…Or so the old saying goes. Similar to how anything imaginable is possible, anything that can go awry will do so, and in dramatic fashion. The Pokémon Trading Card Game is no exception, since in any given season, you will hear of at least one instance of “name” players in an event crashing and burning.
What if I were to tell you, though, that most crash-and-burn performances – even those from successful players – are completely avoidable?
Be it due to poor metagame calls, one misstep in the deck-building process, or something else, Murphy’s Law can be torn apart. We can learn how everything went wrong at an event, and assure that future results will never mirror that catastrophe ever again.
You don’t have to be a “name” player to have a bad day; on the contrary, there is an incorrect assumption that past success begets future success, and that how you did in the yesteryear should shape how you do in the next season.
Through my own recent performance at Regional Championships, we will dissect the process: how even good ideas can be bad decisions; how testing does not always account for every possibility; and what plans you should make to ultimately preserve your chances at a large event.
After my Article
Its consistency was virtually unmatched, and it had the ability to stomp down almost every single “surprise” deck that may have shown up (e.g., Yanmega/Mew, Mew/Tornadus, Cinccino/Kingdra, Mew Lock). I believe all of this to be true even now, when we are on the cusp of a new City Championship format.
However, even with a consistent list sporting maximum Pokégear 3.0, I encountered several problems during testing:
- Its Item lock matchup was horrendous. Granted, many players were able to skirt past this issue by virtue of Gothitelle/The Truth lists and players not all being up to part during Battle Roads. At Regionals, however, successful players of one or both were plentiful.
- Its Typhlosion/Reshiram matchup could become a nail-biter far too often. If you keep two Typhlosions off of the board, then life becomes tolerable. But when they both show up…Expect an uphill battle, for sure.
- Starting with Shaymin or Pachirisu was always a pain. Even though the odds of this happening in my Autumn Leaves list are roughly one in five, it still made for an extremely awkward game, constraining my options significantly.
I felt that Item lock hurt too much, Typhlosion/Reshiram needed to be pushed beyond 50/50 territory, and my poor start situations needed to be fixed. Thus, I tried to fix all of the above by making the list into the following…
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 30
Energy – 16
– I decided to include two Mew Prime and one Relicanth Call of Legends specifically to combat the Gothitelle matchup. At this point, I decided that of the three major Item lock decks (Gothitelle, The Truth, Mew Lock), I would have the two most prolific in positive territory.
– The original list ran only three Pokémon Catcher, but I began to realize that maximum Catcher was essential to maintain momentum in a close game…A close game like Typhlosion. It took me some games to admit it, but I eventually settled on four Catcher being a mandatory count.
– Since my basic count rose from 12 to 14, my odds of starting with a Shaymin or Pachirisu dropped dramatically: from one in five to less than one in seven! This may seem insignificant, but when you’re starving yourself of options only once per swiss series as opposed to twice, then that is a very, very big deal.
Each change was meant to directly address my matchup issues, as well as make the build a more well-rounded construction. However, my one peculiar take is the addition of Bianca, a multi-purpose draw card in this list.
Why did I play it?
- It serves as a good balance between Cheren and Sage’s Training: it usually draws as much as the former, but can quite often have the range of the latter if you play your hand down wisely.
- Between it and Pokégear 3.0, you are rarely going to get Judge locked.
- When your hand is less than two cards after playing it, if effectively functions as a miniature Juniper. This in turn lets you FLY through your deck, and makes getting your item resources (PlusPower, SSU, Catcher) far more manageable.
So yes, this may have been a highly unorthodox choice, but I feel it was the right call for the deck.
The Final Week
In the week preceding Regionals, I began to sway toward two new changes to my list: Energy Search over a larger count of raw Energy, and See Off over Prehistoric Wisdom. I fell in love with the first choice because it, like Pokégear 3.0, is yet another way to thin your hand, strengthen your game against hand disruption, and get more mileage out of Junk Arm.
My matchup against Item lock was becoming shakier with this new choice, so I decided to make it up by switching into Mew/Psychics. No longer did I have to deal with the occasional two retreat Relicanth start, instead being able to embrace the ever-versatile start of the free-retreating Mew.
Listed below is the near-exact list I used for Fall Regionals 2011…
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 32
Energy – 13
Open Spots – 1
What to do with that open spot, though? I considered my options:
- A Tyrogue would give me a lot of soft strength in any Reuniclus matchup;
- A ninth draw card would up my consistency all-around;
- A third PlusPower would bolster my strength in the Typhlosion and Magnezone matchups; and…
- A new See Off target would make for another unorthodox choice, and could possibly break open a matchup.
Option D soon lured me in, having the potential to offset A/C entirely. The remaining questions were: could only eight draw suffice, and which See Off target would I run?
I convinced myself through testing that – yes – eight draw and four Pokégear 3.0 would do well, in spite of clearly-displayed roughness in testing…Hence the reason why I wanted more draw in the first place. With this, I dedicated myself to finding possible techs.
– Zoroark BLW instantly jumped out at me. By Seeing Off this target, your otherwise-useless Mews in the Typhlosion/Reshiram matchup suddenly gain an obscene amount of mileage, and through copied Blue Flares via Foul Play, can assure a quick end to the game after successful kills on their Cyndaquils to slow them down.
I ultimately rejected this idea because it failed to offer enough in Item lock matchups: Foul Play did nothing to Gothitelle, and versus The Truth’s Donphans, your Mews simply get plowed through.
– After more brainstorming and testing, I finally found my one strange See Off choice: Magnezone Prime itself. This tech discovery felt like seeing angels descend from Heaven, since the idea just happened to dawn on me while watching another player’s game. “Limited damage is always a problem with ZPS,” I thought to myself. “Why should I not try to change that?”
It had seriously satisfied all of my concerns about Item lock, since it offered me a legitimate 1HKO option against The Truth, and yet another efficient trick against Gothitelle. Even against the Typhlosion matchup, it could operate as a last-ditch method to score the final prize or two.
…So my The Truth counter was found, and my Gothitelle matchup was a blowout. How could this list go wrong?
It did go wrong. And in the below tournament report, I will explain to you how.
[Note: Please ignore my switching of tenses throughout this account – I like to keep it in the moment!]
Round One: VS ZPST mirror (I go first)
We each start with lone Tornadus, both attempt first turn wins on each other, and both subsequently fail due to whiffs (I Juniper hoping to hit a Pachirisu and miss; he Sage’s for a third PlusPower and misses). After these failed attempts, we struggle to set up, continuously missing on crucial draws to help get us going; however, his board position is stronger than mine due to a tech Thunderus EP continuously threatening to blast my Tornadus back into the Stone Age.
For several turns I am stuck playing the board, struggling to stay alive. Eventually, I hit some draw thanks to a Pokégear 3.0, and begin to mount my reclamation of the board. All of this time, however, he has been forced to discard several cards via Sage’s Training and Juniper, denying him precious energy manipulation options with Shaymin or Pachirisu.
From there, my ample supply of Pokémon Catchers allows me to neutralize opposing Zekroms, leaving my own Zekroms to stand tall against a field of genies. Shortly thereafter, I win.
Round Two: VS ZPST mirror (I go second)
pokegym.netI begin the game with a very bad, inflexible hand, starting Tornadus and no consistency resources to his Zekrom. This is made worse by his very powerful first turn (he thankfully does not score a KO to win the game on turn one, but does score multiple Self Generations). By the second turn, I am down a prize, and am dragging fast, desperately looking for resources to salvage my deficit. Later, I top deck a Bianca, thin my hand down to only essentials, and then draw for five…
I whiff the response KO against his Zekrom by one card: a P Energy instead of a Lightning. Had I received the latter, I would have been able to Self Generation myself, Celebration Wind to a previously-played Zekrom, attach, and then Bolt Strike for KO. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and as a result, he rightfully won in a mirror of pure function versus over-teching.
Round Three: VS Krookodile Theme Deck (I go second)
This round, I am up against a polite new player of two weeks, using a slightly edited Krookodile theme deck (more draw; less Water filler). Her Sawk start is…Surprisingly troubling, since it hit four heads on the “Five Fierce Chops” attack by turn two, Knocking Out my Mew Prime.
My hand remains shaky, but as I get Tornadus’s Hurricane online quickly, the game finally shifts in my favor. Despite the fact that I am up against a theme deck, I am deathly afraid of what Emerging Powers Krookodile might do to me, so I quickly and promptly gust up every one of her Sandiles/Krokoroks. Shortly thereafter, I win the game on prizes.
Round Four: VS Donphan/Machamp/Vileplume/Zekrom (I go second)
pokegym.netI once again whiff the first turn knockout by a close call (whiffed Double Colorless), and he asserts his board position with a fast Donphan kill, building his bench damage on Zekrom and Machop. I answer this with a two-turn Hurricane kill of my own, but not before he is able to Heavy Impact me for a second prize. This leaves me down a prize, and up against a Zekrom that could give me severe trouble if I am unable to find a Zekrom of my own.
My solution at this point is to simply avoid his Zekrom, and go for bench targets. Against a three-card hand, and a bench of a two energy Machoke/Oddish, I opt to Catcher up Machoke, since I know his odds of using Twins that very next turn were low. This turns out to be beneficial, and I tie the game up.
Later, I proceed to Catcher his Oddishes, and for two turns in a row, this works well. However, against the final Oddish, I whiff the third consecutive Catcher on a Juniper despite the many Junk Arms left in my deck. So, with just a little more left to go, I know that getting Zekrom will be my saving grace. So I roll Dual Ball, and go…
Tails/Tails. No dice!
After my two bad beats, he promptly draws into Rare Candy-Vileplume, and uses a new Donphan to overpower my starved board (keep in mind that at this point, three of my Tornadus have been Knocked Out). I use my last Tornadus to sprinkle damage onto the Donphan, knowing that my only shot at winning rests in merely hitting the Zekrom to trigger a Celebration Wind-powered Bolt Strike. For three turns in a row, I whiff on any way to pull this off, and lose in a 6-5 Prize game.
Oh…And my next card after the final prize?
I was pretty crushed to lose this game, but was at least glad to meet a respectful, nice opponent.
Round Five: VS Emboar/Reshiram/Ninetales (I go second)
pokegym.netI open Tornadus to Reshiram, and am stuck in yet another miserable match, since I once again hit no draw, no playable options, and am – for turns on end – with no Earthly way to combat his field. Fortunately for me, his hand is almost as bad…With my key word being “almost”: he is able to obtain early momentum via Blue Flare, while I am stuck twiddling my thumbs in hope of an answer.
Eventually, he draws into a Ninetales and begins his setup, whereas I top deck a Pokégear, only to hit zero Supporters off of a 30 card deck with none played! I am lost without any option but to Catcher up his Emboar and hope for a solution, but he is able to Switch out of it every time, and simply Blue Flare me without let-up.
This was my second consecutive devastation in a row, and I was left asking myself, “Where did I go wrong?” The fact of the matter is that, while my list vastly underperformed in the above game, I already had a firm grip of where my day had broken down.
So with my poor resistance, and with the knowledge that virtually no 5-3 players would make it, I knew that I was out of the running for Regional Champion. Regardless, I want to make one more at some Championship Points on the day.
Round Six: Magnezone/Yanmega (I go second)
Going second against a turn two Magnezone Prime with attacking promise is rarely a desirable prospect, and with my sixth consecutive whiff on a turn one KO in a row, my situation was even worse.
By the fourth turn, I was able to get into gear, but this was not enough to keep me in it. We would inevitably exchange prizes with one-another, but his early lead took m ZPST down, 6 Prizes to four.
At this point, I knew that I stood no chance whatsoever to enjoy any gain. Still, I play this game because I enjoy it, and decided that salvaging my record as much as possible was necessary. Additionally, I decided on my next course of action: playing in the Video Game Championship!
Thanks to a top tier VGC player from the Texas area, I was able to get my hands on a particularly lethal Rain Dance team over the course of rounds seven and eight (if you are interested in that experience, then feel free to read it at the end of this article).
Nevertheless, the Trading Card Game is what this report is all about…And so I was intent on finishing evenly.
Round Seven: Vileplume/Lilligant/Kingdra Prime (I go first)
pokegym.netAfter five straight rounds of going second, I finally break the curse against a very unusual rogue deck. Unfortunately, my starting Tornadus once again misses the first turn knock-out on her lone Petilil, but see my misfortune canceled out by some very bad luck on her part: no benched Pokémon on the first turn, and a missed paralysis flip.
This allows me to simply attach a second energy to my Tornadus, and announce “Hurricane” for the game.
Round Eight: Magnezone/Yanmega (I go second)
For some silly Video Game Championship preparation-related reasons, I arrived three minutes late to this round (pro tip: if you are any record higher than 3-4, then it is highly advised you show up to your round on time). After I sit down, I promptly apologize to my opponent for my tardiness, shuffle my deck very thoroughly, and we then begin the game.
Once again, I am going second, but for the first time all day, I get to score a first turn KO on my opponent! This grants me an absurd amount of momentum from early on, and due to her very poor hand, she is unable to really rebound.
She enjoys several well-aligned Cleffa sleep check flips in the middle of our game, but once I draw into a Catcher, that hope is quickly dashed. Eventually, I end this with a 6-0 prize routing; she never even had access to Magnezone.
Until this season, I never made worse than top sixteen in a Regional Championship; yet, this 4-4 record signaled my second missed top cut in a row.
Where did I go wrong?
What could I have done better?
At first glance, it would have seemed as if there was nothing I could have done, and what can go wrong will go wrong. After all, I only enjoyed a first turn kill once, and went first in a measly 25% of all my games. However, soon after my “sour grapes,” I reached a sudden realization about why my showing was what it was: I had lingering doubts about this build all along!
- I misread the metagame, dedicating about 10% of my whole list to two matchups that did not show up in any significant amount whatsoever. I could have, rather than distort my Energy line and Pokémon counts, run just a single Tyrogue or Magby, and let that give me an “out” in an otherwise bad matchup.
- I fell into an old bad habit of overteching a theoretically simple deck. At Texas States in 2010, I did the exact same thing with Shuppet Donk, playing counters for just about every single archetype. I knew then that this logic, while sound on paper, backfires miraculously in a game like Pokémon.
What happens when you overzealously include several single matchup tweaks is that your list becomes bogged down, and you really lose the essence of what the original build was all about. That Autumn Leaves ZPST list ran fine, but I allowed my love for the tech to slowly corrode its consistency, transforming my list into a “master of none.”
The top four ZPST players at my Regional, with their examples of reliable, basic builds, are examples of what could have happened to me had I simply given up a couple bad matches. Other than a couple minor item inclusions (Defender, Lost Remover, others), they did not go nearly as overboard with matchup coverage as I did.
Therefore, their lists not only had the ability to withstand mirror, but they could also push past Typhlosion/Reshiram and Magnezone/Yanmega, which were both significant threats at the event.
- I did not run enough draw. In no less than three different occasions – one game I won, and two I lost – I was cosmically taunted by my Magnezone Prime inclusion, as its bulging, red eye stared me down into multiple unplayable scenarios. Had this mechanical ghoul been a Professor Oak’s New Theory, a Sage’s Training, or even a Cheren, my chance at winning any one of these three games would have skyrocketed. Instead, I traded it all in for a useless tech.
pokegym.netA tiny voice in the back of my head knew that eight draw and four Pokégear was insufficient, but I silenced it. Next time, use my example to realize that you should run no less than nine draw in a list without its own consistency engine.
Remember that when you make mistakes at one event, they should never weigh down your future performance; instead, learn from where you have gone wrong! Even though I am a long-time player, these were mostly new lessons for me, since I had never played in a November Regional before. I plan to take these tokens as a lesson learned, and to use them toward major City Championship success.
On the topic of ZPST as a whole, my lacking performance should be taken as evidence against how fine of a choice it was for Regionals. This was validated in particular at my St. Louis Regional, where a whopping 75% of the final four decks in Masters were comprised of ZPST lists. Therefore, my confidence in the build remains.
My consolation prize may just be my strongest ZPST list yet. Included below is the version of the deck I would have played if I was able to successfully squash all of my matchup insecurities, and just play for pure consistency…
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 35
Energy – 12
This version of the deck easily solves my three testing problems discussed above, yet gives me a fighting chance versus anything and everything. I may not be blowing out Gothitelle and The Truth any more, but that is a small price to pay for one of the fastest, most reliable ways to play ZPST I expect comparable builds to hold up even in time for City Championships, when such options as Eviolite will be available.
Other Interesting Developments at Regionals
At last, Murphy’s Law has been deconstructed, and we know for sure that while what can go wrong will go wrong, it doesn’t have to. Still, the fact of the matter is that my revelations are far from the only stories out of the St. Louis Masters Regional!
Magnezone/Yanmega with Floatzel Unleashed
pokegym.netA strangely successful variant of Primetime throughout the St. Louis Regional was one that included Floatzel. Your basic premise of “rush early with Yanmega and close with Magnezone” remains the same, but now a 2-2 Floatzel functions as a consistent source of Lost Burn energy, as opposed to Jirachi or Pachirisu. Personally I like this idea, as it does not waste a bench spot, and lets you fuel Magnezone more than once or twice a game.
Furthermore, the energy line is not too hard to balance. With no testing of my own into the concept yet, I imagine that 6 water/5 lightning could function very well, considering that weirder lines have sufficed in the past. If this is a Cities-worthy deck to you, however, then I encourage that you perfect your energy choices, and move beyond what is a tolerable balance.
By far the most interesting rogue deck of the tournament was Vileplume/Beartic, a list that locked, stalled setups, and…
Put players to sleep?
Yes, the so-called “bad” Beartic saw a berth into the top eight of a 200 person tournament! The strategy of this deck is strange, but simple: stall the opponent with both sleep and Sheer Cold, all the while whittling his or her field down with Kingdra Prime’s Spray Splash.
I am not entirely sure why the list opted to focus on Bad Bear, but my present assumption is that, by putting the opponent to sleep, you allow for more Spray Splashes, which in turn allow for a far faster victory (Sheer Cold only stops the active’s attack – it doesn’t stop it from retreating into a new threat).
Although this build was Knocked Out by the same ZPST who beat me in round two of the tournament, it is still a very interesting example of what unique deck-building can lead to.
Creativity still draws breath!
Typhlosion/Reshiram with Darkrai & Cresselia LEGEND
pokegym.netBack during the Last Chance Qualifier, there was some murmuring of a Typhlosion build that featured Twins/Rayquaza & Deoxys LEGEND. Having tested personally against that version at some point back in August, I can tell you that while it does have some issues, it is a very capable “conservative” variant of the deck to play.
Well, this version takes that concept and runs with it, opting to utilize the completely non-fire Darkrai & Cresselia LEGEND alongside a maximized Twins engine, Rainbow Energies…And zero Ninetales! Perhaps the lack of Ninetales is a mistake, but I love how Moon’s Invite in tandem with a stream of Blue Flare attacks can utterly devastate any Item lock variant.
My only concern is that this list could be walking into the same pitfalls that my ZPST did, trying to account for way too much of the field all at once. Regardless, if you have an urge to give Typhlosion’s worse matchups trouble, then this could be an option.
Speaking of which, both Typhlosion lists that won Regionals utilized various tweaks. In Indiana, the winner teched a Kingdra into an otherwise standard build – presumably for that metagame’s heavy Gothitelle force.
More similar to the above DCL example is Harrison L.’s (the Florida regional Champion’s) revision that utilizes Magnezone Prime. This is a perfect way to both solidify the deck’s strong points, as well as to offer a very reasonable “out” against the Item lock matchups that make Ty/ram difficult to play in diverse metagames. Although I do not know the precise count he played, I believe that a 2-1-2 line would comfortably achieve all of the goals intended for the card.
My VGC Experience
Lastly, I would like to – briefly – discuss my freshman outing in the Video Game Championship series! Normally I try not to discuss things that Trading Card Game enthusiasts would not benefit from, but this was just too good/fun to pass up (not to mention Adam asked me to :P). If this does not interest you, then feel free to just head straight into the forums.
jacoblionheart.deviantart.comThe Rain Dance team I was given is as follows:
Ludicolo @ Swift Swim
Politoed @ Drizzle
Zapdos @ Pressure
Toxicroak @ Dry Skin
Musharna @ Synchronize
Metagross @ Clear Body
For those unfamiliar with the format of the VGC, but do know how the video games work, the premise is to choose four out of six Pokémon for a double battle. This particular archetype’s strategy is to use the weather to your advantage, strengthening several of your Pokémon in unusual ways (e.g., Ludicolo speeds up, Toxicroak heals, and Zapdos’s powerful Thunder attack hits for 100% accuracy).
So how did I do?
Round One: VS Rain Dance mirror (Politoed/Ludicolo/Thunderus/Jellicent)
Our Politoed/Ludicolo leads stalemate, but his Jellicent and Thunderus attackers held the tactical advantage over my Zapdos and Toxicroak. He wins this handily.
Round Two: VS Metagame Counter team (Terrakion/Abomasnow/others)
dullbones.deviantart.comAlthough I know next to nothing about top tier competitive play, I could tell by his diverse mix of attackers (and effects) that this was a team meant to counter the metagame, angling to shut down opposing weather effects with Abomasnow’s hail, and to route out Tailwind. However, I made a lot of accurate predictions about when he would or would not use the move “Protect” (a staple in competitive doubles play), and was able to adjust accordingly.
Round Three: VS Trick Room team (Scizor/Porygon2/Amoongus/?)
In this match, I would have my first experience combating the dreaded Amoongus spore technique, which leaves your Pokémon asleep for a very long, painful period of time. However, once I was able to score a KO on his Scizor, I simply switched out my damaged Pokémon, and kept him from Knocking Out my Zapdos/Toxicroak. Thanks to Dry Skin, Detect, and Protect, I was able to position his Porygon2 into critical range; however, time was called, and since I was up one Pokémon, I was the winner.
Round Four: VS offensive team (Suicune/Zapdos/others)
I don’t remember much about this, but my Rain Dance mainstays (Ludicolo, Politoed, Toxicroak) carried me to a quick win. Nice opponent, though.
Round Five: VS ???
I fail to remember much about this game either. However, it too was a win against another metagame counter team.
Round Six: VS Tailwind Team (Garchomp/Togekiss/Scizor/?)
xous54.deviantart.comHe starts Garchomp/Togekiss, and while I am completely ignorant of what this team’s purpose is at first, I know that due to Togekiss’s traditional “supporter” role, it must be the linchpin to his strategy. For this reason, I aim all of my early attacks at it, including a Fake Out. I turn out to be right, giving me an early advantage. However, his Garchomp starts to steamroll my field, and I am forced to play defensive with Protect. Thanks to some Ice attacks, I get rid of both, although not without losing Ludicolo along the way.
From here on, our attackers are very evenly matched, until our final matchup of Zapdos versus Scizor. Due to my Rain-powered Thunder, I hold a huge edge over him, and promptly finish the game off. Great game – much better than I described it here!
Thoughts about the Video Game for Trading Card Game Players
– The video game is a deep game, but for different reasons than the TCG. What makes the card game so challenging is its vast number of decisions: every single turn, you could have hundreds if not thousands of possible play combinations. Meanwhile, the video game sacrifices that for a much greater emphasis on simultaneous prediction/anticipation, requiring you to always think like your opponent.
– There are better prizes in the VGC Regionals than their TCG counterparts. Since the video game series does not have state championships yet, each Regional age group is given three $300 stipends in addition to the free trip for first. Thus, a TCG player who has a hot day could actually pay for some of his or her Nationals trip!
(Keep in mind that if you win one of these prizes, there is a good faith expectation that you play in video game Nationals.)
– As TCG players, the Swiss-only format will annoy you, especially since all of those major money awards listed above could be decided on resistance…
(Or in some cases, opponents’ opponents’ resistance!)
I loved playing the game, and would have done so even if no prizes were on the line…But I felt bitter that I missed out on $300 over something uncontrollable. Had this been the card game, we would have enjoyed a top eight cut, and all of the 5-1 players could prove themselves.
– Overall, it is a great alternate pursuit if you have the time. I can say without a doubt that my first video game event was a BLAST, and that more card players should look into it!!!
Mark A. HicksThis was a very dense article, but I hope that my less-than-stellar performance gave you significant insight into how even players with good track records can get derailed every once in a while. I have heard about some very solid results out of Underground members from this past Regional series, and perhaps with these words of caution, perhaps this collective success can carry you all to City, State, and Regional wins in the future.
Next week, it will be less about my experience, and all about you! I currently have an ongoing thread in the Underground forums, where I am taking requests for subjects to address. So if you want some Pokémon strategy to your turkey dinner during Thanksgiving break, then be sure to opine!
…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.
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