Grinding the Grinder: Tips and Tricks to Succeed in the Last Chance Qualifier

pokegym.netSo you’ve played your heart out over the course of the season, and may have even won some events; however, for one reason or another, you just didn’t get make a high enough place at your National Championship, and/or whiffed that all-important rating invite. What’s a player to do now?

But wait – you haven’t given up just yet! You want one last chance at that glorious main event, and as a result, you’ve dished out the airfare/gas money to make the trip out to San Diego for the Last Chance Qualifier (“LCQ” for short, or just “the Grinder”). Your dedication may have some expenses tied to it, but you’ve got a goal in mind, and you’re every bit motivated in achieving it.

If any of that is going through your mind right now, then you sound an awful lot like I did back in 2008 and 2009, when I was struggling to earn invites at the last second during both seasons. Without a doubt, these events were great exercises of skill and stamina, and 2011 will be very much the same song and dance. However, we’re not interested in exercises…WE WANT INVITES!

And If that’s what you want, then I’m your man: I’ve gone two-for-two at making it through the Grinder, and feel like I’ve built up some solid preparation habits for what could easily be considered the third toughest event of the year (behind Nationals and Worlds, naturally).

In this article, I’ll explain how I prepared for my first grinder; how I revised my old plans to conform to the new season’s “single elimination” structure; and finally, the most recent results of my testing. With this plan, you too can have a solid starting point to work off of for the next few weeks, and ultimately increase your odds to earn that coveted invite.

This article may appear to apply only to those actually attending Worlds, but I am convinced that advice found within can prepare anyone for any event. You may need to use your common sense when it comes to the amount of games you play, but this discussion could very well help condition you for any large event. Just keep these principles in mind, and long-term preparation should come much more easily.

With that said, let’s get on with it!

2008: My First LCQ, and the Start of a Plan[Article Note 1: The 2008 LCQ operated on 30 minute rounds with a straight Swiss and no top cut.]

[Article Note 2: The 2011 LCQ will operate on best 2/3 match play with an undetermined time limit, and no Swiss.]

It was my freshman year of college, and juggling Pokémon was just too difficult: I had A’s to earn after all, so Pokémon was the least of my concerns. In spite of this challenge, I went on to win a City Championship, a State Championship, and – when I finally had the time to sit down and test – five Battle Roads.

Unfortunately, my Nationals performance was less than stellar: I made a gutsy metagame call that backfired, and so my rating plummeted. As a result, I was stuck competing in the Last Chance Qualifier.

By good fortune, I never had to play in the Grinder prior to 2008, so over the years I took advantage of my opportunities to observe the event. It’s gone through many renovations, but I’ve heard many of the same thoughts and feelings consistently conveyed every season.

Of those thoughts and feelings, I’d like to now discuss – and dispel – the greatest mistruths and misconceptions that persist to this very day:

1. “There are just too many people – there’s no way I can make it in…”


pokegym.netThis is by FAR the number one killer of LCQ-hopefuls, as it is a resignation to failure before the first die is even cast. I think it’s important to realize that there is never a guarantee you will win in a tournament, or even do well, but failure only becomes absolute when you let it be.

And when you think about it logically, it becomes all too sensible: when the event is comprised of approximately 450 people, and only such-and-such invites are given out, you have such-and-such probability of making it! And then when you have such-and-such probability of making it, the expected utility of your trip is…

*Ends sarcasm*

Ignore that little devil on your shoulder; ignore all that over-thinking that will only lead to a false conclusion. From the outset of testing for the 2008 LCQ, I was quick to get these negative thoughts out of my mind, and as a result, I feel like things moved forward so much more smoothly: not once did I think that the task ahead of me was daunting, and because of that, I honestly feel like I played razor-sharp the whole time because of that focus.

As a final word on this topic: I know it can be tough (and cliché) to tell yourself that you can do something; however, even if you find yourself unable to be positive, then at the very least avoid being negative. You play this game because you enjoy it, and while it’s a joy to win, the last thing you want to do is to crush yourself over a game – it makes for sloppy play later on.

2. This tournament/format is a crapshoot, so I don’t need to test.


pokegym.netWhile there is a disgusting amount of variance right now, you at least have control over some of it. For instance, one of my lost Nationals games, in which I went a combined 0/9 on Pokémon Reversal/Junk Arm/Super Scoop Up flips, could have been dealt with if I had just run a second (non-flippy) Switch in lieu of the Super Scoop Up.

Likewise, many players who lost on turn one multiple times throughout Nationals could have decreased the probability of their losses happening by running a lower baby count.

Even if you decrease the odds of flips factoring in as much as possible, you can still lose due to the coin! However, if you prepare as much as possible, as well as take advantage of the more skill-based match play system, then you actually can fight fate.

3. This is the exact same format as Nationals, so there’s really no point in testing any differently for this tournament.


En contrario, mis amigos: it is actually much easier to test for this format than either the Nationals or Worlds formats. The threat of a secret deck is much lower here than it is in either of the aforementioned tournaments, so the predictability is actually much greater.

Furthermore, misconceptions one and two actually self-fulfill the downfall of players in this event: since they feel like there’s no solid hope for skill to shine through, they are more inclined to play stale, un-challenged lists, and as a result, players like you can capitalize on this.

After internally dispelling these myths, I knew I had to move forward with some sort of plan…But what? It was around this time I remembered an idea I read about years ago:”the ten game plan.”

The “Ten-Game-a-Day” Plan

wwworksIn 2004, I picked up Tsuguyoshi Yamato’s “Magma Spirit” deck, eager to have a fun novelty to celebrate my first World Championship event. However, the one truly fascinating tidbit came from one of the Japanese Junior (then “ten and under”) players, quoted as saying that his preparation method was to play ten games a day.

(“A Junior with good advice? Well, I never!”)

Flash forward nearly four years later, when I was looking for ways to prepare for Orlando’s Last Chance Qualifier event. In the process of brainstorming, I suddenly remembered that novel quote from the Junior player, and then it dawned on me: this is a perfect way to get ready for a huge Swiss tournament!

(Yes, some people may be embarrassed to admit to finding inspiration in the younger age groups, but I’m not! Inspiration comes from the most interesting places, after all.)

So I took this kid’s method, and then revamped it into a creation of my own, thus producing the trademarked (and obviously tongue-in-cheek) “Kettler Method ®.”

But first, why did I choose to keep it as a ten game plan?

1. Ten is a fair number of games for one day.

Let’s face it: our time on this Earth is finite, so we (hopefully) won’t be spending all of our time playing 30 games of Pokémon a day. However, if we really want to achieve a worlds berth through the LCQ, then we need a sufficient number of games a day that won’t wear us out too much.

I feel that in the current HGSS-on format, this is an especially manageable number for almost anyone (sans those of you working 60 hours a week). After trying out this method for a few days, I could tell that ten games a day struck a perfect balance between Pokémon and non-Pokémon pursuits.

2. Ten a day is a good number to build long-term endurance.

pokemon-paradijs.comIn 2008 and 2009, the Last Chance Qualifier was a grueling eight-round swiss with several instances of uncomfortable downtime, so those with the endurance to withstand the long day were far better positioned to seize the invites than those that weren’t. I figured that by playing ten games, I not only played enough to reflect the number I would play in the real event, but more.

If there’s anything I felt the ten game method accomplished, then it was this. My studies in TCG endurance building would later help me in other Pokémon pursuits, such as my 2010 Regionals win (19 games in one day).

3. Ten a day gives you enough time to experiment with multiple decks.

I like becoming familiar with a wide variety of decks, but I also don’t want to exclude all of my options. In 2008, my choice was fairly clear: Gardevoir/Gallade was a fantastic deck in timed matches, had a sufficient mix of power and disruption, and was doubtlessly one of the format’s best choices.

However, there’s always the possibility that something could be more effective, and so I decided to allow enough time each day to run something else against my opponents. Thus, my daily schedules would be divided equally between my main choice, Gardevoir/Gallade, and then whatever interesting rogue deck came to mind.

Although I would ultimately dispel all of these choices, it was at least useful to play enough games to cover ground on both my pet decks and my main interest.

4. Ten a day gives you enough opportunities to test against top tier decks.

In any given format, there are usually 3-5 decks that are “decks to beat,” and if you’re playing ten games a day with one or two different builds, then you should get in a sufficient number versus most or all of your big-ticket threats.

So now you know the reasoning behind the “ten,” but what final details did I add to make it a more patented “grinder” regimen?

  1. I kept track of TIME each game. Since rounds were 30 minutes, the end result of an untimed testing game could be different, so I kept a close watch on how this changed. Usually, my testing partner or I would informally mention, “I would have won this if it went to time,” and so we’ve review the Apprentice logs to double-check this assertion.
  1. I try to play as many games in a row as I can. Getting in just ten games is nice, but if you can play several consecutive games/matches, then you will further build up endurance. More important, however, is that this makes your testing schedule more compact, allowing for more efficiency in your day.
  2. Although I try to test more than one deck a day, as I come closer to the day of the LCQ, I eventually abandon my alternate choices. It helps to familiarize yourself with decks, but it’s far more important to be a king at whatever you plan to use; otherwise, even the subtlest of misplays might doom your chances in this very intense event. If you’re playing in the grinder, then I highly advise you start focusing on only one deck by August 3rd at the latest.

So those are all of the main points behind what I feel to have been a very successful testing strategy. I can single-handedly attribute this method to every invite I’ve earned over the past three years, but mainly to the ones earned through the LCQ. However, upon the announcement that this year’s Grinder would be run under single elimination conditions, I knew my method had to change…

2011: Modifying the Old Plan

So it’s safe to say that no matter how you test, there are some principles that hold firm:

*The more you test, the more experienced you become; and the more experienced you become, the more likely you are to make the wisest tactical and strategic choices.

*The more you test, the more likely you are to stumble upon something inspirational.

pokegym.netHowever, even if these stay true, your method might not be the best approach to your end goal. Since our end goal for the purpose of this article is making it into Worlds, we need to modify the ten game method for a single elimination format.

For this reason, you shouldonly test using match play. This might seem a little strange, but let me discuss three important reasons why you must do this:

1. Knowing who goes first or second is crucial in determining your starting board. For example, consider the dilemma between opening with an active Cleffa versus an active Magnemite: the Cleffa is obviously the better starter when going first, but due to its high probability of being Knocked Out on the first turn, the higher-HP Magnemite is the better starter if you are going second.

While this dilemma could still very well show up on the first game of the match series, the fact is that in at least the other half of all games in your match, you will know who is going first. Hence, you NEED to test match play, or else your testing will be inaccurate.

2. Endurance, endurance, endurance. Since an invitee will probably have to play as many as 21 games to score an invite this year, this event stands to be even tougher to break into every other grinder. So if you test match play early and often, then will become far more prepared to withstand the onslaught than your competitors.

Of course, switching to match play leads to some complications in your original “ten game” plan. For this reason, I encourage you to follow the following roadmap when getting ready.

[*Please note that the Masters division is my base; however, since there will be many Senior and Junior competitors, we also need to consider what would be right for them, as well.

Since the younger age groups don’t have nearly as much endurance to build as the old guys, I suggest for them alternate road maps that will eventually settle on where they’ll need to come game day.

pokemon-paradijs.comThese alternate roadmaps are based on past attendance, # of invites awarded, and – most importantly – probable maximum attendance ranging from 150-256.]

A. Early phase of LCQ testing (Starting point to ten days left): play 4-5 matches a day, which should total out to around an average of ten games a day. In the event that your four matches only total out to 8-9 games, then you ought to top off the day with one more match if you have the time.

[Suggested Junior #: 2-3]
[Suggested Senior #: 3-4]

B. Second phase of LCQ testing (ten days left-six days left): play 5-6 matches a day. Push your endurance more, but it’s still too early to be conditioning under exact event circumstances yet.

[Suggested Junior #: 3]
[Suggested Senior #: 4-5]

C. Final phase of LCQ testing (six days left until the day before leaving): play 6-7 matches a day. Six is in all likelihood the number you’ll have to play, but please be aware that you could be stuck playing an excruciatingly-long period of time.

[Suggested Junior #: 4-5]
[Suggested Senior #: 5-6]

3. While the end-goal of THIS article is to win an invite, the end goal of everything you read on here is to help you at helping yourself become the best you can be.

Since all of us wanting to make it in through the Grinder also aspire to do well in the main event, conditioning into a top cut mindset will also prepare us for the top cut of Worlds itself, thereby giving us a distinct advantage over many of our opponents.

All else being equal, I would bet on the player who tests under top cut conditions than the one who does not

The Modified Plan in Action

Cyrus's Initiative Platinum: Supreme Victorspokegym.netSo now that I had settled on a plan for this year, all that was left for me to do was implement everything! Listed below are some of my most recent testing results, as well as decklists for reference. I hope that my explanations give you a solid idea of how my thought process in testing works, as well as my preferences in lists and decks over time.

Day One

Donphan/Yanmega VS Donphan/Zoroark/Yanmega (Seena Ghaziaskar)

(Win; Loss; Win)

Seena is a regular tester on the Apprentice bracket, and is one of the most legendary U.S. Nationals performers of all time. That said, he’s also a great person to discuss deck theory with, so he makes for a very well-rounded opponent.

His list looked very similar to Fulop’s posted in Underground last week, with the exception that his Pokémon line looked more like Kyle “Pooka” Sucevich, which ran 3-3 Zoroark, 2-2 Donphan, and what I guessed to be a 4-3 Yanmega line. My list, on the other hand, was far less-teched, and much more focused:

Pokémon – 17

4 Phanpy HS
4 Donphan Prime
4 Yanma TM
3 Yanmega Prime
1 Cleffa HS
1 Tyrogue HS

Trainers – 28

4 Pokémon Reversal
4 Junk Arm
4 Copycat
4 Pokémon Communication
3 PlusPower
3 Professor Oak’s New Theory
3 Judge
3 Pokémon Collector

Energy – 13

13 F

Open Spots – 2

[Have been two Super Scoop Up, two Life Herb, or just more draw/PlusPower/Energy.]

pokemon-paradijs.comBasically, this list sacrifices your tools against Rayquaza-Deoxys LEGEND and Reshiram in exchange for a greater focus on the core essentials of your deck, as well as a faster, more efficient Donphan. Most distinct, though, is the huge amount of draw played in this build, which helps avoid dry spells in all but the worst scenarios.

Our games were good in this series, but my ability to constantly crank out Donphans applied too much pressure too soon. That said, Zoroark is far from useless in this quasi-mirror, since it can copy Donphan’s Heavy Impact for a much cheaper cost, sometimes allowing for some easy kills.

Notes: consider Zoroark for later, but not yet.

Donphan/Yanmega VS Magnezone/Yanmega (Sebastian Crema)

(Win; Loss; Win)

Sebastian is one of the oldest testers of “Megazone,” and so is always a good person to play against when testing that particular matchup. Since we run a combined sixteen Pokémon Reversals (4 Junk Arm/4 Reversal each), this was naturally a very flippy series, much like the U.S. Nationals final match. However, Donphan is much more efficient than Magnezone.

Surprisingly, my losing the second game was actually due to failing to hit any draw cards early on…How ironic! However, this is definitely one of Megazone’s toughest matchups, so if you plan to use it in the LCQ or the main event, then have some answer for it!

Notes: potentially run an eleventh draw card.

Yanmega/Magnezone VS Typhlosion/Reshiram (Mike Reynolds)

(Loss; Win; Loss)[Note: the list I used was very similar to Mikey’s “basic list” posted in his article, so for reference, just check that out.]

Ah, yes…It was this matchup that crushed my hopes at a deep top cut run at this year’s Nationals, so I felt it was absolutely essential to replay it.

Unfortunately, games one and three went almost exactly like my Nationals run: he went first, set up much too quickly, and as a result, ran through my entire board both times. Granted, these games were closer than the one I played at Nationals, but it was still a disturbing trend (made all the more disturbing by the fact that my win in this series was a donk).

[I’m not sure if I’m at liberty to discuss his list in full, but it’s not that hard to imagine: basically just take airhawk’s 9-0 list, take out the DCE/Engineer, and then put in more fire/Juniper. Just about every list I’ve played against looks like that right now, with the occasional preference of Judge over other draw cards.]

Notes: Typhlosion has consistently proven itself capable of devastating Yanmega/Magnezone if it A) goes first; and B) sets up uninterrupted.

Yanmega/Magnezone/Kingdra VS Typhlosion/Reshiram (Mike Reynolds)

(Win; Win)

This list is literally two cards different from the one I used prior, and looks much like Mikey’s posted “Kingdra tech list.” The only crucial difference is that I did not run Rainbows, used the Kingdra only for its power, and played a Pachirisu tech.

Surprisingly, this one tech made all of the difference: it allowed me to conserve energy over the course of the game, allowed for a much stronger Yanmega Prime Target Attack, and was generally an all-around awesome play. Unlike the previous series, as well as my Nationals loss, the option to Spray Splash gave me a greater sense of confidence.

Notes: Kingdra is a pretty cool guy, I hear.

Day Two

Megazone “Weird” VS Tyranitar/Jirachi/Serperior (Sebastian Crema)

(Loss; Win; Win)

pokegym.netThis list was basically like Fulop’s (which is, in turn, basically like the one played by Martin Moreno and Aziz Al-Yami at this year’s Nats). Sebastian’s deck, on the other hand, is much like the list posted in “From Fool to World,” only with one very cool difference:

He ran Psychic and Jirachi!

It’s a cool idea, but his first win was obtained mainly by my extremely slow Magnezone in game one. On the other second, game two was lopsided in my favor, and then finally game three came down to him being unable to pull off a game-winning Darkness Howl. After this series, he quickly abandoned the idea, saving it for a later day.

Notes: I was right to move away from Tyranitar – it has way too many setup issues, and is tough to maintain for a prolonged period of time.

Tyranitar/Serperior/Crobat/Reshiram/Bouffalant VS Kingdra Prime/Zekrom (Mikey Fouchet)

(Win; Win)

…But for some reason, I went against the better judgment of my notes, and played an even techier Tyranitar against Mikey. Considering we both just wanted to play a series with weird decks, I feel like he definitely won the lottery for “worst matchup possible,” and it showed in the results. I felt like his deck was very interesting.

Notes: There is still great potential for auto-loss scenarios this format.

Tyranitar/Serperior VS Don/mega/ark (Seena Ghaziaskar)

(Win; Loss; Win)

Over the course of these games, I began to realize how bad the techs really were, so I began to strip most of them out. The result was a decklist that could go toe-to-toe with the theoretical “auto-loss” that is Donphan. More importantly, however, I feel like a list capable of swarming three Serperior (i.e., what I used) is more than capable of out-muscling Donphan, and all but eliminates the usefulness of Yanmega Prime.

Notes: Keep it simpler than you have been – maybe sack the Crobat Prime for a Kingdra Prime, but two Stage Two Pokémon need reliable consistency before anything else!

Tyranitar/Serperior VS Magnezone/Yanmega (Mikey Fouchet)

(Loss; Loss)

This deck was originally the reason why I turned completely away from Tyranitar, and Mikey’s fantastic beatdown against me was a sobering reminder of that.

Notes: You really need to abandon Tyranitar – and this time, it needs to be an honest abandonment.

Day Three

For this round of testing, I was inspired to once again bring up Lostgar, a deck I’ve been testing before nearly anything else. Other than an occasional deviation, I used this list:

Pokémon – 18

4 Gastly TM
2 Haunter TM
4 Gengar Prime
1 Slowpoke HS
1 Slowking HS
2 Mime Jr. CL
1 Cleffa HS
2 Spiritomb TM
1 Mr. Mime CL

Trainers – 27

4 Rare Candy
4 Twins
4 Seeker
4 Professor Oak’s New Theory
4 Pokémon Collector
4 Pokémon Communication
2 Lost World
1 Switch

Energy – 11

11 P

Open Spots – 4

[Mixed around between a second Mr. Mime, a 1-1 Jirachi UL/Shaymin UL tech line, 2-2 Slowking, a single Copycat, and a second Switch.]

pokegym.netThe Jirachi/Shaymin tactic was something I thought of during eight-man sides at Nationals, and it worked very well: use Jirachi to replenish your Psychic supply, and then Celebration Wind the energy onto Gengar for a surprisingly brutal Hurl.

Lostgar VS RDL-focused Emboar (Emre Arslan)

(Win; Win)

These games helped remind me why I fell in love with Lostgar so early on in the format: because it can often lock an opponent entirely out of a game. By the third turn in game two, I believe I already had a total of four Pokémon Lost Zoned (Mime Jr. and two subsequent Hurls into Darkness). So despite the 2-2 RDL, he was actually never able to use it.

Notes: reconsider Lostgar – it is your baby, after all!

Lostgar VS Typhlosion (Emre Arslan)

(Loss; Win; Win)

…And although the first game was a decisive blow-out his part, the second and third games played out much like the Emboar series mentioned above.

Notes: [none]

Lostgar VS Typhlosion (Seena Ghaziaskar)

(Loss; Win; Loss)

Although Seena’s list was not much different from Emre’s, the games were significantly different: his winning the opening toss may have skewed things a decent amount, but I also felt like I was always just a turn or two shy of the win. Upon re-examining the list, I realized that it needed some revisions made to it for consistency (I had cut the fifth draw card from my list discussed two articles ago).


  • Up consistency of setup, or the consistency of the Lost Zone opportunities.
  • For Lostgar and other decks with several weird starters, it is particularly useful to test under match play conditions.

Megaphan vs Typhlosion (Seena Ghaziaskar)

(Loss; Loss)

Seeing as how I had played Lostgar way too much for one evening, I decided to shift my attention back to Yanmega/Donphan, which needed a challenge in the form of Reshiram swarms. Needless to say, my Donphan Primes were torn to shreds by his endless stream of double PlusPowered Blue Flare plays.

Since Typhlosion is looking to be a VERY popular play for the Last Chance Qualifier, using this deck as-is would be a needless risk – one I’m not willing to take.

Notes: either go back to Donmega/Zoroark for later testing games, or find some reasonable answer to Reshiram/RDL AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!

Moving Forward, and the Preliminary Verdict on Tested Decks

This is not all of the testing I have done, but I feel like these are the most notable experiences so far in my preparation for the LCQ. Here were my final verdicts on each deck I tested, and where they stand now:

  • Donphan/Yanmega is a fantastic deck, but it (and every other construction in the format) ought to be able to cope with Reshirams and Rayquaza-Deoxys LEGEND.
  • Magnezone/Yanmega, being the Nationals winner, is obviously a great choice, but cards like Kingdra and PlusPower put it over the top. Also, a weird list is not out of the question, but I feel that if you’re cutting Magnezone, then you need some really good reasons (e.g., solid late-game options).
  • Tyranitar/Serperior has SOME excellent matchups, but against the top tier of the format, it is simply too risky to use. While I haven’t completely given up on the deck, I do recognize that my time left before Worlds is very little, so I can’t play this deck for more than one match a day.
  • Lostgar has many fantastic games, but the more I test, the more I feel like playing it is a gamble: Hurl into Darkness, Spooky Whirlpool, and Sleepy Lost are anything but guarantees, and you’re often at the mercy of opponents’ Junk Arms. Maybe Vileplume would alleviate this though, so I haven’t completely given up on it.


As I said previously, making it into the Last Chance Qualifier may seem like an intimidating, daunting task. But now that we’ve dissected the myths, strategies, and inner-workings of Grinder preparation, it probably doesn’t sound so bad; in fact, you may even think of it as greatly entertaining!

This do-or-die duel is an exercise of will, skill, and luck, but as long as you keep your head high, then you at least have as much of a shot as anyone else in the field. So keep testing, keep at it, and I hope to see a World Championship full of SixPrizes subscribers.

Good luck!

…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

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