Hi all! It always seems like so much time passes between each of my articles, but it really has only been about a month. In my last piece, I was addressing some concerns right after US Nationals and in the blink of an eye we are already dealing with a brand new set and a new season of Pokémon. While nothing has been announced about the invite structure, it appears as if the allotment of Championship Points will remain the same and many have already begun to rack up Points from varying League Challenges. I am jealous of those who have the opportunity to never stop playing events!
Unfortunately for me, I live in an area where travel is required to attend even a mere League Challenge and have also started my (hopefully) final year of undergraduate studies — I simply do not have the time to attend events. However, that isn’t the only reason I would have trouble attending these events. That is, I no longer own any cards! I spent the last third of my summer traveling to the northwest to help Colin (a former UG writer) move from Tacoma, Washington to Portland, Oregon as well as see many of my closest friends from Seattle.
Everything went smoothly and overall it turned out to be a very memorable vacation, until the day before I departed for the World Championships. I had a very early flight to catch and so I went to bed rather early. I woke up at some point in the night and decided that I wanted to check my phone and complete varying rounds on social media sites, but to my horror, my phone (among many other things) were nowhere to be found. I scrambled around looking for my belongings and had no luck finding anything and then I noticed that the back door to Colin’s apartment was ajar.
Oh, the horror! Indeed, I had many things stolen from me that night, including my backpack filled with all my collection and playable cards. Perhaps it is my own fault for keeping all my cards in one place, but I digress. What is most bothersome to me in this loss is not that I no longer own and Landorus-EX or Virizion-EX, but rather that many cards that held a great sentimental value were removed from my possession. I fondly kept cards that I had used to earn my invites and had a large collection of all my favorite Pokémon, but of course, my intent here is not to solicit pity from you lovely 6P readers. I believe that this narrative needed to be provided in order to explain my current position this season. I want to compete seriously but I am even further limited. An unfortunate dilemma to say the least!
A Worlds Recap
That’s enough about my story though. I was still able to make it to Washington, DC and frankly I was overwhelmed by the kindness of the community in my struggles. Naturally, not possessing any cards could have made making a deck very difficult, but a countless number of people (many of which I was hardly acquainted with) offered me cards and solemnly swore that I could borrow whatever I wanted. Many people (myself included) have always talked about how the Pokémon community is one of easily the best around and after an incident like this, I have no doubt that this is the case.
My thought process going into the tournament is that I wanted to play Blastoise. I had constructed a list that was testing very well and had a lot of faith in my trusty old friend, but the decision about whether or not this would be “the play” largely depended on how much Garbodor I thought would be in the main event. I eventually concluded that I expected quite a bit and opted not to let Deluge carry me for one final event (though perhaps we will ride again in extended this year). Despite the large appearance of Virizion/Genesect decks, Daniel Altavilla took an impressive (and I’m sure very heartbreaking) 9th place and Brandon Cantu made top 32 with the deck, so perhaps I could have had a stellar performance as well!
My next option was the Team R Aromatisse list that I had helped test and perfect (and was later taken by most of X-Files, see Mikey Fouchet’s most recent article for more on this). I felt that this would be an appropriate play for the event and I had the deck sleeved and ready by the time of competitor check in. However, as I stood in line to pick up my goody bag, I began talking to Dustin Zimmerman, a fellow Hovercat and possibly the best player that I consider a close friend. He told me about the Flygon/Dusknoir/Miltank deck that he planned on playing for the main event and it had me intrigued. I knew that Frank Diaz had piloted the deck to a top 16 finish at Nationals this year and had an unfortunate pairing to Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX with Max Potion.
After checking in, Dustin and I played a handful of games and he dominated me each time. I was now sold on this cute deck and believed that it was going to perform very well. Here is the list that I got from Dustin:
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 37
Energy – 6
This deck hasn’t been talked about much, so I will try to explain it as quickly as possible. Many people wonder why one would choose this combination of cards over the more popular Accelgor variant and my response is that this puts out much more damage and is much stronger against decks that feature Virizion-EX. It is more focused around Miltank, Mewtwo-EX, and Dusknoir, while the Flygon component is a secondary concern. It works very well and I am very happy with how the deck turned out (something that I don’t think could be said about any of my other deck choices at Worlds this year).
Dustin, Frank, and I all played the deck for the main event, but none of us did very well. However, Senior National Champion Ishaan Jagiasi made top 8 with a very similar list, so congrats to him! My own performance was riddled with being paired up against Lugia twice (an auto-loss for any Flygon variant, though I did go to Game 3 against the French player who made top 8 with Lugia/Skates). However, as they say in the Super Smash Bros community, “no johns” and so no more sob stories from me! Perhaps this is an indication that the deck was not as good as we had thought, but I think that it was simply variance. I think Miltank and friends have an excellent matchup against Virizion/Genesect, which was the superstar of 2014 Worlds. However, I do not think the deck will have much of a place in the upcoming format, since Landorus-EX is one of its biggest difficulties.
The next big question to address would be to try and explain why Virizion/Genesect performed so well. This has been quite a mystery to me and while many of the UG articles before this one have been looking forward to the next format, I cannot help but be entrapped by this. The deck is and will always be very good. It is naturally able to fit a ton of consistency cards seeing that all the deck really needs to function is G Booster and G Energies. Andrew Estrada, Igor Costa, Paulo Silva, and many others proved that they were not afraid of Pyroar. I’m not too sure why Fire wasn’t more popular, as I don’t think there were many good ways to counter it. I think people simply decided that they didn’t want to play it, or convinced themselves that the lack of its surprise factor made it not worth playing. I’d have to ask someone like Michael Pramawat why they opted against it.
A Counter-Argument to “Smart Mistakes”
If you have not had the time to read Erik Nance’s most recent article, I highly recommend it. As always, he has produced an excellent piece and I wholeheartedly believe that his content is the best that SixPrizes has to offer. I found myself agreeing with many of his points, as they seemed to map onto my issues with our conception of consistency and how this can lead us astray.
He says, “When ‘knowledge’ becomes common, it’s hard to see things working any other way,” and it is mentalities like this that lead us to unquestioningly play the same Supporter count again and again and rebel against anyone who proposes something different.
However, as the article moves forward, I did find that I disagreed with part of his thesis. As always, my disagreement does not immediately suppose my rightness and his wrongness, but rather it opens up a channel for further dialogue and deliberation and before I get into the main part of my article, I want to address this concern.
Erik talks about how sometimes a player will overly commit themselves to consistency which can be understood as a “smart mistake”: a misjudgment that has good intentions but is ultimately unnecessary.
For instance, I believe his point is that sometimes when we focus our aims on “consistency,” that we can oversaturate our deck with unnecessary cards. I do think that this can be the case sometimes. I can recall decks that I have made in the past where one of my deck’s main selling points would be that it played 14 draw Supporters AND Skyla or something along those lines. This may sound good, but a lot of the time, I would just get a hand of three Colress, two N, and a Virbank and end up missing that crucial Energy drop. I believe that this is a good portion of Erik’s argument, which I completely agree with; however there are a few points that I would like to contest.
First, he talks about his confusion of Yveltal/Garbodor players opting to play four copies of Yveltal-EX, which he believes is unnecessary. Of course, you’ll never need more than three Yveltal-EX since if your opponent Knocks Out three, the fourth obviously does not matter as the game is over. However, as I am one of those players who opted to play four (in my list at US Nationals, along with Jason Klaczynski at Worlds), let me argue my position.
For one, including four copies of a Pokémon in your deck indicates that you want the highest probability of starting with it in your opening hand. I do not remember the precise statistic, but I believe the difference between playing three copies versus four is fairly low, but sometimes it is important to value opening with your preferred starting over other things. Having four Yveltal-EX also helped the deck function under the framework that one needed three Yveltal to win any given game, and so playing four reduced the risk of losing a game based on Prizes.
Additionally, in constructing our list for Nationals, Jeremy Jallen and I wanted four Yveltal-EX because it would (ideally) give us something useful to Y Cyclone to every time. To preserve your precious DCEs allows you to pump out massive Evil Balls multiple times throughout a game, which is one of the biggest selling points of an Yveltal deck. Four copies may not be necessary, but to refer to it as a mistake (even a smart one) seems incorrect to me.
Finally, Erik states that “At Nationals this year, I ended up playing two Yveltal-EX with a Super Rod as insurance. I basically played with an extra card over all those players who used four Yveltal-EX,” and I think this train of thought is entirely incorrect. There is a world of difference between playing a Super Rod as a kind of “insurance” and equating your Super Rod to additional copies of a card. What I mean is that the card does not guarantee your Yveltal-EX immediately, and you still have the issue of finding these Pokémon once again. Of course, this is not a difficult task, but it does require another card if not more and when one compares this to the simplicity of drawing into or fetching with an Ultra Ball, I can think that it is easy to see the difference.
To say that you have accomplished the same aim as a player who opted to play four Yveltal-EX with two Yveltal-EX and a Super Rod seems like faulty logic to me. In addition to the issue with needing to re-find the cards that Super Rod has put back into the deck, you also have an issue of timing where you might not be able to play the card at the right time or you might be forced to play it before you have the proper cards in the discard and so on. As one final point on this issue, I would like to point out that (I believe) Erik played Yveltal/Raichu at Nationals, which is an entirely different deck than Yveltal/Garbodor and so perhaps that is a possible explanation for this disagreement.
The next point I would like to contest is Erik’s issue with people playing an unnecessary count of cards simply for the sake of consistency. I pointed out earlier how I largely agree with this contention (as it complements my previous writings on consistency), but his example of Ultra Ball does not sit well with me. While it may be true that some decks do not need to play four copies of Ultra Ball since they do not have any Evolutions or play a low number of Basic Pokémon, it is important to remember that Ultra Ball does much more than just fetch Pokémon.
The card’s requirement of discarding to two cards helps you thin out your deck by removing unnecessary cards or even cards that you want to discard. The minutia of Ultra Ball allows you to prepare for those pesky late-game Ns and also optimize your draws throughout the game. While you may not “need” four Ultra Ball, it can always serve a purpose by searching for a Pokémon you know you don’t want to draw into later; so you fetch it and then discard it with a Professor Sycamore. Furthermore, in Dark decks of format past, maximizing Ultra Ball allowed you to quickly place D Energy in the discard to make your Dark Patches “live” and potentially make your Bicycles more effective. Implementation of Ultra Ball in this manner could make the difference between a first turn Junk Hunt and the promised land of a first turn Night Spear.
Outside of these two minor points, I think Erik’s article is spot-on and I would highly recommend reading it before you build your next tournament deck. I look forward to reading responses to these issues as well!
Two Different Playstyles
As always, I do have something I want to talk about in my article and now that we have finished with our synopses and general bookkeeping, I want to get to my main points for today! I want to talk about the difference between “playing not to lose” and “playing to win.” This may sound a little odd, but I think that it is probably the simplest thing that I have written about so far! Before we begin, some quick clarification.
When I say “playstyle,” I am directly referring to how one plays within any given game. This is in reference to their methodology, so a “playstyle” refers to how one discards, attacks, promotes and so worth. What I am not referring to is a “playstyle” in the sense of an aggressive deck versus a control deck and so on. I am an avid believer that this latter concept is a bunch of nonsense and that an authentic “good player” can, and will, perform well with any given deck because they are attuned to the game itself and are not making silly excuses like, “Well I only do well with aggressive decks because they fit my playstyle.” Certainly, I think a person can like one kind of deck over another, but this is not the same thing as arguing that you are better or worse with a deck.
1. Playing to Win
I think this kind of playstyle is how most people attempt to orient their game toward and most of the time, there is nothing wrong with this. What I mean by playing to win is that a player becomes aware of the goals and aims of their deck and orients their play to fit this end. By playing to win, a player will be hesitant to arbitrarily discard Supporters or key Item cards and will avoid unfavorable positions like taking a Prize on an arbitrary non-EX to allow their opponent to N them to one.
This type of play is an awareness that winning a game is a deeper concept than just racing your opponent to take 6 Prizes. Sometimes, this will even feature the abandonment of trying to take 6 Prizes and the use unconventional methods to try to deck your opponent or run them out of switching cards and Energy.
2. Playing Not to Lose
This mentality is a much different one, but I think one that the best players have mastered, which is part of the reason that they always do well despite the continual simplification of formats. Playing not to lose takes the awareness of playing to win one step further. Not only is it the awareness of the goals and aims of a deck, but it also taps into surviving. While this may sound overly simplistic or even redundant (but such is my point), it is important to note that it takes more to win any given match than just playing to win: you must win and also not lose. I’m sure many of you are probably confused and wondering what on earth I am possibly talking about, but let me give you an example.
Rewind a few weeks and we find myself in round four of the World Championships. I am paired against a Yveltal/Garbodor player from Brazil and after a long and intense first game, my pals Miltank and Flygon were able to take a narrow win. My opponent and I have both shuffled up and expectedly, I will be going second this game. I open with a lone Miltank and a handful of Supporters and no other Pokémon while my opponent has a fairly modest start and uses a Hypnotoxic Laser and an attach.
Analyzing the board, it is obvious to see that I will lose the game if I am unable to find another Pokémon. I draw for turn and analyze my hand: N, N, Professor Juniper, Skyla, Colress, Colress, Energy, Muscle Band. Unfortunately, I do not have the means of accessing another Pokémon without a Supporter and the Benches are too small for Colress to be a consideration — thus I am left with several options.
Naturally, all of them include me attaching the Energy and the Muscle Band to my Poisoned Miltank, but what are my other options?
- I can play the N to conserve all my Supporters and hope that my new hand of six nets me another Pokémon so that the game can continue.
- I can play the Skyla for a Level Ball or an Ultra Ball, which will net me a Pokémon, thus allowing the game to continue, and then I can simply play another one of my Supporters next turn.
- I can play the Juniper, abandoning many of my consistency cards, seeing as my draw will net me the highest amount of cards, which should increase my chances of surviving.
So which option do you think it would be best for me to go with? I believe that “playing to win” fits nicely under option one. It takes a look at my hand and understands that I will likely need all these Supporter cards to keep tempo in the game and so naturally, I should not want to discard them. The N may have lower chances of getting another Basic, but it does the best job of preserving my resources.
The Skyla play is an interesting one as it is the only one that can “guarantee” that I am allowed to take another turn. However, it feels a bit slow, no? I get another Pokémon, but this specific scenario was already operating under the assumption that my Miltank would be Knocked Out, so even if I acquire another Pokémon, I am in basically in the exact same scenario at the start of my second turn.
The Juniper option seems very costly, but ultimately I think it is the correct one. It is my belief that “playing not to lose” is understanding that sometimes the “right” decision can be ugly and costly but not losing is a requirement to winning. The other options have the potential to appear correct, but I think that they both leave a lot to be desired compared to the third option. Of course, it is important to point out that while I do believe that “playing not to lose” is always correct, that does not mean that you’ll be given what you were aiming for. In this game, for instance, my Professor Juniper netted me a bunch of garbage and I unfortunately was unable to find another Pokémon to Bench, while it is possible that I could have N’d myself into five Pokémon and Tropical Beach.
Another example of this distinction between “playing to win” and “playing not to lose” comes from some old Top Cut videos from 2012 States. I remember watching many of Dustin Zimmerman’s games with Celebi Prime/Mewtwo-EX/Tornadus EPO and seeing him consistently discarding lots of Supporters with Professor Juniper. A lot of people wrote off this play as simply being “YOLO” and said that he merely got lucky to win, but I think that it is a good example of Dustin being in tune with “playing not to lose.”
This specific format featured all those Mewtwo wars that many complain about and if your opponent became aggressive with a Mewtwo with many energy cards, you had to respond as quickly as possible. The game state then shifted from “I need to conserve these Supporters in order to maintain consistent draw throughout the game,” to a more simplistic and emphatic “IF I DON’T Knock Out MEWTWO THIS TURN I LOSE.” Players like Dustin are able to see this shift in board state, which removes the importance of resource conversation and places it on surviving and maintaining a tempo.
Once again, I have tried to add another piece to the large puzzle of “what I think it means to be an authentic player,” and always “playing not to lose” is certainly part of my grander project. I hope it made sense and I look forward to answering questions or concerns and potentially adding to my own position. As stated at the beginning of the article, I do want to be competitive once again this season, but I am at an obvious crossroads. It is highly likely than most of my payment for this article will go toward trying to recreate a collection! I do have faith that these things will work themselves out but I suppose we will just have to wait and see.
On a side note, I do think that our Standard format is incredibly strong right now and I hope to be able to test more games and maybe even attend some Regionals in October. Extended format, however, is a big mystery for me and I hope that TPCi clarifies many of these concerns in the future.
Until next time!
…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.
After 45 days, we unlock each Underground (UG/★) article for public viewing. New articles are reserved for Underground members.
Underground Members: Thank you 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.