State/Territory/Province Championships just finished this past weekend, and many of you got in on the action by tightening up your favorite deck lists, playing new ones altogether, or at least adopting some of what XY has to offer. We are seeing an exciting format that is fluctuating from week to week, and so I want to provide a recap on what happened at S/T/Ps, both obvious and not.
I also want to slow down a little and take a look at the game as a whole. In discussions here and there, I have often heard players talk about the “health” of the game. More than just personal preference, the idea behind how “healthy” the game is harks back to dissatisfaction with the game as it relates to that concept of “fun.” As an example, it is difficult to have a fun game of the Pokémon TCG with someone when that game never happens (e.g. your opponent is able to achieve a first turn win). Many would also argue that the game ceases to be fun when the format grows stale.
With this in mind, I want to discuss the impact that XY has had on the game so far. With Legendary Treasures primarily a set of reprints, this is the first true new set released under the last set of rule changes. How is it holding up, and is it contributing to a “fun” game or is it making things worse?
Finally, I am going to cover the observable things that are going on in the game as well as make a case for why our current format is one of the most enjoyable formats ever (as well as the most misunderstood). After that, I will address the various rogue decks that showed up over the past few of weekends. There is a lot going on, and I have a feeling things will continue to change throughout the rest of the season. Let’s get started, shall we?
Click on the link in the table of contents to go directly to that part of the article.
Table of Contents
- Predictions Fulfilled
- The Impact of XY
- What You Saw at S/T/Ps
- A Remarkable Shift in the Format
- What You Did NOT See at S/T/Ps
- Interview Time!
- Rogue Deck Recap
Typically, I am not a braggart. I like to let results speak for themselves. Every now and then, though, I have to give myself some credit, and this is one of those moments. While I have never been overly explicit in making predictions, there are things I have stated in my articles for SixPrizes that have come to fruition. Consider the following list of claims I have made:
- In my November 2013 article “Flips and Tips: Moving on from the Most Recent Rule Changes in the Pokémon TCG,” I guaranteed that certain cards would come out from the shadows because of the Pokémon Catcher errata. Most notably, I argued that “Bench sitters,” “Evolution cards,” “punch and runners,” and “Catcher replacements” would be among these. A quick look at the competitive scene shows that many of these cards – Aromatisse XY, Electrode PLF, Accelgor DEX, Genesect-EX, etc. – are doing well.
- In a more recent article, I made the claim that “Pretty soon, games in the Pokémon TCG will not be won or lost based on the decks people are playing, but rather on a handful of cards (roughly 6 or so) that players choose to employ.” While I feel there’s more room for this prediction to come true, many successful decks during S/T/Ps did just this. It might have shown up in the form of Pokémon (Snorlax PLS, Bouffalant DRX, Electrode PLF, Drifblim DRX/PLB) or Trainers (Hypnotoxic Laser/Virbank City Gym, Muscle Band, 3-4 Frozen City), but it did happen and continues to do so.
- In my last article, I made some basic predictions about my local metagame, stating that Blastoise and Emboar decks would be on the decline while Darkrai-EX/Yveltal-EX decks would be most present. I also stated that Plasma decks would be hit or miss, showing up prominently if players failed to come up with something creative. Looking at the State Championships closest to me – Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina – my predictions are pretty solid.*
*While there were more Plasma variants than Darkrai-EX decks, I still got close to my original meta call. Had I played at any of these tournaments, I would have probably tried out my Trevenant XY/Accelgor DEX/Garbodor LTR deck I covered from my last article. In testing, this deck worked pretty well. My next choice would have been Darkrai-EX/Yveltal-EX, since I’m comfortable with the mirror match. I definitely would not have played Tool Drop because of the perceived presence of Darkrai-EX/Yveltal-EX.
Okay, so enough massaging my ego. Why am I mentioning all this? Well, it is one thing to see predictions about the game come true, but it is quite another to play in a format that most perceive as fun. One of the most exciting things about our newest set is that there is a lot of playable stuff in it, and I argue that these cards are playable because of things like the Pokémon Catcher errata (consider, for a moment, how ineffective Aromatisse XY would be if Pokémon Catcher had never changed).
Being able to see a deck like Greninja XY/Kingdra PLF climb to the Top 2 at a State Championship is almost a miracle given the direction the game took after EXs hit the scene. Granted, there are plenty of successful EX-centered decks showing up at S/T/Ps, but I truly feel that skill has creeped back into the game. Russell LaParre, as an example, placed in the Top 8 twice with a Flygon BCR/Dusknoir BCR deck. Again, that’s enormous progress in a game that for a solid year was mostly centered around 3-4 decks.
With some of the best rule changes ever introduced to the game providing a proper backdrop for skill to return to the game, let’s look at how the game is playing out currently.
THE IMPACT OF XY
XY has been an unusually influential set. I say that because sets that introduce a new generation of Pokémon are historically underwhelming in their own way. Diamond & Pearl, for instance, had absolutely no new notable Trainer cards (it featured reprints, most of which were already legal at the time). Additionally, many of the Poké-Powers and Poké-Bodies introduced in that set went unnoticed. Black & White, on the other hand, had only five Abilities in it and no new mechanics.
When you look at XY, a few things stand out. First of all, there are some powerful Trainers in this set. Muscle Band, Professor’s Letter, and Shauna are all arguably staples, while Red Card and Roller Skates keep things interesting. Second, the set introduces a new mechanic (M Pokémon-EX) and even the new Fairy type. Lastly, there are some powerful Abilities and attackers in this one. Trevenant XY got a ton of attention, Aromatisse XY has seen loads of play, and there’s a good mix of Pokémon whose attacks alone warrant discussion (e.g. Raichu XY, Xerneas XY, Gourgeist XY, etc.).
Apart from the powerful cards in the set is the precedent that has been established. Scans of the next set were recently leaked, and it looks like this one will be just as bold and influential as XY, if not more. Compare this to Diamond & Pearl, where the next two sets did hardly anything before Secret Wonders gave us Gardevoir/Gallade, the deck that maintained a stranglehold on the format for the rest of the season. For once, it appears the card creators are not afraid to take some risks here and there and provide appropriate counters when needed.
WHAT YOU SAW AT S/T/Ps
S/T/Ps proved to be very interesting. While familiar decks have maintained their place in the game, other decks and specific techs are working their way into the fabric of the tournament scene. Some archetypes have been given a makeover, while others remain prominent based off power alone. Let’s look at some of these, shall we?
Archetypes That Performed Well
This one is no surprise. As soon as Yveltal-EX was revealed, players speculated once more on how powerful Darkrai-EX continues to be. Yveltal-EX was a natural inclusion, and many felt this deck to be the strongest going into S/T/Ps.
Plasma decks are still a dominating force in the game. They continue to remind me of LuxChomp (Luxray GL LV.X/Garchomp C LV.X) from the ’09-’10 season, since deck lists vary wildly from player to player. Saying that a player performed well with “Plasma” undermines a lot of the individual choices that make this deck so versatile, so complex (more on this later).
I lump these decks together, mainly because they work the exact same way, with Emboar being the go-to choice in a metagame full of Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX decks. These two decks continue to be powerhouse options that have few glaring holes. Perhaps the biggest threat to any Blastoise/Emboar player is a second turn Trevenant XY. Of course, I heard of some players altering their deck to fit in Wartortles and Pignites as a direct response to Item lock decks.
These three decks have stood the test of time, performing well in basically any format they are placed in. Simply put, they are at the heart of the game we play right now. If you are neglecting to test against these three decks, you are setting yourself up for failure at S/T/Ps.
While the “Big 3″ continue to assert themselves in the game, a handful of other decks are trying hard to earn the title of “archetype” in this fluctuating metagame. These are the following:
Aromatisse XY Variants
Benefitting from the presence of Rainbow Energy and requiring far fewer resources to get in play than Hydreigon DRX 97 (not to forget the Pokémon Catcher errata), Aromatisse XY has perched itself firmly in this dizzying metagame. So far, it has enjoyed the most success when paired alongside Plasma Pokémon (Genesect-EX, Thundurus-EX, etc.) or “Big Basics.” Again, this latter term does not fully represent the choices players are using alongside Aromatisse XY.
While I recognize this particular Plasma variant as once a common archetype, for the past few months we have seen less and less Kyurem PLF. Why, then, should it make a sudden appearance? Remember those “cyclical cards” I mentioned in my last article? Well, in some places, players are realizing that nobody is playing Mr. Mime PLF, and that Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX is losing steam. Combine those two facts and you have a very good reason to reintroduce Kyurem PLF to the scene.
These cards have been showing up as techs in a multitude of decks (Raichu XY/Ninetales DRX, played by Yehoshua Tate even took 1st place at Minnesota States). Splashable because of the Colorless Energy requirements, Raichu XY is being used to take on Yveltal-EX while Drifblims DRX and PLB are being used to deal with Plasma decks and anything that has a high amount of Special Energy.
In addition to decks showing up at S/T/Ps, there are also a number of Trainer cards from XY that are finding themselves in many decks. Muscle Band, for instance, has automatically replaced Dark Claw in Dark decks. It has also shown up in plenty of other decks, most notably Lugia EX-focused Plasma decks. Professor’s Letter is twice as powerful as Energy Search, leading many who were on the fence about playing that card to finally open up a spot for Letter. Shauna is showing up here and there as a suitable card to replace 1-2 Ns in decks (the idea being that while weak early game, it’s less disruptive to the person playing it late game).
A REMARKABLE SHIFT IN THE FORMAT
All in all, things so far seem like a natural progression for the game – on the surface, at least. Yet, there remains a level of complexity beneath the surface that I think many are ignoring. Let me start by categorizing this type of format. With a core 3-4 decks that are constantly being challenged by a few “outside” decks (what many would term “Tier 2″ decks), I would describe the format as an “RPS Extended.” From my very early article about metagaming, here’s a good example of what that looks like:
If I were to put it into current terms, it would probably look something like this:
The moment I started thinking about the current metagame in this regard, though, I felt a great sense of unease. With the exception of Blastoise BCR and Emboar LTR decks, many of the decks people are playing vary greatly from one list to the next. Aromatisse XY, for instance, is played in “toolbox” fashion, meaning that players pick and choose a wild variety of cards to best suit their local metagame. Then, however, I realized that Aromatisse XY has been paired with Yveltal-EX, Klingklang PLS, and Plasma variants.
What’s going on?
In order to correctly characterize the state of the game right now, I am going to use a metaphor. That metaphor is going to be pizza. Mmmm, pizza…
Imagine, if you will, that you are desperately hungry for something on a Friday night. In the interest of time, you drive to a nearby Papa John’s for some pizza. Your choices are simple enough: cheese, pepperoni, supreme, BBQ chicken, sausage, or ham and pineapple. A friend you’re with chooses the BBQ chicken, while you go with ham and pineapple. You return home, enjoy the pizza, and think nothing of it.
The following weekend, you are invited to Mellow Mushroom by some friends. You are enjoying yourself when you suddenly realize you have to order something to eat. Looking at the menu, you notice the “build your own pizza or calzone” option and are fascinated by the numerous choices you now must make. What kind of pizza base will you choose? What kind of cheese? What about toppings? Proteins?
If you pick just the right combo, you might end up with something truly extraordinary. And no, I am not talking about pizza anymore, I am back to Pokémon. See, yesterday’s format felt much like the Papa John’s from my example – you pick an option, but that’s about it. As time has gone on, however, decks have become much more like the Mellow Mushroom metaphor. I can pick a base strategy (lock Abilities with Garbodor LTR, lock Item cards with Trevenant XY, manipulate Energy cards with Aromatisse XY), but I have to do the work of filling in all the rest without there being a clear answer!
Look at Trevenant XY for instance. Its older counterpart (Gothitelle LTR/Accelgor DEX) had a very clear deck list that really came down to whether or not players utilized Musharna NXD. Since the release of Trevenant XY – and remember, this has only been a few weeks – I have seen players try it out with Accelgor DEX, Garbodor LTR, Aromatisse XY, Dusknoir BCR, Eeveelutions, and Raichu XY.
Or try out Aromatisse XY, which has been paired with Klinklang PLS, Plasma Pokémon, and “Big Basics.” These last two terms – Plasma Pokémon and Big Basics – are so open-ended that I would have to dedicate an entire article on covering exactly what can be included here. Mike Diaz did a good job of detailing a lot of this in his latest article.
Moreover, it is becoming increasingly difficult to quantify these varieties of decks in tournament play. If I show up with an Aromatisse XY/Plasma list, that is exactly how my deck will be acknowledged (“Aromatisse XY/Plasma). My list might use Hypnotoxic Laser, Virbank City Gym, and Muscle Band to great effect, but this will not be recorded. My friend might play “Aromatisse XY/Plasma” as well, though with an entirely different approach. He might ditch the “HypnoBank” combo for Enhanced Hammers, Sableye DEX, and Frozen City Gym, but his deck will appear on paper no different than mine.
If that is not enough, here is a refresher. Remember when Israel Sosa won back-to-back Regional Championships this past fall? People made a huge deal about the single Frozen City Stadium he played in his list. If that much attention can be placed on a single card, how much are we as players missing out on when people report tournament results?
In a few words, I feel the tournament results we are currently seeing are misleading. If a player used Cobalion-EX in their deck, you can bet it would listed along with the other Pokémon used (unless, of course, it were as complicated as an Aromatisse XY deck). If a player maxed out on Enhanced Hammer, however, that may or may not be reported.
Later in my article, I will showcase a unique Plasma deck played by Nestor Luna at the North Carolina State Championships that was noted in the tournament as simply “Plasma.” Nestor’s deck was far from a typical Plasma build, yet on paper that is exactly how it was reported.
To counter this, try to get beneath those surface-level results. Do not accept that any deck has an ultimate “best way” to be run. Doing that is like ordering a regular pepperoni pizza at Mellow Mushroom – it will probably be good, but you are overlooking so many options.
WHAT YOU DID NOT SEE AT S/T/Ps
I want to dedicate some time to cover what you probably did not see at your S/T/Ps. Why? Well, it is important to recognize what hyped ideas are not working in the metagame currently. Remember, if you are spending large amounts of time trying to get a hyped idea to work, there is a good chance you are just spinning your wheels. You might not take that deck or idea to a tournament, but the time you miss on testing your actual choice detracts, and it could translate to a poor performance.
Here are some ideas or cards that players talked about a lot in the weeks that preceded S/T/Ps:
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