Here’s the truth, SixPrizes: I’m currently obsessed with cooking shows. I’ve always had a fondness for The Food Network — since it was (and still is) constantly on at my parents’ — but lately this interest has bloomed into a full-on, head-on, intense fascination. You could call it a mania, even. You name it, and I’ve probably watched it. Iron Chef (America, original, and UK), Chopped, MasterChef, MasterChef Junior, Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, Cutthroat Kitchen. I even stooped so low as to voluntarily watch an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. (Okay, that’s not true — I would never willingly watch that show, as Guy Fieri is an idiot.) Regardless, I’ve been enamored, handily enabled by Netflix and YouTube to watch hours upon hours of gourmet food preparation with no end in sight.
My interest in cooking shows is multi-faceted, but the tendril of fascination I’d like to talk to you about today is the aspect of competition. Sometimes there is nothing more exciting than watching the best of the best in any particular industry or category or sport face off against each other. And honestly, I’m not sure that most people understand this desire. Sure, competition reality shows are quite popular in the United States, but from my experience, I’ve found that there are many people who view competition as a sort of worthless endeavor. They look down on it as if it were a petty, disgusting part of human nature that couldn’t possibly be reconciled with their “higher” moral virtues.
I’d like to make the argument that competition has a very important role in forming our society. Don’t get me wrong — there’s a lot to be said for cooperation as well — but to simply throw away the concept of competition as unimportant and useless is quite detrimental. Unfortunately, I continue to see competition cast down as not being intrinsically good for society (despite our nation’s continuing interest in competition shows!) in a way that is ultimately harmful.
Read on for a quick guide of practical advice for a stronger competitive season, then continue on to my discussion and thoughts on how I believe that competition is a truly important part of how we can shape ourselves and others. Finally, I end with a beautiful menu of Primal Groudon-EX three ways, which a super special side dish — hope you’re hungry!
I know that this topic has been covered many times, so I’ll try to keep it brief. But since I’m discussing competition in general, I really wanted to take some time to cover what I think are the top five most important things to do if you’re trying to become a better player. I’m sure many of you already do some of these things, and these are areas where I could improve upon as well.
As a new season is coming to a head, I think it would be helpful for each of us to reflect back on how our last season played out. Try to think of specific things — in terms of preparation — that you know you could do better this season. Don’t just give it wave it away with a general “I’ll do better this year.” Think about specific areas where you can improve, and then actually change how you prepare.
1. Group testing.
This is probably the most important point, and I’m sure everyone has heard this from many others by now — but it’s hard to overstate how necessarily it is and how useful it can be. Get a group of people together that you can trust, and that are relatively good players, and make sure you’re all on the same page in terms of what that group’s objective is. Share ideas, deck lists, testing results, etc. and try to come up with new ideas and ways of approaching the format.
There are two very key points that need to be met in order for the “team” idea to work out. First, everyone on the team has to be completely dedicated to that team. It doesn’t work if the people who you are testing with have allegiances elsewhere — they’ll be tempted to (and depending on how strong their bond is with other people, they most certainly will) not share all of their ideas, deck lists, thoughts on the metagame, etc. I’m not making any sort of judgment on these individuals, but for the purposes of creating a testing team, your time will not be used effectively if you’re basically just casually testing with friends.
The second key point is that everyone on your team needs to put in the same amount of effort and hard work, or else someone’s time is going to go to waste. If everyone spends the same amount of time testing, making decks, etc., then no one will be free-riding on your labor, and you’ll be able to get more results with less individual time put in. Without these two key factors, you wouldn’t be able to use the team as a way of individual improvement.
2. Organize yourself.
As your team tests, builds new decks, discusses the meta, etc. — write down what’s actually going on. In my opinion it’s most important to write down records based on matchups. Having a concrete idea of what one deck’s record is against another’s is a lot better than having a general feeling about it. You can combine your entire team’s testing results, and you won’t have to do as much work just on your own. Factoring in other people’s results will also help you get away from the mindset of, “Well it really is a good match-up, except x, y and z happened and therefore I lost,” which is more often used as an excuse by people trying to “save” a deck, rather than it actually being a statement of truth.
3. Buy everything.
This is probably the least talked about item on here, but it’s important to actually have all of the cards you need for a given format. (I’m notorious for borrowing cards, so let’s just say that this is the first thing I’ll have to improve upon.) The first thing you have to do is realized that Pokémon is a money suck. That being said, in order to be a good competitive player, you need to have easy access to playable cards. You can invest wisely in a way that won’t ruin you, but do know that being unable to play a card because “I don’t have that” is going to be detrimental. Don’t buy packs. I’m sure you know this, but please do not buy booster packs.
4. Stop being a scrub.
My good friend Kenny Wisdom referred me to an article that discusses freeing yourself of the “scrub mentality.” This piece completely hits the nail on the head in terms of how competitive players approach the game they’re trying to win. For example, if it turns out that Shiftry really is mostly unstoppable in Expanded, don’t refuse to play the deck because it’s “not fun.” That may be the case, but if you’re playing to win then the only reason you shouldn’t play a deck is because you think it will decrease your chances of winning. That’s it. I won’t get into playing at high-level tournaments “for fun,” since that’s a different argument for a different day, but if that’s what you want to do, then this section of the article isn’t for you.
5. Actually try to be healthier.
This is something I’ll stand by to a certain extent, but I could be completely wrong about since it does vary for each individual. According to Dylan Bryan’s Nationals recap, it seems like really only got a combined total of six hours of sleep over the three days of gameplay, so perhaps this point is actually irrelevant. It’s almost impossible for me, however, to function on anything less than seven hours of sleep. At Pokémon tournaments that number can go down somewhat, as I’m actually excited to wake up and start my day and see my friends.
Regardless, I need my sleep, and I function extremely better with it. I also play better if I have a large breakfast, consume coffee within 30 minutes of waking up, and stick to having a light, healthy lunch. Ultimately you know your body better than anyone else, so all I ask of you is to simply not do things the night before or morning of that you very well know might inhibit your performance.
I’ve been a very competitive person since I was young. Most of my competitive drive was focused in academics (in an informal way) until I got to high school, where I played on the volleyball team. This was seen as an acceptable way to be competitive — and what appropriate competition looks like is important, but it’s somewhat removed from what I’m trying to discuss today. Regardless, my high school placed a lot of focus on cooperation rather than competition — and that was nice, to an extent — but I did miss being able to be academically competitive. The general attitude given by my school — and I’m sure you’ve encountered it other ways yourself — was the idea that cooperation was a way of helping each other out, whereas competition (simply due to its nature) wasn’t a positive force. This is the disconnect regarding competition that I’m describing — and this is from where the disdain for completion stems.
You could argue that certain types of competition are petty and disgusting (which I will touch on in a bit), but I think that there is something intrinsically valuable in the aspect of competition. Competitions — including things such as competitive games — have had a long-standing history throughout all human cultures, and ultimately I believe that there is a deeper, more entrenched reason for this history than the fact that they’re fun, or the fact that people like winning. Due to the competitive nature of Pokémon, I really think that Pokémon players have a second-nature understanding of why competition is so important in society — and it’s a conclusion that many people never reach.
A good example of the different mindsets I’m attempting to describe is the best-of-51 Rock-Paper-Scissors game played by Jacob Willinger and JW Kriewall at US Nationals. I tried to explain to some friends at home (none of whom, as far as I know, recreationally compete in any activity) why the best-of-51 game was so incredibly tense, fun, and exciting — but it was primarily received as a joke. Maybe this was partly due to the misconception that most people have about Rock-Paper-Scissors, which is that it’s a random game — and even explaining that this isn’t the case is hard for me to do sometimes. But I think that it ultimately comes down to the fact that people who don’t compete don’t understand how competition changes you, and what kind of positive effect it can have.
I wouldn’t consider a best-of-51 Rock-Paper-Scissors game as the epitome of a truly “good” and worthwhile competition, but it does hearken back to the same kind of feeling that a more deeply-involved competition would evoke — and that’s why we got so into it! And this is ultimately what I’m trying to get down to today: Why is competition important? What does it do for us as individuals, and what does it do for society as a whole? Is it simply a petty way for people to let out their frustrations — a substitution for war, as sports are often categorized — or does it serve a better purpose?
Perhaps some would say that this question is irrelevant, since we’re all competitive players and we’re all in general agreement that competitions are, at the very least, “cool” — but it’s actually very relevant and it deserves some deeper thought. It’s important to how people perceive competitive gaming and competitive subcultures in general. Some players also approach competition with the completely wrong intent (that intent being purely to win), thus leading to a negative outcome from competing. And I do think that there’s ultimately a large disconnect in how people from outside a competitive mindset perceive those of us who dedicate part of our lives to it. And with it comes a disdain about competition — that it’s counterproductive to our goals as a society — which is so very harmful and wrong.
The best and most important part about competing is that it forces you to become better. This is especially true if you compete in a way that’s principled. And by that, I mean that you go into a competitive situation with the intention to better yourself. As I stated before, some players go into a game with the mindset of winning, pure and simple — they don’t care how they get there or what that win signifies. For some people, that does include cheating. For others, it’s a petty way of considering themselves better than other individuals without actually having the intention to better themselves. I’m of course not saying you shouldn’t want to win, but it’s important to realize that not all wins are equal.
If you participate in a competition that is extremely easy for you to win, and then you take that as a measurement of how good you are, it’s ultimately creating a false standard. That’s why it’s important to have this underlying desire to actually improve yourself as a player, and as a person — and that’s really the only way that competition can be beneficial to you as an individual. Otherwise, you might as well be beating up little kids and calling yourself great for it.
When competing, I often think about the game as a way of competing against myself rather than other people.
I think this really shows what it means to be a principled player. A principled player will assess their performance not only on a larger scale, but also on an individual scale. A principled player asks themselves, “Was I competing in a way that was better than the way I competed previously?” As a concrete example, if I were to win a game because I got lucky despite making misplays, it wouldn’t be a win that I would be proud of. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a better player, or to have improved at all. And this is an important part of competing in a principled manner.
Perhaps the disconnect in the general mindset regarding competition comes from the idea that people who are competitive do it in a way that is exclusionary or hurtful. Pokémon actually offers the perfect counterexample to this narrative. In Pokémon, players come together in a friendly competition, respecting the Spirit of the Game and the underlying principles of healthy competition — and that’s really what makes us able to come together as a community and to help each other improve, not just within the confines of the game, but in a larger context of simply being better people.
So often we have discussions about what the best way is to raise future generations, and Pokémon is an excellent example of how you can introduce children to a competitive mindset in a way that is ultimately cooperative and wholesome. It distinctly counters the narrative the competition has no productive place within a society that wants to better itself. Rather, it shows how powerful competition can be as a tool in constructing a better society as a whole.
In any case, I believe that this kind of beneficial competition is probably the most important thing about Pokémon. I hope you all keep this idea in the back of your mind as you go on to compete in the World Championships this year!
At one point during my cooking show exploits, I watched an episode of MasterChef Junior — which honestly features some amazingly talented children — where an eight-year-old contestant was restricted to using only two ingredients in the creation of a gourmet dish. She was able to pull off a beautifully broiled salmon and made asparagus five different ways, including a soup.
Similarly in Pokémon, a restricted card pool doesn’t mean you aren’t able to build a variety of decks — and this format is especially ripe for it. It can be hard and expensive to diversify the pool of cards that you own, especially if you consider how different the Expanded format is going to be from the Standard format next season. However, what we’ve seen in this current format is that many cards have become very versatile, allowing for a multiplicity of decks and combinations.
To show you what I mean, I’ve prepared for you today Primal Groudon-EX three ways. I think Groudon is a very strong play for Worlds due to the decline in popularity of its worse matchups. I especially like its Wailord-EX matchup, a deck which I’m somewhat terrified of. Groudon’s Omega Barrier ability is also strong against the various types of disruption that stem from Seismitoad-EX and others, and otherwise the deck can stand strong against what’s popular in our current format.
Pokémon – 11
3 Primal Groudon-EX
Trainers – 38
Energy – 11
The strategy here is to wall with Wobbuffet until you’re able to set up your Primal. Since you’re not attacking, you can use the space regularly devoted towards Spirit Link for better things. Against M Rayquaza-EX, simply set up your Primal behind a Wobbuffet and don’t bench any other Groudon-EX, and you should be fine — but two Focus Sash are included just in case. The Landorus-EX is to help break Focus Sash should your opponent play it.
Pokémon – 13
3 Primal Groudon-EX
Trainers – 36
Energy – 11
This version of Primal Groudon-EX focuses more on applying early pressure with easy attackers, and then building up a Primal slowly in the background. Once it’s out, you’ll be able to Gaia Volcano through almost anything.
Pokémon – 11
3 Primal Groudon-EX
Trainers – 38
Energy – 11
Going even further forward on the aggression spectrum, this list attempts to assemble a Primal as fast as possible — all while applying pressure early on with Landrous-EX and Hawlucha. Be careful not to deck yourself out! You can consider a Bunnelby addition, but I’m not sure it would do you much good. It’s better to just learn the deck and realize at what point in the game you should stop playing as aggressively.
If you would like to see more ways to prepare your Primal Groudon-EX deck, check out Nicholena Moon’s article from July 31. She includes a really interesting M Manectric-EX/Primal Groudon-EX deck list that I’ve never seen before — it has quite a lot of potential!
If you read Brit Pybas’s article from last week, you’ll know that I played his Seismitoad-EX/Garbodor LTR list card-for-card at U.S. Nationals. (Do read his article if you’d like the list.) Even though Brit did well and Jason Klaczynski won Nationals with a very similar variant, I’m not sure if I could honestly say it was the best read of the metagame. I’m sure that it’s just resentment over not doing better — and of course hindsight is always 20/20 — but there was quite a lot of Manectric-EX and M Manectric-EX at the tournament, and I ended up being paired against three. I tied against all three players, lost to Wailord, and ended the tournament at 5-1-3 for a Top 128 finish.
That being said, I will continue to defend Seismitoad-EX’s playability for Worlds. I think there’s just something comforting about being able to turn off your opponents’ Items. In a metagame that’s large and hard to predict, having a deck that shuts down your opponents’, no matter what it is, is a very safe play in my book.
Worlds is coming up in about a week and I couldn’t be more excited! I hope that this article gave you some food for thought, and maybe even an idea of what to play at Worlds. Please feel free to come up and talk to me about anything, whether that be the importance of competition (or not — perhaps you disagree!) or the massive amount of wrinkles of Gordon Ramsey’s forehead. I wish everyone safe travels on their way to Boston, and see y’all soon!
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