Vyse’s Razor and Deck Building Concepts

savagechickens.com“Never increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything” — William of Ockham (1285-1349)

The applications of this quote stretch far and wide into many areas such as science, philosophy, and probability to name a few. It’s a mindset I apply to Pokémon deck building and I thought it might be fun to get this out of my head and onto (digital) paper.

The quote above perhaps best sums up what is known as ‘Ockham’s Razor’, which is a principle that would have you believe ‘Simple solutions are better than complex ones’, and in particular ‘That we should prefer simpler solutions unless we have a justifiable reason’ or something to that effect.

How does this apply to the would-be deck builder?

The razor in this case, should the principle be correctly applied, would serve to shave away the unnecessary components of the deck until only what is necessary is left. Defining ‘what is necessary’ is never completely clear cut, but the easiest way to think about it is to always remember what your deck’s win condition is.

A win condition should be looked to as a vision statement in the deck building process. It is something you should be able to refer to in order to make decisions about your deck. Take for example; the simple decision that you want to win by taking 6 Prizes is more powerful than you think.

There are two important things you should and must take from that statement:

  1. You want to take prizes
  2. You want to win

A statement that simple should then lead you down a particular path. Immediately you’re not going to consider anything that does not support that win condition – No Lostgar and no Durant. That you want to take prizes may make the decision making more difficult, since there are plenty of ways to go about it.


So I go back to the vision statement -> I want to win by taking 6 Prizes.

No fuss, no frills, just a very straight-forward vision. So I can discard Trainer lock, heck, I can even discard thoughts of synergy. ZPST would be a pretty good choice as it follows the mentality looked to here.

So why don’t people just play ZPST?

Well, that’s because a statement that is too simple is not focussed enough to guide you toward an answer.

Organisational vision statements are simple, but focussed enough that the people that manage it, can make decisions that will guide their organisations toward a goal.

Nintendo’s mission statement (mission is interchangeable with vision) for example is:

“At Nintendo we are proud to be working for the leading company in our industry. We are strongly committed to producing and marketing the best products and support services available. We believe it is essential not only to provide products of the highest quality, but to treat every customer with attention, consideration and respect. By listening closely to our customers, we constantly improve our products and services”.

The vision displayed here is more complex than the example we explored before. There are several, simple to understand, well-defined goals with aims to be ‘best in class’. However, it is still complex enough that decision makers can manoeuvre and do what they believe is the correct path to achieve the vision.

In a way, a deck is not too different from an organisation when you look at it. Wikipedia defines an organisation as a social group which distributes tasks for a collective goal.’ which is an excellent analogy in my mind for a deck.

A deck can be composed of several components which come together to form a strategy and that in turn is driven by your vision statement.

Re-tooling the Goal

So we can re-engineer the simple statement ‘Take 6 Prizes’ to allow for manoeuvring toward a deck that suits your vision.

  • ‘Win via prizes by locking the opponent out of their options to take cheap prizes’
  • ‘Win via prizes by disrupting the opponent’s set up’
  • ‘Win via prizes by spreading damage’

Suddenly your options become focussed, but still provide you with several options. The vision you have and the strategy you take to achieve it are things that are dictated by your perception of the theoretical metagame and the actual metagame you expect at the event or events you are attending.

That’s when you want to add the keyword ‘because’.

  • ‘Win via prizes by spreading damage because Trainer lock is popular’.

I could go on forever, but it would also defeat the purpose of writing an article like this. If you’re still reading, you probably acknowledge that the purpose of this article isn’t to provide you insight into today’s metagame, but to put you in the right mindset to approach formats now and in the future.

The rest of the articles here on SixPrizes.com are a great place to start, and with a keen sense for what’s good and what’s not (often confirmed by reading the comments), you can begin to develop an understanding of the format, what works well and why.

“Bootstrapping” – Minimising & Control Vs. Maximise & Own

McDonalds (Maccas or Mickey D’s as it’s affectionately known in my part of the world) is a highly successful fast food restaurant chain which prides itself on universal recognition and an extremely effective business model.

The business model, or at least part of the business model I’m interested in is a theory that revolves around the ‘Just in time’ strategy commonly associated with retail or fast food and in my experience, McDonalds as a popular example.

To explain quite simply, McDonalds is successful because it delivers the final product to the customer, a Big Mac with fries and a Coke, just in time. I’m not just referring to making sure enough meat paddies are cooking at around 12 o’clock on a Saturday. I’m talking about making sure that shipment of paddies arrives at the store in time for that 12 o’clock rush which is often observed as being the case in city X during this time of year.

The effect extrapolates further than that. McDonalds has to consider the logistics of delivering the right amount of meat paddies and performing this as efficiently as possible by combining this delivery with the delivery of other items to this McDonalds along with many others from distribution centres that in turn must order the delivery of these items from their suppliers.

There is a lot that goes into this. Forecasting based on trends in past years which considers not only the day in the week, but the week in the month, and the month of the year. Where you are, and what is happening. The right delivery is forecasted, and this data is shared with suppliers who are able to make informed decisions on what to be producing for imminent shipment.

The point of this McDonalds business strategy tirade is to (re)introduce you some of the subtleties of deck building. I’ll be honest, much of this may not apply to the seasoned veteran. If you already have a sense of why a 4-4-4 line of anything is usually a bad idea, then you will already have a good grasp of what I want to address.

You see, deck building in competitive card games and the basic McDonalds strategy is not so different. Ideally, you want to design your deck that can achieve its vision in the most efficient manner possible and with the most amount of effectiveness possible. Your goal might be as simple as:

  • Be attacking with a Reshiram with 3 Energy

This is a great goal to have! But the seasoned Pokémon veteran will take this a number of steps further. The seasoned player might state their goal as:

Be attacking with a Reshiram with 3 Energy, by turn 2, with enough resources spare to invest into benching more necessary Pokémon.

The marriage of Typhlosion Prime HGSS and Reshiram BLW is an excellent example of efficiency in design to me. To achieve a ‘Turn 2 Blue Flare’, you could go down a number of routes, but I believe one of most efficient and competitively viable ways to go about it.

This is because as a deck, you not only have the ability to achieve a turn 2 Blue Flare, you also have several options to maximise the reward in terms of reaching that goal.

In TyRam (Typhlosion Prime/Reshiram), you must discard a R Energy on either turn 1 or turn 2 in order to use Typhlosion’s Afterburner Poké-Power to attach it to Reshiram. This enables you to achieve a turn 2 Blue Flare assuming regular energy attachments to Reshiram occur on both turns.

The difference with TyRam, is that it turns paying a cost into a goal. Discarding is often viewed as a requisite of achieving an effect. For example, Junk Arm requires you to discard 2 cards.

This turns out great, because the potential, perceived weakness of strategies due to the cost involved actually turns out to be beneficial. You can now afford to run a Ninetales HS engine because you are aiming to discard Energy. You can afford to pay for a Junk Arm on turn 2 to get back a PlusPower because you want to discard an Energy. You can run Engineer’s Adjustments because you want to discard an Energy etc.

Now, there is a down side to all of this.

zero-lives.blogspot.comYou could build your deck with all manner of ideas for efficiency to maximise the effectiveness of each of your turns. But going too far down that path will lead to decks with many 2-of or 1-of cards. While last format’s ‘LuxChomp’ or Ross Cawthon’s ‘The Truth’ have demonstrated that running many 1-of cards (only running a single copy) can be an effective strategy, they all have the potential to simply fall over flat if any important steps in their strategy cannot be achieved due to some cards not being in their hand or otherwise.

In much the same way, everyone has had that time when they’ve walked into their local fast food chain, only to find that their favorite meal is not currently available due to being out of some key ingredient.

Efficiency therefore, sits opposed to another deck building goal; Consistency.

Consistency describes an effort in deck building to ensure that the deck’s optimal strategy is achieved by a set number of turns and ideally, every single game.

Take for example, Pokémon Collector. It’s a Supporter that enables you to add 3 Basic Pokémon to your hand. This is a staple card, however, what of its actual effectiveness?


More often than not, this card is at peak effectiveness the first time you play it, especially on your first turn. After that, and the card often becomes dead weight when you consider the existence of other draw supporters and trainers that can search them out while having the utility of searching out other, non-Basic Pokémon and not suffering the disadvantage of being Supporters.

However, most players opt to run 4 copies of Pokémon Collector. Why?

Because of luck.

While the deck provides you with options, it does not provide you with a guaranteed means of maximising the effectiveness of each card, or even that you’ll have the card in hand when you need it.

We mitigate this phenomena by running maximum counts of cards we need quickly or frequently, especially if they serve as an answer to several situations you may face. Draw supporters such as Professor Oak’s New Theory is a good example of this.

Consider the following logic:

  • I need a specific card on the first turn and it is unsearchable, I should run 4 copies
  • I need a specific basic Pokémon on the first turn only for a specific purpose, I should only run 2 copies and rely on search cards to obtain it
  • I need a specific card late game, and only late game, I should only run 1 copy

Efficiency and consistency often counter-balance each other and having a keen sense of both of these concepts is important as consistency is what ensures that you are provided with the means to achieve your deck’s vision and the efficiency with which to achieve your vision before your opponent achieves theirs.

This takes us full-circle in the article, as you will often find that the decks that achieve this balance are simple in strategy. Such as TyRam. Reducing the number of goals you must achieve in order to win will allow you to maximise consistency and efficiency, bringing us back to the concept of the ‘Razor’ with which we shave away what is unnecessary (Often, you will see this referred to as a ‘Win-More’ strategy).

In short, ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ is a good strategy to work by, don’t let your deck be a ‘Jack of All Trades and a Master of None’.

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any questions or criticisms, please direct them to me below.


Anthony Smith

Reader Interactions

37 replies

  1. beyblade1410

    SO COMPLICATED. What about zpst? you just said a bunch of random quotes please make a Good article next time because I really wasn’t feeling this one, your word choice and grammar was strong though.

    • Anthony Smith  → beyblade1410

      I probably should have put a disclaimer at the beginning that read ‘Only read this if you are looking for an article that is ‘conceptual’ and shallow, rather than deep level and 2012 metagame relevant.

      I just feel that there are a lot of players who mess around with deck building a lot that forget some very important guiding principles. I also commonly find myself sitting in front of younger players that, whilst having the right idea in mono-typing their decks, have the wrong idea in filling them with as many, situationally useful (or not) Pokemon lines as possible.

      I will take this to heart next time I write something though. The morning after I submitted the article I realised that I probably needed to present stronger examples of the application of this type of theory to make the article more credible, so I apologise for that. I’d had bits and pieces of this lying around and I thought it would be better for me to put it out there and get hammered by criticism, than to leave it to rot on my hard drive.

      Thank you for your comment, I appreciate it.

      • beyblade1410  → Alex

        No stupid… I can understand it, I just didn’t find it very exciting compared to his other articles. So stop leaving stupid comments that no one likes ore cares about. I never criticize you on all the stupid comments you’ve made so I suggest you be quiet and think about what your typing for once before you post it. :(

  2. Anthony Smith

    I actually dislike McDonalds in terms of Fast Food. The two American outlets that impressed me the most are ‘In and Out’ and anywhere in San Diego that does Carne Asada fries.

    • Riley August  → Anthony

      In&Out is truly the epitome of fast food. Admittedly it’s still a far cry from a good flame-frilled hamburger, but I still eat there a lot anytime I’m in California.

      • Anthony Smith  → Riley

        Absolutely. It’s such a simple business model it’s ingenious and more often than not, you go to a fast food restaurant for, well, fast food. And if the restaurant only really has to prepare for a small handful of possible orders, then they can maximise efficiency for sure.

        visited America a few years ago for a Super Smash Bros. Melee/Brawl Tournament and survived on In and Out for about 4 days in combination with hotel breakfasts. This was in Antioch, California (the event was called Genesis).

  3. beyblade1410

    Shouldn’t we be discussing deck building not fast food, TACO BELL FTW!

    • Anthony Smith  → beyblade1410

      This article is now about Fast Food.

      Tier 1:

      In and Out
      Taco Bell

      Tier 2:
      Subway (Lines and stuff all the time. Top of tier 2 because it’s healthy)
      Burger King
      Idk what else. My ideas of fast food are all Australian.

      • beyblade1410  → Anthony

        You have redeemed yourself but last time I checked MCdonalds dosen’t count as food, you’d know that if you have tasted a real hamburger. I also believe that MCdonald’s has a bad matchup against burger king.

        • Anthony Smith  → beyblade1410

          Actually I agree with you there!

          In Australia, Burger King is called Hungry Jacks (Aparently that’s Australian), and I do prefer their meals every time.

          However, McDonalds is open here 24/7 whereas Hungry Jacks is not. Therefore McDonalds is Tier 1.

        • Lynx Meche  → Anthony

          Lucky you, in my city, 24-hour restaurants are illegal. Have to go to the neighboring city for all-nighter munchies =( In my case, I drop McDonalds a tier. (But our Subway lines are usually pretty short here. Nice American stereotype there that McDonalds is usually packed and Subway is not.)

  4. Adam Capriola

    Next time, Anthony uses Descartes’ dream argument to debunk the success of Durant.

    • Anthony Smith  → Adam

      And i’ll use Freud’s theory of psychosexual development to explain the progress of Truth strategies from infancy to maturity.

  5. Dave Wilson

    Great article, love to see stuff like this for newer and even seasoned players.

  6. theo Seeds

    This is a good article, but honestly I’m just glad it’s an article. I have been seeing nothing, especially in the COTD section, for forever.

    But good article.

  7. Mekkah

    I think there’s 40 cards left in my deck, and therefore, there are.

  8. Lynx Meche

    “In short, ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ is a good strategy to work by”

    The forums need to read this =| Too bad I don’t think you can get this across by, “You need to KISS.”

    But I liked this. A little not-straightforward in its approach, but this is something too many people forget. Once Cities are over, we’ll get a massive rush of metagame analyses, so it’s fine to have something that explains some smaller things, like running more Supporters than a Pokemon you need.

  9. Dave Enzo

    I think its funny that everyone got into fast food debate over this article. I think we all have overlooked the ‘Magnezone’ of fast food (the best) WENDYS!!! lol idk if they have any wendys in australia but if not then i feel bad for you lol.

    ANYHOW… i feel like this was a good article because alot of people i see at tournaments seem to have too much going on in their decks.. I mean I too sometimes put a ‘just in case’ card into my deck but having one ultimate goal is how most decks should run in my opinion. I mean i cant wait to see some new metagame articles with next destinies..but this here was a nice breath of fresh air…Thanks.

  10. Anonymous

    McDonald’s FTW. The value menu is a poor college person’s life saver.

    As for the article. Meh, I was liking it. Then it kinda fell off. I think we have different definitions of efficient and consistency.

    I 100% believe that the first measure or efficiency is how good a deck is at accomplishing it’s “vision.” So, if a deck can hit it’s set up 80% of the games, this is much more efficient than a deck that only hits its set up 40% of the time.

    Furthermore, the way that decks accomplish this is through consistency.

    I think what you are describing is deck flexibility when you are talking about how many of a given card you run in a deck to make room for other cards.

    Not too big of a deal, but I just feel that saying “Efficiency and consistency often counter-balance each other” is going to mislead a lot of people. Especially since consistency is the absolute first priority for deck builders. I am rambling a lot.

    Basically, I don’t think the concepts you raise in the article are the best way to introduce players to good deck building. The best way to go about building a deck is to build the most consistent version of a deck. Then you work out a few cards here or there to increase the flexibility of a deck…

    • Anthony Smith  → Anonymous

      Yes, I think I had problems in this article trying to focus down on who I should he writing to, swapping between fundamental theory and deeper concepts so I agree with you.

      I stayed away from the super fundamentals like ‘dont run 4-4-4 lines’ etc, and I think this needed to come after an article in that vein.

  11. Roarkiller Master

    This is going to be ESPECIALLY relevant when ND comes out, mainly because of the few key cards that may change the whole metagame. Namely, the EXs and the ball engine.

    Excellent article. Could use more examples though, but it is sufficient as it is.

  12. Alvin John Agulto

    hello… just wanna say that here in the Philippines, McDonald’s and KFC are tier 1 Fast Food Restaurants also… lol… then Starbucks is the tier 1 Coffee Shop… ;p

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