inquisitr.comAs a huge Kevin Durant fan and someone who was rooting hard for the Oklahoma City Zombie Sonics to win the NBA finals, a lot of things about the finals were frustrating to watch. From the shady officiating in games 2 and 3 to LeBron James finally finding that extra gear, a lot of things contributed to OKC dropping the series. Despite all this, there was one sequence that really stuck out for me as a turning point in the series, and it relates very well to my proposal for this month’s article (risk management) and how it is worked into the competitive fabric of the Pokémon TCG.
After being hampered by slow starts in games 1-3, OKC came out in game 4 clicking beautifully on offense. Star point guard Russell Westbrook was shooting the lights out and they used a combination of great ball movement and an aggressive, attack the rim mentality to take a huge 14 point lead after the first quarter.
vectorstudy.comWhen the second quarter began, the wheels completely fell off. OKC moved away from what was working so well in the first quarter, opting to jack up low-percentage 3-point shots and pull-up jumpers instead of getting the ball into the paint like they were doing in the previous period. A few missed 3s and clanked jumpers later and suddenly, the Miami Heat went on a 16-0 run, the large cushion evaporated, and OKC wasn’t able to recover for the rest of the series.
Long story short, OKC completely botched the concept of risk management. They had a significant advantage, and instead of sitting on it and playing the way they had been, they went for the proverbial knockout punch too early and took unnecessary risks, which ended up backfiring when they hit the downside of the high-risk high-reward plays they ended up making.
In Pokémon, I see less experienced players do this all the time, and in many situations, it ends up costing people games and eventually, tournaments, as they watch unnecessary risks blow up in their face and throwing away games that were locked up 3 turns ago. Of course, this concept works both ways. Comebacks happen because the person who makes the comeback is able to crank up the risk factor and has those high-risk high-reward plays work out and turn the situation of a game around.
counterkicks.comThe first instance of misplayed risk management I will cover is when people try to go for “the dagger” too early, or even completely unnecessarily. In basketball, “the dagger” is a term that is used to describe a shot late in the game that moves a game from close or contested, to virtually and realistically out of reach. For instance, you usually see it thrown around when someone hits a shot to turn a one possession game into a two possession one with less than 30 seconds left.
In today’s fast and furious Pokémon metagame, these dagger situations come up all the time. Sometimes, you hold the cards to hit the dagger shot and go up from a 1-2 prize lead to a 3-4 prize lead, and it is the obvious play. Sometimes, it takes smart play such as spreading damage with Darkrai properly to set up a backbreaking turn.
The problem is, sometimes the enticing possibility of a dagger turn causes players to take unnecessary risks which end up opening the door for a comeback from your opponent. While most of knowing when it’s right or wrong to dig for certain cards comes from experience and understanding of the game, I can still try to show you some example scenarios that can help you progress as a player.
pokemon-paradijs.comOne situation I see is someone dumping or sending back an otherwise solid hand to dig for something rather than sitting on it. For example, holding Junk Arm, Catcher and an Oak, I’ve seen people up 2 Prizes Oak it back to try to dig for a PlusPower or 2 to kill an active Pokémon, rather than just Catcher up something on the bench and spread some damage around.
Just because you’re only allowed 1 Supporter a turn doesn’t mean you’re OBLIGATED to use one. This can lead to a situation when you whiff and suddenly don’t have the Catcher you just had and are forced to make an even worse play. An even worse case of this is when people feel they have to used Smeargle UD – sometimes it’s better just to spread some damage and hold your hand when you have a significant lead.
Getting deeper into theory, there are cases where people dump too many significant cards on an early Juniper in order to dig. This case is a lot harder to notice as it doesn’t affect the game directly, but late game those missing Junk Arms and Catchers can turn out to be huge and a lot of the time it isn’t optimal to do so just to go for that one big turn. The same is true when using Junk Arm.
One of the absolute worse cases of this I’ve witnessed is watching someone Junk Arm their hand for a PlusPower, followed by using an Oak to dig for a second PlusPower to score a KO when they’re up in the game. Another misuse of Junk Arm that makes me cringe is a pointless burning of one simply to use a Random Receiver or Pokégear 3.0 when it isn’t absolutely necessary.
pokemon-paradijs.comFor instance, when you are up a prize and can make it 3 by KO’ing an EX on the next turn and keep great board position, it is just a waste of resources to Junk Arm your hand away just to Random Receiver even if you have a Supporter-less hand. In this kind of situation, it is almost always better to take the KO and your 2 prizes, since worst case is you whiff on the Supporter and can just Junk Arm next turn if you absolutely need to. Junk Arm is an extremely valuable resource and it’s usually wrong to waste them like that when you don’t absolutely need to.
With all that being said, it is important to keep track of what cards are left in your deck and try to conserve as many resources as possible when you don’t absolutely need to burn them. In the format we were just in, Junk Arm was a very important card to keep track of and it was very beneficial for you to keep track of how many you are burning. Another card that bears watching out for is N, especially for decks that don’t run a high count of it such as aggressive Darkrai variants and CMT.
N makes an amazing dagger card for late game and it is often times very poor play to burn them early or Junk Arm them away. This will remain especially relevant in the next format as well (replace Junk Arm with Ultra Ball), as N will continue to play a large role in swinging games as we move forward with BLW-on.
To summarize, when you are comfortably ahead in a game, you should not be making high-risk high-reward plays. It is often times correct just to keep the status quo and even give up some ground, as the end result of playing it safe will end up with the correct result – a win. It’s when you take those unnecessary risks which open the door for the next point I’m going to make, the great comebacks.
Coming Through in the Clutch
I’ve played enough of this game to know that not all comebacks just happen – a good portion of them of them are created or manufactured. It’s no coincidence that great players seem to pull out those epic comebacks more often. While all huge comebacks need that luck element, it takes experience and knowledge to put yourself in the position or bringing an otherwise unwinnable game back from the brink and turning an obvious loss into an unlikely win.
First, for this, we need to throw out comebacks that are predicated entirely by matchups. When you were playing against ZPS in last year’s format for instance, if you were using a setup deck like Typhlosion, nearly every game was a comeback and there was nothing out of the ordinary for you to win a game you were down by 3 or 4 Prizes. These comebacks were normal, and usually if you just played the matchup correctly and didn’t panic, you would come out on top.
There are a few scenarios where these kinds of comebacks occur and many of them are built off those high-risk, high-reward plays that I told you to avoid when you are sitting ahead. Another huge factor in these kinds of finishes are when an opponent botches their risk-management and makes a play that they shouldn’t have risked and having it come back to bite them in the future. With N in the format, the past few months and the next couple years down the road, comebacks have become a big part of the game and will continue to be in the future.
pokemon-paradijs.comNow let’s get started with some scenarios. My favorite deck to play this season by far has been Chandelure NVI. It was by far, the most skill intensive deck that existed at any point this season, and was a prime example of a deck that greatly rewards good risk management.
Personally, I went 50-5 in non-mirror games with the deck (4-4 in mirror) and top cut 10 out of 11 Cities with 3 wins, 1 2nd, 3 top 4s and 3 top 8s with my only whiff being a 4-2 whiff and 10th finish. It was by far, the best deck in the format for Cities, as nearly everyone who could afford the 3 Tropical Beach to build the optimal list did well with it.
One of the biggest factors of the deck’s dominance was the fact that it could give up Prizes at will under the lock, and control the game despite it. The big dynamic of the deck was how you’d play it differently depending on how behind you got before you set up the lock. It was like playing 2 games at once; the pre-lock “damage control” game and the post-lock “torture your opponent” game. In games where you didn’t start smoothly, taking smart risks was the only way to stay in a game that it feels like you have fallen too behind to win.
In the pre-lock phase, one of the biggest high-risk high-reward plays was using your first Rare Candy on a Chandelure rather than a Vileplume UD when you didn’t have access to both. Many games involving the deck came down to being able to grind out your six prizes before your opponent was able to parlay their early prize advantage into a win, and a quick Chandelure was one way to start building up residual damage early despite the importance of a lock.
pokemon-paradijs.comMost of the time, when you aren’t too far behind off the bad and get a decent start, it’s correct to go for the lock early and build up the Chandelures after the lock as you’ll have enough of a cushion to close out the win afterward without a head start in damage. When you start off in too much of a hole though, it is sometimes correct to take a risk by evolving a Chandelure early and using N, hoping you can lock them out of a Catcher and/or PlusPower needed to take another prize the next turn, while starting to spread damage a turn earlier.
Sometimes, this move backfires as they draw into a Catcher, snipe your next Oddish and you lose, but given the kind of start you had, chances are you were going to lose the game anyway so it doesn’t really make a difference. The upside, however, is immense as that one turn (or 30 damage) bought can mean the difference between an eked out win and a close loss.
The most common post-lock gamble I’ve done myself is putting out my Vileplume against ZPST when they have an active Tornadus, and using N on them banking on the fact that they don’t draw into the Shaymin. This gambit has turned games by buying a key turns in games I otherwise would have lost because of an early hole. Since I only do this kind of play in a game I otherwise would have lost, the downside is nearly non-existent while the upside is huge.
Another post-lock gambit I do a lot is leaving an active Pokémon at 30 HP after an Eerie Glow when they don’t have another attacker set up, forcing them to flip for a kill. Again, I only make this kind of play when it is optimal to, and giving yourself a 50% chance to gain a huge advantage in an otherwise grim looking match is huge.
A more recent example of this dynamic is something I covered in the previous section. I turned a Darkrai/Tornadus versus Darkrai/Tornadus mirror where I started atrociously around by pulling off the double PlusPower move that I advised against earlier. The difference here was I was not up in the match – I was down 5-2 in prizes in a game that is purely a prize trade, tempo-driven matchup.
The downside to whiffing was that I lose anyway, while the upside was I not only secure a KO on an active, eviolited Darkrai, I also buy a turn as he had no additional setup. I ended up winning the game by 1 prize, one of the most unlikely wins I’ve ever had.
These kinds of plays take a lot of planning ahead and strategizing and it takes experience and skill to get to the point when you know when to take these kinds of risks. With proper planning, “high-risk, high-reward” can look like a “no-risk, immense reward” when you turn a lost game around.
It’s Not Just In-Game Risk Taking
While I’ve covered in detail risk-taking in game, there is another HUGE dynamic to risk-taking that most people completely overlook: deck choice for a given tournament.
In this year’s new Championship Point system, there are huge advantages to playing a riskier deck over a safe deck in any given tournament. In prior years under the old invite system, it might have been optimal to play things a different way. I’ll illustrate this by choosing two examples that affected me personally, and how I can look at my decisions and think about them as I look back on them.
pokemon-paradijs.comThe first one is an example of a good decision I made that led to a Worlds trip. In 2007, we had what was absolutely the worst invite structure in the history of the game. It was Elo except it was only top 8 getting invites, in the most exclusive Worlds ever, in a period of time when certain areas had a much bigger advantage in terms of rounds and tournaments to accumulate points in.
Being in Canada, there was absolutely no way for me to compete with people in areas such as the Midwest or New England area due to the fact that there simply were not enough rounds to accumulate points in at the time. I put together a ridiculous season, with a record of 74-16 (82.22% win), but still sat comfortably out of range for a paid rankings invite (top 8), settling in the mid-teens going into Nationals.
All season I had been playing “safe” decks because at the time, Canada was an undeveloped area and not nearly as strong as it is now, and playing decks that simply set up guaranteed me a top cut barring obscenely bad luck. This kept me up in points throughout the year, but nearing the end after US States and Regionals, it was apparent that I had no chance for a ratings invite. For Nationals, I decided to go with a riskier deck, a new deck that people would not be ready for. I chose to play Infernape DP/Delcatty PK instead of Meganium d/Metagross DX/Steelix e (M&Ms).
This deck choice went against the grain of my play style and philosophy entirely, but I agree that it was the best choice. I felt like M&Ms could guarantee me a top cut. I would absolutely go 6-1 or 7-0 with the deck in Swiss, as it was a monster that would simply win most games if it set up. Against a field as wide as Nationals, it would have been the typical “safe” play, one that I usually opt to make.
pokemon-paradijs.comThe problem was, M&Ms dominated Regionals and was one of the best decks at US Nationals the week prior, meaning one bad matchup in top cut and my invite/trip was finished. On the other hand, Infernape was a new deck using the just released new cards from the Diamond and Pearl expansion, a deck that saw testing but didn’t have a chance to see real tournament play just yet. By no means was it a secret that it was going to be a good deck, just most people wouldn’t go out of their way to tech it yet.
Infernape had its own problems – being a speed deck, if it failed to set up or get a good start, it would be hard to win games meaning I wouldn’t be able to comfortably play from behind like I was able to M&Ms. There is no way I can guarantee a good Swiss showing with the deck, so it was a “go big or go home” deck choice.
If the deck did make it through Swiss however, I felt it had the wheels to go all the way because I had an awesome matchup against the aforementioned M&Ms as well as Metanite and R-Gon, which were the other popular decks at the time.
My assessment proved to be correct in both regards, as I struggled to a 5-2 Swiss record with losses predictably coming in games in which I wasn’t able to set up, but still making top 16. In top cut, I rode easy matchups all the way to top 4, losing on a turn 2, but winning my 3rd place match for the invite, trip and scholarship. If I hadn’t gotten turn 2’d in the top 4, I would have rode an easy finals matchup (M&Ms) to a National Championship.
The lesson here is that I knew my position (top 3 or bust) and made a correct deck choice accordingly and it paid off handsomely with a paid trip to Hawaii, a nice scholarship, and an invite to the most exclusive World Championships this game has ever seen.
Now, let’s take a look at the other side of the coin – when I made a bad deck choice that cost me big time.
The tournament was this year’s first State Championships for me, Ontario States. I was sitting in 12th in Championship Points, in comfortable position of an invite and in striking distance of a top 5, or even #1 position in the rankings.
All I had to do was get top cut at each States and Regionals and it would give me a great cushion for points, which should be easy for me since I rarely ever miss top cut playing safely. While testing for the tournament, we discovered an alternate trainer line going against the grain that would eventually change the metagame.
Prior to States, setup decks all played a Collector heavy engine, opting for a slower but more guaranteed setup. When Next Destinies came out and EX’s became the rage, we realized that the format began to shift to a much faster state, one in which Collector lost a lot of its prior power.
pokemon-paradijs.comFrom this, we created what we called the “Ball Engine,” opting to drop Collectors entirely and use a heavy Dual Ball and Level Ball line as the search elements. We applied this to a deck that could be tweaked out to have a great matchup against 2 of the big 3 decks at the time: Typhlosion Prime/Reshiram BLW.
While the new engine added speed and power to the deck, the biggest problem was the consistency, while still pretty good, was much more shaky than a deck like CMT or Zekeel. Going into the tournament, I felt that if I were to make to cut, I would have a really good chance to win the entire thing. Typhosion had a 70/30 matchup against most CMTs as well as a near auto-win against Durant, which were 2 of the 3 top decks (the other being Zekeel). With the faster engine, Typhlosion also had a coin flip matchup against Zekeel if they slowed themselves down by playing Collector.
While playing a deck like this would have been great if I were a bit farther back in points, in the position I was in it wasn’t a smart decision. I had terrible luck that day, going 2nd every single round and generally just drawing really cold. I ended up going 3-3 drop, and wasn’t able to fill up my best 4 finishes for SPT, despite top cutting all the States and Regionals after that tournament.
pokemon-paradijs.comLooking back, I’d probably have played a deck like Zekeel in the situation I was in, as even if I make top 16 and lose right away due to a coin flip matchup or something, I’d still get points for that tournament instead of wasting a prime opportunity to move up to the top 5 in North America.
My friend who also played the deck went 5-2 and had a clear route to the States win, but he lost in top 4 to a Durant because of 2(!) Mewtwo starts in games 1 and 3, which is just a sign of variance, meaning the deck choice, while risky, wasn’t a bad choice; it was just more of a boom or bust play.
In summary, risk taking doesn’t just happen while in game. Deck choice is a huge part of it, and choosing your deck for any given tournament is very important as it takes a complete knowledge of the position you are in and your goals for the season.
When you have less at stake, a risky play that can lead to a high reward is sometimes a better choice than just rolling a safe deck, and these are the kinds of decisions that lead to unexpected big finishes when they pay off.
Putting It All Together
Mark A. HicksAs a game with a significant luck factor, learning how to manage risk and take chances at the right times is essential to taking your game to the next level. A lot of that will come with experience so the best I can do is give some personal examples. The key to getting better at it is to take a look at all factors and see the big picture, rather than play every turn/tournament in a vacuum.
Learning how to shift gears and play to the situation is the key to taking those close games and making those comeback victories. If luck is to have a big effect on your results, it’s best to manipulate that luck as best you can rather than be a slave to it.
Now that I’ve covered my topic, it’s time to move on to the next format. Since Worlds will be more or less an extension of the Nationals metagame, I think it’d be better to take a look at what we have in store for us at the beginning of the next season. Let’s start with a deck that’s been making waves in Japan.
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 34
Energy – 12
BulbapediaHere I took the Japanese winning list and made some minor tweaks. This kind of setup deck will work in the new format as the rotation of Junk Arm essentially lowers Catcher counts from 7-8 down to 4. The format will slow down a bit and playing Stage 2s won’t be as impossible as it was previously. This deck combines the quick strike potential of the current format’s Darkrai lists with the tough to end game of the Klinklang variants we see today.
Blend Energy opens the deck up to some versatality allowing you to play answers such as Shaymin EX and Siglyph. With the rotation of Professor Oak’s New Theory, there are two candidates to fill the spots that was essentially always taken by 4 PONT in the last format. The Bianca vs Cheren argument boils down to the liquidity of cards in your deck and how easy they can be played down. This deck runs 3 Ultra Ball, and a bunch of other cards that can be played down easily the turn you get them such as Max Potion, Level Ball, and Dark Patch.
One interesting option to add to the deck is Hydreigon NVI, as it adds a lot of interesting math to it giving you a plethora of options to manipulate the damage you have on the board. It’s hard to find space in this deck though, as all the cards here are pretty much needed to run the strategy effectively. Sableye becomes a much more important card now that Junk Arm is gone, as a slower format means taking a turn to fetch a key Item back is alot more practical than it was before.
Another card of interest in the next set is Rayquaza EX. Capable of taking out any EX in one shot for just 3 Energy and also taking the same energy that Eelektrik provides, there is a pretty obvious direction in which the deck can go.
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 33
Energy – 13
BulbapediaWith the Special Energies providing Fire, you can keep them on the Rayquaza when dealing damage, discarding only the Lightnings. I like playing Blend over Basic Fires because the deck gains more versitality, allowing you to play cards like Sableye and also letting you do some crazy things like using Mewtwo’s second attack should the situation arise. Rayquaza somehow only has one retreat making it very easy to just drop a Skyarrow Bridge and rotate Rayquazas letting you deal massive damage every turn once the full energy acceleration is set up.
Zekrom is there as a non-EX attacker and is something that can be used to take out stuff like opposing Eeels without having to tax yourself by discarding Energy every time. Tool Scrapper is here to get rid of pesky Eviolites letting your Rayquaza 1HKO EX’s no matter what.
In terms of techs, if you are playing Blend, there are plenty of options available if you want to fit techs into the deck. Siglyph works as an annoyance to EX-heavy decks and Shaymin EX could also be used as a surprise late game finisher.
In the end, this deck is like a more powerful version of Zekeels and could make a splash in the next metagame. Eeels lost alot of its effectiveness in the turbo charged DE format, but with Junk Arm gone and Rayquaza in the format, it could be back in full force come Battle Roads.
Pokémon – 21
Trainers – 28
Energy – 11
This is another deck that is popular in Japan’s BLW-on format. Using Altaria to boost damage output, Garchomp can pretty much 2HKO things easily for 1-2 Energy and not give up 2 Prizes like EXs do. The Rayquaza works as a Basic attacker that synergizes with Altaria. A heavy support line lets this deck stay consistent despite needing a Stage 2 to run properly.
The engine of this deck and the way it runs reminds me alot of how decks were in the past, with a traditional starter Pokémon in Emolga and the goal of setting up full bench of utility Pokémon + attacker. With Junk Arm out of the format, we can expect decks like this that resemble the setup decks from the past to begin to emerge as we move into the new season.
Other Interesting Cards
BulbapediaIt’s hard to find Registeel’s place in the format as its flaw lies in its redundancy, that there are other cards that do what it does (spreading damage) either just as good or better. Since it takes 3 Colorless Energy for the attack, it is quite possible to fit it in as an alternate way of spread. The big problem is it only spreads 30 to each, which doens’t help you in terms of math quite as say, Hydreigon NVI, because it does the same amount as Darkrai’s bench damage.
The first time around, this card was a powerhouse and spawned multiple decks. Maybe something like a new Mewtrick (with Zebstrika NXD) could work, but Mew’s effectiveness solely hinges on how fast this format will be and if being a 110 HP EX is going to be too big of a problem to overcome with its versatality.
Since without Junk Arm, quad style decks are essentially dead in BLW-on, a card like this Terrakion have a harder time fitting into decks than they would have in HGSS-on. Still, being Fighting type in a format where Eel and Darkrai are still going to remain good, Terrakion-EX will absolutely see some play.
This card is interesting and its Ability is unique, but it is way too impractical to be a good tournament card. It only takes different types of Basic Energy, so this card won’t see any play despite the coolness of its Ability.
A Windstorm reprint makes it a lot scarier to manipulate your opponent’s turns using Eviolite. No longer can you drop an Eviolite and nearly guarantee your Pokémon will survive an attack. I expect this to be played in decks that need to secure key 1HKOs or two hit KOs such as Rayquaza.
Depending on how popular Special Energy is in the next format, this card could make a ridiculous finisher. Possibly a Hammertime style deck running Blend Energy can use this as a high damage finisher after a lot of Enhanced Hammer abuse.
What Changes After the Rotation?
The rotation of Junk Arm will lead to many changes when compared to today’s metagame. The versatality of that card was unmatched and was an automatic 4 of inclusion in any deck that did not run Item lock, and it was the backbone of many different engines of the last couple years.
Mark A. HicksAs mentioned before, quad decks won’t be nearly as strong without Junk Arm. These decks took full advantage of the toolbox-like effect of Junk Arm, allowing them to gain some important versatality with stuff like Max Potion and also, allow them to run overslot on Catchers, which was essential to those decks since they had really linear strategies.
Also, BLW-on will be noticeably slower, especially after we had what is probably the most fast paced format ever in the Pokémon TCG. In HS-on, due to Junk Arm, setup decks were nearly impossible to play because the game devolved every match into simple races. Games will no longer consistently end in less than 10 turns, allowing more chance for skill and proper deck building to shine rather than having the format focus solely on hand refresher digging and not missing KOs.
All in all, I think BLW-on will be a much more skill based format reminiscent of prior formats from the great original EX series formats we had a while back.
At this time of year, it’s better to focus on more general topics that can help people out regardless of what format is happening at the moment. This is why I chose to focus on a topic such as risk-taking rather than simple decklists and standard articles.
I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me to get one of the spots for this month’s Mystery Writer feature. I promise I will continue delivering good topics related to more general topics in the future, and continue to aim to make the community better as a whole.
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