Hi all! Welcome back from your various National Championships! Whether you are a player from the United States or any other country across the sea, I hope that your event proved to be as enjoyable and intriguing as this year’s was for me. Worlds is coming up swiftly, but while I try to prepare for the big dance, I cannot help but reflect on the good times and experiences I had at Nationals with many of my closest friends in the world. As always, I do not want my articles to revolve around tournament reports and deck lists (not to say that there isn’t a place for those kinds of things), but before I get into the argumentative portion of today’s UG entry, I would like to briefly discuss my time at the US National Championships.
Going into the event, I had unfortunately not done much testing. I try to keep up to date with international results and am always discussing decks and lists with my varying groups but for whatever reason, I put almost no time into actual playtesting. A mistake on my part to me sure; one I do not plan on repeating. I initially planned on playing a Hydreigon list because, theoretically, it seemed very strong. However, after playing a few games, I quickly found that my so-called “theory” was mostly just wishful thinking and I was forced to scrap an old friend.
From there, I knew I wanted to avoid Yveltal/Garbodor. I believed it would be the most played deck at the event, and thought that dealing with an incredible amount of mirror matches would leave most of my games up to variance, rather than skill. However, I kept it built as a “safe” audible call. Dustin Zimmerman and a few other Hovercats were very interested in Flygon/Accelegor/Dusknoir and, while I really enjoyed it, I could not establish any confidence in the deck.
As always though, Dustin handily proved my insecurities to be irrelevant, as he performed incredibly well with his list, and Henry Prior made top 8 with something very similar. Truly, both of them are much better players than me, and in the future I hope to be able to emulate their confidence in stranger decks.
Outside of these choices, Justin Sanchez had introduced me to his Ninetales/Pyroar deck which seemed like a very good deck, but given that he and Jason Klaczynski had tested many games with the deck, I knew I would not be able to pilot it optimally; another symptom of my lack of playtesting! There was an Aromatisse deck that two of my other Florida friends (Omar Izaguirre and Chris Bianchi) were hyping up, and I didn’t test it either, as I did not own many of the cards and didn’t feel like bothering a ton of people in order to piece the list together.
At the end of the day, I knew that I only had one deck choice — the deck that I wanted to avoid playing the most: Yveltal/Garbodor. Here is the list that I mostly stole from Jeremy Jallen, although I did change a few cards with some advice from Jason and Justin:
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 37
Energy – 11
As I said, it’s a pretty “vanilla” list, so I don’t want to go over most of the card choices, as I think a lot of it is self-evident. However, I will briefly address some of the “different” ones.
First, a lack of Sableye is not terribly shocking — his inclusion in decks has been dwindling for some time, and I had no trouble with this choice. I would only want him if I were playing more unique Trainer cards like Enhanced Hammer, Crushing Hammer, Pal Pad and so on. I think the list would need a much slower approach to make that work. My list was focused on aggression and trying to out-manage the mirror by being able to produce quicker and more numerous attacks, which worked most of the time. Four Yveltal-EX helped increase those chances, and gave me something to “Y Cyclone” to every single time.
No copies of Bicycle stands out as well, but I think that it is a card that players have gravitated toward for little-to-no reason (refer to my last article for more on this). The only card I really missed was a Tool Scrapper. So many times I felt helpless against my opponents mismanaging their Tool cards, but I could never punish these mistakes.
Now I’m sure you are wondering how this list performed. Well as you might suspect, there is a reason you have not heard about any results from me. Briefly, here is my mini-report:
Round 1: Bye (Kansas State Champion) (1-0-0)
Round 2: Mirror – WLT (1-0-1)
Round 3: Plasma/Aromatisse – LWT (1-0-2)
Round 4: Virizon/Genesect/Raichu – WW (2-0-2)
Round 5: Yveltal/Darkrai/Bouffalant – LWT (2-0-3)
Round 6: Charizard/Raichu – WW (3-0-3)
Round 7: Ninetales/Pyroar (Justin Sanchez, of all people) – LWW (4-0-3)
Round 8: Thundurus/Deoxys/Kyurem – WLL (4-1-3)
So I ended Nationals at 4-1-3 which isn’t a terrible record, but most assuredly a disappointing one. I decided not to play the last round as I was in desperate need of food and a shower, and I had no chance of making day 2.
The deck performed better than I expected, but as you can see, I tied far too often. However, on the bright side of things, I do believe that every single tie was my own fault and based on indecision about whether to concede a losing game. I think, had I been more aware of the clock, two or three of those ties would have easily been wins for me, but time spent playing exclusively Blastoise hurt my chances here. It is annoying that my tournament performance suffered because I played too slowly, but I am hopeful that I can play optimally at Worlds this year. The deck and list are both very good and still on my radar in my preparation for Washington, D.C., but that is all the time I would like to devote to my personal Nationals performance this year.
The Pyroar Effect
As always, I have many other things to discuss, and while today I will not be discussing the metaphysical implications of shuffling and cutting (as my friend Kenny Wisdom jokingly suggested), I first want to revisit my previous article, in which I touched on how a community might react to something that they perceive as “bad.” To quote myself:
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 am I referring to this time? Well, if you’ll recall Singapore’s National Championship, well-decorated player Jit Min took first place with a Pyroar/Charizard-EX deck and, instead of accepting this archetype into the format, a majority of the community dismissed it as something “bad,” stating that it would only win in Singapore and could never work in something like US Nationals. However, as we review the result of this year’s event, we will see that Pyroar was quite possibly the best performing deck of the year.
While it did not win, Michael Pramawat did take second place and there were many others in the top 16, as well as top 64. I think that these results from our fiery friends do a good job in proving that public opinion is based in conformity and baseless judgments. I am not personally saying that I would have told you that Pyroar was going to dominate such a large tournament, but I think that it should encourage us to be less dismissive of all decks and players, regardless of their location and tournament size. Like Ross Cawthon’s 2011 deck “The Truth,” I believe that had Pooka or Pramawat posted a list with Charizard-EX, Pyroar and four copies of Roller Skates no one would have taken them seriously, but now that such a list is readily available online, I think that every single Trainer who intends to play in the LCQ or main event will be preparing for decks like these.
A Return to Entitlement
Another topic I’ve previously written about that has since reemerged as a communal issue is the issue of players’ entitlement in regards to the journey for a Worlds invite, and how this seemingly natural aversion to loss affects our play. If you’ll recall my very first article for Underground, I talked about this idea in great detail. I argued that every single player wants to achieve the best possible results (which turned out to coincide with winning every event), but of course such an aim is unrealistic, and as a result, it creates a sense of entitlement for those doing well, or Trainers who are on the cusp of achieving their Championship Point goal.
It is my belief that everyone’s pursuits in this card game should be focused on “excellence,” or simply “doing our best in any given event or scenario,” which I believe should abstract itself from particulars like “I earn my invite with one more win” or “You shouldn’t want to win because you only have 75 Championship Points.” To return to my original article, “No one and I mean no one, is more entitled to a win or loss.” This is a hard position to take, but I think that it is ultimately the correct one. The pursuit of excellence (yes, that silly thing that I always want to talk about) is unconcerned with your wins, your losses, and your invitation to the World Championships. Instead, that pursuit is focused on how you play the game and how you interact with others. I believe that with the kind of orientation I am prescribing, your life within and without the game will improve.
You may be wondering why I am bringing this up. Well, this section is in response to Adam’s most recent article on the aftermath of the two Championship Point Challenges (CPCs) at US Nationals where it sounds like there were a lot of requests for concession and occurrences of “grinching,” which I will address below. He addresses the sense of entitlement that seems to develop amongst many players:
It may not necessarily be explicit or imposed, but it’s in the ether. Accomplished players will often feel they deserve to win, and lesser-known players might get a sense that they are doing a disservice to the pros by pinning them a loss. In some instances, it may even feel better for the long shot to lose than to win (like in the case of my compadre).
But luckily for me, I think he is also channeling some of my excellence-based language as well:
The objective for anyone entering an individual (i.e. not team) competition, in my opinion, should be to do their best. As long as they give a good effort and play a fair game, they should at the very least be accepting of the results and appreciative of any successes. A participant should never feel overwhelming remorse in victory; that should be a moment of joy.
I am unsure if I played any role in Adam’s article, but I am very excited to read argumentation that lines up with my own.
I’ve voiced my opinion on scooping and grinching several times before, but like most things, my opinion is endlessly shifting and evolving, so I would like to provide a quick description of where I stand on the two controversial topics.
These CPCs are very problematic simply because of the way that they are organized, and I want to first say that I think that they are flawed from the start. For one, I think it is very foolish and unfair to provide such opportunities only in the United States. Our region already receives more invitations to the World Championships than anyone other, and to give us (and no one else) the opportunity to increase this number seems nonsensical to me. Is there a reason why these CPCs are only at US Nats? I would be less opposed to them if they were provided at any Nationals that reached a certain attendance barrier or some other benchmark, but I digress.
The second thing I find problematic about these LCQs is that they are setup in ways that will encourage the environment of scooping and grinching, which I think we want to avoid. A very quick fix for this would be to only allow people with the capacity to earn invites to participate and to create other satellite events where people could earn or purchase the exclusive playmats.
So with that in mind, let’s get into the scooping and grinching bit. While I am guilty of asking for scoops in the past, I am of the strong opinion that one should never ask for such a thing. I have not repeated such a thing in well over a year and make no plans of doing so again. I’ve been in the position where I desperately only needed a few more points, and was up against a Poké-parent who had little-to-nothing to gain for beating me, so I understand the difficulties of the position, and I believe that it is detrimental to the game to ask for such a thing. However, I am not opposed to receiving a concession. If someone wants to give you the win because they recognize your situation, then that is their prerogative.
I think such a decision can only be properly made if you weigh both the pros and cons of the decision, and while my position of “never ask for a scoop, but feel free to receive,” may sound a bit hypocritical, I think that it easily fits into the relational model that can drive both parties to excellence, but that is most assuredly another article for another time.
In regards to grinching, I think that we need to reevaluate the term before passing judgment on it. That is, I do not think that someone playing and trying to win these tournaments necessarily constitutes grinching (but again, I think that it should be called something else and organized differently for it to be a “true” Last Chance Qualifier), and there is nothing wrong with entering a big tournament and trying to win – even if you cannot receive an invite. There were prizes to be had, and undoubtedly, a sense of accomplishment to be gained for winning such a large tournament. To me, a “grinch” is someone who enters a tournament for the sole purpose of ruining someone’s chance at an invite. They are unfocused on the prizes, and simply spout out nonsense like “I want to win round 1 against someone with 450 Points and then immediately drop tehe.” Clearly, such a mentality is in direct opposition to excellence within the game.
This is a hard subject to argue about, and I could be persuaded of other position, so if you disagree with what I have argued for here or would like clarification on my points, please leave your thoughts in the comment section and I would be more than happy to answer them for you.
Consistency: An Illusion or Something Greater?
And now that we have addressed a few smallers things involving this wonderful game of ours, I think that I can finally jump into the main issue that I wanted to address. A couple weeks back, this article, “Power to the People” was published on SixPrizes, and it received a lot of heat and attention from the community. The article was written by Jak Stewart-Armstead, a well-accomplished player from the UK whose opinion I have enjoyed since his days as baby mario on the PokéGym. However, I have expressed on both Virbank City and HeyTrainer that I thought he was incorrect in his grand thesis that:
[…] “consistency” is an illusion created by lucky Junipers and Ns. There are basic things you can do to affect the chances of a better draw (such as thinning your deck), but they still leave you at the mercy of chance far more than Claydol or Pidgeot ever did. The result is that a massive advantage is held by those who happen to get their Supporters in hand when they need them, and draw well when they play them. Little or no skill is required to do this.
I do concede that some of Jak’s points are valid (like that the game is much simpler than it used to be), but ultimately I think that consistency is not an illusion and below I will try to make it clear why I disagree. Before I begin though, I would like to point out that my disagreement with “Power to the People” is in no way a personal attack and it would be very silly of me to let such a disagreement shape my personal opinion of someone. Arguing and disagreement is how we reflect and better our opinions, and of course, I am never convinced that I am 100% correct, and I hope you hold the same opinion. If everyone completely agreed with every article ever posted, then our opinions and perspectives would never advance and we would be well immersed in some sheepish thought processes that ought to be avoided.
I think that Jak’s argument can be quickly summarized as:
- Consistency is required for a format to be skill-based.
- Formats of the past featured a lot of consistency.
- Thus formats of the past were skill-based.
- Our current format features no or mere illusionary consistency.
- Thus our current format is not skilled-based.
I do not have any disagreements with premise one, two, or three and thus my contention is only with the latter portion of the argument and another conclusion of the argument itself. Naturally then, my burden is then to prove how our current format (Next Destinies-on) is skill-based.
The first way to address this premise may be the most common response, but I think it is a powerful defense nonetheless. That is, if consistency is merely an illusion, then why exactly do the same players do well? Are they cheating? Is everyone else just that much worse than them? It’s a hard point to dismiss and an obvious point to make. Unless you want to jump off the deep end and fully accuse some of the community’s most decorated and well-respected members of cheating, I’m unsure how to dismiss this point. You can say that “Well maybe there is some consistency after all,” but then you can see how the initial thesis may be starting to fall apart.
Another simple way to try to show that consistency is not an illusion is to ask one who believes in the same way that Jak does whether they still play Professor Juniper or not. I imagine that the answer is most assuredly yes, to which I would respond, “If consistency is an illusion, then why do you still bother with these cards?” The next response would likely be something along the lines of “Well, it’s not the consistency I would like” or “It’s not as consistent as Claydol GE or Pidgeot RG,” which is a point I think we could all get behind, but if Professor Juniper has any kind of power in your deck as far as achieving ideal draws is concerned, then I think making the leap to call all of our consistency an illusion is without doubt a loaded and fallacious proposition.
The next point that I want to make is in regards to “consistency.” Here is where you may want to sigh, as my use of the parenthetical is surely indicative that I will soon be talking in my nonsensical philosophy-speak. Love it or hate it, I have a point to be made! What I want to argue for is that the consistency that Jak and so many others long for is irrelevant to our current form of consistency or the term as a whole.
Consistency in terms of Claydol versus Professor Juniper are fundamentally different concepts. They may share the same word — a fault of language — but in my opinion, they are absolutely incomparable. In philosophy, we refer to this as a paradigm shift. A famous example of such a shift could be seen when society once held that the sun revolved around the earth. When it was later proven that the earth revolved around the sun, people were no longer talking about the same planet — doing so would elicit a contradiction. I think that this dispute about consistency is exactly the same case! The word may be the same, and what we want or desire out of “consistency,” is the same, but they are just too different to even be weighed against each other.
While confusing at first, I think that this notion of paradigm shifts will make a lot of sense. Additionally, I think that it makes us consider the validity of comparing them altogether. What does complaining about how Claydol helped your deck out more, and that you never get what you need of Professor Juniper really accomplish? I think that it likely only produces a negative attitude that makes losing, winning, and being excellent all the more difficult.
I do think that it is necessary for us as players to reflect on the past so that we can orient our play toward the possibilities of the future, but those in Jak’s position seem to be stuck in the past, which directly affects their present play. If you are so bothered by the discrepancies in the two incredibly different notions of “consistency,” I begin to wonder if you really have a reason to be playing the game in the first place.
The last thing that I want to dispute is Jak’s notion that a skill-based format or a format where only a few people have the capacity to do well is inherently better than a more “open” one. He says:
That the Pokémon TCG changed from being a game ruled by powerful groups of elite players to what it is today – a far more open and accessible experience.
I think that most of us agree that having a game where someone who does no testing has the exact same chance to win a given event as someone who spends many hours playtesting is not ideal. However, I do not believe that our current format (and probably any format ever) will be that simple. Admittedly, it may happen sometimes, but not always. Additionally, what kind of hierarchy is being advocated for here? Does anyone want to play a game with such an elitist concept? I think skill will always be a stream running through Pokémon, and while the cards may change and be dumbed down, I don’t think that we can ever make the leap to the “illusions” of consistency.
A theme that you may have noticed continually driving some of my writings is the idea that everything is always changing and evolving, and to think otherwise puts one in an unsatisfactory position. I think that the way to combat this change is to embrace it and flow with it. There is humility and calmness that I think comes with such a mentality, and I think it is very applicable to this consistency debate. In my opinion, consistency is far from an illusion. It exists and is real, but like everything, it is constantly changing. Of course, being able to “Quick Search” for any card is maybe better than discarding your hand to draw seven, but I am unable to comprehend the latter as a mere illusion.
Well, that’s really all I have to say today! Remember to never be certain of the metagame and understand that things you think are bad may very easily be powerful archetypes. Grinching and scooping are difficult things to talk about, but I think that we can all figure it out. Finally, it is my strong belief that consistency is a concept that exists and is no mere illusion.
I hope that you have enjoyed my argumentation and I look forward to reading and responding to your questions and comments. I cannot wait (even though I must) to see what ends up happening at Worlds this year. I think that we have a very defined and difficult format now, and would be quite surprised if someone isn’t able come up with a rogue that address many other decks in the format. I will be arriving in Washington, D.C. in just a few weeks, and I look forward to seeing and playing with all of you.
Until next time!
…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.
After 90 days, we open each Underground (UG) article for public viewing. New articles are reserved for Underground members.
Underground Members: Thanks for making this article possible!
Other Readers: Check out the FAQ if you are interested in joining Underground and gaining full access to our latest content.