The Good, the Bad, and the WillGen

An Investigation on Preconceived Notions
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Life is like a box of chocolates bag of Poké Balls…

Hi all! I’m very excited to be back writing another article. I had a great time writing my first piece here and look forward to producing many more. I’ve been engaged in competitive Pokémon for almost five years now and it definitely occupies a very unique spot in my heart. Even when I try not to think about it, I can’t help but to be brainstorming deck ideas or wondering if certain cards out of the upcoming set will be any good. I wonder if this will ever stop. Is it even more ingrained into veterans like Jay and Jason? I am curious!

I never ceased to be surprised by the happenings of the universe. This is one of the reasons why being alive is so exciting, no? I bet some of you are probably wondering, “What on earth is he babbling about?” here. Well, if you’ll recall parts of my last piece (and some of my Celadon City articles leading up to “Pokésophical Investigations”), I had voiced some concerns about whether or not I would be able to reach the finish line of 500 Championship Points and qualify for the World Championships.

My internal consensus was that I would not be able to reach that goal without some stellar performances at States, but I would give it my all either way. Before States this year, I had never won anything bigger than a City Championship and I have always felt this has hindered any claims I may have wanted to make in regards to me being one of the best. After four years of fruitless attempts and seemingly endless Top 4 or Top 8 finishes, I just couldn’t seem to pull the trigger. Giving up on a first place was not something I wanted to do, but after two Top 4s at the first two weekends of States, being a perpetual bridesmaid seemed to just be a reality that I needed to accept.

However, with a stroke of luck and case of “running hotter than the sun,” I ended up taking my very first State Championship win a month or two ago in Kansas. I was beyond ecstatic for this to happen and want to thank everyone for their kind words and congratulations (especially Ryan Sabelhaus who featured me in his most recent article). I’ve always been an advocate of the “winning isn’t all that matters” and “just let it happen” mentality, but I was overjoyed to finally take home the coveted first place.

This win helped send me over the 500 Point line and I am now officially qualified for Worlds! I look forward to preparing for that event as well as Nationals, but that’s enough about me for today. You, the audience, are the real important ones here.

A Different Look at WillGen

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Fast forward a week or two after the Kansas State Championship and I had the upcoming Kansas City Regional Championship to begin preparing for. Having already bagged my invite alleviated a ton of pressure and allowed for me to prepare for the event in a different way. Had I not had my invite, I honestly think I would have just played Blastoise again and also made plans to attend the events in Wisconsin and Ontario (talk about a load off my wallet).

Instead, I knew that I wanted to play something fun and was closely looking at Andrew Wamboldt’s Flygon/Dusknoir/Accelgor list that had a unique inclusion of Trevenant to help against Stage 2 decks. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to test much and I wasn’t quite confident in its matchup and decided that I couldn’t choose this deck. So what did I have left?

I remember reading William Compere’s report from one his State Championships here on SixPrizes and being oddly intrigued by his deck. It was a completely unorthodox Virizion/Genesect list that many viewed as completely terrible. Admittedly, I would be lying if I did not concede that I thought it looked terrible as well, but there was something about it that kept me from writing it off entirely.

The Kansas City Regional grew closer and closer and I still had no idea what I would play and I came up with the idea to let Facebook help me decide. Yes, for those unaware I made a post on a prominent Pokémon TCG group posing my ambivalence and saying that if the post got over 100 likes that I would play William’s list. To my surprise, it got 100 hits almost instantly and I soon found myself building the deck and trying to prepare for the event.

Before I continue, I want to try to clarify on one thing. That is, negate the idea that my “WillGen Experiment” was merely a means to insult and shame another player. Certainly, William has a very infamous reputation as a result of his Facebook dealings, but I believe that these dealings are entirely separate from his Pokémon abilities and my intentions with the experiment. I talked to him pretty extensively about the deck and am confident that my aims for the project were far from malicious and merely a way to test out the oft-quoted “good for Seniors” response to many results from the younger divisions, but let’s move on.

A good portion of the thesis from my last article was to indicate how I believed that everyone always wants to win (the problem, of course, is that we can’t always win, but I digress) and this was indeed the case for my toying with WillGen.

For those unaware, here is the list that William created and that I piloted without changing a card:

Pokémon – 12

3 Virizion-EX
3 Deoxys-EX
2 Genesect-EX
2 Palkia-EX
2 Sigilyph LTR

Trainers – 34

4 N
3 Skyla
2 Shauna
2 Ghetsis
1 Professor Juniper
1 Colress
1 Cassius
1 Shadow Triad

 

3 Team Plasma Ball
1 Ultra Ball
3 Colress Machine
3 Muscle Band
2 Switch
1 Float Stone
1 Tool Scrapper
1 Professor’s Letter
1 Energy Switch
1 G Booster

 

2 Skyarrow Bridge

Energy – 14

8 Grass
4 Plasma
2 Psychic

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Only one.

Outside of the odd inclusion of the Palkia-EX + Safeguard strategy and multiple Deoxys, a few other oddities are probably jumping out at you. Yes, the Supporter count is wacky and the lack of Super Rod was as irksome as one might imagine, but outside of that, everything is fairly expected. Before the event, I played maybe two or three games with the deck and found that the hands were awkward and hard to deal with, but there were some matchups that felt like they would be easier with Palkia and friends.

I won’t bore you with the details of the event (I wrote a smaller report on Celadon if you feel inclined to pursue it further) but I actually made Top 8 with the deck going 6-1-1 in Swiss. I ended up being eliminated in some close games by a talented Yveltal/ player. Many were completely flabbergasted at my results either quoting that I must be some sort of wizard or the deck must actually be quite good. While I do think that I am a good player, I am certainly not a wizard and the deck was about as good as one might expect, so what actually happened? Well, I think that it was the combination of correct decision making on my part, getting good matchups for the most of the tournament, and a few mistakes on my opponents’ behalf, but I think that it proved that WillGen was more than meets the eye.

The biggest problem I had with the deck was not necessarily the build or the Supporter count, but rather its inability to thin. Thinning is a small minutia that many players seem to overlook (see Dustin’s latest article for more on this, he talks about it far better than I ever could) and should be encouraged to help you draw in the mid to later portions of the game. With only one Juniper and one Ultra Ball, thinning was obviously very difficult and I often found myself being N’d to four into three Energy and a Pokémon or something similarly unplayable. As you can tell by my result from the event, I had luck on my side to help me out of these situations, but I think that this flaw was far more detrimental than the weird Supporter or Pokémon count.

For those interested further and look to prepare at the Flashfire format (+1 for alliteration), here is what I think a “normative” list for WillGen might look like:

Pokémon – 12

3 Virizion-EX
3 Genesect-EX
3 Deoxys-EX
2 Sigilyph LTR
1 Palkia-EX

Trainers – 34

4 Professor Juniper
4 N
4 Skyla
1 Colress
2 Shadow Triad

 

3 Ultra Ball

1 Team Plasma Ball

3 Muscle Band

2 Colress Machine
2 Energy Switch

1 Switch
1 Float Stone
1 Professor’s Letter
1 Super Rod
1 Tool Scrapper

1 G Booster

 

2 Skyarrow Bridge

Energy – 14

9 Grass
4 Plasma
1 Psychic

The initial WillGen had a lot of interesting and unique things going for it and I think should be applauded for pushing the boundaries of what successful Virizion/Genesect might look like. This brings me to one of my actual points for this entry, and that is that normal-looking is not necessarily conducive to the best results and our view of what a “good” deck might look like may be well immersed in some logical fallacies. What exactly do I mean by this?

(Before getting into my main points, I just want to apologize and prepare you for an incredible abundance of air quotes that will inhabit the rest of this article. Language operates in such ambiguities where air quotes are really required to make my points. You’ve been warned.)

The Disambiguation Between “Different” and “Bad”

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Generally when we deck build, we want to focus on making something that is “good.” By good, I am referring to a deck that adheres to the standards put forward by the community and if you were to publicly submit the list, then you would receive nothing but praise and acceptance. You may have swapped a card here or there – played that third Catcher instead of the second Tool Scrapper and so forth – but it would seem like a “good” deck fits in a nice 50 or so card mold that every list shares. There is a reason that all the Blastoise lists of us Underground writers look basically the same and also why these lists are accepted as “good.”

Now it seems like there is a common equivocation between “different” and “bad.” When we see a list that deviates from the accepted build, red flags start to shoot up in our heads and we immediately make judgment calls on the validity of these lists in question. To be different is to be bad, at least according to the communal standards, but is this necessarily the case? I am not so sure. There is no inherent weight or value in the normal build of a deck versus a “different” one. What do I mean by this?

“Bad” seems like it would have to be a conceptual failure or an obvious ignorance of what a “competitive” deck might look like. A deck that is trying to do too much or tries to replace a popular pairing with something else for the sake of difference. Here, I’m envisioning an Emboar/ player who instead of sticking to the norms has decided to play White Kyurem-EX LTR rather than Rayquaza-EX. To justify this, they may claim “It basically does the same thing! With a Muscle Band and a Hypnotoxic Laser, I can Knock Out basically anything in the format!”

There are some clear and distinct instances of faulty logic here, like what if a Pokémon has more than 200 HP or what if you failed to draw the Laser or Band and could not take a Prize against your opponent’s EX? Such instances may exist purely in hypotheticals and may be written off by our fictional rogue player with propositions like, “Well of course that would never happen. People don’t play Aspertia or Umbreon so I do not need to worry about that scenario.” This is what I mean when I refer to “bad.”

Some of this thought can be captured in the distinction made in Colin Moll’s article “On Rogue Decks” where he characterizes players who always play rogue decks as being misguided and foolish. Per Colin, “Players that always play rogue decks are not always making the best deck choices.” The player who plays rogue for the sake of being rogue, in my opinion, is often engaged in a “bad” deck. To be properly oriented toward the authentic mentality, you have to be engaged in a fluid process that can recognize such procedural error.

“Different,” on the other hand, cannot be captured so succinctly. When I refer to something that is “different,” I am likely referring to a successful rogue deck that is far from the normal metagame. A “different” deck features Pokémon, Items, or Supporters (maybe all three) that are not standard from the lists that we usually encounter.

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Perhaps the best instance of a deck that is “different” can be seen in Ross Cawthon’s “The Truth” from 2011 Worlds. The deck is worlds apart from everything else in the field and it made it all the way to the finals of the most difficult tournament. It was different in the sense that it featured Pokémon and Supporters that were not included in any other deck at that event, but it was not “bad” as it was not a conceptual failure or product of ignorance. In fact, it was the exact opposite.

“Different” seems like when a deck is engaged a conceptual success and is incredibly aware of varying meta concerns. It seems noticeably contrasting to “bad,” no? However it seems like the two seem to get interchanged frequently.

For example, take William’s deck into consideration. His Supporter count deviated far from what is construed as “normal” by only playing one Juniper while favoring odder cards like Ghetsis and even Cassius. Generally, Virizion/Genesect Supporter counts look something like 4 Juniper, 4 N, 3-4 Skyla, 1-2 Colress, and 2 Shadow Triad where William’s featured 4 N, 3 Skyla, 2 Shauna, 2 Ghetsis, 1 Colress, 1 Cassius, and 1 Shadow Triad. The community jumped onto WillGen and cited it not as being “different,” but being bad because of his deviated Supporter count.

However, his success (albeit in Seniors) combined with my own performance with the deck might be indicative of the contrary. Sure, I would have built it much differently if I constructed the concept myself (as you’ll see in my list above), but our success with the deck perhaps might be more than indicative of a “different” deck rather than a “bad” one.

Additionally, I think that referring back to “The Truth” might be a great way to cash out this distinction further. The story behind Ross’s deck is a very enjoyable one, but the deck is so odd and unique in its card choices that many referred to it as a “binder dump.” Fictional accounts of how Ross simply accidentally dropped all his cards on the floor and decided to build a deck out of the first few handfuls he picked up is humorous and indicative of our reaction to the deck, but the process behind “The Truth” was much more scientific. We look at the his list now and praise its creativity and ingenuity and applaud how it set the stage for similar “Truth”-style decks for the entirety of the next season, but would this have been the case if Ross had posted the list on a forum before his Worlds performance? Absolutely not!

I believe with reasonable certainty that had “The Truth” been posted on the PokéGym or HeyTrainer before Worlds 2011, that it would have been laughed at and insulted. Perhaps this is evidence that the differentiation between “different” and “bad” is a retroactive process (I alluded to this earlier, but currently am somewhere in the middle on the verdict here; a pursuit for a later investigation), but I think that it helps capture what I mean between “different” and “bad.”

Winning Versus Being the Best

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While I may have made some reasonable and compelling points above, I get the feeling that most will still view WillGen as being “bad” and a misguided attempt at being “different.” Why does this feeling still linger? I think it is because our conception of what a good deck looks like is so ingrained in our everyday understandings that it is very difficult to think of something that deviates so far from the norm as being successful. Even I am guilty of this! When I see a list like William’s or something else that is fluctuating between “different” and “bad,” I usually laugh and express my feelings through phrases like “well that just sounds like garbage” and so forth. It is so hard to break from this train of thought, but I am beginning to be convinced that we must escape such labeling in order to properly understand the game itself.

The next point of contention would be to address these normative standards and then express how they are not necessarily the case. A daunting task to say the least, but I think that it is doable. First, I want to begin with the notion that the deck or player that wins any given event does not necessarily (necessarily in the sense of “could not be otherwise” versus “required to be done”) feature the best player or the best deck choice.

Such logic is once again borrowed from Colin’s “On Rogue Decks” (a progenitor to a lot of my Poké-philosophy, no doubt) where he cites a similar argument. According to him, such a distinction is disputed and either “the deck that actually wins is the best deck” or “the deck with the highest probability of winning is the best deck.”

I am a strong advocate of the latter position and I think it is hard to argue for the other position. If the deck or the player who wins the event is necessarily the best, then it seems like we lose our capacity to talk about the best players or the best deck. This position seems like it relativizes our notions of success and excellence to the point of irrelevance. If we accept this position then the best players and best decks can only be understood on an event-by-event basis. This seems problematic and not really a position that I think anyone would want to accept and thankfully we can easily dismiss it if we accept the conclusion of the latter.

I would like to point out that it is certainly possible for the best deck or player to win any number of events, but it is not necessarily the case. We want to talk about players like Jason, Ross, or Pooka as being the greatest, but as we can observe, they do not win every event, but that fact does make them “worse” players than the actual winner.

A Regress of Cause and Effect

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Assuming that you have accepted this position, you may begin to my true purpose. That is, if it’s true that the deck or player that wins is not necessarily the best then could it also be true that our accepted standards are also not necessarily the best? What on earth could I possibly mean by this?

In short, what I’m trying to say is that our basis for what makes a “good” deck (versus different or bad) is well-engaged in a regressive process that is logically unfulfilling. Where exactly do you find our basis for calling a deck good? Is it in results alone? Some may think this, but as indicated above, basing our notion of the good into results alone seems to remove us of the ability to talk about consistent instances of being good. The deck that wins is not always the best deck at that event (as in the case of the person playing the deck), and so how do we establish good from here?

I am reminded of the classic slogan from statistics that claims correlation does not imply causation. We see this a lot in scientific discussion where one might dispute various findings on the basis of correlation rather than causation. For instance, we know that there is indeed a connection between eating ice cream and people drowning, but it would seem silly to claim ice cream consumption does cause drowning. This can be addressed in several ways assuming that our two hypotheticals are correlated: ice cream can cause drowning, drowning can cause ice cream consumption, the correlation is just a coincidence, or more likely that the two are connected by a common cause. The eating of ice cream and number of people who drown each year can both be linked to a common cause in warm summer weather or something along those lines. (Analogy borrowed from Mumford and Anjum.)

This dispute between causation and correlation is certainly scientific in design, but actually originates from the work of British philosopher David Hume. He says that “Every cause is just a slippery story, a catchy conjecture, a lively conception produced by habit.” Hume believed that our conception of causation is based on an expectation for the future to resemble the past and that we lack the ability to observe causation itself and all of our endeavors are really based in this regress of expectation. This may sound like a kind of skepticism, but it’s really far from it. Hume is incredibly scientifically-minded and one of the founding fathers of psychology – he just wants us to revise how we view it conceptually and understand that science is nothing but very strong correlations and expectations being projected onto the world.

I’m sure you’re thinking, well that’s all well and good Brit, but how does that relate back to Pokémon or anything else you’ve been discussing today. By trying to differentiate between “good,” “bad,” and “different” decks, I have been trying to show that our understandings for these labels are really based in nothing but this same expectation for the future to resemble the past. We build decks with certain Supporter counts because we see them in winning lists or in the deck choice of certain players or test it ourselves and see it functioning efficiently, but what is this grounded in?

You may think that a reasonable response would be something like “well statistics or probability, of course,” but such a claim would only strengthen my point rather than defeat it. Both of those are ways to express expectations and there is no necessity in any of it. (Well, there might be, necessity and mathematics is a pretty cool subject, but again, a pursuit for a later time.) If we could completely observe and control everything in Pokémon, I think that we would lose our interest in the game. There is an appeal and a challenge in our lack of control and I think it is in this little pocket that we can make way for excellence (which as I’ve pointed out before is the ultimate end of the game rather than just trying to win).

“In fact, some such cases of causation are called ‘randomizing’ processes (shuffling cards, throwing dice, flipping coins)—precisely because of their uncontrollability.”

Daniel Dennett, Elbow Room

Concluding Thoughts

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In today’s society, reading is definitely an activity that is done less compared to previous generations. Of course, this is not without reason, but I do find it useful even as the writer to include a convenient TL;DR to try to capture my thesis for entry.

In short, like Hume, I’m definitely not saying to disavow our communal standards for good entirely. Certainly, I will be very surprised if you decide to stop playing Supporters entirely and win Nationals. What I’m trying to say is that before we dismiss something like WillGen for being “bad” because of its lack of conformity, question where your view of “good” came from. “Good,” “different,” and “bad” are merely partial terms that we try to use to justify the consistency of our actions and in this sense, I think it is safe to say at the end of the day they are just artificial distinguishers.

Excellence, on the other hand, is something that I think we can track and while it is equally as intangible as my three artificial terms, I think that it has observable merits that we’ve all grown accustomed to whether we want to accept my virtue-based talk or not. Excellence far exceeds a “different” deck or a “good” player and is a fluid and holistic observation of something acting appropriately and authentically in situations both in and beyond their own control. I’ll stop the nonsense talk here though.

Hear Me Roar

However, that’s not all I have for us today! No, no. The advent of a new set always makes me very excited and happy to begin playing once again and while I feel like I say this about almost every set, I do think that Flashfire is a great inclusion to our current pool. I know Fulop’s article already did a pretty good job of summarizing the set as a whole so I won’t take much time to try to reword any of his careful thoughts, but I would like to express how excited I am for Druddigon.

I cannot count how many times my friends and I have been working on a rogue deck only to be forced to scrap it because it simply could not beat Blastoise (and by extension Rayquaza). We’ve needed a card like this for far too long, but I won’t complain now that we have it. I think that giving almost any deck that capacity to go even (or perhaps gain an advantage) simply by playing one to two copies of a Basic Pokémon will give us an incredible amount of new and creative possibilities. Only time will tell though I suppose!


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Will history repeat itself?

The other “hot” card (pun intended) that I would like to briefly discuss is . A few year ago, SP decks were incredibly dominant (at least in popularity) and featured nothing but Basic Pokémon. Mewtwo LV.X had the exact same ability as Pyroar (in the form of a Poké-Body) and was always a fear for these SP Players. Do I play a counter? Do I hope to avoid anyone playing Mewtwo? All of these questions went through the minds of any SP player creating a list for an upcoming event and I can’t help but wonder if the same will occur over Pyroar. The comparison between Mewtwo and Pyroar might not entirely be there, but there are a lot of things in common.

One of my biggest testing partners, Michael Kendle, won a State Championship thanks to Mewtwo. I am very skeptical that Pyroar can have its own deck or be combined with a Pokémon like Archeops, but I do think that it is an easy inclusion in things like Aromatisee and maybe Virizion/Genesect. To try to cash out the implications further, I talked to SixPrizes’ own Erik Nance who placed second at US Nationals in 2010 with Luxray/Garchomp and he noticeably included a counter to Mewtwo in his deck. Here’s what he had to say:

Personally, I want to stress the fact that incorporating Mewtwo LV.X into one’s deck really, really hurt consistency. It wasn’t just the 2-1 (or whatever) line of Mewtwo LV.X, it was also the fact that getting a Mewtwo LV.X in one’s hand at the beginning of the game was incredibly hard to do. Everyone ran Uxie LV.X, but that was because you could get it into play at any point during the game and gain an advantage. Mewtwo LV.X HAD to hit the field ASAP, and if you didn’t pull it off, you could just feel the lack of consistency during the mid to late-game stages. You would fall behind in the Prize exchange, or be forced to play a Bebe’s Search for a Pokémon. It was rough.

Also, a note on my 1-1 Banette PL play. I never considered my deck to feature a “1-1 tech of Banette,” but rather two techs: Shuppet and Banette. Shuppet PL with an Expert Belt KO’d Toxicroak G, which helped me move ahead in the Prize exchange. Banette was a natural inclusion that sealed my victory against anyone trying to play Mewtwo LV.X or Machamp SF (and also helped me discard stuff I didn’t need for various reasons).

Thinking about today, it’s easy to see Pyroar hitting the field on the second turn – we enjoy Ultra Ball, heavy draw Supporters, and so on. Back then, though, players would normally have only a few outs to a Mewtwo LV.X: the card itself, Bebe’s Search, Pokémon Communication, and Premier Ball. Since you couldn’t run high numbers of any of these in an SP deck, you were left with 3-4 cards to get to a Mewtwo LV.X (not counting the Cyrus’s Conspiracy –> Bebe’s Search –> Mewtwo LV.X play). In short, Mewtwo LV.X looked good on paper but tested horribly – unless, of course, you were dedicated to hacking off consistency to maybe get in play something that might help you against SP decks that didn’t run Dialga G LV.X.

I believe that answer to our quandaries into Pyroar rest somewhere in these wise words from Erik. Incorporating a mere “counter” to Pyroar may be foolish, but if you can add something with a two-fold purpose, you may be able to kill two birds with one stone. As I say all the time, we’ll just have to wait and see but I look forward to learning anything we can about the format until Nationals.

I’ve had a wonderful time writing this piece and I hope you guys have enjoyed it. I’d be more than happy to answer any question and concerns you might have, so feel free to voice them in the forum section. Until next time!

Brit


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