Bracing for 32K: Tips on Maximizing Your Season

With City Championships over and prereleases imminent, the number one question entering most competitive players’ minds is “where do I go from here?”

To the 2011 World Championships?

…Or how about the $300 travel stipend and trophy for winning your State/Regional/Provincial?

…Or $1,500 in scholarship at either a North American Regional or an international championship event? Yeah, sounds good too!

You could have a lot of goals for the next leg of the premier tournament season, but regardless of what you’re aiming for, it’s crucial to keep in mind a few crucial factors as to how to move forward with your season. Such factors are tips and explanations of:

1) How to assess where you are at this point in the season;
2) Advice on how to fix your season if it is flailing/how to maintain momentum in a successful season; and
3) General principles to keep in mind as the season progresses, no matter where you are, or what your goals are.

As you can tell, today’s focus is going to be related to long-term principles, rather than to any particular deck, tech, or single card strategy. Whether reading these points for leisure, for self-help, or for the help of another, the unconditional pointers should be universally applicable, and the conditional pointers should be reasonably relatable.

All of these tips have worked for me firsthand, so I hope they work for you too: I’ve had seasons where my success remained consistent from City Championships until Worlds; I’ve had other seasons where I had great successes sandwiched by great failures (and vice-versa); and I’ve had some seasons where luck and ill-preparedness forced me to recover my season with Hail Maries.

In short, I’ve been there, and am speaking straight from experience on this.

Before we go further, we have one elephant in the room that has to be cleared up…

Why is Now the Time to Adjust Your Game Plan?

– The competition is going to spike. In most metagames, the competitiveness of Battle Roads, Cities, States, Regionals, and Nationals ascend with each new step, considering that more prestigious events draw more challengers coming into to compete with you as the season goes on.

– The prizes are much more significant. Up until now, we’ve been playing for relatively low stakes, such as packs of medals; however, States and beyond all feature significant monetary prizes, from as little as $300, to as much as $7,500. Furthermore, you’ll have more potential product to win, as well as prestige on the line for the big events.

– For all intents and purposes, Battle Roads and Cities are little tournaments: if you skipped any of these events, or otherwise did poorly in them, then changing course at this point in the season should save your prospects for whatever seek to do.

– Battle Roads and Cities are incapable of satisfying some players’ goals on their own. For example, if your goal is top cutting a major event, then neither of these event series will do you any good. Furthermore, their 4K and 16K statuses are usually not enough to set most people up for Worlds invites.

(Editor’s Note: For anyone who is unfamiliar with K values and the Elo System, you can read more about it here. Basically when you play a match at a City Championship, there are 16 rating points “in play” because Cities are 16K tournaments. States are 32K and it goes up even higher for Regionals and Nationals.

If you and your opponent have the exact same rating when you play at Cities, you can either win 8 rating points, or lose 8 ratings points. If there is a discrepancy between you and your opponent’s rating, you could for example win 6 ratings points with a win, but lose 10 with a loss. This would mean you have a higher rating than your opponent.

Conversely, your opponent would be able to gain 10 ratings points with a win, but lose only 6 with a loss. I hope that all makes sense, if you have any questions, just comment in the forums.)

With that out of the way, let’s proceed to…

1. How to Assess Where You are Right Now

johnlehman.netAll four of my following sub-points are likely to be fairly obvious, but my elaboration on each one may not be. With these in mind, you should have a fairly clear idea of where you stand at this crucial point in the season: if you’re doing several of these things already, then you should (hopefully) be on the way to a great season, and if you’re not, then I suggest you begin incorporating them into your overall game plan – before, during, and after the rounds.

Event Preparedness

Got your sleep? Own all the cards you need? Are you well-tested? Taking all of the measures you need to avoid getting into pre-event issues is pivotal to your success for the 32K-level tournaments.


Consider this section the “unreveal,” as it only scratches the surface of a very large issue. No analysis in this short spot could possibly do the subject of in-game skill complete justice: when you boil it down, it’s the most genuinely complex element to our game, and always will be.

I’ll elaborate on this issue in the next two sections; however, let’s try to benchmark your playing somewhat:

  • Amount of misplays: How often do you blatantly misplay? Is it once a move? Once a game?
  • Degree of misplay: of the mistakes that you make in any given game, how many of them are clearly fatal to your cause?
  • Ability to “read” the opponent: are you aware of where your opponent is looking? What he’s thinking? How honest these appearances (facades) may truly be?
  • Mind games: are you considering the tertiary element of games, where you can “play” the game without playing, or inversely get played yourself? Check out my Mind Game article for considerations here, or Tom Hall’s most recent article for some supplementary ideas.

Your answers to these questions should give you a very distinct idea of where you stand right now as far as core competency goes.

Deck/Card/Metagame Choices

– How logical/impulsive were you in your decisions? Did you make many last-minute tech decisions that were ultimately useless, or just outright silly? Conversely, did these work well for you?

At a recent City Championship on New Year’s Eve, I made a very good tech play in Dialgachomp: Twins, which is proven in Luxchomp already, works even better for this deck, as it makes it even easier to tank Dialga as a result.

However…I made a very poor tech decision, too: Technical Machine TS-2. The biggest difference between these two choices was that one, Twins, was made with certainty, clarity, and good logic; the other, TS-2, was a spur-of-the-moment decision to try fixing my Gyarados matchup.

While I felt like it actually “did” some good against it, I felt like the space was wasted over something that could have worked better.

– What about your choice for general deck concept – were you playing archetypes for no good reason other than “it just looks good,” or decided to play a theoretical rogue that just didn’t work in practice?

Due to all of the strategies available, it’s a long shot to make the absolute “best” play for an event, but if you’ve done a reasonable amount of research into what you may be dealing with in your area, or what you might have to contend with in any area, then you should feel confident in whatever choice you make.

Essentially, don’t just rationalize your deck choice to yourself – justify it. And if you can’t find yourself able to justify it, then move on, and strive to make a better choice for the next event.

How Close You are to Achieving Your Goals

Last, but certainly not least, you as a competitive player need to crystallize your goals before diving into 2010-2011’s second phase. I’m sure many of you joined Underground with something in mind…What was it again? Here, I’ll consider each measurable goal, and give you some idea where you stand in achieving it.

(Disclaimer: we won’t talk about “fun” as a goal – it’s assumed, and for the purpose of this article, a qualitative matter that is extremely difficult to measure in a tangible way.)

A Ranking Invite to the 2011 World Championships in San Diego, California.


The goal here isn’t so much about the means you use to get it, but simply doing it: getting an invite to Worlds. However, there isn’t any other currently measurable way to determine how “close” you are to an invite, so we consider ratings and rankings.

We don’t know exactly “what” to expect from this season, but we can be relatively certain that it will be the same as last year. For a reminder…These were number of invites given to each international zone in each age group:

Latin America: 5 per age group (Masters cutoff for 2010: 1676.04)
Asia-Pacific: 10 per age group (2010 Masters cutoff: 1691.82 )
North America: 40 per age group (Masters cutoff: 1850.02)
Europe: 50 per age group (Masters cutoff: 1755.95)

(If you’d like to dig more into this, such as cutoff info for Juniors or Seniors, just go to your Play! Pokémon Account, selecting “Rankings,” and then for “Find Rankings Within… / Tournament Cycle,” choose 2010.)

Those were the numbers for last year, and if your ultimate competitive goal is to get an invite, then see to it that your rating number ends above the lowest number for your zone!

Where is a good place to be right now? In all my competitive years, I have no experience in any other ranking zone, or even any other age group…But what I can tell you North American Masters is this: the low 1700s is a surprisingly comfortable place to be at.

Going into not States, but REGIONALS, I was at the relatively humbled position of 1736, yet was able to win the event, catapult my ranking 140 points, and then cap my rated season with an 8-2 record at Nationals, ending at 1892. This is much easier said than done, but the point I’m trying to get across is that it can be done. Just be prepared to work harder if you didn’t finish Cities so hot.

Winning tournaments.

Much cleaner and simpler than the ratings rat race, many of us just want to see some wins to our name, and that’s fine. For some, the goal could be as humbled as winning some sort of event for the first time; for others, it could be pertaining to winning multiple events, or an event of a higher caliber.

Since the tournaments are going to get much tougher from here on out, be prepared for a challenge…A challenge you’re willing to take.

Note: Up until Nationals and/or Worlds, which any competitive player should be hoping to do well at or even win, these goals can be entirely mutually exclusive from one-another. For example, I have two friends of mine: Player A has a 1750 rating, but he hasn’t won a single event this season; on the other hand, Player B has won four City Championships, but has a rating in the low-1700s.

The preference is to have both pieces of the pie, but if you value one much more than the other, then attaining your goal can be done at the expense of the other.

2. How to Fix a Broken Season; How to Maintain a Good One

For one reason or another, things just haven’t been going well for you: you may have missed a top cut; you may have missed the deadline to register for a key event; or you may simply be missing your marbles. Whatever the case may be, this is your lot.

I’ve been there before, going a whole season where I never won any event higher than the Spring Battle Road. So what did I do to correct that? Well, before I did anything suggested below, I simply accepted that things are what they are: you can’t change your past record, so there’s no use regretting it.

Or…The exact opposite could be true: it’s possible to have actually finished the first leg of the season with stellar results, have a treasure trove’s worth of cards, and have a rating that would make every Underground staffer envious…But the problem is that you’re on top right now, and when you’re at such a position, you’re instantly a target, and could very well get knocked off of your pedestal.

Some of these points may apply more to one group than another, implicitly or explicitly. However, whether you’re 50-0 or 0-50, I hope that something stands out to you.

Develop a Knack for Correcting Your Big Mistakes…NOW!

Today is January 25th. You have: less than forty-six days, less than 1,100 hours, and less than 66,000 minutes until your first potential State Championship event…That isn’t much time. At all.

So what’s a player to do? Consider how to improve on each of the above-listed evaluation criteria. (Sans goal-setting, which simply requires being aware of the goal, and setting forth to achieve it – hopefully my advice on each point alludes to one or all of your major hopes.

A. Event Preparedness

I’m of the belief that the more crazy-prepared you are, the more likely you are to succeed at an event. The question is…Just how prepared can you be? Consider some of the common, or uncommon, elements to planning before and during an event:

1. Printed/written decklists prior to the event.

This is a biggie for me at major events, but you will have MUCH of the anxiety and pressure of a high-level event lifted if you’ve done this. Not only do you avoid the issue of scribbling down your whole list upon arrival, but you also reduce the likelihood of unwanted eyes seeing what’s in your deck, as well as allow yourself some time to rest after a potentially long travel.

Furthermore, if you have your list written out in advance, and in a stress-free environment, you lower the risk of making some crucial mistake, such as accidentally writing down 61 cards on your list, watching it pass through deck check, make top cut…And then get DQ’d. (Hasn’t happened to me, but someone I know well…Nobody was happy about it happening!)

Even if you’re still in the process of last-second tweaks or adjustments, at least having the whole deck down and accounted for will save you plenty of time to consider those last few spots. I regret not printing out my decklists for City Championships this season, and fully intend to follow my own advice from here on out. I hope that you guys join me in this, because – really – who needs that added challenge to an already adverse day?

2. Keeping yourself maintain, steady, and healthy throughout the whole event.

To keep your wits about you, consider many of the suggestions offered in Ryan Vergel’s main site article, as well as the warnings offered by J-Wittz in his City Championship reports.

3. Play-test ‘til your heart’s content.

If you had any issue earlier due lacking comprehension or firm confidence in the format, then plug in the long, hard hours.

Rewind a couple years ago: after some ups and downs during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons, I found myself invite-less both times …But both times, I would claw my way into two separate eleventh hour invites by way of the Last Chance Qualifier, a massive swiss-only tournament that is effectively double elimination.

Since these events normally feature a surprising amount of good players from the world over, you need, need, NEED to become hyper-literate in not just your deck, but all decks you could go up against.

How did I do this? I followed a strict play-testing regime of anywhere from 5-10 games a day. With this sheer amount under your belt, you’re likely to encounter every in-game scenario you possibly could, as well as play just about every matchup under the sun.

From turn one donks to epic struggles, and from auto-wins to nail-biters, there’s something to be said about the quantity of play-testing on your knowledge, but your own personal skill, as well as confidence in deck choices.

B. Playing

– Play-test heavily, and play-test well. (See above in “Event Preparation.”)

– In play-testing games, or in actual tournament games leading up to whatever big benchmark day you’re setting, jot down every time you make a sub-optimal move. Keep an open mind about your plays, and remain receptive to constructive criticism.

– Feel free to explore alternatives while play-testing, so that when a premier tournament game comes around, you’ll be at your sharpest, and know the best way out of a given scenario.

– Place yourself in environments where you’ll get the best constructive criticism on your in-game decisions possible. If you have a super competitive, super-skillful league nearby, then by all means, attend it! If you know a high caliber player who lives in the area, it might not hurt to arrange a day to play-test some. And if you lack any of these, then it could be highly beneficial for you to actively pursue gaming in the online community.

Most of you are already well-aware of Redshark, which is used by the overwhelming majority of players, or Apprentice, which is used by a majority of high-caliber players; however, did you also know that there are online gaming opportunities on Skype, Tinychat, and even in instant messenger chat boxes?

The right environment is everything, and could easily be the reason why any of us staff members are still writing about Pokémon.

C. Deck choice, card choice, metagame

– Play the deck that aligns most with your number one priority. I’ve had this discussion with several quality players, all of whom stand a great chance of earning invites this season, and their great struggle is whether to go with a deck that assures them a greater shot at winning the event, or a more secure position for a Worlds invite.

For example, if you’re looking to play the ratings game, then a “Lostgar” (Gengar Prime/Lost World) variant could easily be in your future; or, if winning the whole State tournament is your optimal goal, then playing the old SP game could be a decent choice.

[Note: the above is just an illustration of my point – if talking about Lostgar or SP in such a way is irrelevant or inappropriate, then just replace them with Deck A (good in swiss; bad in timed 2/3 matches) and Deck B (sub-optimal in swiss; great in timed 2/3).]

– Avoid using pet projects for major events. This is a pit I’ve let myself fall into more times than I should have, but bring the tried-and-true, trustworthy vehicle to your event – NOT the experimental model that’s been off the line for less than a week.

– Fight the obvious urge to pursue impulsive last-second tweaks. As explained above, I’ve done this before, and to great disappointment…But I’ve also done just the opposite, and to great pride. Don’t let the intensity of the 32K events get to you – I’ve found that if you keep playing the high-quality game you’ve kept all season, or rise to the occasion after a string of mistakes, then a better showing is sure to follow.

Know Yourself (Emphasis: Less Successful Battle Road/City finishers)

All of these tips – these theoretical tips – are well and good, but this only makes sense if these appear alike to you. What if you don’t have a 1700+ rating, the time to play-test like a madman, or are in a situation where you can’t find all the cards you need in time for an event?

Things are pretty dicey…Or at least that’s what you think if you didn’t already have a contingency plan if this were the case. Like I implied earlier, being crazy-prepared is a great thing, so if you’re this way at every facet of your competitive being, then getting where you want becomes much more natural. Here are just some considerations for an altered game plan

– For players with relatively lower ratings who want to be in position for a rating invite…DO NOT DROP A SINGLE EVENT FROM HERE ON OUT! Every chance you can muster is going to be crucial, and every game could be the trigger for the upstart to your season, but only if you let it happen! Please…Don’t be like my 1550-rated friend who dropped to “preserve rating.”

– For players who don’t have the time to play-test extensively: use a deck that isn’t extremely difficult to tech correctly, and/or play perfectly. It’s this reason why Dialgachomp is not a popular deck: it is VERY difficult to play well, goes to time frequently, and is generally a pain to get down just right.

For a similar reason, Vilegar didn’t see too much love during the early phases of Cities: it requires patience, as well as the will to hang in for the whole game.

If you find yourself stuck in this undesirable situation, then simpler decks such as Gyarados become much more viable. Even Luxchomp, a deck that’s far from being a “slouch crutch,” is a good option for the rusty. Plus, due to the proliferation of solid decklists, you can be reasonably assured that you’re on the right track with this over other builds.

This is a reason why decks such as Kingdra, Donphan, and Jumpluff have been popular in the past, and will undoubtedly hold true for seasons to come.

[Note: keep in mind that I’m not meaning to imply that these decks are used “only” when you don’t have the time to test…No, far from it: I gave Jumpluff a ton of testing last format, and I know several people who’ve tested Gyarados into oblivion. I’m just using them for example.]

– For players without the resources, play the best possible deck with what you have. What would you feel more confident with: Chris Fulop’s Luxchomp with only half the cards in it, or Josh Wittenkeller’s Gyarados with all of the cards?

Pablo’s Gatr-Zone sans any Magnezone cards, or Tom’s Gigas with 95+% of the cards? In both instances, it’s likely that the latter would be the preferred choice, since – both practically and theoretically – you’re much closer to being in the “best” spot with a full deck than a broken deck.

While I don’t know if this is necessarily a problem for people who subscribe to Underground, it could apply if you are a parent who’s reading this on behalf of his/her child, and is stuck with the leftover cards; or if just don’t have the connections for last-minute borrowing or trading. Regardless, there may come a time when you have to choose between a broken first choice…Or an immaculate second choice.

[Aside Point: Parents reading this on behalf of your Pokémon-playing children, it definitely does not hurt to hone your own skills as much as possible. A big reason why the John/Stephen Silvestro duo became so successful was because they became elite players together, and challenged one-another to be the best they could. While you have constraints that kids, teens, or young adults don’t have, strive to play your best, and it will definitely show! Plus, you can pick up some packs for the community card collection.]

(Editor’s Note: John and Stephen Silvestro are a father and son who have done exceptionally well throughout the years, with both making it far in the top cut at US Nationals and Stephen winning Worlds in 2009.)

Know When to Punt the Ball (Emphasis: Stronger Battle Road/City finishers)

Going back to our discussion on making choices that best accommodate your main goal, or goals, be prepared to make out-of-game decisions that best suit your purpose. In the aforementioned Player A/Player B scenario, a big reason why Player A failed to win any tournaments at all was because he had been dropping from nearly every event this season.

Does this make him a bad player? Far from it – he’s actually one of the strongest I’ve known in the long time I’ve played…Rather, he’s just acutely aware of his goal for the season, and is going to 2-0 drop his way into the Pokémon TCG history books. This logic of pursuing a rankings invite even justifies skipping entire events due to their potential negative impact on your already-established position.

Also, there’s some overlap here with the “play a deck you know will work” point brought up earlier, which is proven to help players let their superior in-game skill shine through.

In Worlds 2006, Jason Klaczynski, who most certainly had a strong pre-Worlds run, was prudent about his deck choice: his decision to go with Mew ex/Manectric ex over the statistical favorite, Dark Dragonite/Dark Electrode, was heavily reliant “the deck’s consistency” to see him through the event. Based on the fact that he won the event, I’m pretty sure we know how that choice went for him.

3. Other Things to Keep in Mind

Stay Savvy to Local and National Trends

As the season goes on, all of those little elements that have gone ignored will suddenly start to mesh, mold and collide into a metagame mosaic. It’s your job to be able to pick each piece out, and become clearly aware of what will form – future tense here, folks, so that we’re proactive.

Don’t even leave a supposedly “weak” area unaccounted for, because it could very well sneak up on you if you get cocky. For big states like California, Washington, Texas, and Florida, where you have more than three major hubs for gaming, it certainly won’t be a hindrance to know what kinds of decks your off-area competition will be packing.

Observing national trends/developments is important, even at non-National events, for three major reasons. First, if you’re invading a foreign state, it certainly helps to know what you might see; otherwise, you could be overwhelmed by a swarm of unfavorable matchups, regardless of how good a player you are relative to the competition.

Second, you’ll be caught less unaware in case an invader comes to your area’s state, provincial, or territorial event. Third, this knowledge sometimes gives you a massive leap on the competition: often, just being up to date is enough to separate some players of a deck from others, especially when it comes to SP, which is always on the cutting-edge of techs, tweaks, and surprising twists.

Just try going back in time and telling the SP players of two years ago that they wouldn’t be using 4 Poké Turn or 4 Energy Gain in their lists…Assuming you can time travel, of course (which would make me wonder why you’re wasting your good, time-traveler’s time on reading a Pokémon card article).

Mistakes WILL Happen – Just be Prepared to Fix Them

Don’t plan to be the “perfect” player, deck builder, or whatever, because it’s just not going to happen: not for you, not for us, and not even for the super gamer tucked away in Area 51.

Accepting the inevitability of mistakes – however undesirable they may be – will make you further prepared for an optimal play later on. Consider the following line from a recent tournament report of mine:

“…I accidentally “Bite” for 50 damage instead of 60 (Chatot Majestic Dawn’s Weakness is +20 – not x2). This ended up playing to my favor later on, as it led to a bench spot being clogged on his part.”

Could it have possibly “ended up playing to my favor” if I got flustered, upset, and angry at the hasty, elementary miscalculation on my part, and not seen my glimmer of an opportunity? Of course not!

Do we want to make mistakes? No, which is why Adam asks every subscriber if he or she is “burned by misplays.” However, take the opportunity to comprehend all angles of the deficiency, correct, and then apply said correction to every game you play from then on. Boom – problem solved, life is happier, and we can move on.

Keep Following the Path

Stay Positive! You could be in an undesirable competitive situation, and be down in the dumps about how things went; you could be a middle-of-the-packer desperate to break out into the top tables; or you could have killed your local metagame, but be anxious about the challenges ahead of you. No matter what your situation may be, don’t stop feeling good about yourself.

(“What? We’re having one of those pep talks?”)

Yes, I suppose so…But since things are going to get really tough from here on out, I think it’s warranted to end with one of those flowery, fluffy, feel-good moments. With every small step you take to achieving your goal, get a little bit more enthusiastic, and keep in mind that nothing is set in stone: just as good seasons can go bad, so holds true the reverse.

All in all, I hope that, regardless of your record during the smaller events, your S/P/T, Regional, and National events all go as well as you can hope. Just remember to be prepared, and brace for the storm of challengers, events, and prizes.

…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

After 45 days, we unlock each Underground (UG/★) article for public viewing. New articles are reserved for Underground members.

Underground Members: Thank you for making this article possible!

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