Hello again readers! I’d like to apologize for taking a bit longer than I attended to get this article finished. I’ve been sick the past 5 days, and kept putting it off, and figured I’d cram it all together at the last minute again and get it turned in early this morning, but it was 2 AM again, and I was spiking a bit of a fever, so I wound up falling asleep and woke up much later than I wanted to.
Long story short, article is a bit late, but full of up to date, cutting edge content regardless! Yes, that made me feel like a shameless salesman. It was fun none the less. Anyway, I have a larger topic I wanted to address in the latter half of the article, but I wanted to tie up the loose ends as usual to begin with.
First and foremost, Call of Legends was released. I had remained optimistic, and even genuinely excited for this set leading up to its release.
Generally, with the sets being released so far in advance in Japan, I’m apathetic at best toward the new set, since all of the excitement over what new decks may emerge gets spread out over months as people brainstorm over time.
This was different, but unfortunately, it was also a giant slap in the face to the player base. Nothing of value was added to the set to make it worth abusing. Ninetales and Smeargle were reprinted, but saw fringe play at best already. Smeargle is usually a 1-of, or in some experimental builds, a 4-of to kickstart a deck.
I commented previously on this, and I addressed it again regarding Tom Hall’s analysis, but I really enjoy the Lucario in this set, and I guess I’ll use this as an excuse to shameless plug a list that I brewed recently involving the card.
pokegym.netObviously, its best partner is Palkia G LV.X, but that gives you a major weakness to LostGar because you are doing all of their work for them. I have an attempt to offset that “issue” slightly, so even if this list itself doesn’t run up to full potential, it is at least a building block for where to start.
I’ll be honest: The focus of my testing has settled on both building a LostGar list that keeps up with all of the hate we are experiencing against it, and building LuxChomp and Sablelock builds to try and beat LostGar while also not forfeiting to the random decks we may run into at States.
Before I share my Lucario list, I want to call attention to a major issue that I see popping up with a lot of people’s testing: People are developing tunnel vision.
I know that I have, in addition to many others, preached that the two best decks are LuxChomp and Gengar. I stand by this.
But these are not the only decks that are good, and they are not the only decks that will see play. I don’t expect this to be anything like the 2008 season, where you could literally build a deck just to beat Gardevoir and Empoleon, and realistically feel great about your odds at an event.
While there are two best decks, the field is still wide open. If the CC is any indication, this is still a healthy format. I know a lot of people simply don’t want to play SP or LostGar because they dislike the decks. I think this is a stupid stance to take, and one that hurts your overall performance, but it can’t be ignored. The field for States will still be diverse.
I’ve seen players devote an absurd amount of cards to a list just to beat LostGar. LostGar will be big, and it is a deck you need to have at least some degree of game against, but I can’t think of many decks at all that can take 1/6th of their deck, toss it toward one matchup, and remain strong (and consistant!) against the rest of the field.
I don’t want you auto-winning LostGar, only to face Gyarados round one and get wrecked. There will always be fringe decks, and they are still a threat.
pokegym.netThat being said, you want to have a decent game against LostGar and SP as those are the best decks. That doesn’t mean you simply “build a counter”. You want a deck with an organic game plan, that naturally has a high power level, that also intrensically has at least a passable game plan vs those decks.
At which point you can make a few tweaks to shore those matchups up a bit more. Make sure that if you hypothetically played against 0-of those gunned for decks, that you don’t look at your 60 cards and ask “what the heck is my deck even trying to do?”
Now that I went off on that unhealthy tangent, let’s go back to Palkia Lucario. That combination is strong enough to give you game vs most decks as it is. I don’t know how many people have gotten a chance to play against the Regigigas lock decks yet, but that deck is real.
Having played a few games against it, I had flashbacks of the 2008 Psychic Lock fest that was Gardevoir Gallade. I rarely, if ever, got to use my powers, and that alone is a huge hinderance. Toss in the fact that the deck was just naturally powerful, and extremely fast and disruptive, and you have what I consider to be a real contender.
The main strength of the deck, though, is its ability to keep a player locked out of setting up for a long enough period of time that they basically are cheated out of a “real game”.
Palkia aims to accomplish the same goal. It runs a heavy Mesprit Lock theme, and tries to be fast and disrupting while hitting for huge damage with Lucario. Of course, against LostGar, its damage output is effectively “crippled”…or is it?
I have an interesting “Plan B” in place that may help even up that matchup. I wound up testing LostGar vs Regigigas, and the only reason I was able to win the matchup past all of the power lock and hand disruption was the fact that I had resistance to their main attacker, and could abuse both my own, and their, Seekers, to loop Gengars to weather the storm.
Palkia is going to try a slightly different approach, namely, one shotting Gengar. Enough talk, here is an unorthodox starting point:
Pokémon – 23
Trainers – 29
Energy – 8
This is, at best, a very rough list, but it takes into account all of the things the deck wants to be trying to do. I guess the first thing I wanted to point out was the extremely low amount of “SP Trainers” the deck runs. There are a few reasons for that.
pokemon-paradijs.comFirst and foremost, the deck’s primary attacker is NOT an Pokémon SP. I don’t need to be dropping a string of Energy Gain. I don’t need be Poké Turning as often as a strictly SP deck would. I want to run enough different cards so that I can “loops” them with Junk Arms, but they are not that necessary despite what conventional logic has taught you.
Power Spray seems like it’d be a must have in this deck, right? Wrong. It is incredibly synergistic, I agree. Yet it also contradicts the decks Plan A. It is actually a bit difficult to reliably keep 3 Pokémon SP in play in all matchups.
Your bench gets filled with Lucarios, and Mesprits, and Uxie, and even if you are sending a bunch to the Lost Zone, it doesn’t make it that much easier to maintain.
The second point is, Power Spray is worse than Mesprit. Psychic Bind is simply a better play than Power Spray is, and as a result, you have to find room to add cards which let you re-use Psychic Bind. Those spaces have to come from somewhere, and I have a hard time justifying devoting a spot to my deck for “Psychic Bind Lite” when I’m not already maxed out on cards which potentially give me more Psychic Binds.
Now, by adding a singular Spray, it does offer a lot of utility. It lets you break opposing locks, and can be Cyrus’s for. It gets re-used by Junk Arm. I’m not against adding a single copy, but I don’t think I’d want more than that.
I’m actually not even that sold on Cyrus in this deck. It feels criminal to even debate not running it in a deck like this, but it seems like the deck might even benefit more from just running a turbo speed engine more than it does the standard Cyrus SP engine.
I look at the list, and keep wanting a full set of Poké Communication, a Luxury Ball, and other non-Supporter Trainers to help make it faster, so perhaps Cyrus is actually a “trap”. I’d have to play games with both engines to know, but it might be.
pokemon-paradijs.comAbsol G LV.X is your Gengar counter, obviously. They don’t exactly have a way of killing it, so I’d just stop Lost Zoning cards entirely, and race them with Absol. With your power locking, it isn’t unreasonable.
Super Scoop Up and Seeker are in place to loop your Mesprits, and Giratina, or Uxie, or whatever other utility Pokémon you want to re-use. Hopefully, by the time your opponent is set up and able to fight, you are up on prizes, and are able to start one shotting whatever they throw at you with Lucario.
I’m not sold on a few things in my own list. The 2nd Absol G may be overkill, and the Garchomp line may not even be necessary. In a deck that is clearly very tight on space, these cards may be luxury additions. It seems foolish not to at least try a 1-1 Garchomp line, both as a means of healing and a way to hit the bench and clean up prizes.
I like having diversity in my attackers, and I’m already running Pokémon SP and a full set of Double Colorless Energy, so it seems pretty worthwhile. Again, this card may be a trap as well.
Anyway, let’s change gears really quickly and address LostGar itself. I know everyone has their own opinions on it, and everyone’s talking. I’ve been testing it, but to be honest, there is a lot of work to be done with testing that deck.
It interacts in such an unusual way that it is a tough deck to fully “understand” right off the bat. My 2nd article this month will be my full blown “States is coming up, here is everything I know about LostGar” offering, but I’ll still address some of my findings on the deck now.
There are a few major ways to approach the deck. The first is a turbo engine. This tries to get Gengar up and running right off the bat, and runs a pile of non-Supporter Trainers to do so.
pokegym.netThe second is a Trainer denial one, that accepts being slower, but is also very disruptive and tries to limit the opponent’s development as well. I originally immediately embraced the turbo build, and I still do prefer it, but I’m seeing more and more validations for the Trainer lock build. (Yes, it ends with Vileplume in play.)
If you were to play LostGar vs every City Championship deck that won an event, LostGar would be a huge favorite against any of those lists. Especially the speed build.
Unfortunately, the more I test, the more people toss in obscure counter measures in an attempt to ruin the deck. Most of these rely on heavy trainer abuse.
They either try to “race” you on prizes, or drop a Fossil, or loop power locks, or empty their hand, if not DECK, of Pokémon with discard conditions like Junk Arm. All of these counter measures are hurt badly by not permitting the use of Trainers.
Of course, you leave yourself vulnerable to some of the decks other “enemies”, being Time, and Dialga G. Dialga G LV.X already hurts you with Deafen, but it becomes even worse if you rely on locking out Trainers, and its Body turns off your Vileplume.
So you really need to weigh your options. Both a Trainer lock build, and a speed build seem viable, and offer different strengths and weaknesses despite being effectively the same “deck” in that you aim to win off of Lost World.
I’m not sure what is correct yet, but I do know that people are trying to beat the deck, and they are all trying different measures. LostGar can be built to beat any deck. The challenge is how do you get it to beat EVERY deck.
It is the same issue LuxChomp faced during cities: It is clearly the best deck, but it is also labeled as such, and is the target of a player base wide witch hunt that means it is public enemy #1 and everyone is out to get it. You need to correctly judge what counter measures to expect, and run as many counters to those as possible without hurting your consistency.
Sound difficult? It is, no matter how good of a player or deck builder you are.
pokemon-paradijs.comI will say this much though: I am really liking Machamp in the deck. It helps against Regigigas and other basic build speed decks as it forces them to break their Plan A in order to stop Machamp from ruining them.
In testing, I am able to beat Regigigas mainly because they can’t keep me from accomplishing my Lost Zoning goal while also playing around an aggro Machamp. Machamp also is an answer to Dialga G, and is your “Plan A” in sudden death scenarios.
This is one of the reasons I really like the speed builds better. They are able to “adjust” their game plan in Game 3 of match play, and instead of pushing for a turn 1 Gengar Prime, they can push for a turn 1 Machamp, and try to win on the back of that. So far it has played pretty well, but we’ll see how it goes.
People ARE going to be teching Fossils. Accept that, and anticipate it, and more importantly, counter it! If you plan on being dead on board to a single Old Amber, don’t bother sleeving up the deck for States. At least have some form of game plan in place here.
Anyway, I wanted to get those things off of my chest before I wanted to address a more obscure, abstract concept that I’d been working on for a while now, and is one I think some of you may not initially care about, but one I think every single reader can benefit from.
If you are paying for this membership, it is because you want to take the initiative to become a better player. Everyone can improve. No matter how “good” you are, there is room for advancement, and in order to efficiently do that, you really need to try and understand how that is accomplished.
So, I wrote a bit about how players get better at this game.
I was having an interesting conversation with my friend the other day. He wanted to know why he was doing so poorly at tournaments. He was a smart guy, and he had a very good tactical mind. There was little to no reason why he shouldn’t be able to do quite well at this game.
In fact, he even pointed to one of the local players who was not very good, but consistently put up better showings than him at whatever tournament they went to. Now, when this was brought to my attention, I was put in a bit of a bind. I wasn’t sure how to answer this question, but I had a pretty good suspicion.
My friend was generally inactive.
Outside of the tournaments he would go to, where he would borrow decks day-of, he never played. The other player, on the other hand, would play all the time. Over the course of 5+ years, they rarely improved at the game, but they put in a lot of hours.
I’ll bring up a point that I feel a lot of people are very afraid to make: Some people have the ability to really excel at this game, and others honestly do appear to have caps. Any player can play Pokémon. Any player can become quite competent at it.
Yet to really do well, a player needs to have a somewhat strategic mind. There are things about the game that certain people simply can grasp better than others. I have taught an unbelievable number of people to play this game.
I have also taught a large number of people who want to “become good” at it. I’ve learned I can usually tell which players show potential. It’s like trying to teach a player how to play Chess. Some people “get it” and others are a little more difficult to work with. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m saying Pokémon is not for everyone.
The beauty of a Trading Card Game is that anyone can play it and have a lot of fun. There are many different facets to the game for people to enjoy. Now if you change that question to “Can anyone be a World Champion” I honestly would have to say no.
Despite this social push for political correctness and the motif that anyone can achieve anything if they try hard enough, not everyone has a tactical mind. To REALLY rise to the top, that is an asset you will need. Like it or not, we have all seen the players at league who have been playing for years and years, and never really gotten too much better at the game in a competitive sense.
Now that I have gone off on that slightly depressing tangent, I want to continue with this somewhat unconventional article.
I needed to preface the rest of this with the fact that not all Trainers were created equal, so to speak. There is such a thing as a difference in potential. If Player A, B, and C all put in the same effort, and time, odds are one would end up doing better than the others, and one doing better than the third.
So my question was, assuming players decreased in raw potential alphabetically, why was player C performing better than player A? Now, to flaunt my credentials, outside of being a former Professor Champion, Nationals Champion, World’s Finalist, and all around cool guy, I also have a degree in Secondary Education. That’s what you need to be a High School teacher.
One of the things I took many courses discussing and learning about is how people learn and process information. While this is taboo coming from a *POTENTIAL* teacher, it is also acknowledged that not all students have the same innate ability.
It is also universally acknowledged that effort can certainly pick up the slack in the absence of raw potential. There are plenty of borderline “gifted” children who simply do not have the drive to excel. There are many of “average” intelligence who go out of their way to do their very best and as a result they do very well.
This is also true of Pokémon, or honestly anything in life. So the most likely conclusion is that Player C must be putting in more time and effort than Player A.
So I simply told my friend “He tries harder and practices more than you”, right? Wrong. While that would have, for simplicities sake, been more or less correct, I found myself analyzing the conundrum a bit deeper. How do players “learn” this game?
This is when I developed what I came to call the Layer Theory. I’m certainly not saying no one else has come to any of these conclusions before, but I know I haven’t had the opportunity to read anything about it online before, so I figured I should share it with everyone.
The skills needed to learn and succeed are separated into layers. The layers build on top of one another, stacking. The most basic layer simply consists of actual game mechanics. As the layers get higher and higher, the more complex they become.
A player’s “grasp” of the game can be represented by an ever growing pyramid. The base of the Pyramid represents the layer at which a player is completely comfortable. It is the point where they can function on “autopilot”. Let me flush out the abstraction slightly more.
emhotep.netLook at the “layers” as a huge, striped square. The top stripes are higher level, deeper thinking skill sets. The lower stripes are simpler, less dynamic skill sets. A players “pyramid” juts into this square. The tip of the pyramid goes as deep into those stripes as they are able to perform. The tip is their highest reached potential level of understanding.
It doesn’t mean that they can reliably function at that stage of play, merely they can occasionally tap into it. The width of their pyramid at any given stripe, or layer, represents the frequency and reliability with which they function in that skill set.
The wider the pyramid at that layer, the closer to “auto-piloting” and mastering that layer of play they are. I’ll use the most basic layer as an example.
A player is going to have a very difficult time playing a game strategically correct while they are learning the basic mechanics of the game. Even if they could, if given an unlimited amount of time to think, make very strong moves while still learning the game, it is unrealistic to expect such a thing.
I’ve come to realize this partially due to my focus on playing Magic the Gathering lately. In fact, I’ve played over 30 or so different TCGs in the past 12 years of my life. Despite being a very good card player, there is still a stiff learning curve when approaching a new game.
The first few days of playing really consist of attempting to grasp the rules of the game, and card interactions. I think it is fair to assume a former Magic World Champion, for instance, can be declared to have far more potential at the game than someone who has consistently been putting 3-3 and 4-2 showings at tournaments for the past 5 years.
Yet I bet if you give that pro a half an hour to read the rulebook, and give him a deck which has a roughly 50-50 matchup against the otherwise “average” player that he is going to get destroyed for a number of games straight.
Once a player has mastered the mechanics of the game, they get to move on to tougher concepts and more in depth ideas. Once a player has the rules on autopilot, their thought process during the game no longer has to focus on that particular aspect of the game state.
Once they no longer have to think about that, their thought can go elsewhere. Once you get the rules down, you can focus on how your particular deck functions. Once you learn how your deck functions, you can learn how your opponent’s deck functions. Once you learn how both decks function, you can learn how they interact.
Once you learn how decks interact, you can focus on working out probabilities of drawing cards, and of opponent’s odds of drawing cards. Once you are able to consistently work probabilities into your game, you can work on getting reads from your opponents based on their in-game actions, and on their mannerisms.
Once you grow comfortable with that you can work on time management, and other “metagame” skills.
(Metagame has grown to be used to represent the popular decks in a format, for this article I am using its original definition of ” the game outside the game”, in other word, all aspects of the game that help make a player succesful outside of actual in game mechanics.)
Now, I am sure someone is reading this and thinking “but hey, even when I am learning a new deck, which should theoretically be a lower Layer, I am looking at probabilities and trying to get reads on my opponent!” That would be why I described a player’s ability as being a Pyramid.
The base of the Pyramid, as I stated, is a player’s comfort zone. Anything above and beyond this, up to the “tip” of the Pyramid, is a skill set they are capable of tapping into. It is thinner, of course, because it is a far lower portion of where they allocate their active attention to in the midst of a game.
The less focus you have to put into “mundane” concepts, the more you can put toward higher level thinking.
This explains, in part, why my friend does worse at tournaments despite, in my eyes, having a ton of untapped potential. More than a majority of the players at the event. They are stuck focusing on more basic concepts of the game. Their pyramid may have a higher tip to it, but the base is still stuck at a far lower point, putting a majority of their focus into things the other players don’t even have to think about.
The more a player practices and gets experience playing, the more skills they set on autopilot, and the more complex thinking they can do. That is, in its most vague sense, how a player becomes “good”.
Playing Pokémon, and other games, really is very much like riding a bike. Once you get good at it, you can come back to it and pick it up rather quickly. This is why a number of good players have been able to quit the game, and years later, come back and pick it up again and do quite well at it again.
A great example would be multiple time STS winner Eric Brooks. After about 2002, he pretty much quit the game. He comes back to go to a local Gym Challenge in 2005, and in his first tournament back, borrows a good deck and wins his invite to the World Championship.
His skills were very highly developed over years of playing, and once that familiarity is established, it takes a very long time to go away. I had quit playing Magic for about 6 years, and was able to pick it back up rather quickly. Of course, the nature of TCGs does throw a kink in this whole theory.
This theory holds far more accurate to an unchanging game, such as Chess, or Poker, than it does to an evolving game such as Pokémon or any other Trading Card Game.
Due to the changing cardpool, and fluctuating power level of those cards, mixed with new mechanics and slight rules changes, there will always be some level of adjustment needed. Yet all of these changes can be compared in relation to aspects of the game a player had been familiar with, so the ability to pick it up and go is much easier for them than someone who had not played much before.
Some skill sets need to be re-learned as the games change. This is less true in my Chess example, where the pieces remain constant. New decks need learned, and certain skill sets fluctuate as the metagame does (this time, the metagame being the popular decks.)
Is this theory completely fleshed out, and accurate? No, it isn’t. Yet it is a good look into the basic fundamentals of how players learn to play this game and how they grow as a player. Now, how can one use this knowledge to improve their ability to play? This adds further validity to a statement I had been making for years about this game.
The best way to get better is to remove as many different factors from the game as possible.
When players start off, they build their own deck, and they go up to league, and they challenge random players every week, and wonder why they aren’t really getting a grasp for the game as well as they could. There are far too many variables, too many extraneous factors, impacting the games they play to allow them to grow.
How can that player know if they are winning or losing based on the merits of their own play? Are they losing because they made a bad deck? Are they losing because they are getting unlucky? Are they winning due to matchups? Are they winning due to an opponent’s poor play?
To really be able to reflect, and judge one’s own improvement, they need to keep their game in as close to a vacuum as possible. A good way to get better is to take two decks found online that are accepted as very good lists.
Either take two decks considered to be a 50-50 matchup, or simply take two identical decks, and play that matchup over, and over, and over again. By removing potential poor deck construction, and the variation of different matchups, players can to focus strictly on their game play, than how their deck works, and then how it interacts in their “matchup”.
It really just accelerates the learning curve by removing muddling variables from the equation. People like to single out people for “only using one deck” or “net decking” when in reality, that is the best way to jump through the layers of skill progression.
Otherwise you’re like a fish out of water trying to work on deck building, matchup interaction, mechanics, probabilities, reads, and every other aspect of the game all at one time. It can be overwhelming, and at the very least, extremely difficult.
Hopefully this article has helped shed a bit of light on how players play this game, even if it is more subconsciously. Ideally, this will help everyone be able to help accelerate their own progression through the game and get better. At the very least, it was a long, confusing, overly complex way of saying “hey, you’ll get better with practice.”
Chris made this post on the forums in response as to why he didn’t share a LostGar list, and I thought it would be good to share it here. -Adam
If I am posting a decklist for something as important as LostGar, I am going to make sure that it is reliably testing. I would hope that readers would prefer a thoroughly tested, more accurate set of information than one a week or two earlier that is entirely (or even partially) misleading.
LostGar is a very challenging deck to really wrap your head around, regardless of skill level. To make it worse, what works in certain matchups simply does not apply in others, so you really have to put in a number of games vs all of the decks, plus all of the techs. Now do that again any time you end up changing engines, or game plans. Needless to say, it is very overwhelming, especially when games can go for so long.
If you look back at the information we saw at Battle Roads and Cities, you notice how long it took for decks to become standardized or even close to perfected. Now, I knew going into this that I was going to irritate some players by not having a LostGar article done yet, but I know full well that I’d irritate (and rightfully so) a lot more players if I rushed one together and offered incorrect information.
I will say that I played 4 games today with a LostGar deck against Sablelock, and wound up going 1-3. I won the first one convincingly, but the other 3 were challenges as I couldn’t reliably replace the Gengars, and also keep Pokémon in their hand.
I was running an Azelf LV.X, but it got Dragon Rushed rather early on every time, so that card as a tech has actually been very underwhelming. It is a chore to get active and then benched, and it eats a KO rather quickly. It seems “less efficient” to run Exploud, but it may actually be better. Azelf is simply not cutting it, so either not bothering, or running the Exploud may be a better play.
Due to those results, I am actually gaining more and more faith in the Palkia list I posted in this article.
As for the Layer Theory half of the article, it is abstract. Some players will find it insightful, and others will simply not care. I’m not going to try and sell it to everyone because I know full well that not everyone has an interest in it.
I’ll post one of the LostGar lists I have been working on, even though it hasn’t been doing as well lately. It is such a pain because I have about 4 approaches build, and there are about 4 ( some of them fairly major ) decks that “compete” with LostGar, and one LostGar build beats half the issue matchups but loses to the other two, and vice versa.
Headed into States I’m of the opinion that the success of LostGar will depend on how much your metagame really tries to beat it. If everyone shows up with a deck full of LostGar hate, you’ll probably lose. If they aren’t packing a pile of dark types, Deafen, and Fossils, then you probably won’t lose many, if any, games.
I think the hype is generating an unfortunate amount of hate, but I’m also biased because I’m testing vs good players who ” want to see if they can beat LostGar” so I may be a bit jaded because I only test vs rough matchups and overlook how many lists I’ll play that just can’t beat me.
Anyway, a LostGar list:
Pokémon – 21
Trainers – 33
Energy – 7
That’s the “fastest” list that I’ve made yet, and will do the absolute best against decks that aren’t gunning for it. It’s a starting point for you guys to work with, and I’m not advertising it as the best play, or even the best list for the approach, but its something to work with.
Also, why do you WANT there to be a “standardized” list headed into States? I would imagine you’d want that information kept out of the general publics hand so you get the opportunity to beat weaker lists during the event. I remember the backlash when the Jumpluff list I wrote caused a huge surge in Jumpluff lists after the first States weekend. It makes no sense to want everyone to have a stock list if you can help it.
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