt Surge’s Strategy to use Bellelba & Brycenman twice in one turn. Cynthia & Caitlin can also make it easier to maintain this loop, while acting as a draw Supporter in the early-game. Some Japanese players have even been running Alolan Muk from Team Up to mill their opponents more quickly. With Devolution Spray Z, Alolan Muk’s ability can be used multiple times per game. Some decks also run a Shedinja line, allowing for safer Resource Managements. Decks without Alolan Muk opted to run a Mewtwo & Mew GX and Magcargo GX combo, allowing them to finish off the game one turn earlier than without.

The other popular mill deck uses both Magcargo and Magcargo GX. Magcargo GX can similarly use its Burning Magma GX attack to close out games. Magcargo, with its Smooth Over Ability, works very well together with Zacian V, allowing the player to choose any card for the following turn. The deck also runs Mareep and Slumbering Forest to slow down the opponent even further. With Recycle Energy or Air Balloon, it’s possible to promote Mareep each turn after Lillie’s Poke Doll has been knocked out and use Fluffy Pillow. Otherwise, the deck is very similar to the Cinccino variant, running maximum counts of Bellelba & Brycenman and relying on Oranguru later in the game.

Morpeko, while not a mill deck, also runs Lillie’s Poke Doll and attempts to deny the opponent Prizes. Morpeko V can be quite dangerous, being able to take advantage of Electropower, Tapu Koko and Thunder Mountain due to its typing, and can knock out Pokemon while being able to hide behind Lillie’s Poke Doll. Running Mew also makes it very difficult for any opponent to play around Lillie’s Poke Doll by targeting the bench. Morpeko runs high counts of Marnie, trying to prevent the opponent from being able to find a pair of Custom Catchers. The deck runs Memory Energy and Morpeko VMAX to give the Pokemon more longevity while still being able to use Electric Wheel. Some decks opted to run Recycle Energy instead, getting rid of the need to dig for an additional Energy each turn.

Galarian Obstagoon is a different kind of wall, preventing Basic Pokemon from doing damage to it. In a format dominated by Basic Pokemon, this is incredible. However, Galarian Obstagoon is a stage 2 Pokemon, making it difficult to set up. In order to buy time setting up, the deck runs high counts of Lillie’s Poke Doll to hide behind in the early-game. It also runs Mew, to prevent Pokemon being knocked out on the Bench and getting around Obstruct. Yveltal GX is also being run in Galarian Obstagon decks, its GX attack particularly synergistic with Galarian Zigzagoon and Galarian Obstagoon’s Abilities, being able to knock anything out. Their Abilities are also perfect for setting up Sableye V’s Mad Nail, which can be useful for closing out games. Decks which ran Sableye V also ran Energy Switch, to set it up out of nowhere.

While Japanese results are often a good indication of which archetypes are strong in a new format, they do not always translate over directly. It will be exciting to see whether the Oceania International and events afterwards will follow similar trends to these results. Will Zacian demonstrate similar dominance? Will Cinccino live up to its hype and achieve better results than in Japan? We will play in this format for the next three months, but Japan has already moved on to their third City League season, featuring cards from VMAX Rising. We will be sure to release a similar metagame breakdown for that format, so stay tuned! You can follow us on Twitter or like our page on Facebook to keep up to date. 


  1. Can we get the Nuzzle list that got first place in Nagasaki in January? Thanks!

    1. Unfortunately, the list hasn't been made publicly available. I'll let you know if we do eventually find it, though!

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