Hello all! Kenny Wisdom here, back with another article for TCGPlayer Infinite. Before I begin, thank you all for the positive comments and messages on my last article about how to build a cube!
This week, I'm covering a much different, but hopefully equally useful and entertaining, deck: Pikachu & Zekrom-GX (sm9-33) in Standard! As much as I like writing about alternative formats like cube, and Pokémon TCG theory as a whole, I also find it quite enjoyable to do a good old-fashioned deck breakdown. My hope is that after finishing this article, you'll have a better understanding of PikaRom as a deck, and where it fits into the format.
PikaRom has been a presence in the metagame since Pikachu & Zekrom-GX (sm9-33) first became legal. The combination of high HP Pokémon, Energy acceleration, and both high damage output attacks like Tag Bolt and status condition-based attacks like Tandem Shock make PikaRom a force to be reckoned with, no matter how the format changes.
We're going to start things off by taking a look at a recent tournament-winning list. This decklist comes from Zac C, who took down the Hegster Season 3 #26 this past weekend:
3 Boltund V (swsh2-67)
2 Dedenne-GX (sm10-57)
2 Pikachu & Zekrom-GX (sm9-33)
2 Mewtwo & Mew-GX (sm11-71)
1 Crobat V (swsh3-104)
1 Eldegoss V (swsh35-5)
1 Raichu & Alolan Raichu-GX (sm11-54)
1 Tapu Koko ◇ (sm9-51)
4 Marnie (swsh35-56)
4 Professor's Research (Professor Magnolia) (swsh35-62)
3 Boss's Orders (Giovanni) (swsh2-154)
2 Team Yell Grunt (swsh35-67)
4 Crushing Hammer (swsh1-159)
4 Switch (swsh1-183)
4 Quick Ball (swsh1-179)
2 Electromagnetic Radar (sm10-169)
2 Reset Stamp (sm11-206)
1 Tag Switch (sm11-209)
1 Cherish Ball (sm11-191)
2 Air Balloon (swsh1-156)
1 Chaotic Swell (sm12-187)
10 Lightning Energy (base4-128)
3 Speed Lightning Energy (swsh2-173)
It is important to note that, as it stands, there are a few different variants of PikaRom floating around. Some focus on maximum consistency by not playing coin flip cards like Crushing Hammer (swsh1-159), some might focus more on Boltund V (swsh2-67) than other attackers, and some are like the one above. I've chosen to go with the one above because it is the most common build at this time. Perhaps in a future article we can break down how and why metagames shift as they do, but for now just know that this list is the one I like the most right now.
Detailing how exactly PikaRom wins most of its matches can be difficult, as the deck has so many different powerful options—making it a strong choice for this format. In a nutshell, you have access to a number of strong attackers that synergize well with each other, and most games require an analysis of the specific boardstate, and a mental mapping of your route to victory in a game. Sometimes it's safe to go all in with a PikaRom and hit a big Full Blitz, and other times you need to be a little more conservative before your big finish. Don't let this intimidate you, though! The deck is easy enough to pick up and start playing, and the rest will come with time and experience. Plus, all your cards are so individually strong that sometimes just going through the motions and having a bunch of Energy in play is too much for your opponent to come back from. It's this mix of raw power and decision making that I think PikaRom is one of the most fun and interesting decks to play in the format.
Let's take a moment to break down some of the core cards in the deck:
2 Pikachu & Zekrom-GX
The namesake of the deck, and one of the biggest, most powerful Pokémon cards ever printed. Pikachu & Zekrom-GX (sm9-33) is a card that both allows you to accelerate Energy with its Full Blitz attack, and in turn rewards you for accelerating Energy with Tag Bolt-GX. When trying out Pikachu & Zekrom-GX (sm9-33) for the first time, be sure that you carefully consider which Pokémon you're going to attach Energy to with the effect of Full Blitz. There are usually a few different options at your disposal, and choosing the wrong one can have consequences down the line!
1 Raichu & Alolan Raichu-GX
Raichu is a pretty efficient attacker with a lot of "play" to it. Much like PikaRom, its attacks have interesting effects that require you to sequence your turn out in advance, and make decisions with each of your attacks. The biggest benefit that Raichu & Alolan Raichu-GX (sm11-54) brings to our deck is Tandem Shock, which Paralyzes the defending Pokémon if set up correctly. Paralysis is a game-breaking special condition, and many, many games with PikaRom are won off the back of timing a Tandem Shock and Reset Stamp (sm11-206) to hurt your opponent's hand and their board at the same time.
3 Boltund V
Boltund V (swsh2-67) is yet another attacker that accelerates Energy and then benefits from that Energy acceleration. This makes Boltund V (swsh2-67) a good attacker at basically any stage of the game. While it is going to attach less Energy and do less damage on average than a Pikachu & Zekrom-GX (sm9-33), it has the benefit of only giving up two prizes, whereas every other primary attacker in the list gives up three.
2 Mewtwo & Mew-GX
Mewtwo & Mew-GX (sm11-71) has been a popular addition to this deck ever since Coalossal VMAX (swsh4-189) burst onto the scene in Vivid Voltage. Mewtwo and Mew have the advantage of being weak to Psychic, which is an important attribute to have when the entirety of the rest of your deck is weak to Fighting. Pokémon is a game that largely revolves around the Weakness mechanic, and being able to diversify what types your deck is weak to is an advantage that cannot be understated.
Also, importantly, Mewtwo & Mew-GX (sm11-71) has 270 HP, which means that Blacephalon (sm10-32) and Centiskorch VMAX (swsh3-34) both take an additional Energy to KO a Mewtwo & Mew-GX (sm11-71) over a Pikachu & Zekrom-GX (sm9-33). While this may seem like a small advantage, one Energy attachment can mean all the difference in a format where most decks are looking to take one hit knockouts.
Lastly, Mewtwo & Mew-GX (sm11-71) can use the attacks of either of your Lighting-type GX attackers for a single bench spot. While this advantage is only really "turned on" by having one of the two attackers in your discard pile, bench space is vital in a deck with multiple different attackers and set-up Pokémon.
2 Dedenne-GX, 1 Crobat V, 1 Eldegoss V
These are your "support Pokémon", meaning they'll provide you with an advantage that isn't directly attacking—though do note that many a game has been won on the back of Tingly Return-GX! You've probably seen these cards time and time again if you've played the Standard format at all recently, and their inclusions aren't really any different here then they are in any other deck. Drawing cards and cycling through your deck is important, as is recycling Supporter cards to get that one extra use out of them. I'm happy with the split that we have here, and wouldn't deviate too much from it in the future.
1 Tapu Koko Prism Star
Tapu Koko ◇ (sm9-51) is in the list to provide a one-time burst of Energy acceleration. While usually you need to use an attack for this sort of effect, Tapu Koko's Dance of the Ancients is an Ability, meaning that all it takes is a little bit of set-up and you can have your cake and eat it, too (that is, add extra Energy to the board and attack later in the turn). Combined with something like Tag Switch (sm11-209), a well-timed Dance of the Ancients also contributes to some of your strongest early turns.
PikaRom runs a more or less standard suite of the usual draw and disruption Supporters with 4 Marnie (swsh35-56), 4 Professor's Research (Professor Magnolia) (swsh35-62) and 3 Boss's Orders (Giovanni) (swsh2-154). There aren't very many other options in the Standard format and while I'm sure there could be justifications for tweaking these numbers a bit, I'd recommend you keep your Supporter count as consistent as possible, both in this current build of PikaRom and as a general guideline for playing Pokémon.
Of note, a couple of copies of Team Yell Grunt (swsh35-67) is a pretty normal inclusion now. Energy disruption is maybe better than ever in this format, as evidenced by so many different decks playing with Crushing Hammer (swsh1-159). PikaRom is no different, and actually has a bit more justification for being so Energy-denial focused, as disrupting your opponent's Energy progression while accelerating your own is an especially overpowering maneuver. It's also important to note that the combination of Team Yell Grunt (swsh35-67) and a Crushing Hammer (swsh1-159) heads is particularly good in the current format, as that is enough to remove all the Energy from an Eternatus VMAX (swsh3-117) at any point in the game, or an Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX (sm12-156) right after they've used Altered Creation GX.
4 Crushing Hammer
Crushing Hammer (swsh1-159) is a very divisive card. One part of the player base hates how inconsistent the card is, and can't stand relying on coin flips at critical points in the game. Another part of the player base thinks that the upside you get when you flip heads is just too strong of an effect to give up. Looking over recent tournament results, it is clear that most PikaRom players fall into the latter camp—and for good reason! As mentioned in regard to Team Yell Grunt (swsh35-67), Energy removal is good enough to be worth it in PikaRom, even if half of the time you flip tails and the card has no effect.
2 Reset Stamp
Reset Stamp (sm11-206) is one of the strongest and most frustrating cards to play against in the entirety of the Pokémon TCG. Asymmetrical hand disruption is more or less always a powerful option, and Reset Stamp (sm11-206) being an Item card really pushes it over the top. Reset Stamp (sm11-206) also has the benefit of being stronger the later you play it, and as I said before, many PikaRom players have won games by timing a Reset Stamp (sm11-206) well. Because it's a dead card at certain points in the game, we can't really afford to run more than two copies, but make sure that you're always thinking about how many Stamps you have access to at all points in the game. In general, the best time to play a Reset Stamp (sm11-206) is a turn after your opponent has taken prizes, and ideally one where you are going to take prizes or otherwise disrupt their board (with something like Tandem Shock).
After discussing Crushing Hammer (swsh1-159), the rest of the Item cards are not that interesting. We have 4 Quick Ball (swsh1-179) , 2 Electromagnetic Radar (sm10-169), and a single copy of Cherish Ball (sm11-191) to make sure we can find the vital pieces of our deck when we need to. I wouldn't be too afraid of adjusting these counts in the future, as the cards all do similar things, but with the format as it stands I think this is probably an optimal Item build. While the cards are similar, keep in mind they're not identical, as Cherish Ball (sm11-191) can't find a Tapu Koko ◇ (sm9-51), and Electromagnetic Radar (sm10-169) can't find a Mewtwo & Mew-GX (sm11-71).
The full 4 copies of Switch (swsh1-183) and 2 Air Balloon (swsh1-156) are important for two reasons. Firstly, PikaRom requires an above-average amount of maneuvering from the Bench to the Active Spot. We've already talked about how great Tandem Shock is, and importantly Dance of the Ancients and Boltund V's Electrify Attack both only attach Energy to benched Pokemon. Secondly, in a deck made up primarily of Tag Team GXs, there are times where your opponent has three prizes remaining, and you can't let one of your Tag Teams get knocked out, even if you did have to attack with it in an early turn. In short, PikaRom requires you to move in and out of the Active Spot frequently, so you want to make sure you have plenty of cards that let you do so.
1 Chaotic Swell
I love the design of Chaotic Swell (sm12-187), as it allows decks that don't have a Stadium that specifically benefits them to still have a way of dealing with opposing Stadium cards. Note that Chaotic Swell (sm12-187) can essentially deal with two Stadiums - replacing one and then preventing the next from coming into play - so be sure to try to maximize its power where you can.
PikaRom is an Energy hungry deck, and one that has a slight tension between wanting to run a ton of Basics for things like Electrify and Full Blitz (note that Speed Lightning Energy (swsh2-173) do not count as Lightning for the purposes of these attacks, and wanting to draw extra cards with [Speed Lightning Energy](Speed Lightning Energy (swsh2-173). [Speed Lightning Energy](Speed Lightning Energy (swsh2-173) is an incredible card in a deck like this, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the full 4 copies being favored by players somewhere down the line, but for now I think the balance of 10 Lightning Energy (base4-128) and 3 [Speed Lightning Energy](Speed Lightning Energy (swsh2-173) suits the deck and the format quite well.
As we wrap things up, the number one thing I want you to take away is that PikaRom in its current form is a very rewarding deck to play. Go back and look up how many times I talked about the deck forcing you to make decisions, having options, being very reliant on timing, and the like! While some PikaRom games are going to seem like they run themselves, the majority of them are going to reward player skill and having a plan throughout the game.
One of my favorite things about PikaRom is that it doesn't have too many lopsided matchups—most are somewhere close to 50/50! But don't get intimidated. While this means that any given tournament or ladder session isn't going to produce many free wins, it also means that you're not going to run across any auto-losses either. Every matchup being so close means that PikaRom is a deck that rewards skill and decision making, which should immediately pique the interest of any competitive hopeful. Even if you're not the competitive type, playing matches with PikaRom and trying to sequence each turn properly is a great way to sharpen your skills at the Pokemon TCG, and in my opinion, a fun way to spend your time.
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you thought on Twitter anytime.