Limitless Qualifier #1 Metagame Preview

✎ Tate Whitesell (@twhitesell42

This Saturday, April 18th, 2020, over 1000 players from around the world will participate in one of the largest Pokémon Trading Card Game tournaments in history, and certainly the largest-ever PTCGO tournament. All of the information about Limitless's Online Series, including this weekend's Qualifier #1, can be found at their website here. In this article I simply aim to give a brief breakdown of my expected metagame for this Qualifier, based on some data I've analyzed from a variety of small online tournaments held during this COVID-19 pandemic.

I repurposed the old "Weekly League Cup Data" table, which has been out of commission for several weeks now with the remainder of season being canceled, for displaying the data from these online tournaments. These tournaments were League Cup-sized PTCGO events hosted by TOs, game stores, or prominent players or community figures, and should serve as an effective "League Cup Sample" to analyze the current UPR-SSH metagame.

Click to view the full rankings

The results seem to back up what I've been telling my teammates and friends who are playing in this Qualifier, as well as the opinions I've shared in Limitless's Discord server: I think the "decks to beat" for this event are Blacephalon UNB, Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX/Zacian V ("ADPZ"), and Cinccino Mill.

Blacephalon has been cleaning up in online tournaments over the past month, with lists based on Stéphane Ivanoff's most recent iteration proving most successful. Blacephalon had a very high conversion rate from Top 8 into Top 4 and finals; it won 5 of the 9 tournaments in this sample. ADPZ was more frequently found as a runner-up or Top 4 deck, often losing to Blacephalon in those matches. (ADPZ did win the largest tournament in this sample, however: the 58-player Sunday Open on April 5th.) Cinccino Mill was a deck with a high number of Top 8 placements in this sample that ultimately failed to crack Top 4 or finals in most of the tournaments-- I think this is because the deck is very good at punishing misplays from bad players, but a lot less good at beating good players who know how to play against it.

There were other decks that saw some degree of success in the sample, though, so don't be discouraged if you are playing something other than Blacephalon, ADPZ, or Mill this weekend. There are a lot of matchup-oriented or comfort-pick decks in this format that I could see doing very well in this Qualifier. I'll now briefly go over each of the decks from the sample (again, click the link above to see the full rankings), with some notes on why you should or shouldn't play them in this tournament. This is aimed mainly at newer players for whom this event may be one of their first-ever large tournaments.

Why you should play it: You want a deck with proven success in this format that goes toe-to-toe with basically every Tag Team deck, but are okay with a very sketchy Malamar matchup.
Techs you should run: Definitely add the Victini ♢ that my teammate Le Bui used in the list he used to win one of the events in this sample. In combination with Cramorant V, Victini ♢ elevates the mill matchup from near-autoloss to something you at least have a gameplan for.
Why you shouldn't play it: You aren't comfortable with your resource management skills and want a deck with fewer one-ofs and combo-based cards that will punish you less for suboptimal plays; or you want more favorable Mill and Malamar matchups.

Why you should play it: You want a very consistent deck that will reward good sequencing and resource management and whose gameplan doesn't vary much between matchups, but are okay with the slightly unfavorable Blacephalon matchup and unfavorable Malamar matchup.
Techs you should run: Oranguru UPR and two Energy Switch. This has been my go-to strategy for beating Cinccino Mill and has been very effective in that regard, but the Energy Switches have been sneakily very good in a variety of scenarios and give the deck even more explosive potential. A list with no Acro Bikes to make room for this combo of techs would be my play for this tournament if I was competing.
Why you shouldn't play it: You want a stronger Blacephalon matchup (I think it's about 45-55, but very favorable against inexperienced Blacephalon players), you don't want to lose to Malamar, or you haven't practiced enough with techs and strategies for the Mill matchup (even with the techs I mentioned, you still need to play near-perfectly).

Cinccino Mill
Why you should play it: You're very comfortable with the deck and know the ins and outs of its matchups, and want a deck that will make you work hard for your wins but will reward smart play.
Techs you should run: My teammate Luke Morsa is advocating for Mill to run Wobbuffet this weekend, as a tech for the Victini V I mentioned previously. I also think Mill should be running high counts of Team Yell Grunt currently to make the ADPZ matchup very favorable.
Why you shouldn't play it: You aren't experienced with the deck, as it is deceptively difficult to play optimally (although it can certainly win games when played suboptimally), especially when it draws poorly.

Why you should play it: You want a deck that is (surprisingly) very hard to play optimally but will reward good play by having an extremely strong matchup spread.
Techs you should run: Your choice--if you have been testing Malamar, you will know what techs have been most useful in your games, or will have analyzed top players' lists to see what they've been running.
Why you shouldn't play it: Malamar has a reputation as a good "beginner deck" since much of it can be built from starter decks, but it is actually one of the hardest decks to sequence and gameplan with in this format. Don't expect to do well with it if you haven't put time into grinding matchups with it and are willing to think hard about where you're placing your damage counters each game.

Rillaboom/Rowlet & Alolan Exeggutor-GX
Why you should play it: You want an easy-to-pilot deck that beats Mill, although it suffers in terms of overall matchup spread.
Techs you should run: Celebi & Venusaur-GX is pretty hilarious against Mill.
Why you shouldn't run it: You don't want to take 45-55 or worse matchups against the other Tag Team decks, don't want a horrendous Blacephalon matchup, or want a deck that will give you more room to outskill opponents.

Pikachu & Zekrom-GX
Why you should play it: You want a deck that will give you a lot of close games but makes up for its lack of strongly favorable matchups with a good overall matchup spread, including a decent chance against Mill.
Techs you should run: I'm on the fence about Phione for this weekend, as Doll Stall should be a nonfactor, but after seeing Phione put in some work in other matchups in the Faded Town Invitational, I could get behind throwing one in.
Why you shouldn't play it: You don't think the matchup spread is worth the chance of losing a few close games just because you have very few matchups better than 50-50.

Mewtwo & Mew-GX variants
Why you should play it: You want a toolbox-style deck with a lot of room to outplay your opponent and a chance to win most matchups.
Techs you should run: This obviously depends on whether you are running the Malamar, Welder, or Solgaleo-GX version of the deck. Take a look at recent lists from top players to get a good idea of what the best lists are like right now.
Why you should play it: Mewtwo & Mew-GX/Welder has proven time and again that it can compete with any format it's been legal in, but its Blacephalon and Malamar matchups are sketchy and it can be tough to play optimally. Mewtwo & Mew-GX/Malamar can be very disruptive but feels like it can get behind easily in games and doesn't have many matchups it wins very hard. "Ultimate" Mewtwo & Mew-GX (Henry Brand's list) also has a lot of 50-50 or worse matchups and is fairly difficult to play.

Fire Toolbox
Why you should play it: You are really good at drawing Welder. (Okay, fine, you want a pretty consistent and flexible deck with a solid matchup spread, that can be prone to some truly awful hands.)
Techs you should run: Cramorant V and Victini ♢ stocks are high right now. Jesper Eriksen hooked me up with the spicy Centiskorch (with Ditto ♢) tech to beat Mill, but that likely won't work well against experienced Mill players since they can see your list.
Why you shouldn't play it: You aren't comfortable with sequencing and would prefer to play a deck that doesn't rely quite so hard on perfect sequencing to avoid having very awkward hands and boards.

Roxie Checkmate
Why you should play it: You want a high-skill-level deck that gives you lots of tools to outplay people, but unfortunately can't really beat ADPZ (at least, Danny Altavilla has told me it can't).
Techs you should run: Whimsicott-GX could give you a shot against ADPZ.
Why you shouldn't play it: You haven't put in a ton of practice with it (seriously, do not just pick up this deck and play it for a tournament!).

Lucario & Melmetal-GX/Zacian V
Why you should play it: You want to beat up on Tag Team decks and Malamar but accept losses to Blacephalon and Mill.
Techs you should run: Nico Alabas included a Persian (with Ditto ♢) in his list in the Faded Town Invitational to have a bit of counterplay against Mill and Control.
Why you shouldn't play it: I don't think the deck beats Blacephalon or Mill/Control in any reliable fashion, so if you don't think you can win the tournament without going through a bunch of those decks, probably best to stay away from this one.

There are some other decks that popped up-- Lapras VMAX/Frosmoth, Morpeko V, Mareep Stall, and some weird variants on other meta decks-- but these are decks I think will be played in very small numbers or do not have enough personal experience with to comment on. If you are playing any of those, good luck to you, you will be keeping the tournament interesting!