My kids and I went to Pennsylvania Regionals this weekend. This was our first real tournament of the season, as it was for many of you, so we were excited to see where it would take us.
We told everyone in the weeks after Worlds that we were not doing a lot of testing because we figured we would just look at what did well in Houston and Phoenix and then follow the Masters meta. My son always tells me that he thinks we are very good at perfecting existing decks and terrible at inventing new decks. I always reply with a rejoinder consistent with a frequent theme in my writing: Inventing new decks takes time, which is not something that Juniors have a lot of, counter to conventional wisdom. My kids play one or two games of Pokémon during the week, typically. Inventing a deck simply requires a lot of time. Fine-tuning a deck takes time as well, but to both invent and fine-tune is simply not possible for my family. So fine-tune it is.
Having said that, we played at a couple of League Challenges because we live in a great region. I see people complain about this stuff all the time on Virbank and in the forums and I have to say: Move to Washington, D.C.! While Maryland is not super active on the Pokémon front, the Rockville and Frederick Leagues run regular LCs. The Virginia Pokémon community is very active and Tim Foley runs so many LCs we can barely keep up. The Junior community has a great competitive player base, with six players (I can think of) earning their invite last year and only one aging up to Seniors. We are also surrounded by a very supportive and pleasant community of Masters that are always happy to play a game with the kids.
The result is that we had attended six LCs this season prior to PA Regionals and my eldest son had already piled up a 1st and four 2nd places. So we felt like we had a sense of the decks that people were playing (albeit primarily in Standard) in Juniors and the deck that we saw more than any other was Mega Rayquaza. Four 2nd place finishes demonstrate that we had struggled against it as well. We assumed the success people had against us and others with that deck would continue to fuel its momentum amongst the competitive Juniors players we knew.
Pre-Tournament: Playtesting Results
The results from Houston and Phoenix demonstrated that Yveltal and Blastoise were the top plays among Masters and we spent a bunch of time playtesting these two decks. While we are not the smartest Poké-players on the block, I want to talk a little about our results.
Mega Rayquaza is actually an extremely difficult deck to play against. The possibility of a 220 HP Pokémon that consistently OHKOs everything on the board starting T1 or T2 is extremely challenging.
My kids played Yveltal/Archeops in Expanded at side events at both Nationals and Worlds. My oldest won the Expanded side event at Nationals and came in second at the Expanded side event at Worlds, so we felt like we had a good understanding of that deck. The funny thing about our build — and we liked it a lot — was that the turn one Archeops was pretty inconsistent. Yveltal decks, generally, simply have less Item-based draw compared to Blastoise or Night March — a key to hitting a T1 Archie’s/Maxie’s. The good news was that you don’t need it in every matchup, but the bad news was that you could not always get it out when you wanted it out.
Now there was a specific game at Worlds where my son hit the T1 Archeops and completely crippled a boy playing Metal Ray. My son recollects it distinctly because the boy could not believe that he could not evolve his Bronzor and Rayquaza turn after turn and complained vociferously and comically. Unfortunately, conversely, my son lost in the finals because he could not get the Archeops out against a Mega Manectric deck and Mega Manectric simply ran through him. Even Israel Sosa, in his interview with Squeaky, indicated that he only hit the T1 Archeops a handful of times in his tournament victory.
Without Archeops, Yveltal struggles to deal with a Mega Rayquaza or a Mega Manectric because they attack for 3 and 2 Energy respectively and the sheer amount of Energy it takes to KO a Mega Pokémon that will OHKO an Yveltal-EX makes the trade nearly impossible.
Our feelings were similar for Blastoise. It takes an 8-Energy Keldeo with a Muscle Band to OHKO Mega Rayquaza. It seemed like too much to ask to be able to trade keep up the Prize trade in that battle. In retrospect, it might be different with Black Ballista, so maybe we should have tested in that direction, but we didn’t.
The logical Theorymon when you think about beating Mega Ray is to think about Mega Manectric. Turbo Bolt hits for 110 and 110 × 2 = 220, so it feels like Mega Manectric was designed to kill Mega Rays. This was a deck we were very familiar with, as my son had played Mega Manectric/Tool Drop Trubbish at Worlds. We had tested this extensively at the time and found that this matchup is not as good as one might think.
If they run Altaria ROS 74, you have to spend a turn Lysandre’ing the Altaria up and that puts you behind on the Prize trade in a way that you may never recover from because they continue to one-shot everything on your board. Also, you can’t attack with Trubbish first against the Altaria because you power it up with a Turbo Bolt, so you have to either hit the Mega Ray with a Mega Manectric and start 2HKO’ing it, or you Lysandre and hit the Altaria. Either way, you find yourself down Prizes. You can try and set up Garbodor, but if they Lysandre the Garbodor, you have to Lysandre the Altaria in response so they never lose tempo in that trade. And Mega Manectric has basically no way to attack first in this matchup, so you never really get ahead on Prize trading. A lot can go wrong.
So we were somewhat put off of the top decks and logical plays. Similarly, we were concerned about Hammer decks with the sudden interest in Dylan Dreyer’s Sableye/Garbodor deck so we were not inclined to play Toad/Tina.
My eldest son has been obsessed with Energy suppression decks since States. He thinks of that as his “playstyle.” I keep telling him that the real message is that his playstyle is to play the best decks. I don’t think playing Toad/Puff and playing Eggs and winning a bunch this spring indicates that your style is Energy annihilation. I think it indicates that those decks were just overwhelmingly BDIF in retrospect.
This led us to the conclusion that Sableye/Garbodor was a strong play for us. Because my son likes those kinds of decks, we had spent some time since Dylan published his list fine-tuning it and coming up with a novel concept there. A Senior had played it with success in Houston (although our list was very different). It performs very well against Mega Ray, Toad, and Night March decks, and we thought that other Juniors might be more slow to adapt to the meta and less inclined to play decks that require Archie’s and Maxie’s due to fear of deck complexity, allowing us to avoid the terrible, terrible matchups that Blastoise and Yveltal would represent.
Friday: Arriving in Lancaster
We arrive late Friday afternoon and immediately see Chris Taporco and Russell LaParre, who had been scheming on Tyrantrum-EX in their labs. My son takes Sableye in hand and beats Chris, then gets drummed repeatedly by Russell. We head over to open gaming and get drummed by Joe Wenneman playing his Yveltal/Raichu deck and a Junior playing Vileplume/Regice/Miltank. Russell also expresses concern about managing time constraints for a deck like this — he had heard that the reason it did not do well in Houston was time constraints.
Dylan Bryan shows up and also counsels us to contemplate switching decks. The poor Blastoise matchup and Yveltal matchups — which require hitting Crushing Hammer flips and have mechanics for getting said Energy back from the discard — are frightening. We like the Tyrantrum deck, but don’t completely understand how you can stream OHKOs and also simply don’t have Tyrantrums. Dylan and Russell encourage us to consider Yveltal but we lack faith in the Mega Ray matchup. Every Master we talked to laughed when we told them the Junior meta was most definitely Mega Ray and we had to have a deck that won that matchup, but my son fervently believed it so much that I had to get on the bandwagon.
We liked the idea of 1-Prize attackers because that seemed to be how you could swing the Prize trade with Mega Ray if you can’t muster early 220-damage attacks. Dylan was strongly considering Vespiquen, as he mentioned in his article, although we knew he wouldn’t lock it in until long after my kids went to bed. We decided at 9 PM on Friday night that Vespiquen would be the play. We built a list largely based on Dylan’s Vespiquen list, made a few tweaks because we are obsessed with Audino and Bunnelby, playtested it three times against Metal Ray, and went to bed by 10:15.
When I asked my son what his favorite part of this weekend was, he told me it was this late-night playtesting with his dad. #mantear
Junior Bees vs. Master Bees
Dylan and Russell had counseled us not to play Vespiquen because it is complicated, but we were comforted by my son getting a Top 4 playing Flareon at Delaware States in the spring. We liked Vespiquen because what we didn’t like about Flareon was the way you run out of gas late. Also, trading 1 Prize for 2 gives you time to figure out how to win. What we didn’t like about Vespiquen is that Ancient Origins introduced so many awesome Pokémon it made it hard to know what to discard as you started Battle Compressing.
Here was our final list (I think):
Pokémon – 29
Trainers – 24
1 Life Dew
Energy – 7
A couple of comments on our list:
1 Town Map
Town Map puts in the work. People call it a luxury card, but we love it in decks with many one-of cards that are important. Reaching for Lysandre and Blacksmith are important. Life Dew is important. That last DCE is important. The one-of’s in our deck were generally only important late game, but they were important. Having a Town Map made them easier to grab. Town Map is a good card in an inconsistent deck. People use Town Map all the time to grab the last DCE to win the game, but they rarely say, “Town Map won me that game!” I suspect it is frequently true.
Many people counseled us not to play Jolteon, “If you need to kill something Lightning weak, just discard more Pokémon.” That is fair, but it seemed too good not to play. Also, if you are attacking Mega Rayquaza and you have to discard 20 Pokémon, that is hard. We did not play Super Rod, so we did not want to have to get so invested to trade KOs. Now, earlier we discussed how Mega Manectric doesn’t trade great with Mega Ray. Hitting for Weakness with a 1-Prize attacker completely changes the game. If you have to take a turn to kill Altaria, it is no big deal. Yveltal/Raichu was another deck we considered leading up to the tournament because it effectively traded with Mega Ray.
Faded Town theoretically helps the matchup against Mega Pokémon. If I had to do it all over again, I think we would have replaced the Faded Town with a Silver Bangle. It would be useful more broadly and the problem with Faded Town is that the decks that we would play against played a lot of Stadiums. Mega Ray plays 4 Sky Field. Mega Man plays 4 Rough Seas. Playing a single tech Stadium probably didn’t serve us particularly well.
The Challenge of Battle Compressing
I mentioned earlier that figuring out what to Compress on turn one is a challenge. I want to expound on that as an example of incredible skill in Pokémon. When I look at our list, there are so few Pokémon I want to throw away turn one: Combee/Vespiquen and Eevee/Flareon are our attackers, so I don’t want to toss those. Audino and Unown have beneficial effects that allow us to discard them without Compressing, I don’t want to toss those. I may need Shaymin and Jirachi in my deck for the late game. I want to keep the Bunnelby for late-game resource management. My only obvious choices are Wobbuffet and Jolteon assuming that I don’t need them for that matchup.
The advice given to us was to figure out what Evolutions were prized and then throw away their matched pairs. Interestingly, I think it is more nuanced than that. When you play Town Map, all of the sudden you have the choice of picking up those Pokémon and putting them into your hand. It would be nice to still have access to its relation.
There is no easy answer here, but this is where playtesting and skill factor in dramatically.
Saturday: Let’s Play Pokémon!
With three practice games under our belt, it is time to play Pokémon.
R1: Georgia H. (Top 8 at Houston) – Gengar/Trevenant – WW
R2: Christian M. (Won at Houston) – Metal Ray – LWL
R3: Basie B. – Metal Ray – WLW
R4: William W. – Sceptile/Giratina – WW
R5: Kyle I. – Metal Ray – WW
R6: Ryland W. – Yveltal – WLW
T8: Colby E. – Metal Ray – WW
T4: Landon F. (Top 4 at Phoenix) – Toad/Tina – LL
While Lancaster was the biggest Regional Championship ever, many attribute that to the fact that it was the only Regional this weekend. Junior attendance was lighter than the same tournament last year and I attribute this to the location. Putting the tournament out in Lancaster as opposed to a major downtown metro area prevents casual young players from attending, I suspect. An interested child and indulgent parent can’t casually drop in. The result was, as you can see, a tournament that was stacked with players from around the country that were in it to win it. I believe that my son did not play a single player that did not attend Nationals this past year and most of these players competed at Worlds. The only kids that showed up for this were kids who had demonstrably supportive parents and are hyper-competitive Pokémon players. There were no easy wins to be found.
I know Masters joke about how relaxing it would be if they could play down in Juniors or Seniors, but imagine going to a tournament where one-third of the players had their Worlds invite last year; a tournament where 80% of the competitors finished Nats with a winning record last year. It is a bloodbath every round. If there were easy wins, we didn’t get any.
Round 1: Very tough draw. Fortunately, Georgia had bad draws and we escaped with an easy victory.
Round 2: Brutal pairings continue. Christian was the top seed at the end of Swiss, going undefeated after winning Houston Regionals the weekend before.
Round 3: Our feelings about the pervasive ubiquity of Mega Rayquaza seem somewhat validated. Of course, it turns out that we had many more rounds of Mega Rayquaza ahead of us.
Round 4: I spent a bunch of time talking with William’s dad during this round. I was worried that the Giratina might mean this was our auto-loss, putting us out of the tournament. I didn’t really realize that Sceptile made this a near auto-win for us until William’s dad expressed his sorrow over his son being eliminated. We both assumed 4-2 would not make cut. Turns out William’s dad was right, my son won these games quickly.
Round 5: Kyle is a good friend but had beaten my youngest son earlier in the tournament. Good to get the win. Unfortunately, Kyle bubbled out at 10th.
Round 6: We had the chance to ID at Table 2 here, but the judge told our opponent that there was no guarantee that ID’ing makes top cut, so, without a parent there, our opponent decided to play it out. Table 1 and 3 ID’d. Ryland lost and still made cut — that is how guaranteed it was. Nothing is guaranteed in life, but making cut if we ID’d was a sure thing. Somewhat terrifying.
Top 8: Colby is my son’s best Poké-friend. This was a bitter draw for us. Final turn of Game 2, my son benched an Eevee, attached Fire and used Energy Evolution to evolve it, Battle Compressed his last Fire Energy, and VS Seeker’ed for Blacksmith to take 2 Prizes for the win off a bad board state.
Top 4: I know what you are thinking: This is winnable! Vespiquen vs. Toad and Blacksmith vs. Chaos Wheel. We didn’t play this as well as we should have and after a tournament of good draws, the deck ran cold. We can live with this. If there is a real tragedy, it was that the opponent in the finals was running Hippos, so we probably would have been pretty set there.
Sunday: League Challenge
We finish that drama up and I ask my kids, “Hey, let’s bail on Sunday and go to Dutch Wonderland and ride roller coasters!” My kids reply, “Let’s play more Pokémon!”
Sunday Expanded LC starts at 10 AM. There are 10 Juniors, including Landon, the winner of PA Regionals, and three others of the Top 8 from the prior day. I convince my son that we should dial back the intensity after a charged day and let’s have fun and play our Sableye deck. He goes along.
Here was our deck list:
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 42
Energy – 6
Key Differences from Dylan’s List
We turned many one-of’s into two-of’s because if they were important and they were prized, we had no way to ever get them out of the Prizes.
- We didn’t have Trubbish NVI. Very unfortunate.
- We removed the third Bunnelby because starting Bunnelby was at odds with our strategy. Early game, you are more typically Rototillering resources than burrowing, but if you Rototiller cards, that hampers your Junk Hunts later. The best cards to Rototiller are Pokémon, Energy, and VS Seekers, because you only need one VS Seeker in the discard for Junk Hunt and you can’t Junk Hunt the other stuff. If you Rototiller Items or Supporters, you may not be able to VS Seeker or Junk Hunt them. This is less of an issue late game as they accumulate, but early it makes almost no sense. And Bunnelby is hard to retreat.
- We added an AZ, because we wanted to be able to get Shaymins off the board mid-late game but with no DCE and so little Energy overall, the 2 Energy attachments to Sky Return seemed onerous. Also, that is a turn not spent Burrowing or Junk Hunting. Early game it would be better to focus on Junk Hunt as there is a natural tension between Rototillering resources and Junk Hunting them. People sometimes try to Lysandre a Bunnelby to slow down the Hammer spam, an AZ can help stream Sableye when the board state is in our favor. Due to this tension, you would prefer to not just attach an Energy to Bunnelby and keep attacking, yet Bunnelby is difficult to retreat.
- We added a second Xerosic because it helps the Toad, Night March, and Rayquaza matchups and prizing a lone copy would be disastrous.
- We removed 1 Float Stone, 1 Trainers’ Mail, 1 Tool Scrapper, and 1 Head Ringer. Trainers’ Mail is great to help you get off quickly and set up, but we needed Battle Compressor. Being able to grab the Float Stone and Head Ringer via Junk Hunt decreased the importance of playing three.
- We added 3 Battle Compressors and a 2nd Super Rod. We added the Super Rod because our fervent hope was that our opponent would have to kill 9 or 10 Pokémon to collect Prizes over the course of the game with the power of Life Dew. If we prized Super Rod, we could easily run out of resources. We toyed with a Revive and an Energy Retrieval, but Super Rod is too versatile.
- Battle Compressors were our secret weapon. By Compressing Float Stones and Head Ringers, we could get easy access to critical Tools in a timely fashion. It let us get away with running less, thin our deck effectively, and Junk Hunt for whatever we needed at the end of the first turn. The important thing, like every Junk Hunt deck, was planning far enough ahead to recognize the resources you needed. But that is the obvious stuff. The thing that made Battle Compressor amazing is that it allowed us to Junk Hunt for our Life Dew first turn. Battle Compressor let us deck search for items and put them in a place we could grab them, namely the discard. There are not a lot of cards that would allow us to get items out of our deck – Battle Compressor is a tool that let us search our deck, identify key items we wanted to junk hunt and one-of supporters we needed and put them in the discard where we could use them.
- We experimented a bit with a Life Dew/Eco Arm/Slurpuff Tasting mechanic, but found that just having a turn without Life Dew was more consistent than trying to grab it out of the deck each turn.
- We found 6 Energy to be very light and a 7th would have really helped, but there you go. The list is tight. The 7th Energy was the 61st card.
LC Tournament Report
R1: ??? – Toad – W
R2: Landon F. – Toad/Tina – W
R3: Colby E. – Yveltal – L
R4: ??? – Night March – W
3-1, 1st place! Colby lost to John P. (Another Top 8’er from the previous day) in Round 4, who had lost to Landon (Regionals Champion) earlier. And so it goes.
Round 4 was almost lost by a surprise Ghetsis post-Junk Hunt, but when he needed to draw his DCE for the win from his final two Prizes, our opponent picked the wrong Prize. Town Map could have won that game! It is a staple of our Night March decks.
We are now done until Cities. As a parent, I beg anyone that has any influence over scheduling Cities events to try to get them scheduled sooner rather than later. The haphazard manner in which they seem to come together at the last minute is extremely difficult for families to schedule during the holiday season.
Hopefully you enjoyed this article. As I always enjoy articles that delve deeply into the strategy of a certain deck, I tried to go a bit deeper into how we saw matchups play out and why we chose certain cards for decks. I worry that this analysis may have been obvious to many Masters or — frankly — wrong, but it is a faithful recording of my impressions.