Lots of people ask me about the Junior meta, both in its current state and in general how it works. Obviously, few Masters follow the Junior meta yet there are many Junior players and from an administrative perspective Junior players are a big part of most tournaments. Also, many Masters look on with envy at the low Championship Point requirements for earning their Worlds invite. As a professional Pokédad, I am well qualified to commentate on the Junior meta so I wanted to share some perspectives on how it works, how it differs from the Masters game, and the implications.
The most frequently cited statement about the Junior meta is that it “lags” the Masters meta by a few months. I would like to start by adding some nuance to this statement to reflect the Junior mindset. This is the key difference between Juniors and Masters and reflects the more sophisticated perspective of the Masters meta.
The way the Junior mind works is something like this:
“I just lost to this deck that seemed awesome. I should play that deck! That deck just won the tournament … I should play that deck!”
Whereas the Masters mind works more like this:
“That deck just won the tournament. What deck could I play that will beat that deck? Will everyone play the deck that beats that deck? What deck beats that?”
For a simple example of this, one need look no further than last year’s World Championship. After the breakout success of Pyroar at the US National Championship, the top deck at the World Championship was a deck that seemed likely to lose to Pyroar, but had great matchups against decks that were teched to beat Pyroar.
This is what causes the impression of a drag on the Junior meta. Whereas the Masters meta may jump two or three decks “ahead” at a moment’s notice, the Junior meta can stagnate if a deck finds success. For example, Donphan is still widespread in large parts of the Junior meta. The reason for this is fairly obvious: The effectiveness of Korrina in this deck means that it has a thick Supporter line and sets up consistently. Conversely, there is not a lot of Seismitoad in the Junior meta. I personally attribute this to the fact that the damage output of Seismitoad is so limited.
A second aspect of the Junior meta is that less complicated decks with Big Basics are probably a slightly larger portion of the meta compared to Masters. For example, my seven-year-old generally prefers decks that allow him to attach Energy and then hit people harder. Preferably hitting harder as he attached more Energy. The result is that decks featuring Landorus-EX, Yveltal-EX, and Donphan PLS all have a certain amount of disproportionate appeal.
A Lack of Good Non-Meta
The other nuance of the novice meta that I would identify is that there are less well-built non-meta and rogue decks. I would characterize both the Junior meta and the Masters meta as having their fair share of theme decks and poorly constructed decks. Then they have a strong showing of decks that are consistent with the meta. Between these two poles are the decks that play well but are rogue decks. You see very few of these decks in the Junior meta and I would cite two reasons for this:
First, this could simply be demonstrative of the relative size of the two groups. At most tournaments I attend, the Junior pool is only about 20% of the size of the Masters group. So it could be that we are talking about a similar distribution on a much smaller sample size.
Second, I think that Juniors are typically much more constrained in terms of testing and flexibility. Now, I know Masters are busy. I am old and I am busy. But Juniors are pretty constrained. For example, my third-grader has two soccer practices during the week from 6:30 to 7:30, is busy from 9-5 every day with school commitments, is not allowed to play Pokémon during the week until his homework is finished (which means no Pokémon Monday to Wednesday typically), and has no access to electronics (meaning no PTCGO) on any weekday. Then he has family dinner from 6-7 and goes to bed by 9 every night.
So best-case scenario, he plays Pokémon for an hour or two during the week. And that is assuming that this is what he wants to do with his free time on the weekdays. He is a little kid with competing interests that include playing basketball, playing chess, playing board games, drawing, watching a cartoon, or going to a friend’s house. I know pretty much everyone looks at that list and says, “That all sounds like fun.”
While I am busy, I have the flexibility to set my own schedule to some degree and I can stay up late or wake up early to create additional flex time as appropriate. Children today seem to have far more structured lives than I felt like I did when I was a child. I am sure there are people with even less time to play Pokémon, but I suspect that my description is something that will resonate with almost every Poképarent — this is the norm.
Less Media Exposure
Finally, Juniors spend less time reading the blogs. I would never let my kid read the Virbank Facebook group, for example. There are simply too many people with filthy mouths and too few people modeling the kind of behavior I think we all imagine that our best selves would represent. Alas, such is the nature of the Internet. Without following these data points closely, following the state of the game is difficult.
I just have to share this one story because it is pretty funny. At Philadelphia Regionals, my kids and I were sitting around playing while we waited for the tournament to begin on Saturday and Andrew Estrada is sitting next to us and starts to play a game with some random Junior. At some point they are talking and the random Junior asks Andrew if he is good at Pokémon. Andrew volunteers that he won the World Championship and then the kid says, “Sure you did, whatever.” So Masters can take comfort in the knowledge that sarcasm and cynicism are both alive and well in the Junior age bracket.
This wouldn’t be a good article without some tournament reports and such.
Regionals was tough on us. We attended Virginia Winter Regionals and my oldest missed cut after ending up with a tie when he accidentally shuffled his hand into his deck after a Lysandre’s Trump Card was played. The real tragedy was he had the game the next turn as he had a massive Mewtwo powered up with no way to stop it. Having said that, we loved our deck.
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 31
Energy – 12
A couple of comments on the list:
- We loved how thick and consistent the Trainer lines were and the soft lock of Malamar.
- Originally our list had used Gengar-EX to give us a less linear attack strategy by having the flexibility to start spinning into Aegislash or Suicune if we wanted, and although it tested well, we dumped it at the last minute for Charizard to improve our Metal and Virgen matchups, and we were glad we did.
- We would have loved to add a Muscle Band or two or a Trump Card, but these cards were fabulous.
- Given the addition of Primal Clash, we might test Trevenant-EX, but there is almost nothing we would do differently.
￼We only did three State Championships this year, but they were a big success. After going undefeated in Swiss with Flareon at the Delaware State Championship, my oldest lost in Top 4 to one of his best friends.
At the Pennsylvania State Championship, my oldest son went undefeated for the entire tournament and 2-0’d every opponent he faced except in Top 8, when he 2-1’d his younger brother. Pokémon has done great things for teaching my kids strong sportsmanship and how to take a loss, but we had rare tears at the end of that round.
At the Virginia State Championship, my oldest had another nice run with Manectric/Rough Seas, going undefeated in Swiss and losing in Top 4, the highlight of which was overcoming a poor matchup versus Primal Groudon in Top 8.
Here is the list that we used at PA States:
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 45
Energy – 4
Comments on this list:
- When Swampert gets set up, you really only need one Slurpuff. Having said that, with this build the Swampert got set up pretty inconsistently — there are too many Supporters to empty your hand easily.
- Pokémon Center Lady was tournament MVP. Getting out of Special Conditions and keeping up the lock for an extra turn or two at key moments changed the game.
We are going to Massachusetts Regionals, so if you see us, say hi.