Do Sweat the Small Stuff

Understanding the Minutia of Gameplay
dunston checks in movie poster
Dunston Dustin Checks In

Hello everyone! My name is Dustin Zimmerman, and Adam has been gracious enough to let me write an article for SixPrizes Underground. I couldn’t be more thankful, and I am more than excited to finally share some thoughts and feelings that I have been cultivating for the past eight years. First, allow me to introduce myself:

I am currently a senior studying visual communications at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I began playing Pokémon about the same time everyone else did in 1998-99. Soon afterward, I ditched the entire fad for a new life of becoming a professional skateboarder. In the summer of 2005, with my skateboarding career going nowhere, I figured I would take a look at something that I had left for dead years earlier: the Pokémon Trading Card Game. My cousin introduced me to Leagues, I purchased a few packs of Team Rocket Returns, and I have been going steady ever since with absolutely no intention of quitting this amazing game.

With the help of countless friends (especially those in Team Hovercats), I have managed to accomplish the following in the past seven years of playing in the Masters Division:

T4 World Championships 2013

T64 Nationals 2009
T64 Nationals 2013
T128 Nationals 2010
T128 Nationals 2012

T2 Indiana Regionals 2009
T4 Indiana Regionals Fall 2013
T8 Indiana Regionals 2007
T8 Indiana Regionals 2008
T8 Indiana Regionals Fall 2011

1st Michigan States 2008
1st Indiana States 2010
1st Ohio States 2012
1st Kentucky States 2012
T2 Kentucky States 2011
T2 Indiana States 2012
T2 Ohio States 2013
T8 Indiana States 2008

13 City Championship wins

10 Battle Road / League Challenge wins

Outside of this, I have tried to have as much of a presence in the Pokémon community as possible. I am not too well known for “creating” any sort of decks. The closest I have come to this might be my Darkrai/Garbodor (Hovertoxin) list from Worlds 2013, focusing on Sableye with minimal attention to aggression (e.g. low counts of Darkrai and Dark Patch).

Additionally, I have used my graphic design experience to create logos for both The Top Cut and Top Cut Comics. That green trophy you see on all of their playmats, banners, and advertisements? That was me, created after a few days work on Adobe Illustrator (the fonts and everything else involved I did not do).

Alright enough introduction, let’s get down to the article!

I will first be looking at the results of the Week 1 State Championships, analyzing why those who made Top 8 may have chosen the decks they played, as well as going into what I played for the Indiana State Championships last weekend.

Afterward and more importantly, I will be discussing some of the finer points of playing Pokémon, and how the smallest of decisions (from minor differences in decklists to seemingly harmless choices during play) can make the biggest of impacts on your game. I wouldn’t be too surprised if this particular section of the article results in me rambling on and on complaining about what mistakes I have seen both from myself and others in the past eight years of competitive play. But we’ll see!

Week 1 State Championship Results

professor oak gold silver artBulbapedia
A variety of decks performed well.

I’m not going to go into full detail listing each and every deck that managed to make Top 8 (check out The Top Cut for that!), but I will make note of trends that I have seen.

It is clear that XY had an enormous impact on the format, with cards like Yveltal-EX and Muscle Band making already existing decks even stronger. On the other hand, Aromatisse was able to aide in the creation of a new deck entirely, borrowing from older existing concepts.

Not surprisingly there were several Plasma, Blastoise, Aromatisse, and Darkrai/Yveltal decks that crowded the top tables. What was surprising though was the seeming lack of Virizion/Genesect and RayBoar, two decks that were extremely popular during Winter Regionals. Garbodor variants and Trevenant decks also failed to generate numerous top performances despite past successes (Gothitelle as oppose to Trevenant in this case).

What does this all mean? I don’t actually know. You could expect there to be an influx of decks that have good matchups against those that won the most, or for decklists to change depending on the anticipated matchups based upon what was popular in your area.

For instance, maybe now people will be more inclined to play a deck with Garbodor and Enhanced Hammer as a response to Blastoise, Plasma, and Aromatisse doing so well. But what if those particular decks aren’t as popular for week two? Maybe it would be more wise to play a deck that beats the decks that are meant to beat the decks that did well. Understand? Metagaming is an art, and nearly impossible to perfect.

What we do now know for sure is what decks have the capability of performing well. It is important to become knowledgeable of trends, and to your best ability try and adapt.

As for my deck choice, I played Greninja/Kingdra. Yes! I built it originally for fun, itching to see if any of the unique cards released in XY were in any way viable for tournament play. Although the more I tested the deck, the more wins it began to generate. I made a few changes to the list here and there and in no time I found myself winning nearly every single game against Plasma, Darkrai/Yveltal, RayBoar, and Blastoise.

I neglected to test against Garbodor or Trevenant because I assumed there would be very little showing of these decks in Indiana for Week 1 (I was correct) and that I would lose anyway regardless of what small changes could make to the list (I will get to this more in depth later). With nothing to lose, I decided that it would in fact be the deck I played for Indiana States.

Here is the list:

Pokémon – 21

4 Froakie KSS
2 Frogadier KSS
4 Greninja XY
3 Horsea PLF
1 Seadra PLF
3 Kingdra PLF
1 Voltorb XY
1 Electrode PLF
2 Sigilyph LTR

Trainers – 29

3 Professor Sycamore

4 N
4 Skyla
2 Colress

 

4 Ultra Ball
3 Level Ball

4 Rare Candy
1 Professor’s Letter

1 Super Rod
1 Dowsing Machine

 

2 Tropical Beach

Energy – 10

10 W

As for myself, I went 4-0-3 and bubbled at 9th place. During my last round at 4-0-2 I chose to intentionally draw with my friend Henry Prior, who was 5-1-0. Some may say that it was a mistake (obviously I missed cut), but in hindsight I feel like I made reasonable decision. There were two games that round that if ended in a tie, I would have made cut. One of which I know in fact did end in a tie, but during the last turn of play one of the players conceded to the winner of Game 1. Also, I was more than happy to guarantee my friend Henry a spot in cut. He then went on to win his first State Championships. Well done, mate.

Now, let us finally get down and dirty into the creamy nougat center of this article!

Minutia of Gameplay

Mi•nu•ti•a /mi-noo-shee-uh/ (plural noun)
The small, precise, or trivial details of something

In both creating decklists and in actual gameplay, I have seen numerous instances of seemingly insignificant decisions being overlooked. The conclusion reached by many is that “it doesn’t really matter.” Quite frankly, this is an absolutely abhorrent way to approach playing a trading card game if winning is your absolute goal (which it should be, according to this article by Brit Pybas).

When Making Decklists

When making a decklist, we all try and make it so that we stand the best possible chance against each popular deck in the format. Sometimes, this attempt is whimsical and without proper reasoning behind the change to the list.

Tool Scrapper

tool scrapper dragons exalted drx 116 official
Think: “Is it worth the space?”

For instance, someone wanting to play Blastoise will naturally be afraid of running into a deck with Garbodor. The most obvious “answer” to this problem would be to play Tool Scrapper. Due to list constraints, a player may find themselves inclined to only play one copy of Tool Scrapper.

But think about it, how useful is this actually? Sure, you get one guaranteed turn to use all Abilities. But if Garbodor remains on the field during their next turn, they can simply attach another Tool card. Did that one Tool Scrapper serve a strong enough role in you taking 6 Prizes to be worth the space in your deck?

In Blastoise, possibly. It’s feasible to attach several Energy in the same turn you negate Garbotoxin, making it unnecessary to Deluge during your next turn in the instance they attach another Tool. In other decks such as Greninja/Kingdra that heavily rely on Abilities to operate, it may seem like a Tool Scrapper would be a necessary addition, but there is rarely enough you can accomplish in that one turn to justify the space. For this reason, I did not play one in my list for Indiana States.

The use of Dowsing Machine changes this slightly by giving you one additional turn to use Abilities, but cannot be relied on each game for this purpose. Point being, a single copy of Tool Scrapper (or any other card) does not necessarily give your deck a better matchup against Garbodor (or any other corresponding matchup).

The point of all of this discussion goes way beyond Tool Scrapper. This same logic applies to any addition you plan on making to your deck. The advice is simple: make sure each and every card in your deck gives you the best possible chance of taking 6 Prizes against every possible matchup without sacrificing overall consistency against the most popular matchups.

Trubbish and Muscle Band

trubbish dragons exalted artwork

Another example of overlooked minutia is the choice of which Basic or Stage 1 Pokémon to use. I’m of course talking of the ones that still evolve such as Trubbish or Voltorb. They see such little time on the field that players will sometimes use whichever is immediately available to them before the tournament.

In many cases, it is obvious which choice is superior (Squirtle with Shell Shield, etc.). In other cases, this decision seems not to matter in the slightest. But I promise you, it DOES! After the season rotation in September, we saw the loss of 3 sets of cards. Included in this was the Garbage Collection Trubbish, the most popular variant to be played in Garbodor decks because of the unique attack and low Retreat Cost.

Suddenly, players who wished to use Garbodor (for this example, let’s say with Darkrai) found themselves left with 4 other Trubbish to choose from. The two with 60 HP now proved themselves inferior with no useful attack to use, leaving the other two with 70 HP to choose between.

In what to me is an absolute nonsensical maneuver, countless players chose to use the Tool Drop Trubbish in their deck. With no Psychic Energy whatsoever! With an equal amount of HP and the same Retreat Cost, there is NO reason whatsoever not to play the Dragons Exalted Trubbish if you do not play Psychic Energy in your deck. Why? Because for two C Energy, you can do 20 damage. You may scoff and claim that you will literally never attack with Trubbish, so it doesn’t matter which one you play. To which I will say that you are wrong and a fool. Even if you only use Pound once in 500 games, it is the option to do so that sets you ahead of other players.

For all of those same reasons, Muscle Band is 100% better than Dark Claw in a Darkrai/Garbodor deck (every deck, rather). Even if every single Pokémon excluding Trubbish and Garbodor are of the Darkness type and can effectively use Dark Claw, having the option of Trubbish doing an additional 20 damage is all the reason you should need to play Muscle Band instead.

Voltorb

voltorb xy 44 official
The best choice is contextual.

The release of XY gave us a new exciting Voltorb to play in any deck choosing to use Electrode. The new Ability, Destiny Burst, has a 50% chance of putting 5 damage counters on the Pokémon that KOs Voltorb. Despite the 10 less HP, this is a greatly rewarding advantage! Or is it? It’s careful to understand when to use the Voltorb from XY or the one from Plasma Freeze.

For instance, in my Greninja/Kingdra list from States, I played the XY Voltorb. The additional 50 damage is incredibly useful in a deck that slowly places damage counters everywhere to take KOs. In a deck like Blastoise, however, you’re often 1HKOing everything in your path with Black Ballista. Any additional damage is irrelevant. I believe in this case, you are better off with the additional 10 HP provided by the Plasma Freeze Voltorb.

With all of these aforementioned examples of minutia in regard to building a deck, it is important to take away the broader ideas I am trying to present. It’s not about Tool Scrapper, Trubbish, or Voltorb. It is about understanding that every small and seemingly insignificant decision is equally as important when trying to compete competitively.

When building a deck, take extra time to evaluate why you play each and every single card. Skim over nothing, and play the most optimal cards possible.

When Playing a Game

Given the understood circumstances of a gamestate (cards remaining in your own and your opponent’s deck, Prize count, time remaining in the round, etc.) there will always be a correct play to make. I’m not even talking about which Supporter to play or which Pokémon to attach an Energy to. I am talking about the trivial decisions that appear to make no difference at the time, but could in fact alter the outcome of the game.

These are the types of decisions that can only be taught through years of practice and playtesting, decisions that sometimes fly so low under the radar players who do not exercise them will chalk a loss up to “bad luck” when in actuality they misplayed.

Promoting Stage 2 Pokémon

super rod artwork

Let’s say you’re playing an Empoleon/Dusknoir deck. Your Active Pokémon has just been KO’d, and you have two Empoleon on the Bench ready to be promoted to the Active Spot. Without thought, you swoop one up and draw your card.

WAIT!

One of these Benched Empoleon had been evolved through Prinplup, and the other had been evolved from Piplup through Rare Candy. So, what difference does it make? Let me tell you. If you play Super Rod in your deck, you will want to promote the Stage 2 Pokémon with the Stage 1 underneath. Assuming of course this one will be KO’d sooner, you now have the option to Super Rod the Stage 1 back into your deck. Doing this could allow you to more easily get out yet another Stage 2 before the game is over, perhaps ensuring victory.

Searching Your Deck on the First Turn

This minutia play is from what I have seen easier to understand, but usually involves your very first turn of the game (or at least before you have searched your deck). It is incredibly important to search your deck first with a card that requires the least amount of commitment, like such (from least to greatest commitment):

Let’s say you’re playing a Virizion/Genesect deck and it’s your first turn. In your hand is a Skyla, an Ultra Ball, an N, and no Grass Energy. Because you know you play a Professor’s Letter in your deck and you want the guarantee to attach an Energy this turn, you play the Skyla (seeing as though you could miss with N). Upon searching your deck you see that your Professor’s Letter is prized, and you will now be missing your turn 1 Energy drop.

The correct play would have been to play Ultra Ball first (discarding neither Skyla nor N), seeing if anything important was prized, and then playing the corresponding Supporter. In this case you would see that the Professor’s Letter is prized, and know now to play N in order to try and draw an Energy.

The same rule applies to having both an Ultra Ball and a Level Ball in your hand. Many players will find themselves compelled to go ahead and play both before searching their deck at all (not technically legal, but allowed by nearly every player for matters of convenience). I urge all of you to instead commit little to the deck search by playing Level Ball first, and then decide afterward whether or not to play Ultra Ball and what two cards to discard depending entirely on what you have concluded to be prized.

It seems insignificant and will not matter every game you play, but these are habits that will pay off for you in the long run.

Raiden Knuckle

thundurus-ex-plasma-freeze-plf-38
Try to keep options open.

We should all know what Thundurus-EX’s attack does by now, as I’m sure many of you have either played with it or against it multiple times in the past year. This tip was relevant when Plasma decks played both Prism and Blend WLFM Energy, but is now almost more so with the release of Aromatisse and Rainbow Energy.

Oftentimes the decision of which Special Energy to attach and to which Pokémon is obvious and not difficult to make (e.g. Double Colorless Energy to Lugia-EX). The usual mistakes arise when having the option to attach either a Prism Energy or a similar Energy (such as Blend or Rainbow) to a certain pre-chosen Pokémon.

For instance, let’s say you know you want to Raiden Knuckle to your Benched Kyurem PLF. You see that in your discard pile you have 1 Prism Energy and 1 Blend WLFM Energy. Seeing as though they can both provide Water for Kyurem, swoop, you attach the Prism and end your turn. Wrong, no! The correct play is to attach the Blend. But why, who cares? All you need to do is Frost Spear next turn and now you can.

The reason is because you need to save the Prism Energy just in case you need to ever Raiden Knuckle to Deoxys-EX or Absol. Don’t think you will need to? Think you can guarantee it even? It does not matter. What matters is that you are giving yourself the option.

With Aromatisse decks now playing both Prism and Rainbow Energy with no Blend, this problem has been erased right? After all each of those Energy can provide every type to all of my Basic attacking Pokémon. Again, no! When using Raiden Knuckle in a deck with Aromatisse, always get the Rainbow Energy if you have the choice to do so. Why? So you can attack with Aromatisse. Prism will not allow you to do so.

“But Dustin, this is stupid. I will never ever attack with Aromatisse. Not once in 100 games. If I ever do, I’m probably losing anyway. I hate you!”

I don’t care. Make the correct plays that give yourself the option to make a variety of different and potentially better plays later in the game. That is what minutia is all about.

In Practice

ash poke ball caughtpokemonscreenshots.tumblr.com

I will try and remember this situation the best that I can, but I feel as though it accurately represents how small decisions could change the outcome of important games.

During the semi-finals of Winter Regionals in St. Louis Missouri, players Evan Baker and Andrew Mahone found themselves in a very close Game 3, the winner of which would of course advance to the finals. Evan was playing an at the time unorthodox Plasma with Kyurem PLF, and Andrew was playing RayBoar. The Prize count was 2 remaining for each player.

It was Evan’s turn, and he had an Active Pokémon ready to attack (I do not remember which). Andrew’s Active Pokémon was a Reshiram LTR, he had a Benched Rayquaza-EX with 1 Lightning Energy and 1 Fire Energy attached, and a 2 card hand (he had not played a Supporter the previous turn).

It was understood by both players that all Andrew needed to win was a Superior Energy Retrieval. For he could play this, discard the 2 other cards in his hand, use 2 Energy to retreat his Active Reshiram and the remaining 2 to use Dragon Burst for 180 damage on Evan’s Active Pokémon-EX for the game. Evan knew that he could win not on his current turn, but the next turn thanks to Red Signal (he had already attached his Energy for the turn and had the Plasma Energy in hand).

With all of this information, Evan decided that it did not matter whether he KO’d the Active Reshiram. So he did just that. It gave him an extra card, and it was just something productive to do during his turn. After all, if Andrew topdecks the Superior Energy Retrieval or a way to draw one he wins no matter what, right?

What Evan failed to consider was whether or not Andrew had a Fire Energy in his hand already. By Knocking Out the Reshiram, he allowed Andrew to promote the Rayquaza-EX without having to retreat. This made it so that now topdecking the Superior Energy Retrieval or a Fire Energy would secure him the game. Because Andrew could then Inferno Fandango 2 Fire Energy onto Rayquaza-EX, use Dragon Burst for 180 taking 2 Prizes, and win the pivotal Game 3 and advance to finals.

Luckily for Evan, Andrew drew no card that was able to win him the game. Evan won the next turn as expected and advanced to the finals, losing eventually to Aaron Tarbell playing Blastoise. Regardless, it is important to understand not to take insignificant Prizes just because you have the capability to do so. Never fail to consider what an opponent might be hiding in their apparent “poor” hand before making a decision. It could come back to haunt you!

Conclusion

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You can win games without reading this article. You can win tournaments, maybe even a State Championships or larger without listening to a single word I have written. However, this does not mean that what I have said is unimportant.

The examples I have provided are only a brief skimming of each and every possible decision that can be made both when building a deck and when operating one at a tournament. What I am trying to do is get all of you into the correct mindset.

Each and every single bit of knowledge you can become aware of when playing the Pokémon Trading Card Game will eventually help you in one way or another, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

That’s all I have for now, thanks again to Adam and the SixPrizes team for allowing me to write an article for them. Hopefully you’ll see me again!

Cheers!


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