Hello everyone, this is Franco again. Many of you guys might already know about the recent major event that happened in Japan called the Niigata Champions League, which I believe many of you guys have already seen the decklists for some of the decks that did well at the event. However, despite that, Niigata Champions League didn’t have all of the Tag Team cards. There were many significant cards that affected the meta that will be in our Tag Team set. Then, after the Niigata Champions League, they had their City League tournament that had Tag Team GX Pokemon available, which I thought could be a nice reference and could be used as a meta forecast once the Tag Team set is released. So in this article, I’ve decided to write about how the meta changed from before the Niigata Champions League until their first City League with Tag Team GX to see how their meta has recently developed and changed, so, let’s get into it.
What is Champions League?
Champions League is one of Japan's largest events next to Nationals; It is the same equivalent to our Regional Championships. However, since Japan is under the umbrella of The Pokemon Company (TPC) and not The Pokemon Company International (TPCI), Japan has their own tournaments and Championship Point Structures that changes every season. As a result, despite that the Champions League are the equivalent of Regionals, the tournaments are run differently, the championship point distributions are different, and the championship points earned in Japan are only valid for the Japanese invite structure only. The average attendance for the Champions League in 2018-2019 season has been roughly in the 1200’s for the Master Division players; However, we cannot forget that generally a large event like this usually hits its venue/registration cap. Therefore, if Japan had a larger cap or no cap, the attendance of these events can double, if not more. Particularly unlike the other Champions League, the Niigata Champions League also was hosting an Expanded Format Champions League at same time along with the Standard event with an attendance of 153 players, mainly because most of the players that recently started to get into PTCG from Japan’s PTCG bubble/boom started from Sun & Moon format, plus the majority of events in Japan are generally run as Standard Format, so I think that was the main reason for the attendance split between the Standard and Expanded Champions League Events.
The tournaments have 10 rounds of Swiss Pairings, and the entire tournament matches are best of 1 with the time limit of 25 minutes, and there are no ties during Swiss matches, so if the game becomes uncompleted both players will receive a loss for the match. If you lose 3 times, you’ll be automatically dropped from the event. Therefore, players are required to play at a pace to finish the game on time. In fact, for this Niigata Champions League, there was a featured match on stream where it was Alolan Exeggutor VS a Vaporeon/Glaceon/Naganadel deck and the Exeggutor player was about to take all remaining prizes, but time was called and the game was not able to finish on time, so, both players lost the match. I think the reason why Japan has all of these best of 1 and 25-minute rules is to finish the event at a reasonable hour since the event itself is a single day event and they have thousands of people at the venue, so I think those are the reasons behind for the rules. Once the 10 rounds are over, the top 16 players will be able to move on to top cut. Of course, the top cut will also be 25 minutes best of 1 as well. So players need to understand those rules and build decks based on that as well. The fact that ties lead to both players losing the match makes a significant impact on the presence of control decks, making players not want to play those since many players did not feel confident they could complete the match on time with that style of deck. Therefore, control decks weren’t something that came across the mind of the Japanese players. This factor is what made control decks a very high-risk deck to play, which also involves in the meta-prediction for your own deck selection as well of course.
The Meta Prior to Niigata:
Zoroark GX/Lycanroc GX
The good old traditional archetype we have seen for a long time remained strong going into Niigata as well. Mainly due to the fact that the Zoroark decks have the ability to adapt itself to the meta by adjusting in different ways, such as teching cards like Naganadel, Weavile, Alolan Muk, and tool cards like Bodybuilding Dumbbells, for example. Despite that it has a few bad matchups, the deck was still one of the most consistent decks due to its reputation of consistency.
Blacephalon was actually one of the decks that took a step backward before Niigata with the release of Zapdos, Granbull and other non-GX decks floating around during City League. It was of the decIs that was seeing in play and getting some results in some areas, but in others, it wasn’t as heavily played either. Nonetheless, most players know the strength of Blacephalon and with the right matchups, the deck is super good, therefore, despite that, it wasn’t heavily played at one point, many players knew that Blacephalon was the safe play for many players under the right conditions.
Buzzwole GX/Lycanroc GX/Alolan Ninetales GX
Whenever there are Zoroark decks floating around, usually there are Buzzwoles floating around in the meta too. Despite that there were many changes with the release of Dark Order; the deck was able to win in Japan’s Elite 4 tournament going undefeated. Its attack Jet Punch is still one of the best attacks in the game and it has perfect synergy with Lycanroc as well, and with the addition of Alolan Ninetales, the deck has a better chance to be able to hit the item cards you need at the right time, such as Beast Ring, consistently. Of course, Alolan Ninetales itself is a good alternative attacker as well since it is an attacker that is weak to metal, along with attacks like Snowy Wind that deals 30 damage to the bench that can add up with the Jet Punch damage from early turns, and its GX attack is an automatic knockout to Ultra Beasts, so the deck was working wonderfully despite having few bad matchups against some GX decks. But of course, many of the non-GX decks generally had a tough time against Zoroark Variants so as a result, Buzzwole became a decent option as well, along with the fact that it also had a decent matchup against Zeraora decks. Therefore, Buzzwole was a deck that remained a spot in the prior to Niigata.
Since Giratina/Malamar won the Tokyo Champions League, you see more of the Malamar deck with Spell Tags over than the Escape Board version. But the Escape Board version with various GX pokemon is still fairly played as well. However, despite the deck having a good matchup against Buzzwoles and Blacephalons in general, Zoroark is still a popular archetype and therefore Malamar was a deck that took a step back in the Meta.
I’d say Passimian was one of the underrated decks in the meta. It had a good place in the meta where it has a good matchup against Zoroark in general and the fact that it is a non-GX deck, it was able to take the prize trade in your favor against the GX decks. In addition to that, with the inclusion of Jirachi from Dark Order, consistency was boosted as well. As a result, It wasn’t one of the most heavily played deck before Niigata, but the deck was actually able to achieve notable results during the first quarter of City League in Japan. Despite that, Jirachi helped its consistency. There are times where you can still whiff crucial key cards even with Jirachi, so that was something that players took in consideration prior to Niigata.
Zapdos/Jirachi (Ultra Beast Version)
This archetype made its debut at the Elite 4 tournament and the City League that happened on the same day piloted by Team Torchic players such as Yoneda Takuya and Sasaki Sho. The deck’s strategy is quite simple, where you utilize Zapdos as your main attacker to take your prize trade in your favor, while you have other Ultra Beast techs like Buzzwole and Nihilego to help the job little better since Sledgehammer is always a strong attack when your opponent is at 4 prizes and Nihilego can help setup the knockout and disrupt your opponent along with the choice to copy any of their attack for 1 energy if your opponent has 2 prizes remaining. Despite that the deck only plays single energy attackers, the deck ran 10 energies on average and it still has the chance to either dead draw or whiff a key card when you need, similar to decks like Passimian. Therefore, the deck had Magcargo and Jirachi to boost its consistency significantly since Magcargo allows you to get any trainer card like Guzma or Escape Rope on top of the deck so with Jirachi’s ability it’ll allow you to get a guarantee trainer card of your choice every turn, making Zapdos a strong attacker regardless of its retreat cost. All that being said, the Ultra Beast version of Zapdos Jirachi didn’t win the Elite 4 tournament (due to a dead draw), but, Takuya Yoneda was able to win the City League the same day proving the deck’s strength. But also since the deck had a very unique build/appearance then the list was eventually posted publicly, many other players began to try the deck out and came to learn of the deck’s strength. This eventually made the deck officially in the radar for the Niigata meta.
Zapdos/Jirachi (Pure Lightning Version)
Unlike the Ultra Beast Version, this version was a deck that slowly formed its own shape ever since Dark Order was released. The Lightning archetype was already in development ever since Zeraora GX and Electripower were introduced. At first, many players were trying with Zeraora GX as the main attacker and using cards like Raikou SHL and Raikou from CLS as backup attackers. Eventually, with the release of Dark Order, Zapdos became a nice tech attacker in the deck since it can swing for 1 energy for the momentum and Tapu Koko Prism Star was another huge addition into the deck, giving that extra push the deck needed sometimes for the energy attachments. However, with the appearance of the Ultra Beast Zapdos Jirachi version, the deck took a different direction and started to adopt the heavier Zapdos line and Jirachi in the deck, becoming more similar to the Ultra Beast version. The main difference from the Ultra Beast Version is that of course the deck doesn’t play attackers like Buzzwole or Nihilego, but it’s more purely focused on cards like Tapu Koko GX, Tapu Koko Prism Star, and Jolteon GX which eventually joined the deck when the starter deck was released. Due to its consistency, flexibility of attacks, and its advantage on prize trade and resource cost, this deck also started to show a lot of noticeable results at various tournaments across the nation which led to it becoming the Best Deck In Format to play going into Niigata. It was on everyone’s radar to be expected, but it was hard to come up with a deck that can beat Zapdos consistently while countering other decks as well.
Thanks for reading the free portion of this article! The rest of the article can be viewed by Elite PC members only. Click on the Ultra Ball below to catch this article and become an Elite PC Member today!