Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

Alternate Strategies to Victory
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Will our hero prevail?

Derrick Vance had just made it to the Top 8 of a State Championship, and he was ecstatic. As he battled through the Swiss rounds with his Tool Drop (Trubbish PLS 65/Sigilyph PLB) deck, he blew away the competition. Yes, he was running hot (having had only one bad start all day long), but he had also been practicing a lot. To him, this was validation for weeks of steady practice.

In fact, practicing was one of the things Derrick had started to get right. Determined to be one of the best in the game, he devoted at least a couple of hours each night to mastering his deck and analyzing his own in-game skills. This season was going to be different, and though he got off to a rocky start (his showings at Regional Championships were fair, but only that), he was set on winning his first State Championship.

When Derrick found out the opponent he was facing, all the blood drained from his face. More specifically, it was the opponent’s deck choice that had Derrick turning a ghostly white – his matchup was against Crustle BCR/Reuniclus DRX. A total auto-loss! Derrick let the match run through his mind and saw no hope, just an impenetrable Crustle BCR standing defiantly in his way. The weight on Derrick’s heart felt as though it were imposed by a heavy mantle of sediment.

Derrick unearthed a morsel of hope from some secret place and regained composure – perhaps an explosive start could nab a quick win from his opponent! Plus, with a setup deck like Crustle BCR/Reuniclus DRX, there is always the chance of the opponent dead-drawing. Derrick was finding his second wind. Cracks in the sediment.

Derrick’s hope was quickly wiped away when his opponent got a second-turn Crustle and Reuniclus. Nothing got better after that, just infinite healing after Trubbish swung for nearly 200 damage. After losing the first game handily, Derrick trudged through the second game like a wounded soldier. He was bitter from doing so well in Swiss to lose to “some random.” He knew his opponent was lucky to get as far as he did, that he probably would not get past Top 4. A thick layer of sludge had become like cement.

As he packed up his deck, the slight tremble in Derrick’s hand caused a couple of cards to fall to the floor. When bending down to pick them up, Derrick froze. The two cards – Sigilyph PLB and Eviolite – were positioned side by side perfectly, as though they were trying to tell him something. In a flash, Derrick felt nauseous, recognizing his “auto-win” potential. He told nobody, but left knowing he missed a perfect opportunity to win his first State Championship.

Quick! Do you know where Derrick went wrong? What play he could have made to possibly win that matchup easily? If so, great! Your puzzle-solving brain found the only option for winning. If not, it is perfectly okay – this is, after all, what this article is all about.

Here it is, the solution: 1 Sigilyph PLB + 4 Eviolite + Fighting Resistance = INVINCIBILITY against Crustle BCR. Then, since the opponent will have gone through more resources, just wait until they deck themselves. Congratulations! You did something comical by loading a Sigilyph PLB up with Eviolites and won a game in the process. You are an ultimate troll, or a genius!

When I was a kid in middle school, my English teacher (the lady you should probably thank if you are a fan of my writing) would sometimes pull a game called MindTrap out to play with us if we were good students. Essentially, MindTrap is a collection of 500+ cards with puzzles, murder mysteries, and trick questions meant to “challenge the way you think!” Yes, my teacher was a total nerd, and I love her for that. Here is an example of one of these wonderful conundrums:

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No, they are not all that bad (I personally love the “groan”). Most of them are quite clever actually. One that was always memorable to me involved a man who hung himself from a light fixture high in the air. There was no chair or surface underneath, but the floor was wet. How? How did he do it?! I am going to let that one sit on your mind.

The promise offered by MindTrap is that it challenges the way you think. In many ways, that is exactly what I aim to do with this article. If your best chance to win a game involves loading Eviolites onto a Sigilyph PLB or using Lysandre multiple times to pull up a Dusknoir BCR, then why aren’t you doing it? Many players overlook these alternate strategies because they have trained themselves to play a deck as best they can. That is nice when you play against the deck in which that strategy works, but what happens when you have to adopt a new strategy?

Remember to click on the link in the table of contents to go directly to that part of the article.

Table of Contents

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Delcatty e/Electabuzz DF

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It was “the cat’s meow,” as they say.

For this month’s Blast From The Past, I decided to ask myself one simple question: What’s the funnest deck you have ever played? That question produced a rich number of results, but many of them are well-known to the Pokémon TCG community, and I wanted to offer something this month that many of you might have never seen before. Therefore, we are going to talk about Delcatty e/Electabuzz DF today.

In the time “Energy Draw” Delcatty graced this game of ours, it found its way into countless decks. Gardevoir e, Blaziken e, Infernape DP, Flygon e, Blissey MT… basically any deck that wanted Energy cards in the discard could utilize Delcatty. The card was so powerful, in fact, that even after being reprinted in Power Keepers a full four years after originally showing up in Ruby & Sapphire, it continued to change the game by providing consistency to decks aplenty.

This brings us to the small sliver of time in which Delcatty e/Electabuzz DF was actually viable. Just before Diamond & Pearl took over the game, players could pair both Delcatty PK with Delcatty e to, well, draw a lot of cards and do some damage. Nobody really knew how to make use of Delcatty e, and most players were deathly afraid of using an attacker with Weakness to Fighting type. With Raichu HP 15/Exeggutor HP (“Raieggs”) such a popular deck, Delcatty e went completely ignored for a long time.

Then, at a State Championship, my good friend Jake Burt showed up with what he called his “secret deck.” Eager to find out what he was playing, I talked to him as he was in line to register. Rather than reveal his deck choice, he simply showed me the Energy cards his deck ran; I was floored. Jake’s deck ran 23 Energy cards, from Boost Energy to Fighting Energy to Cyclone Energy. I tried to reconcile the harrowing realization that my friend had gone insane by telling myself that Jake Burt was up to something.

Toward the end of the tournament, Jake faced a Raieggs player in the Top 8 and abruptly lost. If I remember correctly, Jake’s opponent was not even that good, but the Fighting Weakness was too much to overcome. My brother and I stood off to the side and sadly watched as Jake lost two matches in no time. Then, we picked the deck up and gave it a go.

If you’re in the mood for some fun, look no further than this deck. Capable of hanging with every popular archetype at the time – save Raieggs of course – Delcatty e/Electabuzz DF is one of the fastest, most consistent, most dramatic decks to ever hit the scene. From the second turn on, literally every turn is all about getting your hand size to be as large as possible, then using the Constrain Poké-Power to dump Energy cards into the discard and using Upstream to send them all back into the deck while hitting incredibly hard.

Without the presence of Raieggs, this deck would have run rampant. It is super consistent, terribly lethal, and fun as heck to play. There’s not a whole lot to compare it to, though I suppose the more recent Greninja XY/Kingdra PLF deck is kind of close.

Unfortunately, this deck did not have a lot going for it. In the short window of time it was viable, Raieggs decks were everywhere. With only 90 HP and the “ex” status, Delcatty e just could not hang with that deck, which meant anyone wanting to play Delcatty e/Electabuzz DF had to accept auto-losses on a good third or so of the format.

If you decide to play old format decks and you know your opponent is not playing Raieggs, this should easily be one of your go-to decks. Here’s a working list to get you started:

Pokémon – 17

4 Skitty LM
3 Delcatty PK
3 Delcatty e
3 Elekid DF
3 Electabuzz DF
1 Sableye CG

Trainers – 20

4 Holon Transceiver
3 Holon Mentor
2 Holon Adventurer
2 Holon Lass
1 Holon Farmer

 

4 TV Reporter
4 Professor Elm’s Training Method

Energy – 23

9 Fighting
4 Boost
4 Darkness
4 Cyclone
2 React

First things first, let’s address the Trainer line. With so much draw support elsewhere in the deck, the low Trainer count should not be too bothersome. Also, it should be noted that there is no fluff in that Trainer line – everything is all about getting Pokémon in play that draw cards and drawing cards on top of that.

Holon Lass is there to land large KO’s when needed (particularly if the opponent gets a good start). Sableye CG is there to aid in draw power a little bit, but mostly to help out against the occasional Banette CG. The Boost Energy works very well with Delcatty e’s second attack, while the Cyclone Energy is meant to pull up weak Pokémon from the Bench. React Energy is there in case you start with Skitty LM.

So there you have it. I am always intrigued by decks that run little to no Energy (think Aggron DRX or Gyarados SF), but this is the inverse of that appeal, where a deck is marked as abnormal because of an overabundance of Energy.

STRATEGIZING

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Sometimes you must deviate from the normal plan of action.

In trying so hard to figure out a way to compartmentalize these ideas, I realized something, and that is that most players only have a grasp on the intended strategy for their deck. If they are playing Yveltal-EX/Garbodor LTR, for instance, they know to get Garbodor LTR into play and make sure a Pokémon Tool card gets attached to it and to swing for big damage with Yveltal-EX. After all, why play a card at all if you are not going to do what the card itself says?

Yet, this game is more viscous than that – nothing is quite “set in stone.” I have compared the Pokémon TCG to chess before to explain the manner in which people play the metagame, but I would never make this comparison to suggest the Pokémon TCG as “static.” In chess, the player has ultimate control over the result of the game – every move is calculated without random occurrences – but in the Pokémon TCG random things happen all the time. Sometimes, you find yourself attacking with a Seadra because it’s the only thing you got, or sometimes you find it to actually be the best play.

With that said, I propose there to be more than one strategy going on at a single time in the game, and that one’s strategy can possibly deviate at any point during the game. The value of discarding certain cards, for example, has been long known as an effective complementary strategy to the deck’s intended strategy, but many players continue to ignore it, pummeling through game after game doing what they believe their deck is supposed to do. Then, when they lose to a late-game N, they complain that the opponent got lucky or that they got unlucky.

This aspect of the Pokémon TCG mirrors life. If I wake up every day and perform a singular function of “going to work” and yet never consider or manage my personal finances, how can I be upset when I get an eviction notice? And if things get so dire that I must make some change in response to a situation, why should I expect things to get better if I maintain the same course?

So you have your intended strategy for your deck – that is, the main thing your deck is meant to do. Then, you have some complementary strategies in there as well. These are various other aspects of your deck that need to be managed that accompany (and do not deviate from) your intended strategy. And finally, you have alternate strategies you must be prepared to adopt. These represent complete departures from the intended strategy that will give you a better chance of winning.

This is kind of how this whole idea breaks down in my mind:

strategy mind map

Let us look at a good example of this: Darkrai-EX/Hammers. Back when Darkrai-EX was making a splash in the format, players started building mono-Terrakion NVI decks as a response. The Weakness to Fighting was too much for most Darkrai-EX players to handle, until, that is, people started figuring out the alternate strategy of “spamming” Crushing Hammer with Sableye’s Junk Hunt attack. By cycling Crushing Hammers over and over again, the auto-loss to Terrakion NVI decks became an auto-win.

While the intended strategy of a Darkrai-EX/Hammers deck is to power up and attack with Darkrai-EX, this alternate strategy requires nothing more than Sableyes and Crushing Hammers. The complementary strategies you may adopt in making this happen is to ensure you get Crushing Hammers into your hand as soon as possible and discarding cards as insurance against a late-game N.

COMPLEMENTARY STRATEGIES

Remember that complementary strategies are those plays a person makes to support whatever main strategy they have decided to use for the game. I want to give credit to Dustin Zimmerman for focusing on these very plays in his last article. He of course terms them the “minutia of gameplay.” Rather than restate what Dustin has already talked about, I want to provide a reminder of some common complementary strategies/plays, then look a little closer at ones you may have never thought of.

Common complementary strategies include:

  • Discarding Cards. When to pull the trigger on this strategy largely depends on game state and deck, but I think it is safe to say that players should start focusing getting rid of “junk cards” mid-game after a proper setup has been established. Got two Ultra Ball in your hand? Determine which other card you don’t really need and discard them. They will not be able to haunt you after you or your opponent play an N later in the game.
  • Memorizing Prize cards. Often thought of, but rarely acted upon. I mean, how many times have you seen an opponent search through their deck mid to late-game and get that look on their face (yeah, you know the one) after discovering the card they are looking for is one of their Prize cards? That should never happen! The fact that people do this shows they are not playing at the best of their ability.
  • The Time Game. We live in a world of limitations, and time is probably number one among them. When it comes to Pokémon TCG events, you sometimes have to race against both your opponent and the clock. To ignore the fact that time constraints are very present in the Pokémon TCG is to ignore a huge factor in determining the victor.
  • Pre-Game Deckbuilding. How can you successfully cycle Crushing Hammers with Sableye’s Junk Hunt attack if you only put one Crushing Hammer in your list? A solid list for any deck has to take into consideration alternate strategies one may employ. Sometimes this is apparent, but sometimes it can be harder to catch (Dustin Zimmerman’s discussion on Voltorb XY in his article posits this very thing).

So, I am sure many of you have heard about this stuff before, but it never hurts to reiterate a strong point. These plays are all so important that I bet at least 10% of games in competitive play are won or lost on account of them. Yes, I realize that is a statistic I pulled out of thin air, and yes, I still believe it. You cannot ignore these basic tenets of solid play if you want to compete at the best level.

What about those other complementary strategies, the ones that depend on specific deck choice, or might actually depend on your opponent’s deck choice? Let’s look at some of these right quick:

  • The Basics. For anyone starting out with this game, I always encourage them to do “as much as possible” during their turn. Yes, they may play a Professor Juniper and discard valuable things, or they may attach an Energy to the wrong Pokémon, but I want them to get into the habit of doing everything a turn allows them to do. A basic understanding of how to set up a deck will always complement that deck’s intended strategy.
  • Managing Resources. In more decks than one, being a master of resource management is imperative, specifically since Professor Juniper is still the best draw Supporter in the game. You have probably found yourself on multiple occasions tasked with deciding whether to discard valuable resources with a Professor Juniper or saving them by playing N. This is not uncommon at all, and it requires a clear understanding of how one’s deck functions in later turns.
  • The Opponent’s Resources. Sometimes, you may have a clear advantage staring you right in the face – literally. Always be on the lookout for opponents who fail to play a Supporter during their turn, as it can significantly alter your strategy. Yes, this one fits better in the “alternate strategy” department too, but I put it here because it is something that should complement your strategy at all stages of the game, not just be a last-ditch effort after your intended strategy has failed. Too often, I see players on their last turns switch to the “late-game N,” or they make some daring play after calculating (finally) what their opponent has or doesn’t have. This should be on your radar at all times.
  • Anticipation. When SP decks were popular, I really liked the outstanding plays one could make with Power Spray, a card that canceled out Poké-Powers (yesterday’s version of activated Abilities). By determining to get two Power Spray in hand in the early stages of a game, one could completely shut down an opponent who was trying to set up their deck. These days, I see this same idea resurfacing in cards like Pal Pad and Enhanced Hammer. Resolving to use that Skyla for a second Enhanced Hammer might actually be the game-winning play. This can also occur at the pre-game level during deck construction (playing three Max Potion instead of two, three Lysandre instead of two, and so forth).
  • The Sacrifice. There are times when you will have to send a Pokémon up to get KO’d. This is truth. Try not to shed a tear as you consider the benefits to giving up one of your loved ones: you essentially buy a turn for the price of a Prize card. I thought about whether this strategy was complementary or alternate, but it’s truly complementary – at times you must lose something for the greater good.
  • The Build-Up. Lots of cards perform their best under specific situations. Infernape LV.X wanted Fire Energy to be in the discard pile, while Flareon PLF today wants Pokémon to be there instead. Depending on the deck, your complementary strategy may hinge on getting certain situations met.
  • Durant NVI. Remember this card? So many players fell prey to it because they went about with their intended strategy of setting up multiple attackers. The trick to beating this deck – to set up a single threat with minimal discarding and destroy Durant after Durant – was simple, yet still elusive to many. (Note: This strategy might be an alternate one altogether depending on your deck. Some decks have to bend a little further to make this happen, while for others it’s just a simple matter of deciding not to play draw Supporters).

These are all complementary strategies that players should keep in mind. Now, let’s get to the meat of this article, the alternate strategies…

ALTERNATE STRATEGIES

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To me, this is where the game gets interesting, and where many players just do not see their options. Understand, this can apply to anyone. The other night I was practicing against a friend, his Trevenant XY/Accelgor DEX deck to my speed Yveltal-EX deck. I found myself losing the majority of those games. It was only after we finished practicing and my friend had left that I realized a potential strategy I had ignored completely.

With a single Lysandre in my deck, I had the option of pulling up his benched Dusknoir BCR at one point in our testing in an attempt to deck him out. The more I thought about it, though, the more this strategy should have been my go-to strategy all along. Why not speed through my deck and get the one Lysandre, then focus on getting it back into my hand over and over again? I played two Pal Pad in my deck, after all, in addition to a Dowsing Machine, a Startling Megaphone, and Sableye DEX.

In theory, this strategy works, at least until my opponent wises up. Even then, though, it means he cannot play Dusknoir or has to be extremely selective with where he put his Float Stones. Imagine the power play with me here: I play Lysandre, bring up his benched Dusknoir BCR, use a Startling Megaphone to get rid of his Float Stones, then use Dowsing Machine to put Lysandre back into my hand and finish with Sableye’s Junk Hunt to bring the Dowsing Machine and Startling Megaphone back into my hand.

The thing that worried me, though, is that I ignored this alternate strategy altogether – it never even crossed my mind until that last turn when I was scrambling for an answer. Actually, I take it back – the thing that truly scared me was the fact that I spent hours practicing the WRONG strategy for dealing with Trevenant XY/Accelgor DEX!

I have seen entire videos of people in the finals at tournaments as big as Regional Championships that used the wrong strategy. They went with the intended strategy of their deck and failed at recognizing they could have played it differently. If you think you are immune to this, think again. Even the very best are guilty of overlooking a solid opportunity for victory.

The thing about alternate strategies is they require a proper analysis before any tournament ever takes place. There is work involved here. After practicing against my friend, I put another Lysandre into my deck to guarantee victory against Trevenant XY/Accelgor DEX. By bringing up a Benched Pokémon, I force my opponent to burn an Energy in order to retreat. I might also avoid getting locked after an Accelgor DEX’s Deck and Cover attack. It gives me a chance to use Sableye DEX to bring back resources and plan ahead. All of this happened after I had practiced for hours using a bad strategy.

My advice here is to keep notes on what to do against your various matchups, and analyze all of your options. In a recent Japanese tournament, one player’s way of handling Pyroar FLF was to include a copy of Qwilfish FLF in his deck. I am not that impressed with Qwilfish FLF, but at least it shows the opponent had given the matchup thought. So keep notes and explore what your deck can do against popular archetypes. Also, keep in mind some weak spots that present themselves from time to time (I will address this later).

Let’s be honest too – you might very well watch established players using ineffective strategies in certain situations. I am not trying to belittle the skill these players possess, it’s just really easy to overlook alternate approaches to victory at times. Say the intended strategy of a deck gives you an 80% chance of winning against a particular matchup, and an alternate strategy would give you a 90% chance of winning against that same matchup. To ignore the alternate strategy would be a mistake, sure, but there’s still a good chance for victory with the intended strategy. Everyone would congratulate the player for winning his 80/20 and never know the difference.

Let’s look at some tried and true alternate strategies that have presented themselves in this game from time to time:

  • “Hammerspamming” with Sableye DEX/Crushing Hammer/Enhanced Hammer. This play involves cycling Crushing Hammer and Enhanced Hammer with Sableye DEX’s Junk Hunt attack to deny the opponent Energy. Since its inception years ago, it has forced decks to utilize Energy acceleration by way of Blastoise BCR, Emboar LTR, Dark Patch, etc. or else lose. It involves using an attack that does no damage and progressively peeling apart the opponent’s deck.
  • “Catcherspamming” with Sableye DEX/Pokémon Catcher. Using Pokémon Catcher over and over again can force your opponent to burn through resources and lead to victory. With Pokémon Catcher half the card it used to be, Lysandre/Dowsing Machine exists to make this strategy valid once again.
  • Lone Trevenant XY with Silver Mirror and no Benched Pokémon. Ideally, this auto-wins the Plasma matchup. It requires proper deckbuilding, however, as one must run Psychic Energy to attack with Trevenant XY, Silver Mirror for the lock, and possibly full counts of both Shelmet PLB and Phantump XY in order to ensure that Trevenant XY gets Active without anything on the Bench.
  • Retreat Blockers (Pidgey RG, Trapinch SW, Wobbuffet LM, Spinarak HS, Snorlax PLS). I used Azelf LA to keep my opponent’s Tyranitar Prime from retreating at Nationals in 2010. This was after he had loaded all of his Energy onto his Benched Pokémon. He couldn’t attack, I was ahead by a Prize card, he ran no switch cards, and that was the game. Retreat Cost is one of the most overlooked aspects to this game, and many powerful plays have been made by taking advantage of it.
  • Tanking. No, not “tanking” as in losing, tanking as in winning! Sometimes, just having a bunch of expendable HP can win you the game. If you have to let a Pokémon take a hit, let it. You often find players doing this toward the end of the game, after they have exhausted their opportunities to win. Sometimes, though, letting a Pokémon absorb some damage or even sacrificing a Pokémon is the correct play to make early on or mid-game. It all depends.
  • Shielding. Pyroar FLF, Sigilyph LTR, Suicune PLB, Latias-EX… these are all cards that prevent damage done to them in some way by certain Pokémon. The most recent example of this in tournament play – the two copies of Sigilyph LTR in Greninja XY/Kingdra PLF – brilliantly uses Sigilyph LTR as a shield at any stage of the game.

In many ways, asking “What’s the craziest way you have ever won a game?” reveals a lot of alternate strategies that exist out there. You may learn a lot of various options for taking down popular decks just by asking this question. Players will be willing to tell all, and after they have given their story, ask yourself this question: Could the strategy they used at the end of the game to win have been used instead at the beginning, or the middle? In many cases, you will find that indeed, a strategy relied on when “in a pinch” is actually quite viable at any time in the game.

VULNERABILITIES

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Remember that you may deviate from your intended strategy at any point in a game – that is, do not just find yourself scrambling with the last couple of turns trying to make a game-saving play. Switching your strategy, however, comes with a great amount of risk. What if, for instance, you use a card to force your opponent’s Dusknoir BCR to the Active spot, then they play a Switch on their turn and completely upturn what you thought you were trying to do?

This is a hard topic to tackle, and I will not do it in this article. Largely, you need to have a well-defined understanding of how decks in the format are built. Knowing that most decks play some sort of Switch-like cards, for instance, will help you avoid making downright bad plays.

What I do want to look at, however, are the weak spots that show up time and time again in deck construction and gameplay. By recognizing these vulnerabilities, you may find opportunities you never knew existed. Here are some of the most common vulnerabilities an alternate strategy can take advantage of:

  • Retreat Cost. Honestly, this one is huge, and it is something nobody talks about. Think about all the “retreat blockers” I listed before. Some of these were absolutely game-changing, and yet they do not seem like that big a deal. Thanks to Snorlax PLS, we have been forced to think about retreating more this season than ever before. It’s why people continue to play Switch, Float Stone, Darkrai-EX, and so on.
  • Energy Crisis. There have been moments time to time in which I landed an unexpected victory because my opponent ran out of Energy. Either they could not retreat and I won because I had the lead, or they simply exhausted their resources. Once more, taking advantage of this requires a keen understanding of the other decks in the format.
  • Techs. Sometimes, an effective tech forces us to abandon our intended strategy and instead go down a more narrow path. With my Metagross DS/Dragonite DS deck, I quickly went with Dragonair DS 42 (“Twister”) anytime I faced a Medicham e deck. I could discard Energy from Medicham e and keep them at bay while I set up my deck. Hey – Dragonair DS was not even a tech, so how much more effective will your well-intentioned tech be at handling certain decks?
  • The Opponent’s Resources. I might be repeating myself here, but when you consider what the opponent has, there are times in which your strategy will drastically change to match the situation. Just the other night, I was playing a game against my friend – my Greninja XY/Kingdra PLF vs. his Trevenant XY/Accelgor DEX – when I opened with Horsea PLF, two Rare Candy, Ultra Ball, Water Energy, and two Colress. My opponent went first and did not play a Supporter, though he had three Pokémon in play. I correctly passed, even though I might have lost the game. My opponent passed, I got Kingdra PLF in play and steamrolled soon after.
  • The Advantage. When SP decks were the name of the game, I often found myself winning or losing on the first turn. Even if a first-turn win did not happen, there were still moments when one player gained such a huge advantage that there was no way to mount a comeback. While the first-turn rules have changed, there are still moments in which you might actually burn resources or make otherwise strange plays in hopes of securing that advantage. This is very game-specific, though, and I have seen it fail miserably, so be sure it is a play you want to make.
  • Stalling. When I use this term, I do not mean the type of stalling associated with cheating. Rather, I am looking at moments in the game when using a card to buy a turn will lead to a positive outcome. Long ago, Dunsparce SS was by and large the most reliable Pokémon for doing this. Not only was its first attack immensely powerful, its second attack could buy a turn and/or put 10 damage right where it needed to be. While many players look to these cards to bail them out in a tough situation, few recognize the merits of making a play like this somewhere in the mid-game stage.

These are some of the most vulnerable characteristics of nearly any deck in the game today. Of course, situations present themselves and you should not let a solid opportunity pass you by, but consider turning your eye elsewhere when you begin forming an idea of how to handle a matchup.

“IN A PINCH”

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There is something to be said about how players react when they are about to lose a game – when they are “in a pinch.” All of a sudden, the player awakes from their slumber and begins a ravenous search for information: “Can I see your discard pile?” “How many cards do you have left?” “Did you play a Supporter last turn?” It is as though the player gained superhuman powers as they search for any way possible to keep from losing.

I say this personally too, as I have found myself deep in the slumber of play to suddenly awake and think, “You know, if I played a Pokémon Catcher and brought up his Deoxys-EX, there’s a chance that blah blah blahaha.” This is brought on by an impending loss. How did I get here? Where did I go wrong?

Why do we as players do this?

Here’s my thought, and it goes back to that idea of passive play I mentioned long ago: we as human beings strive to be efficient at the Pokémon TCG, yet we want to give ourselves lots of options; as a result, it pushes us into “autopilot” mode no matter the scenario. Most competitive players have multiple decks they can take to a tournament, and they know the intended strategy of each deck. To know the ins and outs of every interaction each deck has with another, however, requires a dizzying amount of knowledge – both known and unknown.

As a result, players perfect a deck’s basic strategy while gauging matchups against other decks. Rarely, though, do players focus on alternate strategies. Why bother with Retreat Costs when you have to determine how well your deck fares against another? And if you determine that you normally lose in a certain matchup, will you look for an alternate strategy or just a tech? Most players will look for the tech.

Here’s an example. My brother played against Eric Craig a long time ago at a Gym Challenge, Kevin’s Flareon e/Ariados UF (Flariados) against Eric’s Lugia e/Blastoise e/Steelix e (LBS). Eric, who had played in Florida where Flariados was popular, had enough experience against it to find an alternate way of playing his deck: he used Misdreavus LM to buy himself time to set up his deck. Misdreavus LM would keep an opponent’s Active Pokémon asleep while Eric went about setting everything up. Most LBS players used Island Cave at the time as a counter to Flariados, which required 2-4 spots in the deck. Misdreavus LM, though, was a single card that helped out in many more situations. Brilliant!

Examples like this are plenty in the Pokémon TCG. Rather than waiting until you have nearly lost the game to actually play the game, start looking at all in-game situations as though you were “in a pinch.” You might start seeing many things you did not realize before, and before long, people will be talking about your excellent idea.

CONCLUSION

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I honestly feel there are opportunities in this game for victory that players are missing (myself included). It bothers me when I overlook a strategy I could have used to win a game and instead play the game “as usual,” and I am sure it bothers some of you out there as well. This article was born out of that concern.

Playing the Pokémon TCG professionally requires that we sometimes figure out a puzzle by thinking outside of the box. I know that is said all the time, but rarely is it acted upon. If my Charizard deck loses to Blastoise, I resolve it by putting Venusaur into my deck, while never realizing that some other strategy will give me a better chance at victory while saving deck space too.

I hope this article has given you something to think about. Also, I know I talked a lot about what players are missing and that my article might sound condescending. If so, understand that I am talking to myself just as much as any player out there. Actively being one of the “the best” means actively seeking answers to “unsolvable” problems. Sometimes it seems too good to be true (putting Ho-Oh-EX and Terrakion LTR into Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX), and sometimes it requires an extensive understanding of all the options available.

If you liked this article, please give it a “Like”! I will see you in the Underground forums.


…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

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