The Competitive Pokémon Player’s Toolbox for Success

Tom here again, this time with a slightly different style of article. Instead of a deck or card analysis I’m going to talk about how to become a successful Pokémon TCG player and maintain that standing in a competitive environment.

Having been playing the Pokémon TCG for nearly 5 years now, I have noticed a lot of differences between the normal players you see at low to mid-level tournaments such as Battle Roads or Cities and the players that play at World Championship level.

Again and again we tend to see the same faces cropping up in the Pokémon TCG community from their increasingly long list of achievements such as Jason Klaczynski, Stephen Silvestro, Alex Brosseau, Con Le, Sami Sekkoum, Tsuguyoshi Yamato, and Chris Fulop to name just a few. These players consistently perform well at events to establish themselves as excellent players and are regarded as names you’d avoid wanting to be paired against at a tournament.

So how do these people do it? What’s their secret to success? Well I’m going to explain to the best of my knowledge the key principles in gaining that competitive edge over everyone else.

Anticipation and Adaptability

The first subject that I’m going to talk about is that of anticipation and adaptability. Being prepared in the Pokémon TCG, both mentally and deck-wise is essential for consistent success.

Having the ability to predict the moves of your opponent will make it a great deal easier to make the correct play and not misplay into losing games so often. Like a chess player, a good Pokémon TCG player will have his turns planned out 2-3 turns in advance, rather than just playing as he goes turn by turn. Winning the prize “trade off” is essentially what the TCG revolves around, and being able to predict in advance of the turns playing out what will happen puts you in a superior strategic position and you can adapt your moves accordingly.

An example of this may be taking out an opponent’s Pokémon that doesn’t seem like a direct threat to your side of the field at present, but could well manifest itself into a game losing hazard in future turns, such as a Horsea before it becomes a Kingdra.

Being able to anticipate your metagame is an integral part of succeeding in the long run. Making the right deck choice for a tournament makes your life a whole lot easier by default as you gain a statistical edge before the match even starts.

A common pitfall that a lot of players fall into is playing the deck that they think is the best, regardless of what everyone else is playing at the tournament. For example, deciding to play Steelix in a field of Blaziken FB LV.X is not going to end well for you, regardless of how good the deck is versus other decks in the format.

By having the forsesight to anticipate what you think you may see at a tournament better players tend to prepare by changing or “teching” their deck in order to overcome difficulties they may face when playing against a deck with a less than favorable matchup. However when the player base as a whole discovers the “tech” card to be commonplace in the format, astute players keep ahead of the rest of the field by adapting their play style and deckbuild to anticipate the trend of the metagame.

Such an example would be when Garchomp C LV.X was released in the Supreme Victors expansion. It swiftly found its way into many SP decks because of its “Dragon Rush” attack and the ability to heal all Pokémon SP that you have in play with his Poké-Power. Due to the popularity of the card players took the initiative to adapt their SP builds to incorporate Ambipom G from Platinum. For 2 C energy (or one and an Energy Gain) Garchomp C LV.X could be one shot KO’d after being hit by Snap Attack due to weakness.

Before the release of the HGSS set, which reprinted Double Colorless energy , Garchomp C LV.X would not usually have more than 2 energy attached before using Dragon Rush as doing so would require 3 or more energy drops designated solely to use the attack. A lot of players hadn’t anticipated the utilisation of Ambipom G, and as a result, were caught out by the players who had the forethought to do so.

As the format evolved and Double Colorless energy was released, more and more players were using decks including Garchomp C LV.X because DCE made the dragon Pokémon faster and stronger. With the potential to Dragon Rush out of almost nowhere, and it becoming more realistic the to have more than 2 energy on a Garchomp C LV.X without overextending your resources, Ambipom G was less useful as a tech card as it had lost its element of surprise and could only hit for 40 damage with weakness; not the deadly tech card it used to be.

However, astute players began to put Dragonite FB into their decks to 1HKO a Garchomp C LV.X regardless of energies attached as well as being able to KO non leveled up Pokémon SP such as Luxray GL and Blaziken FB which were prevalent in the format at the time.

After time, it seems as if the format has gone full-circle as I’m tending to see a lot more 3/1 lines of Garchomp C in Luxchomp decks. When I ask “Why 3/1 split over 2/2?” a lot of players respond with that it’s to provide more threats to Dragonite FB, due to Dragonite’s x2 weakness to Garchomp and that it allows for a more consistent start.

Coming up with techs and counter strategies to the metagame is crucial in staying one step ahead of the competition, and is reflected by great players from high level tournaments. Here are a few moments of Pokémon TCG history where predicting the metagame and adapting to counter it yielded huge success.

Jason Klaczynski – Pokémon TCG World Championships 2008 1st Place: Jirachi-EX / Jolteon*
In Orlando in 2008, Jason Klaczynski won Worlds with his “Psychic Lock” deck. With the addition of Jolteon* he was able to beat his top 4 opponent Gino Lombardi (the U.S National Champion that year) by scoring a 1HKO on Gino’s Gardevoir LV.X with Jolteon*’s “Yellow Star” Poké-Power.

He also played Jirachi-EX as he predicted a lot of mirror matches throughout the tournament. Jirachi-EX acted as a backup attacker to maintain the power lock on his opponents, while allowing for the utilisation of his Scramble energy to be maximised. This is because when Jirachi-EX got KO’d, it gave the opponent 2 Prize cards instead of the regular 1, which would have made Scramble Energy more useful and usable for the Gardevoir & Gallade.

These techs really paid off as Jason won every match he played against mirror and went on to win the entire tournament! You can read his full report.

beedrill-rising-rivals-rr-15pokemon-paradijs.comStephen Silvestro – Pokémon TCG World Championships 2009 1st Place: Beedrill with Luxray GL LV.X & Crobat G
2009 was certainly a surprising year with regard to Pokémon. The 2009 World Champion title was taken by a deck that was certainly not expected or even widely played on the tournament scene at that point.

At that time the format was full of Luxray GL LV.X / Infernape 4 LV.X , Flygon LV.X , Gengar SF, Machamp SF, Dialga G & Palkia G lock. Steve went against the grain and opted for a rogue choice that ultimately paid off!

Beedrill was an extremely underplayed deck at the time, (I say extremely as it was the only one in the whole Masters division at Worlds that year) as it was considered inferior to other decks due to its reliance on having Beedrill in play to do substantial damage.

From the release of Rising Rivals, a lot of players were understandably getting hyped about incredibly playable cards being introduced to the format (e.g. Flygon LV.X & Luxray GL LV.X) and the format was shaped around these groundbreaking cards, as a few were overlooked. The card relevant in this case is no other than Beedrill from that very set.

His Poké-Power “Flutter Wings” in combination with the card Night Maintenance gave a Beedrill deck the necessary recovery in order to keep up steady offensive power required to win games.

By incorporating the Rising Rivals Beedrill as well as a mini SP engine (Cyrus’s Conspiracy, Pokéturn, SP radar, Luxray GL LV.X, Crobat G) Steve was able to gust up what target he wanted to hit for an obscene amount of damage as well as have the capacity to drop that extra 10 damage on the field with Crobat G’s “Flash bite” Poké-power to snag those KOs just out of reach normally.

Steve’s ingenuity at effectively re-inventing a deck by adding the SP engine gave him the ability to win games he may not have otherwise won and took his deck to the top.

Yuta Komatsuda – Pokémon TCG World Championships 2010 1st Place: Luxchomp with Dialga G LV.X & Professor Oak’s New Theory
The most recent World Championship in Hawaii was won by Yuta Komatsuda of Japan. He played an off the wall variant of Luxchomp. Anxious of prevalent Trainer lock caused by Spiritomb (Arceus) and the potential to lose games outright to Mewtwo LV.X’s Psybarrier, Yuta decided to adapt his deck to cope with these undesirable matchups by playing Dialga G LV.X. His Poké-body stops all Non Pokémon SP Poké-bodies from working, making the aforementioned cards less useful.

Envisaging a great deal of Gardevoir Gallade to be played, Yuta incorporated 3 copies of Professor Oak’s new theory into his build. I believe he chose this card above other shuffle-draw cards (Judge / Copycat / Looker’s Investigation / Cynthia’s feelings) to refresh a diminished power locked hand as well as not to put a card that would benefit his opponent to a substantial degree in the discard pile allowing for it to be “Telepassed” by the opponent’s Gardevoir.

As you can see, for the last 3 years the World Champion’s decklist included cards that were not considered by the average player, and certainly weren’t regarded as a standard deck builds of their respective decks. Inventiveness and the scope for creativity helped these players scrap their way to take home the crown. By the rest of the field not knowing how to “combat the unknown” in the form of alternative strategies, players were caught off-guard and found that it’s a lot more difficult to anticipate what you’re not prepared for. This leads me on to my next subject…..

Preparation & Practice

Are we talking about practice???

Exceptional Pokémon players don’t just drop out of the sky. It takes time and dedication. Players such as Chris Fulop & Jason Klaczynski have been playing since Pokémon rolled onto the scene in 1999. There are simply so many tricks and tips you pick up after that length of time which makes them among others in the top 1% of Pokémon players worldwide. The lesson here is simple; with practice you will become a better player.

However, the term “practice” or “testing” is loosely thrown around nowadays on Pokémon forums and websites. Some deck builders will come up with matchups they have found to be reflective of their testing, but isn’t a true reflection of its potential.

I was once told by a wise Pokémon player only to playtest with players of equal or a higher level of skill than you. Testing sessions with worse players than yourself usually yield inaccurate results as they misplay more often and may not have a grasp of the intricate strategy of more complicated decks. By playing against these players, you don’t learn how to cope with more difficult and compromising situations, limiting your growth as a player as a whole.

I say this from personal experience. Way back in 2007, I didn’t even make the cut at UK Nationals. This was mainly due to the playerbase I had around me at the time and their quality of play being below average. I was unprepared for decks I had never even heard of and ended the tournament at a disappointing 3-3.

Over the next year I spent more and more time in the company of Sami Sekkoum, who I’m sure as many of you know has an impressive tournament record to say the least. After just playing a few games with him, it allowed me to learn so many more in depth tactics and play styles in order to beat the competition. That year I placed 3rd at UK Nationals, having only Sami and his brother Yacine placing higher than me in the Masters division.

Deck Building and Thinking Outside the Box

One overriding theme that was repeated by Sami when I was learning the ropes was how important consistency is when deck building. He made me learn that there’s no point having all these fancy cards in my deck unless I had a reliable way of searching them out. As time went on I was able to consistently build decks that achieved the results that I wanted to get. By keeping your deck consistent, it maximizes your chances of getting set up quickly, and being able to press an early offensive more often.

Experimenting and personalizing your deck helps you fine-tune your style of play as you will get to learn the inner workings of a deck before you take it to a tournament. For example, referring back to earlier when I was talking about 2/2 Garchomp C LV.X versus a 3/1, players tend to come to a decision after a significant amount of testing. Great players will play what they feel most comfortable with regard to their play style.

I personally prefer 2/2 Garchomp C LV.X in my Luxchomp at the moment as it allows for a larger number of fully established attackers as well as making for an easier game against Gengar / Vileplume.

A rookie mistake is to read a list online that has a prestigious builder behind it and take it for gospel. Players then build the deck and don’t tend to change it much because they think the list is perfect anyway. Most players that do this however, won’t have an underlying understanding for the deck, and will more often than not, misplay as a result of the lack of expertise and lose more games than they expect. This is not the player you want to be. You want to be the player with the deck that other people copy the list for.

An amusing instance that I found out about recently was that of someone copying one of my decklists. Last season, during State Championships, I ran Luxchomp at the London tournament. I accidently wrote down “Expert Belt x2” on my decklist twice, while forgetting to put down “Premier Ball x2” once. This was discovered upon deck-check and I was forced to run the 4 Expert belts in Luxchomp with no Premier balls.

Luckily, there was a lot of Jumpluff and Gyarados at the tournament, which the Expert Belts helped me combat and thanks to a lot of luck (and skill) I ended up getting 2nd, losing to mirror in the finals.

I found out at a City Championship last week that someone had actually copied my list with 4 Expert Belts in it after seeing this thread on the Pokégym. He played 4 Expert Belts in his Luxchomp at a Battle Road this year, and promptly got rolled by better players.

Not understanding the comments on the forum were of a sarcastic nature, he believed the list was good solely because I played it, and as a consequence, suffered a poor tournament record by not having constructed the deck himself. It’s all very well and good to use resources and lists that you have access to, but to blindly follow them with little or no understanding will result in subpar tournament results in the long run.

Try and invent your own decks. By throwing together different strategies and concepts you can attempt to succeed in countering the current metagame climate by formulating original ideas that may have been completely overlooked by everyone else.

gyarados-stormfront-sf-19pokemon-paradijs.comThe best example of when an unknown deck took a tournament by storm was at Worlds 2009 in San Diego…

Fabien Garner of France surprised the 2009 tournament with Gyarados, eventually finishing the tournament in 5th position. With a deck that was unknown to the majority of competitors, Fabien was able to combat the metagame at the time and establish the deck as an archetype that is still a widely played deck to this day. The cards needed to build a Gyarados deck had been in the format since State Championships that year, but had simply been undiscovered until Worlds.

By honing all the above skills, it clearly defines an average player from an expert on the tournament scene. It’s imperative to remember to be persistent. Maybe a deck idea didn’t yield the result you would have hoped, but you thought had potential. Don’t give up on it if you believe it has proven to counter a lot of decks but had gotten unlucky in that tournament as a result of some closely fought losses. Addressing these problems rather than scrapping a deck entirely due to one undesirable showing could be unwise.

Take the instance of Stephen Silvestro’s Beedrill deck from 2009. He managed to achieve Top 32 at US Nationals with the deck, which in itself is a great accomplishment. However, he still believed it was good enough to win the World Championship after he lost with it. Through tweaking and persevering to make the deck better and better, he was able to bring home the gold later on that year in San Diego.

In Summary

– Anticipate what problems you may face in a tournament
– Adapt to those problems in order to beat your opponents
– Practice and prepare to gain a deeper understanding of the inner working of a deck to play it at a higher competitive level
– Build well structured, consistent decks while thinking outside the box by having new twists on ideas, or creating completely new deck concepts

I hope you enjoyed reading, and I hope you readers at SixPrizes have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tom H.

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