This article is about something that might seem easy and common sense to you, but that a lot of players still seem to get wrong. Because of that, I decided it was worth writing about.
Disclaimer: Some of the ideas in this article might seem to suggest that I think Pokémon should be taken extremely seriously. This couldn’t be more wrong. The advice I’m offering here is good if you want to win, but you should also remember that not all of your playtesting and tournament runs have to be about winning. You should definitely change it up with some lighter attitude about the game. But if you want to get serious, you might as well do it the best way you can!
Let’s face it: we’d all love to be that guy who takes an unorthodox deck idea all the way to win a big tournament, be it a Regional, your Nationals or even the World Championships. If I had a penny for every time someone said they like to play “rouge” decks over “boring standard” decks, I would be on sitting a beach right now earning 20%.
Every time I watch an important tournament stream, people are always rooting for the less standard lists, almost living vicariously through the person who had the guts to show up to the tournament with his own idea, as if they’re getting satisfaction out of their opponent’s misery.
But it’s not easy to make a good deck, unorthodox or not. Choosing your 60 cards before a tournament is not easy, even if you aren’t planning on breaking the format with some kind of invention. It can be surprisingly difficult to make a straight Darkrai deck that you’re completely happy with, even though 55 of the 60 cards are pretty much set in stone. Imagine how hard it is to optimize a list that doesn’t have any known skeleton to work with!
But it’s okay, I’m here to to give you an easy process, guiding you step by step all the way from the drawing board to the top tables.
1. Get Your Fundamentals Right
pokemon-paradijs.comYou can’t break a format that you can’t play properly. The harsh truth is, so many people (myself included on the occasion) screw up on the basic fundamentals of Pokémon playing. Despite the large amount of luck involved in the game, you need to optimize your basic play abilities before you can start thinking outside the box.
What do I attach Energy to? What do I Catcher? Where do I put the 30 damage from Night Spear? Do I hold on to this hand or play a Supporter? Knowing when to make a straightforward play, and when to make a fancy one, is so incredibly important.
So before you start making some kind of rogue deck, you need to playtest with standard decks. Get out your Darkrais, your Blastoises, your Landoruses, your Eelektriks, and make them go at each other. If you know what kind of decisions someone piloting these decks needs to go through, you also might find their weak points.
For example, you might find that some of them are heavily reliant on what Stadium card is out there, or that they are heavily suspectible to sniping, Catcher stall, healing, or Garbotoxin. Things like this are important when choosing what you’re going to include into your own deck.
In addition, if your own ideas don’t work out, you have solid metagame choices to fall back on, which you can also tech out as you please because you know what cards matter a lot to them and what can disrupt them.
2. Choose a Concept
ign.comThis is what people usually start with, and hopefully I’ve made it clear that this should be your second step instead of your first. This doesn’t have to be a completely new concept. I’ve made plenty of standard-ish decks with slight twists to them that gave them a whole new dimension.
By making a regular deck with an odd twist, you are making things easier on yourself: you have a standard game plan to fall back on, you don’t need to build a list from the ground up, but you still have that advantage of that surprise part in your list.
Here are some random example concepts I have thought of that aren’t radically different from “mainstream” decks. Note that I’m not claiming these are my unique brainchilds and that I deserve royalties every time someone plays these in a tournament. I simply thought of them independently. Many of these are not from the BLW–PLS format.
- Darkrai with Serperior BLW 6 (healing 20 every turn should win the mirror and help against everything that cannot 1HKO Darkrai, also helps against Terrakion)
- Blastoise with Magnezone PLS 46 (using an extra Supporter every turn lets you go through your deck faster, attaching more Energy every turn, and lets you use cards like Skyla and Cilan more effectively)
- Blastoise with Sigilyph DRX (lets you put up a wall Pokémon when you get behind in the mirror match, gives you a way to soften a Pokémon up with a non-EX before using Secret Sword for KO, gives you something to put Active while you still need to get Blastoise out)
- Big Basics with 1 Keldeo-EX/1 Darkrai EX with Prism/D Energy (lets you Rush In and retreat for free out of Hypnotoxic Laser instead of having to waste Switches, lets you use Bench-sitters without them being vulnerable to Catcher stall)
All of these read like fine ideas on paper, have potential to do something against the format as you know it, but the largest portion of the deck will still be dedicated to your main game plan.
But if you want to pick a more complex concept, you’ll need to pick something that you think the format at large is unprepared for, and build around it in order to support it.
A very popular Pokémon to build new decks around is Garbodor DRX. Everyone loves to call this guy an underdog even when it’s clearly just a very good deck with a high risk high reward label attached to it. He breaks most of the format by himself: the key is finding the right partners for him.
The key to a good deck concept is finding something that performs a unique task for you, otherwise you’ll just end up with an inferior deck idea. Good examples for brainstorm excercises are Gothitelle EPO and Zebstrika NXD: clearly, this format is weak to Item lock, but the reason for that is obviously because these two are so vulnerable themselves. If you can get something going with them, you might be on your way to victory!
3. Write Your First Decklist
Now you know what kind of deck you want to build, it’s time for the first draft. I prefer to use BebesSearch for this because it allows me to start testing on PlayTCG quickly, and it’s also easy to share the list with others to get their thoughts on it (more on that later).
The way I build new decks is usually in the following order:
- Add the necessities of your deck concept. For example, if you are building around Zebstrika, you will want at the very least a 3-2 line of those, and you’ll want Level Balls to search them out.
- Start with at least 11 Energy. You’ll probably need more if you run two different types of Energy (for example, Double Colorless and basic Lightning)
- Play around 13 Supporters. You can usually just throw in 4 Juniper and 4 N, and then from there you’ll need to see which other Supporters are best for your deck. If the deck can and should fill its Bench quickly, 2 Colress is usually safe. If you play Stage 2s or if you plan to have quite a few good 1-ofs in your deck, Skyla is a good choice. If you’re just not sure, you can get away with Bianca, Cheren, or even Random Receiver as well. You’ll find out the best plays later on.
- Put in other staples. Put in 4 Catcher (you can cut it down later if you have to), and do not forget about Ultra Ball or Switch. Choose an ACE SPEC.
- If you have any space left, fill it up with other things you might want. Stadiums, Lasers, more search, more Energy, etc.
At first when you build a new deck, you’ll find that you have a lot of space to work with, but as you think about it more you will often end up wanting way more cards than you can fit. I do not recommend filling your deck to above 60 cards, as cutting cards out is much harder than adding cards in.
If you are stuck on deciding what cards to include, cut down to the bare essentials of your list again and add cards you consider most necessary until you have 60.
There, your first decklist is done. Are you satisfied? If you are, chances are you forgot about something important, sad as it is. Don’t worry though, it’s all part of the process!
4. Get Feedback
pokemon-paradijs.comThere are two ways to put your deck to the test: by showing it to someone else, or by playtesting it in an actual game. I do not recommend showing your list to someone who you’re about to playtest with, as they will know what your deck does and does not have, which is not at all what a tournament game would be like for either of you.
For example, I was playtesting a rather odd Rayquaza/Eelektrik deck a while ago running only 1-2 Switch. The knowledge that I run less Switch makes a play such as Catchering Eelektrik without KOing it much more viable, but if someone doesn’t know that, they would obviously not make that play unless they were highly desperate or had nothing better to do and nothing to lose by doing it (hello Sableye).
If you want to show your list to someone you’re playtesting with, I recommend doing it after playing a couple of games against them. But you do not want to waste your time testing every single “first list” you make. Pokémon games take quite a bit of time, and you might not have seas of that available. You only want to test the lists that you think are as good as you can make them.
So this is where having more than one person to talk to about deck ideas can come in handy, since you do want that initial feedback from someone else to make sure you’re not missing anything obvious. I have seen so many decks fall flat on their face just because someone reminded the deck creator:
“No Rare Candy?”
“What do you do against Blastoise?”
“What if someone Catchers up your Garbodor?”
It’s very important to be realistic about your ideas, and only give them the actual playtesting time they deserve. Sad as it is, you probably will not be able to set up two Stage 2s in this format consistently, your 40 HP Basic gets donked more often than not, and not your whole tournament will you be able to dodge that single popular deck you have an auto-loss against.
But it’s also important to see the flipside: your friend has not seen the deckbuilding process the way you did. You might have consciously left the Catchers out of your deck, because you figure you’re going to KO their Active dude most of the time anyway.
Make sure your discussion about the viability of your deck is a fair and realistic one from both sides. Don’t try to sell the deck to your friend or yourself, as the goal of the discussion is to test the deck on paper, not convince anyone of its viability.
Did your deck survive the onslaught that is theorymon? Then it’s time to get out the mats, the sleeves, the dice and perhaps some drinks. Alternatively, PlayTCG or if you have a rich collection, PTCGO. Pit your deck against the giants of this format, and see how many of them it can beat.
I recommend testing against the following decks in this order, at least 3 games each, before moving on:
- Darkrai EX/Lasers
- Landorus-EX/Mewtwo EX/Tornadus EX
- Rayeels or Blastoise
Note that I’m not saying these three are the best decks in format, in that order. However, together they cover such a large portion of what you would face in a tournament that it’s your best starting point. Each of these decks also covers a different aspect of the metagame.
Darkrai and Sableye will test how well your deck handles resource draining through Catchers and Lasers, as well as snipe damage. Landorus and friends will test your deck’s earlygame stability with its ridiculous speed, and will also kind of prepare you for a Garbodor matchup (since that deck contains mostly the same Pokémon). Rayeels and Blastoise both make your deck stand up to the threat of 1HKOs, even on big beefy EXes, with the most ridiculous Energy acceleration available.
pokemon-paradijs.comThis thorough method of playtesting assures you that you don’t just build a one-trick pony that beats one aspect of the format but scoops to the rest. You will find most of your ideas already strand in the Darkrai matchup, simply because that deck is so consistent and versatile.
Make sure to be fair when reflecting on your playtesting. Yes, you sure beat that Darkrai deck when they got a turn 4 Night Spear against your turn 2 Pump-Up Smash, but is that really the way things will go that often?
What if the tables are turned and you face a turn 2 Night Spear going second? If your opponent Junipers into a 9 card deck and they have the game winning Catcher in their last 2 cards, can you count on that happening in a tournament?
If your opponent gets a grasp on the way your deck plays, try switching decks. Try to beat your own deck, with all the knowledge you have on it. How much of its effectiveness is lost with the surprise factor? This part of testing is not as important in the first few rounds of Swiss, but sooner or later your opponents will catch onto your deck idea, especially if it creates a buzz.
Of course, the standard “ethics” of playtesting still apply. Both sides should be allowed to take back reversible misplays, do not show your hand to your opponent even if it’s hilariously bad or when they play N, etc.
Be honest to yourself how much each card contributed in the games. For example, the Darkrai/Keldeo tech I put into my Big Basics deck did not end up doing as much in the Darkrai matchup as I had hoped, so now the next lists I will be testing will not have both of those (perhaps one, but not both).
If you can, test against different players, preferably really good ones. Some people are better equipped to handle your idea than others, and go about disrupting your game plan differently. For example, if you made an unorthodox Eelektrik deck with all kinds of weird techs, some people would rather go after your attackers, while some stick to Catcher-KOing Eelektriks.
6. The Tournament
BulbapediaSo you made a decklist that you’re happy with, it somehow survived the grinds of building, theorymoning and testing, and you’re ready to take it to a tournament? Good for you! Hopefully you have a good idea of what exactly you want or do not want in your list.
Meta calls are important here if you can make them, but those will always be an educated guess moreso than solid information you have. If someone asks you what you’re playing and there’s a chance you still have to play them, just don’t tell them.
When you’re playing with your deck, just stick to what it does best, try to play your own game rather than your opponent’s. If you hit a bad streak, and end up not doing so well in the final standings, just see it as another point in the process where you’re sent back to square one, and see if you can improve your idea or start with something fresh.
Just like with your playtesting, be honest to yourself about why you lost. Think if you could’ve done anything differently, whether it was in your deck building or your tournament playing, or if there was really nothing you can do about it.
That’s all there is to it, folks. It’s highly possible you already went through these steps unconsciously when preparing for a tournament, but the more aware you are of what you’re going through, the better you can optimize your performance.
Good luck at the remaining tournaments of this season!