As promised, I’m back with part two of my article set: tips for advanced players. Again, I recommend that newer players read this as well; it may give you some ideas to eventually strive toward.
Every Card Counts – Part Two
flickr.comAs I said in Pro Tips for Beginners, every single card you choose to put in your deck counts. As this is a more-advanced article, though, we need to go more in depth here. We’ll look into the intricacies of choosing certain cards over others and the reason behind those choices; and the balance between having options and having more of one card for greater consistency.
First we need to recognize when cards serve a similar purpose to each other. In the previous format, we had both Roseanne’s Research and Pokémon Collector, which served nearly identical purposes. Some decks benefited from having more of one over the other, and it depended on the deck. For example, Gyarados preferred max Collector over a split in Roseanne and Collector, while Luxchomp liked some kind of split of the two.
We can apply this to even more specific cases as well. I remember seeing a discussion on Lafonte (I think) and someone, I think Pooka, was talking about running only 3 Call in Luxchomp because Chatot was basically the “4th Call.” Here, he recognized that starting with a Call and a Chatot were virtually the same thing at the beginning of the game: both served to increase consistency in the early-game and performed a similar purpose. However, he wanted the variety of having the 1 Chatot to be able to search for and get new hands but didn’t want to take anything else out and keep 4 Call Energy, so the simple switch to 3/1 was a very logical decision.
This argument can be applied to countless decisions when creating a decklist. I know of a number of people who dropped Luxury Ball from their Luxchomp lists to play a single (or second) Pokémon Communication because they felt it was a better card for the deck. It would take too long to go into every example, so hopefully you get the general gist of the idea.
Similar to this idea, I’m going to use an example with two of our writers and their articles! Pablo, in his Kingdra/Machamp article, opted to use a very consistent, basic list with no real singles. He even solely played Kingdra LA and no Kingdra Prime because that’s what he felt the best option was considering his playstyle. He would rather know exactly which card would be his main attacker (at least the Kingdra side) all the time.
Fulop, on the other hand, enjoyed the 2/2 split of Kingdra. Fulop’s theory carried over to his Dialga deck (and every deck I’ve ever seen built by him ;x), where clearly he likes the ability to change things up and play a lot of singles. This provides him with a lot of options, but a lot more room for error.
Neither approach is better than the other, but it is interesting to recognize the different styles. As you get more and more comfortable as a player and with a particular deck you may find yourself swinging more toward Fulop’s side…but not always. Clearly Pablo is a great player and for the specific Kingdra/Machamp deck, he felt his approach was superior. It is different for every player and every deck, so feel it out for yourself.
“Another important skill is to know probability. Factor this into almost every decision. You will win more and more games as you make decisions which properly give you the highest odds of getting the cards you need, and reacting to your opponent’s field based on the odds they have a specific card, or series of cards.
“In situations where outcomes are not clear cut or guaranteed (most) you are going to need to use odds as your primary decision making tool, so get used to it. Some players get annoyed when players ask to ‘see their discard pile’ or ‘know how many cards are in their hand’ but it is crucial toward figuring out the odds of what they may have. Some people even get ‘offended’ if you ask multiple times over a few turns because they ‘already told you’ but truth be told, the number pretty much gets noted for mathematical purposes and tossed aside in the thought process.”
So, as Fulop notes, using probability is one your biggest assets when playing this game. You need to use it both when making a deck, and as stated above, in game. We’ll cover the former first.
I’m sure a lot of you do this subconsciously when making a deck right now, but sometimes it actually helps to sit down and crunch the numbers. I know Ryan Vergel is the man when it comes to opening hand statistics and is constantly showing how starts can pan out. Because, as I’ve said multiple times, every card counts, you need to figure out what the probabilities of starting with certain cards are and when adding more of a type of card will not benefit you more than adding another card.
This is a basic principle in economics and life in general: eventually your utility of one thing gets high enough that it is more beneficial for you to buy (or add) something else to increase your overall utility more.
For example, you can run 40 consistency cards in your deck, but if you don’t have anything really significant to get with all those cards, your deck is going to fail. This is an extreme case of course, but it makes the point. You should be able to recognize when building a deck when enough consistency cards are enough and when too little is too little. Obviously there is some gray area in this respect, but it can be broken down mathematically to some degree. Run some probabilities on opening hands and you can pretty easily see how often you will be starting with card X or Y or both of them together, etc etc.
It’s a little bit harder to decide how many of cards that you don’t want immediately at the beginning of the game, but rather later in the game, as the math gets pretty messy. In these cases, you kind of just have to use intuition and testing to decide on the counts. Examples of these types of cards are Palmer’s Contribution, Warp Point, etc. Knowing what the counts for these kind of cards comes with time, practice, and experience.
Moving on to in game probabilities. This is again pretty ambiguous and varies with every situation. The general rule of thumb is to take into account EVERYTHING when determining the right move to make: the probability of you getting what you need off of card X or Y as well as the probability that your opponent has a response to your potential threat or what he could potentially do if you don’t get it, etc.
I was playing a game just yesterday that I lost because I needed an Energy to keep attacking, and didn’t have one. I had a four card hand with two Supporters in my hand: Judge and Cyrus’s Conspiracy. My opponent had a 7 card hand and was playing Luxchomp. Now, my deck ran 22 Energy, but I decided to use Cyrus anyway to make sure that I got the Energy. Now, was that a smart decision? No. Why not? Because putting a Luxchomp from a hand of 7(+1) to 4(+1) was a better decision, when the odds were heavily in my favor to draw an Energy off that Judge. These are the kind of situations that continually boggle and hold back players.
The ability to do quick estimation on the probabilities in games is often times the decision between winning and losing. Sometimes you’ll get unlucky and you won’t get what you need, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right play. More times than not, you will make the right play using probability.
wagnertcOur next point is to plan ahead! Simple enough, right? Wrong! I think a lot of players think they plan ahead well, but in reality they don’t. Many don’t realize that there are actually multiple phases of planning ahead, not just one.
In my opinion there are four major phases of planning: deck building phase (where you envision how your deck will play vs certain decks, pre-tournament, usually in concurrence with playtesting), when you realize what deck your opponent is playing (use testing knowledge and general prior knowledge to piece together a general game plan), when you are dealt your opening hand, and the first few turns of the game (lays a basis for the rest of the game and you might have to adjust your plan for this), and the rest of the game (plans have to constantly change to win, you should be planning multiple turns in advance as well as each turn while your opponent is going about his or her turn).
1. Deck building phase:
So this is where all of your testing and theorymon come into play. Before a tournament begins, you should know the general plan of your deck, what your optimal set up and eventual board looks like. You should also know what your deck is going to do vs other popular decks and how you are going to approach those matchups. If you don’t know the general plan of what you want to do, you’re not going to know what to do once the game actually starts.
2. Realize opponent’s deck/Early game:
Sometimes this stage comes before you even sit down from your opponent, while sometimes you’re not sure until a few turns of the game have gone by. Regardless, you need to create a mental picture in your mind about how you’re going to play the game. Once dealt your opening hand, it becomes easier and you can adjust depending on what you’re given. Take a second to envision how the matchup should play out based on your experience. Look at your hand and see what you can and can’t do with your hand AND what your opponent will be able to do.
Both of these are integral and depending on your opponent’s start your approach might be different. This goes back to my point from the beginner’s article, play to the situation.
3. Rest of the game:
Plan your turns in advance. Plan your turns in advance. Plan your turns in advance. I can’t stress this enough. If you’re making plays on a turn-to-turn basis, you’re going to lose to anyone who plans ahead. You don’t have to plan the whole game in front of you, but the next 2-3 turns at least should be sketched out in your mind. Especially in a fast format like we have right now, going simply for a KO every turn isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to need to plan your KO for next turn before you can go about your KO for this turn. If you don’t have the resources to keep up, you’re going to lose.
This is why planning ahead is so important. Who cares if you can waste three Poké Turns to grab an KO to go up in prizes when you give up the next three because your Bronzong got dragged up and sniped around. You have to plan for everything, and you should know roughly what you’re going to be doing in a couple turns and how you’re going to win.
4. Individual turns:
This is especially important if time is an issue while you’re playing, ie. the clock is winding down or you’re playing 2/3. While your opponent is taking his or her turn, look through your hand, discard pile, and board to see what plays you’re going to make next turn. You should have a general idea already, but go through the specifics in your head so you can go through the motions more quickly and more precisely when the turn is passed to you.
This not only saves time but also makes sure your moves are accurate and what you want to accomplish. This will also sometimes put your opponent on edge a bit, because it should be obvious that you’re thinking while your opponent is playing. It shows a level of confidence and sophistication to your opponent.
Even if you’re the best player in the world, you’re going to find yourself in losing situations. Whether it be a bad matchup or a slow start compared to an opponent’s great one, it will happen. In games like these you need to be able to recognize the times where you can mount a comeback.
Often mounting a comeback relies on one or two key plays that aren’t full-proof, but they are necessary. I find the difference between good players and great players, a lot of times, is the ability to recognize when to take a risk. You don’t want to do it too early but you can’t do it too late, either. There are usually clear opportunities that can you propel yourself back into the game with a little luck.
One of my favorite examples of this came from my good friend Sebastian Crema (Grandma Joner) in one of his tournament games a couple years ago. He was playing Flygon/Weavile and his opponent was using Gengar:
“By the time I finally got a Flygon he had multiple Gengars, and I had to make some important decisions. Usually, I do not even risk one ‘Fainting Spell’ in a single game, but I didn’t have a Weavile in play =/ and Uxie was prized so I couldn’t pull of the Flygon attack/next turn Uxie trick.
“I had to just swing with Flygon… he got tails. Heads, it was pretty much GG :/. Same thing continued, except next turn I did it with a Sableye for the KO…he got tails again. Either of these heads, he likely wins.”
He goes on to say…
“I think this was probably the luckiest game of Pokémon I have ever had. However, I give myself some minor credit for realizing that my normal strategies against Gengar (KO with Uxie or deck them) were not going to work at all so I did give myself a chance to win, albeit a small one, by risking the Fainting Spell flips.”
I think this is such a powerful example of what I mean. Here, Sebastian recognized that his normal strategy wasn’t going to work and he was going to have to take risks in order to stay in a fighting position in the game. He didn’t just go about his normal strategy and inevitably come up short in the long run – he changed his strategy and took the necessary risks, which led him to victory.
I don’t have much more to say about risks unfortunately, as I feel it is a skill that is developed through testing and playing a lot in tournaments. As you gain more experience, you’ll see when and when not to take risks.
Now that you’re a more advanced player, you should be playing in more and more top cuts, which means you are now venturing into the uncharted territory of match play. Let me first make an important point: 2/3 matches are much different than Swiss, single games.
Why is this the case? The most obvious reason is that you get more than one shot at beating your opponent, so the donk becomes less of a factor. I’ve played so many matches (especially in the most recent formats) where game one and game two are decided within 10-15 minutes and game three is the true show of who should be moving on. So, yes, this is significant.
In the first game of the match, you are able to see your opponent’s deck. Whether you win or lose, you will (likely) see a good chunk of their deck and therefore be able to construct a list in your head and know what to expect in the next game (or two). This is SO important in match play. This becomes even more of a factor now that we are allowed to take notes during games. You can see the techs your opponent has, how they play their deck, what counts they run, etc etc.
By game two and three, you should be able to make a pretty decent guess at what your opponent’s list is and use that knowledge against them. I know myself and other players can rattle off at least a solid skeleton of everyone we played against in top cut, whereas I can do that much less often from my Swiss games.
Time in match play is so much more important. With only 60 minutes to play up to three games, that’s an average of 20 minutes per game. Absurd! So knowing when to call it quits becomes increasingly important. A lot of newer players playing in top cut make the mistake of staying in a game one that’s going long that they realistically have a very small chance of winning. A skill that all the good players have is they know when they’re losing – they know when to concede, whether it be game one or game two.
It’s hard to get this skill down perfect, as it seems Play! Pokémon is constantly changing the rules for match play. Just a few years ago, if time was called on an incomplete game, the game didn’t count at all. Conceding was an art back then, and you had to concede early if you knew you weren’t going to lose. This unfortunately put a lot of emphasis on game one if it went a significant amount of time.
alancleaverIn more recent years, we have had the rule where if time is called on game two (or three), then one player had to have drawn four or more prizes for the game to be counted. This was a pretty balanced ruling, and still added significance to conceding. You still had to draw 4 Prizes for a game to count, which wasn’t easy if game one went 50 minutes.
At this moment, the ruling has been changed to that if any amount of prizes has been drawn in game two (or game three) then that game is counted. Now, anyone can see the problem in this ruling. If player A wins game one by taking 6 Prizes, player B could turn around, draw 1 Prize in game two and time is called. Sudden death and player B wins, drawing a total of 2 Prizes to win the match. Clearly this is a bad ruling and takes away from the art of conceding and managing time correctly.
There will be more discussion on this new rule certainly, but for this article, conceding is certainly affected by this change. Fast decks (hint, hint: SP) will love this change, as a game that they should be conceding, they won’t. They’ll drag the game out until the other player has legitimately won the game, then win two small games because they are faster.
Moving on… one thing that a lot of players newer to playing 2/3 is the prestige factor. Yes, you’re among the best players at that tournament! Don’t get cocky, though, and more importantly, don’t get nervous. You’re there for a reason – you’re good! Play calmly, don’t let nerves get the best of you. It is quite an experience playing top cut matches in high-level tournaments, and the adrenaline definitely pumps through you (at least it does for me!), but I make sure that I’m calm and I keep thinking rationally.
I’m sure someone could write an article solely on playing in the top cut, so I’ll leave it at that for this point.
Well, that’s all I got folks. As the season progresses, I’ll be sure to take notes on both things newer players and more advanced players can improve on that might not seem too obvious and share those with you all. Till next time!
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