I know that there is very little writing on the Junior meta, but the steady stream of positive feedback that I get from people indicates to me that there is demand for information about my kids’ competitive landscape. With that in mind, I wanted to write a brief tournament report for my sons’ World Championship trip.
Let’s jump right in!
As I have told people previously, the Junior meta is heavily informed by the Masters meta, while lagging slightly. With so few tournaments in the post-LTC ban format, I felt like there was very little momentum behind any given deck and the format was a very matchup-based rock-paper-scissors format centering on Landy/Bats, Toad, and Mega Manectric. We spent a lot of time testing a lot of things. Here is a little commentary on our findings:
We tested Hippos based on its performance in my deck analysis article, but found that it was surprisingly brittle. Any sort of Energy suppression broke the deck so it lost pretty hard to Toad/Garb. We thought if its auto-loss is Garbodor, we might as well play Klinklang.
We started out testing Klinklang pretty extensively but we were very put off by how brutally it lost to Toad/Garb. Despite testing a million different things from Mewtwo-EX to Xerosic to Dialga-EX to Cobalion LTR, there was nothing we found that made this a close matchup, and we felt like after its win at US Nationals, Juniors would be inclined to play Toad/Garb despite its defensive nature that runs counter to many Juniors’ paradigm of Pokémon.
Further, we found that it could really struggle with Landy/Bats if it didn’t have an explosive setup turn. Most games, Klinklang is so defensive that the goal is simply to not cede too many Prizes before Klinklang gets set up, but versus Landy/Bats, you could easily give up three or four Prizes and find yourself too far behind by the time you got Klinklang out to salvage the game.
We spent a bunch of time testing this and I continue to believe that this was probably the BDIF. Unfortunately, we found it difficult to set up consistently and the Toad matchup was a much more difficult than one would be inclined to suspect. In the Toad matchup, if you can’t Ultra Ball for other Pokémon or bench Robo Substitutes, you can find yourself in a situation where you have to bring up the Groudon prematurely because you run out of walls. Similarly, you frequently find yourself in situations where you want to Korrina for a Groudon or Primal Groudon but if you can’t play Professor’s Letter then you miss a turn of Energy attachments. But you need the Primal Groudon to not get Lysandre’d, so you have to Korrina and evolve, miss a turn of Energy, and hope your walls survive long enough.
The Supporter line is a challenge that we never felt like we perfected either: If you have 12 Supporters in a 59-card deck, drawing 7 cards (because you bench a Basic first turn and it is one of your first 8 cards), then you will draw dead ~19% of the time (1-((((D-T)!)-((D-T-H))!))/((D!)-((D-H)!)-1))). So we felt like most of the lists we looked at drew dead much much more frequently than other decks we played (where we had multiple Shaymin and max Ultra Balls, giving us 13-15 outs Turn 1). So the deck felt really inconsistent.
I suspected that the Dragonite version of Groudon might be the best play as an army of Dratini helps you get more walls into play versus Toad, your mirror match is improved, and the Toad/Bats and Landy/Bats games become much more complicated for the Bat player. Unfortunately, we could never get there with a list that had a Dragonite line, a 3-3 Groudon line, a thicker draw line, and the same consistent techs — you need a certain amount of Hard Charms, Float Stones, and Focus Sashes to be successful.
I have frequently talked about how Juniors and Pokédads simply don’t have the time to test like Masters that can stay up until 2 AM. I think we might have cracked the code on this deck if we had had a few more weeks to work it out. I know a lot of Masters were worn out on this format by the time Worlds came around, but we still felt like we were discovering new things about cards every day.
We spent a fair bit of time testing Wailord. Our theory was something like this: Most Juniors won’t test against Wailord because testing against Wailord is a PITA. Most Juniors will think they can simply add a Bunnelby to their deck and they auto-win the matchup. All we need is a strategy to kill Bunnelbys (a Mewtwo and a DCE?) and we can house a lot of Juniors.
Unfortunately, we found in our testing that there were a lot of decks that could successfully beat Wailord without a Bunnelby if they just played smart. We could consistently beat Wailord using Mega Manectric or Bronzong — any deck that had Energy recovery and could hit for more than 100 per turn could put so much pressure on a Wailord deck to hit heals that it was challenging. Toad could also put a lot of pressure by combining strategic use of N with Lasers and Quaking Punches.
Given that we felt like all of these decks were decks that would see a lot of play, we demurred even though it is a fun deck to play. If we had felt like the meta would be all Landy/Bats, we would have jumped in on it!
My son played Grant Manley’s M Manectric/Empoleon list at side events at Nationals and had a great time. Hitting Archie’s is fun. That is just a fact. We had kept that in our testing circle and slowly evolved the deck, but we never found that perfect partner to pair it with. Articuno, Kyurem, and Empoleon all seemed a bit clunky. We couldn’t turn the Archie’s consistently enough to feel like Empoleon magically solved the Landy/Bats problem and the other solutions weren’t game winners. Also, none of these really improved other matchups, so they were really just techs for Fighting decks and they didn’t seem like amazingly effective techs that turned the game.
Then we saw the Tool Drop Trubbish build and were immediately enamored. Here was a non-EX Pokémon that we could power up easily, play in bunches without impacting consistency, swing with for huge numbers (140-160 pretty consistently), and it encouraged us to play 4 Head Ringer, which we thought people would hate. So YAY! We recognized that the Trubbish didn’t particularly help the Landy/Bats matchup, but we were losing that anyway. It helped other matchups like Groudon, Night March, Raichu, Hippos, and the mirror by providing a powerful attacker that only yielded a single Prize card, and our hope was that tons of Head Ringer would improve other matchups and the mirror. We talked with some friends around the country and they told us that they thought Landy/Bats was probably not going to be played and to expect a lot of Toad.
My son talked a lot about playing Landy/Bats because it was a hard matchup across the board for these decks, but I poo-pooed that because if you are going to play Bats, why not play it with Toad and Item lock and then have huge wins versus Landy/Bats? So that is on me. One has a much better Manectric matchup; the other has a better Fighting matchup. It seems like in a toss-up like that, Item lock is too good not to play.
For what it is worth, my youngest son played Toad/Bats at both Nationals and Worlds and then the Boston Open (where he lost in Top 8 after a brutal Day One of Worlds filled with terrible luck, Suicunes, and Hippowdon).
We got into Boston on Wednesday and did a fair bit of playtesting. My son played some with M Manectric and some with Klinklang. He didn’t lose with M Manectric a single time on Wednesday or Thursday except for a fun game against Dylan Bryan (playing Toad/Manectric/Bats), but he has never beaten Dylan playing any deck ever, so we didn’t read too far into that. So for Day One, our strategy was set.
The Deck List
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 36
Energy – 9
I think it is amazing how deliberate every card is in this deck. The key strategy of this deck is to set up 2 or 3 Mega Manectric as quickly as possible, get a Rough Seas out, and then attack and retreat every turn, healing off the damage. If the opposing attacker can’t hit for OHKO’s on 210 HP Pokémon, and you have 3 Mega Manectric out, it is almost impossible for them to KO one.
Since your goal is to get out 2 Mega Manectric ASAP and hit the 2 Energies you need, we play a bunch of Lightning Energy, 4 Spirit Links, and a maxed line of Mega Manectric. Because you would really like to actually have 3 Mega Manectric in play for cycling, you don’t want to only run a 4-3 line or only run 3 Spirit Links. Besides, more Tools helps your Tool Drop attack.
3 Trubbish lets you set up multiple Trubbish to attack a Primal Groudon, which is very helpful, and this number also makes it OK if one or two die on the way to Garbodor. Conversely, while 1 Garbodor is probably enough to see you through matchups against Pokémon like Blastoise and Aegislash because you can two-shot anything they try to power up if you have Lysandre ready, you cannot afford to prize Garbodor in those matchups and setting up a second secures the victory. So you don’t need a lot, but you do need two.
Our Supporter line was also carefully chosen. We wanted more than 12 outs to draw cards on Turn 1. We have tested a lot and we thought 12 and less resulted in too many dead hands, and being really consistent was important to us.
Much like our Nationals deck, many times the first deck search of the game is Ultra Ball for Shaymin because the Ultra Ball/Shaymin combination comprises nearly half of our access to draw Turn 1, and if Shaymin is prized it can really derail the strategy. Prizing Shaymin actually turns our Ultra Balls into cards that are not outs to a Supporter, so we risk going from 13 outs to 7 outs every couple of games (not just every 10 because you start Shaymin a certain amount of times). We play 4 Ultra Ball because we need to get to Mega Manectric quickly and it plays well into our Shaymin giving us outs.
4 N would have been great, but we wanted more than a single Max Potion because Max Potion is such a great mid-game card in this deck and we couldn’t lose another Float Stone because when we needed a Float Stone, we needed a Float Stone, so it wasn’t worth having one more out to draw.
Many people told us 3 Head Ringer was enough, but again, the value of having that Head Ringer in hand Turn 1 proved more important than adding a few percentage points to getting that early out to draw. Going down to 1 Lysandre and adding a Battle Compressor was an option that would have worked OK giving earlier access to Lysandre and Colress potentially, but also risking prizing the Lysandre. We ended up going with the more consistent lines.
4 Head Ringer was a key to the strategy — it slowed down opposing decks, allowed us to feast on opposing Shaymin, set up early Assault Lasers, gave us time to evolve to Mega Manectric, and fueled Tool Drops. Max Potion combined with Turbo Bolt was critical fuel to continue to cycle Mega Manectric, prevent 2HKO’s, and set up your own 2HKO’s.
Dowsing Machine would allow you to grab an extra Max Potion or Rough Seas, but Computer Search helps you set up that Mega Manectric early and a fifth Stadium is not needed. You can usually win the Stadium war because this deck doesn’t feel pressure to play the Stadium early. Other decks that run 4 Stadiums such as Night March generally have to reach to play that card first turn, where this deck doesn’t need the Stadium until after the opponent’s first attack (possibly delayed by Head Ringers), so if the Stadium doesn’t come out until after the opposing Stadium, 4 Stadiums should see you through it.
Another deck that plays 4 Stadiums is Primal Groudon, but all of your Manectric get one-shotted in that matchup, so having Rough Seas out does little to improve the situation. Of course, you cannot run less than 4 Rough Seas with this deck because you need the Stadium to play down instantly if they play a counter Stadium. If they have a counter Stadium out and you struggle to draw into your Stadium in a timely fashion, the deck strategy falls apart because you lose incremental healing.
Round 1 vs. No-Show Opponent | 1-0
My boys love to quote Sabelstream these days: “We take that!” I have mixed feelings about their love of Sabelstream and this outcome. Very unfortunate.
Round 2 vs. Primal Groudon | 1-2, 1-1
We haven’t playtested this extensively because it is miserable, but my son plays this matchup in an interesting manner. He tries to set up a Manectric-EX turn one and start Overrunning onto the Primal Groudon, then set up all 3 Trubbish on the Bench and power them up manually while the opponent powers up Groudon. So he just Overruns every turn and tries to get 80 or 100 damage on the opponent to put it in range of a one-shot Tool Drop. If you can create a situation where you have 4 or 5 attackers that all hit for 120+ and the opposing player has to kill them all to win, that can be an OK matchup for Manectric.
You can tell me in the comments if we got this wrong.
Round 3 vs. Klinklang | 2-0, 2-1
Game 2, opponent empties out his hand and goes to zero cards, Ultra Ball’ing for Klinklang mid-game when my son has a Garb without a Tool on the board. First move of my son’s next turn, he attaches Float Stone to Garbodor. Poor guy never draws out of it. GG.
Round 4 vs. Manectric/Bats | 1-2, 2-2
Round 5 vs. Raichu/Eeveelutions | 2-0, 3-2 (Advances to Day Two)
True story of Round 5: They grabbed my son and deck checked him right after, but I didn’t see it, so I didn’t know where he was for ~20 minutes. I looked all over the place and couldn’t find him and I thought he must have lost and was feeling down about the universe in a corner somewhere.
After running all over the place for 20 minutes, I finally see his opponent talking animatedly to his parents so I go over to congratulate him and his opponent says, “Oh no, that kid crushed me! That was my auto-loss. They took him to deck check.” So then I find him. Stressful for a parent.
Between Day One and Day Two was where my Pokédad’ing skills derailed. We saw tons and tons of Landy/Bats at every table Day One and had narrowly avoided it, so we felt like we had chosen the wrong deck for Day One and had an uphill fight, but we were still enthusiastic about our deck! We 2-0’d our wins and 1-2’d our very close losses, so we thought that it was kind of okay against the universe.
We optimistically told ourselves that with all of the Landy/Bats, everyone would come back with Toad on Day Two because that was the correct response and then the somewhat unfavorable metagame that we saw around us Day One would shift to a favorable metagame Day Two, so we would stay one step ahead of the meta by playing the same deck.
Interestingly, our impression of the Master’s meta was that Night March was everywhere. Landy/Bats was nowhere to be seen, reinforcing our belief that Juniors would go Toad …
… and that was colossally dumb. Here we had prided ourselves all season on being people that would flex when everyone else did not. Why did we think everyone else would stop riding the horse they were on? Insanely shortsighted of us and we got it handed to us on Day Two.
Interestingly, in retrospect, if we had really tested Archie’s Blastoise, that was probably a very strong Day Two play for Juniors. We wanted a Water-type deck, but did not want to just play Toad/Bats. We had not spent time testing Blastoise because we had played a bit of Flareon/Empoleon during the year and tested M Manectric/Empoleon a lot and didn’t feel like we had seen a list that could hit the Blastoise on Turn 1 every game.
Obviously, we should have done more testing there and this lack of testing resulted in us missing a huge opportunity. We salute the Blastoise players of 2015!
Round 1 vs. Primal Kyogre | 2-1, 1-0
Obviously not a super favorable matchup, but we make it work, so we are excited.
Round 2 vs. Night March | 2-1, 2-0
Round 3 vs. Landy/Bats | 0-2, 2-1
After playing two foreign players, we faced a top North American player playing our worst matchup and got it handed to us.
Round 4 vs. Landy/Bats | 0-2, 2-2
Top 10 North American player.
Round 5 vs. Night March | 2-0, 3-2
Round 6 vs. M Manectric/Dragon M Rayquaza | 2-1, 4-2
One win away from Top 16.
Round 7 vs. Landorus | 0-2, 4-3
42nd place! (The child that beat my son in Round 7 got 14th.) As Masters know more than well enough, there is a big hole here. 30th place was also 4-3, so despite starting 2-0 and playing against good players, our resistance was mediocre. The good news is we could have ended up in the 50’s with that record, so we will take it. While Day Two was less stressful because we started out strong and that “make Day Two” stress was gone, it was a lot harder! Most of our wins were 2-1 and all of our losses were 0-2, so we still have lots of room to grow in the game of Pokémon.
I know my son would have liked one of those fancy messenger bags. Instead, all he gets is a “don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out.” Meanwhile, all of his friends that missed Day Two of Worlds were in Top 8 of the Boston Open (4 Juniors, including my youngest son, from the MD/VA area were in Top 8) and they all got tons of booster boxes as the B.O. had significantly more prize support than a typical Regional event! Now, I am a fan of more prize support because the kids love it, but here is the trick:
In their effort to not let Day One players feel like they didn’t really get to Worlds, TPCi had a total lack of incremental Day Two swag which meant that they turned Day Two qualifiers into people on the outside looking in at Boston Open kids scoring swag left and right.
It is worth saying that the Boston Open was an awesome event. A meaningful competition for kids not playing Day Two was fantastic and every kid was super engaged. I know you want to be sensitive to the Masters that felt like Day One was another LCQ, but I do think upping the swag for Day Two should maybe be a thing. Also, it’s worth mentioning that while Day One was stressful, I don’t think Juniors got that LCQ sensation. They just play and play and play.
I guess there are always people complaining, right?
Looking Ahead to Next Season
School has begun and playtesting is pretty limited now. The next big tournament for us, like many people, is Regionals, so we are focused on the Expanded format. Unfortunately, there appears to be little to no Expanded League Challenges prior to Regionals, and being Juniors our testing circle is tiny, the card pool is gigantic, and new cards like Forest of Giant Plants and Vileplume AOR look to dramatically reshape the metagame. Exploring this new format promises to be a challenge and amazingly, it will be over before we know it.
It is also crazy for us to reflect on how many friends aged up into Seniors this year. My son has two more years of being a Junior ahead of him, and I know he will miss playing Pokémon with many of his newly mature Poké-buddies in local tournaments, States, and Cities. A close friend of ours, Alejandro Ng-Guzman, came in second at Worlds —congratulations!
One funny note that I suspect might be fairly widespread and is an interesting example of the differences between Juniors and Masters is that my kids came out of Worlds energized! They basically played Pokémon non-stop coming back from Worlds. My kids took my youngest son’s two booster boxes from the Boston Open and proceeded to have six two-person booster draft tournaments over the next five days.
So the love of Pokémon is there, but the interest in fine-tuning decks and getting ready for next format is not. They just love picking up a deck and playing Pokémon. Personally, I could not look at a Pokémon card for the next week I was so Poké’d out. And I didn’t even play over the weekend! C’est la vie.
We look forward to seeing everyone in Lancaster this October.