This past month was an exceptionally good one for the Pokémon TCG. In my mind this is the best the game has been in a long time. Originality is at an all-time high, gameplay is deep, and skill is forefront. Who’d have thought that we’d see so many different variations of Seismitoad emerge or that Donphan would become a tier 1 deck?
At Phoenix Regionals, in the nine rounds on day 1, I played against six different archetypes. Even in matches against the same deck, lists varied greatly. I love seeing variation in lists as I feel diversification keeps the game fresh. You might be matched up against Yveltal and wondering “Do they play Raichu?” “Garbodor?” “3 or 4 Muscle Band?” There are many little unknown nuances in the air which keep you on your toes.
I’m going to begin this article with a recap of my trip to the Phoenix Regional Championships. I’ll discuss my teched out Seismitoad list, which I’m extremely proud of, then move on to card predictions for Cities and decks I feel have a good chance of carrying over to the new format.
Table of Contents
I can’t even begin to describe how amazing of a weekend this was. It was full of good food, good friends, and of course Pokémon. I suppose I should focus on the later, but it truly was great taking in the culture of Arizona.
Heading into the tournament, I was feeling pretty good about my deck choice. Much of my early testing revolved around Seismitoad-EX and Landorus-EX. Essentially I was pairing the two strongest Pokémon in the game together. This led me to start looking for a hard counter to the deck and I arrived at Virizion/Genesect. In my mind (although I was not totally accurate, looking back) I felt I was testing the two strongest decks in the format.
This, of course, led me to look for a deck that was strong against both of them and in a way this brought me full circle. What I came up with through both theorizing and testing was that Seismitoad beat one half of the format and Pyroar beat the other half. I figured many players would run Seismitoad, but very few would tech as heavily for the mirror match as I was willing to. Decks would have trouble beating Item lock when I designed my list around keeping ‘Toad alive. Virizion/Genesect was naturally a very big threat, but Pyroar has a strong matchup against V/G.
My desire to play Pyroar went deeper than just having a strong matchup against Virizion/Genesect. Heading into Regionals, I discussed decks and lists with many of the top players in the game. Their attitude and mine was that Pyroar was simply “not consistent enough to play” and “nobody good would play Pyroar.” The overall consensus was that if you survived the first couple of rounds you would be in the clear. The thought process started reminding me of Klinklang from 2012.
At this point I realized I wanted to play Pyroar in some form, though I agreed that Pyroar was too inconsistent to play by itself and I wasn’t willing to take a quick loss to any Stage 2 decks. This is when I started crafting my Seismitoad/Pyroar deck, and honestly, I’m extremely proud of the list. It took a lot of time and testing, but every card count was chosen for a reason and the deck played beautifully.
Let’s take a look at the list and then I’ll go in-depth on some of my card counts and choices:
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 35
Energy – 11
I could realistically see myself forcing my opponent to Knock Out 3 Seismitoad-EX to win the game. I figured 4 would be overkill since I had other attackers and the list is tight. Many of the lists that play 4 Seismitoad-EX only plan on attacking with Seismitoad, but I wanted other options.
The week before the tournament I had a 1-1 split between Mewtwo-EX and Charizard-EX FLF 12, but I found that Charizard was too hard to power up and wasn’t really needed. The 2nd copy of Mewtwo-EX came up huge for me time and time again.
3-3 Pyroar FLF
Playing a full 4-4 Pyroar, I felt, was too much — both due to room and the number of tech spots I was willing to devote to Pyroar support such as Blacksmith. Once again, I emphasize that this is a Seismitoad deck that plays Pyroar, and not the other way around. A 2-2 line was far too thin to have any real impact on a game and certainly not enough to beat Virizion/Genesect consistently. A slow start on my part, bad Prizes, and early Lysandre for them — or a whole host of other plausible scenarios could happen.
2 Jynx FFI
This is one of the most underrated cards in the format right now in my opinion. The difference between a KO and not a KO comes up to be just 10 damage quite often. However, the main reason I played Jynx was to have an edge in the Seismitoad mirrors. Hitting for small amounts of damage like 30 damage or 50 damage are dramatically impacted by healing 10 damage each turn. A Seismitoad-EX hitting for 50 damage would take 4 attacks to Knock Out another Seismitoad-EX. However, if Jynx is in play it would take 5 turns instead.
I really don’t understand all the hate for Jirachi-EX. The only real threat is opening with him. Outside of that, I’ll only bench him if I’m going to net a Prize because of him or I’m drawing dead and I’m going to most likely lose if I don’t. In both situations, Jirachi being an EX doesn’t really matter.
Note: I really want to emphasize that 80%-90% of the decks in the format should be playing Jirachi-EX. I cringe when I see players forego playing Jirachi altogether. It makes me really want to scream “Play Jirachi-EX!”
This may seem like a pretty odd split, but it played really well for me. Colress can be kind of an awkward Supporter and normally not one that you want to see in an opening hand. The 2/1 split slightly decreased my odds of being stuck with a lone Colress in the early game.
I started off playing 4 copies of Skyla and then cut down to 3 copies before finally settling at 2 copies. Skyla is pointless in Seismitoad exchanges and in many cases you’re only using it to search out a Professor Juniper. 2 copies felt like the perfect number, since I always saw them when I needed them, but they never clogged my hand.
As I’ve stated several times throughout this deck breakdown, I always saw the deck as a Seismitoad deck that played Pyroar. Rushing Pyroar or getting it charged up quickly was never an issue. The 1 copy of Blacksmith was a nice tech that could be searched out with Jirachi and was a little extra Energy acceleration. I think a lot of my opponents saw 1 copy, but figured I played more. In a sense, it may have been seen as a bigger threat than it really was.
This was a tech that I originally got from Michael Slutsky, but I also saw it pop up in other circles. It seemed to be a card that players didn’t take seriously and was constantly mocked as a joke Supporter.
However, that was also the strength of the card, as it was very easily searchable with Jirachi-EX. If you played a copy of Pokémon Center Lady and your opponent didn’t, then it made Seismitoad mirror matches incredibly favorable. By devoting just 3 multipurpose spots in my deck (2 Jynx FFI and 1 Pokémon Center Lady), I made an incredibly popular matchup very favorable.
I really haven’t made up my mind on the deck running Bike. The deck “feels” faster with it, but looking back over the course of the tournament I can’t really remember a time when Bike was huge or really helped me out.
My 62nd card in the deck was a 2nd Switch or 3rd Float Stone, but space got the better of me. The 3 switching cards played a lot better than they look on paper. I can only think of one time where I would have been really in trouble had I whiffed a switching card, but I got lucky and hit it off of a Professor Juniper.
Only playing 1 copy is bad and all I can say is don’t do it. I didn’t get punished for this nearly as much as I probably should have. I was sitting at 61 cards and didn’t know what to drop.
Dedenne is a really good opener against any deck, and great for getting more than one Pyroar into play quickly. It obviously shines the most in the Yveltal matchup, which I found to be about 50-50 if they played Garbodor. Your opponent simply knowing you play Dedenne can stop them from going all-in with an Yveltal-EX or you can punish them if they do. Even if you have to drop it early and they Lysandre it up it still takes pressure off of the rest of your board.
Virbank City Gym, on the other hand, is a bit trickier to figure out counts on. I got away with playing only 1 copy because I played against so many Yveltal decks that were more than happy to throw down their own copy. Heading into weeks 2 and 3 and the huge increase in Donphan changed my view on this pretty dramatically. In the Donphan match, ideally you bounce their Fighting Stadium at key points.
I’d play 3 copies to help achieve that, but I don’t think it’s feasible to play that many with the limited space in the deck. Playing 2 copies is considerably better than playing only 1 copy, but it still puts you in situations where you need to try and time a Virbank drop followed by N or find some other point you’re confident your opponent won’t get another Fighting Stadium in play on their turn.
Heading into Cities, Item lock is so powerful that I don’t see Seismitoad not being popular. I feel Virizion/Genesect is still one of the best decks in the format, so I think Seismitoad/Pyroar is still a huge threat. I haven’t tested the Donphan matchup at all yet, but I feel it’s probably pretty close. Gengar on the other hand would probably make for a much harder match.
Phoenix – Day 1
R1: Yveltal/Darkrai – LL (no Pyroar counter)
R2: Plasma – WW (1-1 or 2-2 Leafeon)
R3: Fighting/Garbodor – WW (Garbodor)
R4: Yveltal/Darkrai – WW (no Pyroar counter)
R5: Seismitoad/Victini/Raichu – WW (Raichu)
R6: Yveltal/Darkrai – WW (no Pyroar counter)
R7: Yveltal/Scizor/Garbodor – WW (Scizor/1-1 Garbodor)
R8: Virizion/Genesect – ID (Lasers/G Booster)
R9: Yveltal/Darkrai – WLT (no Pyroar counter)
I want break down a few of my rounds and talk about some things I’ve learned and look back at some mistakes I made as well.
My round 1 opponent was Travis McCain playing a straight Yveltal/Darkrai deck. I basically only tested against the Garbodor variant of Yveltal since that is a much tougher matchup. This got me in the mindset “they play Garbodor until I know otherwise,” when in the later rounds my attitude changed to “they don’t play Garbodor until I know otherwise.” Assuming he played Garbodor, I arranged my attackers so he had 5 non-Pyroar Prizes then my double Pyroar. In the end he was able to take the 5 non-Pyroar Prizes due to playing 3 Lysandre (at the time I figured 2) and then he Knocked Out 1 Pyroar partially due to a good Laser flip on his part (he got heads and I got tails) and then I whiffed a DCE to retreat at another point. I don’t really remember how those came together, but I remember those being the two keys.
In rounds 3 and 4, I played against Fighting decks with Garbodor. I don’t really know how to classify them any better; they were standard Lucario-EX/Landorus-EX/Mewtwo-EX/Hawlucha/Garbodor decks. I ended up 2-0’ing both of them in semi-close games, but type advantage was always on my side. I have two takeaway points I want to mention from these matchups:
First, Dedenne with a Muscle Band can Knock Out a Hawlucha. I didn’t run the Dedenne, but I really didn’t have a solid answer to the Hawlucha. Both of my opponents only ran 1 or 2 copies of them. Had they run higher counts it would have been a much tougher matchup.
Second, my round 4 opponent was a really nice woman at the start of the match and we had some friendly conversation before we started playing. We both had our little shares of luck in the game including her hitting a Float Stone/F Energy off her T1 Juniper and me hitting a crucial Switch off of a Colress for 7 in the mid game. Toward the end of the game, she started making little comments about how lucky I was getting and how unlucky she was getting. The game ended after I N’d her into a dead hand and had a Mewtwo/DCE to answer her Mega Lucario (a play I saw coming for several turns and had been ready).
Game 2 started with me getting a quick Seismitoad-EX and basically just Item locking her the whole game. Once again, she commented on how lucky I was getting and how unlucky she was getting. I simply smiled, made some comment about getting a lot of lucky breaks, and signed the match slip before wishing her luck and walking off.
I tried to be a good sport about things, knowing I had the win and this wasn’t the time to start a debate. However, it wasn’t all luck how our games ended up. In Game 1 she drew dead off of an N while I always had an out, but I am a consistency nut and play 16 consistency cards. In Game 2, she got stuck with only multiple Korrinas as her Supporters (due to Seismitoad, which my deck is designed to set up ASAP). She played a Supporter lineup that was incredibly weak to Seismitoad. In the one turn I did give her with Items she played an Ultra Ball, but she ended up not running Jirachi-EX.
Maybe her list was perfect and the techs she played over consistency were the right call, but what happened in Game 1 was the risk of that. In Game 2 maybe high counts of Korrina and not running Jirachi-EX was the right call overall, but what happened was a risk of those preferences. When building your deck you need to make judgment calls and understand the risks and rewards of certain card choices. You can’t complain when you end up on the wrong side of a game because of your choices. I played Jirachi-EX and was lucky enough never to start with it, but if I had I would have smiled and realized it was a calculated risk I took.
Phoenix – Day 2
When I was testing for Arizona, I didn’t spend very much time worrying or preparing for day 2. My goal was always to just get to day 2 and it didn’t help my case that none of my friends had Expanded decks built. The only decent Expanded deck that I even brought with me was Plasma/Lugia. I honestly figured out of the 12 people staying at Jeremy Jallen’s house maybe 3 or 4 would make day 2 and the amount of day 2 decks available to everyone would be greater than the demand.
Well, in the end, 8 out of the 12 people made day 2, which created a very awkward (and, looking back, quite humorous) “Big Brother/reality show” type of situation where nobody really wanted to talk about strategy or say what they were going to play. People would kind of secretly wander around and talk in little groups and try to get hints or advice. Yet nobody wanted to step out and say, “I’m going to play this,” out of fear the rest would choose a counter.
By the time morning rolled around, I was honestly considering straight Pyroar, but didn’t have Beaches on me. However, I didn’t want to yell out I was playing Pyroar (in hindsight maybe I should have). Instead I slyly filled out my Speed Plasma list and figured with a few good matchups and a bit luck I would be on my way to top 8:
Pokémon – 10
Trainers – 37
Energy – 13
R10: Pyroar – LL
R11: Yveltal/Darkrai – WLW
R12: Yveltal/Darkrai – WLW
R13: Pyroar – LL
R14: Virizion/Genesect – LWL
(26 points, 18th place)
The deck played a lot better in testing than it actually performed that day. I was normally hitting a huge T2 Lugia a good percentage of the time, but I didn’t hit it once on day 2. Obviously I was going to lose the two matches against Pyroar, and Yveltal is always a close matchup; I just ended up on the right side of it the two times I played against it day 2. My last round was the only round I feel like the matchup was in my favor, but I wasn’t able to pull it out. Game 1 I prized 2 Deoxys-EX and the 3rd game was back and forth, but some well-timed Enhanced Hammers and poor draws on my part put the game in his favor.
Given another chance, I would have played Pyroar; however these are the changes I would have made to my Speed Plasma list:
The 1 copy of N I played came up huge for me repeatedly. It gets such a bad rap with the deck because of how fast you’re supposed to go up in Prizes. However, a very common situation I found myself in is mid game I would N me and my opponent into a smaller hand and than Plasma Gale for a few Prizes. The end result is my opponent would have a small hand and I would be back up to a decent sized one.
As much as I hate to admit it, Roller Skates is still probably the best option for the deck, but I am looking at making the Item draw engine more revolved around Bikes, so I’m thinking of playing cards like Maintenance and mixing Ultra Ball in with my Team Plasma Ball count.
Despite my lackluster performance on day 2-of Phoenix Regionals, I think this deck has a lot of potential heading into Cities. I can’t argue this new set didn’t do the deck any favors by bringing back Enhanced Hammer and adding Team Flare Tools to the mix. However, the way the meta seems to be shifting makes the deck a solid contender.
Issues with TOM
Overall, my experience in Phoenix was extremely positive. I was alright with no lunch break and I did prefer to simply play the day straight through. We got done at a reasonable time and at the end of the day had time to go out for dinner and still be home around 10 PM. I’m also still a pretty big fan of the best-of-three format as it allowed for some really great series. I brought some snacks with me, drank water all day, and didn’t find the long days close to the athletic grind that some people make them out to be.
As for the negative, I was matched up against the same player twice on day 2. I’ve written about the unfortunate event on Facebook and submitted it as feedback to TPCi.
My only other complaint on the weekend is that I wasn’t a huge fan of Expanded. Basically every card that I feel was too unbalanced or inaccessible to the playerbase was back, namely Dark Patch, Accelgor DEX, and Tropical Beach. Next year we can add Hypnotoxic Laser to that list as well. I would be fine if Expanded was kept as an alternative way to play League Challenges, but I didn’t like it in the high-stakes rounds of Regionals.
Maybe the more I test the format and find decks I really like, the more I’ll enjoy Expanded. However, I would have preferred to play my Standard format deck the whole tournament.
Ft. Wayne Non-Regionals
Last week was an absolute disaster for me even though it sort of ended up alright. Originally, it looked like I was going to be able to have the weekend off like I normally do and attend Ft. Wayne. But I clocked a 56-hour workweek and still had to remain on call for the weekend. To make a long story short, it involved a baby, a lot of extra work, and another co-worker we weren’t sure was going to make it in for the weekend.
I spent all week going back and forth on what deck to play. I felt really comfortable with Seismitoad/Pyroar, but I really wanted to play Donphan. I had no idea how Donphan vs. Seismitoad/Pyroar would play out, which left me uneasy about playing the former. I also had no experience with Donphan, but the deck seemed relatively straightforward enough that I could get by on not testing.
Therefore, with no testing and only brief conversations I was going to play this:
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 34
Energy – 11
Moving forward and looking toward Cities, this is a deck that I’m going to spend a lot of time testing. It’s extremely adaptable to any sort of meta and can be built or teched to handle just about any matchup. Looking forward, it seems it would be favorable against Mega Manectric and a more well-rounded deck than Mega Gengar. It’s also not Weak to the EX-hating cards coming in the set as well.
As usual for me, I didn’t attend any Phantom Forces Prereleases, since I always seem to be the type of guy that pulls only rares while the two young kids next to me pull 2 EXs each. However, I do still get excited when we finally have a full set list. Having a full a set list in front of me along with missing my 2nd Regionals has given me time to start looking forward to Cities. I want to take a look at a few of the decks I’m going to start my testing and also make some predictions.
1. I actually think the Team Flare Tools will see a minimum amount of play. They only target EXs and you have to get them into play before the opponent gets a Muscle Band or another of their own Tools down first.
Between the two, I think Jamming Net is stronger than Head Ringer because it has benefit even once the opponent sets up. With Head Ringer you may get benefit out of it if you’re able to hit it early, but in the mid and late game throwing it on a Pokémon that already is fully powered will only force your opponent to need 1 additional Energy. Most likely, we’ll probably see 1-1 or 2-1 splits from people that do decide to play them.
2. I think Enhanced Hammer will see play in large variety of decks. It’s also another reason that the Team Flare Tools will see minimal amount of play. Decks only have so much space they can devote to tech cards and Enhanced Hammer is universally better across the board. Almost every deck plays Special Energy, but not every deck plays EXs.
3. VS Seeker will see widespread play. This will be the 2nd time VS Seeker is reprinted and despite it not seeing much play in past formats it will be in nearly every deck now. In the past formats we never had such diverse Supporter lineups where we played so many 1-ofs or 2-ofs nor did we have Jirachi-EX to search them out. However, it’s important to remember that VS Seeker is not a Supporter so it’s a dead card until you get a Supporter in the discard pile worth getting back. Players still need to be careful playing extremely low Supporter counts thinking that 3 or 4 VS Seekers make up the difference.
I’m starting off with 1 or 2 being my standard number in most of my decks depending on how varied their Supporter lineup is. I think it will be a pretty safe 1-of in a lot of lists, but 3 or 4 copies seems like overkill.
This month there was so much information that I wanted to cover. I love the format and I love the direction the game is heading. Of course, after my experience in Arizona, I feel like TOM needs a hard look.
The format is so diverse right now, with so many different decks being playable. Beyond different decks being played, we also see a lot of variation within individual archetypes. Techs like Pokémon Center Lady and Dedenne FFI can swing matchups dramatically.
The Expanded format definitely seems to be a weakness of mine and something I’ll spend more time working on. I absolutely prefer to play Standard and thankfully that’s the format for Cities. Many invites will be won or lost over the next couple of months. Right now, I’m going to keep testing new ideas and enjoy our excellent format.
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