Within the past few months, my excitement about the Pokémon TCG has progressively waned, a pattern that runs concurrent with the time it took Play! Pokémon (P!P) to provide details on the World Championships. I haven’t felt like jumping into the game without any idea of how many Championship Points it would take to qualify for a World Championship that may or may not be happening.
Of course, we recently received the details so many of us craved, and with the announcement of a 300 CP requirement for Worlds I’ve shifted into gear, moving away from selling my cards off to doing some heavy playtesting and thinking forward to City Championships (CC’s). Since details were so late from P!P, my attendance at CC’s will take a hit, but I’m looking favorably at the 300 CP requirement as a sort of unspoken apology from P!P. In short, I’ll channel Bender from Futurama in saying “I’m back baby!” — though perhaps with slightly less gusto.
I managed to make it to a CC this past weekend because of an unexpected alignment of the planets. Basically, we cancelled our Thanksgiving plans due to some sickness while avoiding church because our own daughter was sick (don’t want to spread those germs!). The tournament was also in High Point, NC, a mere 25-minute drive for us. Since I had sold so much of my collection, I had to borrow a deck to get by (thanks Zach Bivens for loaning me a deck!). In the end though, I placed in the top 8 with Donphan PLS/”walls” and had a ton of fun!
Through the whole process I learned a lot about the state of the game right now, as well as what to do when you’re forced to play something in a pinch because of… well, life. If you’re anything like me (and I know a lot of you aren’t, so don’t even try to sell me the story that your part-time job and three college courses somehow equates to the life of a stay-at-home dad who works as a barista and painter on the side), you probably cringed at what you read in the parentheses just now, haha. The truth is, we all feel stretched for time because of the debilitating condition known as “being a human being.”
If you’re in college, any free time you have is spent studying and wondering what the heck you’re going to do with your life once you graduate. If you’re out of college, you’re probably working your butt off trying to climb up some societal ladder to only fall off it once people realize you play Pokémon. If you’re a Poképarent, be sure to find me after the tournament — your drink is on me.
So yeah, that’s really what this article is about — jumping into the game all of a sudden (as I’m sure many of you are — 300 CP, right?) and trying to find your footing. I’m going to cover a few ideas I believe will get you back up to snuff, address a phenomenon that seems to be taking over the game, and talk briefly about some rogue decks you might want to consider.
Remember to click on the link in the table of contents to go directly to that part of the article.
- Post-Cities Assessments
- Teching in the Current Format
- “Strategic Dissonance” Revisited
- Rogue Meanderings
Normally I encourage a proactive approach to this game, one in which players thoughtfully form a list and playtest preemptively for whatever the occasion. Lately, however, this has turned into a strict case of “do as I say, not as I do.” Like I mentioned before, I’ve recently taken over the role of “stay-at-home dad” with my family, and kids as young as my daughter eat or destroy cards, not play them. Add to that the disinterest I’ve had with the game because of the lacking details about Worlds this season and you have one player who is much less prepared for City Championships than he would have liked.
Of course, this opens up an opportunity for me to write about something that will help other players who are in a similar position as me – perhaps you too put on the brakes until Worlds 2015 was announced, or maybe you can’t read this right now because look behind you, your kid’s about to fall off the bookshelf!!! No matter the case, we can still address the big question that goes along with pervasive rustiness: what will you do about it?
If you were like me and went stumbling into your first CC of the season with the heart of a lion and the skill of a soggy sandwich, then your brain was probably a receptacle for “what ifs” and regrets after everything finished. During one of my matches that went to time I got so hung up on needing to play a Lysandre and draw into one of two cards that I totally ignored a game-winning play. I proceeded to play my Lysandre, KO something from the Bench, and end the game in a tie.
Though I played well the rest of the tournament and cracked into the top 8, I still felt horrible about the misplay. I was also disappointed with some of my card choices: a single copy of Kyurem LTR never came in handy at all while Wobbuffet PHF was almost equally useless. I tossed Evosoda in at the last moment to try it out while neglecting to play Lysandre’s Trump Card, a card I feel is a firm choice for Donphan PLS decks.
After the tournament — when I was back home and my daughter asleep — I laid my deck out and started assessing it. I’ve done this before, normally when I expect to play a string of tournaments within a few weeks, and it’s something I encourage all players to do when they get the chance. I’ve never given it a name, but if I were to I would call it a “post-Cities assessment.”
What is a post-Cities assessment, and what can it do for me?
Essentially, the aim of a post-Cities assessment is to correct flaws in one’s deck while preparing as best as possible for the next tournament. Your decisions may very well be a reaction to what performed well at a certain tournament, though sometimes you’re looking for nothing more than to perfect your list.
In a post-Cities assessment, you may also try to to answer the question of whether or not you will play the same deck again for the next tournament. If so, you want to definitely show up with the perfect list, one that addresses any lingering concerns after the tournament in which it was played. And if you cannot see yourself performing well with the same deck for the next tournament, it might be a good chance to switch to something else.
What does a post-Cities assessment look like?
Everyone has their own way of doing things, but I’ll cover what I have found myself doing in the late-night hours following a tournament:
- I find some quiet time to myself so I can focus properly on what I want to change or keep. The fact that I’m finding this time for myself shows that I’m serious about what I want to accomplish — when I have friends around to help influence my decision it disrupts with what I personally experienced during the tournament. There’s a time and place to have friends look over a deck list for you, but this is not one of them.
- I lay my deck out so I can see every card. I then write this list down on a piece of paper.
- With my list written down and the deck in front of me, I make some general notes on what worked well and what didn’t during the tournament. With the tournament fresh in my mind, I should be able to look at a card and instantly determine whether or not it’s worth a place in my deck. In my own experience, this is a quick process – I often find that some cards worked wonders while others were completely useless during the tournament.
- After writing down some very brief notes, I go over every card and question its place in the deck. Note: When I say every card, I mean every card. It’s common for me to glance over a long-held standard, but I find the most progress is made when I ask 60 questions during this process (for each card, that is). As an example, I often find myself cutting Pokémon or Energy out of the deck if I can find a Trainer card that sufficiently makes up for the difference. Running fewer Robo Substitute in a Donphan deck in exchange for a “one-of” of Lysandre’s Trump Card is a change I would gladly make. While I lose the benefit of a playset of Robo Substitute, I gain the ability to bring back many useful cards (including Robo Substitute itself).
- I take some time to consider what cards might patch up identified weaknesses. If my deck had a hard time against Yveltal-EX, for instance, I might consider putting Dedenne FFI in my deck. A more general approach might be better though, so Enhanced Hammer or Head Ringer might do the trick.
- After all this consideration, I write down my suggested changes. If I have some time I might make those changes and do some playtesting, just to get a feel for how things are running. Ideally, I would test against the decks I had issues against. Otherwise, I might be looking for strengthened consistency with a few changes. I might even test with my eye on a single card during the game. I did this with Evosoda in my Donphan deck, as I wanted to see how it functioned in-game and whether or not it made sense to include alongside Ultra Ball.
No, seriously Erik, what does a post-Cities assessment look like? Can you show me, with like pics and stuff?
Sure thing! After Cities this past weekend I found some time to lay out my deck. Here’s the list I went with:
After getting everything written down and set out, I thought at length about my tournament experience. I jotted some quick notes down; here’s what I came up with:
After some additional thought, I’d add that Mewtwo-EX is a very big threat in the later stages of a game (I might even consider adding a Mewtwo-EX into the deck for this reason). I’m also a bit split on Suicune PLB, as the additional Retreat Cost can really hurt sometimes.
Here are the changes I suggested to myself:
The fact that I have these notes written down somewhere provides me with one more advantage: I can look back at where my list started and the thought process that got me to these changes. I might think of something before the next tournament that can be beneficial, then see in my notes where I should or shouldn’t make that change.
What we’re really aiming for here is a more informed list that addresses what’s going on in the local metagame while preserving consistency. Besides, it’s nice to have things written down in a logical manner – just going through those steps alone urges you to think about some options you might not have even considered.
Teching is an interesting concept right now because in some ways it doesn’t seem that pertinent. While I saw some noticeable changes in deck construction to handle certain threats – my top 8 opponent played 3 VS Seeker, 2 Lysandre, and a Dowsing Machine to handle the Donphan PLS matchup for instance — I didn’t see anyone actively teching their decks out for anything.
In a sense, this isn’t a surprise. Here’s what I think is going on:
- The metagame is fairly open, meaning there are a number of decks one can perform well with at a given tournament. When a variety of decks are playable, teching against a single archetype feels futile. You’d do better to just capitalize on your deck’s strengths and avoid needless teching, unless of course your local metagame is rife with a certain deck or two.
- “Strategic dissonance” is occurring. This I will talk about in the next section, but as a brief explanation I feel players are fitting certain cards in their deck not as techs but as accompanying strategies for a deck’s success.
- There’s a lot of focus on consistency with City Championships. Historically, these are tournaments where some players try new things as the metagame gets “solidified.” Being able to show up with a solid deck that performs well time and time again will give you the edge over these other players.
- The card pool is very large right now, giving players more options in the form of Trainer cards to deal with threats. If Donphan PLS is plentiful in my given metagame, I might consider running Enhanced Hammer rather than some Water Pokémon that may or may not be all that effective. If Seismitoad-EX is everywhere, I might opt for Head Ringer over a Grass Pokémon. Doing so helps me tackle that matchup while being effective against other decks as well.
As I played over the weekend and did my post-Cities assessment, the idea of teching specifically for matchups just seemed unimportant. Unless you’re set on taking out a certain matchup for some reason, my advice is to find a more general answer to your problem in the form of a Trainer card. This allows you to address your problem matchup while not having dead cards against other decks.
Take Seismitoad-EX as an example. While I once advocated for running Leafeon PLF to deal with it, I would now recommend running Head Ringer instead. While Leafeon PLF won’t do you much good against Pokémon other than Seismitoad-EX, Head Ringer can hold its own against pretty much anything in the format that isn’t Donphan PLS.
As I mentioned before, my top 8 opponent on Sunday did this same thing. Rather than outfitting his deck with cards aimed specifically at taking down Donphan PLS (Heatrean PHF comes to mind), he took a more general approach to copying Lysandre over and over again that I’m sure helped him out in plenty of other situations.
With this in mind, there are a few cards I’m keeping my eyes on this season as strong plays that will help out in most of your matchups:
At one point, this card was good against half the format (Plasma decks, “Big Basics,” etc.) and useless against the other half (Darkrai-EX decks, others). Now, however, this card seems good against nearly every deck out there. All my matchups over the weekend were decks that ran Special Energy, and with Enhanced Hammer not requiring a flip you’re almost guaranteed to slow your opponents down.
This card I’m not as excited about as Enhanced Hammer, but I put it on this list to make a point: aside from M Manectric-EX, there is very little Energy acceleration in the game. Dark Patch is gone unless you’re playing in an Expanded format and Blastoise BCR/Emboar LTR decks are all washed up (or toast, depending on your choice of pun) because of the threat of Seismitoad-EX.
I absolutely love this card. It seems a distant cousin to Enhanced Hammer since it slows the opponent down and keeps them from attacking. While Enhanced Hammer seems reactive (the opponent plays a Special Energy, you react by playing Enhanced Hammer), Head Ringer seems proactive — you’re keeping an opponent’s Pokémon-EX at bay for some time. Perhaps the biggest reason to play this card is because of what it can do to Seismitoad-EX. In my testing against Seismitoad-EX, even buying yourself one more turn of playing Item cards can make a huge difference. Of course, this assumes you run a deck that has easy access to Head Ringer by way of Korrina or Skyla.
VS Seeker + “Bad” Supporters
You may think of Team Flare Grunt as an awful card, one that deserves to stay put in the binder and never come out. And before Phantom Forces, I would have agreed with you wholeheartedly. With VS Seeker being reprinted, however, cards like Team Flare Grunt get a huge boost of power. Say you find the room in your deck for three VS Seeker. This is a strong play right now because of its synergy with things like Battle Compressor and, oh yeah, all your good Supporter cards (playing Professor Juniper 7-8 times in a game is finally a reality, thank Arceus!). You throw in a Team Flare Grunt for fun, only to notice later that with three VS Seeker you can access it four times total.
Of course, this is a popular play with Lysandre, but think about all the other “bad” Supporter cards out there that seem useless as a one- or two-of but totally legit as a three- or four-of. Team Flare Grunt, AZ, Pokémon Center Lady, Blacksmith, Xerosic… these cards can all ride off the presence of a heavy VS Seeker count.
This card never goes away. In short, most decks using Double Colorless Energy can easily find the room for one or two Mewtwo-EX. Being able to throw down a Mewtwo-EX and a Double Colorless Energy to hit for big damage remains an effective tactic, and the more players play Mewtwo-EX the more sense it makes to, well, play Mewtwo-EX. With Muscle Band in the format, your DCE + Mewtwo-EX + Muscle Band is enough to take out another player’s Mewtwo-EX with a DCE.
I expect these cards to remain effective throughout the season primarily because they’re good at cutting into the opponent’s tempo and keeping players from overrunning the game. I ran a single Enhanced Hammer in my deck over the weekend and it was easily one of the best cards in my deck, buying me a turn each time I played it. I especially recommend you tinker with a higher count of VS Seeker if you haven’t already to get to those Lysandre you need mid to late game.
A few articles ago I introduced a term I thought captured a shift the game seemed to be taking. That idea, “strategic dissonance,” seems to be happening on a large scale right now. Strategic dissonance occurs when decks aim to achieve win conditions using more than one primary strategy. This doesn’t mean when a player uses a Lysandre to trap something Active while the opponent decks themselves. Moments like those are normally unplanned. Rather, I’m talking about cards like Seismitoad-EX or M Manectric-EX that supplement a deck with an additional, powerful strategy (Item lock, Energy acceleration, etc.) for a relatively low cost to the deck.
Consider, for instance, the inclusion of Seismitoad-EX into most decks that run Double Colorless Energy. By including a single copy of this card, you have relatively easy access to Item lock at most stages of the game – something that can be absolutely devastating against certain decks. To overlook this easy one-of in a lot of decks would be foolish.
At the last City Championship I attended, almost every opponent I played against employed this technique. Seismitoad-EX decks had a Pyroar FLF line in them, Yveltal-EX was used alongside Seismitoad-EX and Manectric-EX, and so on. It’s almost as if there aren’t decks anymore so much as there are pieces of various strategies woven together. It’s like the difference between a sit-down restaurant where you order a meal and Golden Corral where you piece it all together on a single plate. Yes, we have entered the Golden Corral era of Pokémon; let that sink in a little.
Let’s look at some of the cards that are ushering in this big change:
This card is no stranger to any competitive player, so I’ll just point out that we will have this card in our format for years. Think about that for a second — a card that achieves Item lock instantly for a Double Colorless Energy will still be around in two, maybe even three years. A natural enemy to Stage 2 decks, it wouldn’t surprise me if the card creators come out with some crazy powerful Basic Grass-type Pokémon as a counter to it.
I saw this card thrown into two Yveltal-EX decks I played against over the weekend, and it makes a lot of sense. These two cards to me represent the true power the Mega EX mechanic has. Manectric-EX has two incredible attacks while M Manectric-EX hits hard while accelerating Energy on the field. While this combo might be a dud against Donphan PLS decks, against everything else it’s effective at powering up Benched Pokémon for subsequent turns.
This is an odd card to include here because it really only fits in a certain subset of decks — that being ones that feature Aromatisse XY (or Hydreigon LTR if that’s your thing). Still, being able to hit your opponent with the “sleep” Special Condition throughout the game can prove frustrating to anyone not prepared for it. I honestly think this card can work wonders given the right conditions, and once again, it’s a single card that completely changes the manner in which your deck performs against the opponent.
Mewtwo-EX draws its power from Energy on the field, and though it doesn’t represent a departure from one’s primary strategy as much as the other cards featured on this list, the fact that it can OHKO certain threats makes it a force to be reckoned with. Add to this the synergy that exists between Double Colorless Energy and cards like Yveltal-EX and Seismitoad-EX and you see where Mewtwo-EX seems like a no-brainer. Thank Arceus for Enhanced Hammer!
The fact that a card like this got printed in the first place is surprising to me. There are so many things this card can do, yet what it does best is force a strange reset on the game. I include it here because I’m split on how this card will get abused in the future. No matter the case though, I’m sure it will be abused in some way to wreck havoc on unsuspecting players. With VS Seeker in the format, this card can safely run in counts of one or two to be effective.
This card is an absolute nuisance against decks that run Special Energy (which is nearly everything at this point). I’m surprised at it not being included in more decks at the moment, though I have a feeling it will gain popularity when Donphan PLS gets played less (like that will ever happen). The reason is simple: most people are upping their counts of VS Seeker/Lysandre to deal with Donphan; when this phases out, you may be staring at Mighty Shield all game long.
Much like Aegislash-EX (and plenty of other cards at this point), Pyroar FLF presents in the game as an impenetrable wall against Basic Pokémon. I’m not crazy about this card at the moment because it struggles against Donphan PLS and requires a bit of work to get into one’s deck list, but it’s still out there as an option against Basic Pokémon should the need arise.
Again, this card might not enjoy the limelight right now, but it will eventually find its place in the format because of its incredible Ability Bide Barricade. Being able to shut down all Abilities (except those on Psychic-type Pokémon) can be as detrimental to certain decks as Seismitoad EX’s Quaking Punch. With Lysandre and Garbodor LTR being so popular right now, it’s not surprising that this card isn’t more played. Again though, it’s a single inclusion that can drastically change the course of the game.
This card works a lot like any card that “walls,” though the beauty in playing this card is that the opponent doesn’t take a Prize card when it gets Knocked Out. While I’m skeptical about how much of an impact this card will make outside of its expected inclusion in Donphan PLS decks, I can still remember how good Fossil Trainer cards were when they didn’t give up a Prize card for being Knocked Out.
I really want players to understand how this shift in the game differs from the idea of “teching,” so to do that I’ll describe one of the games I played over the weekend. I played against Phil Norman in round 4 or 5, my Donphan PLS deck against his Yveltal-EX/Seismitoad-EX/Mewtwo-EX deck…
Towards the beginning of the game Phil tried to power up an Yveltal-EX or two, but I started hitting quickly with Hawlucha FFI to stack up some damage on his field. After I took down an Yveltal-EX, he was able to catch me in a tough spot by locking up my Item cards with Seismitoad-EX. He had gotten Garbodor LTR in play with a Pokémon Tool attached, meaning that my Sigilyph LTR was useless. It took a couple of lucky draws, but I was able to take Seismitoad-EX out and play Item cards again. Towards the end of the game Phil used Mewtwo-EX to do some devastating damage to my Pokémon, but I was able to KO it for the win.
From the “damage demon” Yveltal-EX trying to get some quick knockouts to an Item lock by Seismitoad-EX, a brief description of how that single game went reveals a variety of strategies used against me. None of his cards were specific techs to deal with my deck; instead, they all performed in the deck as equal parts – when Phil wanted to turn on the Item lock, he did, and when he needed to react to a Donphan PLS with lots of Energy he dropped Mewtwo-EX.
These separate strategies were all available to Phil throughout the course of the game. At the same time, I had access to Sigilyph LTR, Robo Substitute, and a Kyurem LTR to switch up my own strategy accordingly (no, the Kyurem LTR never came in handy).
For what it’s worth, I think we will continue to see strategic dissonance in the game. Our next set has a Grass-type Trevenant-EX coming out whose first attack does 20 damage and keeps an opponent’s Pokémon from retreating for a single Grass Energy. While it’s not powerful against most of the format, it can do a good number against Seismitoad-EX, especially when combined with Muscle Band (it’s also good for locking up a Pokémon that can’t use Quaking Punch so that Items can be played in subsequent turns).
In fact, the continuation of the EX mechanic almost necessitates this change, since having these Abilities and attacks on Basic Pokémon are much easier to get into play than anything else. Looking back at my list of cards here, the majority of them are Basic Pokémon-EX. Though I’m not crazy about having such power centralized on EX’s, I get the same feeling from these cards as I do from Pokémon SP – it makes it easier to mix and match a number of strategies to deal with certain threats in the metagame.
I don’t have a whole lot to offer in this section, mostly because I’m just getting up to speed with the game, but I do want to share some ideas I have for decks that I’m going to start testing soon as well as some interesting plays I saw over the weekend. I thought you guys would appreciate a brief look into what’s on my mind rogue-wise.
So, I wouldn’t normally recommend a Stage 2 deck unless there was a catch, and in this case Leafeon PLF is that catch. Given its strength against Seismitoad-EX, I feel secure in trying to get Vileplume BCR in play. The idea behind this deck is simple: Vileplume BCR makes Weakness x4, and then you hit with the right Eeveelution to do incredible amounts of damage (using Muscle Band and Silver Bangle, of course).
There are two cards that make this idea entirely feasible: Lysandre’s Trump Card and Professor’s Letter. Professor’s Letter basically allows you to seek out your Eeveelutions because of Eevee FFI’s Ability. Lysandre’s Trump Card gives you the ability to bring back Pokémon and other resources lost to the discard pile, meaning that you can keep a stream of Eeveelutions going.
Electivire FFI/Magmortar FFI
I remember Chris Fulop trying to build some hype behind this deck, and though it hasn’t seen any play at all I think it might have some hidden strengths to it. With the inclusion of VS Seeker in our game, Blacksmith becomes much easier to play. Cards like Enhanced Hammer and Head Ringer might be there to buy you time to set everything up, and let’s be honest: Magmortar FFI’s Twin Bursts attack is incredible.
Of course, you would need an answer for Seismitoad-EX. I would recommend a blend of Head Ringer and a small line of Leafeon PLF. I know it goes against what I talked about earlier, but with one of your main attackers being weak to Seismitoad-EX, you need something able to cut right through Quaking Punch.
Had I gone to the World Championships last season I would have played Aromatisse XY with an assortment of stuff (including a Raikou-EX – absolutely brilliant against the Yveltal-EX matchup!). This card continues to pique my interest in part because of the addition of Malamar-EX to it. Forcing your opponent to fight against the “sleep” Special Condition all game long is one way to come out ahead, and it’s a single card that completely changes the dynamic of Aromatisse XY.
Add to this a playset of Max Potion and you’ve got some serious firepower against anything in the format. Granted, Prism Energy has exited Standard, but Rainbow Energy still exists to power up a variety of attackers (also, Lysandre’s Trump Card can bring your Rainbow Energy back).
This card is one of my favorites from Phantom Forces. With effective Abilities on the whole evolution line, a single Colorless Energy attack, and suitable support from Dimension Valley and AZ, this card might just be the “sleeper hit” of Phantom Forces. I saw it in action over the weekend in a deck that got top 8 (Wobbuffet PHF/Crobat PHF) and I’ve heard of it being paired with Seismitoad-EX.
Here’s a crazy thought: max out Head Ringer, play Max Potion, and up VS Seeker counts alongside AZ and Lysandre’s Trump Card. I’m not sure if that’ll work sufficiently, but I’m willing to give it a try! Alternatively, try playing Crobat PHF with a bunch of walls in much the same way Greninja XY was played at one point.
This card happens to be very effective against Donphan PLS decks because of the Fighting Resistance. Add to that Max Potion and you have a healthy mix of cards that should be able to deal with Donphan PLS without issue.
With City Championships underway and a lot of players jumping into action with the 300 CP announcement, I felt it necessary to get people up to speed with what’s going on in the game right now. A lot has changed in a relatively small amount of time, as Phantom Forces has been one of the most influential sets in a long time.
At the same time, I hope that by giving you some perspective into how I’m approaching the game right now will help you form better decisions for future tournaments. While playtesting remains an integral part to being a good player, a lot of us never get that preparation time for a tournament series. As a result, having something in place like a post-Cities assessment can go a long way in getting us where we need to be if we plan on performing well.
As always, voice your thoughts in the Underground forums. I’m considering dedicating my energy into rogue decks pretty soon; if this is something you’d like for me to write about, let me know! And of course, if you found this article helpful, take the time to give me a “like.” Thanks again and good luck at Cities this season!
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