Pokémon TCG players around the world are journeying to the land down under for the 2023 Oceania International Championships in Melbourne, Australia. It’s the second International Championships of the year for Pokémon TCG players, and it features a unique Standard format that includes all cards from the Sword & Shield era—from the first Sword & Shield expansion to Crown Zenith. At this point in the meta, it’s clear that decks like Lugia VSTAR and Mew VMAX are running the show, but there’s still plenty of room for underrated archetypes to take OCIC by storm.
Our Power Rankings panel of experts has seen plenty of Pokémon TCG matches in the current Standard format, but it’s still to be seen what decks will look the strongest in Melbourne this weekend. Speculate along with them and catch a full weekend of action on Twitch.tv/PokemonTCG from February 17–19.
The Lugia VSTAR / Archeops deck received a lot of hype leading up to the previous International Championships in Brazil, and did not disappoint at all! It completely dominated the tournament with an unheard-of amount of representation at the top tables and had additional strong showings at subsequent Regional Championships.
The deck has almost everything one could ask for: a consistent gameplan, near-unlimited damage output, strong single-Prize attackers, and even the option to take extra Prize cards thanks to Stoutland V and Raikou. There’s no doubt that every player will keep Lugia VSTAR in mind when preparing for the upcoming OCIC...which is exactly what might end up hurting it.
Lugia VSTAR is one of the strongest decks of all time, but that doesn’t mean it’s unbeatable. In the past few months, we’ve seen a wide array of counterstrategies emerge, like Paralysis decks built around Articuno and the use of Aerodactyl VSTAR to stop Archeops from ever getting into play. While Lugia VSTAR is flexible enough to deal with any of those strategies individually, doing so becomes difficult when it’s trying to adjust for many of the counters at once.
The success of Lugia VSTAR decks at the tournament will depend a lot on which counterstrategies players bring to the table, and if those strategies are the ones that Lugia VSTAR players have prepared their deck lists for. Odds are it will be the most popular deck once again, but the route to victory will surely be more difficult than it was a few months ago! — Robin Schulz
I love decks that make use of unique game mechanics, and there’s no better example than the Comfey-led Lost Zone Box. The core Lost Zone features—Comfey, Colress’s Experiment, Mirage Gate, Sableye, and more—make for an amazing foundation, easily covering the normal bases of drawing cards and accelerating Energy cards. In the Regional Championships that have taken place since the Latin America Internationals, the Lost Zone has been a major force. What’s really emerged is the variety of attackers that can support Comfey’s friends. Giratina VSTAR is still hanging on, though its moment in the spotlight faded when Lugia VSTAR arrived. On the other hand, Hisuian Goodra VSTAR has had a number of recent accomplishments. To me, this Pokémon VSTAR pairing for Lost Zone decks is the best positioned to succeed going into OCIC. Its durability stands out in today’s attacker landscape and renders the format susceptible to its long, slow strategy.
Who needs Pokémon VSTAR anyway? Rayquaza is having a moment as a non-Pokémon VSTAR iteration of the one-Prize Lost Zone Box, but it’s a deck I’m innately skeptical of: There are a lot of hoops to jump through, and playing low counts of multiple types of Energy is scary in a deck that, by definition, puts a lot of cards in the Lost Zone. It’ll probably see some success, but it’s not a deck I’d touch.
Instead, the non-Pokémon VSTAR I’d eye to play a starring role in Melbourne is Kyogre. While it is a variant that requires precise play and has minimal margin for error, it still has extraordinarily exciting potential when it comes to finding ways to win games. Comfey and Colress’s Experiment make it easier to empty the deck, and Energy Recycler easily sets up a big 250/250 attack. I’m expecting a fierce Aqua Storm Down Under. — Christopher Schemanske
Mew VMAX is one of those decks that have been declared "dead” after just about every expansion, but somehow it refuses to bow down. The most recent obstacle for Mew VMAX is the Sky Seal Stone in Crown Zenith. With this powerful Pokémon Tool card, players can now (at least in theory) Knock Out Mew VMAX and take an astonishing four Prize cards in the process with Drapion V. This may sound like a lot for the deck to overcome, but, seeing as Mew VMAX wins most of its games these days through hand disruption anyway, I doubt that Sky Seal Stone will be impactful against Mew VMAX. If anything, it might persuade players to play Meloetta again—it could make the potential four-Prize turn less devastating.
I think the extreme draw engine that Genesect V’s Fusion Strike System provides will ensure that Mew VMAX remains one of the top decks of the format. Whenever Mew VMAX gets some wiggle room, it rises quickly to the top. The deck recently took down Liverpool Regionals, and even with the release of Crown Zenith, players should not underestimate Mew VMAX’s consistency heading into the Oceania International Championships. — Tord Reklev
It may come as a Static Shock to see Regigigas in this edition of the Power Rankings. The deck has not achieved a place in the Top Cut at recent Regional and International Championships, and it is unlikely to gain any game-changing resources from the Pokémon TCG: Crown Zenith expansion. Despite this, Regigigas seems to be well positioned against the decks that are expected to be popular at the Oceania International Championships. Could it be that a prospective international champion does not need any new tricks, just some Ancient Wisdom?
The Regigigas deck is comprised of powerful, bulky, single-Prize Pokémon. This makes it competitive against other single-Prize-focused decks like Lost Box, and it means it can trade Prizes favorably with decks that rely on Pokémon V. Keep an eye on Regieleki and Regigigas—these Pokémon can Knock Out Lugia VSTAR or Mew VMAX in one hit!
Unfortunately for Regigigas, there are a handful of cards that can derail the Ancient Wisdom engine or prevent damage done by the attacks of Basic Pokémon. Pokémon TCG fans may already be familiar with the disruption that can be caused by Eiscue, Lost City, or Roxanne. At this event, a rise in play of Duraludon VMAX and Flying Pikachu VMAX (enabled by Radiant Eternatus) could prevent Regigigas from Gigaton Break-ing into the Top Cut. An investment in Escape Ropes and Boss’s Orders is a must to progress to Championship Sunday. — Ellis Longhurst
Vikavolt V found surprising success early on (it has been around for a while), but it hasn't been a major player in the metagame for a long time. However, in the span of a month, it won two Regional Championships and a second-place finish in Europe and North America. It turns out that Item lock (the capability to prevent the opponent from playing Item cards), which has been featured in many of the best decks in Pokémon TCG history, is still a strong factor.
You might expect the recently released Regieleki VMAX to be the reason for Vikavolt V's success, but that hasn't been the case: it was first paired with Palkia VSTAR, then with Aerodactyl VSTAR (which helps a lot against Lugia VSTAR). It turns out that Vikavolt V's Paralyzing Bolt is very relevant against some top tier decks such as Lost Zone Toolbox and Regigigas.
More recently, the Crown Zenith expansion added Sky Seal Stone to the list of cards that could pair well with Vikavolt V, giving it a way to take an additional Prize once per game. It is clear that while Vikavolt V is not the most played deck, it’s an archetype that players can’t afford to ignore. — Stéphane Ivanoff
Stéphane Ivanoff: At Liverpool Regionals in January, one deck in particular did better than expected: Hisuian Goodra VSTAR. While it wasn't an unknown deck, most players didn't rate it that high. However, I did manage to bring it all the way to the finals (eventually losing to Mew VMAX), and it actually won the whole event in the Senior Division. Hisuian Goodra VSTAR is definitely on the map.
Could it repeat, or even improve, this performance in Melbourne? With good matchups against Regigigas, Lost Zone Toolbox, and Vikavolt V (and decent ones against Lugia VSTAR and Mew VMAX), Goodra VSTAR has the potential to go very far. It also gains Zamazenta in Crown Zenith, which can give it a little bit of help when it comes to Knocking Out high-HP Pokémon.
In the past, Arceus VSTAR / Duraludon VMAX was the deck of choice for those who wanted a defensive archetype. However, Sky Seal Stone hurts its game plan quite a bit—it makes it possible to win by Knocking Out Arceus VSTAR and Duraludon VMAX only. While Goodra VSTAR is also hurt by Sky Seal Stone's presence, it can endure that more easily: the decks that use Sky Seal Stone usually don't have the best damage output, so Rolling Iron and Moisture Star still give Goodra VSTAR the advantage. All in all, I wouldn't be surprised if Hisuian Goodra VSTAR took Arceus VSTAR / Duraludon VMAX's place as the premier defensive deck in the metagame.
Ellis Longhurst: There are so many reasons to be excited about the 2023 Oceania International Championships. For starters, the event is returning to Australia after a three-year hiatus, which means this will be the first opportunity for many local Trainers who are new to the tournament scene to test their battle strategies against the world’s best. The race is on to become the first homegrown champion of Oceania in the Masters Division, and these fresh faces are set to fire up that competition.
For those who are more interested in the decks and strategies that will be in action, this International Championships has a lot to offer. The five archetypes discussed above rely on completely different strategies, and Trainers continue to experiment with new combinations globally. It feels like a different iteration of Lost Box appears at the top tables of every tournament!
Many Trainers have begun to deviate from the expected 60-card lists by adding tech cards to give them the edge in one or two specific matchups or as an answer to disruptive Pokémon like Duraludon VMAX, Vikavolt V, and Eiscue. As much as I love to see innovation, it often comes at the expense of consistency. I will not be surprised if Championship Sunday features a vanilla Lugia VSTAR or Mew VMAX deck.
Tord Reklev: Crown Zenith brings some powerful cards into the format, but I would expect the top decks to remain relatively unchanged compared to the last International Championships in São Paulo. The new Sky Seal Stone and Zamazenta look like great additions to some of the variants of the Lost Box engine.
However, there is one more card from the set that looks promising. I am extremely excited to see if the new Radiant Eternatus could usher some of the older Pokémon VMAX back into the format. As a longtime Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX fan, this sparks some hope for its return.
Building a board consisting of only Pokémon VMAX and single-Prize Pokémon is generally a strong strategy, as this usually forces the opposing player to at least Knock Out both the Pokémon VMAX to win the game. Radiant Eternatus does this job very efficiently: it skips the fragile window in which the player must Bench the Pokémon V for a turn to evolve.
One thing is for certain—players will not be holding back their most promising strategies as we head into the Oceania International Championships.
Robin Schulz: Due to this season’s change in rotation timing, we’re currently in the historically unique situation that the Standard format consists of exactly the whole Sword & Shield era!
Personally, I’m a big fan of combining all cards from the same era for the purposes of retro gameplay, but it’s not often that we get the chance to do so in official tournaments. The last time it happened was back in 2010!
The Oceania International Championships will be the final chapter of what has been a very special era for competitive play, and I’m happy that players will be able to show off all that the format has to offer. The five decks in this article might be the front-runners, but other strategies are not far behind. The Lost Zone engine can be combined with almost everything, old favorites like Palkia VSTAR and Arceus VSTAR are still around, and even some Pokémon VMAX from the very beginning of Sword & Shield like Eternatus VMAX have seen success in tournaments recently. This might just be the biggest Standard-format card pool ever, with a corresponding number of options for deck building.
Years from now, this upcoming OCIC will be the ideal reference for players who want to revisit the Sword & Shield era, so I’m excited to see what will happen!
Christopher Schemanske: Oceania’s International Championships comes at an exciting time in the season, as the Regional Championships circuit is approaching its halfway point. Players’ pursuits of World Championships invitations have rarely been this intense, with the allure of the year’s most prestigious event being extra strong thanks to its Yokohama setting. OCIC will be an important stepping stone for many players on their road to Worlds, with a bountiful cornucopia of Championship Points available. It may be the smallest International Championships of the year, but that does not mean it’s the easiest: the mix of international all-stars that assemble in the field create a skill-dense, formidable tournament environment.
OCIC comes at a strange point in the Standard format, too—for the first time in quite a while, OCIC is occurring in a preexisting format, with no major set release on the horizon. While Crown Zenith is going to alter the landscape a bit, it’s not quite a new main series expansion, meaning this format has been around since October—forever in Pokémon TCG terms. It’s actually fitting that OCIC gets to bookend the Sword & Shield Series: the last time we were in Melbourne, Zacian V and Zamazenta V had been recently released in the initial Sword & Shield expansion. Though I’ll be watching from a judge’s perspective this year, I’m still very excited for the outcome. Best of luck, everyone!
Good luck to everyone participating in the Oceania Pokémon TCG International Championships. You can watch the action from Melbourne from February 17–19, and for more Pokémon TCG strategy and analysis, visit Pokemon.com/Strategy.
Stéphane Ivanoff is a contributing writer for Pokemon.com. A longtime Pokémon fan, he has played the Pokémon TCG competitively since 2010 and is a former National Champion, seven-time Worlds competitor, and the 2018 and 2019 North America International Champion in the Masters Division. He studied mathematics and has a degree in Probability and Statistics, but he says that doesn't help his game as much as you'd think! You can follow him on Twitter @lubyllule.
Ellis Longhurst is a contributing writer for Pokemon.com. She has been competing in high-level Pokémon TCG tournaments since 2006 and creating written content for the Pokémon community since 2011. Now she brings some Australian flavour to the Play! Pokémon commentary teams at the International and World Championships.
Tord Reklev is a contributing writer for Pokemon.com. He is a longtime player from Norway, playing the game since he was 6 years old. In becoming Champion at the 2022 Latin America International Championships, Tord is the first player to win all four International Championships and complete the Grand Slam. Outside of the game, he is a student and enjoys playing tennis. You can find him at most big events and can follow him on Twitter at @TordReklev.
Christopher Schemanske is a contributing writer for Pokemon.com. He's been playing the Pokémon TCG since 2010, with a streak of Worlds invitations between 2012–2018. Nowadays, he enjoys splitting his Pokémon time between playing and being part of the awesome Professor staff teams at major events.
Robin Schulz is a contributing writer for Pokemon.com. He has been competing in Pokémon tournaments for 10 years and was the Pokémon TCG Masters Division World Champion in 2018. He spends a lot of time traveling and competing, and he rarely misses a big event. Aside from playing Pokémon, he attends university, where he is studying mathematics.