A Year in Retrospect + An Objective Analysis of Character Flaws

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Gothita. Like Captain Hindsight, but more useful.

Hey SixPrizes! It’s wonderful to have the chance to write for everyone here in the UG again, so a big thank you for support to allow me this opportunity! If you’re interested, Starmetroid and I have also started a blog that can be found here!

Worlds is over and a new season is upon us, starting with Fall Battle Roads! But before launching headfirst into the future, sometimes it’s best to reflect a bit on the past. We may be entering a new format, but the fundamentals of the game have not changed, nor have the rules for how we play.

Now, this last season was actually my first season in the Pokémon TCG competitively, starting just before Fall Regionals. So today I’m going to be doing a bit of reflection on how I developed from a complete newb to a much more respectable player through the course of one year. I only went to 7 tournaments last season, and my results aren’t astounding, but they are at least decent. Most noteworthy were 9th place at British Columbia States and 11th place at British Columbia Regionals. Canadian Nationals was a bit of a mess, but I will go into that in a small bit of detail later this article, leading into a discussion of inherent character traits and how to analyze oneself objectively as a player.

Thinking Local

To put some perspective on where I’m from and what my local metagame is like, let me start by saying that I can count the number of serious TCGers in our area with my fingers. And I am lumping in the Juniors and Seniors with that total. I live in Victoria Canada, a moderately sized city (350k population in the greater Victoria area) on Vancouver Island, a small island just off the mainland. I am the only active tournament organizer on Vancouver Island (yes I became a TO in my first year playing the TCG), and have been growing our league’s attendance bit by bit.

If we want to go to a premier tournament, currently we have to travel for a minimum of 4 hours (car+ferry+car) to Vancouver, BC (site of Worlds 2013!), often leaving home at 6 AM to be able to make it in time for registration.

However, I am blessed to be in the midst of a pretty talented group of players, of whom I can attribute most of my TCG knowledge. In our small group we have one of the top 4 Juniors in Canada, at least 1-of our 3 main Masters have consistently top cut at tournaments like Battle Roads, Cities, States and Regionals, including a 1st place win at Alberta Provincials this year. And one of our Seniors… kinda won the Pokémon TCG 2012 World Championships (WAY TO RAICHING GO CHASE!)

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Technically a ferry from Victoria. Not the one we take to Vancouver

So entering this group, I had my first impressions of the competitive metagame highly biased by a very limited sample size. Vancouver has a much better established metagame, which often shares participation from the Northwestern States, bringing US influence into the western Canadian metagame. However, when all you know of the game is what the other 5-7 people in your area are playing, you can be in for a pretty big surprise as to how the TCG world works.

Tournaments This Past Year

A brief recap of my tournaments this past year; I went to Fall Battle Roads running a Machamp Truth deck (a very poor choice considering Gothitelle was just becoming a thing), and my tournament experience can be summed up as “2nd round I drew 6 cards off a Judge, received a Prize Penalty, and then proceeded to lose my 2nd, 3rd and 4th round games, finishing 2-3.” The 2nd round loss likely could have been a win if not for the prize penalty, and the 4th round loss certainly didn’t need to be a loss (terrible draws in that one).

But, I can easily see that tournament now for what it was. My decklist was pretty bad. I mean… it wasn’t terrible. I certainly could set up most games, and a Machamp hitting for 150 per turn is scary indeed, but it was very inconsistent. I ran 3-2-2 lines of all my Stage 2s in the deck for one thing, and I’m pretty sure looking back on the Supporter lines would make me cringe.

My next tournament was Cities, where the new HS-NVI format had me trying out Durant. My Durant list won a local shop tournament (amongst all 9 of our competitors), and when piloted by a friend, took top 4 at another Cities later on, so I can’t say it was terrible. I’ll add, somewhere in between Battle Roads and Cities I started reading The Deck Out, so I became exposed to decks beyond my local metagame (a big problem in Battle Roads).

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Only as powerful as the wielder

However, my Cities experience is once again easily summed up. I start 2-0, and am facing a ZPST deck, and Twins for a M Energy and a Revive to bring back my Durant, leaving me with a Supporterless hand. Never, under any circumstances, leave yourself high and dry unless you’re pretty much guaranteed to win the game.

After that loss, I was reminded of this fact of life, and prepared for the next round. I had to face a ReshiPhlosion piloted by the eventual winner (I think). I lost. I finished the day against another ReshiPhlosion, I lost. 2-3 in my first Cities.

Moving on I had taken a great liking to Chandelure NVI and even managed to find Tropical Beaches cheap on eBay (in Canada the French version is also legal, jackpot). So in my next Cities I was playing a list very similar to Esa’s lists throughout HS-NVI. This tournament marked probably my biggest oversight, being that I really hadn’t played against any CAKE decks, which posed a decent problem for Chandelure.

This lack of playtesting was a product of my small local metagame, which I thought I had overcome. Let’s just say a T2 Kyurem NVI Glaciate allowed my opponent to take 5 Prizes on T3, while I drew nothing to save my beautiful setup of Basics from dying. This really didn’t ruin my tournament or anything, but it was a big wake-up call for me to make sure I was prepared for anything.

It’s not as though I hadn’t heard of CAKE, or heard that it could rain on my parade (more of a sleet, really), I had just never bothered to test the deck since my warped perception really didn’t emphasize it. That said though, as I mentioned, this wasn’t the end of my tournament. That loss left me 2-1 and I was gung-ho to play in the 4th round. I sat down and my opponent opened with 1 or 2 lone Magnemite TM.

I think I went first, and set up a pretty full bench. On his turn, he got nothing. I evolved a Lampent and attached a Rescue Energy. He Candied into Magnezone and Lost Burned for the KO. At this point I had a Jirachi UL in hand and top decked the last part of my Vileplume, meaning I didn’t have to use Twins. So I played Jirachi and a Collector to grab myself a Doduo UD to complete my bench and then PONT’d my hand back.

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Doh

My opponent rightly and quickly pointed out that I had played a Collector, and I was issued an auto-game loss. Since that tournament, I now play my Supporters sideways in my discard pile, to keep track of the Supporters I’ve played in a game. I don’t always remember to straighten out the discard, but it’s very useful to have that sort of reminder. You only need to double Support like that once to set you straight, trust me. Cities #2 ended 3-2.

Bring in Next Destinies. Suddenly, my favorite playstyle, control, was essentially gone. The speed that the EXs brought to the game, and the damage cap that Mewtwo EX and Zekrom-EX introduced left any control deck like The Truth or Chandelure NVI in the dust. Durant was still very viable, but Crushing Hammers were always going to be a flippy, but necessary card.

So, for the first time in a premier tournament, I bit the bullet and just played a prize-racing, reactionary deck, CMT. I chose CMT over ZekEels primarily because CMT had a much better chance to donk, while my tournament with Zeels could be ruined due to a couple lone Tynamo starts in a Mewtwo/Tyrogue infested field.

So I show up at BC States, and without anything special to say about it, I go 5-1. My one loss was a terrible game against a ZPSMT deck (the Oregon players really loved those), where I got “donked” on T3 after we both draw-passed for the first two turns. I’m in Top 16 and am facing another ZPSMT deck in the first round. He wins the coin flip and goes first, facing my lone Celebi. He starts Zekrom-EX, gets three Energy, and flips heads on Glinting Claw for the donk. I win the second game after he runs out of steam, and then it goes to Game 3.

I N him to one card with his only out being to Catcher my Mewtwo out and Shaymin a DCE attached to his Tornadus onto his Mewtwo (I don’t think he could attach since I think all 4-of his DCE’s were played by then). Off the N, he topdecks a Catcher and a Collector and that’s the end of my first top cut.

Despite it being only 6 rounds of Swiss, this was easily my best tournament of the year. I made little to no identifiable misplays throughout, faced some tough opponents along the way, and only lost to situations outside of my control. That makes this tournament the least exciting to talk about… so let’s move on.

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Props go out to whoever it was that first used Virizion EPO. I remember it was a girl in the US, but can’t remember the name

Regionals was the same metagame, and I had little time to develop or test any decks since States. Going into Spring Regionals the main hype that people were spreading was how the Zeels vs. CMT matchup was about 55-45 in Zeels’ favor. That didn’t sit well with me entering the tournament, and one of my solutions was to tech a Virizion EPO to be an attacker that could KO Eels without a PlusPower, and also not be return KO’d by the weakest of Zeels’ attackers, Thundurus EPO. I knew that without the opportunity to test much, playing a deck I’d had good results with before wouldn’t disappoint me.

I head to Regionals and go 6-1, again without anything really interesting to report. My wins were wins, my loss was a loss, no egregious errors and no brilliant schemes. I simply played a somewhat autopilot deck and won my games. I get paired up in a tight Top 16 (there were about 120 Masters, so almost Top 32) against Tyler Ninomura, and lose 0-2 in the best of 3. The first game was turned around when I whiffed a DCE, and the second game was a bit of a misplay on my part, but I don’t think it mattered (I think he woulda donked me T2 or T3 or whatever It was regardless of what I did).

The Road to Nationals

So after seeing some small success at least making it through Swiss in one piece, I looked back at what was different. At the time, I was entirely convinced that the reason was that CMT was a deck with even matchups against pretty much everything since its win condition was to just be faster than the opponent. However, it had its inconsistencies (I had had some poor starts due to Dual Ball flips, etc…) and what’s more is that its win condition could be almost completely overturned by losing the opening coin flip. I can definitely agree Zeels had about a 55-45 matchup against CMT at the time, but it was really about 60-40 because if CMT lost the opening coin flip, the game was severely tipped in Zeels’ favor.

Moving forward, I figured that if I want to give myself the best odds of actually winning a tournament, I have to play a deck where it is near impossible for me to lose when I perform at my best. This is why I like control decks so much, and what lead to my Nationals choice, Accelgor.

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Potential up the whazoo

I had tested a rough variant of Accelgor at Battle Roads (4-2), with some small success and some lessons taken away. At the same time, our own John Kettler was travelling down the same path, although it’s really very interesting how his initial lists differed from mine. Being exposed to SixPrizes and especially the UG really helped me gain insight from others, and how a wide variety of personal playstyles could be successful. This Accelgor example is probably the best one I can think of.

Both of us started with near identical lists running Accelgor DEX/Vileplume UD/Kingdra Prime/Sunflora HS. We both noticed that Kingdra was too slow a setup strategy in our games, and sought to fix this problem. For myself, this meant the eventual omission of Kingdra from the list, and the inclusion of Tyrogues and EXs to sleep or tank hits in between breaks in my loop.

For Kettler, he recognized the same problem and sought to instead accelerate Kingdra, going for the perfect loop. So he dropped the Sunflora and added Smeargle UD to give him double Supporters for his loop. A choice which I think really impacted the difference in our Nationals decks as well.

So as one “believer,” as he put it, to another, I got to talking to Kettler a bit, and showed him my next stage of Accelgor, being Vileplume/Accelgor/Sunflora/Chandelure NVI/Darkrai EX. We agreed Chandelure was probably the only way to run the deck successfully, he took to my list rather kindly, and we went on to build our respective variants.

My original testing with Mew lead me to believe it was an inferior option due to the inconsistency of See Off. Kettler rightly realized that the space in the deck taken up by Sunflora and the Shelmets would provide room for Energy for See Off and Relicanth CL, and pursued Mew Prime. And I think we all know how that turned out.

So what happened to me? I was preparing the same deck, in a slightly different fashion. Did I replicate this sort of success? Well, here’s the list I took to Nationals.

Pokémon – 28

3 Oddish UD

2 Vileplume UD

3 Litwick BW27

2 Lampent NVI

2 Chandelure NVI

4 Shelmet NVI

3 Accelgor DEX

3 Sunkern HS

2 Sunflora HS

2 Darkrai-EX DEX

1 Pichu HS

1 Cleffa HS

Trainers – 25

4 Twins

4 Pokémon Collector

4 Sage’s Training

3 Professor Oak’s New Theory

2 N

2 Professor Juniper

 

4 Rare Candy

2 Pokémon Communication

Energy – 7

4 Double Colorless

3 D

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Maybe 13 wins was a bad omen…

I’ve since deconstructed the deck, but I’m pretty sure that was my final list. Through all my tournament-setting testing pre-Nationals, I was 13-3 with this decklist against the big 3 (Darkrai, CMT and Zeels). I didn’t keep track of many other decks, but I didn’t lose to any (outside of a Steelix Prime/Klinklang). So, I was pretty satisfied with those tournament results. These were test matches done in best of 3 formats against skilled players, so I felt like I was pretty assured my Nationals record would mirror something like this. I obviously playtested a bunch outside of this, and it did very well there as well, but tournament-setting testing is often the most telling.

So what did happen at Nationals? Well… I’ve decided after some careful thought to write about this experience. I really don’t want to make this sound like sour grapes, because the purpose is to reveal a personal character flaw. But I also want to describe what happened so that you as the reader can get in my head and understand where I’m coming from.

It was round 5 and I was 3-1 (having lost to a Darkrai/Terrakion which just got a turbo start). I was facing a Darkrai/Tornadus player who ran Seeker, and was taking a very long time to make his moves. He had never seen Vileplume before (supposedly) and I had my loop up pretty good most of the game (though it broke once giving him a Seeker heal). I was in the middle of announcing my attack as time was called, but wasn’t exactly sure what they had said. So I finished with my attack/shuffle and asked someone nearby if that had been time they called. It was.

So I turned to my opponent, who had started his turn, and said “So this is Turn 0 then?” To which he agreed. At the time, he had 2 Prizes left to my 3, and a Darkrai EX which was at 100 damage (110 coming back to my tun). I had my full loop going. Now, if you are well knowledgable of turn order, you might know then that as time had been called during my attack, it was supposed to just be Turn 1 for him. There is no such thing as Turn 0, it’s just a term thrown around to say “finish up your turn and then we start Turn 1.”

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Just because math can add up perfectly, doesn’t mean you need to make it add up perfectly

I had learned this before, but wasn’t thinking on my feet about the order of operations at the time, and the time we verified that time had been called was after he started his turn. So since my opponent agreed, I didn’t even question whether that was the right way to do it.

On my turn (Turn 1), a judge sat down next to us, and I placed 30 damage on a benched Tornadus EX with Chandelure and used Deck and Cover. Thus, his Darkrai would be KO’d by Poison coming back to my turn. He passed. I drew and declared my win. At this point my opponent complained to the judge that Turn 1 shouldn’t have gone to me, but to him. We both explained the situation from our point of view, and my opponent started saying things like “Why are you doing this? You’re being so manipulative,” essentially vilifying me. Our judge ruled that since time was called during my attack, he should have Turn 1 and thus he should have won.

Now, I was pretty livid (though my demeanor was fairly calm), since my opponent had agreed on the turn order, and this seemed very manipulative and as if he had hatched a plan on me how to swindle out a win. I mean, if Turn 1 had happened on his turn, I would have just placed the damage on Darkrai and KO’d using the Deck and Cover (letting it die by Poison going into his turn to prevent a surprise Terrakion Retaliate), and brought out Darkrai to guarantee he couldn’t KO me with any weird techs like a Black Belt (hey… he ran Seeker. Who knows what he’s got in his deck!).

I also explained this to the (now 3) judges overseeing the ruling, that if they just wanted to repair the gamestate and say that the turn order was different, then, since a judge was watching my turn, should I not be allowed to at least make a different decision without even affecting the cards which had been played (meaning the decks/hands would not have changed at all).

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Apparently invincible

The judges went off to deliberate, and my opponent and I got to talking. During the process, he had repeatedly been saying I “couldn’t have KO’d his Darkrai” without the extra turn. So I outlined the situation, that his Darkrai had 110 HP to which he agreed. I then pointed out that Chandelure could have damaged his Darkrai instead of his Tornadus EX on the bench. He looked baffled for a second, processing the information, and then said “But you couldn’t have KO’d my Darkrai.”

I was frustrated.

The judges came back and said “If you can’t agree on who the winner is, then we’ll decide.” Well… we certainly didn’t agree, and they awarded the win to my opponent (which is the right call by the books).

I was defeated.

I don’t mean in the game, I mean overall. This ordeal had been very taxing, and I was going to end up 3-2 as the result of a game I could not have lost, and in which I had done nothing wrong. The deliberation process took about 20 minutes I would bet. 20 minutes of remaining calm while my opponent vilified me, and my arguments fell upon the grounds of judges (rightly) repairing the gamestate.

Registration started at 10:30 and breakfast before that was the last time I had eaten anything substantial (I had a couple cookies to snack on during the tournament). At this point in time, I think it was setting upon 5:30-6:00 PM. And beyond just having played 5 games of mentally taxing TCG, I had just had about 2-3 games worth of mental exhaustion from all of that.

Pull it together.

I was still 3-2 though! I tried to tell myself that I could still make Top Cut and that I wasn’t out yet. There’s one phrase I learned a long time ago at a basketball camp from a couple of great guys named Mano Watsa and Sefu Bernard. “Sometimes you’ve got to fake it to make it.”

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Generally bad life advice

Even when you’re feeling crappy, even when you’re not into it anymore, to make sure you get through and that anyone you’re responsible for also has a good time, you’ve got to put on a smile sometimes and just go out and do your best. This is absolutely true and integral for anyone assuming a leadership role, but the Pokémon TCG? TCG you can’t fake. You’ve got to be there 100%.

I wasn’t.

In my next game against a ZekEels list, I made one of the worst blunders you can. I Sage’d on my first turn and got N, PONT, Juniper, Vileplume, and DCE. Not wanting to discard the DCE (makes loopability easier) nor the Vileplume in case it was my only Vileplume in deck, I discarded 3 Supporters without having another in my hand. This was the exact same stupid play I had made in my first Cities with Durant. Needless to say I drew dead as my opponent KO’d my Oddishes and I lost the chance at getting a Vileplume out at all.

Surprisingly, I hung in pretty well this game despite shooting myself in the foot at the start. I made another misplay to shoot myself in the foot again though, using Twins to grab a Rare Candy for a Chandelure when I already had one in a massive hand (14ish cards), forgetting what was in my hand at the time. Had I grabbed an N and N’d my opponent to 1 card the next turn instead, I could have pulled it out (though still no guarantee). I think it goes without saying though…

3-3

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ABC. As easy as 123. As easy as DCE.
ABC, 123, attach DCE girl!

I was even more destroyed, though my mind hadn’t really been altered much. I was still in a surreal state of disbelief from the game before, and just couldn’t focus myself. In Game 7 I made another misplay which I had learned not to make many times already, and proceeded to go 3-4 due to losing a DCE early and having 1 Prized before I could thin my deck enough that 2 DCE’s were “grabbable.”

3-4

Finally I calmed down. It took me until I had mathematically been eliminated from Top Cut to genuinely regain my composure. Obviously if you asked me if I felt I still had a chance at Top Cut at the time I was 3-2 or even 3-3, I would have said absolutely. But this wasn’t a presentation or a photograph. Putting on a smile wouldn’t be enough here. You can’t fake the Pokémon TCG.

So at the end of the day, I was 4-4, and felt pretty displeased about my performance. Not just the round 5 ordeal, but how I’d let myself lose my concentration in rounds 6 and 7. I really hope that didn’t sound like I was just complaining about a disappointing Nationals, I’ve told you this to illustrate a point. Don’t worry, another lesson I learned from a red-bummed baboon many years ago was “The past is in the past, it may hurt, but it’s in the past.”

Looking at Character Traits

In any game like the Pokémon TCG, removing personal feelings and subjectivity, and looking at the game objectively is quintessential to success. This was the theme of a fairly recent UG article written by Kent Shen applying Sabremetrics to Pokémon. In that article, Kent looked at how you can objectively view the cards you include in a decklist, and what value they bring to the list, maximizing the win efficiency of your deck.

I would also say that any player entering a tournament has the potential to win that tournament. The difference between the best and the worst players doesn’t come down to luck, nor is it best described as skill. I would define it as “how much that player can maximize their potential for success.”

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Roseanne was an A+ student in Pokéschool

And any maximization problem necessitates objectivity. When analyzing yourself as a player, you can’t look at what is the peak of your potential, but the average of your performance. Think about it this way. Say you were in school and you had 5 assignments throughout the year. On those assignments you got an A-, A+, A, C, B+. Your maximum potential would be an A+ (and I’d argue anyone’s maximum potential is an A+), but your average potential is really a B+. And you know what a B+ means? You did good, but got a couple things wrong here or there.

So how does one go from taking themselves from an B+ average student to an A+ average student? You look at what you did wrong in your worst assignments and what you did right in your best assignments. Say it’s just an essay. Perhaps you can write a pretty mean discussion, but have a weak introduction sometimes.

Well, naturally you want to work on your introduction. But how? Well, look at what makes up an introduction, and what you got dinged on. Maybe you didn’t cite enough sources to properly establish your position. Maybe you simply didn’t introduce enough, or maybe you included things meant for a discussion in your introduction. Or maybe it’s as simple as spelling or grammar.

So how does this relate to the Pokémon TCG? Well, if you think of yourself as an essay, you have an introduction, some body paragraphs, and a conclusion. If I had to lump together 3 overarching concepts to classify this under, I’d say your player attributes can be summed up as “Mental Toughness, Problem Solving, and Deck Building.”

From here on out, I will be doing an in-depth analysis of what comprises each of these attributes, how you can recognize your strengths and weaknesses in their various aspects, and how you can improve on your weaknesses and take advantage of your strengths.

1. Mental Toughness

I’ll start off by defining what I mean when I say mental toughness. Mental toughness is the aspect of your game that keeps you consistent. You can have A+ potential, but without consistency, you’ll have some tournaments that go well, and some that go poorly. The key to performing well consistently is keeping a level head and staying focused.

Concentration

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Teenage Mut…

Some aspects of your game are severely affected by your mental toughness. First and foremost is concentration. You can be someone who can see all the right plays, and make all the right plans, but if you screw up your move order or forget to play a card, all your planning was for naught. Concentration is also required to remain vigilant and mindful of the game state. You can read every one of your opponent’s cards and look through your deck to check what is prized all you want, but if you forget at any point in the game about a specific effect of a card, or that one of your cards was prized, then you’re likely going to misplay.

I will just say that concentration is one of my worst attributes. As a player, my greatest weaknesses are in the category “Mental Toughness.” Looking back through my year, I obviously learned a lot about the metagame and learned to be a better player that way, but some aspects of my person never changed. In my first Battle Roads I may have been a newbie, but I still drew 6 cards off a Judge, letting myself go on auto-pilot to PONT.

In my second Cities, I used a Collector and when I didn’t grab anything substantial from it, I forgot I had played it and PONT’d. In my Nationals 6th round I forgot I had the Rare Candy in my hand when I used Twins. These are all obvious, bad misplays. But rather than say they were flukes, or not part of my normal playstyle, I can instead account for their probability.

I recognize that circumstances can arise which will distract me from playing at my very best. What’s more important is going about training myself so that I minimize the likelihood for those situations to occur in the future. The 6 card Judge in Battle Roads was a minor fix. All I had to do was make sure I was more mentally aware of cards with similar effects (which comes with learning the cardpool anyway).

However the double Supporter gaffe is something I’ve trained myself to avoid. My solution (I think this was recommended by my friend Murray) was to play my Supporters sideways in the discard so I didn’t lose track of Supporters I had played.

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“Eat… Eat Onix… Eat and grow strong enough to double supporter”

If you ever come across a similar character flaw, or have trouble keeping track of something, simple things like playing cards sideways, or leaving cards stacked on the playing field in the order you’ve played them can really help ensure you don’t make the same mistakes in the future. I would recommend this sort of thing to anyone, whether you’ve made a mistake before or not. As I’ve said, it only takes one time for you to change your mind. On an interesting note, Worlds 2nd place finalist Harrison Leven does the exact same thing.

And of course, at Nationals I may have been pretty distracted, but there’s still no excuse for doing something like Twins’ing for a card already in your hand. My natural check to this has always been to look at my hand, search for my cards, place them face down on the table, check my hand again, check the cards, and then complete the action. I bypassed one or two of these steps at Nationals, which is something I will definitely be more wary of in the future; especially if I can recognize myself as being distracted.

As a bit of general mental training I can recommend, I’ll give you an example from sports psychology. Athletes are playing a very mental game, and they can’t let anyone break in and disrupt their flow. So try this. Picture a Pink Elephant. Get a good image in your mind of a pink elephant. Maybe it looks like Dumbo but just pink instead. Spend 30 seconds or so getting a really good image in your head. Got it? Good.

The exercise is to try and never picture this again. When I say “Pink Elephant” you have to try and concentrate and do your best to block out the image. If you let your environment get in your head, you’re not in the game 100%. Watch for this. I think I very well might slip a few pink elephants into my articles from here on out. ;)

It’s also very good to practice with a friend, or someone else who can pop it on you when you’re not expecting it. Throw it down in playtesting or something, and if you conquer the mighty pink elephant, come up with another image. This sort of training can keep you focused on your task at hand. In the hustle and bustle of a tournament atmosphere, you can’t let the crowd or the judges distract you.

The other big tip I have for concentration comes from my Biology background. I think most Bio professors will give you this sound piece of advice in High School or University. “Don’t eat a full meal before an exam.” The reason begin that blood is directed toward your gut to help digest the meal, which can take away from blood that could normally fuel your brain. A great example for the TCG is a game I played recently with a friend on playtcg.me, where I at breakfast and got to playing. During the games I placed a card into my deck rather than my discard once, and also forgot to use Dynamotor (I was play Zeels) twice during the game when i should have.

These little slip-ups are the kinds of things that set you up to double supporter, or screw up move order. Often times you can realize immediately after you’ve initiated the play, that you’ve messed up, but by then it’s too late. So yes, a sugary snack before a game is advisable, but a meal is not. If you’re going to eat something, be sure to do it around 2 hours in advance, even if it’s something like a bowl of cereal in the morning (milk is hard to digest).

Objectivity

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Slowking, winning mind games since G/S

Coming from a science background, this is an area I think I excel in more than the average person. Being objective is important in deck building especially, but there are various aspects of your game that necessitate a clear mind free of biases. I think one of the best articles I’ve ever read on SixPrizes was written by John Kettler in October 2010. It was called “Winning the Mind Game” and went over how your opponent can get in your head and vice versa. You could liken the conceptual basis to poker, and having tells or feigning a tell to get your opponent to do something you want them to do.

In a game, your opponent can try and influence your decisions in a variety of ways. But being able to objectively analyze the situation for yourself and justify your moves through your own logic is important. However objectivity is also useful in a variety of situations in your daily routine. After all, being able to objectively analyze information presented to you is essential to making correct decisions as often as possible, no matter what you’re doing.

One big thing is to objectively view the metagame. No matter where you are, you have to be able to assess what is likely to show up and what won’t. At a Battle Roads, you’re likely only going to be facing local players, so don’t worry about the tier 2 decks that are popular in other areas. Focus on what you’re likely to face.

But when you’re preparing for a big tournament like Regionals, you can’t just settle for testing within your local metagame. If you do hear about a deck that is popular elsewhere, even if you don’t see anyone running it locally, you had better at least think about how you’re going to deal with it.

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Don’t let a card like this put you on tilt.

The same rules apply to your deck and playtesting. I know a good few playtesters who don’t view donks as valid playtesting results. Sure, it didn’t reveal much and only lasted 30 seconds, but try telling that to a judge when you lose on the first turn next tournament. Donks are a thing, and if your deck draws in such a fashion that you can be donked, then treat it as such. Similarly, I see a lot of people who complain about dead-draws in testing, and how it wasn’t normal.

Everything is normal.

No matter what you do, the fact that instance can occur means it’s part of a normal distribution of random draws that your deck can give. It may be improbable, but if it happens more than once in 10 games or so, you had better look to your deck for the answers, and not the matchup. In the same way, analyze your cards and look at your techs.

Are you teching a 1-1 Espeon DEX line which is going to be useless in the majority of your games, just to deal with 1-2 decks? Consistency is key and if you’re going to tech something like that, you have to objectively look at the metagame and determine if you have a better shot at winning the tournament with or without your tech. In the case of the Espeon DEX love that we saw pre-Nationals, I’d say it was a clear omission.

The last bit I’ll say about objectivity is how to deal with luck. We’re playing a game where coin flips are a recurring theme. Luck is going to play a part in every game that you play. From the opening coin toss, to the random shuffle of a deck, sometimes you’re going to get amazing hands, and sometimes you’re going to get crap. In playtesting, the only way to really get a sense for how successful your deck is, is to analyze it outside of its standard deviation. If we look at luck as a scale from 1-10, with 5 being equal luck either way, then you want to try and get a feel for how your deck matches up when your luck is a 5.

There is rarely going to be an instance where your opponent’s luck and yours are both at about a 5, but this is the best way to look at how your deck performs. At the same time, when you’re in a tournament, and you’re currently on a streak of good luck or bad luck, just remember: The universe doesn’t owe you anything. If you’ve lost the last two games to whiffs, it’s not out to get you, and it’s also not bestowing it’s graces upon you just because you managed to pull out of a close one the last couple games either.

Responding to Pressure, Winning, and Losing

Bulbapedia
This could be you!

Obviously staying focused is important, and approaching a situation from an outside perspective is useful, but some things are hard to deal with. Hormones are what regulate our bodies and more importantly our mental states. When you are under pressure, or riding a streak (be it positive or negative), you’re going to need to settle yourself down to help ensure you’re not going off the handle. This obviously directly ties in with concentration, but the source of your distraction is inherent to human nature, so I figure it deserves it’s own spot for discussion.

I’m sure that at some point, sometime (maybe not necessarily in the TCG) you’ve been under a lot of pressure. Your heart can be beating out of your chest, your mouth is dry, and you have a leg so restless people will swear Graboids are coming to get you. The important thing here is not to prevent yourself from feeling the pressure. Pressure can actually be a very good thing. I know a few players who do their best under high pressure situations.

The important thing to keep wary of is to not let yourself get over-excited. It’s at times like these that some of your worst tells could appear, giving your opponent the edge. You may also start playing at a pace that lets slip-ups in move order happen. Worse yet, you may also start thinking one thing and saying another (I see this one happen all the time).

An example would be my opponent from States Top 16. One turn he had an active Tornadus EPO and was set to Hurricane, but announced “Energy Wheel.” Now, this sort of thing is inconsequential, especially if your opponent is going to be nice enough to let you take it back. But trust me, if the game is riding on that Hurricane and you say Energy Wheel, your opponent is perfectly justified to dispute it when you move that energy off of your Tornadus, or wait for them to place their 80 damage on their Pokémon. This example is a bit more extreme, but even in a smaller setting, communicating things clearly ensures that your thought process isn’t broken up by having to correct what you’ve said.

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Don’t get angry like Blaine.

That said, winning and losing can also put you in a bit of a surreal state. This is apparently one of my areas needing improvement as well. Whether or not you won your last game or lost your last game, it has no impact whatsoever on how your next game is going to unfold. Always be sure to keep that in mind, and approach each game fresh-faced and ready to play.

When you have won a couple in a row, or lost a couple in a row, take a moment to re-adjust your perspective. I could take a page from the Calgary Flames and propose a way to help you do this. What I’m going to do from here on out, is I’m going to view my tournament as a set of mini-tournaments, each lasting at most three rounds.

So when I enter an 8 round Swiss, I’ll be telling myself to split my games into separate tournaments, and then set a goal for myself. Perhaps what I’d set as a reasonable goal is to go 2/2 to start the day, and then win at least 2-of my next 3 matches, and follow this up again. Or I could just keep it split into twos, but it’s really up to you.

The point is, I’m setting a goal for myself to reach mid-tournament, so that once I reach that deadline, I’ll be starting fresh. If I can just put my past performances behind me, then I’m going to be primed and ready to play my next series of games no matter what happened prior to that. As insignificant as it seems, if you can genuinely convince yourself that (after the first couple rounds) you just need to start well and then go 2-1 twice, rather than needing to go 6-2 off the bat, then you’ll have an easier time calming yourself down.

2. Problem Solving

Problem solving is the backbone for success in the TCG. Whenever you play any game, you’re using your problem solving skills to determine what gives you the best outcome. There are many aspects to the game that could fit under the umbrella of “Problem Solving,” but I’ll try and touch on the ones you can do the most about.

Foresight and Planning

pokemon-paradijs.comForesight is the simple ability to look ahead and figure out what your opponent might do on their turn(s). It should be obvious that you can’t just pursue your own strategy without thinking of your opponent’s. The game is a precarious balance between managing disruption and setup. You definitely want to get your 2-3 Eelektriks online as soon as possible, but it won’t do you any good if your opponent is just going to use Darkrai to KO them, and then Max Potion away any damage you do.

Thus, you have to look at the game and say “well if I was my opponent, what would I be trying to do, and what could my opponent do that I would dislike the most.” This sounds pretty simple, but obviously it’s far more complex than that. In order to do this effectively, you have to have a good grasp of what your opponent’s deck consists of, and naturally, what exactly is in your deck. Armed with the knowledge of these 2 things, you can start running simulations of how your battle might go.

However one of the biggest follies people commit is overextending their resources, or poorly managing their cards. Even the most brilliant strategist, capable of determining exactly what they’re capable of doing and how probable it is, can mess this up. Simply put, just because you CAN/COULD do something, doesn’t mean you should go for it. With Junk Arm rotated, we’ve past the days of careless discarding and resource burning. In general, when something is in the discard, it stays in the discard.

This means that whenever you’re sacrificing a resource, or using one, you have to think carefully about whether or not now is the time to use it. A big example I see on the horizon is Super Rod. Super Rod is a pretty essential card to have in most decks come BLW-on, getting you supporting Pokémon back, as well as Energy or an attacker. However, most people recognize that you only really need at most 2 Super Rods in a game. They then rightly put only 1-2 Super Rods in their decks. But this means that you won’t have access to it whenever you want. What’s more is that you will have access to it when you might not want it.

pokemon-paradijs.com
Go out and fish young one

Imagine you’re playing a Zeels deck, and your discard only has two Pokémon, a Tynamo and an Eelektrik. You also have one L Energy in there, and it’s the start of the game.

You know that you need to set up your Eels and keep them up to sustain pressure. But playing Super Rod now also loses you an Energy card from the accessible discard pile. Obviously any situation like this must be approached with the full game in mind, but in general I wouldn’t be fooled into thinking you needed to Super Rod right then and there to add consistency. You should still have 2-3 Eelektriks left in deck, and you’ll appreciate getting another one back later on much more than you will at the start of the game. You’ll also have a better 3rd target to prevent yourself from shuffling precious Energy back.

One big combo I see people exploiting in the future is Ultra Ball and Super Rod. The idea being that you can discard your Energies with Ultra Ball and get yourself a Pokémon, but since the universe doesn’t always sort itself so nicely, sometimes you’ll have to discard a Pokémon or two. A heavier count of Super Rod will make any potential discards from Juniper or Ultra Ball hurt far less, while allowing you to exploit the consistency Ultra Ball provides in netting you your ideal Pokémon, and also getting Energy in the discard.

All of this ties in with the concepts of Card Management and Endgame Planning. These concepts have been discussed a lot here in the UG, but with a new format, it’s very important to note how the best way to manage your cards and plan out your win condition might have changed due to the new cardpool. However, though you can theorize the best way to manage your cards, there is no replacement for…

Playtesting

Mark A. HicksPlaytesting is the result of classical human ingenuity. It is fairly well accepted that the best way to determine If your deck can win a tournament, is to play multiple games with it against prospective decks/opponents. However, it might come as a surprise to you when I say that, Playtesting is the most superfluous part of preparing for a tournament. There are a few reason I say this, so let me outline them. I’ll also preface this discussion by saying:

Playtesting is nonetheless an incredibly important and valuable tool to utilize in preparing for tournaments and improving your skill and decklists.

However, playtesting is also somewhat unnecessary, and rather inefficient. When you playtest one deck against another, you can be devoting over 2 hours of your time to affirm a suspicion you had from the start. For instance, I don’t really need to playtest an Empoleon list against Zekrom/Eelektrik to understand that Empoleon can’t hold its own. And I can also assume that Terrakion NVI is a powerful tool Empoleon can utilize, but in the end, can be played around through smart play from the ZekEels player.

I can say this without having ever played a game between Empoleon/Terrakion and Zekrom/Eelektrik, because I understand that Terrakion generally needs Exp. Share to be charged effectively, which ruins the surprise element. I also know that the deck utilizes a Stage 2 and its Ability for additional draw support, so I shouldn’t expect efficient straight draw like Juniper or Bianca to be all too prevalent. This means that whenever Empoleon/Terrakion loses an Empoleon, it loses a consistency crutch, just as ZekEels does when it loses an Eelektrik.

Fortunately, Eelektrik is a Bench-sitter, while Empoleon is a frontline attacker. This means any trade is going to be favorable for ZekEels, as it will cut off consistency from the opposing deck. This is all true, even without going into the threat of specific variants like Thundurus being able to pull off a T2 Disaster Volt to sweep through Empoleon variants, or Empoleon variants charging Terrakion with quirky Energy Switches.

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There may only be 4-of me in a deck, but that’s still a significant threat

And I also know that any time they think they’re clever and bench a Terrakion with an Exp. Share, you can Catcher it up and either KO it outright with a PlusPower and Zekrom’s Bolt Strike, or you could just hit it, and set up a 2HKO for the future. It’s also not particularly threatening unless you have Fighting-weak EXs hanging around. It’s just an attacker that’s going to 1HKO me as I 1HKO their Empoleons, so Catchering it may not even be necessary.

I can provide that much insight into a matchup I’ve never played in my life, between two decks I’ve never piloted in a tournament. What is there to gain from playtesting?

The reason I can do this is because I let others do my playtesting for me, and sit in from an outside perspective. I might even argue that this is a more effective form of objectively analyzing a matchup, since you’re exposed to more games in a shorter period of time, and are removed from personal biases that might pop up within the game. Reading articles such as the ones posted here on SixPrizes (and especially here in the SixPrizes UG) are a great way of letting others playtest for you.

The other important point is the quality of playtesting. As Esa mentioned in his pre-Worlds article, quality is much more important than quantity. I can think of a great number of players who insist that their decks are very good, and have the results to back it up in their own playtesting. Outside of some of my doubts about the veracity of their claims (ex: Not counting a dead-draw as a real game), I also question their opponents and their opponent’s lists. For all I know, they may be playing against bad players or bad lists, and generating false assumptions about the capabilities of their decks because of it.

This may seem narcissistic of me, but when I’m first testing lists, I mostly playtest against myself. I trust myself to be a quality opponent, and I am capable separating my mindset between managing the two hands. I trust myself to be capable of removing personal biases between the two decks I’m playing, and make moves based on the assumptions I can make about my opponent’s hand based off of the cards in their discard pile, deck, hand size, and previous turns.

cardshark.comThese are my initial stages of testing. By no means am I advocating only facing yourself before entering a tournament. But if you are comfortable with your own versatility and capabilities, then the best opponent you can find is often staring at you in the mirror. Obviously playtesting against a better player than you is also always a plus, as it will bring you up to a higher quality of play than you could possibly achieve alone.

So the next step to testing is to find yourself an opponent of similar or better skill level. What is even better is to find yourself someone who approaches their decks differently from yourself, without “differently” meaning “bad.” The other thing you are incapable of doing is testing against strategies you would never employ or conceive of. This is the ultimate personal bias to overcome in reaching your final deck choice, and in preparing yourself for a tournament. When one is capable of incorporating a strategy that they would otherwise not consider, then they are best set up to use an optimal strategy come tournament-time.

This exposure is another of the greatest strengths of playtesting. It’s the reason that people form teams to playtest against each other, and why a team is desirable. Without one, you are relying on your own limited view of the metagame and of deck building to bring you the best strategy available. “Two heads are better than one,” or so they say.

The other important aspect of playtesting is probably the one people synonymize with playtesting most; experience. When I pick up a deck for the first time, rarely do I avoid making any misplays. I can generally make the right decisions, and understand the ins and outs of a deck, but I am in no way equipped to exploit them in my first game, nor would I say I can view all the options available to me after only a few games (though I have likely picked up on many). The greatest purpose of playtesting is to understand how best to play your deck in situations that might arise, but you cannot account for in theorymon.

The last aspect of playtesting is refinement. This is probably the one aspect of playtesting that you can’t cover through pure theorymon (though you can still do a good job). These types of decisions are about whether or not that 4th Max Potion, 4th Ultra Ball or that 4th Switch is more useful. And the subtleties of that 4th consistency card is best revealed against the metagame, which is what playtesting simulates best.

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The 4th Ultra Ball you’re not sure about

That said, efficiency is key in getting the most out of your playtesting, and if you spend a few games finding out that you’d rather run Ultra Balls as search instead of Pokémon Communication, then you’ve spent the last few games learning mainly that you’d rather run Ultra Balls instead of Pokémon Communication. This decision will impact how the same matchups will play out in future games, and thus the former games are now outdated or erroneous unless they were complete blowouts, which doesn’t teach you much anyway. Think of it as playtesting against lower quality lists and you’ll see my point.

So overall, theorymon is in fact, the best tool for playtesting efficiently. Because a heavy analysis of theorymon (fueled by reading articles like the ones here on SixPrizes) will let you playtest more efficiently.

That being said, remember how I prefaced this discussion. These articles are generated from excessive amounts of playtesting. No one is perfect, nor are they a computer capable of running many complex simulations accurately to determine the outcomes of various matchups. But nonetheless, trial and error is a very inefficient, and time-consuming process to undergo in searching for accurate results. So the amount of erroneous trial and error you can minimize in preparing for a tournament will yield more time for the other important aspects of playtesting to bear fruit.

A last tip for playtesting efficiently is to mostly/only playtest matchups that can give you difficulty. If your deck has auto-wins or heavily favorable matchups, then there isn’t much point to testing them. Even if you’ve only played one or two matches against them before a tournament, they’re unlikely to spoil your day. The important decks to playtest against are the ones that have even-unfavourable matchups. These are the decks that will require you to have intimate knowledge of the matchup to come out on top.

A good example would be to not waste time testing your Zeels against Garchomp/Altaria much. The key to this matchup is already very obvious, and testing won’t yield much information. However, playing against a Darkrai/Terrakion or Darkrai/Hydreigon deck will likely be a much more difficult matchup, and one where you can glean a lot more information from testing.

Accounting for Luck

pokemon-paradijs.com
The best players always keep a Lucky Egg on the front page of their binder

This is a topic that has been discussed and touched upon numerous times here in the UG. How players can excel in a game fundamentally based in probabilities, based in luck. Well, if you’ve ever read Adam’s lengthy pitch on why you should subscribe to the UG, then he crams it down your throat that the same players consistently do well. This is true, and the reason is definitely because they’re making the most of situations involving probabilities.

For one thing, one question on people’s minds entering the BLW-on format is just what kind of Supporter line is optimal? I’ve heard suggestions from 10-16 Supporters in a deck, so what is the magic number in the middle there? There are a lot of things to take into consideration when choosing the magic number for your deck, but some general truths are consistent.

For one, people are saying that the draw Supporters available in BLW-on are mostly straight draw, which means you will more likely draw through your deck. I don’t actually consider Cheren to be much different in this respect though, since rarely did you leave 4 or more cards in your hand before playing a PONT in HS-on. Thus I don’t consider Cheren or weak Bianca uses to be more efficient at thinning the deck than PONT was in the last format. I’d add that PONT had the same maximum potential efficiency as Bianca for refreshing the hand, but was capable of filling that potential more consistently.

Because of this, I feel like the emphasis on how we’re going to be “drawing through our deck more efficiently” is a bit misplaced. Perhaps it’s true, but not to the extent that people have been proposing. What we can say about the optimal supporter counts is that you want enough to let you get out of mid-game N’s to 3 or 4 cards, as well as enough to consistently start with a supporter in hand.

The first problem of N is handled by resource management. This is the most universal truth of how the best players seem to avoid getting destroyed by luck. If you play conservatively with important resources, and don’t just Juniper your hand when you don’t NEED to, then you’ll leave yourself less open to disruption through cards like N later. You also conserve the option of using cards later, which you would have otherwise discarded. Resource management is one of the other main aspects that contributes to someone’s continued success. However, it has been beaten to death here in the UG, so I’ll move on to my earlier dilemma, having a supporter in hand when you need it.

Well, having a Supporter in hand in the mid-game is about not wasting Supporters, but there’s one part of the game where you don’t have any say. The start of the game. Here’s an actual summary of the odds of you starting with a Supportless hand (a dead start) with 10-16 Supporters in your deck. Hopefully this can give everyone insight into exactly what is the level of risk, and optimal supporter line for their deck.

Number of Supporters in Deck Chance of Starting with a Supporterless Hand (after T1 draw) Chance of Starting with a Supporter 5 Games Straight Chance of Starting with a Supporter 6 Games Straight
10 25.2% 23.4% 17.5%
11 21.6% 29.6% 23.2%
12 18.4% 36.2% 29.5%
13 15.7% 42.6% 35.9%
14 13.3% 49.0% 42.5%
15 11.2% 55.2% 49.0%
16 9.4% 61.0% 55.3%

smplyskool.caAs you can see, 10 is a bit too low a count to have a consistent start. About 1 in 4 games you’ll be starting without a supporter on the first turn. Considering Battle Roads are going to be Swiss only, 10 is definitely too small a number to have a chance at winning a Battle Roads unless you are supported by a lot of built-in consistency (ex: Gabite, Empoleon), and even then, I’d go with at least 12 personally.

At the same time, you need to balance the number of Supporters in your deck, with the cards you’re trying to get with those Supporters. 16 Supporters is a bit hefty, so though you may start with one in hand, you also reduce your odds of getting cards you want to get using your supporters.

The columns up there are self-explanatory, but nonetheless a little discussion might be useful. Considering Battle Roads are going to be Swiss-only, you really want to minimize the odds of starting dead. Looking at the odds of just one game, you can see that for the most part, you should start with a Supporter in hand with any number of Supporters. But if you run those numbers over the course of a tournament (5-6 rounds) then a pretty big difference appears. The difference between 10 Supporters and 16 Supporter, for getting a supporter to start the game is 15.8%. That’s a pretty big deal in something like a TCG (improvement of about 3/19 games).

But over the course of 5 or 6 games, that respectable 15.8% turns into a massive 37.6%-37.8% differential. If you wanted to say that a deck that starts without a supporter is pretty much guaranteed a loss, then that would mean a deck with 16 Supporters would be ~38% more likely to not lose a tournament off of a dead start. I’ve had this discussion in Disqus and on the forums a bit with some people, so for anyone who is going to keep on telling me that 10 Supporters works for them, I say numbers don’t lie.

The self-conceived notion that 10 Supporters can work is a product of limited or biased playtesting. Even 12 to 14 Supporters is a differential of 12.8%-13.0%.

Entering my testing for BLW-on, I started with about 14 Supporters/Random Receivers in my deck, and I’m encouraged by the fact that looking at it statistically, I think that is a very safe number for both consistency and space. 13 is a number I would look to run in a larger tournament with top cut, or potentially even 12. But I’m going to say right now, if your Battle Roads is 5-6 rounds of Swiss, 14-15 Supporters is likely your best bet for balancing consistency with space. It also is a good number to provide an out to having to discard a Supporter using a Juniper, and protects more from a late-game N.

This is the sort of pre-planning you can go through to ensure that luck doesn’t screw you over despite managing your cards appropriately. This ties in with the most important and also unfortunately least important skillset to have when preparing for tournaments.

Decks and Deck Building

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Obligatory deckbuilding stock photo

Deck building is the crutch supporting whether or not a player can win a tournament. You can be the greatest TCG player in the world, but entering a tournament with a starter deck will always net you dead last. Earlier, I mentioned how anyone could potentially eliminate anyone in a tournament. I also mentioned that the important part was maximizing your potential, ensuring you’re an A+ TCG player as often as possible. But there is a cap on a player’s potential success at a tournament.

Their deck.

Quite possibly the only objective limiting factor that can prevent someone from winning a tournament, a player’s deck needs to be capable of performing up to its pilot’s demands. You’re not about to win the Indy 500 with a Volkswagen, and you’re not about to X-0 swiss with a poorly built deck.

Like a car, building a deck is a process of fine-tuning and even requires a lot of maintenance through the evolving metagame. However, the reason I say it’s both the most important and least important part of a player’s skillset is because of team-decking and net-decking.

Now, the most important part of building the right deck for you is to build it to suit your own playstyle. Different people choose to respond to different situations… differently! And though two players may be playing a ZekEels list, the counts of particular Pokémon, Trainer cards and Energy should be individualistic. This will definitely yield you the best results.

However, with teams all playing the same list, and writers providing their own decks on the world wide web, it’s very easy for someone to get themselves a top notch list. What’s more is that, if that person can adapt easily to various playstyles, then they can copy a list and perform well with it even without knowing the specific thought process behind why certain cards were included or not included.

If you are someone who can just go with the flow, take someone else’s playstyle and make it your own, you can do well with just about any decklist out there. If the list is coming from a good source (like our UG here) then you’re poised to at least have good potential to win. I can think of a few top notch players that are like this. But for everyone else out there, building yourself a good decklist is the most important aspect of becoming competitive.

That said, I find that people’s approaches to deck building differ to some extent. I’ve heard of people saying things like “You should build a deck with a goal in mind,” an example being how ZekEels is a deck built with the goal of taking advantage of superior energy acceleration to force your opponent into Prize trades in which you come out on top. This is a great way to first build a deck, but I feel as though this sort of view isn’t useful at the metagame level.

Metagame Prediction

pokemon-paradijs.comIf you’re looking to build a deck with a functional strategy, then setting a goal to have your deck be at least consistent at what it does, is a good way to go about things, and definitely a good start. But for any deck with unfavourable matchups (i.e. all of them), you have to look at things on the metagame level. What will stop you from winning, even if you can accomplish your ideal strategy?

My local metagame of only so few people has given me a great example of the strength of decking and teching for your local metagame. Heck, one time I won a local tournament with a Meganium Prime/Serperior BLW 4/Reuniclus BLW/Vileplume UD/Sunflora HS deck in the days of HS-BLW, since no one in my area was playing ReshiPhlosion due to the poor “Truth” matchup. Don’t ask me how I fit everything in that deck, it was a mess. But once you set up, the strategy was more invincible than even The Truth.

Predicting things at a local scale is really quite simple. If you’re looking to win a tournament, you need to know who you have to beat. There are always players in a local metagame that are stronger, and others who are not as strong. Really, your deck choice devolves into predicting what only a fraction of the metagame is going to play, and only then considering if anyone outside of the circle of interest is going to wall you completely if you have to face them.

The big thing is, you’re pretty much guaranteed to face the best players provided you win, but you’re not guaranteed to face the whole field. Tie this in with a small level event like Battle Roads.

At Battle Roads, you can predict the tier 1 decks pretty well. Sometimes you’ll see rogues pop up for testing purposes, but for the most part, the tier 1 decks are what you’re watching out for. However, if you look a step further, you can often see trends in who is likely to show up at the top tables. What’s more though, is that it is very possible to predict what most of the people at the top tables will be playing. This is easy if you know them personally, but it isn’t impossible if you don’t.

pokemon-paradijs.comIf you don’t know who the top players are, or what they’re likely to be playing, then the simple rule of analyzing deck matchups is probably fair. This process also applies to larger tournaments like Fall Regionals coming up. If we look at the big decks we expect to see do well, I think it’s fair to say you’re going to see ZekEels, Darkrai/Hydreigon, and Darkrai variants (like Hammertime or Darkrai/Mewtwo).

There are other decks out there that have a good shot, like RayEels, FluffyChomp, Terrakion/Mewtwo, Ho-Oh/Tornadus and even Empoleon, but you’ll definitely see ZekEels, Darkrai/Hydreigon and other Darkrai variants at the top tables. You should watch out for every other deck I just listed, but those 3 are decks to beat if you want to win the whole tournament.

That said, if I were heading to a bigger Battle Roads without knowledge of the local metagame, I would likely play something like ZekEels with Zekrom-EX to 1HKO their Hydreigons, and Tornadus EX to be a thorn in the side of an anti-meta Mewtwo/Terrakion player. The inclusion of a card like Tool Scrapper is also largely a metagame call, but for any ability-driven deck I think that playing with 1-2 scrappers to counter the likes of Garbodor is also a smart move. That said, I wouldn’t put Tool Scrapper in my decks until the 2nd or 3rd week of Battle Roads, after Garbodor had proven itself consistent enough to actually reach the top tables.

Mewtwo/Terrakion also comes as a very anti-metagame play. An example being the Japanese A league tournament standings, Terrakion/Mewtwo has done very well there, even winning a Battle Carnival. I think it wouldn’t be unfair to attribute this success to high levels of Zekrom/Eelektrik play. Even in Japan, ZekEels is one of the cheapest decks to build, and also one of the most forgiving (a trait which is very kind to Juniors).

Terrakion/Mewtwo has a very good matchup against ZekEels thanks to Terrakion-EX’s T2 Eel KOs, and T3 most-anything KOs. Since the US is definitely going to be Zeels-infested, I would consider Terrakion/Mewtwo as one of the stronger plays available. Don’t forget Bouffalant DRX to counter Shaymin EX in Darkrai/Hyrdeigon!

kinneas64.deviantart.comBack on topic, Darkrai/Hydreigon is also a very solid deck. It’s definitely a kind of “goodstuff” deck, with the ability to beat any of the other big decks. Sigilyph or a Mewtwo of your own forms the counter to big EX’s, along with Shaymin EX which can really help Darkrai/Hydreigon out against Terrakion decks. Darkrai/Hydreigon also can just tank most of ZekEels’ attackers. But I would be wary of Zekrom-EX making a comeback, and also wary of the speed at which ZekEels operates, which might catch up to me during at least one of the rounds of swiss by KOing my Deinos/Zweilous’ before I can evolve them.

I would definitely recommend Darkrai/Hydreigon for Battle Roads, and I do see it as being a frontrunner for BDIF. However, I’ll also put some faith in the analysis done by our own Andrew Wamboldt and say that ZekEels will give it a strong run for it’s money. In fact, I’m very confident ZekEels will win more Battle Roads than Darkrai/Hydreigon, but I would attribute this to the cost of building each respective deck, and the American metagame’s love affair with ZekEels.

All of this consideration is part of the metagame prediction phase, and something to consider when determining what you yourself will play. Often times, the best players out there are going through the same thought processes you are, and arriving at similar conclusions. Going through this same process of comparative analysis is a good way to go about choosing the strongest deck to play for a tournament.

Myself? I don’t have the money to travel and chase CP around the US. With the announcement that Worlds is in Vancouver, I have even less reason to try and grind my way in. So I will likely play mostly rogue this Battle Roads season, just to have some fun testing out new ideas.

So despite saying all that, I will likely end up not playing any of the three top decks I mentioned, despite thinking of them as the strongest plays going into Battle Roads.

Consistency vs. Techs

maximumpc.com
For maximum carnage

The debate of Consistency vs. Techs is one that will likely never end. However, Battle Roads is currently Swiss-only, and any tournaments bigger than Battle Roads will demand more consistency to ensure you make top cut. In the 2012-2013 season, I feel that consistency is going to win out over techs more decisively than either side has won out in the past.

Techs by definition are not normally included in the deck. If they aren’t normally included, that likely means they aren’t optimal. If they aren’t optimal, then you had better have a good reason for including them over another card that would add to your consistency.

A big recent example of the Consistency vs. Techs debate was whether or not to run Terrakion in Zekrom/Eelektrik. Terrakion was capable of 1HKOing a Darkrai out of nowhere, evening up the Prize trade. This was a great strength. But Terrakion made for a terrible starter, and also mucked up the Energy lines removing consistency from your draws.

In the end, ZekEels looked to a different solution than straight up “anti-deck” tech and started to run Max Potion. Max Potion was more of an undiscovered gem than a tech in ZekEels, kind of like Dual Ball in the HS-NXD format. Max Potion did help to counter Darkrai by removing the ability to completely shut down your Eels all at once, but it also added versatility in making your attackers capable of tanking hits, and negating your opponent’s last turn.

A similar dilemma is surfacing in the Garbodor vs. Tool Scrapper arena. Garbodor is a very strong card, but it can already be countered with smart play. Tool Scrapper lets you absolutely decimate a Garbodor-reliant deck, but it likely isn’t necessary for you to get past any Garbodor decks you might run into. Unless Garby cleans up the first week of Battle Roads, I wouldn’t say it’s worth it to run Tool Scrappers even in the second or thirds weeks.

This section is short and sweet, but in my opinion, true “techs” are not a smart idea, especially if they come at the cost of consistency. However, if you can find cards which are good on their own merit, then they are worthy inclusions to help even out some of your unfavourable matchups.

Knowledge of the Metagame

Mark A. HicksBy Knowledge of the Metagame as a whole, I’m not talking about decks, I’m more talking about the specific cards that make up decks. In building a new deck, every card in the format should be up for consideration. You can quickly cut out most every bad card out, since they often don’t perform the task you want them to perform, but every now and then an often-unused card can squeak in to a metagame deck or rogue deck idea. Keeping an open mind about these cards is the most important part in deck building.

A great example of some more “random” cards that have been included successfully in decks in the recent past would be the use of Virizion EPO in CMT during the HS-NXD season, or Kyogre EX by John Roberts II. Virizion provided an attacker that could 1HKO Eels, and not be KO’d by a T2 Thundurus. Virizion also really took the Mono-Terrakion matchup from “Slightly Favorable” to “Highly Favorable,” while also improving the ZekEels matchup a little. Everyone wrote off the EPO musketeers initially, but I’d say Virizion was a pretty useful inclusion, albeit an Energy hog.

A more undeniable example would be Kyogre EX in Klinklang though, giving the deck a commanding advantage against Vileplume decks with an early Dual Splash, and also provided strong sniping capability which was situationally useful to either finish off a damaged attacker, or prevent Bench-sitters from setting up mid-game. Examples being Tynamo in Eelektrik decks. Against a deck like Darkrai/Terrakion, Kyogre could also take 2 Prizes off of benched Smeargles or Sableyes over two turns, while being healed by Max Potion giving you the favorable exchange.

These kinds of inclusions are only possible if you keep any card in mind. Often rogue decks are built entirely off of this ingenuitive thinking. Decks like the Terrakion/Scizor Prime/Darkrai/Vileplume (which even ran Terrakion EPO to 1HKO Eviolited Darkrais) are great examples of decks crafted through knowledge of the current metagame and both the commonly played decks/cards, and the potential cards available to counter them.

Recognizing Synergy

pokemon-paradijs.com
A very useful search card

Synergy in cards is probably the most important aspect of building a successful deck. This is a very simple ingredient to include. A basic example is the choice of pokemon search in your deck. Whether or not to use Pokémon Communication, Heavy Ball, Level Ball or Ultra Ball, and if so, how many?

Pokémon Communication really demands a minimum of 15-16 Pokémon to even consider use. Heavy Ball should search out at least about 40% of your Pokémon to be included as even a 2-of. The same goes for Level Ball. Ultra Ball is a balance problem, between the capability of your deck to discard cards, and whether you can include other search options. Often times, the decks that cant discard cards easily are decks with many Pokémon, making Pokémon Communication a fine choice over Ultra Ball. And decks without many Pokémon can often afford to discard more cards, making Ultra Ball a more useful inclusion.

The simple fact is that Ultra Ball doesn’t really have synergy with many decks. ZekEels or Darkrai decks looking to accelerate energy from the discard pile have acceptable consistency, but in HS-DEX, ZekEels lists rarely ran more than 2 Ultra Balls, favoring Dual Ball and a couple Level Balls instead. Ultra Ball is just a harsh effect, even if it does net you the one Pokémon you need.

Recognizing synergy goes beyond trainer lines of course, and is also demanded in your choice of Pokémon. The Truth could never have been constructed if Ross hadn’t realized that Donphan could attack favorably, and also charge up a Zekrom/Reshiram on the bench to take a load of damage away and go down taking a prize on top of that.

pokemon-paradijs.com
Ross.dec is 12 years old now

That sort of synergy can, in part, be contributed to a knowledge of prior strategies employed in the past. For instance, Reuniclus’ damage swap ability is not a new mechanic to the game. Base Set Alakazam had already used the mechanic to provide a similarly invincible strategy. For reference, check out this relic from Pokémon Pojo, May 2000:

The Truth, Alakazam/Dark Vileplume Style

The same strategies that worked in the past can work in the present. No matter how much power creep we may get, inherently good cards/abilities/effects will remain inherently good. And the way to utilize those strategies won’t change much, as long as the prints remain the same.

I have to assume that Ross Cawthon, a veteran of the game that has competed in the World Championships 10 times now, called upon this deck archetype from 11 years prior (even if only subconsciously), to construct his “revolutionary” 2nd place rogue deck. Not to take credit away from Ross, it was still brilliant and bringing that deck to the modern era was an amazing gift. However it is undeniable that previous experience in the TCG will give you insight into the potential of cards that others might not immediately recognize.

This prior experience is not something you can just learn online. It’s something you amass through metagames, through the ages. If you study the present hard, you’ll see the veterans bringing back relics of the past, and can integrate that into your knowledge for future use. So even though I could say knowing the metagame and the cards that make it up is important, knowing past metagames can give you hints on successful strategies for current metagames.

General Deck Building Tips

Most of what I’ve said above is not directly applicable to deck builing itself. So, though I would say keeping this sort of general knowledge in mind when considering what to put in your deck is very useful, some more general tips to get everyone started might be helpful.

1. Write out your list, preferably in a word pad.

colekcolek.com
Clear concise overviews, made possible

I don’t ever get cards ready to construct a deck until I’ve written out the list on Microsoft Word. This gives you the overview of your whole deck, and lets you understand what cards are giving you space issues. Then, after I’ve initially constructed a 60 card deck, I size up my matchups and what can go wrong in each matchup.

This ties back in with efficient playtesting. I don’t want to playtest a few games to figure something out, that I could have already deduced from the start with a bit of mental math. My deck is only constructed after I’ve been theorymonning with my decklist for about a half hour.

2. Obvious Inclusions.

Theorymon is never the way to finalize a decklist, but it is very useful to figure out the necessary inclusions in your deck. This is often just applications of basic logic. If I am using Terrakion NVI, I’m probably using 3-4 Switch to ensure I don’t get catcher stalled. If I’m using Darkrai EX, I am probably not priotizing Switch in any of my lists, despite it being such a useful card.

3. Tech Inclusions.

In a Junk Armless metagame, there isn’t really room for many 1-of techs anymore. One of the only exceptions being Super Rod. So any tech inclusions are cards you want at least 2-of. This makes deck building simpler in the current metagame, but the choice of what to include is more difficult. A strong tech in many matchups for decks like ZekEels or Terrakion/Mewtwo is to run 2 Energy Switch. The surprise factor that 2 Energy Switch has can often tilt games in your favor, which is all the more useful in a Swiss-only Battle Roads where you’ll never play the same opponent twice.

4. Recognizing when good cards aren’t good.

There are a lot of cards that people take for granted as being necessary inclusions in a deck. For instance, I know someone who wanted to use Giratina EX in a Darkrai/Hydreigon (HyRai for short) list, and used 4 Dark Patches alongside a focus on Giratina EX.

Bulbapedia
Giratina/Leavanny/Hydreigon is really not that bad a deck

Well… this guy ran only 1 Darkrai EX and 3 Deinos as Dark Patch targets. Dark Patch is not an important card in this deck, despite it’s general utility in decks using D Energy. I gave some advice on the decklist, and later featured the deck in my rogue decks series on the front page.

Concluding The Objective Improvement Section

Everything I talked about here is just the kind of thing that should be in the back of your mind when you’re making decisions about what inclusions you’ll be making to your decks, so it might not really seem like I’ve given many tips on deck building at all. However, my intention is more to give you the nagging voice in the back of your head, sometimes subconsciously, that tells you something is a good or bad idea. It’s integrating what you read into your thought process that makes knowledge your own, rather than something you regurgitate.

This is something that I do here on SixPrizes all the time. There is no way I could trace back the source of every opinion I spout here about various matchups, but I guarantee you about 90% of it came from others, even if I feel like it’s obvious in retrospect, or so simple that I could have come up with the same idea had I thought about the deck/card. I hope that this is the sort of theme that one could pick out from my articles. It’s not really about saying what is and isn’t a good card or deck, but why that card or deck isn’t good, based off of the logic behind it.

The Random, End-of-the-Article Fun

So as you may be following on the front page, I am currently in the midst of a series of rogue articles in the BLW-on format.As such, I thought I might leak one of my secret successes here to the UG. This deck is one that I feel has more potential out of the rogues I’ve played around with, and is one I am likely running at the upcoming Battle Roads (probably in a week where I predict Zeels to see reduced play). I intend on running a different rogue deck every week this Fall Battle Roads, which should make for a fun report at the end. Thus why I don’t want to publicize this (or too many other rogues I might run) before I get a chance to surprise people with the lists.

At the beginning of my testing for BLW-on, around mid-July, I fell in love with Empoleon and wanted to find the best partner possible. My previous sultry affair with Accelgor in HS-on led me to unifying the two, and I’ve been testing this pet-deck for over a month and a half now. It was nice to hear that it made Top 8 at a Battle Carnival, and the concept has been briefly mentioned by a couple UG writers now. But here’s my take, with this being my Rogue of choice for the first week of Battle Roads.

Pokémon – 20

4 Piplup DEX

2 Prinplup DEX

4 Empoleon DEX

3 Shelmet NVI

2 Accelgor DEX

2 Mew-EX

2 Emolga DRX

1 Stunfisk DRX

Trainers – 30

4 N

4 Cheren

2 Professor Juniper

2 Random Receiver

 

4 Rare Candy

4 Pokémon Communication

2 Level Ball

3 Pokémon Catcher

3 Switch

2 Super Rod

Energy – 10

4 Blend WLFM

3 Double Colorless

3 W

Bulbapedia
The strategy of this deck is Versatile! Get it! It’s a joke!

The strategy of this deck is versatile, and generally annoying. Empoleon is a solid attacker in any matchup other than ZekEels, and Accelgor/Mew-EX form the backbone of control against any other deck. Probably the most potent combination is accepting the 2HKO, and just using a Deck and Cover one turn, and then Attack Command the next turn. This minimizes the chance of giving your opponent a Switch to use, while also 2HKOing most any Pokémon.

Mew-EX is once again a Mewtwo EX counter, but also available to Deck and Cover. This use of Mew-EX forces your opponent to take a full 6 Prizes, since you never leave an EX on the field. With Empoleon having 140 HP, that’s a pretty hefty task, even for Rayquaza/Eelektrik.

Considering my Consistency vs. Techs section, you may be scratching your head about the inclusion of Stunfisk DRX. That’s because this deck just has such a terrible ZekEels matchup, and such a good “everything else” matchup, that I can sacrifice the minor bump in consistency that a 3rd Emolga might provide, to give myself an extra push in the Eels matchups. Without Stunfisk, I can say that the matchup is Highly Unfavourable at best, but with Stunfisk, it can become just a standard “Unfavourable.”

With 3 Switch and 2 Emolga in the deck (along with 4 Pokémon Communication and 4 Blend Energy), the odds of being able to use Stunfisk on the first turn is still pretty good. That said, the greatest strength of Stunfisk in the ZekEels matchup is to KO Tynamos mid-game. The fact is, ZekEels is a hard matchup for this deck since you can’t trade anything but Stage 1s and 2s for their Basic attackers. Stunfisk lets you take a prize, snipe 20 (giving Empoleon an easier time to 1HKO, and also putting Eelektriks into D&C range) and trade a Basic for a Basic. This 1 turn buffer gives you the ability to recover your Empoleons lost, or preserve Empoleons to lose later.

The one card I want to make room for is at least 1 Tool Scrapper to prevent Eviolite from destroying my chance to 1HKO a Zekrom after they Bolt Strike. The room would likely have to come from that 3rd Switch though, which affects my consistency in many other aspects of the game, so I haven’t felt it necessary to include in the main decklist. Alternately, if you just accept the ZekEels auto-loss, you can run 3 Emolga and 6-7 W Energies with 3-4 DCE.

I’ll stick my neck out here and vouch that Accelgor is, potentially, the best available partner for Empoleon in rotation. This deck has very good matchups against whatever the format can throw at you, outside of it’s straight ZekEels matchup. I’m not saying this deck is BDIF material, but it certainly is potentially Tier 1-1.5 material.

As I mentioned earlier in the article, Empoleon/Terrakion is a deck with a strategy you can see coming from a mile away. Terrakion doesn’t do much to even out the matchup between Empoleon and ZekEels, but I can’t say Accelgor does either. Terrakion provides a basic attacker you can trade for theirs, while Accelgor provides a turn’s worth of stall to allow you to recover your board. Additionally, decks can only run 4 Switch, so they certainly won’t have one in response EVERY time you Deck and Cover.

One thing I can say about writing this article is that it was very hard for me to resist the temptation of straying off-focus. This was an article about character traits, but this new format has so much I want to write about. I think I’ve managed to keep things focused.

In Conclusion Overall

insidesocal.comHopefully my personal growth story at least provided you with some tidbits you can use for yourself. If not, then I would imagine you would at least be able to reflect on your first season(s) and be reminded of some lessons that perhaps hadn’t been emphasized in recent memory. More than that, I really hope that through reading this article, you’ve at least recognized the importance of objectivity in assessing oneself, and one’s choices in all aspects of the Pokémon TCG, life, and the universe.

If you did enjoy this article, be sure to let me know in the forums, and feel free to click that +1 button to make my day!

Cheers

~Crawdaunt out

P.S.

Starmetroid and I have started a new blog called “TCG With Hats,” so if you’re interested in some unique rogue decks, be sure to check us out! We likely won’t cover meta decks and analysis as much, there’s plenty of good analyses on the web. However, if you’re itching to play a strategy to bust at your local league, or even take some of our more promising lists to Battle Roads or other Premier Tournaments, then be sure to check us out! TCG, it’s better with hats.


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