During the lead up to the North American International Championship, Vespiquen was widely considered to be one of the top decks in the format. This was for good reason, as Vespiquen had been the second most successful deck during the three North American Regional Championships (Seattle, Wisconsin, and Mexico City).
At these tournaments, 10 players advanced to Day 2 with the deck (tied for 2nd most) and Vespiquen took a 14.02% share of the Championship Points won by players that advanced to Day 2, leaving it behind only Drampa GX/Garbodor in terms of Regionals performance.
The deck made Top 8 at all three of these Regional Championships. Vespiquen hit its high point in Wisconsin, where Michael Pramawat notched a first place finish with the deck.
A lot of the deck’s emergent power came from innovations that players like Pramawat and Rahul Reddy were able to make to the deck with new cards from Guardians Rising. In particular, Choice Band allowed the deck to reach for higher damage numbers earlier in the game and Tapu Lele GX gave the deck new and less punishable consistency, giving it a better consistency out with Ultra Ball than Shaymin EX had provided in past formats.
However, at the NAIC, Vespiquen’s success train came to a screeching halt with zero variants of the deck advancing into Day 2 of the tournament. There were a few reasons for this:
1. The deck saw very little play amongst good players.
Among the Top 100 or so players at the tournament (aka the people most likely to advance to Day 2 and win the tournament), I think only 2 actually played the deck and neither of them advanced to Day 2.
Moving beyond these players, the deck seemed to be very poorly represented among the top 30% of players in the tournament as well. It seemed like most of its play was concentrated to newer players (or players that don’t go to lots of tournaments).
When a deck is played in such low numbers it’s very difficult for the deck to do well. If the deck was played in higher numbers, such as ten highly skilled players instead of two, then it is more likely that some of them would have hit the right matchups and have the positive variance required to do well.
2. The metagame was full of counters.
In my nine rounds of play, it seemed like almost every one of my opponents were playing some type of counter to Vespiquen in their decks (ie Metagross GX playing Karen and most of the other decks playing Oricorio).
At the NAIC, it definitely felt like Oricorio had become a staple inclusion in the majority of the decks people were playing.
In addition to the tech counters, Decidueye GX made up around 10-15% of the meta. This didn’t keep Vespiquen from doing well (as almost all decks have some bad matchup or set of bad matchups that make up at least this amount of the meta) but this is something else that can be lumped into the room full of counters.
With a room full of counters being played, it was highly unlikely that a random player would break through and do well with the deck. Regardless of the amount of counters played, It would require a high level of skill to navigate games to avoid being punished by the counters.
3. Players didn’t counter the counters.
As far as I could tell, the Vespiquen players at the tournament were playing straight forward lists that could be exploited by the counters. If players had made changes to the deck to address Oricorio in particular, they may have seen more success.
The Future of Oricorio
The format for the NAIC was very much defined by Oricorio, however, this may not be the case moving forward. For the most part, Oricorio is a tech specifically in decks to deal with Vespiquen. It does have general utility and can come in clutch from time to time, but overall, it does not have much impact on most of your games against other decks.
Oricorio is often defended by players as an inclusion in their list for its general utility, but I think if players were more objective with how much they’re actually using Oricorio, or how often it is the only option for winning games, they would find that it actually isn’t putting in much work outside of the Vespiquen matchup.
In general, you typically don’t want to play a card that is having very little impact on most of your matchups and games. One card can make a big difference on your tournament performance if you choose the correct card in the fringe spots of your decklist.
If Vespiquen isn’t expected to see much play (it never really has been played in super high numbers this season), then it would make sense for players to cut Oricorio (or Karen) from their lists in favor of cards that can be impactful in nearly every game they play in a tournament, and not just against a specific matchup that rarely sees play.
Interestingly enough, Oricorio was poorly represented in the Top 8 of the NAIC. These players knew Vespiquen wouldn’t see much play and chose not to waste a deck slot on Oricorio for the tournament. Andrew Mahone and Sam Chen were the only two Top 8 players to play Oricorio in their list.
Tord Reklev opted out of Oricorio in Drampa GX/Garbodor, John Kettler and Igor Costa in their Decidueye GX variants, Ryan Sabelhaus in Volcanion EX, Gustavo Wada in Alolan Ninetales GX, and Alex Krekeler in Greninja BREAK.
If players opt out of Oricorio at the World Championship and/or Anaheim Open, then Vespiquen could become a very strong play for these tournaments.
Dealing with Oricorio
While Oricorio being in decks is generally bad news for Vespiquen, it isn’t a death sentence for the deck by any means. If a deck’s Vespiquen matchup is heavily one sided in favor of Vespiquen already, then Oricorio isn’t a magic tech that is going to save the matchup.
Instead, decks that can push Vespiquen naturally can use Oricorio to swing the matchup into their favor. A deck like Zoroark, which can trade one prize attackers with Vespiquen most of the game, or a deck like M Gardevoir EX, which forces Vespiquen to get lots of Pokemon in their discard pile to keep up in the prize trade can then switch to Oricorio late game to gain an edge in the matchup.
Decks that take too long to setup (Stage 2 decks) can fall too far behind Vespiquen to make a winning use of Oricorio in most games. Decks which you hit for Weakness, such as Greninja, Volcanion EX, and Metagross GX also struggle to make good use of Oricorio because of how few Pokemon you need in the discard pile to take an OHKO.
Even in decks where Oricorio is decent, it can be played around to a good extent by playing a little bit safer. Here are some of the things you want to do when playing Vespiquen to mitigate the amount of damage Oricorio does to you:
1. If it is on your opponent’s bench and the game state is such that it can punish you OR if there is not another big threat on your opponent’s board - you should Lysandre/Guzma it up and then put the pressure on your opponent to have to find a Rescue Stretcher to get it back into play.
2. Don’t over discard your Pokemon. You always want to be aware of the 18 Pokemon number and hold off going over 18 if it’s not necessary. This is especially true for when you draw Unown, as if you get N’d into these you can just Farewell Letter them into a different card, so these, in particular, won’t hurt your consistency down the line.
Something else to be aware of in regards to Klefki is that it is a Tool card that can be removed by Field Blower. If you’re on the verge of crossing over the line and your opponent can play a Field Blower to get rid of a Klefki allowing them to use Oricorio to swing a game around, it’s going to be a good idea to not play that down.
3. Utilize Forest of Giant Plants to instantly evolve Combee into Vespiquen. In the later stretches of the game, avoid playing down extraneous Basic Pokemon. In order to get a knockout on multiple Stage 1’s in a single turn, you will need to have 18 Pokemon in the discard pile, so if you don’t lay down low HP Basic Pokemon that are potential prizes, you will be safe from a surprise Oricorio doing too much damage.
4. When your opponent tries to setup damage for later in the game in an attempt to Rescue Stretcher Oricorio back and use that previously setup damage - start attacking with whatever they tried to setup with damage. If they get Oricorio back, they will be able to knock it out whether it’s on the bench or in the active position, but if they can’t get into Oricorio again and have to knock out that Vespiquen with something else, you will have cleared that damage off the field, which can save you later.
Note: Savvier opponents may choose to place the damage counters on non-attackers such as Tapu Lele GX or Oranguru, at which point the damage will stick on your field to be played with later.
5. Avoid playing down Shaymin EX. This is generally what you want to do in general, but it’s super important against players playing Oricorio, as with only 11 Pokemon in the discard pile you’re going to be paying two prizes for playing it down. If you do have to play down Shaymin EX, try to Sky Return it if you’re in a situation where you still need to 2HKO something.
With Tapu Lele GX now being a consistency Ultra Ball out, I find myself having to play down Shaymin EX in a very small number of my games, and mostly use it for an extra draw on my last turn to close out a game.
6. Tech against it. Machoke GRI is a great tech for not only Oricorio, but it also helps make the Decidueye GX matchup a little more winnable, so if you expect lots of Oricorio then make room for Machoke in your list.
#1 is one of the most important strategies for dealing with Oricorio, as it creates a bit of a dilemma for the Oricorio player. They will always play it down if they would otherwise discard it with Professor Sycamore, but in early stages of the game with N or an Ultra Ball they can use at some point, they may choose to not play Oricorio down in that moment, as if they do it can then be gusted and knocked out. If they don’t play it down, there is no guarantee they will draw into it when they need to later in the game.
This is important, as it can become difficult to find the Oricorio and the Energy at the right time once the game devolves into a series of N’s from both players.
And of course, 10% of the time your opponent will prize it. If it ends up in the bottom few prizes, it’s unlikely to have any impact on the game.
Sometimes things just won’t go your way and Oricorio beats you; however, I’ve found that with some tighter play, you can mitigate Oricorio’s impact on the game to make it so it isn’t beating you most of the time.
Incorporating Burning Shadows into Vespiquen
Burning Shadows is very light on cards that can be incorporated into Vespiquen in Standard. Barring any surprise cards in Burning Shadows, the only card from the set I would include in Vespiquen is Guzma.
Guzma is only one card, but it’s one card that will make a big difference for Vespiquen and helps to change how players can conceptualize building the deck. Guzma is probably the best card in Burning Shadows and will be played in almost every deck in the format, but it has a larger than average impact on Vespiquen.
For those not familiar with Guzma, the card is essentially what Lysandre would be if Lysandre broke into Barry Bonds’ vitamin cabinet.
Guzma – Trainer
Switch your opponent’s Active Pokemon with 1 of their Benched Pokemon. Then, switch your Active Pokemon with 1 of your Benched Pokemon.
You can only play 1 Supporter card during your turn (before your attack).
Once Field Blower came out and Float Stone could be removed from Pokemon, high retreat Pokemon, such as Tauros GX, became liabilities in Vespiquen because Tauros GX’s retreat cost could be exploited to turn around games (especially with new Pokemon like Oricorio and Tapu Koko which could effectively attack the bench coming out in Guardians Rising).
However, with Guzma, we now have a switching effect that we can find with VS Seeker. If the opponent tries to stall or trap something active with their own gust effect, we can now use Guzma to switch that Pokemon out of the active position in situations where attaching a Float Stone isn’t an option.
No longer having to be too scared about your retreat cost opens up Vespiquen to playing Pokemon with high retreat cost (ie Machoke GRI) which, before Guzma came out, would be sketchy to play because of how much of a liability its retreat cost was.
I would immediately cut all Lysandre out of Vespiquen lists in favor of Guzma. Vespiquen, in particular, is a great deck for avoiding any drawbacks of Guzma because of Vespiquen’s free retreat, which means that there should seldom be a situation where you can’t play Guzma and also get into your preferred attacker for the turn.
Here is my current list that I have been working with for Vespiquen. It’s an adaptation of Michael Pramawat’s list from Wisconsin Regionals, addressing the big problem for the deck that emerged after Wisconsin.
I think Michael Pramawat took Vespiquen to perfection in the Primal Clash through Guardians Rising format. He nailed the Choice Band count for the deck and the decision to cut one of the N’s (with the 4 Professor Sycamore/2 N draw engine being pretty much staple in the deck all season long) was brilliant, as it let him slide another Pokemon into the list while not really losing any consistency.
Anyhow, here is how I would play Vespiquen as of today in the Burning Shadows format:
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