Ghost Story

KPiplup’s 2015 World Championship Report
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“The ghosts you chase you never catch.”

It’s truly astounding to think about the small things that lead to things so large. As I write this from the rather-uncomfortable seating in Logan International Airport (and as my flight is delayed … again), I can decidedly say that I’m glad with the way the weekend turned out. My intent today is to detail the choices that led to the outcomes my team and I experienced this weekend. Hopefully you can learn something for yourself and help your own preparation for a future event. If nothing else, I hope you’ll enjoy the read.

Playtest/Long Time: The Lead-Up to Worlds

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It’s been one drawn-out format.

My World Championship experience this year kicked off the Tuesday prior to the event with the typical smattering of dull, non-targeted testing — after all, BCR-ROS has been our format for the better part of three months. Never before had the Worlds format also been featured at a Regional Championship, and the familiarity certainly started to take a toll on my patience. At some point, as much as it pains me to admit, playing Pokémon simply became dull. After all, one does grow ill of uttering “Quaking Punch” at one point or another — never mind sitting across from it.

If it’s not already clear, my team’s general attitude toward testing wasn’t necessarily one of enthusiasm. From the conclusion of Nationals to midday on August 1st, I don’t believe I picked up a single Pokémon card with the intent of testing Standard. Even then, my obligation to Underground subscribers to give informed opinions was definitely the chief motivation behind that action. Sure, I tinkered around with BLW-AOR for my article, but that’s fun. Standard, at this point, was not. By that date last year, my friend and teammate Alex Hill and I had logged well over 300 games in our preparation for Worlds.

In that preliminary testing, I was enamored with Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX. For the reasons outlined in my Underground article, it seemed like a deck with solid matchups. Looking back, a few players did find success with Genesect-EX/Manectric-EX, which is along the lines of some of my very early thoughts, so I feel that opinion was somewhat validated, but I’m not upset that later testing led me in a different direction.

I did finally, on August 9th, sit down for my first bit of dedicated testing with someone outside of my family. My friend James Staszel, whom some of you may remember as this year’s US Nationals Senior Division runner-up, had dreams of Night March. I, for better or worse, detailed nightmares of Seismitoad in response. I believe that was one of three times he and I met to try working out solutions; I can’t say any of the three led to anything jumping out at us as decidedly good anymore than from my conversations with Alex Hill, Sean Foisy, JW Kriewall, and my other teammates. In short, we were decidedly undecided.

A New Paradigm: Going Hi-Tech

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Using Excel to excel.

This year was a bit different in that I chose to employ another tool in helping analyze our options for the tournament. As every quality player knows, the goal is to have the most good matchups in the room while also minimizing exposure to auto-losses. If I asked Alex Hill a question about a given matchup, he would typically have an opinion on the favored deck, but should he ask me which deck I perceived to have the best matchup against a spread of decks X, Y, and Z; I’d have a much harder time giving a consistent answer.

For that reason (and my affinity for tinkering with Microsoft Excel), I devised a spreadsheet to help us quantify our empirical evaluation of different matchups. Simply, each deck was listed along with its expected win percentage against every other viable deck in format. Then, each deck was assigned a percentage indicating its share of the metagame. Once every deck’s individual matchup was multiplied by the factor, it was all added up to form a “playability factor” where the highest number indicated the best play for the tournament. The metagame percentages were adjustable, so we could try different combinations to determine the best plays in a given metagame.

Was it a particularly useful tool? I view it much in the same was as the use of sabermetrics in professional sports, especially Major League Baseball. Different teams employ traditional scouting and advanced metrics in different ratios. It’s exceptionally obvious that Pokémon is not played in a bubble, and as such, this isn’t a tool one should entirely rely on when choosing a deck. If nothing else, it served as a good way to guide our testing: I prioritized matchups that, when filling in the table, I drew a blank on.

Additionally, if a deck I was considering was consistently toward the lower end of the spectrum based on my table, it made me question whether emotion or reason was the guiding force behind my feeling toward that deck. Manectric-EX/Seismitoad-EX/Crobat PHF was one such example. It consistently (until our very last metagame simulation) ranked toward the bottom of the barrel — Klinklang and Groudon were mostly responsible for that fact. It wasn’t until we thoroughly re-tested the Groudon-EX matchup and reevaluated its status in the table that Toad/Manectric rebounded.

That brings me to another caveat: The rankings were only as good as the raw data behind them. I believe we altered ~30 matchups’ ratings from the start of our time in Boston to the wee hours of Friday morning, and with every alteration came an altered sense of reality. So, if you’re considering trying this for your next big event, keep in mind that in order for it to be worthwhile, you need to have an excellent grasp on every deck in the format.

We’ll get back to my crazy brainchild a bit later, but for now, just take a lesson: Never discount the under-the-radar decks. In general, leading up to the event the top decks according to my data were (in no particular order) Klinklang, Groudon, Archie’s Blastoise, Virizion/Genesect, and Night March.

Rising Spirit: The Choices Narrow

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I almost left my Gengar at home!

“I’m intrigued by the idea of Trevenant/Gengar …”

My friends Alex Hill, Sean Foisy, and Chris Derocher arrived on Wednesday, and Sean and I didn’t waste much time in beginning to test. We started off with some boring games with Groudon, but to me, the deck simply didn’t seem consistent enough to justify playing.

Side note: I’m a firm believer that setting oneself up to get lucky is a necessary part of winning an event like Worlds. In a format so reliant on matchups, the ability to “go-off” and leave your opponent ill-equipped to make a comeback is something attractive to me. That’s a good amount of the rationale behind my Worlds list last year: 4 Roller Skates was unconventional in Yveltal/Garbodor, but it gave me more access to key DCE drops than my mirror match opponents. I went 9-2 in Yveltal Mirror at Worlds last year and largely cite that list choice as the reason why.

What does that have to do with Groudon? Simply, Groudon as we had it built didn’t offer that edge. I can’t think of another deck since the original Virizion/Genesect that offered so little in terms of ability to deviate from the gameplan.

I left Detroit on Tuesday with 17 different decks built and as I sit in the airport at this moment, I believe the count exceeds 20. The amount of variety in this format is staggering. Could all 20 of those decks have made a splash? Probably not. Am I glad I had all of them? Unbelievably.

Gengar-EX/Trevenant XY has been around for a while now, but it hasn’t seen any major success in America outside of Ross Cawthon’s Illinois States performance. My friend Pearce Blend, among others, saw some success with it at US Nationals, but it was definitely far from mainstream entering Worlds this year. In fact, I almost elected to leave my copy of it at home (and as my mother will recount, I didn’t exactly prioritize Gengar-EX when packing). In fact, I believe the conversation with my mother went down like this:

“Do we need these Gengar on the shelf?”

“Eh, no, there’s no way I can ever see myself playing such a silly card.”

It was good. Spectacular, in fact. Not since Speed Lugia prior to US Nationals in 2014 had a deck seemed so good against so much of the field. It had been in the original iteration of my aforementioned spreadsheet, but most of its matchups had been approximated based on guesswork (and, really, ambivalence). By the time Alex Hill chose to join us some many hours later, it had not yet dropped a series to any deck. After playing two games with it, he was not nearly as convinced as us, and we switched over to testing Groudon.

Groudon tested fairly well, as one might expect. Omega Barrier is one of the most powerful effects ever printed on a card, and as such, the deck seems to have a sense of inevitability around it. You either have to pressure the Groudon player extremely early or be prepared to Knock Out the Groudon in extremely short order. Only a select few decks are capable of doing so, and despite my earlier expressed concerns about the deck’s linearity, it’s undeniable that there’s benefit in a strategy so strong that it needs no deviation.

I believe at this point that we had generally tabled Gengar, similar to the way that we had tabled Wailord on Wednesday night at US Nationals (Yes, we tested it. Yes, our list was much inferior to Enrique Avila and co’s) for no reason other than a general non-consensus about its playability. As Alex Hill noted in his last article, our philosophy was that if we can’t convince the others that what we’re doing is valid, it’s probably best that we don’t do it at all. I can’t stress enough the importance of a group of trusted partners in preparing for a large-scale event.

Day 0: The Beginning of All Things Chaos

kpiplup groudon conversationI won’t bore you with more details of testing methodology, as I think you get the picture by now. By midday Thursday, the conversation (see right) that went down between Alex Hill and I while we were at separate lunches embodied our thought process. It wasn’t that Groudon was a decidedly best answer, but more a concession to luck’s inevitable impact on the events ahead. I had decided reservations about its consistency that led me to later question our presumed choice, and eventually, it became clear that Sean was beginning to experience some of the same reservations as myself. In short, Groudon went through a rough stretch in which it barely set up while at the same time my games with Chris Derocher were finding Night March to be significantly favorable for Gengar. Eventually, the thought process flipped and we were all very, very glad that while I chose to ignore some of my Gengar stash while packing, nine of them had made the Boston trek. Nobody was yet sure of their decision, but I believe a good number of us were leaning this direction.

Eventually, we made our way to the Hynes Convention Center for competitor check-in. I have nothing but respect for the courteous nature of the Hynes’ staff during what was assuredly a hectic time period of 2,000+ people swarming from all directions. It was well organized by folks on all ends, and competitor check-in and the retail store embodied the same principles. Excellent job by all folks involved.

It’s at this point that I’d like to comment on the James Stumbo and Kevin Norton situation. I was there when they escorted Mr. Stumbo out of the competitor check-in line, and have to say that connecting the dots now, it’s startling to realize just what could have occurred had the situation gone unchecked. While I know many of the media reports surrounding the situation to be exaggerations and am aware of folks that firmly hold their ground on both sides of the issue, I am glad that TPCi is cognizant enough to recognize a potential issue and am amazed by the timeline in which they and Boston PD were able to coordinate to take care of the situation and keep attendees safe.

Major props to all folks at TPCi, BPD, and BRIC. I believe that everyone can agree that, however they judge the intent of the accused, the actions taken by TPCi and the other parties involved were in the best interest of ensuring against any possibility of tragedy — and that trumps all.

Day 1: Spooky Good

To say the least, it was an under-the-radar selection. No less than half of my weekend’s opponents expressed a degree of surprise at me flipping over a Phantump to start the game, and the Seismitoad players in the bunch were especially displeased. It also wasn’t an easy decision, as I don’t believe any of us finalized our choice until the morning of the event.

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The list.

We all played the same list with the exception of Sean Foisy dropping the 4th Float Stone for the 4th N. 4 N would’ve been wonderful, but I couldn’t bring myself to justify dropping the 4th Float Stone. The strength of the deck is partially in preying on Shaymin-EX — a Muscle Band and Virbank City Gym is sufficient to 1HKO. Tree Slam is also very strong against Night March and is generally a surprisingly strong attack. Overall, I wouldn’t change a thing (except what we ended up changing for Day 2 … that later).

In all, 4 Masters and 1 Senior chose to play Gengar for Day 1. We combined for a record of 22-9-2 on Day 1, and all but teammate Chris Derocher managed to advance; going from 4-0-1 to 4-2-1. Here’s how my Day 1 went:

R1: Dylan Dreyer (US) w/ Night March (2-1)
R2: Mike Fouchet (US) w/ Night March (1-2)
R3: Michael Canaves (US) w/ Bunnelby Mill (0-2)
R4: Dane Schlusser (US) w/ Groudon (2-1)
R5: Jake Dudzik (US) w/ Manectric/Toad/Bats (2-1)
R6: Travis Nunlist (US) w/ Archie’s Blastoise (2-1)
R7: Benjamin Sauk (US) w/ Manectric/Toad/Bats (2-0)

1-2 to 5-2! Rounds 4-7 weren’t nearly as stressful as you’d expect; I’d written myself after the R3 loss to Bunnelby so I honestly considered it amazing that I managed the 4-0 run. That loss was especially demoralizing because you’d expect the matchup to be fairly decent, but his ability to Lysandre/stall a Shaymin with Head Ringer, Team Aqua’s Hideout, and Energy denial proved too much. My Night March matches with both Dylan and Mike were extremely close, but Mike managed to take advantage of going first in 2/3 games whereas Dylan was unable to capitalize on that advantage in Game 1 of our match.

My match with Travis Nunlist, an Indiana player who I was upset to be playing with so much on the line, came down to literally a coin flip: If I flip tails on my Jirachi’s Sleep check, he’ll have Items for the duration of his next turn, which should have been enough to get a Blastoise on the field and pull away with the match. Fortunately for me, his Articuno tricks were thwarted by my flipping heads on that Sleep check. It was an incredibly close match, and I’m glad that I didn’t have to play it again with Aaron Tarbell, teammate of Travis, on Day 2 (despite sitting next to him multiple rounds).

Overall, it was an excellent Day 1, and given I had almost aborted my deck choice to Manectric/Toad for admittedly no particular reason, I’m exceptionally glad that I made the choice I did. Going into Day 2, we had the same number of players making decisions, as my brother’s Day 2 invite kept him out of Day 1 play. I thought long and hard about how to avoid playing Gengar again, as the 1-2 start did nothing to help my confidence in the deck, but at the end of the day, I simply didn’t think there was a better option.

Day 2: Ghostbusters

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Second-day competitors weren’t as “afraid of no ghost.”

The only change to the deck was swapping a basic P Energy for a 4th Mystery Energy. There’s no especially great reason this choice wasn’t made on Day 1 as well, but the ability to retreat Jirachi and Shaymin, along with Xerosic invulnerability, were among the factors. We decided that the added out to retreat (making eight total) for our Psychic types outweighed the other factors.

Here’s how my Day 2 went:

R1: Sammy Sosa (US) w/ Landorus/Crobat (2-1)
R2: Gawain Wagner (NL) w/ Donphan (2-1)
R3: Raichu/Crobat/Bronzong (0-2)
R4: Sebastian Lugo (IL) w/ Groudon/Hippowdon (2-0)
R5: Brit Pybas (US) w/ Metal (1-1)
R6: Simon Narode (US) w/ Donphan (1-2)
R7: Patrik Räty (FI) w/ Groudon/Wailord/Healing (0-2)

Obviously, it wasn’t the most desirable outcome in the world, but Sean Foisy’s T8, Alex Hill’s T32, and my brother’s (non-Gengar) Seniors T16 more than make up for it.

To say the unusual was the norm would be an understatement. Donphan, while having been on our radar, wasn’t a deck we expected to be quite so represented. My R7 matchup was the epitome of “auto-loss;” 4 Pokémon Center Lady is certainly more than a deck like Trevenant can handle. Couple that with two subpar starts and a T32 finish for me was simply not in the cards.

I’d like to touch on a few subjects from Day 2. My 3rd round matchup, where I’ve chosen to not list player details, was unfortunately the site of some potentially sketchy conduct on the part of my opponent. During Game 1, I noticed that his shuffling technique resulted in his deck becoming suspiciously close to the hand, and while I was unable to prove anything, I believe a card was passed from deck to hand. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a matchup I had any business winning and I quickly scooped to Game 2.

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Should have dyed my hair to match Wally

This is where things get very iffy. After getting the T1 Wally’s Trevenant, my opponent (who plays faster than I; an accomplishment all its own) proceeded to Jirachi for a Lysandre, and immediately indicate I should bring up the Benched Phantump. While shuffling, it is my opinion that he shifted a card from the deck to the hand. Black sleeves in tight spaces make it hard to tell, but I’m as confident as I can physically be that this took place.

He immediately plays an Ultra Ball from hand as he finishes shuffling, and I stop him as he goes to discard and count 10 cards between the field and his hand. Seven to start, one for turn, one Stellar Guidance searched Lysandre would be nine. The judging resolution is obviously not simple on their end, and my opponent claims he simply drew eight cards to start. I have an issue with this explanation due to the way he counted out his hand (he decidedly set out one at a time in a fan whenever he drew cards), but I obviously could not prove this fact.

With a lack of proof, I had to settle for making my suspicions clear to the Head Judge and others involved. There isn’t a person I’d have rather had serving as Masters Head Judge than A.J. Schumacher, and I have full confidence that the situation was well handled throughout the remainder of the event. At the end of the day, it boggles my mind that someone would bother to cheat in a matchup as one-sided as this one is on paper, but I would have rather experienced this in a blowout than a close contest. It wasn’t the most pleasant way to end my 6-0 run at the time, but thus is life.

I wouldn’t mention the situation if not to offer a word of caution: Pay attention! I’m as guilty as anyone of occasionally being more interested in the neighboring game than my own — Night March tends to have that effect — and had I not been paying close attention, I don’t doubt that I would’ve missed this. In addition, be sure to not hesitate to call a judge if something seems amiss. It would’ve taken awhile, but in the end I would feel a bit better about the whole situation had I taken the initiative to have it examined during Game 1 as well. I had no business winning the matchup, so I’m not terribly upset about it, but it does leave a bad taste.

With that out of the way, I’d like to detail my experiences with fellow 6P writer Brit Pybas. It wasn’t a matchup I went into confidently, and I was somewhat surprised that I was able to take Game 1. It was admittedly a matchup that I had not tested at all in our limited time with Gengar, and as such, during Games 2 and 3 I had to think far more than my normal pace would dictate. I don’t believe that I ever exceeded the legal time limits for lively play (and Brit concurred), but I do regret that we tied. I hadn’t so much as come within 10 minutes of time all weekend, and it simply wasn’t a factor on my mind after 11 rounds of Pokémon. Fortunately, Brit went on to make Top 32, so it wasn’t a total loss from our match.

My match with Simon was, to say the least, tense. Unfortunately for him, it was the second time he had encountered the madness of Gengar, having been handed his first loss by Sean Foisy. He and Dylan Dreyer were the only two repeat victims as far as I know, and both of them managed to make at least Top 16, so perhaps two was the magic number. He was (defensibly) seemingly upset at the pairing, meanwhile, Gawain Wagner’s 4 Lysandre had made my earlier Donphan experience stressful enough to know that this was far from an automatic W.

During Game 1, my lone Jirachi-EX didn’t get very far and we were gifted an excess of time for Games 2 and 3. Game 2 went according to the plan, as he failed to get many Robo Substitute in play until it was too late and I was able to control Donphans before they grew into Wreck-capable menaces. During Game 3, I faltered a bit and he was able to take advantage by building up multiple Donphan. Later, Sean suggested to me that I would’ve been best off using Night Attack to setup KOs on the Donphans with Energy given the condition of my setup, but at the end of the day, Simon took the match.

It was certainly disappointing to lose out on a T32 spot, albeit almost comical given the 4 Pokémon Center Lady situation, but overall it was a successful day as a group. Sean’s Top 8 loss was a disappointment in isolation, but for yet another major event, our group’s brainchild managed to find its way onto Pokémon.com.

Final Thoughts on the Weekend Past

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A view of the TCG Masters Finals from the upper-level seating.

And the past it now is. In every imaginable facet, both good and bad, it’s chilling to think about what could have been. We now look onto a horizon of a future, perhaps one that will look different from the past 15 years of the game. It’s undeniable that the alleged incident is something that everyone wishes never would’ve happened, but perhaps it’s best that the preventive measures that will likely ensue are established now rather than in the future.

Like all major events, it was great seeing friends old and making new. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that it’s the people that make the game what it is. After all, if we were relying on the quality of the games themselves to justify involvement in the game … we’d be in a dark place. I’m forever grateful for the people I’ve met through this game and the organizers and staff that make it possible.

If anyone has any questions, fire away. Otherwise, I hear there’s this Shiftry thing I should be paying attention to (if my plane ever takes off, that is).

Christopher

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