Are newcomer decks ready to dethrone longtime powerhouses? Our panelists weigh in.
The Pokémon TCG Region Finals in the Players Cup IV is shaping up to be something of a transitional moment in the Pokémon TCG metagame. Newer decks featuring recently released cards are finding their stride and positioned to start knocking the stalwarts of the past year off their perch. Our panel of Pokémon TCG experts took a look at the current Pokémon TCG metagame and identified which decks they think have the power to help players advance to the Global Finals.
Be sure to watch the Players Cup IV for all the Pokémon TCG Region Finals action—streaming on Saturday, July 17, and Sunday, July 18! The broadcast begins at 11 a.m. PDT each day. You can catch matches both days on Twitch, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Visit the Players Cup IV streaming information page for the full schedule and details.
The Sword & Shield—Battle Styles expansion introduced many new cards to the format, but the most notable one is definitely Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX. Azul Garcia Griego used this powerful newcomer to win Players Cup III in dominating fashion, while Tord Reklev finished 4th with another version of the deck.
One of the reasons for Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX's success is certainly its Fighting type, which gives it an edge against popular Pokémon like Pikachu & Zekrom-GX or Eternatus VMAX. But it wouldn't be fair to reduce the deck to that aspect alone.
Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX is an efficient attacker that doesn't need much specific support to work, which makes it very versatile. Not only can it include various different tech cards that help it deal with other popular decks, even the draw engine that makes the deck work can differ vastly between two deck lists, as seen at Players Cup III, where both top placing lists used very different approaches.
I have no doubt that Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX will continue to be among the best performing decks at the upcoming Region Finals and make for some interesting games to follow on stream! The deck doesn't deal a ton of damage at once, so it's important for players to think multiple turns ahead and carefully formulate a game plan. Being behind on Prize cards isn't a problem for it, as many games will be decided by G-Max Rapid Flow Knocking Out multiple Pokémon in the same turn! — Robin Schulz
The Pikachu & Zekrom-GX deck has an incredible story at this point. Ever since its printing, it has been a top contender; it simply refuses to back down as a relevant archetype. The deck was featured as the Champion and the runner-up in Players Cups II and III respectively. I credit this mostly to the incredibly consistent gameplan the deck uses. With just Basic Pokémon and manual attachments each turn, the player can string together a series of powerful attacks throughout the game. Boltund V can use the Electrify attack to charge Pikachu & Zekrom-GX on the first turn, setting up for a powerful Full Blitz attack on the following turn. Full Blitz can then power up the last attacker needed on the Bench or itself to give access to the full effect of the Tag Bolt-GX attack. The Tag Bolt-GX attack allows this deck to compete against even the increasingly stronger cards that have since been released.
When Electropower and Thunder Mountain Prism Star rotated from the format, this deck had no reason to not include Mewtwo & Mew-GX anymore. With the addition of Mewtwo & Mew-GX, the new adaptation of the deck now has access to Psychic typing. This is a great help against decks oriented on Fighting types like Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX. With that said, overcoming Weakness is usually a deck's biggest hurdle, and Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX will still be a rough obstacle to overcome. — Tord Reklev
It's always exciting when a new archetype challenges the status quo, and Victini VMAX / Galarian Rapidash V does just that! These two Pokémon may seem like an unlikely duo due to their different types, but their attacks can be combined in a way that is as devastating as it is surprising.
Galarian Rapidash V's Libra Horn attack puts damage counters on one of the opponent's Pokémon until it has 100 HP remaining. This enables Victini VMAX to take a Knock Out on the following turn using its Max Victory attack. Victini VMAX does extra damage to Pokémon V, which means this strategy is even effective if the opponent evolves their Pokémon V into a Pokémon VMAX to increase their remaining HP. More importantly, both Galarian Rapidash V and Victini VMAX can utilize Welder.
This deck is an attractive choice for Trainers to choose for Players Cup IV because it employs an unconventional strategy that is effective against all of the top decks. Don't be surprised if you see Victini VMAX in the Winner's Bracket of Players Cup IV—it's the Victory Pokémon by name and by nature. — Ellis Longhurst
Since Sword & Shield—Darkness Ablaze brought Eternatus VMAX into the competitive scene last year, it's caused some pretty weird dynamics. Arguably, Eternatus VMAX was a big reason for the onset of Crushing Hammer in many competitive decks in the late 2020s, simply because denying Eternatus VMAX that first Energy attachment was so critical to not getting steamrolled by a second-turn Dread End. Way back in Players Cup I, I remember the hype surrounding Eternatus VMAX was dramatic, but we did not see it perform especially well in those Global Finals. Eternatus VMAX has had some ups and downs since then, with some respectable tournament finishes and a lot of innovative efforts put into finding the correct Darkness types to play with it.
Unfortunately, I don't think Players Cup IV is going to be a great place for Eternatus VMAX. It's never really solved that 2-Energy attachment problem, which makes it just a touch behind tempo for much of the format. The deck is rather predictable, owing to the fact that it can only play Darkness type Pokémon, and it lacks the energy acceleration to spring attacks out of nowhere. Doing 270 damage, shockingly, isn't all that much either in an era of Pokémon VMAX. Couple all of that with the number one contender on our list, and you have a recipe for an ugly weekend: Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX will be very excited about the idea of seeing some Eternatus VMAX in battle. — Christopher Schemanske
My favorite deck in the format, Mewtwo & Mew-GX / Rillaboom aims to set up a Rillaboom on Turn 1 with Rowlet & Alolan Exeggutor-GX's Super Growth, then power up powerful attackers with Grass Energy. This deck can set up a Mewtwo & Mew-GX in one turn to copy Vileplume-GX's Massive Bloom or Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX's Elegant Sole—all without using a Supporter. You can even power up a new attacker and play Boss's Orders on the same turn, something other Mewtwo & Mew-GX decks have trouble doing.
Thanks to Tag Call and the TAG TEAM Supporters, this deck is very consistent and can reliably heal with Mallow & Lana. This makes it great against decks that aim for Knock Outs over multiple turns, such as Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX (especially due to its Psychic Weakness).
It's also an interesting deck to watch and to play due to all the options it has: Rowlet & Alolan-Exeggutor-GX's Tropical Hour-GX, Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX's Beast Game-GX, and Incineroar-GX's Darkest Tornado-GX are all strong GX attacks, and choosing the right one can make all the difference in a game!
With the right game plan, good execution, and a little bit of luck, Mewtwo & Mew-GX / Rillaboom can beat any deck in the format. Don't let its fifth place fool you; this deck is definitely good enough to win any tournament. — Stéphane Ivanoff
Stéphane Ivanoff: As you probably noticed, Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX / Zacian V dropped from our Power Rankings for the first time since the deck was legal! The deck is still good, but in my opinion, it's not reliable. Altered Creation-GX is still the bane of one-Prize Pokémon, but these are not very popular at the highest level of play, where players gravitate more and more toward the powerful new Pokémon VMAX. These have too much HP for Zacian V to Knock Out, and they usually hit very hard as well, so they can actually win the Prize card race against Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX.
Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX / Zacian V is still an infuriating deck to play against; any deck can lose to it if they happen to start the game with Dedenne-GX, for example. However, the fact that it has to rely more and more on this kind of situation makes it hard to rate the deck highly. Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX / Zacian V is a good deck to start playing at a competitive level, but most experienced players now shy away from it and prefer to play other decks which give them more control over the outcome of the game, such as the ones in our top five.
You'll probably see Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX on stream at some point since it remains popular despite its flaws, but in my opinion, the deck has become overrated.
Ellis Longhurst: The Players Cup IV presents an opportunity for Trainers to demonstrate their prowess to the global Pokémon TCG community and to make their mark as one of the best (there ever was). Three Trainers have been crowned as Champions, but they are not the only ones with a claim to Players Cup fame. David Frans Daritan and new Power Rankings panelist Tord Reklev share the record for the most appearances in the Global Finals with two each. Repeated success is one of the indicators of a Top Trainer. I'll be watching the Players Cup IV broadcast to find out if anyone can match Tord and David or if these two Trainers will continue to dominate the competition.
Tord Reklev: The Players Cup IV Region Finals introduces a completely new rule to the tournament scene. A game only counts if a player is able to win at least two games out of the best of three in 50 minutes, or else both players are awarded a double match loss. This makes decks with slow and methodical game plans a much riskier choice and favors more aggressive variants of the popular decks. Players recognizing the situation can take advantage by ignoring the wall- and control-oriented archetypes and gear their deck up for efficient Prize trading instead.
I feel that Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX is in a good place this time around as well. It has a great matchup spread and is able to finish games quickly using the G-Max Rapid Flow attack. This will no doubt change as we head into the Global Finals with Sword & Shield—Chilling Reign becoming legal. Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX and Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX will shake up the metagame again, and maybe even dethrone Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX as the top deck.
Christopher Schemanske: It's almost a year since to the start of Players Cup I, which means we're a full year deep into an exclusively online Pokémon TCG experience. While nothing can replace the joyful connection of in-person, paper events, it's been wonderful to see the community's response to the Players Cups during these weird times. The event series has provided something to center the competitive scene, and it's been really fun to watch adaptation to the various formats, tournament structures, and other twists. We've seen folks entirely new to the competitive TCG scene have exciting tournament runs and gotten to watch some of the game's preexisting stars shine in a different light. My favorite part has been the opportunity to see matchups across the globe so often—at a level that even International Championships didn't quite facilitate. I'm excited to see how this latest edition ends up.
Robin Schulz: Two completely new decks made it into our top 5, but they aren't the only contenders from Sword & Shield—Battle Styles that could make an impact at the Players Cup. One of the other potentially promising decks is the other signature style from the expansion. Single Strike Urshifu VMAX didn't have as much initial success as its Rapid Strike counterpart, but that doesn't mean it should be underestimated! Together with Houndoom, it forms a strong deck that I wouldn't be surprised to see claim a spot in the Global Finals.
Another deck that's likely to cause some upsets is Mad Party featuring Polteageist and Bunnelby from Sword & Shield—Darkness Ablaze. This deck has seen some play and minor success before, but Sword & Shield—Battle Styles and the introduction of Level Ball gave it the push it needed to solidify itself as a serious contender.
I feel like the metagame is the most open it has been in a while, with many decks outside of the Top 5, both old and new, having the potential to go far in the tournament, which should make Players Cup IV exciting to watch!