As States are winding down, and we enter our last series of Regional Championships, every player’s sights will soon be set for National Championships. However, there’s still much to reflect on regarding the States experience, as well as what you can personally do to up your game if you’ve been failing to break into the top cut. Additionally, I hope to give a solid enough preview of the new set so that you can hit the ground running on playtesting!
- Table of Contents
- States Reflections
- Wild Blaze!!!
Table of Contents
- States Reflections
- Wild Blaze!!!
Since many of my fellow writers will be tackling – and already have tackled – the States experience in far greater detail, I’ll let them get down to reading the tea leaves of the results. However, I do have a relatively unique perspective on these tournaments that can help illuminate not just what we need to conquer this format, but figuring out the ideal approach to preparing for large, significant tournaments.
To start, I suppose we should discuss my results. I made top sixteen in both of my State Championships: not fantastic, but far from horrible. For the purposes of this article, having done much better or worse would have merited a much more obvious discussion of what I did right or wrong, but instead we’re treated to the curious question of why I did well, but not… better? It’s a strange story that doesn’t get told often in the context of Underground, but it’s worth considering.
My story in this short eight-day segment is the story of so many players in their entire careers: They pick up a top-notch archetype and can play it well, but fail to take home the win, or even top cut. Thus, one of my major goals is to reflect on the causes of that. Of course, what better place to start than the steps you take to prepare, right?
My States preparation began with good intentions, but they were never followed through with entirely. Specifically, I started with this framework in mind:
- Step 1: Make a painstaking list of every remotely viable deck.
- Step 2: Eliminate all of the decks you are confident will lose against at least four of the main archetypes in this format (listed later in this section). An optional variation is to review your selections with a teammate or friend whose opinion you trust.
- Step 3: Make sure your lists of the top seven decks are good!
- Step 4: Start testing every one of your deck ideas against those seven decks.
- Step 5: Of the ones that did the best, make your deck choice based on regular assumptions of metagame, overall deck quality, and play style.
The approach I first had was a sound one, as it would involve painstakingly going through every deck in the field, and see if I can find that one perfect choice to combat everything. And from a very early point, I defined “everything” as these seven decks…
- Yveltal (with or without Garbodor)
Precious few decks outside of these ended up winning, so this assumption was rock-solid. Unfortunately, my earlier good intentions were not followed through. I did not take the painstaking preparation I had in years past, due to a mix of other matters occupying me, and just sheer neglect. However, it’s every bit worth it to analyze strange rogue options, because many of us thrive on the surprise factor and unique decks, similar to Arizona’s winning Cobalion/Landorus, or Texas’ winning Aromatisse/Klinklang. Instead, I went with two of the top decks I was enamored with: Accelgor and Yveltal.
I’ve loved Accelgor since the very beginning, and probably won’t stop loving it; and Yveltal’s sheer aggressive prowess leaves me floored. As a result, both were virtually guaranteed to be my picks once I gave up on the painstaking trial-and-error process of testing, and worked from there.
Week One – Oklahoma State Championship
Finish: 4-2-1 – 14th place out of 75 Masters
Pokémon – 24
Trainers – 32
Energy – 4
Although this may not have won or even top cut, I feel that my build is as close to “definitive” for Accelgor as one can get. I have multiple variations on this one, most notable featuring removal of the Garbodor line/Town Map and inclusion of Silver Mirrors alongside Psychic Energy, but it’s all the same. It was this decision I was torn over on the drive to Oklahoma, and ultimately went against this Plasma auto-win for an out to my bad matchups to unfriendly teching. However, all the same I felt that week one was the only week I could reasonably play this deck, because Texas would undoubtedly be a more hostile environment, featuring way more Virizion and Keldeo teching.
I was happy with this list, and versus the field’s composition I don’t regret the change, but it nevertheless cost me top cut. I was 4-0, and without the Silver Mirrors ended up losing to Alex Fields’ Plasma deck, which subsequently sent me into two highly unfavorable matchups in a row (a Darkrai/Yveltal running two Keldeo-EX and a Fairies running Keldeo-EX and Virizion-EX).
The decision I made with those three cards is what’s called an ex post mistake: something which is mistaken on its face, but could have been theoretically the best option with my limited info. However, my real mistake goes all the way back to stubbornly going with a deck I liked, rather than plugging in the extra work earlier on to discover a far more convincing answer. Instead, I used a deck that had at least two unwinnable matchups no matter how well I played, which essentially doomed me from the start. In almost all major events, you can’t do that – an amateur mistake for the sake of playstyle.
The next weekend, I still had Yveltal in mind – a deck I knew could carry me through a long day of playing in what would undoubtedly have absurd attendance.
Week Two – Texas State Championship
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 36
Energy – 13
Like the Accelgor list, I made some last second changes. Originally the build for this Yveltal was a “turbo” variant, utilizing three Professor’s Letter for a guaranteed turn one Dark Patch. This led to some insanely powerful starts in testing, as well as relative ease in Knocking Out opposing Pokémon-EX. However, I ultimately removed an Ultra Ball and my trademark third Letter for two Enhanced Hammer – a decision that worked very well against my matchups on the day, and cost me little speed overall.
I ended up playing against (and beating) a wide variety of decks, yet my Achilles’ Heel ended up being mirror of all things! I had honestly not tested mirror much, but the mechanics behind it are relatively simple: conserve resources, gain leverage with non-EX attacking, and close out with Yveltal-EX exchanges. Unfortunately, I was at the receiving end of a bad N in my first mirror loss, and my opponent drew just a little bit better than me in my second one, so this ideal strategy never came to fruition.
Could I have played those games a bit tighter? Possibly. Could I have made some stronger tweaks in this list, including a hard counter to mirror? Sure! In fact, I even considered slipping a 1-1 Raichu XY into the build, but ultimately decided against doing so the night before.
However, my ultimate failure again goes back to not putting in the work earlier. I could have, with more clarity as opposed to impulsive last-second tweaking, directed myself into using the absolute ideal decklist, or even an entirely different deck selection. Instead, there were some sub-optimal elements of what I brought with me to the event, even if they weren’t apparent to an outsider.
And that’s the conclusion I have reached: Players who are always “up there” yet never really break into champion status are held back because they don’t plug in the work that they need to. They think that running the latest hot deck or concept will maximize their odds, but the reality is that it doesn’t. Your “cracks” behind the top deck façade, whether they be subtle misplays or a few ill-advised deck decisions, will show in your results. Thus, you will almost always place above the masses, but never at the level you as a competitive player strive for.
And we should never be striving for high finishes every time – we should be striving for our best, which is much greater.
Well, enough with that States reflection – onto Wild Blaze! Although I know that Regionals are quickly approaching for many of you, I also know that for many more, the last major event in your schedule will be the United States National Championship, or another National-level event featuring Wild Blaze. To carry on with the theme of putting in the hard work, now is the perfect time to start working hard toward that big event (only about three months left, by the way), figuring out how these changes fit into the metagame.
Unlike past set previews, I’d like to avoid going over a painstaking discussion of every card with potential; instead, I’ll look at what I consider to be the ten most definitive cards (or groups of cards) of Wild Blaze. This is because I feel we’d benefit most from thorough discussions of the cards that are highly likely to make an impact, rather than a lot of speculation on everything.
Pokémon has a habit of introducing cards with blatantly obvious synergy, and these two are no different. Dump the Fires into the discard via Flame Torch, running through your deck at record pace as you do, and then energize your Fire attackers for unprecedented power and speed. The duo will no doubt storm the game, but they raise many intriguing questions…
“Do these form a good deck with the new Charizards?”
Yes! But more on that later…
“Can these work separately?”
Yes, although tread lightly when splitting the two of them up. If you run Flame Torch by itself, then most likely you have a reason to bleed through your deck quickly, either via a strange Lugia-EX variant or some other strange concoction. On the other hand, if you run Blacksmith by itself, then you’ve likely forsaken the “dump and draw” theory behind Flame Torch in exchange for a more traditional engine, relying on your Fires to end up in the discard via Ultra Ball or Professor Juniper. I think that these two approaches can have great applications for decks, and are worth having in the backs of everybody’s minds.
“Can these work with other Fire cards?”
Ah yes, the “Blaze” behind “Wild Blaze.” Between two Mega Evolutions and three regular versions, we have a grand total of five being released soon, either as part of the main set or as promos. Let’s look at each…
This is at least one of the Charizards that will appear in our Flashfire set. Its second attack is mediocre compared to something like Reshiram LTR, but its first attack can nicely set up a Mega Evolution for the next turn. The only downside is that you become highly vulnerable after a successful Stoke to Yveltal-EX.
This is a Charizard to be featured in a promo box for international markets. This thing is the only bona fide “bad” Charizard-EX because its first attack is a huge waste of a turn in consistent lists, and its second attack is sorely underpowered relative to the alternatives.
… And this is the one regular Charizard-EX we can truly consider to be a fantastic card. Unlike the two discussed before it, Blaze Explosion is just the right amount of damage for just the right amount of Energy, and with a Muscle Band or Hypnotoxic/Virbank can take down countless top threats. I think the best light to view this card in is as if Reshiram-EX and Zekrom-EX were good cards with legitimate turn one capabilities – something this actually has thanks to Flame Torch and Blacksmith.
The only downside is that out of all the Charizards, this is the only one we don’t have confirmation on as being part of Flashfire yet! However, I’ll just work off the assumption that it will be, and go from there.
Now, let’s look at the Megas together, as these two are essentially the same gimmick when you think about it. Both have gross amounts of HP, and both 1HKO everything in the game. The only catch is they have different types, different Energy costs, and different drawbacks.
“So which is better?”
I’d argue that despite having a much lighter Retreat Cost, M Charizard-EX (Fire)’s ten less HP and 50-recoil damage are by themselves enough to make it far less playable. The thing is more or less a glass cannon, whereas the Dragon-type Mega is designed to be invulnerable. And against our public enemy number one, also known as “Yveltal-EX-the-bane-of-our-existence,” that extra HP is the difference between winning and losing. Nevertheless, I see opportunities for both to shine, with the Fire-type (“Y”) version being a great option against Fairy decks. However, you’ll still get slaughtered by Keldeo-EX and any other Water-type counters they have, so take care.
“Again, is Charizard a good deck?”
I think that the answer is “yes,” and let me tell you why. Although many of our fellow players are skeptical, Pokémon is, as I said, pretty in-your-face with some deck combos, and this is one of them. But nothing gives you this raw power, speed, and acceleration short of… the current top decks! As a result, it only seems natural that Charizard will find its place among the other faces of the format, leaving us asking…
“What is Charizard’s role in the metagame?”
I think it will depend slightly on how you run your list, but I see it doing the following things (in no particular order)…
- Directly answer VirGen. Like Darkrai to Celebi/Mewtwo/Tornadus back in 2012, I read this printing as a hard counter to the deck, as well as something that stands on its own. Besides, the game designers like to counter the archetypes they make, and this fits in well with that theme.
- Give the masses a way to outgun Blastoise and RayBoar without Tropical Beaches. This is probably less intentional because Tropical Beach is banned in Japan, but it has a profound impact on the playing public worldwide, as you have what’s essentially the same deck, but in a speedier, cheaper form.
- An indirect way to keep Yveltal-EX – and therefore all Yveltal-EX decks – relevant. It will take a minimum of three turns before you start actually attacking with the signature Mega Evolutions of this set, which gives Yveltal more than ehough time to pile on the Energy. Plus, the attacks both cost a whopping five Energy, meaning that speedy lists are still geared to beat it! However, I think this ultimately just encourages Charizard decks to run Yveltals of its own, thereby reliving the “Mewtwo wars” of two years ago.
- Give Fairies a punching bag. The tech Fairy deck has already proven itself to be a contender, but it really doesn’t outright… annihilate anything. Sure, good playing and deck construction go a long way with it, but it still has issues with the “Beach decks” Blastoise and RayBoar, and is vulnerable to Enhanced Hammer. But with a deck that “can” be weak to Fairy-type, is countered convincingly by Suicune, and relies entirely on basic Energy, all signs suggest that Charizard’s presence both encourages extra use of Fairies, while simultaneously discouraging use of the things Fairies don’t like to see.
- Take some of the heat (no pun intended) off of Plasma and Accelgor. Deck space is precious in this fast-paced format, and now that we have a new threat out there, people will either feel less pressured, or simply be unable to play hard counters for older decks. Silver Mirror suddenly becomes way less attractive an option when Charizards and Yveltals are plowing through you, and throwing random Virizion-EXs into everything becomes way less helpful when it can become an easy 2 Prizes for a regular Charizard-EX.
Essentially, these five points lead me to believe that if Charizard becomes a genuinely great archetype, then there will be some added balance to a metagame that wouldn’t hurt from it.
Finally, what’s a way to actually play this thing? Well, I have two ways to run it: one focusing on the Dragon (“X”) version, and another focusing on the Fire (“Y”). These lists will attempt to use all of the principles of building a Flame Torch/Blacksmith engine deck we’ve discussed, but take on significantly different forms.
Note: Both are fairly rough drafts, but should still be highly playable nonetheless. If not, then just a few minor tweaks should suffice.
Pokémon – 10
Trainers – 37
4 Pal Pad
Energy – 13
This is designed to be an extremely fast list, cranking out the 300-damage nightmare that is M Charizard-EX by turn three as often as possible. Regarding the stranger choices, I run a single Sableye so as to put the opponent on an odd Prize-exchange schedule, max out my Item draw, and run a high Professor’s Letter count to make Flame Torching an easier process.
As a final note, remember that you can only Blacksmith onto Fire Pokémon. As such, you lock yourself out of using it the moment you Mega Evolve, and you also need to attach to your Yveltals and Darkrais wisely.
Pokémon – 6
Trainers – 41
3 Pal Pad
Energy – 13
This version of Mega Charizard is only slightly less consistent than the Dragon version, but it has the added ability to deal 180 damage turn one thanks to Virbank and Hypnotoxic. In fact, it might even be a misnomer to call this a “Mega” Charizard deck because you likely won’t be using the Mega Evolution much.
Everything is the same as before otherwise, except for the inclusion of a Reshiram as a non-EX hitter. Alternatively, you could run Mewtwo-EX if you’re missing the the DCE abuse and/or want some extra way to handle Yveltal-EX.
This is one of the most controversial cards among the community, and Flashfire hasn’t even been released yet! For the most part, though, I think it’s hyped. Don’t get me wrong: Intimidating Mane is a fantastic Ability, and singlehandedly forces decks that used to rely solely on non-EX Basics as Safeguard counters to rethink their plans. In some cases, it might become as convincing of an auto-loss as Sigilyph and Suicune have, if not more so!
But why do I include this card as such a notable? That’s because, for better or worse, Intimidating Mane is not only a hard counter to all EX-Pokémon, but pretty much every important attacker in the game right now. This is a hard counter of the highest order, and when such cards exist, people will flock to them. You saw it with Silver Mirror, and now I’m sure you’ll see 1-1 or 2-2 lines of this thing appearing quite randomly, yet quite annoyingly.
(Although on the plus side, if all of those Charizard-EXs and Fire acceleration didn’t put the nail in Virizion/Genesect’s coffin, then this thing might have…)
This card is the key to countless sleeper hits at this year’s National Championships. To say nothing of its awfully convenient typing at a time when 90 damage attacks (via Bangle) are nice to have on Water types against Fire types, its Energy Grace Ability gives non-EX Evolution decks a fighting chance in an extremely adverse metagame. Decks that no one even dreamed of as being genuinely competitive, like Shiftry or any other high-damager that costs too much. Also, deliberately reducing your Prize count can prove beneficial when N’ing the opponent, technically giving them the advantage, yet practically denying it via a smaller hand.
There are some cards you know can win; there are other cards you don’t; and then there are some that shock you no matter what. This is one of those cards.
A Hypnotoxic Laser effect with neither Virbank nor Hypnotoxic Laser itself, Toxicroak’s first attack alone makes it a compelling tech option in things that run both DCE (for easy energizing) and Virbank (to add two more counters, making for a whopping 5 in between turns). I honestly don’t see it going on to become the center of a deck, but I could easily be proven wrong, and the clear synergy with Dragalge FLF and its retreat-blocking Ability makes this an obvious, yet potentially lethal disruption deck.
This is a spiritual reprint of Bouffalant LTR, only as a Dragon-type attacker specifically built to beat down Rayquaza-EX and Black Kyurem-EX PLS. And it does the job flawlessly, too, so I strongly recommend considering putting one into your list in case you question those two matchups. It works well in anything featuring DCE, and heck, it probably works well in that second Charizard list I have posted!
Trick Shovel will play a significant role, but for two totally different reasons, and likely at two totally different times. The first reason is as a passive thing for players to do when going first: many weirder concepts out there certainly wouldn’t be afraid of it, and not mind robbing the opponent of valuable resources.
The second reason is as an aggressively-disruptive center to a new deck focused on decking out. Although this is more fun level at the moment than Durant NVI, which ultimately became a serious deck in its own right, this Sableye/Dialga concept hopes to make it to possible to play a slower game than Durant, yet still wear the opponent down all the same.
Pokémon – 9
Trainers – 40
Energy – 11
Originally a promo card in Japan, I’m very happy that Pal Pad made it into Flashfire after being snubbed in our English release of XY. The strength of shuffling in two Supporter cards cannot be overstated, especially with a gamebreaker like N in the format. And with cards that slow the game’s pace down such as Cassius and Team Flare Grunt, a once aggressive format could come to a standstill thanks to the repeated use of ridiculous stall tactics.
For Blacksmith users who want the fun to never end, lock deck players who want Team Flare Grunt to be a decent card, or sloppy players who are bad at resource management, Pal Pad is a great way to keep on using what you want to use. But no matter what deck you’re playing, I highly encourage that you mess around with at least one or two copies of this card. It has something for everything, and should not be overlooked under any circumstance – especially if it means getting more late-game Ns or Junipers.
Catcher heads… after Catcher heads suffered errata. And at the cost of a Supporter. This is certainly the balanced version of the card we needed since the very beginning, but now that we have it, I’m having trouble finding a nice home for it. Like Iris, it’s one of those great effects that just gets plagued by an overly-fast metagame, demanding far too much speed of you and less time to use cool effects.
All in all, Lysandre is just a strange card, not only because it doesn’t replace Pokémon Catcher, but because its niche is so limited. I suppose the number one home for Lysandre is as a 2-of in lock decks, but other than that, we may need to wait a while before it comes into its own.
At first glance, I don’t think this ancient reprint will be entirely that great for now. Unlike Roseanne’s Research, it has no extra uses; and unlike Holon Mentor or Pokémon Collector before it, it fails to really give you enough search to justify the Supporter. However, it has its place in decks that require more setting up, like Aromatisse or Hydreigon. As easy fetching cards like Level Ball and Heavy Ball rotate, expect this to pick up play, and maybe even become a staple under the right circumstances.
Although I feel it isn’t a good exercise of our time to go too deep into the below cards, I’d like to at least point them out as possible contenders at some point. We’ll also be assuming the translations to be correct on these. I’ll say nothing of these cards for now except for their overall classifications, but as always, I encourage a robust discussion on the boards.
- Butterfree: Energy acceleration; fast attacking.
- Shiftry: Draw power; attacking (reliant only on good Energy acceleration).
- Luvdisc: Disruption.
- Luxray: Disruption.
- Dusknoir: Healing; space efficiency over using Reuniclus DRX and Dusknoir BCR together.
- Golem: With Silver Bangle and Magnetic Storm, can actually be a deck for once.
- Barbaracle: Offense – can be the center of a brutally aggressive deck featuring high Fighting Energy counts.
- Forretress: Spread offense.
- Floette: Tanking.
- Florges: Consistency.
- Carbink: Offensive in Xerneas/Aromatisse.
- Dragalge: Lock decks; disruption.
- Goodra (Gooey Refresh): Tanking.
- Goodra (Slip Trip): Disruption; Garbodor countering.
- Kangaskhan-EX and M Kangaskhan-EX: Offensive consistency.
- Miltank: Does 80 damage when a Stage 2 is in play, so makes a cute gimmick with Butterfree.
- Lopunny: Synergy with Weavile PLF.
- Sacred Ash: Potential replacement for Super Rod in some decks, but ultimately just the inevitable replacement for when Super Rod rotates.
- Surprise Megaphone: The obnoxiously superior spiritual successor to Tool Scrapper.
- Protect Cube: Goes with recoil damage… but probably not Golem. Hard to find a place for it.
- Pokémon Center Lady: Tank decks – inferior in many ways to Max Potion and Super Potion.
- Magnetic Storm: A new player in the Stadium war!
I hope that my States experience, however decent it was, serves as an example of both things to do right and things to do wrong! I also hope that you get a chance to mess with Flashfire, and get on track to a hugely successful Nationals run. Good luck, have fun, and get some rest before Regionals, why won’t ya?!
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