Today I’m going to be talking about an important concept: metagaming in the current climate. It is talked about every season, due to the changing nature of the format, but this time I am going to try to give you a way to adaptively do it yourself.
I will also be giving a small set of observations on how I feel about how things have unfolded since the effective demise of Pokémon Catcher before I begin the discussion. Toward the end I will be explaining a few of my top picks for Cities and Regionals decks and explain how they demonstrate the concept of metagaming.
By the end of the article I hope to leave you with all the tools you need to outthink the local players in your area and show up with the odds in your favor.
Table of Contents
- Notes on the Current Format
- What is Metagaming?
- Defining the Environment
- Examples of Successful Metagaming
- My Top Picks and When to Play Them
- Parting Words
Notes on the Current Format
We’ve finally had some time to watch the format unfold. There have been many gatherings of League Challenges and City Championships are now in full swing. There are videos of recorded games online from some of these events, and while I have been unfortunately prevented from attending many of them by the workload of my soon-ending college semester, I have done a lot of observation and played tons of games with the NXD–LTR rule set since my last article.
Here are a couple of the things I’ve found most notable:
Thirty Minutes Shape the Game
The largest thing I’ve noticed about the current format, with 30 minute games, is the sheer volume of ties. A game can be over in 5 minutes or it could last for half an hour. With a limited ability to drag Pokémon off the Bench, the game has only gotten slower, which is, in my opinion, a good thing (to an extent).
The takeaway here is that players are now able to slow the game down legally by taking their time to make moves, essentially forcing a tie when the goings get rough. In my previous article, I talk about how to deal with such situations, and it appears that they are here to stay.
Anything Can Win
Going from Nationals to Worlds to Fall Regionals and then into the most modest of tournaments, League Challenges, it can be easy to forget the subtle differences between large and small events. It only takes a few bad matchups to prevent a player from making cut with a deck that may have been the most inherently strong in the field, so it is possible for even the decks with the smallest odds of winning a large event to cruise to a 7-0-0 local tournament win.
This is not to say, however, that it isn’t wise to give yourself the best chances of winning the event as possible. What I am saying here is that one has to treat Cities not as a single event, but as the series of events that it is; consistently having the best shot each day is still the best recipe for success.
With all that in mind, I want to steer this discussion to the main topic that I want to discuss with all of you: the skill of metagaming.
What is Metagaming?
By now, most of you have already heard of metagaming and it basically means “counter what everyone else is playing” to the average person. Frankly, that’s what it is, but the way it should be looked at goes much deeper than just countering what you think is going to be popular. Below is Wikipedia’s definition of metagaming:
“Metagaming is a broad term usually used to define any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game. Another definition refers to the game universe outside of the game itself.”
In simple terms, it is the use of out-of-game information or resources to affect one’s in-game decisions.
I think that this definition accurately describes what the term means in Pokémon. Be sure to use your moral compass when reading that definition, however. While you are using external information to win, be assured that the rules of the game should not be bent or broken when doing so.
Now that we’ve talked about what metagaming is, we can talk about how to go about doing it.
Defining the Environment
The idea of defining your environment allows you to figure out how to decide on your deck. This sounds vague, but don’t worry; I’ll elaborate. It’s best to start by looking at the size of the event and what it tells you.
Small Events (League Challenges, Cities)
The localness of these events mean that you will probably know the majority of the people attending, which decks many of them are playing, and what kind of skill level you will be dealing with.
Medium Events (States, Regionals)
These tournaments are literally a conglomerate of local events. However, don’t be surprised if you have people flying or driving outlandish distances to attend as well. You can’t expect to know everything, but local results and insights from friends from the different parts of the region can definitely help shape your vision of what to expect.
Large Events (Nationals, Worlds)
These are a breed of tournament that feature so many different areas that it is impossible to metagame by area. However, the internet is your friend here; you can often figure out what the majority of people are playing based on what you are experiencing in testing and what information everyone has access to. This includes social media and websites such as the one you’re on right now.
However, your work is far from over. I’m going to put the majority of my attention to the first two categories as they will be the most relevant to you before my next article.
Small Events – Understanding Reactivity from Day to Day
Imagine you show up to your local event with your well-tested Virizion/Genesect deck, ready to beat some locals and claim your well-deserved 50 Championship Points. However, everyone is playing Darkrai with Spiritomb PLB and you drop at 0-2-0, falling short in a close game but losing because you couldn’t 1HKO the Darkrais at any point in the two games you played.
Seeing this, you switch over to your trusty Landorus/Mewtwo/Garbodor deck the next day knowing that if everyone plays the same decks, there is nothing stopping your Fighting Pokémon from having a field day.
However, everyone else had the same idea. You end up barely missing cut due to lack of practice with the deck overnight and the sheer number of mirror matches you played that day. Granted, this might be a little unlucky for you, but you can either call it a bad day, or you can learn from it; your metagame is very reactive.
What this tells you is that you can’t just consider what was played on that day, but also the day before. You have to consider how the people around you have reacted to what they saw as well. In some areas, this may not be a factor; some people simply ignore the perceived opportunity to have a 65/35 matchup or better against all of the people they had close mirrors with. When this is the case, you can more confidently assume that your counter deck will go the distance.
Given how reactive your area is, you get the opportunity to use this information (the results) more effectively. This can mean the difference between going 5-0 in Swiss and a 0-1-2 drop. Understanding the people around you is a social skill that will not only help you win games in a tournament, but also one you will find invaluable in your everyday life.
The above information is not an exact science, but remember, as with the material that I am about to talk about as well, the goal here is to get the best odds of showing up with the best deck choice available.
One small thing to note here is that sometimes you can figure out an entire metagame in one of these local events just by looking at the open play tables beforehand.
Medium Events – Noticing What Works and Staying Consistent
When you show up to a Regional and sometimes even State level event, you are usually experiencing your local metagame plus several others. However, there are other factors to consider here that aren’t nearly as relevant as they would be on a smaller scale. There are significantly more rounds, and they play the best-of-three 50 minutes +3 turns format. This means that there are more external factors, more people, and more to think about. However, if you put the time in, you can swing the odds into your favor.
The first key is to look at the results you’ve experienced, and do as much as you can to find the results of the other areas that are most likely to attend. This can be through friends, or the internet resources available to you. Doing so, you’ll get an idea of what will be popular. Often you’ll see decks sweep a weekend of tournaments right before exploding at the next big event. It is important to see these coming, and not be fooled by the ones that actually aren’t capable of making a splash. This is where you as a player will find your testing quite valuable, because you will have a general idea of what beats what.
Once you think you know what will be the in the top 65-80% of most popular decks, you will be charged with the task of choosing a deck accordingly. Now, I’m obviously not going to be able to give every single detail of every matchup, but I want to stress how important it is to be picking a consistent deck for these.
Of course, you should always strive to keep a deck consistent, but you are going to disappoint yourself if you walk in to a big event and can’t even set up enough times to get yourself in range to cut with best-of-three matches, especially because this isn’t an event you can just try again at. The amount of Regionals for each season are severely limited compared to the copious smaller events.
Large Events – Understanding Access to Information
If a tournament got bigger than these, I would suggest the same pattern of action as I showed you above; apply the idea of combining areas to see what you think people will be playing for the most part. I’m going to be brief here, but this will become much more relevant this summer.
When you log on your favorite social media site or Pokémon page, you will notice that the results of the larger events are posted. When you’re on websites that talk about decks and strategy such as this one, you will see not only what you read in each article, but you are also able to take a step back and notice something even more important: what you are looking at is also what everyone else sees. This access to information helps other choose their decks, and you can see trends across various websites about what will be popular or “the play” at the bigger events.
Last year, before U.S. Nationals, when TDK was the deck to beat and Gothitelle/Accelgor had just entered the picture, people reached a point of chaos because Gothitelle could beat any unprepared deck with ease. However, as time went by, people began to realize that some of the most relevant decks, Blastoise and Darkrai, could add cards to beat this surprise monster of a deck. They also noted that donking a was possible way for Plasma to beat Gothitelle, which would otherwise be a bad matchup for Plasma in a drawn-out game.
As such, Gothitelle drew less and less popularity despite its numerous National wins. This led to a handful of the smarter players noticing the potential in the written-off Gothitelle due to all the information being circulated, giving Edmund Kuras a U.S. National Championship title as well as a Top 4 finish to Sam Liggett and other respectable placings to players such as Frank Diaz and Henry Prior, among many others.
Perhaps referring to this section might even prove useful if the Regional you plan to attend is going to draw a large attendance that might make it comparable to such events. A cool thing to note is that Nationals is usually not very reactive, but Worlds’ reactivity varies from year to year.
Examples of Successful Metagaming
Case Study: My World Championships Experience
Last year, I attended and participated in the World Championships with a Rayquaza EX/Eelektrik NVI deck that I had playtested for months. I placed 8th, but this isn’t about where I ended up on the rankings at the end of Day 2. This is about what my chances of winning were when I handed my decklist in at the beginning of Day 1.
My rationale for playing RayEels was simple: Gothitelle had won the U.S. National Championship, the world’s largest event. This meant that the deck had proven its ability to consistently deal with the metagame over a 16-round tournament.
The shift I expected was the complicated part. I expected a lot of players to either be playing Gothitelle, or a deck that countered it. These decks included Blastoise, Darkrai, and Lugia/Audino. I felt that RayEels was a favorite to win against any of those decks. Furthermore, with Raikou-EX, my deck had a built-in mechanism to tip the Gothitelle matchup in my favor.
The key thing to notice was that I did not expect TDK to be anywhere near as big as it was because each of the decks listed above had even or favorable matchups against TDK. In the end, my game plan paid off. I squeaked in as the 31st seed with amazing resistance, losing in Top 8 to a 50/50 matchup that I felt confident against. I played two games against TDK, going 1-1 against it.
However, my four teammates playing RayEels at the same event were not as fortunate, as none of them made cut. A couple of my friends played against TDK early, forcing them to the lower tables, where I expected the majority of TDK to be found. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty.
So what did I do right? Personally, I think I picked a good deck with an all-or-nothing strategy. After all, I do not find top cutting Worlds worth my while if my odds of actually winning are too low. I correctly noted one effect of Gothitelle on the metagame and it was probably the only reason that I did as well as I did.
However, one huge hole in my team’s logic is that we assumed Gothitelle would be popular. We simply didn’t correctly draw enough conclusions from Nationals. By looking at the sheer number of people promoting Darkrai and Wartortle in Blastoise lists, we could have deduced that no rationally-thinking player would enter the event with Gothitelle without some sentimental attachment that caused them to default to it.
Some players did make this conjecture, leading to a surprising amount of Klinklang decks and a couple of well-deserved good finishes. While I was somewhat lucky for once and had a good final placement, there’s no reason to believe I couldn’t have had better odds of winning.
But less about me. I think it’s safe to say a lot of other players have shown some amazing metagaming in the past year, so I’m going to highlight some of them.
Notable Metagamers of 2013
Dylan Bryan (Darkrai EX/Garbodor DRX/Hammers)
Even before Float Stone was released, Dylan brought this deck to Virginia Regionals and sailed to a second place finish. He took into account that the majority of decks he’d face relied on Abilities (RayEels and Blastoise), and he was able to beat most Big Basics decks he faced with Crushing Hammers and Gold Potion. I was able to watch him from Top 8 until the Finals, and none of his games against the many Stage 2 decks he played were even remotely close.
While he was thwarted by our own Raymond Cipoletti in the championship match, he deserved the distance he got out of his deck.
Dylan Lefavour (Big Basics, Victini NVI 15 + 1 R Energy)
Dylan won the New England Regional, going undefeated on Day 1 to boot. He knew that Blastoise was going to be a non-factor, so he removed a lot of the things that are needed to make Big Basics beat Blastoise, such as Exp. Share, in favor of his tech for Klinklang. Just a couple rounds before playing him, I saw him drop his Victini and wreck a Klinklang deck similar to mine. Without a perfect game, I couldn’t avoid the trap and I ended up losing to him in Swiss and again in 2-0 fashion in Top 8.
He played the metagame perfectly here, countering his biggest weakness and predicting the lack of his other bad matchups.
Dustin Zimmerman (Sableye DEX/Garbodor DRX/Hammers aka Hovertoxin)
As I began to highlight above, predicting what wouldn’t be there correctly often leads to a good finish. Dustin’s Worlds performance is a perfect example of this. With almost no shot at beating Gothitelle save for the single copy of Sneasel NXD he ran, he entered the event with an astounding number of good matchups thanks to a good metagame call on his part.
As the event unfolded, we observed a sea of Blastoise, Lugia/Plasma, Klinklang, and Darkrai. This meant that the only bad matchup he was realistically going to face was the occasional Darkrai deck, which he did not see in cut until Top 4.
Brandon Smiley (Vicini EX/Terrakion-EX/Drifblim DRX/Drifblim PLB)
Knowing the “Big Four” of our Regionals season, and lining it up with what you see in Brandon’s deck, you can tell what he didn’t expect to be seeing too much of. The strategy behind his ploy was to have near auto-wins against Virizion-based decks, Darkrai, and Plasma in exchange for what I’d expect to be a horrendously bad matchup against Blastoise.
It paid off. He dodged Blastoise aside from the very first round of the tournament, breezing through his opponents with good matchups throughout both days.
Sam Chen (Blastoise/No Scrappers)
Sam took a leap of faith in Philadelphia by banking on the fact that Darkrai/Garbodor and other Garbodor-based variants would be underplayed. To an extent, he was right. The 2-3 spaces he gained by cutting Tool Scrapper were what kept his deck consistent enough to set up for the 17 rounds he had to play to win the event.
Though Garbotoxin-oriented decks did make a fair appearance at the event, Sam was able to avoid them for the most part and even beat the two he did face.
Dustin Zimmerman (Virizion-EX/Mewtwo EX/Eviolite)
Dustin made Top 4 at Ft. Wayne Regionals, entering cut as the first seed. It shouldn’t be surprising that he was able to do metagame well again, having seen his Worlds performance.
This time, he found a deck that had a good matchup against everything popular, with the exception of the counter-meta decks you’ve seen like Brandon’s. The Eviolite in his deck provided him with the armor that won him Mewtwo and Deoxys wars, while slowing down Darkrai by completely preventing it from taking 2HKOs.
Below is a video in which you get to see him make a massive comeback in Game 1 and a blowout Game 2. Eviolite’s power shines through in this matchup, but I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you.
The key to metagaming is not only knowing how to acquire information, but also knowing how to interpret that information properly. However, I think it’s necessary to disclaim once more that this isn’t an exact science and metagaming doesn’t guarantee victory, but rather improves your odds of winning.
The best advice I can offer is to figure out not only which decks you expect to be played, but which decks you expect not to be played as well, then choose your deck and list accordingly. Finding the correct strategy for your area can net you up to 290 Championship Points on the local level alone (through League Challenges and City Championships), which is over half of a Worlds invite this year.
I’m sure a few readers might already be familiar with this information, but now that these concepts are laid out, I think the fun stuff will be a little more useful to you this time around. Let’s talk about a few decks and which kind of environments they are most apt to perform well in.
My Top Picks and When to Play Them
I’ll start by reiterating a point I made toward the end of my breakdown on metagaming. It’s not only about which decks are going to be played, but also which decks are not. When you choose to play an archetype, you are playing a deck that is very strong and can perform an effective strategy that beats any that doesn’t directly combat it in some way.
The biggest mistake I see players make is choosing a deck that isn’t well positioned in a metagame just because they think that by fortuitously getting paired against one or perhaps two favorable matchups, they have an excellent chance at winning. In our diversified, Catcher-nerfed format, this is a poor strategy at best.
Back in 2008 this might have worked, because finding a deck that could beat Gardevoir and Empoleon got a lot of people into top cut at Worlds, but that case is an exception since those two decks were so dominant at the time.
Deck #1 – Gothitelle/Accelgor/Dusknoir
Suppose that you expect few to no Virizion/Genesect decks at your next upcoming event. There is an easy answer as to what will do the most damage in this situation: Gothitelle. This deck has an easy time locking and destroying anything that isn’t adequately prepared for it. Furthermore, even if your opponent runs techs for you, there is no guarantee they will be able to get them out under Item lock.
The truth is, no deck except for Virizion/Genesect is prepared for Gothitelle in a sufficient manner, at least in its most basic form. There is an argument for Trubbish being able to outspeed it, but that strategy can be completely wrecked by a turn 2 Gothitelle followed by a Scrapper and a knockout.
As such, with nothing but wins on the field, all you have to do is competently play this deck with a consistent list and you are looking at some good odds of earning Points.
Here is one suggested list that you will find sets up quite consistently:
Pokémon – 22
Trainers – 34
0 Town Map
Energy – 4
Notice the cards I left as 0-of’s. The way this deck is built, you are going to win if you set up, which is what it will do in the appropriate metagame. You shouldn’t need to recover cards with Super Rod or drag up Benched Pokémon with Catcher in order to win.
It is entirely feasible to make changes to add those cards if you’d like, but I personally feel comfortable against any non-Genesect deck, even without those cards. The only matchup that could have been 50/50 was Blastoise because of Keldeo-EX, but Keldeo is now taken care of by a Silver Bangled Accelgor in one hit.
For those who don’t own Tropical Beach, I personally don’t like playing Stage 2’s without the card. However, the extent of the lock is so strong in this deck that it is actually fathomable to win a comparable percentage of games with substitutes such as Electrode PLF or Musharna NXD.
Obviously, not every tournament is going to be so simple. Let’s try another scenario! This time I’m going to add little side notes before explaining my rationale. Here’s a quick guide to what I mean when I say certain things:
No: These are bad matchups, ones you want to avoid outright and not tech against since you are better off keeping your deck consistent (or playing a different deck entirely).
Low: These are decks you don’t want to see too many of, but can beat with some luck. Essentially, these are 50/50 matchups that you’re probably better off avoiding because there are better odds in piloting in a different deck.
Techability: Without devoting too much space, you can gear a deck to beat certain others. I will list the opposing decks and then tech cards in parentheses.
Deck #2 – Virizion/Genesect
When To Play It
- No: RayBoar, Fire
- Low: Sableye/Hammers
- Techability: Empoleon (Deoxys-EX, Hypnotoxic Laser)
In a situation where your deck’s mono-Weakness is not completely taken advantage of, Genesect is a monster. As I mentioned in my previous article, it has superior Bench targeting, damage output, and calculations compared to many other decks. There is a lot of speculation that this deck is fairly simple to play, but the math is what makes the deck require large amounts of practice.
Anyway, in addition to Fire, you don’t want to be playing too many games against Sableye/Hammers. These decks can run Silver Mirror to slow you down heavily, and are also capable of “Hammer locking” you completely out of the game every now and then.
Finally, some of your card choices can revolve around the number of Empoleon decks you plan on seeing. Empoleon has varying popularity in different regions, and playing a deck that can’t repeatedly 1HKO the Emperor Penguin when there are lots of them can prove a fatal mistake.
I encourage you to take a look at my previous article for a list, but here’s another take that might prove worthy if you expect no Empoleon in addition to no RayBoar.
Pokémon – 9
Trainers – 37
Energy – 14
Running Shadow Triad in this version is necessary because you are most likely going to be Knocking Out 2 EX’s with G Booster in a game whereas you wouldn’t be doing so in the Laser version.
Overall should you deem this deck a good choice, what you expect to be played will shape the way you build it.
Deck #3 – Sableye/Hammers/Garbodor (aka Hovertoxin)
When To Play It
- No: Gothitelle, Empoleon
- Low: Blastoise, Darkrai variants
- Techability: Virizion/Genesect and Team Plasma (Silver Mirror)
This deck is one that revolves around Sableye, locking Abilities, and dropping Hypnotoxic Lasers and Crushing Hammers until the opponent runs out of resources to deal with them, eventually leading to an onslaught of Darkrai and/or Absol. To add to the flip-oriented nature of the deck, Pokémon Catcher is still a somewhat necessary choice in the deck.
A player using this deck needs to learn to play extremely fast, meaning every move should be rehearsed beforehand in order to avoid any risk for running out of time and taking a tie.
By running Silver Mirrors, Team Plasma and Genesect decks are much more easily handled while you begin to Hammer away their 10-16 G Energy, depending on the amount of Super Rod they are running. In fact, the Silver Mirrors now have a much easier time fitting into the deck with the decline of Catcher; they can comfortably replace Float Stone.
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 41
1 Dark Claw/Float Stone/Eviolite
1 Life Dew
Energy – 8
This is the list that has been working for me. Skyla has become a personal favorite of mine in here. While the idea of this deck is to rush through and obliterate the opponent with your flip effects, I have found that being able to get the important things like Life Dew and Silver Mirror in certain matchups more important.
Also note the lack of Dark Patch; this deck is built to deny Prizes better than it takes them, as Laser will often do the majority of the damage while you try to deprive them of Energy and trap things with Catcher while you do so.
Be sure to include Absol in at least one of the three attacker slots I provided simply because it takes one less Energy and thus one less turn to attack than Darkrai.
Deck #4 – Trubbish
When To Play It
- No: Garbodor
- Low: Gothitelle, Darkrai with 2+ Tool Scrappers
- Techability: None
Recently, Mike Diaz posted a fantastic article that includes his take on Trubbish. As such, I think that it would suffice to say his is the go-to list to look at; he is truly the expert on the deck.
On that note, Trubbish is a simple deck. Granted, understanding Tool placement is important in certain matchups, but the way it is built and played is linear. As such, it is ineffective to tech for different matchups than the ones you already beat.
Fortunately, most decks will struggle to keep up with Trubbish. Gothitelle is annoying if you can’t drop enough Tools into play to avoid being wiped out, as it will also become incredibly hard to draw enough cards to win with the sheer number of Items the deck runs.
Additionally, a straight Darkrai deck that runs two or more Tool Scrappers could ruin your day by eliminating Tools in exchange for Sableyes, eventually leaving you with too few Tools left in circulation to even 2-shot Darkrai and keep up with Night Spear.
Deck #5 – Blastoise
When To Play It
- No: Garbodor, Trubbish, Gothitelle
- Low: None (All other matchups are good.)
- Techability: Genesect (Black Kyurem-EX PLS), RayBoar (Black Kyurem BCR)
Blastoise is everyone’s favorite deck, right? Despite the large number of decks you’d not want to see, this deck can be playable because the three bad matchups mentioned are not the most likely enemies you’ll face. Many of Blastoise’s matchups play out in absolutes; nothing really has a close game with it if it sets up quickly.
That being said, Blastoise players need to find a list that focuses on having a lot of Black Kyurem EX and Blastoise in play in order to beat Genesect. This way, they can’t ruin your Energy acceleration nor can they consistently handle your Black Kyurem EX’s. Running a Black Kyurem BCR would help in mirror matches as well as your RayBoar matchup.
Below is a basic list that will most likely get you set up every game, but be sure to customize it according to what you’re planning to be facing.
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 34
Energy – 12
I hope that providing concrete scenarios of metagaming was a good way of helping you understand how it can be done. With no limit to the number of ways a metagame turn out, you will need to think hard on what will be the best deck to bring to each event. Having a team of friends to bounce ideas off of can be useful for reaffirming your thought processes as well.
What I want to clarify with you is that you don’t have to necessarily agree with my matchup analysis or my lists for any given deck. As I’ve said, what is presented here is how I personally view things. There are infinite possibilities for a single decklist, and I’m sure some of you will discover ways to make certain decks beat bad matchups that I haven’t considered. You might even luck out and come across a deck that beats everything, though that is unlikely. (I do hear some Ho-Oh variants are coming close.)
Either way, metagaming is a cornerstone of being a good player and has brought some of the world’s best players to the top time and time again. I hope you all heed at least some of my advice and that it helps you in some way for your upcoming Cities and League Challenges.
As before, if you’d like any advice or further explanation anything you read here, feel free to contact me or post in the discussion thread! I am open to feedback, as this is my first metagaming article and I tried to be as comprehensive as possible.
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