In a bizarre twist of fate, Czech Republic player Ondrej Śkubal took down the Pokémon TCG 2022 Masters Division World Championship using a card widely considered to be complete rubbish, Flying Pikachu VMAX. Upon release in the Pokémon Celebrations expansion in 2021, the card was largely dismissed as unplayable, yet given the way the metagame developed heading into the biggest event of the year in London, it just happened to be the perfect counter to the top deck in the format.
The Pokémon Celebrations mini-set was mostly a collectible one with few competitively viable cards, and Flying Pikachu was likely intended to be nothing more than a fun tribute to the fan-favorite Flying Pikachu card first released in English as a promo in 2001, which is why fans are so tickled by the fact that it literally just won the Pokémon TCG World Championship.
All things considered, Flying Pikachu’s 160 damage Max Balloon attack that prevents it from being hit by Basic Pokémon on the opponent’s next turn is pretty underwhelming considering the mediocre damage and the fact that most decks don’t attack with Basic Pokémon. Players only use it because Palkia VStar is the most popular deck in the format and it’s weak to Lightning. That means Flying Pikachu’s 160 damage attack gets doubled when attacking the 280 HP Palkia, knocking it out in one hit. For that reason alone, Flying Pikachu was the silver bullet to the Worlds meta.
“It’s supposed to be just a fun card. It’s good only because Lightning Pokémon cards are really bad so you have to dig deep to find a good one, and Flying Pikachu is it. Without Palkia around, it wouldn’t be Tier 1,” Śkubal told IGN in a post-match interview.
Despite being considered an all-around awful card in a vacuum, Flying Pikachu does offer a few other benefits. Its 310 HP may be low by VMAX standards, and it does give up three Prizes when knocked out, but it’s still just chonky enough to usually remain out of Palkia’s OHKO range. The effect of Max Balloon is useless against most of the field, but it does wall out the odd deck that only uses Basic attackers such as Regigigas and Blissey/Miltank. Plus, having a Pokémon with free retreat is always welcome because it lets you pivot into your ideal Active Pokémon each turn.
The Top 8 cut for the Pokémon TCG Masters Division featured four Palkia decks and three Arceus VStar/Decidueye VStar/Flying Pikachu VMAX decks specifically designed to counter them. And counter them they did. With all the Palkia decks eliminated from the playoffs, the finals ended up being a mirror match between two Palkia-busters, one piloted by Śkubal and the other by Japanese player Daichi Shimada. It’s notable that Flying Pikachu is weak to Lightning, so in a mirror match it’s possible for dueling Pikachus to knock each other out in one hit. The Decidueye VStar is there to hit opposing Arceus VStar for Fighting weakness.
The key difference between the two decks was that Shimada’s included the Jolteon package used to shut off the Abilities of Water-Pokémon, which unfortunately were six dead cards in this matchup. Meanwhile, Śkubal’s deck used those slots for the Bibarel draw engine, which is a great deal more useful in the mirror. (That’s right—as if Flying Pikachu wasn’t meme-y enough, Bidoof was in the winning deck, too!)
The finals match was decided in a best of three contest. Game 1 saw Shimada take an early lead by disrupting his opponent’s hand with a first-turn Marnie and taking a pair of two-Prize knockouts, including Śkubal’s unevovled Flying Pikachu V. But then Śkubal mounted an impressive comeback, denying his opponent victory by retreating his damaged Decidueye to the Bench and winning the game with a Boss’s Orders on Shimada’s fragile Crobat V.
Game 2 was a more even affair, with both players getting a solid setup and trading knockouts on their Arceus VStars. After a bit of back-and-forth, the turning point came when Shimada whiffed the Energy needed to finish off Śkubal’s damaged Flying Pikachu. With Shimada behind on the Prize race, all he could do was play Marnie to disrupt his opponent’s hand and send up a Pumpkaboo in an attempt to stall, but Śkubal had the Boss’s Orders to finish off a damaged Decidueye and take the World Championship title—and the $25,000 cash prize.
Over the course of Śkubal’s 11 tournament rounds, seven were Palkia, so he was able to prey on their Lightning weakness for a majority of the competition and take full advantage of Flying Pikachu’s Lightning typing.
That’s not to say Flying Pikachu’s big win was a complete surprise to players. An Arceus/Flying Pikachu deck also won June’s Pokémon North American International Championship, so the card’s power was well known going into Worlds. But still, what a run for a card that many people initially considered to be nothing more than binder trash.
For more from Worlds, check out how I did competing in the big tournament for the first time (spoiler: not well) and if you’re new to the Pokemon TCG or are returning to the game, check out this video playing games with old decks and modern cards: