State/Territory/Province (“S/T/P”) Championships are fast approaching, and in my mind they have always brought their own special brand of energy. With a size requiring less planning than a Regional Championship yet carrying significantly more weight than City Championships, S/T/P’s are like traveling to see a major artist or band perform in concert – you’re not at a local venue where you become more interested in the people attending than the artist playing, but it’s not a full-fledged music festival either.
To carry this metaphor further, people get excited about seeing one of their favorite bands in concert. They might play the band’s albums over and over again and research the other bands who will be playing. They pre-order tickets, print out directions, and – if you’re me – find a babysitter. I recently saw The Postal Service live for a 10th anniversary tour of their album Give Up. When I found out that Ra Ra Riot was performing as well, I dissolved into nothing more than fanboy gobbledygook and listened to everything both artists had done. Ever.
So yeah, S/T/P’s are kind of like that for the Pokémon TCG world. As we get closer and closer to S/T/P’s, you can expect to see Pokémon players lose their grip on reality as their undying love for Pikachu kicks in. A quick look at a Pokémon Facebook group reveals this slow deterioration, as some of the most recent posts have to do with an Yveltal-EX card being sold on eBay for over $12,000, the almighty power of the Helix Fossil, and a group of viewers who are collectively playing through a game of Pokémon on twitch.tv.
Now, I’m not saying all of this has to do with the upcoming S/T/P’s, but it does make a person think. By the way, I’ll be right back. I have to ask the Helix Fossil something.
Here’s the other thing about S/T/P’s – while they’re certainly fun, they’re also difficult to plan for. My most successful showings at States have been with a Charizard AR deck during the “SP era” and a Durant NVI deck when absolutely nobody was playing with Durant. In both instances, I placed 2nd and wondered what the heck I had done right. Historically, gauging the S/T/P metagame has always been difficult for me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
With the popularity of the last article I did that invited readers to take a professional’s perspective, I have decided to do much the same thing with my own personal preparation for the upcoming State Championships. My hope is that readers can get one step closer to understanding what thoughts are going through the minds of top players as they prepare for a big tournament.
Also, full disclosure: I am starting from the very beginning of this process. While I’ve done some testing here and there with a couple of XY-influenced decks, my approach will assume little more than that. This is for the benefit of those readers who find things like “reading the metagame” and “choosing a deck to play” challenging.
At the end of each section (except the first), I will provide a detailed look at what’s going on in my mind as I prepare for State Championships. Again, this is a glimpse into how I approach the current format and how I figure out the greatest question on most player’s minds: “what will I play for S/T/P’s?” First of all, though, here’s a visual representation of my method:
This pyramid of thought starts with the biggest chunk of the puzzle: what does the format look like? Moving up the pyramid represents a more narrow focus on what a person may play for S/T/P’s. With each level, the focus goes from what everyone will be playing to what YOU will be playing. You’ll see that the table of contents is organized accordingly.
- Table of Contents
- STARTING FROM SCRATCH: UNDERSTANDING THE FORMAT
- THE METAGAME FACTOR
- ASSESSING ROGUE OPTIONS
- ASSESSING YOUR OPTIONS, SKILL, EXPERIENCE…
- DECK CHECK!
- CARD CHECK!
- Starting from Scratch: Understanding of the Format
- The Metagame Factor
- Assessing Rogue Options
- Assessing YOUR Options, Skill, Experience…
- Deck Check!
- Card Check!
Assuming I have little experience with the current format, the first thing I would do is gather some information on it. Going into any major tournament, you need to have a clear idea of what people are playing. This not only means archetypes – deck choices – it also means individual cards as well. As an example, Yveltal-EX, a card I consider to be extremely powerful, can completely ruin any player trying to utilize Landorus-EX (due to the Fighting Resistance).
In essence, it’s important to have a working foundation of what the game looks like. S/T/P’s usually occur right after the release of a brand new set, which pushes that argument even further. I’ve always stressed the value of being able to attain information, particularly when it comes to deck lists, rogue decks, and so on. This website is helpful in giving you direction, as are a few others. I won’t list them here because I think for many it’s redundant.
As I’ve read recent articles on the XY era of the Pokémon TCG, my working list of archetypes looks a little like this:
- Darkrai-EX/Yveltal-EX/Sableye DEX (with or without Garbodor LTR)
- Plasma variants (possibly with Aromatisse XY)
- Blastoise BCR decks
- Emboar LTR decks (possibly with Delphox XY)
- Possibly Fairy type decks
In addition to the decks I’ve listed here, I also have an idea of some of the new cards from XY players are looking to incorporate in their S/T/P run. These are all familiar to players, since they’ve been talked about extensively. Still, it’s nice to take another look:
There are some other cards out there as well, but these are the ones I’ve heard the most about from players.
If you are brand new to the game, some additional research here is needed. It will be hard to crack into a format that is fairly open, so do yourself a favor and read up on whatever you can to give yourself a clearer look at the format.
If you’re a veteran, developing this type of understanding is equally important, especially for the first weekend of S/T/P’s. I say this because the format is open right now. By the end of S/T/P’s, we’ll have the clearest idea of what the format looks like. Until then, we can guess and we can test, but we can’t do the same for other players. There will be players who try very hard to make Fairy decks work, for example. Personally, I don’t think the best that the Fairy type has to offer (Xerneas XY/Xerneas-EX/Aromatisse XY) is good enough. I could be proven wrong, but after initial testing, I’m not all that impressed.
But for all the testing I will do, there will be players who do less – that or they’ll remain stubborn and try to make the Fairy type successful. This is why it’s healthy to identify archetypes and power cards while keeping those lists a little more open than normal.
There’s a reason I jump quickly from an understanding of the format to developing a clear picture of your local metagame: for S/T/P’s, knowing what you can and cannot play based on your opponent’s deck choices saves you time in the long run, and it’s more relevant here than in any other major tournament.
S/T/P’s hit a sweet spot in that players take them seriously, and these players are generally people you know. I would argue that there’s almost no better time to devote attention to the metagame. At the same time, however, S/T/P’s usually take place after a new set gets released, which shakes things up quite a bit.
For looking into the metagame, I’ll point you to my massive article on it located here. The first thing we must determine is what the metagame looks like on the surface. Straight from my metagame article, I offer this tidbit:
“A somewhat defined metagame is one in which you have a reasonable idea of what to expect at a tournament, but not enough to make a fully informed decision on what deck to run. In most cases, you will face a metagame like this on the local level, often after the release of a new set or a format rotation.”
This is what I feel the metagame looks like currently. There seems to be some uncertainty about what is actually good right now. Writers for this website have done a good job of clearing this up, but the fact that most of our latest articles deal with “the new XY format” shows that players are still working things out.
The advice for an open, undefined metagame is to play a deck that is good in the general sense. If you don’t really know what to expect, there’s no use trying to build a deck just to counter Yveltal-EX. You’ll end up losing to Blastoise and Emboar decks, throwing your deck in the trash, then leaving the play area to get some take-out Chinese food. Instead, pick a deck that performs well against most things. While the current format isn’t wide open (there has been a lot of work done lately on narrowing things down to a workable tier list), I still think the “good in a general sense” rule can apply here.
Another consideration you need to make is a historical one. Begin by asking yourself the following questions:
- Are the players in my area pioneers in building rogue decks, or do they stick to their archetypes?
- Do I consider my metagame to be random or predictable?
- Historically, what strategies do players in my area like to get behind?
- Do players in my area “jump on the bandwagon” when it comes to new decks or new cards from a set?
By answering these questions and thinking consciously about your local metagame, hopefully a clear picture of the surface of this thing is coming into view. I’ll share my thoughts on my local metagame below.
I anticipate my local metagame to be fairly open, based on some notable observations. First of all, members in my area have always been unorthodox in their deck decisions. I’ve seen players here opt for mediocre cards simply because it’s different than the norm. Facing a Gothitelle LTR deck this year at the State Championships wouldn’t surprise me at all. When Stephen Silvestro made the trip to a Regional Championship in Virginia during the ’09-’10 season, he went 0-2 and dropped before exclaiming, “Your area is completely random!”
At the same time, players in my area tend to jump at the opportunity to play new cards, especially when those cards are from a new generation of Pokémon. Nobody really sticks to archetypes, even the better players (if anything, those players make deck changes based on the perceived metagame). Because of this, I can make a couple of general predictions:
- Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX/Black Kyurem-EX might not show up at all during S/T/P’s
- Emboar LTR/Rayquaza-EX might be on the decline, unless it gets paired up with Delphox XY
- Trevenant XY might be a card to watch out for
- Fairy type decks will probably make an appearance in some form
- The number one “archetype” to expect would be Darkrai-EX/Sableye DEX/Yveltal-EX, mostly because of the addition of Yveltal-EX
- I might expect to see Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX too, just because it tends to be popular in my area
- The presence of Plasma decks tends to be hit or miss, almost like everyone has a Plasma deck in their deckbox in case they can’t come up with anything else
These are some of the generalizations I made concerning my local metagame. Understanding this will help me make decisions about what I want to play. In the long run, it will also help me save some time. For example, I don’t need to test against Blastoise BCR decks as much if I know I won’t run into it much.
One key item to remember when any major tournament is approaching is the option to “go rogue.” Of course, doing this is oftentimes easier said than done, and it’s not an option that stands for everyone (that is, of course, if you’re wanting to give yourself the best chance of winning said tournament). I’ve addressed how to build a competitive rogue deck in the past, so I won’t be going down that pathway today. Instead, I want to look at two different types of decks and/or cards that it’s good to keep tabs on every now and then.
The first type is that of cards and/or decks that “fly under the radar” (I don’t have a great term for these types of cards, so knock yourself out if you have a better one). These are cards and/or decks that exist as strong concepts, yet they just haven’t seen consistent success yet. Generally, they are powerful in theory, but lack in practice for one reason or another. Here’s a quick working list for this type of thing:
- Zebstrika NXD
- Garchomp DRX 90/Altaria DRX
- Shedinja DRX/Ninjask DRX
- Ninetales DRX
- Aggron DRX
- Vileplume BCR
- Crustle BCR
- Flygon BCR
- Raticate BCR (now replaced by Gourgeist XY)
- Stoutland BCR
- Beartic PLS
- Gallade PLS
- Exeggutor PLF
- Umbreon PLF
- Weavile PLF
- Dragonite PLF (until just recently)
- Kingdra PLF
- Frozen City
- Cradily PLB
- Suicune PLB
- Froslass PLB
The main thing that sets these cards apart from other cards is an interesting attack or Ability that looks to be or actually was powerful in another form. These are the cards that players call out when scans are revealed of the next set. If they aren’t game-changers immediately, they sort of get tucked away in everyone’s mind. In many cases, they’re forgotten until some player pulls the file out of the recesses of their mind, dusts it off, and wins a tournament with it.
Klinklang BLW, Accelgor DEX, Gothitelle EPO 47, Empoleon DEX, Trubbish PLS 65, Lugia-EX, Leafeon PLF… I could go on here, but I’ll stop. These are the cards that used to be on the above list until the stars lined up and it was deemed they were worthy to be played. Dragonite PLF is a great example, since it recently saw massive success and was written off for a long time by many players. If you’re not checking back on these cards every now and then to see if a new set or change in the format has made them more viable, then you’re going to miss out on opportunities to build a successful rogue deck every time.
The next category of cards I want to introduce here are cards and/or decks that experience success off and on. For some cards/decks in the format – such as Sableye/Darkrai – success is consistent and well-documented. It’s commonly understood at this point that playing with Darkrai-EX (and now Yveltal-EX) is never a bad idea.
For other cards/decks, the same thing cannot be said. Take Garbodor LTR as an example. It has had massive success before in a variety of tournaments, but its success comes in waves. When players are using more Tool Scrapper, Garbodor is trash; otherwise, it’s golden.
Another great example is Gothitelle, which was first released in Emerging Powers and later reprinted in Legendary Treasures. When first released, it saw a mediocre performance (primarily because of Mewtwo-EX’s dominance in the game). As soon as players linked together the combo it had with Darkrai-EX and Accelgor DEX, the deck started making waves.
After a while, it disappeared, only to reappear once more after the release of Float Stone. With the release of Virizion-EX, the card was once more kept at bay, but still saw some play during our latest series of City Championships. Gothitelle LTR is, of course, now being overshadowed by Trevenant XY, meaning we might see this familiar combo spring to life.
There are many cards that fit into this category, and it’s important to note that the decision to play them is purely a metagame call. If, for instance, you can expect few players to be using Virizion-EX, you might start thinking of Trevenant XY/Accelgor DEX. If you’re wrong on your metagame call, you might fail miserably. Here are some of the cards that are famous for cyclical success:
- Accelgor DEX
- Drifblim DRX
- Garbodor LTR
- Sigilyph LTR
- Hydreigon LTR
- Tool Scrapper
- Kyurem PLF
- Suicune PLB
- Gothitelle LTR
In a sense, these cards too are flying under the radar; they’re only picked up when the timing is right. Unlike the previous list, however, these cards are proven to be successful in the right situation – so much so that counters are often utilized against them. When those counters are abandoned, that’s when an opportunity can present itself.
Now that I’ve gone over these various cards, I want to look at what I might play for the State Championships. Keep in mind that I am building off what I’ve already determined with regard to the current format and my local metagame. For you, the results might be different, and you might decide to play something more straightforward or something that addresses the metagame in a different manner entirely.
After looking quickly at the notes I made on my local metagame, I’m thinking that Garbodor might be a strong play for the first weekend of States. As noted before, my area likes to try new things out, and they get all gushy when new Pokémon are introduced. Tool Scrapper might end up being ignored altogether in the flurry of new ideas, making Garbodor a card with massive potential.
My first inclination was Dragonite PLF, but it’s facing some trouble with the new Yveltal-EX and Trevenant XY. The very real possibility I’ll be seeing both of those cards knocks Dragonite out of contention. Given that, I started thinking about successful decks that have featured Garbodor when I thought about something I had seen just recently.
Mike Fouchet recently wrote an article on Accelgor/Garbodor, a deck he crafted during City Championships that led to some wins. When I remembered this, I naturally paired it up in my mind with the Stage 1 Gothitelle LTR that just got released – Trevenant XY. Now, I realize that people will criticize the idea of running two Pokémon that have conflicting Abilities, but we’ve seen this before with Darkrai-EX and Garbodor LTR.
As I started thinking about this deck, I liked it more and more. A lone Trevenant with a Silver Mirror attached auto-wins any Plasma matchup that isn’t prepared (and even if they are, they’re on Item lockdown, making it difficult to get their counters out). Looping Accelgor with Trevenant can also win against Blastoise and Emboar decks. The Garbodor is there for added frustration, insurance against decks that rely heavily on Abilities.
Fouchet’s list is provided here:
Pokémon – 25
Trainers – 31
Energy – 4
After looking at the metagame and the format extensively, as well as considering rogue options, we have to take into account our own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. This is the moment during which we contemplate what we can actually see ourselves playing at a big tournament. It’s a time to reflect on your past successes, and it’s a time to think about what you feel comfortable playing. For many, this is the time to also consider what cards you actually have for the deck that you want to put together. The lack of Tropical Beach, for instance, might lead you to play something entirely different.
Aside from the availability of cards, take a serious look at your own personal tournament history as you consider your options. The last tournament I played in – Virginia Regionals – found me playing Tool Drop. In testing for that tournament, I desperately wanted to play something different. I wasn’t crazy about the risk involved with playing Tool Drop, and I had a feeling that Darkrai-EX decks might still be floating around. With the most experience catalogued in playing Tool Drop, however, I quickly realized that if a Tool Drop deck was going to be successful, it was going to be piloted by me.
The thing about assessing your own skill is that you’ll often find patterns of play that represent who you are competitively. This is not a bad thing, and it largely goes back to some of those representations of character that I covered in an article before. If you’re used to playing a single deck over the course of a season, for instance, your view of XY should be very clear and narrow: What from XY helps my favorite deck, and does the new cards from XY make my deck obsolete?
As you evaluate yourself as a player, remember something important: in many cases, our compatibility with a deck is psychological. In playing Tool Drop at Virginia Regionals, I felt extremely confident. I had a great amount of playtesting invested with that deck, and could play it nearly by instinct. By that token, I could play the deck well no matter the situation. This actually came in handy, since conditions at the tournament and a lack of lunch caused me to nearly pass out in Round 7; if I didn’t have such a positive connection with my deck, it’s possible I would have misplayed.
I’m not saying you need to be prepared to get sick and still succeed at S/T/P’s, just that how you play your deck can be very much tied to how you view your deck. I have seen players realize after the first round they’re not crazy about their deck choice; without fail, those players never do well by the end of the day.
To begin, I do not own a single Tropical Beach. I have access to them, however, so it doesn’t present an issue. As far as skill and experience is concerned, I’m fairly confident in my abilities when I’ve been playtesting properly. Unfortunately, I haven’t been playtesting a lot recently. This throws a wrench into my plans.
Looking at my performance over the season and the variety of decks I’ve played, I’ve had decent success with Darkrai-EX/Sableye DEX and Tool Drop (Trubbish PLS 65/Sigilyph PLB/Electrode PLF). That’s it – those are the only two decks I’ve played at tournaments this season. In thinking about the proposed Trevenant XY/Accelgor DEX/Garbodor LTR (TAG) deck, I have some reservations. “Lock decks” have never been my thing, though the last one I played (Vileplume UD/Mew Prime, Yanmega Prime/Sunflora HS) won me a tournament, and I had a lot of fun with it.
What this means for me is that I need to put in the proper playtesting if I expect to have a chance with this deck. My card choices need to be clear, and they need to address as best as possible what I expect to see at the tournament. More importantly, I need to gain the same level of confidence I had with Tool Drop.
Of course, I have some options too. If I decide that “TAG” is just not my thing, I can fall back on Darkrai/Sableye. By including Yveltal-EX, the deck becomes even more powerful and gains an answer to Darkrai-EX’s Fighting type Weakness. And I have Tool Drop built and ready to go, so it can be a consideration as well.
As you move further up that pyramid of knowledge, you should be narrowing in on a number of reasonable deck choices for play. Notice that as you get closer to the tip, you are essentially cutting out decks you don’t intend to play. Each level on that pyramid represents a shift from what could be played to what you will play.
At this point, your aim is to consider each deck choice in light of previous knowledge built. This should not be an emotional experience. If your pet deck cannot handle the new archetype that everyone’s talking about, you have to abandon it, even if it hurts. If a few top players in your area are known for playing a certain deck that auto-wins against one of your choices, you need to either tweak your list for that matchup or move on to something else.
I should note here that your considerations should not be based on what potential rogues might surface at a tournament. Since you have no definitive evidence on these decks, you cannot consider them. I remember a fellow player making a last minute deck change before a tournament because of a rumor going around about a certain rogue deck. The rumor was a complete fabrication, and my friend performed poorly because he was out of his element when he played something he wasn’t used to.
Also, take care not to get into playtesting at this moment. You mostly want to play some matchups in your head, or consult a team member or friend. Testing will come later, but the aim here is to avoid wasting time while focusing your efforts on what truly matters.
The three decks I have discussed personally are the following:
- Darkrai-EX/Sableye DEX/Yveltal-EX
- Trubbish PLS 65/Sigilyph PLB/Electrode PLF (Tool Drop)
- Trevenant XY/Accelgor DEX/Garbodor LTR (TAG)
Of the three, Tool Drop is the one that brings me the most concern. With the popularity of Yveltal-EX and the consistent success of Darkrai-EX, I can anticipate both cards to find success at tournaments, and Tool Drop performs poorly against this deck.
Moreover, I’m thinking that Blastoise BCR decks will see little play, a deck that Tool Drop performs well against. And finally, there might be some random stuff at State Championships. While this could be to my advantage since Tool Drop performs well “in the general sense,” it doesn’t perform as well against non-EX decks.
Still, I have Tool Drop built and it doesn’t require any changes at all, so I might as well give it a little playtesting, just in case the deck decides to surprise me.
The Darkrai-EX/Yveltal-EX deck will probably be successful in any format. Yveltal patches up the weakness that Darkrai has, and Darkrai has proven time and time again to be successful. Since I’ve identified Garbodor as a potentially powerful play, I might consider running it in my Dark deck instead of the “straight Darkrai-EX/Yveltal-EX” version.
And lastly, my “TAG” deck represents my rogue choice. If it pans out, I’ll be very satisfied. This deck will require the most work, but it also looks good in the general sense. With new Abilities and powerful new Pokémon-EX’s (I sound like a Pokémon TCG commercial), people will be playing a lot of what TAG is strong against. A quick Trevenant XY can decimate an Emboar LTR/Delphox XY/Rayquaza-EX deck (not to mention Blastoise), and it has answers for Plasma as well (more on that later). My gut tells me that players may run Switch cards, and they may run Tool Scrapper, but they won’t be playing high counts of both.
These are the three cards I will be looking to play for State Championships.
Refinement. This is the name of the game here. By this point – the very tip of that pyramid – you should have a very clear idea of what you plan on testing. I recently made the claim that games in the Pokémon TCG will soon be decided not by the decks people play, but by about 4-5 cards of space (“creative leverage” is the term I used). I stand by this claim and can even point to Ryan Sablehaus’s Dragonite PLF deck as a prime example of this thinking. For the Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX matchup, Ryan used Victini-EX as a hard counter. This is exactly what I’m talking about. Ryan’s decision earned him a 1st place finish, and it’s proof that games can be won because of a small number of cards.
As we move into the XY era of the Pokémon TCG, this creative leverage might level off a bit, but it’s mostly because we are entering an undecided format. Once the top decks situate themselves, you’ll find this return to utilizing a small pocket of card choices for big wins.
So, with your small number of deck choices in hand, look at what cards will help you capitalize on your strategy while maintaining your matchups. When I do this, I generally look through all the cards in the cardpool, poring over what seems relevant. If I have a matchup I need to address, I’ll focus quite a bit on this, looking at pretty much anything that will help me swing the numbers in my favor. This is all a balancing game though, as too much dedication in one area of your deck might cost you a matchup elsewhere.
Of the decks I’m looking at – Darkrai-EX/Sableye DEX/Yveltal-EX, Tool Drop, and the Trevenant XY/Accelgor DEX/Garbodor LTR (TAG) idea – TAG needs the most attention. The Darkrai-EX deck just needs Yveltal-EX to be thrown in and tested, while Tool Drop gained so little from XY that it’s practically static at this point. Given that, there are some things I’m hoping to capitalize on with TAG, as well as some consistency matters I want to address.
Let’s look at the list again:
Pokémon – 25
Trainers – 31
Energy – 4
As I look at this list, a few things strike me. First, the Mewtwo-EX seems easily replaceable (especially if I can fit Trevenant XY in its place). I also need to find space for at least 2 Silver Mirror and 2 Psychic Energy. Without a counter, a single Trevenant XY in play with a Silver Mirror auto-wins the Plasma matchup. One of the cards that seems useful for making this happen is Cassius, so I want to find space for it as well (just to try it out).
So, I want to start by getting in a 2-2 Trevenant XY, 2 Psychic Energy, 2 Silver Mirror, and 1 Cassius. That’s 9 cards total, so let’s see what I can take out. Without the Mewtwo-EX, Max Potion is largely irrelevant. That’s 4 cards out:
- 2 Mewtwo-EX
- 2 Max Potion
I also feel comfortable taking out a single Silver Bangle. I don’t feel comfortable doing this, but I need a starting place, so I’m going to drop the Eevee line down a notch to a 2-2. That clears up 3 more spots:
With 7 cards taken out, I need to find 2 more that can go. With spread damage being a bit less relevant (especially if you can lock with Trevenant), Mr. Mime can go as well. And lastly, I’ll ditch an Audino and see if that changes things too much. (Thinking about it, I can probably forego more Audino, since opponents cannot play a Hypnotoxic Laser with a Trevanant Active). That gives us room:
I now have a working list after replacing the cards I took out, as well as a couple more spots if Audino can be taken out completely. Of course, I like being able to maximize Flareon’s damage, so maybe they should stay. But I at least have a starting point for some playtesting:
Pokémon – 23
Trainers – 31
Energy – 6
The final thing I want to add here is that, if my “TAG” deck doesn’t work, I can still go back and consider some more rogue options. Nonetheless, I have at least one other deck I would be comfortable playing. All too often, I see players arrive at a tournament unprepared, as though they stayed up the whole night before testing and cramming for an exam.
Do yourself a favor by following some of these steps. They’re designed to cut out some guesswork, streamline a deck deciding process, and help you hone in on what you can expect for S/T/P’s.
If you liked this article, don’t forget to let me know by clicking the “Like” button. Also, find me either on Facebook or in the Underground Forums. I’m excited to tell everyone how my testing with “TAG” went, and I’d like to know how your testing for S/T/P’s is going!
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