Mark A. HicksI’m a big advocate on the importance of testing. When you walk into a tournament, I strongly believe that having a deep understanding of how you need to play every possible match up is one of the greatest advantages you can have. Knowing your opponent’s game plan and how they will try to win is such a huge edge you can’t afford to not to have.
The general rule of thumb that I abide by is you need to play 100 games with your deck against a particular match up in order to truly know it inside and out. I know this isn’t feasible for everyone, but as the season goes on, you should eventually hit this mark. However, instead of just preaching the importance of testing, I decided I would do an experiment to determine exactly how important testing is or if theory is enough to win tournaments.
What I will do is choose a deck and construct a list based on theory and theory alone. Then, I will take that deck and test it out against the popular decks in the format and see how well it does. To ensure my results were as accurate as possible, I immediately knew that I would have to select a deck that I had absolutely no experience with. Choosing an archetype that I’ve been playing for the past two months, even if the actual list I use is all theory, would surely provide skewered results.
I’m sure that some of you reading this are going “eh, this isn’t really my thing” and I have no problem with that. I’m expecting this article to be geared toward a pretty focused group, so we’ve got no beef if you just aren’t interested in this kind of stuff.
Okay, those of you who stayed, yay! Let’s get to it!
Pokemon ParadijsI spent a lot of time trying to find a deck that would work for my experiment. It had to be one that I have never played a game with, which made it tricky because I have experience with just about every deck in the format. It’s part of my philosophy, I spend time testing out every deck, so I can really get a deeper understanding of how the deck works, challenges it faces, etc.
I was just about to give up when I thought of Machamp Prime. When it was being hyped as a Tier 1 deck earlier this year, I was on partial-hiatus from the game. And by the time I returned to the game, it was accepted that it wasn’t nearly as strong as people thought. Combined with the fact that this was around Nats/Worlds time and I knew I wouldn’t be playing in either one, so I didn’t really have a reason to test out MaPhan or any other variants.
I’ll admit that I played a few games with MaPhan when Machamp came out, but that was some time ago. The card pool is completely different than what it was and the only decks I played against were LuxChomp, DialgaChomp and VileGar. Plus, I’m going to be adding Vileplume to the mix, which I didn’t do last time, so I think my results will still be accurate.
Also, I’m pretty happy with Machamp because it’s actually a pretty strong card. If I ended up going with some bad Tier 4 deck that has awful match ups against the board, this experiment would be a waste of time. There are some decks that, no matter how good you are or how much you test them, just won’t work.
The Machamp variant I decided to go with was Machamp/Vileplume/Donphan. I feel it has the most desirable match ups across the board compared to other Machamp-based decks. I was considering going with Machamp/Truth, but I feel this variant is more consistent and has a stronger early game.
Here is the list that I came up with:
Pokémon – 25
Trainers – 23
Energy – 12
This was the list that I came up with. Keep in mind that the list above was constructed based on theory alone, so it has yet to be “polished” in testing. Looking back, there are some things that I would have done differently, but this is what I felt was the best choice at the time. Below I’ve included the thought process I went through when I was putting the list together.
3-3-3 Machamp Prime
I had trouble figuring out what the optimal Machamp line would be. I considered going with a 3-2-2 line, like how I planned to run Vileplume. However, the difference is Machamp is a main attacker and ‘Plume is a support Pokémon. I run other attackers and don’t completely rely on Machamp, but I still felt I needed to be able to get two Machamp in play each game.
Normally, something like a 4-2-3 line probably would have worked best, but because of Trainer Lock, the Rare Candy option is out. I ended up going with the somewhat unorthodox 3-3-3 line. I think it will be enough to consistently get two Machamp up and running each game without having to worry about pieces being Prizes like a 3-2-2 count would.
Also, I like having the extra basic in there as well, so if one dies, I can still get two ‘Champ going.
Donphan serves a lot of needed functions in any deck running Machamp. It serves as a fast early game attacker, which helps make up for Machamp’s speed issues. You can freely attach Energy to Donphan and then “Fighting Tag” them all to Machamp. “Earthquake” also damages your bench, which helps get “Champ Buster” hitting for more damage.
I think going with a 3-3 line is the right move. It’s thick enough so I can consistently get the Turn 2 Donphan without clogging up my draws later in the game. It also gives me access to two or three Donphan each game, which is really strong against Magnezone variants.
I think this is pretty standard in decks that want the early Trainer lock. I wasn’t sure if 3-2-2 or 3-1-2 was the better choice. The extra Gloom makes it a bit more consistent, but with lists being so tight nowadays, I usually ended up cutting a Gloom. I think either count would be okay, but just for consistency sake, I kept the second Gloom.
I feel Pichu’s ability to help you set up early game is unparalleled by anything in the format. It lets you not waste your Supporter for the turn on a less-effective Collector and instead start getting the Evolutions ready to go. Between this card and Collector, I’ve got six cards that allow me get Basics out of my deck.
I generally go with a 3/3 split between the two cards, but Pichu is most effective when you go first. You hope to use “Playground”, stay asleep for a turn. Then next turn, you want to use Rare Candy for Vileplume. However, when you go second, I feel like it helps your opponent set up just as much as it helps you since the Turn 2 lock isn’t quite as strong. Also, you really want to start attacking with Donphan early, so you could run into problems if Pichu stays asleep too long.
This card may seem unneeded when I’m already running Donphan, but I think it’s needed as another attacker. Each game, you can usually have access to 2-3 Donphan and 2 Machamp, which means you could end up running out of attackers. Terrakion fills the spot of a cheap extra attacker. Also, its CCCC Retreat Cost isn’t an issue in this deck thanks to Fighting Tag.
Trainer & Supporter Lines
I won’t spend too much time going over these cards as they’re all pretty standard inclusions. I really like Sage’s in decks running Vileplume. It’s just so good at getting those Rare Candies or any other pieces I need for the Turn 2 lock. Speaking of Candy, I generally only run three copies, but with consistency being so important, I think running four is the right play.
Like I said, everything is pretty standard, run of the mill. Twins is clutch in decks that almost always fall behind and N is just such a powerful, game-changing card that I couldn’t justify not including it. Even in fast decks, I feel they can still benefit from running N. No matter how consistent your deck is, there will be games where you fall behind. N helps to correct bad starts and helps you stay in games that you may have otherwise lost.
7 Fighting, 3 Double Colorless, 2 Rainbow
I think this Energy line acts kind of like a buffet; you get a little bit of all the good stuff. Since I essentially run nine Fighting Energy, I think I’ll be able to get a quick Donphan pretty consistently and have enough Energy to power up enough attackers each game. The Rainbow Energies act as a PlusPower when I’m attacking with “Champ Buster.” As long as I’ve got a Pokémon on my bench without any damage on it, I can attach the Rainbow to it and increase my damage output.
I don’t feel comfortable in upping the Rainbow Energy count without doing some testing first. I don’t want to be damaging my own Pokémon any more than is absolutely necessary. I think between Donphan and the two Rainbow Energies, I’ll be able to power up Champ Buster easily enough.
Like I said, I wanted to see how a theoretical deck could stack up against the current meta game. While I was building the list, I was mentally going through each match up, trying to predict how they would play out, what would help in different situations, etc. Basically, I treated the deck as if I were taking it to a tournament. What were my auto-wins? What techs would I run to counter certain bad match ups? Was there anything I could do to swing 50/50 match ups in my favor?
Below is how I predicted each match up would go. Again, everything’s in this section is 100% theory, just how I was thinking each game would play out, but I hadn’t actually tested them out yet. I’ve included this section so you can see exactly how close my logic was to the truth.
Eelektrik/Magnezone (with and without Zekrom/Thundurus) – 65/35
I thought this match up would be strongly in my favor. Trainer Lock is strong against “Magnetic Draw” as well as limiting the amount of Magnezone they will have access to during the game. Depending on the line they’re running, their prizes and how fast I get Vileplume in play, they could be stuck with as little as one Magnezone in a game.
Also, their game plan will be slowed down in general. With Pokémon Communication locked and Magnetic Draw being less effective, it will take them longer to get multiple Eelektrik up and running.
Pokemon ParadijsThe other major edge this deck has is Type advantage. Magnezone Prime, Zekrom and Thundurus have Fighting Weaknesses, meaning both Donphan and Machamp can hit for massive amounts of damage. Most lists are teching in Tornadus, but usually in low numbers, with most lists running around two copies.
This deck has a lot more ways to deal with Tornadus that Stage 1 decks running Donphan do. We run a higher Fighting Energy count, so it’s very doable to get “Heavy Impact” charged up, which can 2HKO Tornadus. In addition, Machamp’s Champ Buster has the capability to OHKO a Tornadus.
Early game, we generally favor Donphan. It’s fast, applies early pressure and preps Champ Buster. Later, we can easily Fighting Tag the Energy to Machamp and hit for huge numbers. Also, Trainer Lock makes Donphan a lot more durable. On the other hand, our opponent likes to use Zekrom or Thundurus. Neither of these guys are very strong against Donphan, thanks to their Fighting Weaknesses and Donphan’s Lighting Resistance and Poké-Body.
The only way they can OHKO Donphan is with “Lost Burn”. During the early stages of the game, they’re going to have trouble getting Lost Burn charged up as they need to Lost Zone four Energy to score the KO. Even if they do muster up the Energy, it puts them in a bad spot because they won’t have much Energy to work with. Also, you can just bring up another Donphan or equally troublesome Machamp. Terrakion is also able to score the OHKO on just about anything they run.
Chandelure – 30/70 – 40/60
Pokemon ParadijsI’m expecting this match up to be a bit tricky. Chandelure’s 130 HP makes it a difficult target for Donphan and that’s not even factoring in Blissey Prime. Most builds are running Rescue Energy in pretty high numbers, so running them dry of Chandelure could be tough. Trainer lock is pretty helpful, especially if they aren’t running Dodrio, but it’s only a matter of time before they kill Vileplume.
Machamp is fairly strong as it has the ability to score the OHKO on Chandelure, so getting one set up is definitely priority number one. Unfortunately, it takes a while to get charged up, even with DCE, so it’ll probably be pretty damaged by the time I bring it up.
Builds that are running a high count of Psychic Energy to attack with will be the hardest to deal with, I’d imagine. 100 damage + Burn + Confusion along with “Cursed Shadow” damage means Machamps will be falling fast. Although, if I can get another Machamp set up, I can get around the Confusion (assuming the active one wasn’t KOed).
I think my chances of winning really depend on what Chandelure variant I’m facing. A variant that doesn’t run Dodrio, relies on DCE and Switch and doesn’t attack is the type I’m strongest against. A Dodrio-wielding variant that runs a decent Psychic Energy count is an auto-loss.
My best hope, in general, against Chandelure is a quick Donphan followed by a quick Machamp so I can be OHKOing them as fast as possible. While I haven’t played against Chandelure with Machamp, I have logged quite a bit of games, both with and against it, and it doesn’t seem to get too fast of starts.
The Truth – 55/45
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but Ross.dec lists are really seeing a lot more variety when it comes to their attackers. At BRs and Regionals, just about every list ran SEL, Donphan and Zekrom. But at Cities, there have been lists running things like Steelix, Cobalion, Reshiram, Terrakion, Kyurem, etc.
As the format and “big decks” change, the counters that a toolbox deck like The Truth needs to run change as well. I feel the player base has done a great job at determining the best cards to run in our more-evolved Cities format.
I think MaPhanPlume has a solid match up against the Truth. We both run Trainer Lock, so they both sort of cancel each other out. Machamp is very strong because it can OHKO just about every attacker they run. I think SEL and Steelix Prime are the only ones outside of Champ Buster’s damage range. In addition, they don’t have a way to OHKO a Machamp (just be careful with Earthquake damage as it can put Machamp within OHKO range of the Dragons).
We also have the advantage of a more consistent Energy line as well as being able to better preserve our Energy with Fighting Tag. Since you don’t need to worry about getting Vileplume out, we can devote all of our resources to getting a string of Machamp going.
Cobalion/Kyurem/Electrode – 55/45
I think this match up is pretty even. Cobalion’s usefulness drops off around the third or fourth turn thanks to Fighting Tag. Leading/stalling with Donphan and following up with a Machamp or two seems like it would work pretty well.
I’m assuming that Kyurem is equally easy to deal with. Donphan has trouble, but we can actually forget about getting Donphan running and go straight for Machamp. “Glaciate” powers up Champ Buster for us, so no need to waste resources on getting the early Donphan.
I think the only real trouble this decks provides is its raw power. With Electrode, your opponent can start attacking as early as Turn 2. Both of these Pokémon are unique in that they apply so much pressure on you and your game. If you can’t get set up and start returning KOs fast, you’re put in a really bad spot that can be difficult to get out of.
Ultimately, I think this match up really comes down to how quickly you can get set up. If you get a strong start to your opponent’s average one, Machamp is able to just overwhelm them. It won’t take long before Electrode’s greatest flaw, the fact that it cannot provide consistent Energy acceleration throughout the game, will really start to show.
ZPST – 55/45
Pokemon ParadijsThe final match up I’m including in my experiment is ZPST. This deck has consistently performed well throughout the season. It’s raw speed and power and it’s ability to tear apart your opponent’s set up is just so strong. However, we’ve got a few tools in our arsenal that really help swing this match up in our favor.
One of our biggest advantages is Vileplume. Without a real draw Engine, ZPST really suffers when it doesn’t have access to its Dual Balls, Eviolite, Junk Arm, Pokémon Catcher, etc. N is also incredibly strong here. ZPST’s speed and aggressiveness gives it the ability to steal games. But since it likes to take as many prizes as quickly as possible in a game, the deck is extremely vulnerable to N, which generally leaves it with a very small (and thanks to Trainer lock), generally useless hand. Once they start missing key Energy and Supporter drops, their game tends to fall apart pretty quickly.
Finally, we’ve still got type advantage on our side, making Zekrom rather weak. Tornadus is run in high counts here to counter Fighting decks, among other things, but there’s no way they can hold off multiple Donphan and Machamp.
Okay, those were the five decks that I chose to include. You could argue that there are more than just these five decks in a tournament, and technically you would be right, but the point of all this is to see if you can take a deck list built only on theory and do well with it. For my purposes, I think choosing the five most winningest decks at Cities will suffice.
This next section will include the actual results of my experiment. Against each of the five decks above, I played 10 games and have recorded the win/loss ratio. Each of these games were timed, with the half being played with “Swiss” time and the other half being “Top Cut.”
Vs EelZone (various combinations of Zekrom, Thundurus, Tornadus and Lanturn) 8 W, 2 L
Pokemon ParadijsThis match up was a walk in the park, even easier than I thought it would be. Trainer lock worked nicely, making it harder for them to set up. It also limited the Magnezone they could get in play and the ones that they did were killed easily by Machamp or Terrakion. Donphan worked wonders here, Thundurus was useless against it and Magnezone had a tough time killing it. I just came out swinging too hard too soon with hard to kill Pokémon. I was generally able to roll over my opponent.
Something interesting to note is how useless Tornadus was. When my opponent told me they were running two before the game, I thought they’d be trouble. But out of the ten games, there was only one situation where Tornadus was an actual problem.
The first game I lost, my opening hand was four Sage’s, a Machop, two Rare Candy and I drew an N. I played N, but got an equally useless hand with no Basics. My opponent went first and got the Turn 2 KO with Magnezone. In the other game, my prizes consisted of three Phanpy, a Terrakion and two Machop. They were able to drag up and KO my only Machop and my Oddish/Pichu swarm, surprisingly, couldn’t pull out the win.
Vs Chandelure (assorted variants and lists) 3 W, 7 L
Needless to say, Chandelure ended up being a bit tougher than I thought. I knew it was an uphill battle, but I really underestimated Chandelure’s disruptive capabilities. They kept using “Cursed Shadow” to kill Vileplume. As soon as Vileplume died, which was usually around Turn 3, they’d use Dodrio and an army of Switches to do 90+ damage a turn, knocking out my Pokémon before they were ready to go.
After a few games, I started to figure out how to play against Chandelure. You really have to devote your early game resources to getting Machamp in play. Since Machop only has 60 HP, it’s really fragile to Cursed Shadow. You want to get one Machamp out early, and save the other two Machop for later in the game. Be sure to put both of them down at the same time, like how you would Oddish against ZPST so they can’t deny you the second Machamp.
Pokemon ParadijsAgainst Chandelure, you want to try going for as many different things as possible. Try to get Donphan up and running, a Machamp going, Vileplume in play, etc. The more you can get in play in a small amount of time, the harder it will be for your opponent to stop you from getting stuff going.
I really think my lack of experience with the deck showed. Had I known the finer points of how to play the match up ahead of time, I don’t think I would have won five more games, but I think I could have at least kept some of them closer (this was actually the first of the five decks that I played against).
Vs The Truth (w/various techs) 6 W, 4 L
This match up can greatly depends on what Pokémon they’re playing. If they’re running anything besides SEL or Steelix, it’s a near auto-win. If they manage to get one of these guys set up in a timely fashion, the match up is incredibly difficult to pull off.
The decrease in TyRam’s popularity should have in turn decreased the amount of lists running SEL. Unfortunately, Cobalion, who also has Fire Weakness, is rising popularity fast, so I don’t see SEL disappearing any time soon. Also, Cobalion is becoming a near staple in Truth builds, so Steelix, who can also use Special Metals, is rising in play as well. It doesn’t hurt that Fire is no longer the best, most commonly played element in the game either.
One interesting trick we have at our disposal is Machamp’s first attack, “Crushing Punch”. Both SEL and Steelix really benefit from Special Energy, both DCEs and Metals, so being able to consistently discard them is a big advantage. Sure, Steelix will be able to get them back with “Energy Stream”, but every turn it’s forced to use Energy Stream is a turn when it’s not using “Gaia Crush.”
Overall, I’d say this match up is pretty even, maybe slightly in our favor. I feel that the time issue with the Truth really becomes apparent here. Even if they manage to get SEL or Steelix set up, if they take too long, they’ll lose on time. Crushing Punch is great as it really takes advantage of this flaw. In Swiss, it can be tough to beat, but in top cut, our chances of winning go up.
Cobalion/Kyurem/Electrode – 5 W, 5 L
Pokemon ParadijsI had “theorized” this match up would be slightly in my favor and, while this could be true, my results put this match up right at 50/50. Again, this could be due to my lack of experience, but I digress.
I think my being slightly off in my predictions is due to the fact that I underestimated how much early pressure the deck can apply. When it starts hitting with Kyurem, which is probably the stronger of the two in this match up, on Turn 2, if you can’t get going fast, you just get completely ran over. Cobalion is the same thing, but to a lesser extent. If they’re able to start hitting you before you get Machamp running, you can run into trouble. But if necessary, you can always let a Donphan sit active and stall for a turn or two. When Cobalion isn’t locking your main attacker, it’s not that strong or disruptive.
One weakness of Cobalion/Kyurem is Electrode. While it’s arguably the best Energy accelerator when it comes to the very early stages of the game, it’s definitely overshadowed by Typhlosion, Emboar, Feraligatr, Eelektrik, etc. as the game goes on. They provide a more consistent and reliable way to power up your Pokémon
Like I said, this match up ended up falling right on the line. Sometimes, your opponent will just get too fast of a set up to your slower one and is just able to overwhelm you. Others, you get a stronger start that’s able to push through and nab the win.
ZPST – 6 W, 4 L
The ZPST match up ended up pretty dead on what I predicted. The initial assault was problematic if I didn’t get a solid start. Tornadus also caused some problems for Donphan as they’re run in high counts here. I won a lot of my games thanks to a Turn 2 Trainer lock, which shut off those ever-pesky Eviolite and Pokémon Catcher.
In this match up, I just follow the standard game plan. Lead with Donphan and transition to Machamp, using Terrakion as an extra attacker when necessary. Zekrom was pretty useless, even if they managed to get an Eviolite on it (although they stopped trying to go for Zekrom once they realized what deck I was playing).
It seemed most games were decided by how quickly I could get the Trainer lock out as well as how consistently I could get Machamp hitting for maximum damage (three damaged Pokémon are needed to OHKO Tornadus, five if it’s got an Eviolite on it). The sooner I could start scoring OHKOs, the better my chances of winning were.
Mark A. HicksAfter all is said and done, I will say that I’m rather surprised at how well the deck performed. I expected EelZone to be a good match up, regardless of my experience, just because I have so many advantages. However, in match ups that I predicted would be much closer, like Kyurem/Cobalion/Electrode, I thought my lack of experience would have shown more.
I think what helps is that, while I haven’t played against these decks with MaPhanPlume, I’ve logged a lot of games against them with other decks. I already knew the correct way to approach/play/win each match up, so all I had to do was apply this knowledge to Machamp. If this was a month or two ago, when I hadn’t yet started testing against the new NV decks, things could have been completely different.
Now, the point of this experiment was to see how close theory comes to actual testing. I’ll admit that it comes closer than I thought, but I think the simplicity of the deck is partially to blame. Sure, there’s a curve ball here and there, but for the most part, it’s a pretty simple ball to hit. If I had been doing this test with a deck that uses a more abstract concept, such as Chandelure, it might not have performed as well.
As for game play, I think I caught on pretty quickly. The strategy is pretty basic, so it’s a rather easy deck to pilot. But, if I had more experience with the deck, I think some of the match ups might have been a bit smoother.
One other thing that I think I’ve sort of skimmed over in this article is the subject of techs. This deck runs a few, like Terrakion, but in general, the number of techs in the list was kept pretty low. I feel this is yet another reason why testing is so important. When you don’t have enough experience with the deck, it’s impossible to pinpoint what techs are and aren’t needed. You don’t want to be running a 5-card silver bullet to counter a deck that you already have an auto-win against.
I thought Terrakion was a good fit, though, because it helps with the transition from Donphan to Machamp, which is something you want to be doing in nearly every game. Once you bring up Machamp, you’re stuck with him until it gets KOed or you get another one set up.I usually didn’t want to bring up ‘Champ unless I had another one ready to save its Energy, so I thought Terrakion would work to buy me that extra turn or two, as well as just being a good back up attacker.
Had I been able to thoroughly play test each match up and know for sure which need techs, I could have tweaked my list accordingly.
Overall, I stand by my statement that testing is needed to have the greatest chance of doing well in any event (shocker, I know). That being said, while the theoretical deck certainly performed a bit better than I had guessed, I don’t think the full potential of the deck was reached. There were definitely times when I was thinking “well, I didn’t need to run three of this card” or “if only I had thought of that”.
Theory, I would say, gets you about 80 of the way. But if you really want to maximize your odds of doing well at an event, it’s crucial that you have extensively tested out your deck against the meta. You need to be confident that your deck’s match ups are good enough take you all the way.
Having spent this time working with Machamp, I’m convinced that Machamp has a chance in the format. It’s got its issues with certain match ups, but I feel it’s ridiculously good EelZone match up more than makes up for them.
The one thing I haven’t made my mind on is what’s the absolutely best way to run Machamp. With or without Vileplume? Donphan or Landorus? Terrakion? I haven’t played nearly enough games with Machamp to tell you with 100% certainty the best Machamp deck, but I’ve been spending a lot of time testing it out, so I’ll figure it out soon enough. You can definitely expect to hear more about Machamp in the future.
I know there’s still people out there who undervalue testing and I feel like they’re missing out. The more games you play, the better you can prepare yourself and your list for actual tournament play. I just hope this article helps to show people the absolute importance of testing and how much of an advantage well-practiced lists have over under-tested ones.
Thanks for reading, feel free to post your thoughts, questions and ideas below!