Countdown: Top 10 Reasons You’re Going to Lose

Picture it; you have the perfect deck. It has absolutely no bad matchups and is super consistent. There is no game you can’t win with the right techs. The deck is winning everything and is the Best Deck in Format! Then Pokémon decides to rotate to HGSS-on and your beloved LuxChomp is gone…

Fast forward two months. Cleffa is now a viable card and considered a staple in most decks. Tyrogue is being used specifically to take cheap prizes off Cleffa. Several different decks have risen then fallen from favor within weeks. Rogue decks are running rampant. In this volatile environment, what are we to do? I know! A countdown!

Top Ten Reasons You’re Going to Lose:

I know it’s not what you want to hear, but everyone who plays is going to lose. Hopefully you’ll learn something that can help minimize your losses.

10. Playing a stale deck.

pokebeach.comYou’re almost guaranteed to lose any time you haven’t played with a deck in a while or tweaked it recently. While you don’t want to screw up your consistency, playing with a deck and figuring out how to make it work is extremely important. It’s easy to get comfortable with a deck, win some tournaments, then get complacent. The problem is that there are new cards and new combos and new techs being used all the time.

I have a buddy who dominated at States, but then took the same deck with almost no changes to Regionals. He also didn’t have much time to playtest in the time leading up to the event. He did well, but, by the time the tournament came around, the deck he was playing had become more popular and more people were learning to play against it.

Plus, the caliber of player at the larger tournament was higher on average then the previous tournaments. All factors considered, playing almost the same list for months made for a rough tournament!

The easiest way to avoid this is by just playing and tweaking your deck. This is really one of the keys to being good at anything. To borrow the colloquialism, practice makes perfect. This is just as true when playing Pokémon as playing music or sports.

More on the practice aspect later, but you have to stay current to stay competitive. With such a deep rotation, we don’t have quite as many cards to use, and some would consider that a bad thing. Personally, I love the more limited amount of cards because of the inventiveness in building that’s been forced upon us.

There are a number of interesting decks and combinations that can work. Plus there are so many different ways you could tech! There are things that work that haven’t been tested yet or that haven’t been released yet. Things are changing so rapidly, it’s exciting! There’s no reason not to tweak your deck.

Note: There are exceptions to this point. I know a couple of people who played almost the exact same list from States through Spring BRs, but they are not normal.

9. Lack of playtesting.

pokebeach.comThis goes hand in hand with the previous reason. How do you expect to win if you don’t play and practice with your deck? Without practice you won’t know the best way to deal with certain situations. It’s one thing to know how a deck is supposed to work but it’s another entirely to deal with less than perfect situations.

For example, if you’re playing MewGar and they have Donphan up, you basically have six turns to win because they’ll be KOing a Mew every turn. Through proper playtesting, you can learn how to deal with that matchup more easily. Perhaps by using Circulator and Seeker then putting Donphan into the Lost Zone.

Note: This isn’t a good counter, it’s just an example of how playtesting helps.

Almost as important as the amount of playing and practicing you do, is who you’re playing against. I’ve recently started playing via video chat with some very good players. A couple of them are top in their state. Playing with them has improved not only how well I play but also my deck building.

Their advice is invaluable in streamlining decks and when figuring out techs. It’s the same in any competitive environment. The best way to get better is to play against people who are better than you.

Another thing that shouldn’t be neglected is testing against a variety of decks. Be it rogue or meta, you need to test against lots of different decks. The more variety that you can play against will help improve your reaction when something unknown comes up. It’s key to learn to identify what your opponent’s deck is trying to do and what you can do to prevent that.

If they’re trying to disrupt your hand, try to get duplicates into your hand or get as much hand refresh as you can. If they need a combo to run train on your deck, try to prevent it from happening. If they’re just going to get a big baddie up and smack your active no matter what, try disrupting their draw engine or recovery. There are several options in every situation. Picking the right one and executing it quickly is how top tier players win every time.

8. Altering deck after every loss.

pokebeach.comSomeone who loses then immediately tears apart their deck is bound to lose again. It’s somewhat of a pet peeve of mine and I always encourage players to wait, play another game or two, then think about changing. But never tear your deck apart after every loss.

It’s impossible to identify your problems after only one game. The typical things that you pull are things that make your deck consistent and we should all know, consistency is King. The best decks are the most consistent.

When you alter your deck after a loss, your instinct is to add things that counter the deck that just beat you. Most techs that are good for one specific matchup could be a dead-draw in other games. Take Umbreon for example; it’s a decent tech to wall against DonChamp but it gets KO’d very easily, now more than ever since we have several meta decks with main attackers that do not have Poké Powers or Poké Bodies. Things have slowed down a bit in the new format, but too many dead-draw cards will make your deck choke.

One amazing habit to get into is to keep track of your losses. Guy Bennett mentioned it once when we were testing about how a win/loss ratio changed with different techs. Guy keeps a log of games he plays and what the outcomes are. I usually include a short description of the main reason the deck won or lost as well as how each deck started.

The most valuable piece of information we can obtain from this is why you’re losing. If you know why the deck is losing, you can alter it and be confident that the changes being made are necessary and will help.

7. Basing deck around “favorite” Pokémon.

When a new player starts with the Pokémon TCG it’s usually because they have played the video game. As the more experienced players have seen, these players will prefer to use their old favorites from the video games, and sometimes this works (especially if your favorite is Magnezone or Emboar).

But more often than not, the decks based around a favorite Pokémon aren’t competitive. They will usually be fun and I enjoy making league decks just to stay fresh. I just know they aren’t going to win much… or ever.

I think there are articles already on how to make a rogue deck, so I’m not going to go into depth with that. But anytime you’re building a deck, the focus should be on card combinations rather than specific Pokémon they represent. That said, basing a deck around a specific card can be a great way to find the next awesome rogue deck.

6. Playing pyramid Pokémon lines.

Do you know what uses pyramid lines? Theme decks. While they have gotten better over that past few sets, theme decks are a great example of what not to do in your deck. A pyramid line is when you have three or four of the Basic Pokémon, two or three of the Stage 1, and one or two of the Stage 2.

This means you might have Tepig all over the place, but only one Emboar on the field. The biggest problem with these types of lines is that the evolution is almost always the preferred attacker or supporter. With only one or two of these, the chances of getting what you need when you need it are not good.

In addition to hurting your attack plan, pyramid lines waste space. When you’re running a line of four Basics, three Stage 1, and two Stage 2 (typically written as 4-3-2) there are a total of nine spots taken up for essentially two Pokémon. Instead you can cut this to 2-2-2 and only take up six spots or even five with a 2-1-2 line if you’re running Rare Candy.

There are instances where you’d want to run an extra basic but it’s usually if the basic has very low HP or there’s some other good reason for it. Like running an extra Sneasel with Weavile so you can use Super Scoop Up or Seeker to pick up your Weavile and then place it on the other Sneasel the same turn.

Now, running more of the Basics or Stage 1 Pokémon will actually help your consistency in that you will probably draw into the Basic or Stage 1 that you need then you can search for the evolution, but it just takes up so much space! I’d much rather use that space for Trainers so you can search for the cards you need instead of just hoping to draw into them.

Between Pokémon Communication, Pokémon Collector, Elm’s Training Method, and many more, you have plenty of ways to search for the Pokémon you need. Then the combination of Dual Ball, Rare Candy and Junk Arm make Stage 2s much easier to get out.

5. Deck has 25 Pokémon, 25 Energy, and 10 Trainers.

pokebeach.comAnother example of what not to do that we find in Theme decks is the ratios of Pokémon to Energy to Trainers. Again, the Theme Decks are much better now than they were just a few sets ago, but they’re still not that great when it comes to ratios.

The recent decks have around 28 Pokémon, 14 Trainers, and 18 Energy. While this is better than the older Theme Decks (which were running around 24 Pokémon, 11 Trainers, and 25 Energy), the consistency of these decks is not good.

Just look at the number of basics in those decks. There are eighteen Basics in Red Frenzy. That’s enough to fill your bench up three times! The amount of energy and trainers are skewed as well. Eighteen energy is close to what you want to run in a deck with a main attacker that discards energy, but it’s still too much.

Especially with only eleven trainers. As shown earlier, trainers make your deck work consistently. If you only have eleven in your deck you’ll usually only have one or two in an opening hand and the chances of having the correct trainer or the ability to get the correct trainer are not good.

4. Inconsistent trainer lines.

Figuring out which trainers to run and in what quantities is the most difficult and most important part of the deck building process. More experienced players will have a rough idea of which trainers will work well when first starting to build a deck.

Trainers really will make or break your deck. In decks that are not running Magnezone orNinetales, trainers are the only source of draw power. They also provide the best Pokémon search options but we already covered that a bit back at pyramid lines. Plus, I believe trainers are the only good discard recovery at the moment.

Since the HGSS-on rotation was announced there have been loads of speculation on what trainers would be best to run and what ratios to use but trainers are the most tweaked part of every deck. They provide so many options by adding just a few cards. It’s easy to see how a new player can get overwhelmed.

Lucky for the new deck builder there are some wonderful posts concerning trainers over on Pokégym. The first is HGSS-on T/S/S lists… It has a list of every trainer that’s legal in HGSS-on and have them sorted by category.

The other one I can’t seem to find but will link in the comments if I can. It was a list of skeleton trainer lists for different types of decks. Yes, a list of lists. It is wonderful for anyone who’s trying out a new deck and not sure if they have all the trainers they’re going to need. Hopefully, someone will find a link to that post and put it in the comments below because it is great.

3. Trying to do too much.

It’s easy to get excited about combos when looking at a new set that’s coming out but it’s even easier to get caught up trying to fit them all into a single deck. I recently saw a decklist that was running Tyranitar, Serperior,and Reuniclus and the poster raved about how well it ran when it got setup, but couldn’t understand why it wasn’t setting up consistently.

The combo is amazing, Tyranitar can’t be 1HKO by anything meta but a four energy Lost Burn from Magnezone or Donphan/Machamp hitting for weakness and this makes it a great tank, especially with the Serperior/Reuniclus combo that can theoretically heal off 120 damage every round.

The problem that every experienced deck builder will immediately see is that you’d be trying to fit three different Stage 2 lines into one deck. Getting two of them to work in a deck is hard enough, three is asking for a major issues.

This is one of the most common problems with rogue decks in their first version: when you try to fit so much into the deck you lose out on consistency. Occasionally the stars may align and you will get the perfect start, but much of the time you’re battling your deck as well as your opponent to get going.

The best thing to do is cut the deck down as much as you can to just the bare bones and max out cards that will assist in your consistency. Go ahead and start with four Collector, four Communicator, two or three Dual Ball, and two or three Elm’s Training Method.

Will you need all of that? Probably not, but it will let you get the Pokémon out that you need when you need them. Even the most experienced player should get into the habit of starting with consistency first and then altering the deck from that good foundation.

2. Teched against every matchup.

The worst part of playtesting is losing all the time. And unless you stumble upon an amazing combo your first try, you will lose pretty often. Even decks constructed to counter a certain deck will fail more often than not while you’re testing them.

After losing, most people will consider adding a tech that will improve that matchup, which is a wonderful part of deck building. The problem arises from over-teching. If you’ve teched against every matchup that could come along, you probably will not get the tech you need when you need it. It’s a perfect example of consistency going wrong.

Finding the right techs can make your deck go from being average to amazing. On 6 Prizes there are some great writers sharing their decklists. These decklists are usually skeletons with options for teching listed below. One big reason for this is that different techs work for different playstyles.

I like to play down to the wire and pull out crazy things which makes Black Belt a fun tech in speed decks. However, I wouldn’t recommend it as a tech for most people. It’s situational and you have to do quite a bit of setup to get it to work making it quite a risk.

Personally, I love risks and think the luck factor of the game is fantastic but I know that most people will disagree with me. And that’s ok, techs should fit your playstyle.

Over-teching is the biggest reason that good decks have issues. However, teching is the way to change an auto-loss into an even matchup. If you can find the right tech to put into your deck and it doesn’t hurt consistency, it can be the difference between a loss and a win.

Also, if you are having issues with one certain matchup and none of the techs are making a difference, the best thing to do may be to just take them out and focus on consistency. Teching is the most difficult but fulfilling thing you can do to make a deck work well.

1. Playing a Zekrom variant.

pokebeach.comAs with all hyped decks, Zekrom got quite a bit of attention early on. The Zekrom, Shaymin, Pachirisu combo promised the potential to attack for 120 on turn one and early testing showed that it could be done a good amount of the time.

The problem soon showed that there was not much mid game and it’s end game was all but non-existent. Sure, you could take the first couple of prizes, but unless you’re donking, there are six to the side that need to be taken.

To base a deck around a certain combo, you must be able to do it consistently throughout the game. BlastGatr works because as soon as you get both parts to the combo on the field, you can keep going most of the time. ReshiBoar works because all you need is to keep energy in your hand and there are plenty of different ways to do this, either by recovering energy or just drawing into more. Any deck that has a combo needs to be able to hit hard, quickly and consistently.

Any deck that is hyped receives that hype because it looks good. For example, MagneBoar is looking like it’ll do extremely well. It has a good draw engine, great damage output, and several different options. Sometimes it starts up a little slow, but the deck should be up and running by turn three or four.

Once it gets going, it has amazing momentum that carries it through to the end of the game. The only way to know for sure if a deck that looks good on paper will actually work is to test it. When a hyped deck tests well, it will become meta.


I hoped you liked my little countdown and that you have taken something from it that you hadn’t known before or thought of in a while. This isn’t an article on how to build the perfect deck, but more of what you should avoid when building your perfect deck. Every point on this countdown should be considered when building a deck, but not every build is going to need every point. So don’t treat this as a checklist but more of a starting point for discussion.

Thanks to Perry Going for some great content advice, Guy Bennett for more excellent content advice and grammatical editing, and Sarah Griggs for grammatical editing.

Reader Interactions

34 replies

  1. Anonymous

    Note: this was made before Canada Nats, so let’s not bother him about Zeckrom.

    • Ron Routhier  → Anonymous

      The Canadian Winner also played a 2-2 Yanmega for sniping babies late game, so the whole mid-late game weakness was taken care of

    • David Griggs  → Anonymous

      Thanks Epic_Win1! I was actually planning on commenting on this as soon as it went up, but didn’t expect it to get published quite so quickly and was unprepared when it went up today.

      Now, I could write a whole article on why Zekrom did so well in the Canadian Nationals, but I’m sure the discussion will go on without an article. Basically it comes down to Rock, Paper, Scissors and him getting lucky with the meta changing without much word online. Ended up Yanmega being played more then Donphan thereby giving Zekrom an easier way to the finals. Did you see the number of Yanmega based decks in top cut?? Craziness.

      The point about Zekrom is more poking fun at myself for playing Zekrom even though it’s extremely hard to keep going past midgame and I received quite a bit of flak about playing it. It’s not so much about Zekrom being a bad deck as that you need to evaluate every deck instead of just accepting the hype.

  2. Ryan

    The article was pretty well written up until the final note. Isn’t it a little unfair to say your going to lose if you play  Zekrom, even seeing as though it won Canada Nationals??? I’ve tried out Zekrom and it has a great late game as long as you don’t over extend. The article itself was well written but not really the best article to get players excited for nationals.

    • David Griggs  → Ryan

      First, the point isn’t that you should just dismiss Zekrom, but that you should not blindly accept the hype.

      Second, Zekrom has a hard matchup against Magneboar (which isn’t being played now) and against Donphan (which is probably going to show up in force at the US Nationals to counter the Zekrom that will be played by copycats). While it isn’t game breaking to have a hard matchup or auto-loss, it’s definitely worth a second look. Most of the wins I got with Zekrom vs those matchups came to a Seeker donk of some sort. Which is pro, but inconsistent.

  3. Julian Silva

    I’m assuming this article was written before Canada’s Nats but honestly I would’ve agreed with reason number one but maybe not as high as a reason.  I’m still skeptical about ZPS and will probably always be.

    The rest of the article was a good read though, nice job!

    • David Griggs  → Julian

      Heh… Number one is a jab at myself for playing the most hyped deck of HGSS-on before the rotation actually happened.

  4. the sidewalk

    LOL @ your number one reason being the number one deck at Canadian nats. Nice opinion credibility.

    • David Griggs  → the

      Yeah… I didn’t anticipate the meta shift to happen so quickly. I knew it would happen, but I was anticipating at least next set before it would. And the meta shift gave Zekrom the free ride it needed to win.

      • the sidewalk  → David

        lol yeah, sorry. I didn’t mean to rub it in. It looks like Luxchomp will have a confirmed successor when Catcher comes out.

  5. nui wong

    lawl now i get to see the article you said you were writing

  6. Kiera

    I fall firmly under number 7 – I love to play with my favourites. Last format, I played Umbreon. It worked in most cases, but failed against Gyarados and died almost completely in the brief MD-BW format. This format, I’ll be playing with my #1 favourite pokemon: Lanturn. Sure, Magnezone/Emboar is the better combo – but I know that I’ll enjoy myself more with Lanturn/Emboar, regardless of how many times I may win or lose :)

  7. Eric Lari

    Great article David! I strongly agree with point number 8. Altering what deck you play after every loss isn’t a good idea. I think it takes a certain level of familiarity with a deck to be successful, changing decks every game isn’t going to help.

  8. Anthony Smith

    I won’t lose if I don’t enter!

    Though I would if there wasn’t a large body of water between myself and America.

  9. Emil lumen

    Wow i know someone who is number 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 9 (because of number 8)
    Next week he will probably be 1 because he will want to play zekrom.

      • Emil lumen  → David

        He plays Donchamp and ever since HG-SS he has more deck space

        2: he over tech a lot (samurott for fire decks, serperior to heal his EQ damage, Tyrogue for babies)
        3: He tries too much, he made donchamp with samurott and serperior for healing and fire counter
        4: He never draws his trainers cause he never puts a good amount in it, i dunno why he even runs junk arm
        6: He likes running more of the basics to actually draw them
        8: If he loses to anyone once, he’ll take his cards out of their sleeves and re-work his deck
        9: Because of number 8 he never gets to playtest

        • David Griggs  → Emil

          Heh… Send him the article, hopefully it’ll help his deck building. ^_^

        • Emil lumen  → David

          Just got a text from him…hes gonna run zekroms in his donphan deck….so hes number 1 2 3 4 6 8 9. lmao

        • David Griggs  → Emil

          That’s awesome.

          If he’s been playing Donphan since back in the day, he’d almost qualify for number 10 as well. ^_^

  10. Matthew Tidman

    Excellent article. It was definitely well written, and I know I’ve been guilty of some of those mistakes in the past (8 and 3 in particular).

    Zekrom was and is still overhyped, but being overhyped does not mean that the thing being hyped is bad. My go-to example for this is Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a game that has achieved almost god-like status when anyone starts talking about the best video games ever. Now I’m going to go hide from the rotten tomatoes people will be throwing at me for insulting OoT. :)

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