‘Tis The Season: Finding the Perfect Deck for City Championships

I pity the fool who doesn’t have as much bling as me!

Can you feel it? The time is near and the season is changing, it’s soon to be the most wonderful time of the year! A time of giving, caring, and celebration, our favorite season is about to begin!

That is, if by “giving” you mean “giving a beatdown”, by “caring” you mean “caring for your prize packs to make sure your cards won’t be damaged”, and by “celebration” you mean “celebrating your wins by wearing more medals around your neck than Mr. T”.

For us Pokémon players, we get not only the joy of (insert wintertime holiday here), but also the joys of City Championships—arguably the most important series of tournaments for the competitive tcg player. Why is that? Well, the City Championships have a K-Value of 16 (this is part of the rating system used to determine player rankings). What a K-Value of 16 means, is that your ranking will go up about 8 points for every evenly-matched opponent you play, with that number being higher or lower based on your opponent’s own rating.

Let’s put those points into perspective—remember Battle Roads? Those events have a K-Value of 4, meaning they are just ¼ the strength of a cities. Cities also aren’t so far off from the “big” tournaments like States, Regionals, and Nationals, each with a K-Value of 32. Doing well at City Championships is often the most crucial way for a player to get their ticket into the Worlds invites. If Worlds is a dream of yours, remember—your only ways to make it in are 1) through high rating 2) getting top 4 at nationals or 3) doing extremely well at the “grinder”, the last chance qualifying tournament right before worlds at the on-site location. Getting in through rating is by far the most reasonable and most-attainable way to go.

Now, I know many of you are here to be as competitive as can be, but that still might not mean that you’re all stressing over Worlds rankings. However, there’s still great incentive to do your best! Third and Fourth place at a CC earns you 4 packs—the same prize as first or second at a Battle Road. Second place earns you 10 packs, and first place earns you a whopping 16 packs—about $50 of Pokémon product—along with a physical medal that you can keep as a reminder of your success. Not to mention, there’s the simple satisfaction of knowing you’re one of the best players in the area!

So with all the promise and prestige on the line, chances are you’re coming to win. I’m not saying that you should pout or throw a fit if you don’t win (even the best of the best miss top cuts at Cities, you know!), but you should aspire to do your best with the cards available to you.

This article aims to help you guys in your deck selection, as well as add some more general pointers on metagaming. City Championships is a great time to get ahead, and mastering your best potential deck is highly recommended as soon as possible!

A lot of us are in different boats as far as our deck preferences. Some of us have a strong handle on a single deck and know that one deck so well inside-out that they have a very hard time dropping it. Others have a good handle on most big decks and have a hard time deciding which deck to take. And then there’s some who have absolutely no idea what to take or what to learn. We all vary in different levels of experience with our decks, and I’ll try to guide everyone to a good CC season despite the very different backgrounds of each player.

To begin, I want to share one very very important tip that should act as your foundation in developing player skill, and that is:


Being the best at your deck is more important than playing the best deck.

Having an extensive knowledge of a deck, its setup, every single card you run, ideal ways to react to a specific situation, etc. Mastery of a deck can take a sub-par deck a LONG way. For example, at Nationals 2009, Alex Brosseau (possibly my favorite Pokémon TCG player of all time) took a deck that wasn’t to the top 16 at Nationals and earned himself a Worlds invite. Here’s an excerpt from his report:

“After a few more DLP games, I decided I just couldn’t go through with it; not enough testing. I told Ness, Moss, and Alvis that I would be playing Kingdra, and they BEGGED me not to, saying it was horrible and didn’t beat anything, BUT it was the deck I played all season, I was super confident with my list, and I figured I could outplay my opponents in my bad matchups. Agaisnt their advice, I printed out my Kingdra list, and went to bed around midnight ready to wake up for the 2009 National Championships”

You can read the rest of his report here: http://pokegym.net/forums/showthread.php?t=103953

Another example from Brosseau is in 2006, when he took “Rock Lock” for another season , despite most players giving up on it after 2005. He played his way up to top 8 in Worlds that next year.

I can’t stress this tip enough. Mastery is more important than matchups at the end of the day. Too often I see new players find out that Luxchomp is winning every event, then they order their $75 Luxray and $100 SP engine, only to go 2-3 or 3-2 at the next tournament. What went wrong? They’re trying to play (arguably) the most complicated deck in the format right off the bat!

At Underground, we can give you lists, insight, and matchups, but developing comfort with your deck is up to you. Keep testing all the matchups you can and keep learning!

You know that you want to master a deck… why not master the best deck in the game, Luxchomp? Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy. Even Eric Nance, who took Luxchomp all the way to 2nd place at last year’s US Nationals opted for a new deck at Worlds when he began to doubt his ability with Luxchomp. It’s a hard deck to play, and a harder deck to master.

So, while I recommend every player who has the cards to test out Luxchomp, I also highly recommend giving yourself options to find that right deck for you.

Finding the Right Deck for You

You and your deck should feel some chemistry, like Bert and Ernie.

For some people, finding the deck they like the best means building everything and constantly testing every matchup. That’s ideal, but not everybody has the time, cards, or effort to slowly pick out a favorite out of every available deck. This method (testing everything) is the ideal/time consuming/exhausting/expensive method.

However, if you’re trying to balance other time consuming activities (school, clubs, work, etc) while trying to hone in on your ideal deck, I suggest trying two other methods. The first is picking a deck out by its playstyle, and the second is picking a deck by matchups. I’ll outline both methods here and you can determine which one is right for you.

Picking a Deck by Its “Feel”
This might sound like such an amateur way to make a complicated decision, but it’s really not. If you play a deck by a style that you like, you will actually ENJOY your games and testing—thus helping you actually WANT to get better. There is nothing more boring than playing a deck that is “the best” but hating it. I was never able to play Luxchomp even just once last season because I didn’t like the feel of the deck at all. While my relationship with Lux is getting better, I’m pretty much glued to the disruptive style that Sablock offers, and I enjoy working with that deck much more.

What kinds of “styles” for a deck are there, and how can you pick one? Just read these upcoming descriptions, and you should know which one sounds the most appealing to you by instinct!

The Speed Demon
The “Speed Demon” is a deck that hinges on high consistency and well. . . speed. Usually with just one main attacker and one way to setup, the deck focuses on grabbing a competitive edge within the first few turns of the game. You’ll usually be drawing lots of cards early on, burning through a solid engine to get all of your main pieces into play as quickly as possible.

For some people, the feel of burning through your 60 card deck as quickly as possible to get an early advantage creates a Pokémon “high” like no other. These kinds of decks also offer the chance of winning within the first few turns, which means less time thinking, more time relaxing and snacking in-between rounds.

Popular Speed Demon Decks: Kingdra, Charizard, Donphan, Machamp, Jumpluff

Slow Start
“Slow Start” (named after a Poké-Body that Regigigas has in the video games) is the absolute opposite to the Speed Demon. It’s a deck built on the idea that by setting up a little slower (and often forcing your opponent to your level of speed), you can overcome your opponent in due time. The Slow Start offers a more easygoing level of pace, and allows you to comfortably win games when your deck’s combo or strategy is complete. With a pretty straightforward strategy and a little bit less stress on the mind, the Slow Start is very appealing for some.

Popular Slow Start Decks: Vilegar, Magnezone, Steelix

The Powerhouse

With 150 HP and healing power, Regigigas can be difficult to take down once it sets up.

Often a direct relative or a close cousin to the setup deck, the Powerhouse is all about getting that huge attack off. It’s about enabling that one attack your deck has that can go into the triple-digits with its attack power, and keeping that attack up all day. There’s something about hitting for colossal damage that just rocks—you feel unstoppable! While sometimes getting to that high level of power takes longer than other decks, the reward often outweighs the risk.

Popular Powerhouse Decks: Regigigas, Steelix, Gyarados, Machamp (Prime), Scizor

The Tank
The tank often goes hand in hand with the Slow Start or the Powerhouse—together they make a nice little family. The tank is for players who want to beat their opponents out of sheer frustration and crush their ability to mount a victory. There’s something about being able to heal or deplete all of the hard work your opponent has made, just to remain without a scratch and continue your attacks. Being a tank also comes with a kind of comforting feeling, knowing that for the most part, your main attacker won’t be in trouble that often. Sometimes defense is the best offence!

Popular Tank Decks: Steelix, Scizor, Regigigas, Donphan, Dialgachomp

The Technician
For some people, a one-track deck just doesn’t do it for them. They want all the options at once, and the ability to adapt to a specific situation at anytime. Technician decks cover a lot of bases, and allow for less auto-losses at the cost of less auto-wins. They require a high level of active thought, and often lead to very long and stressful games, but mastering a technician deck could leave you with one of the best decks the game has to offer.

Popular Technician Decks: Luxchomp, Dialgachomp, Sablock, Chenlock, Magnezone

The Lock
The Lock takes ideas from the tank and takes them to the next level. Instead of letting your opponent remain useless after developing their full strategy, the lock stops your opponent cold before they can even get that strategy going. Usually a pretty intellectual deck, The Lock is the kind of play that a computer hacker would prefer. Even if your opponent finds a way to break your lock, you’ve often scored too high of a lead for them to catch back up to you. (My personal favorite.)

Popular Lock Decks: Sablock, Chenlock, Vilegar, Regigigas

If you’re completely undecided and haven’t narrowed your focus yet, pick your poison and start working with it! Is it the most sound tactic ever developed? No, but it’s a great way to narrow your focus when you’re caught in a sea of different decks. You can then use your knowledge from the upcoming section to hone your new deck for the metagame.

A Side Note: Going Rogue

Bzzz… be wary of going rogue during cities.

Many players, more new than old, are compelled to make their own original deck. They want to be unique and shine out amongst the rest, and it’s hard to blame them. I think every player at some point has wanted to be the innovator for a deck idea. However, as far as competitive play in City Championships goes, I do not recommend trying to play rogue decks. Why?

Skill. It takes an incredibly dedicated and experienced player to make competitive rogue decks. Steven Silvestro is one of them—he won Worlds with his unique Luxray/Beedrill deck in 2009, and the concept for Sablock that he popularized during States last year ended up winning Nationals. We are not all Steven Silvestros, as much as we want to be.

Cities isn’t the best time to reveal rogues. If your deck is truly a secret competitive deck that can take down a popular metagame, cities is not the place to expose it to the public. Word spreads fast on the internet, and once a rogue list does well, it’s usually discovered within a week or so tops. It’s better to save your very best ideas for States and beyond. If you do decide to go rogue this City Championship season and it ends up leading to several City Championship wins, I would be extremely impressed and I apologize for telling you to keep the idea under wraps.

Many of the very best players don’t play rogue and do just fine. Look at Sami Sekkoum, who got top 8 at Worlds last year, 2nd at Worlds the year before, 16th the year before that, etc. In fact, Sami has gotten top 32 or better at every year of Worlds except 2006—a completely impressive feat. Sekkoum relies on his in game strategy alone to win his tournaments, and often gets extensive help building his decks from his testing partners. You can still be an amazing player without innovating anything.

I really recommend sticking to one of the 10-15 or so archetypes that are available to your metagame right now. The metagame is actually becoming much more diverse with the release of Triumphant, and while SP is still a great deck, there are plenty of great choices that can perform well. Speaking of the metagame . . .

Picking a Deck by Your Metagame

In my first article on SixPrizes Underground (The Bible on Luxchomp), I mentioned a section about metagaming, scouting, and figuring out the decks of your area. I highly recommend that you read this over, because I believe the tactics I’ve listed there are some of the best in grabbing a full grasp on your area metagame.

To paraphrase it if you’re too bored to read more than the article here: it is extremely important in understanding your area metagame. Good tactics for gathering this information are playing in your local league, grabbing information from PokéGym’s “What won Battle Roads” thread (be sure to check the City Championships section too as things develop!), and by scouting an event live before things start.

After collecting information the best you can, it’s time to use your information in determining the best deck for your area. In order to do this you need to know. . .

General Matchups

Here is a chart that I’ve developed that relates RELATIVE matchups for the top 13 most popular decks coming into City Championships. There’s a lot I want to say about this before you guys get the wrong idea, so here’s a couple of ground rules:

  • To use this chart, select the deck you want to play from a row on the left, and then pair it with a matchup with a column from the top. The percentage shown is your general chance of winning.
  • This list assumes unteched decklists—just straight up cookie cutter builds.
  • Matchups that say 50% are actually anything from 45 to 55%–the 50% is just used to explain that the matchup is close to even
    These matchups are not perfect—almost no matchups put up in percentages like this are. This is just a tool for you guys to use to get a general feel for how decks play out against eachother. I test a LOT of decks and a LOT of games, but that doesn’t mean that I have all these numbers down. Feel free to debate the numbers, but just remember this is JUST A GUIDE, and not a straight up 100% accurate listing
  • The decks chosen were the top performers during our battle road season. There are other decks left off the list, such as Nidoking and Steelix, which have potential, but I don’t believe them to have a big enough presense for the sake of this chart.
  • Some decks, like Arceus and Mew Prime, are too untested for me to name matchups. If I did, they’d just be a shot in the dark, and I’d just be misleading you guys. Everything else on here has been tested by me pretty extensively. Have I tested all possible 163 matchups here? No, but again, this is just a guide to help you guys out. Things on here should be at least accurate enough to guide your deck making in the right direction.
  • The Kingdra matchups are assuming the list is running 2 Kingdra LA and 2 Kingdra Prime.
  • If you want to play a deck but are not sure how it runs, give a look through Underground as well as regular SixPrizes for a place to start. Underground has written on 7 of these decks, and I know that there are plans amongst UG members to write for at least 2 more of these decks in recent time.

Without further ado, here’s my matchup chart:

It took me a while to put this together, and I hope it helps you out! Here’s how to use this list:

Look over the list, print it out if possible, and look at the 13 decks. Put a star next to the ones that you know are very popular, and draw a vertical line crossing out columns for decks that you will rarely or never see in your area. Look over the matchups for the different decks that exist, and pick one of two kinds of decks/playstyles:

1. A deck that has solid matchups against the entire field. This is the playstyle of Kyle Sucevich, who placed top 4 at Nationals last year and is 2009 US National Champion. By covering all of your bases, you can rely on your sole ability with a deck to win your matchups. Is there a deck that’s popular in your metagame that’s a problem for your deck? Find a way to tech against it if this is your strategy.

While I can’t go over teching in this article, it’s definitely a topic I’ll consider in the future. In the meantime, you can always ask for help teching here in the Underground Forums and we’ll be happy to assist you! As always, try and make your tech as effective as possible while taking up the least space. If you’re unsure of how to do that, we’ll be here to help you out.

2. A deck with strong matchups against popular decks/decks run by the best players in your area. Chris Fulop brought this point up in his recent article about Machamp. Some decks have such a good matchup against the top decks that they are hard to ignore. Take for example (to again draw of Chris’ statement), Machamp. Machamp faces a near auto-loss to Vilegar and a poor Gyarados matchup, but it has the best comprehensive anti-SP matchups by far. If your metagame is heavily SP saturated, it could possibly be a better idea to risk the losses in turn for the easy wins against SP. The matchup is so good that it could win you a game that you would have normally lost vs. a highly skilled player.

I could be a GREAT or TERRIBLE play depending on your metagame.

This deckbuilding style would try to ignore your negative matchups and instead focus on keeping your strong ones. You have to always keep your metagame in mind for this, though. Let’s say your metagame is an exact 50-50 split between SP and Vilegar. This would probably be a bad metagame for Machamp, where half of your potential games are near auto-losses.

This playing style is best for metagames that are dominated by 1-2 decks, and the first is better for metagames that are more diverse. Either way, both are good ways to go about your strategy, and it doesn’t hurt to play things both ways to see which works better.

For example, I gave the matchups for straight Kingdra. They don’t look that great though, do they? The worse than average match against SP builds is a huge setback, so how could we fix it? The common pairing is Kingdra/Machamp, which attempts to use the best of both worlds with the decks in order to have a much more even chance against the field.

Now unfortunately, not all decks pair as well with a Machamp line than others do, but that doesn’t mean to ignore your possible options! For example, Michael Pramawat ran a 1-0-1 Machamp counter in his Gardevoir/Gallade deck at Worlds and finished 2nd place (and I do not kid you when I say he was VERY close to winning it all). I didn’t think a Machamp counter in a slow deck like GG was a very good idea, but it still worked out for him. Sometimes a small tech is all it needs to improve a rougher spot in a matchup.

Wrapping It All Up

I know that not all of this material is groundbreaking to the experienced player, but I hope you all took something from it. Nothing is more important than getting comfortable with a deck that you enjoy, as well as understanding strong decks for your area. For this upcoming City Championship season, I encourage you all to find the deck that’s right for you.

Have a great weekend, and good luck during cities! The 6P staff will always be here to assist you with any fixes you require over this important series of tournaments. Hopefully you’ll emerge this season with a couple packs, a few medals, and the respect from your area as a top player.


…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

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