As my article comes out quite late this month, I can’t help but notice how much has already been said about Primal Clash. Initially, I had planned on deviating from my usual norm to give the set a deep, proper analysis, but as I read the works of my fellow Underground writers this month, there are few things that are left for me to even say. As such, I want to recommend everyone revisit all the previous articles this month, especially if you have plans to attend Florida Regionals in about a week.
However, there is no reason to fret! Though I may not be providing the 10,000th Virizion/Genesect list this month, I still have loads I want to talk about so I hope that you’ll stick around and digest my thoughts. Let’s begin, shall we!
In Defense of Net Decking: A Response
If I can bother you to think all the way back to my last article (December!), I wrote a lengthy bit on my distaste with net decking. Dylan’s quasi-invention of the Donphan archetype led to many copying him at Fall Regionals and it would end up becoming one of the most popular decks throughout all of City Championships. However, after this past weekend, the deck just absolutely died by Winter Regionals.
This, I believe, can be attributed to the fact that a lot of the deck’s popularity was largely a result of its status as a “flavor of the month.” Of course, it was good, but everyone was ecstatic to play with this old, uncommon card and a 4-4 line of Donphan quickly went from being worth a handful of nickels to $10 dollars a pop. However, it became evident very quickly that the deck could be countered and countered hard it was. All kinds of builds rotated into popularity and as you might imagine, I was pleased with such an occurrence. The staleness of net decking Donphan led to the creation of many new decks, which made net decking more difficult and returned us to a format where deck building was paramount.
My intention here, however, is not to toot my own horn about the format (and community) shifting away from the net decking trend, but to respond to a piece that was written after mine that expressed a disagreement with my own opinion. In “In Defense of Net Decking,” Brent Halliburton expresses many opinions that I believe to be true. He notes the importance of deck building and how there is not a clear line between a good deck builder and good player. I think that the best player will exemplify a mastery of both play and building, but this is of course not always the case.
Really the only thing I want to contest is when Halliburton writes “Similarly, despite Brit’s impassioned argument for how net decking is lowering the collective Poké-IQ of the world, I think you see mentions all the time on Facebook and SixPrizes of how people got lists from Brit that they used card-for-card at a tournament where they saw success.”
What is unclear here is a disambiguation between net decking and me sharing my lists. I do not believe them to be one in the same and thus I cannot fully support a thesis defending the blind, sheepish notion of net decking. My problem lies with players who scramble to each and every Underground article and immediately build Ray’s Fairy list or Nicholena’s Manectric build — without second thought to the rationale behind the 60 cards. When done this way, the net decker in question does nothing to better themselves and simply accepts another player’s opinion to be wholly true.
What I urge players to do is not to blindly copy a list, but to acknowledge the skeleton or general feel of the deck and use their own testing and interaction with the game to change things accordingly. When I faced players at Houston Regionals who clearly had not changed a single card from Dylan’s original list, it was apparent to me that none of these things had even been contemplated which to me is sheer laziness and should be frowned upon accordingly.
When I give someone a list (something I do often and I believe ought to be expected of me as an Underground writer), I do so with the expectation that my list will be changed to fit varying needs. A great example of this can be seen in the SosaRai deck that I discussed last time. Though I credit Israel and Chris Collins for the list, I know for a fact that all three of us varied on card choices at every event we played. Chris, for example, always opted to cut a card here and there for Energy Switch, which I never found needed while Israel opted to run Head Ringers, which I swapped out in favor for Crushing Hammers. Of course, all of these decisions have strong arguments behind all of them, but though we all claim to have been working with the same deck, referring to this instance as net decking would clearly be false.
Another simple example of this can be seen in how Dustin Zimmerman and I viewed Virizion/Genesect last year. I would not play a list without four copies of Skyla even if my life was threatened and yet Dustin every time would opt for three Skyla in favor of a second Colress or another tech card. Neither of us are necessarily wrong in our reasoning but the stress between our opinions shows that even if we were to infinitely swap lists, there would always be something deeper going on that would not allow us to be vilified as net deckers.
As players, I think that it is our obligation to always strive to be our best and intrinsically linked in that project is the notion that we are also obligated to help everyone around us to be their best as well. Net decking as an enterprise undermines this notion entirely and thus I will continue to refer to such occurrences with distaste.
St. Louis Regionals: Veni, Vidi, Vici (almost)
Alright. That’s enough of that rant. We have more Pokémon related things to discuss. Last weekend was the culmination of all the work that every player had been putting out during City Championships. Winter Regionals offered everyone the chance to bring everything they had learned playing all these smaller tournament and hope that it would pay off. In my last article, I had won two Cities with the Yveltal/Hard Charm variant, but I finished up my Best Finish Limit with a first place with Manectric/Seismitoad/Drifblim and a second with Manectric/Suicune (inspired by a list presented by Brandon Smiley in his last article). The format was wide open and finding the correct play seemed incredibly difficult.
For a long time, I seemed to be leaning toward playing a Seismitoad-EX-heavy deck. The control that it provided was too strong to be ignored and barring unfortunate pairings with Grass decks, it seemed primed to demolish a field that embraced Landorus-EX and Aromatisse decks more than everything else. Unfortunately, my confidence in the Toad quickly waned as I saw the results from the European Challenge Cup (ECC). There, we saw the reappearance of that pesky Virizion/Genesect that I was fortunate enough to dodge for most of my City Championships. With the very interesting inclusion of Golbat PHF into the deck, I was shaken and knew that I no longer wanted to Quaking Punch my opponents, but where to go from here?
Perhaps more prominently, the ECC saw the emergence of a straight pink Fairies list that played very defensively with many Hard Charms and Jamming Nets. It may not have won the event, but I believe it had the highest overall placings considering that a handful of Fairy/Charm made Top 8 and I believe a few others in the Top 16. My interest was piqued, as the deck was not something that I had ever considered before. I consulted many of my deck building partners and we threw together a list very similar to the ones that saw success in Europe.
The first main change that was made was the swapping of Jamming Net for Head Ringer. I understand the synergy between Hard Charm, lots of healing cards and Jamming Net, but I don’t really believe that there is a strong argument to be made over playing Head Ringer instead. In theory, your Fairy Pokémon should never be 1HKO’d with or without the Jamming Net and so the difference of 20 damage became a moot point. I recall playing against an Yveltal deck with Jamming Nets at my last City Championship and noticing that Jamming Net was a minor annoyance at worse, but I’m not sure if I would have ever been able to attack if I had to pay all those extra Energy. Head Ringer, would simply make your opponent not attack which always seemed stronger than the minus 20. Landorus-EX, Seismitoad-EX, Virizion-EX, Genesect-EX and so on all seemed far more hindered by Ringer and so that’s where the list began.
Comically, after all this argumentation around the optimal Flare Tool, my testing group decided that we didn’t want to play either card. The necessary seemed necessary and Flare Tools were hard to stick with most EX-heavy decks playing 3-4 Muscle Bands, not to mention that it would be totally useless against non-EX-heavy decks like Donphan. With that in mind, we came up with this masterpiece:
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 35
Energy – 10
Just looking at this list gets me excited. I say with confidence that this is definitely one of the most consistent decks that I’ve ever played. So many 4-ofs, very streamlined and able to accomplish the simple tasking of attacking turn two with Florges from anywhere between 80-120 damage. I used Lead more times than I can remember and always maintained tempo in games, especially in the late game where my opponent would attempt to lower my hand size drastically with N and I could always just grab the game-winning Lysandre or a Juniper to keep my draws flowing.
At times, we had copies of Mewtwo-EX, Keldeo-EX and Iris, but they were all cut in favor of more consistency. AZ is such an underrated card in this deck and with four VS Seeker, it can serve as your fifth, sixth or even seventh Max Potion and I’m honesty a little embarrassed that it’s not something I had considered abusing beforehand. We opted for three Lysandre as a way to help us combat other Fairy decks since KOing opposing Spritzees would quickly lead us to victory in that matchup and of course it was helpful since Florges generally 2-shots everything and so with all the outs to gust effects, I was never worried of knockouts escaping on the Bench.
The only hangup I had about the list was a fear of the Night March, Flareon and Metal matchups. I did an interview for Squeaky (Josh) Marking’s YouTube channel where I expressed a desire to play my Florges deck along with these concerns. Mia Violet who was also on the show informed me that Kangaskhan was an obvious answer and at first I shook this off, but after more substantial thought, I realized this was genius. Kangaskhan I don’t think would tilt some of these matchups, but it would certainly make them approachable.
In addition to a sheer amount of heal and the damage reduction, KOing a 230 HP monster would be a likely impossibility for most decks and thus we had our list figured out. I remember talking to friends going to other events and expressing how confident I was in this deck. However would my thoughts provide matching results? Let’s go ahead and look at a very brief tournament synopsis!
R1: Yveltal/Manectric — WW
R2: Landorus/Manectric — WW
R3: Landorus/Manectric — WW
R4: Virizion/Genesect — WW
R5: Toad/Puff/Victini/Dragalge — LWT
R6: Landorus/Manectric — WW
R7: Toad/Puff — WW
R8: Landorus/Crobat — ID
R9: Toad/Puff — WW
Well, after looking at these games, I think I can safely say that my confidence paid off. I only dropped one game throughout Day 1 and that was to Jason Klaczynski’s odd Seismitoad deck, which ultimately just came down to his Crushing Hammer flips. I had no idea that I would face so many Landorus decks, but I was happy that I did! With a 7-0-2 record, I finished two points behind Jason and a handful of points ahead of everyone, making it very clear that my path to Top 8 would be an easy one. However, if you’ll recall Houston Regionals, I was in a very similar position and ended up blowing it hard so I was rather eager not to repeat that mishap again.
I was pondering over many deck ideas and really was drawing a blank about what to play. Nothing really sounded good and everything had its flaws, but thankfully I had friends who were more confident than myself. Jack Iler, a fellow Hovercat, approached me and simply said “If you want to win, play Lugia,” and he gave me a list and with his confidence I knew that I had my deck.
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 36
Energy – 13
Of course, there is much less to say about this list than my other list. We all know Lugia-based decks well and not much has changed. In Standard, it doesn’t really have the opportunity to thrive because of the lack of Prism Energy, but I think it makes for a solid play in Expanded. If you get lucky and dodge Seismitoad decks, everything else I believe is favorable. This is likely to change with Primal Clash, but I think that this list gets everything done.
All credit goes to Jack for this list but initially it had two Bicycle and an Absol PLF which I cut for the two Kyurem. I thought this would tilt my Landorus matchup which would obviously be popular in Expanded. Time to finish up this report!
R10: Toad/Puff/Dragalge/Victini (Jason again) — LWW
R11: Landorus/Crobat (Andrew Mahone, the eventual winner of the tournament) — WLW
R12: Seismitoad/Victini/Manectric/Garbodor — LWW
R13: Landorus/Crobat — ID
R14: Yveltal/Darkrai/Toad — ID
I would go from 7-0-2 to 10-0-4 which would secure my spot in the Top 8 as well as the 1st seed. I was ecstatic to finish this strongly and undoubtedly, this would go down as one of my best performances yet. I knew that there would be one Metal deck in cut and if I could dodge it, I was pretty confident in my chances to take the whole thing. Heck, I got lucky and beat two “auto-losses” twice; the tournament was mine to lose! Standings went up and I got paired against Landorus/Crobat, a deck that I beat in Swiss, but it was sure to be a difficult matchup.
To make things even better, I got to be featured on the official stream for my Top 8 game, which was an awesome opportunity and one that I hope to repeat in the future. Please feel free to watch my game if you get the chance:
Unfortunately though, the set did not go my way. Game one saw me get a strong opening but I failed to find any colored Energy after the first turn and I quickly lost tempo and got blown out of the water. Game two went much more my way and with a turn two Blizzard Burn for 180 damage on a Landorus, we would quickly be in game three. This was the best game of the series and it was hard to tell who was going to come out on top.
I was in a favorable position if I could Knock Out my opponent’s Landorus-EX with sixty damage with Lugia’s Plasma Gale, but I needed an Energy and a Colress Machine to do so. I dug for it with a Colress for 10 and ended up getting the cards I need, but tragically I drew all of my remaining Plasma Energy at the same time and basically passed for the next two turns as my opponent overtook me. It was very sad to go out this way but consoling since everyone got to see me draw poorly in the end.
Overall, I am still very proud of this accomplishment! 10-1-4 is nothing to scoff at and the performance also earned me fifth invite to Worlds, so I will be seeing everyone in Boston come summer.
The Hard Questions: A Toxic Community and Dealing with Cheating
Well, I hope that report wasn’t too lengthy. I always have so much fun recounting my events, but I do understand that it can be a lengthy endeavor to read. To end this article, I want to take a step back here and touch on some rougher issues that have plagued our community recently. Other writers (Dylan Lefavour) have expressed opinions about the toxicity of the public Facebook group Virbank City and how it has led to an overall decline in the community. I do not necessarily agree with that view entirely, but I wanted to touch on issues of cheating that have been brought to light because of this group. What I am going to express below, as always, should only reflect on me as a person and of course I am not always going to be right, so if you have contrasting views or think that I am being downright moronic, than I invite you to leave a comment below and we can discuss further.
The first thing to note is that a few months ago, a member of the group was reviewing only videos of tournaments and noticed Underground’s Ryan Sabelhaus doing some suspect things in the finals of Florida Regionals last year. I recall watching the video and not noticing anything, but upon review I could see how some of the shuffling methods featured could be considered suspect. Unfortunately, this blew way out of proportion and led to giant mudslinging arguments where clearly no one was going to come out without feelings hurt or insults thrown at them.
As evidence of my incredibly high opinion of Ryan, we can go back and look at my two editions of Power Rankings where I seed him as the best player in the US and Canada both times. Considering the footage viewed, I do think that Ryan did something that should be looked down upon, but I adamantly believe that he is not a cheater and should not be considered one. People make mistakes all the time and I do not think that a player who is always at the top would be dumb enough to cheat or more obviously would even need to bend the rules to earn success. It is easy for a group to see a player like Ryan and want to try to diminish his accomplishments entirely by labeling him a cheat or a fraud, but such viciousness, in my opinion, does not add up to how Ryan is as a player and a person. It’s easy and lazy to cast judgment from afar and I’m sure such an attitude will always be apparent from the anonymity of online groups, even on Facebook.
Similarly, at last weekend’s Virginia Regionals, Jacob Dudzik, the eventual Champion, was undoubtedly caught cheating multiple times. The first instance I heard was how he baited my Curtis Lyon by saying VS Seeker for N, waiting until Curtis had shuffled his hand into his deck until declaring that he had not done such a move and simply was searching his discard. Of course, accidents do happen, but this situation cannot be discussed without noting that Curtis had played a Town Map earlier in the game and had just finished taking Computer Search and Lysandre from his Prizes, which was sure to end the game on the following turn. This, unlike Ryan’s game, is not a matter of interpretation as many people watched it occur and all provide testament to the exact same situation.
Sadly, this is not the only thing to be said about Jacob. Apparently, he had played all of Day 2 with a 63-card deck, something he admits to having knowledge of and for whatever reason, he was given the opportunity to pick which three cards got taken out of his deck and only received a game loss for such an infraction. While I am unsure what the rules explicitly call for in such a instance, I can think of no reason why this would not deserve an immediate disqualification. I refuse believe that a player competent enough to make Day 2 of a large Regionals would just accidentally play not one but three cards over the legal limit.
Editor’s Note: According to the 2015 Penalty Guidelines, Section 7.3.3 — Illegal Decklist, Illegal Deck — states that: “As with the previous category, the Head Judge should carefully consider what advantage, if any, was gained by the illegal deck. If the Head Judge feels that there was a significant advantage or the error cannot be easily fixed during the match, elevating the penalty to a Game Loss may be necessary.”
Section 7.6.4 — Cheating — which results in disqualification, says: “Players who intentionally commit infractions are looking to gain an unfair advantage over other players at the event.”
Therefore, the Head Judge likely ruled that Jacob gained a significant advantage but unknowingly played with the 63-card deck for five rounds.
So, what exactly is my purpose here? It is not to vilify either player or call intentions into question, but to closely examine the reactions of the community. I made my opinion pretty clear — Ryan is not a cheater, Jacob is; dispute this if you wish — but it’s the community’s reaction that horrifies me the most. Both players received the blunt end of ignorant players who were overeager to burn either player at the stake for these digressions. Weak appeals to emotion where made in both cases, but of course such argumentation are fallacious and should be disregarded accordingly.
The next question is the hard one. How do I differ from this and then, what do we do next? Though I express a belief that different things happened in these similar cases, this does not mean that I am calling for the outing of Jacob. I do think he cheated, but if we simply bully him out of the game, we clearly are not allowing a player to better himself or herself and are simply showing a shortcoming as of community. I do not put much stock into “he’s just a kid, let him grow up,” but I do believe in second chances and think that the Virbank community clearly needs to mature and not react so viciously to such an instance.
Perhaps I am in a vast minority in this view, but I think that it would be reasonable, if absolutely confirmed that he cheated, to strip the title and attempt to compensate those robbed by his baseless choices. Not a popular opinion I’m sure, but as noted, this is clearly a hard question to answer.
This article ended up going in a direction that I did not expect. It started as most of my articles usually do, got uppity in my tournament report and then got dark really fast. I think that there is a lot to say that I did not necessarily cover and I look forward to conversing with you in the comments. As you probably understand by reading most of what I write, I am a strong advocate of character-based discussion to solve moral quandaries, which understandably can lead to some interesting consequences. Perhaps if I believed differently, I would respond to what occurred in Virginia in another way, but that’s something to be argued further.
On a lighter note, I will be attending Florida Regionals and look forward to seeing and competing with many of you. I have so many more thoughts on the game that I don’t see myself running out of things to say in these articles for a long time and so I hope you’re willing to stomach my writing in the imminent future. Until next time!
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