Savage Chickens“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.
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:
- You want to take prizes
- 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.
Well, that’s because a statement that is too simple is not focussed enough to guide you towards an answer.
Organisational vision statements are simple, but focussed enough that the people that manage it, can make decisions that will guide their organisations towards 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.
- ‘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.
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.
In TyRam (Typhlosion Prime/Reshiram), you must discard a Fire 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.
zero-livesYou 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 two-of or one-of cards. Whilst last format’s ‘LuxChomp’ or Ross Cawthon’s ‘The Truth’ have demonstrated that running many one-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 favourite 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 whilst 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.
Whilst 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.
- 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.