Starting January 2021, Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX (ADP) will be temporarily banned from all Standard format Limitless Online Series tournaments. We are going to closely monitor player feedback and state of the metagame during the first month of this suspension and then decide whether to apply it to tournaments beyond that duration as well.
This article will discuss the reasons for this decision and what we hope to achieve with it. ADP is not unbeatable and its winrate in tournaments has been only slightly above 50%, so this is not strictly a balancing issue. Even though it isn't drastically more successful than other top decks currently or historically, we believe there are multiple reasons why removing ADP could improve the Standard format experience.
Firstly, unrelated to the cards or decks that are hit by a ban, they are guaranteed to change up the game in some way and, at least for a while, lead to a fresher and less explored metagame. ADP / Zacian (ADPZ) has consistently been the most played deck at almost every online tournament in both the TEU-VIV and TEU-DAA formats, averaging about a 20% metagame share. This is not necessarily a problem on its own, but provides the base for this discussion.
The most criticized aspect of ADP is its gameplay and overall strategy. More than perhaps any other deck, it is good at deciding games very early. A lot of them are in fact essentially over as early as the second turn of the game. The most important factor becomes what happens immediately after it uses the Altered Creation GX attack. If a deck can't deal with ADP immediately and gives it the opportunity to Ultimate Ray, it usually becomes close to impossible to catch up. Single- or 2-Prize decks that can't survive a 260 damage Brave Blade have no way to keep up with the improved prize trade and are put into checkmate immediately because of all the extra Energies the ADPZ deck has available. Even a 3-Prize deck with enough HP is in a very bad spot and only a Boss's Orders or two away from losing. It is worth noting that ADPZ doesn't require any big combo or set-up to achieve this "checkmate" position. All it takes is a few Basic Pokémon and Basic Energy attachments.
Doing 280 damage on the second turn of the game to knock out an ADP is not easy. There are decks that are able to do it, and they beat ADPZ a decent percent of the time. The games don't feel very interactive though due to how fast they are decided. Although obviously not to the same degree, it can feel somewhat like a "Donk" deck (e.g. Shiftry / Forest of Giant Plants, Fast Raid Expanded decks, other T1 win combos), where games are decided in one turn, with the players not interacting in meaningful ways. There is sequencing involved, there can be alternate gameplans, and there are certainly a lot of deck building decisions that go into ADPZ, but at its core it can frequently feel very "Solitaire".
Many possibly interesting decks don't have a good way to deal with what ADP does. Having good matchups is nothing unusual, top decks are the top decks for a reason after all. However, the rules that ADPZ puts onto the game are very oppressive and make it difficult for whole categories of decks to even have a chance against it. If it wasn't the most played deck at almost every tournament, this wouldn't be a big issue, but it's always likely players have to face at least 1 during a tournament. In many tournaments, particularly the Limitless Online Series Weeklies, more than 1 loss already puts players out of contention for top cut. This makes ignoring ADPZ and "taking the bad matchup" not a good strategy when trying to win, and players are heavily disincentivized from bringing some of the slower or more unusual decks.
Aside from taking the quick KO, there is another popular strategy that has emerged as a way to deal with ADP: Energy Disruption. Even decks that can't get rid of ADP altogether can try to at least remove its Energies, stopping Ultimate Ray in that way. The problem with that is that the most universal disruption card in the format, Crushing Hammer, involves a coin flip and is thus inherently unreliable. It can slow games down to a pace where more decks can compete, but at the same time introduces a whole new level of randomness where games can be decided by the quality of early coin flips. ADP is not the only reason why Crushing Hammer has become one of the most popular Item cards in the format, but it certainly has played its part. Crushing Hammer does give decks a way to beat ADP, but it doesn't give players control over the game. Having coin flips decide the outcome of a game can be fun to watch, but for the players involved it's mostly rather annoying.
Another sometimes frustrating part of playing against ADPZ is how well Mawile-GX fits into its strategy. Captivating Wink is an Ability that can and frequently does decide games on its own. It forces players into suboptimal plays like using their support Pokémon earlier than they want to, because they might be left with no draw options otherwise. Even when trying to play around it as much as possible, there's no way to avoid it sometimes. Mawile is an interesting card concept, but in practice it leads to many unfun “non-games”'.
One of the main reasons why ADP has been so popular for such a long time is that it is very difficult to find a reliable counter for it. Most of the time, when there is a dominant deck, there's still a proven way to counter that deck. Oftentimes the counter decks are good enough to be a part of the meta themselves and cause a constant metagame shift. In the case of ADPZ, for almost a year now, we haven't seen a lot of change at the very top of the metagame. As mentioned before, the deck is certainly not unbeatable, and it won't ever have a positive matchup against all the other decks at the same time. However, one remarkable aspect about ADPZ is that if it wants to target a specific matchup, no matter how much the other deck tries to prepare for it, there seems to always be a way to make that matchup favorable. There has never been a deck that seriously threatened to push it down the tier list.
- Weakness plays an important part in balancing the Pokémon TCG, but ADP unlike other decks doesn't have to worry about that aspect of the game. Its Fairy Weakness has been discontinued with Sword & Shield, and the few Fairy Pokémon that are left are not an issue due to them being weak to Zacian V.
- Energy denial is strong against ADP, but aside from it usually involving risky coin flips, ADP also has a way to deal with it in Metal Saucer + Energy Switch. If it draws well enough and hits its combos, it can almost ignore those disruption effects. Turbo Patch is an additional option that can make it even more resilient against Energy removal strategies.
- Zacian V / Lucario & Melmetal-GX tries to win the matchup by putting itself out of OHKO range with Full Metal Wall-GX + Metal Goggles, but ADPZ can include either Tool Scrapper or Leon to do enough damage anyway. Many decks try to attack with Mewtwo & Mew-GX because ADPZ doesn't naturally reach its 270 HP, but Vitality Band, Galarian Zigzagoon, or Leon can change that.
- Some decks have tried to counter ADPZ by not using any 1 or 2-prize Pokémon, essentially making the second effect of Altered Creation useless. However, not playing support Pokemon like Dedenne-GX or Crobat V tends to come with its own issues, especially since Marnie and Reset Stamp are popular cards in the metagame. Additionally, these decks have traditionally been Fire type, most notably Centiskorch VMAX and Charizard & Braixen-GX, and were able to be countered by the inclusion of Milotic V in ADPZ.
- As an all-Basic, all-GX/V deck, ADPZ could have problems with wall Pokémon like Decidueye, but the simple inclusion of Aegislash V in combination with Altered Creation turns those matchups from close to autoloss to basically autowin. Other decks with similar characteristics have a harder time finding a viable game plan against a deck like Decidueye.
- The inclusion of Big Charms can make it more difficult for decks that try to KO ADP on the second turn of the game, a plan that is already not the most reliable in the first place.
ADPZ being able to adjust to the way other decks try to deal with it is not a bad thing. In fact, many players would agree that it's the most interesting part of the deck. However, when reaching a point where it's seemingly not possible to truly counter a certain deck, it's worth thinking about whether it has become a problem.
In this case, a lot of potentially viable decks are essentially invalidated by the existence of ADPZ. Some decks have to rely on the quality of their first two turns to win or lose the game almost on the spot. Other decks have to rely on unreliable strategies like coin flips and don't have much control over the outcome of the matchup either.
It's not impossible for ADPZ to be involved in interesting and unique games, and of course the deck still benefits from being piloted by a good player. However, on average, the amount of interaction and impactful decisions are almost certainly lower than during games involving many other successful decks.
As a result of that, a significant number of players do not enjoy playing against (or even with) it, particularly after repeated games of the matchup, which due to its popularity in tournaments is difficult to avoid.
To summarize, in an effort to shake up the current metagame and in hopes of providing a more enjoyable Standard format experience, we are temporarily banning ADP for the following reasons:
- a lack of reliable counters and it being the most played deck at almost every tournament
- its effect on the metagame
- its (arguably) unfun and (relatively) uninteractive gameplay
One worry when banning cards is the possibility of leaving some players without a deck. However, in this case, even someone with access to only ADPZ can rather easily switch to playing Zacian without ADP, a perfectly viable deck. Adding in Lucario & Melmetal-GX and playing a more defensive variant can also be done with relatively little investment. Overall, this ban is unlikely to seriously impact anyone's ability to participate in our tournaments, which is an important argument for why we believe in it being a reasonable decision. Some players will be happy about ADP leaving, others won't care much either way, but even those players that disagree with it being an issue are unlikely to truly miss the card, so this temporary suspension should at least be a worthwhile experiment.