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“Consult the Fossil” – Sage Tips on Preparing for States

INTRODUCTION

poke flute catchy tune music sharper
S/T/P’s are music to my ears.

State/Territory/Province (“S/T/P”) Championships are fast approaching, and in my mind they have always brought their own special brand of energy. With a size requiring less planning than a Regional Championship yet carrying significantly more weight than City Championships, S/T/P’s are like traveling to see a major artist or band perform in concert – you’re not at a local venue where you become more interested in the people attending than the artist playing, but it’s not a full-fledged music festival either.

To carry this metaphor further, people get excited about seeing one of their favorite bands in concert. They might play the band’s albums over and over again and research the other bands who will be playing. They pre-order tickets, print out directions, and – if you’re me – find a babysitter. I recently saw The Postal Service live for a 10th anniversary tour of their album Give Up. When I found out that Ra Ra Riot was performing as well, I dissolved into nothing more than fanboy gobbledygook and listened to everything both artists had done. Ever.

So yeah, S/T/P’s are kind of like that for the Pokémon TCG world. As we get closer and closer to S/T/P’s, you can expect to see Pokémon players lose their grip on reality as their undying love for Pikachu kicks in. A quick look at a Pokémon Facebook group reveals this slow deterioration, as some of the most recent posts have to do with an Yveltal-EX card being sold on eBay for over $12,000, the almighty power of the Helix Fossil, and a group of viewers who are collectively playing through a game of Pokémon on twitch.tv.

Now, I’m not saying all of this has to do with the upcoming S/T/P’s, but it does make a person think. By the way, I’ll be right back. I have to ask the Helix Fossil something.

consult the fossil

Here’s the other thing about S/T/P’s – while they’re certainly fun, they’re also difficult to plan for. My most successful showings at States have been with a Charizard AR deck during the “SP era” and a Durant NVI deck when absolutely nobody was playing with Durant. In both instances, I placed 2nd and wondered what the heck I had done right. Historically, gauging the S/T/P metagame has always been difficult for me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

With the popularity of the last article I did that invited readers to take a professional’s perspective, I have decided to do much the same thing with my own personal preparation for the upcoming State Championships. My hope is that readers can get one step closer to understanding what thoughts are going through the minds of top players as they prepare for a big tournament.

Also, full disclosure: I am starting from the very beginning of this process. While I’ve done some testing here and there with a couple of XY-influenced decks, my approach will assume little more than that. This is for the benefit of those readers who find things like “reading the metagame” and “choosing a deck to play” challenging.

At the end of each section (except the first), I will provide a detailed look at what’s going on in my mind as I prepare for State Championships. Again, this is a glimpse into how I approach the current format and how I figure out the greatest question on most player’s minds: “what will I play for S/T/P’s?” First of all, though, here’s a visual representation of my method:

erik nance testing preparation pyramid

This pyramid of thought starts with the biggest chunk of the puzzle: what does the format look like? Moving up the pyramid represents a more narrow focus on what a person may play for S/T/P’s. With each level, the focus goes from what everyone will be playing to what YOU will be playing. You’ll see that the table of contents is organized accordingly.

Table of Contents

STARTING FROM SCRATCH: UNDERSTANDING THE FORMAT

tracey sketchit notepad paper awe
A notepad could be helpful to organize your thoughts.

Assuming I have little experience with the current format, the first thing I would do is gather some information on it. Going into any major tournament, you need to have a clear idea of what people are playing. This not only means archetypes – deck choices – it also means individual cards as well. As an example, Yveltal-EX, a card I consider to be extremely powerful, can completely ruin any player trying to utilize Landorus-EX (due to the Fighting Resistance).

In essence, it’s important to have a working foundation of what the game looks like. S/T/P’s usually occur right after the release of a brand new set, which pushes that argument even further. I’ve always stressed the value of being able to attain information, particularly when it comes to deck lists, rogue decks, and so on. This website is helpful in giving you direction, as are a few others. I won’t list them here because I think for many it’s redundant.

As I’ve read recent articles on the XY era of the Pokémon TCG, my working list of archetypes looks a little like this:

In addition to the decks I’ve listed here, I also have an idea of some of the new cards from XY players are looking to incorporate in their S/T/P run. These are all familiar to players, since they’ve been talked about extensively. Still, it’s nice to take another look:

There are some other cards out there as well, but these are the ones I’ve heard the most about from players.

If you are brand new to the game, some additional research here is needed. It will be hard to crack into a format that is fairly open, so do yourself a favor and read up on whatever you can to give yourself a clearer look at the format.

If you’re a veteran, developing this type of understanding is equally important, especially for the first weekend of S/T/P’s. I say this because the format is open right now. By the end of S/T/P’s, we’ll have the clearest idea of what the format looks like. Until then, we can guess and we can test, but we can’t do the same for other players. There will be players who try very hard to make Fairy decks work, for example. Personally, I don’t think the best that the Fairy type has to offer (Xerneas XY/Xerneas-EX/Aromatisse XY) is good enough. I could be proven wrong, but after initial testing, I’m not all that impressed.

But for all the testing I will do, there will be players who do less – that or they’ll remain stubborn and try to make the Fairy type successful. This is why it’s healthy to identify archetypes and power cards while keeping those lists a little more open than normal.

THE METAGAME FACTOR

butterfree venomoth battle

There’s a reason I jump quickly from an understanding of the format to developing a clear picture of your local metagame: for S/T/P’s, knowing what you can and cannot play based on your opponent’s deck choices saves you time in the long run, and it’s more relevant here than in any other major tournament.

S/T/P’s hit a sweet spot in that players take them seriously, and these players are generally people you know. I would argue that there’s almost no better time to devote attention to the metagame. At the same time, however, S/T/P’s usually take place after a new set gets released, which shakes things up quite a bit.

For looking into the metagame, I’ll point you to my massive article on it located here. The first thing we must determine is what the metagame looks like on the surface. Straight from my metagame article, I offer this tidbit:

“A somewhat defined metagame is one in which you have a reasonable idea of what to expect at a tournament, but not enough to make a fully informed decision on what deck to run. In most cases, you will face a metagame like this on the local level, often after the release of a new set or a format rotation.”

This is what I feel the metagame looks like currently. There seems to be some uncertainty about what is actually good right now. Writers for this website have done a good job of clearing this up, but the fact that most of our latest articles deal with “the new XY format” shows that players are still working things out.

The advice for an open, undefined metagame is to play a deck that is good in the general sense. If you don’t really know what to expect, there’s no use trying to build a deck just to counter Yveltal-EX. You’ll end up losing to Blastoise and Emboar decks, throwing your deck in the trash, then leaving the play area to get some take-out Chinese food. Instead, pick a deck that performs well against most things. While the current format isn’t wide open (there has been a lot of work done lately on narrowing things down to a workable tier list), I still think the “good in a general sense” rule can apply here.

Another consideration you need to make is a historical one. Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Are the players in my area pioneers in building rogue decks, or do they stick to their archetypes?
  • Do I consider my metagame to be random or predictable?
  • Historically, what strategies do players in my area like to get behind?
  • Do players in my area “jump on the bandwagon” when it comes to new decks or new cards from a set?

By answering these questions and thinking consciously about your local metagame, hopefully a clear picture of the surface of this thing is coming into view. I’ll share my thoughts on my local metagame below.

A Surface-Level Understanding of My Local Metagame

I anticipate my local metagame to be fairly open, based on some notable observations. First of all, members in my area have always been unorthodox in their deck decisions. I’ve seen players here opt for mediocre cards simply because it’s different than the norm. Facing a Gothitelle LTR deck this year at the State Championships wouldn’t surprise me at all. When Stephen Silvestro made the trip to a Regional Championship in Virginia during the ’09-’10 season, he went 0-2 and dropped before exclaiming, “Your area is completely random!”

At the same time, players in my area tend to jump at the opportunity to play new cards, especially when those cards are from a new generation of Pokémon. Nobody really sticks to archetypes, even the better players (if anything, those players make deck changes based on the perceived metagame). Because of this, I can make a couple of general predictions:

  • Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX/Black Kyurem-EX might not show up at all during S/T/P’s
  • Emboar LTR/Rayquaza-EX might be on the decline, unless it gets paired up with Delphox XY
  • Trevenant XY might be a card to watch out for
  • Fairy type decks will probably make an appearance in some form
  • The number one “archetype” to expect would be Darkrai-EX/Sableye DEX/Yveltal-EX, mostly because of the addition of Yveltal-EX
  • I might expect to see Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX too, just because it tends to be popular in my area
  • The presence of Plasma decks tends to be hit or miss, almost like everyone has a Plasma deck in their deckbox in case they can’t come up with anything else

These are some of the generalizations I made concerning my local metagame. Understanding this will help me make decisions about what I want to play. In the long run, it will also help me save some time. For example, I don’t need to test against Blastoise BCR decks as much if I know I won’t run into it much.

ASSESSING ROGUE OPTIONS

tyrogue anime

One key item to remember when any major tournament is approaching is the option to “go rogue.” Of course, doing this is oftentimes easier said than done, and it’s not an option that stands for everyone (that is, of course, if you’re wanting to give yourself the best chance of winning said tournament). I’ve addressed how to build a competitive rogue deck in the past, so I won’t be going down that pathway today. Instead, I want to look at two different types of decks and/or cards that it’s good to keep tabs on every now and then.

Cards That “Fly Under the Radar”

The first type is that of cards and/or decks that “fly under the radar” (I don’t have a great term for these types of cards, so knock yourself out if you have a better one). These are cards and/or decks that exist as strong concepts, yet they just haven’t seen consistent success yet. Generally, they are powerful in theory, but lack in practice for one reason or another. Here’s a quick working list for this type of thing:

The main thing that sets these cards apart from other cards is an interesting attack or Ability that looks to be or actually was powerful in another form. These are the cards that players call out when scans are revealed of the next set. If they aren’t game-changers immediately, they sort of get tucked away in everyone’s mind. In many cases, they’re forgotten until some player pulls the file out of the recesses of their mind, dusts it off, and wins a tournament with it.

Klinklang BLW, Accelgor DEX, Gothitelle EPO 47, Empoleon DEX, Trubbish PLS 65, Lugia-EX, Leafeon PLF… I could go on here, but I’ll stop. These are the cards that used to be on the above list until the stars lined up and it was deemed they were worthy to be played. Dragonite PLF is a great example, since it recently saw massive success and was written off for a long time by many players. If you’re not checking back on these cards every now and then to see if a new set or change in the format has made them more viable, then you’re going to miss out on opportunities to build a successful rogue deck every time.


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