It’s All Gravy

The Proper Playtesting Process and Potent Plays for Cities
boston skyline early morningcommons.wikimedia.org
Location of Worlds 2015: Boston, Massachusetts

As others have been saying recently, this is the most exciting time of the year. Not only are City Championships on the horizon, but the information for the 2015 Pokémon World Championships has finally leaked.

News of Worlds being in Boston and the prizes drastically increasing has gotten me more motivated to play this game than I have been in some time. After Worlds 2014 there was a lack of information regarding this current season and a lull in tournaments after Autumn Regionals. With this new information and Cities almost here I am ecstatic to be playing Pokémon and writing about it again.

With that said, I am going to spend a majority of this article to talking about potential plays for City Championships. The decks I will be focusing on are Yveltal, Donphan, Virizion/Genesect, and . This format is wide open right now; there are a plethora of playable decks. These are four decks are the decks I have the most experience with in this new format, and some of them I will likely end up playing.

If the 300 Championship Point threshold to get into day one of World sticks, Cities could net you two-thirds of your invite. That is insane. I have always been an advocate for emphasizing how important Cities are toward attaining a Worlds invite, and this new announcement only solidifies my thoughts. I plan to get my Worlds invite this season and I have been testing extensively for these upcoming City Championships. Before I get to talking about decks for Cities though, I want to touch on the playtesting process itself.

Table of Contents

The Proper Playtesting Process

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Recognize when to call back a cooked bird.

Playtesting is arguably one of the most important aspects of becoming successful in any competitive trading card game tournament. It’s just common sense that the more you practice the better you will perform. Some people don’t have all the time in the world to playtest unfortunately, so it’s crucial to maximize the quality of the testing you actually do have time for. Here are the steps I take to make the most of my playtesting:

1. Diversify decks.

Far too often I will see two players sit down at League and play the same matchup over and over when one one of the decks is clearly disadvantaged. What is the point in playtesting against an auto-win more than a handful of times? What do you and your opponent gain from the experience? Likely nothing.

If you are in a situation where an uneven matchup is the only one available to test test you should at least tech out the weaker deck so it has a chance. There is no value in mindlessly destroying an auto-win over and over again. Diversify your testing! There are so many decks in this format, so there are a lot of decks you need to test against. Once you have one matchup figured out move on to the next most popular deck you need practice against.

2. Gather pure results.

Getting what I will call pure results are an important part of my playtesting regiment. What this means is that when I playtest I want the matchups to be played out to the best of their ability; I want the most optimal plays to be made every turn. This means I will allow takebacks in playtesting. I don’t want to record a win for a deck if the win was the result of a silly misplay. I think taking back misplays should be the standard in playtesting as long as both players recognize the misplay and learn from it.

In order to achieve pure results I will often ask for advice during my turn in order to decipher the optimal play. Having a teammate or friend talk you through a turn can drastically improve your strategy. Two heads are better than one in most scenarios. One could argue that this is a bad idea because you won’t be able to ask for help during a tournament. Well, to me the point of playtesting is to figure out the best way to play a matchup and then practice that method until you execute it flawlessly. If asking for advice is needed in order to see the correct plays, then do it. It’s fine to ask for help as long as you learn and are able to then play correctly by yourself in a tournament setting.

3. Test under stress.

At points in the playtesting process I like to take a few matches seriously, as if I were in a tournament setting. This means timing the games and playing them without help to the best of my ability. This is usually the last step in the testing process unless I am extremely concerned about a deck being able to win on time. If a new deck idea I come up with is performing extremely well, but games are taking well over an hour and I find the deck is losing on time during a stress test, I have a problem. Either I need to play faster or the deck is actually just too slow for tournament play.

I think it is crucial to practice while timing a match so you can get a feel for how fast your deck is in relation to the time limit. You might find that the more you playtest the faster you will be able to make the correct decisions and time may become less of an issue, if it ever was.

4. Play online with purpose.

Playtesting online, more specifically PTCGO, has proven to be a pivotal part of people’s testing regiment. Especially if they introduce PTCGO to not only iPads, but to other mobile devices in the future. Playtesting online is much more convenient than finding time to play in real life. Dylan Lefavour and I were talking about this recently. He said he can crank out ten games in an hour sometimes on PTCGO because it is so fast and convenient.

The only issues with PTCGO are that you may not get to play against meta decks or competent players. PTCGO is very good at letting you get a feel for whatever deck you are playing and can occasionally match you up against a good player and you will have a fantastic game. I do have access to PTCGO and occasionally play on it.

My approach when playing on PTCGO is the same approach I take when playing Hearthstone: I tend to think about all lines of play and decipher which line makes the most sense in my position. I ask myself questions like, “What will happen if I do this? Will that put me in a good position, or will my opponent be able to answer that play easily? What is the worst-case scenario if I make this play?”

I tend to think through my turns and take my time. This helps me learn how to play a deck. I am able to take more away from a testing session when I do this as opposed to making the first play I see and just going with it. It is very easy to mindlessly crank out games online and not think about my turns. I could do this and get a higher quantity of games in, but the quality will be lacking, and the quality is what is more important for me.

With every game of Pokémon you play you should be able to take something away from it. This could mean recognizing a move that you did correctly or a tactic that you employed incorrectly. It could also be something you noticed about your deck itself. “Oh, I really liked this tech!” Or, “My tech was completely useless against the matchup it was intended for.” Observations of this nature are what I am referring to. I find that I tend to learn more when I lose at games as opposed to when I win. Winning is teaching; losing is learning.

Baleful Bird

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We had a great run, buddy. #besties4life

Yveltal has been my comfort deck, my rock, my weapon for the longest time. It has stood the test of time. Even after being neutered with the loss of Dark Patch it still managed to stay on top. Yveltal saw huge amounts of success throughout Autumn Regionals. I was even able to manage 10th place in Philly playing Yveltal both days.

Unfortunately, Yveltal’s days may be numbered. I tend to be a huge Yveltal advocate, but today I am sad to say it is not my favorite deck in this new format. Just because it is not my favorite deck does not mean it is unplayable though. I think the deck is playable, but I think the new set hurts Yveltal more than helps it. Ironically, the cards Yveltal gains are also the same cards that hurt it, namely Enhanced Hammer, Head Ringer, and Manectric-EX.

In Jay Hornung’s most recent article he discusses a new way to play Yveltal: with Manectric-EX. Since he went over that deck I will go over straight Yveltal, which is in my opinion the better way to play Yveltal this format. I have found Manectric-EX and M Manectric-EX to be clunky in Yveltal-based decks, but they do allow you to have a stronger mid to late game if you are able to attack with Mega Manectric and set up a big Yveltal-EX. If Yveltal decks become popular Mega Manectric also provides a strong Lightning-type attacker that can easily handle Yveltal-EX in mirror matches.

Here is how I would play Yveltal for Cities:

Pokémon – 11

3 Yveltal-EX
2 Yveltal XY

2 Seismitoad-EX

1 Darknessrai-EX
1 Spiritomb LTR

1 Jirachi-EX
1 Keldeo-EX

Trainers – 37

4 Professor Juniper
4 N
3 Colress

1 Shauna

2 Lysandre

 

4 Ultra Ball

4 Muscle Band
4 Hypnotoxic Laser
2 Switch
2 Head Ringer

2 VS Seeker

1 Startling Megaphone

1 Professor’s Letter
1 Computer Search

 

2 Virbank City Gym

Energy – 12

8 Darkness
4 Double Colorless

The first thing people may notice about this list is no Pyroar counter. Yes, this list will straight up lose to Pyroar. If you know Pyroar will be played in your area do not play this deck. If Pyroar is a non-factor in your area come Cities I think this is the best way to play Yveltal. will really only help you out against Pyroar- and Metal-based decks. I have already accepted an auto-loss against Pyroar, and I believe that is strong enough to keep Bronzong PHF decks at bay by impeding their setup while applying pressure.

No Enhanced Hammer?

Right now I have been testing out Head Ringer in many of my decks. I like it a lot, but it’s not better than Enhanced Hammer by any means. They both provide the same purpose: to disrupt and annoy your opponent. But, they are both situationally different. Enhanced Hammer is better against decks that rely on Special Energy and consistently have them in play. Head Ringer is better early game before people attach Tools to their Pokémon-EX, unless you Megaphone the Tool. Head Ringer can be dropped early on an opponent’s attacker, which could do one of three things. It could ultimately slow them down a turn, which is the main goal. It could force them to switch into another copy of whatever you attached Head Ringer to, causing them to burn resources. The third option is that they could remove Head Ringer with either Xerosic or Tool Retriever.

Head Ringer can occasionally find niche uses in matchups where it is normally useless such as against Donphan. If a Donphan deck plays Keldeo-EX you could potentially Megaphone away their Float Stone and attach a Head Ringer to it, taking away the deck’s ability to retreat for free. Obviously Enhanced Hammer is better against Donphan by leaps and bounds, but Donphan is a decent matchup already.

So, if you are deciding on whether to play Head Ringer or Enhanced Hammer I would say it depends on your metagame. If there are many EX-based decks that play few Special Energy in your area, such as Virizion/Genesect, I would play Head Ringer. If there are many Special Energy-reliant decks, like Donphan or Plasma, I would play Enhanced Hammer. Honestly, I wish I could fit two copies of both in this deck, but there is no room unless I cut consistency or other cards that I would prefer to keep.

In general I could only see myself playing this deck if the field was not littered with Enhanced Hammers, Head Ringers, and Manectric-EXs. I think it is probably too risky to play Yveltal in some of the early Cities since those cards are getting so much hype. However, Donphan decks are also getting much exposure as well and I find that matchup to be decent for Yveltal. If Donphan ends up taking over the metagame and pushes out Manectric and Head Ringer sees little play, Yveltal could rise again, if it ever even falls.

Speaking of Donphan…

Dawn Fan

donphan problem sadpokemontime.tumblr.com
Yep, you.

Pokémon – 14

4 Phanpy PLS
3 Donphan PLS

2 Hawlucha FFI
1 Keldeo-EX
4 Walls

Trainers – 35

4 Professor Juniper
4 N

1 Colress
3 Korrina
3 Lysandre

 

3 Float Stone
3 Muscle Band
3 Ultra Ball

2 VS Seeker
1 Professor’s Letter
1 Escape Rope
1 Computer Search
4 Disruption Cards

 

2 Fighting Stadium

Energy – 11

5 Fighting

4 Strong
2 Double Colorless

This is by far one of my favorite decks in this new format. There is a lot of variation in the way you can play Donphan right now and I don’t think any one specific version is best. The deck is dependent on the metagame when it comes to which walls to play and what disruption cards to use. Let’s take a look at some of the potential walls and disruption cards we could add to this Donphan list.

The Walls

Sigilyph LTR

This is the staple walling card in nearly every Donphan deck. I would include at least one of this card in any variation of this deck. I see no reason to play Suicune PLB over Sigilyph right now since Suicune has two Retreat Cost as opposed to Sigilyph’s one and I don’t think the extra 10 HP is relevant.

Reshiram LTR, Zekrom LTR, and Kyurem LTR

If Virizion/Genesect is popular in your area I would play a Reshiram or two. If Yveltal becomes popular I would include Zekrom. I would play Kyurem if there is a significant amount of Donphan and Big Basics in the metagame. These walls abuse Weaknesses and if not 1HKO’d can Outrage with a Double Colorless Energy for a KO.

Aegislash-EX

Aegislash is a new card from Phantom Forces that is famous for being included in Bronzong-based Metal decks. I think Aegislash could be a strong wall in Donphan given the right metagame. Imagine a board state in the Donphan mirror match where you opponent has Strong Energies on all of their Donphan in play and you drop an Aegislash with a Float Stone down. Aegislash threatens to completely halt their progress if they can’t hit Lysandre every turn. You don’t even have to worry about Outrage attackers like Reshiram LTR KOing it unless your opponent is going to manually attach two basic Fighting Energy to them. Aegislash could catch many players off guard.

Wobbuffet PHF

Wobbuffet is an interesting wall that could possibly be added if you find your Virizion/Genesect matchup to be difficult. I have not found Wobbuffet to be needed, but it is a wall to consider when building Donphan. Not only will it prevent Red Signal but it could slow down Bronzong decks significantly by not allowing them to accelerate Energy. Most decks should be able to KO Wobbuffet easily, but that one turn of Ability locking could prove to be worth the spot in your deck; only testing and the metagame will tell.

Robo Substitute

I don’t really consider this card a Pokémon wall since it is technically an Item card. It will fall under both disruption cards and, if you prefer, Pokémon walls. I would play at least three actual Pokémon walls and if you want to add more disruption cards you can. Robo Substitute has been getting much hype in Donphan since it was spoiled and for good reason. It is very good at making your opponent waste their turn either attacking the Robo or passing and forcing you to discard it by retreating if they can’t play around it.

When facing a Robo Substitute that you can’t gust around, switching into your own one-Prize or irrelevant Pokémon is not a bad backup plan. If the Donphan player wants to apply any pressure the following turn they will be forced to discard the Robo because it can’t retreat. If the Donphan player chooses to just pass to avoid discarding the Robo Substitute it becomes an awkward staredown until someone makes a move. Hitting your gust effects will be more important than ever thanks to Robo Substitute being a staple in what is likely one of the best decks in the format.

Disruption Cards

Enhanced Hammer and Head Ringer

I have already explained the purposes of these cards previously so I will not repeat myself again. These are the other cards that would fall under disruption along with Robo Substitute. If you decide to play Head Ringer I would also include one copy of Startling Megaphone. These cards are even more effective in Donphan since you have Korrina to help you search them out. Thanks to Korrina I could envision playing weird numbers of disruption cards like 1 Enhanced Hammer, 1 Head Ringer, and 2-3 Robo Substitute. Korrina is very good at searching out your situational cards.


I can guarantee you Donphan will be played at City Championships everywhere. Last format Donphan established itself as one of the best decks and this format it only gets better. Some of its bad matchups aren’t even as bad. We will see Donphan do well. I could easily see myself playing Donphan in the upcoming City Championships. The exact list I play would be decided the night before and I would base my decisions on what I think other people would play the next day.

Very/Good

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Virizion commands attention.

The new set puts Virizion/Genesect in an interesting position in the metagame. If Head Ringer becomes a staple in most decks then Virizion decks will be forced to adapt quickly and play one or two Tool Retrievers or even Xerosic. Virizion/Genesect also gets Enhanced Hammer and thus the ability to better utilize Drifblim DRX again, which in my opinion makes the deck stronger.

Many people like to play Virizion/Genesect with Manectric-EX, but I really have not been liking Manectric very much. It tends to slow down the deck and take away from the main goal which is consistency. I want to do everything in my power to get a turn two Emerald Slash onto a Genesect and stay with the main theme of the deck as I feel like that is the most ideal way to play V/G. Playing Manectric will also make it harder to fit techs like Enhanced Hammer or Tool Retriever into your deck without cutting consistency.

Of course, Manectric will help you a lot against Yveltal and Pyroar, but how much will it really help? I think Yveltal is already a favorable matchup. I have tested Pyroar against Virizion/Genesect with Manectric and still found myself winning as the Pyroar player, although the Manectric was somewhat threatening. I managed to either gust around Manectric for my last couple of Prizes or I was able to two-shot it with Pyroar or Mewtwo-EX. Perhaps I have not stumbled upon the proper version of Virizion/Manectric though, which is a possibility. For now I will remain adamant on my opinion on Manectric in Virizion/Genesect.

With that said I still think straight Virizion/Genesect or Virizion/Genesect/Drifblim will be a huge contender in the Cities metagame. Here is my current list:

Pokémon – 11

4 Virizion-EX
3 Genesect-EX
1 Deoxys-EX
1 Jirachi-EX
1 Drifloon PLB
1 Drifblim BW64

Trainers – 36

4 Professor Juniper
4 N

2 Colress

3 Skyla
1 Lysandre

1 Shadow Triad

 

4 Ultra Ball

3 Muscle Band

3 Switch

3 Energy Switch

2 Enhanced Hammer
2 VS Seeker
1 Professor’s Letter

1 Startling Megaphone

1 Tool Retriever

1 G Booster

Energy – 13

9 Grass
4 Plasma

Some cards that I really wanted to add to this deck were Jynx FFI and Colress Machine, but I couldn’t find the room to fit them nor do I think they are essential. If I face multiple mirror matches throughout Cities I will find room for Jynx. For now this is the version of Virizion/Genesect I favor the most, but my opinions could and will change as the metagame starts to develop.

Tool Retriever over Xerosic

I have not seen this topic talked about recently, but I will share my opinion on it. If you play Tool Retriever you are able to Skyla for it and get rid of Head Ringer in the same turn. In my opinion the main reason I play either Tool Retriever or Xerosic is to get rid of Head Ringer. Xerosic being able to discard a Special Energy or any Tool on the field does not warrant it being worth my Supporter for the turn when in actuality all I want it to do is get rid of Head Ringer most of the time.

Sure, you can use Xerosic under Toad lock, but if your opponent is playing a Seismitoad deck you should win anyway. Xerosic could find a home in decks that play Seismitoad or have a hard time dealing with Seismitoad because it is a way to discard a Double Colorless Energy under Item lock. Xerosic could be pivotal in winning a Toad war. In Virizion/Genesect Tool Retriever is better though.


Virizion/Genesect has been one of the most consistent decks since it debuted. It has seen an incredible amount of success and it will continue to do well during these upcoming City Championships. Definitely be prepared to face this deck in one of its iterations.

3.14 Roar

pyroar male closeupBulbapedia
3.14 ≈ π

Pyroar has always been a threat in the metagame. Maybe not physically in numbers at tournaments, but every player thinks to themselves “What is my Pyroar counter? How do I beat Pyroar?” whenever they build a deck. Sometimes people don’t mind taking the auto-loss since the deck has never been that popular, but in the right metagame Pyroar will prevail. We have seen this type of domination recently in day two of Arizona Regionals which was full of Virizion/Genesect decks and the top 2 ended up being a Pyroar mirror match.

Cities will play out the same way. If the metagame is void of Pyroar counters and a player has the foresight and takes the risk of playing Pyroar it will pay off with a Cities win. Right now Pyroar is one of my favorite decks and I am liking my list a lot. Here is the list I have been using recently:

Pokémon – 13

4 Litleo FLF 18
3 Pyroar FLF
1 Pyroar PHF
3 Seismitoad-EX
1 Mewtwo-EX
1 Jirachi-EX

Trainers – 35

4 Professor Juniper
4 N

2 Colress
3 Lysandre
2 Blacksmith

 

4 Ultra Ball

3 Muscle Band
3 Pokémon Catcher

2 Switch

1 Float Stone
2 VS Seeker

2 Head Ringer/Enhanced Hammer

1 Startling Megaphone

1 Bicycle
1 Computer Search

Energy – 12

8 Fire
4 Double Colorless

The core strategy of this Pyroar deck is similar to that of every other Pyroar deck: to KO all non-Basic Pokémon so that Pyroar can sweep. This deck has a large emphasis on Seismitoad-EX since I believe the card got even better with the addition of Head Ringer and Enhanced Hammer. Currently, I am questioning if I should find room for more disruption cards like Seismitoad because there are only two in the list right now.

Another card choice I am questioning is not including a Sacred Ash. I have not been hurting much in playtesting from not having it so for now it will remain excluded from the deck. The only times I really want it are when I discard my Pyroar PHF early to a Juniper. The final card I want to add to this deck if I find room is Charizard-EX FLF 12. Being able to set up an attacker that can one-shot most EXs behind a Toad lock can win games by itself.

I want to take some time to talk about the Flare Command Pyroar since I think it is one of the best cards in this new Pyroar deck.

1 Pyroar PHF

Flare Command lets you discard a Fire Energy attached to Pyroar to gust up a Pokémon. This Ability synergies so well with what Pyroar has been trying to do all along. It is a perfect fit! Blacksmith can now be turned into a pseudo double Lysandre that can be saved for later. If you don’t need to attach to a Pyroar because you were already able to set up behind a Toad lock you can now store gust effects for later or use them immediately.

Often I find myself setting up this Pyroar before the Intimidating Mane Pyroar in matchups such as Donphan. If I can apply early Seismitoad pressure and gust Phanpy and Donphan every turn eventually I will be able to deal with them all. It’s not that easy to set up multiple Donphan under Seismitoad lock, even with the help of Korrina to find your Pokémon.

I know some people may think I have enough gust effects in the deck already, but trust me, adding this card is worth it. It can singlehandedly change matchups by providing a consistent gust effect that you can’t be N’d out of once you attach the Energy to it.


Given the correct metagame I will not hesitate to pull the trigger on Pyroar. This deck is good right now; do not underestimate it. At the very least keep it in the back of your mind when building decks.

Conclusion

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If there is one thing I have learned about this format it is to keep your mind open and be able to adapt at a moment’s notice. These skills will be pertinent to your success in these upcoming City Championships. Don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on a risky play if you have a read on the metagame and you know it will give you the best chance to win the next day.

This is one of the most and competitive times of the year for Pokémon and I love it. I can’t wait to play Pokémon and figure out this metagame while earning Championship Points. Since the 300 Championship Point threshold has been officially announced to make day one of Worlds everyone is going to be hungry for those City wins. The dream of playing in the World Championships has never been so attainable before. Thanks to this I expect to see more competition this year than I ever have seen in the past.

For that I am excited and I wish everyone good luck. If you enjoyed this article be sure to like it and leave me responses on the bbs. I will be happy to answer any questions you have. Good luck at Cities!

Peace out,
Raymond Cipoletti


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