Time flies. It feels like months, not two weeks, have passed since my Christmas Eve article outlining the multitude of decks that exist in today’s format. Through a matter of accident, there has only been one article published since that one’s release, and in it my teammate Alex Hill outlined the remainder of the decks our testing circle has considered. Today I’m going to look at the natural second half of the last article: metagaming.
With that arsenal of decks prepared, I headed to the Cities Marathon in Dallas with high hopes but tempered expectations: a lot can happen over the course of various tournaments that can make even the best-laid plans or meta calls turn south. It’s in hedging against those things that success can be found, and a lot of that comes down to the metagaming tools we’re going to address today:
- First, I’m going to go day by day through my marathon experience looking at what did and didn’t work. Throughout that section, I’ll be working in side notes about different decks and general principles pertaining to our Standard format.
- Afterward, I’ll explore a rough template for the process of metagaming, and, finally, I’ll take a look at a real-life example of metagaming’s potential pitfalls.
I almost completely exhausted my supply of decklists for the Christmas article, and as such, there won’t be a ton of them in here. There will be a few that require explanation from my days at the marathon, but for the most part, Alex and I already covered the decks I played. Relevant links will be included for your convenience, and I thoroughly encourage you to leaf back where necessary.
- Maneuvering the Meta: 7 Days in Dallas
- Marathon Favorite: Xerneas BKT/Golurk AOR
- The Process of Mind-Gaming the Metagame
- From South to North: Transitioning to Chicago
- Conclusion: Onwards and Upwards
Maneuvering the Meta: 7 Days in Dallas
While I still have everyone and am sitting on a soapbox, I’d like to first express my gratitude to the staff that make these marathons possible. Christine Noah and the rest of her staff run some of the best events I attend all year — and they do it under some of the craziest of circumstances. I can’t say enough good things about Texas Pokémon.
With that out of the way, here’s how my week went:
Day 1: Getting the Lay of the Land
As with any tournament, it’s important to know what’s going on around you. I had an inkling from looking at surrounding areas’ results that Night March would be a reliably present foe, and that Yveltal would probably find its way into the metagame as well. With that in mind, for Day 1 I chose a current favorite of the Midwest: Lucario-EX/Hammers.
Pokémon – 9
3 Lucario-EX FFI
Trainers – 42
1 Head Ringer
1 Red Card
Energy – 9
The differences between the list I played and the list Alex’s article offered are fairly minute. I chose to include a Bunnelby over a Professor’s Letter, an Enhanced Hammer over a Head Ringer, and a Red Card over the 2nd Battle Compressor.
Most of these changes were experimental in nature. Bunnelby was largely included to recover from ugly early Professor Sycamores, to recycle Crushing Hammers/Super Scoop Ups when pressure wasn’t being applied, or to act as a last-resort mill tactic. In fact, Bunnelby acts as a pretty decent deterrent against aggressive late-game play by an opponent. If they find themselves wanting to go into a position where Judge + Burrow + Burrow could end the game, they may be forced to reconsider based on Bunnelby’s mere presence. A thought-process wrench like that is often valuable beyond what physically shows up in game.
Otherwise, the preferences were largely cosmetic. I preferred an automatic Special Energy removal tool, whereas he chose a 2nd copy of Head Ringer. Red Card was a complete waste of space, but in theory, it can work well with Korrina on Turn 1 (spoiler: a 2nd Battle Compressor to enable a T1 Judge can have the same effect).
Day 1, 56 Masters, Lucario/Hammers
Obviously, it wasn’t exactly what I go into the day hoping for, but I largely can’t complain about such an outcome when my metagame knowledge is rather limited.
The day does show just how razor-thin the margin of error is at City Championships. My Round 1 loss was to a T1 Judge into an unplayable hand, and my Round 4 to a generally poor matchup. My Round 3 was against Brandon Smiley, and at 1-1, that pairing meant that one of us was going to be headed home at a rather early point in the day. I was fortunate to come out on top in a close game despite his list choices of Xerosic, Bronzong, and Pokémon Catcher — all of which work to mitigate the advantages Lucario/Hammers tends to enjoy in the matchup.
Takeaway: Sometimes, a bit of luck the wrong way can ruin a perfectly good call, but other days it’s that same luck that takes a questionable choice straight to the top tables. In the end, you just hope it averages out. While I’m not saying Lucario/Hammers was a perfect metagame call on this Day 1 — it’s not as though wins over M Gardevoir or my Round 4 deck are anything to write home about — I do believe I could’ve been in good shape had I either drawn out of the dead hand or not hit the room’s lone Entei.
Day 2: Take Two
The important thing about any unsuccessful day is taking something away from it. Cooking personality Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen sees competitors constantly cite a need to “bounce back” from an unfortunate performance or series of events — so much that the phrase becomes painful to listen to. Nothing on Day 1 happened to encourage me to make any deck changes — Manectric’s victory really only reinforced my decision.
I cut Bunnelby for a Startling Megaphone to help with the Entei matchup to a degree, but otherwise I stuck with the same list as before.
Day 2, 78 Masters, Lucario/Hammers
R1: M Rayquaza-EX ROS 76 — W
R2: Manectric-EX/Crobat PHF — W
R3: Manectric-EX/Crobat PHF — W
R4: Manectric-EX/Crobat PHF — L
R5: Night March — W
R6: Manectric-EX/Raikou BKT — W
T8: Vespiquen AOR 10/Bronzong PHF/Slurpuff PHF — LL
The deck worked as expected through most of the day, beating things with little Energy (M Rayquaza, Night March) and the Lightning-types of the format. I wasn’t surprised to drop a game to Manectric/Crobat, as once they figure out what to do (simply use Crobat and Super Scoop Up), Lucario needs to run fairly well to win. I didn’t run well at all in the loss, and did enough in the wins.
In Top 8 I hit one of the few Vespiquen in the room, and got utterly destroyed. Game 1 took literally a minute as my lone Hawlucha was Knocked Out, and the second game featured me simply being unable to trade with the constant Stardust discard/breaking of my Focus Sash.
Overall, I was happy to have played the deck again, and still believe it’s among the strongest in the format. Moving forward in the marathon, I was too skeptical of the (victorious) Yveltal matchup to return to this deck, but it’s an extremely strong contender in a cloudy metagame like what I faced.
Takeaway: When a deck works, it works and it’s tempting to stick with it. Sometimes you have to step away from the seemingly successful in order to take the next step. I was unfortunate to hit a poor matchup in Top 8, but I was equally fortunate to miss the Entei player from yesterday, as he sat next to me most of the day. I couldn’t stick with this deck again.
Day 3: A New Frontier
For the third day, I wanted to be able to counter the Yveltal that had just won Day 2 while keeping a decent matchup against Day 1’s victor of Manectric/Crobat. I figured Night March would die down a bit because of Yveltal’s momentum, and that opened the door for Colorless M Rayquaza-EX to potentially shine.
My list of choice is what Alex Hill had in his last article, except I heartbreakingly cut the Mismagius BKT line in favor of a Jirachi XY67 and a Mr. Mime BKT. I was the member of the pair that originally argued for Mismagius — not that Alex disagreed, as he noted his affection for it — but I decided it was better to have a soft counter to Seismitoad-EX and Mr. Mime as a way to help deal with Manectric/Crobat’s multiple ways of afflicting bench damage. Here’s how the day went:
Day 3, 68 Masters, M Rayquaza
R1: M Mewtwo-EX BKT 63 — W
R2: M Tyranitar-EX — W
R3: Manectric-EX/Crobat PHF — W
R4: Seismitoad-EX/Manectric-EX — W
R5: Night March — ID
R6: Yveltal-EX/Gallade BKT — W
T8: Vespiquen AOR 10/Bronzong PHF/Slurpuff PHF — LL
I took an unusual route to Top 8, as I accepted an intentional draw offer from my Round 5 opponent. He wasn’t completely sure what deck I was playing, nor was he sure how the matchup went, so he chose the route of having to go 1-1 over the next two rather than take a risk against an unknown. I’ve seen M Rayquaza beat Night March, especially with an Altaria line, but it can obviously be ugly with Joltik’s fairly easily slaying of M Rayquaza. I think it was a good move for both of us, though it only worked out well in the end for me, as he unfortunately lost his next two rounds.
Top 8 was comprised of 2 Lucario/Crobat, 2 Vespiquen variants, 3 Yveltal/Gallade decks, and my M Rayquaza. I was the only 5-0-2, and with seven 5-1-1s, I had good odds of hitting any of those matchups. I thought I was in pretty decent shape with the same Top 8 opponent as Day 2, but both games were painstakingly close — unfortunately I came out on the wrong end both times. I can’t complain too much, as they were probably the best games I played all week, but I also can’t lie: it was demoralizing to again play seven rounds and be derailed by the same opposition.
Ironically, my Round 7 intentional draw was also against Harry Wada’s Vespiquen concoction. Having thought things through a bit more, I actually should’ve conceded Round 7 to him. That would’ve locked him at 1st seed and I would’ve slotted in at 5th or 6th. Obviously, I could’ve been beaten by any of the other decks in Top 8, but sometimes it’s out-of-the-box things like this that should be kept in mind to further one’s tournament run.
Yveltal once again took home the crown, but the loss to Vespiquen was significantly more present in my head. As we’ll see, the Vespiquen loss did affect my thinking, despite its low representation in the field, in a manner that could’ve worked out poorly.
Takeaway: My Round 4 with Seismitoad/Manectric embodies the format to me. It’s a theoretically poor matchup, but I was able to Judge him into a garbage hand on Turn 1 and steal the game. That was another attractive factor of M Rayquaza: you could just blow your opponent out of the water. The point? In Standard, the balance between teching and consistency is very delicate. You need to balance teching for a matchup you may or may not hit with the risks of dead-drawing as a result. We’ll talk more about how to strike that balance later on in the article.
Day 4: Hyperfocus? Hyperfocus.
I won’t even lie: playing 14 rounds of Pokémon losing one game total, while losing games 8 and 9 every day, was taking a toll. When looking at a deck for the fourth day, I was 100% sure I wanted to beat Vespiquen. I also still wanted to beat Yveltal, and a decent matchup with Manectric was something I wanted in the deck. That led me to take a shot with Entei AOR 15/Charizard-EX. Its ability to produce speedy damage is pretty much unparalleled, and it reminds me of what ZPS used to do in its heyday. Combine that ability to do fast damage with an equally potent potential for bulky tanking and we have quite the threat.
I had the list from my last article built going into the marathon, and my brother played it to a win in Seniors on Day 1 of the marathon. I’ll admit that I hadn’t really thought much about the list apart from my early testing with it because felt it to be a subpar deck in most metagames. I had identified a few problems in particular that made me nervous:
- It relied too much on Blacksmith. There was no way to get an attacker down and use Lysandre on the same turn, which is a critical disadvantage in close non-EX matchups.
- Shaymin was just so much of a liability on the Bench. Who needs to Knock Out Entei when you can just Lysandre around it for easier Prizes?
- Yveltal XY could easily hit for chip damage, accelerate Energy, and allow Gallade BKT (or Zoroark BKT) to swoop in and finish off an Entei.
- If decks like Manectric/Crobat knew what they were doing, refraining from attaching Special Energy and using Bat damage appropriately made the matchup scarily navigable for them.
As I slept on these problems, I eventually came to the following list:
Pokémon – 10
Trainers – 37
Energy – 13
Druddigon FLF is probably the big surprise here. My biggest issue with the deck was the lack of an attacker able to simply close out games, and with a full playset of Muscle Band, Druddigon has never been as well equipped to do so. The potential surprise 2-Prize swing on a Shaymin-EX more than makes up for the pitfalls of the occasional Druddigon start.
I also added a Jirachi XY67, mostly as an accommodation for the tech Seismitoads that had been popping their heads up in Yveltal-EX decks. You obviously aren’t going to ever win a war with a full-on Seismitoad/Crobat deck or anything, but the potential to mitigate the threat of a single copy of everyone’s least-favorite Water type made this worthy of an inclusion.
Hard Charm looks out of place, but it’s surprisingly useful. In mirror, much of the game comes down to stacking Assault Vest onto Entei to create a bulky threat that’s difficult to KO. Obviously, the natural response is to create an Entei with 4 R Energy. Hard Charm makes even that approach obsolete, and forces the opposition to commit one of their Tool slots to a Muscle Band. It’s also good against the aforementioned Yveltal XY and Manectric-EX. I’d rather not have it be at the expense of the 3rd Assault Vest, but it’s a trade I’m willing to make.
The last problem, our own Shaymin-EX, is remedied by a single copy of Parallel City. Typically, I play it mid game to remove 1-2 Shaymin, even if the nature of the deck (few Basics) means I’m still leaving one out to dry. Parallel City has another niche use: its red side reduces your own Heat Tackle recoil damage — you might be surprised how much this can matter in tight matchups.
One more note: I know a number of players swear by a 2nd Charizard-EX. I honestly wanted to cut the one I had more than I wanted to add another copy (though I’m glad I had it), and a 2nd just simply doesn’t seem attractive enough for me to want to make space.
How’d it go? Let’s take a look:
Day 4, 72 Masters, Entei
R1: Xerneas BKT/Golurk AOR 35/Bronzong PHF — W
R2: Yveltal-EX/Gallade BKT/Zoroark BKT — W
R3: M Manectric-EX — W
R4: Yveltal-EX/Seismitoad-EX/Zoroark BKT/Gallade BKT — W
R5: Vespiquen AOR 10/Bronzong PHF/Slurpuff PHF — L
R6: Night March — W
T8: Lucario-EX/Crobat PHF — WLL
Hey, look who I managed to lose to … again. I don’t know what it was about that Vespiquen deck, but the hex it put on me was certainly starting to get discouraging. At the time of my Game 2 loss in Top 8, I was on a 12-0 run (with 4 IDs) in games not played against that darn thing. Needless to say, the thoughts running through my head as I drew 4 dead cards off his T1 Judge were not pleasant.
However, that brings me to my next point: T1 Judge is a legitimate way to win in Standard. For that reason, please don’t let my annoyance sound like whining — there’s a crazy amount of validity in my opponents’ choices of a T1 Judge over another Supporter simply because of what it can do to the second player’s setup.
In fact, how a first player proceeds with their game can be affected by this phenomena. In my streamed match against Seismitoad on Day 3, I elect for a Judge instead of Winona on the first turn of the game — and my opponent drew dead. Immediately after the game, Alex Hill was questioning me, via the wonders of the internet, insisting that I should’ve made the Winona play. I normally would’ve agreed with him except for the key detail: I was going first. Had I gone second, I would’ve made used the Winona every time — you can even see me contemplate it in the video while using Battle Compressor despite being the first player. The opportunity to disrupt your opponent even by 1 or 2 cards seems insignificant, but can often be a difference maker in your day. It’s never a clear-cut choice, and is something that must be weighed, but in this case, I felt my matchup was close enough that it was worth the chance — and it paid off.
Now, while I stand by that streamed decision, the same can’t be said during my two games on these days. If you watch, you’ll see me put into multiple silly situations: Round 2 features me with all 4 VS Seeker and a Professor Sycamore in hand (with my Judge prized), and the next round sees 3 VS Seeker and the Sycamore! Unfortunately, I didn’t help my cause in either game. In Round 2, I chose to play an errant Ultra Ball for Shaymin-EX mid game — the thought process being I would use Set Up to replenish my hand.
To draw what? I don’t even remember, to tell you the truth. I know there was something I felt I needed, but I paid a hefty price for my misstep, as I lost my only draw Supporter out by ditching the Sycamore and left myself with a lone, last VS Seeker to make use of any of my Supporter suite. Fortunately, good friend Pearce Blend didn’t draw too hot, and I came away with the win.
The next round was even more inexplicable: as I was about to use my last VS Seeker for a Professor Sycamore, I use Battle Compressor to discard one of the 2 Lysandre in my deck. What happened here? As Long was playing his turn, I had been contemplating using the VS Seeker for a Lysandre on his Shaymin, but eventually concluded that the better play was to Sycamore to have more resources for the following turn. Discarding the Lysandre was simply a legacy of that plan still lingering in my brain. It’s not too evident on stream, but I was shaking my head in disbelief as I was shuffling my deck after that play, realizing what had happened. Fortunately, the other Lysandre was still around, and all ended well.
Why do I go on at length about these errors? To point out a few principles:
- It’s important to be upfront with yourself about misplays. I know that it being the 4th day of the marathon (and 3rd day of 7 rounds…) had a degree of impact on my (lack of) thought process, but my opponents are playing under the same conditions, so that’s certainly no excuse. I talk frequently about the importance of putting yourself in a position to let a little luck help you out: this is the kind of thing that takes you out of that position more often than not. Make sure you control what you can, let the rest come to you, and eventually it’s going to work out.
- With that said, it’s important to learn from mistakes like that as well. I assure you that every Battle Compressor for the rest of the marathon was played with a bit more thought involved.
- Slow things down. It sounds stupid, but I know I’m not alone in my fast-paced play. I can count my lifetime tally of unintentional draws on one hand’s fingers, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. While it can avoid the frustrating x-2 or x-2-1 tie at Regionals, it sets oneself up to make mistakes like this. You’re given 10 seconds to make an action and 30 to play the game. It’s not always bad to utilize that time.
As for Top 8? I won Game 1 after a close exchange, as I’d expected from the matchup. The 2nd game was over in about 3 minutes as my small contingent of Pokémon was quickly neutralized without the benefit of Supporters. Game 3 featured me race out to a Turn 2 190 with the benefit of Giovanni, but after a return KO the immediate next turn set my board position back, I was never able to come back. They were great games, and I wasn’t bitter despite my read on the matchup. After all, it wasn’t Vespiquen, and that was ironically something to take solace in.
Takeaway: Two-parter today. First, I needed to take care that my technical play didn’t suffer despite a lack of sleep. There simply isn’t an easier way to remove one’s name from consideration than to make blatantly poor decisions. The second? Don’t get caught up trying to micro-metagame. Little good can come of it, and I got a painful lesson in that by falling to 0-5 against my Vespiquen nemesis.
Day 5: A Wider Perspective
Entei worked like a charm the prior day, and I believed that the meta was going to sit in relative stasis, so I saw no harm in giving it another spin. I dropped the 3rd Scorched Earth (highly underwhelming) and Jirachi Promo in favor of 2 copies of Pokémon Catcher. Additionally, the 9th Fire made its way out in favor of a Float Stone. A Cassius was also considered, but I concluded that the deck’s Supporter spot is typically spoken for on almost every turn of the game, leaving little room for a Cassius to have more use than Float Stone.
Pokémon Catcher was added to further alleviate the deck’s reliance on Blacksmith, adding an extra out to grab easy Shaymin-EX Prizes. Moreover, I expected an influx of the mirror match, and the extra gust effect is invaluable there. Float Stone is exceptional for starting Shaymin or Druddigon, and the deck tends to draw through itself enough to have reasonable odds of accessing it early. It’s also great to be able to promote a free retreat Pokémon mid game when it’s not yet clear what you’ll draw into. Such utility is so helpful that I almost considered a copy of Cresselia BKT in the list. Float Stone was chosen over Switch or Escape Rope due to its reusability with Eco Arm.
The Catcher served me well throughout the day, leading to a fairly solid finish:
Day 5, 65 Masters, Entei
R1: M Manectric-EX/Raikou BKT — W
R2: Night March — W
R3: Gallade BKT/Octillery BKT — W
R4: Yveltal-EX/Seismitoad-EX — L
R5: Night March — W
R6: Night March — W
R7: Entei AOR 15/Charizard-EX FLF 12 — ID
T8: Entei AOR 15/Charizard-EX FLF 12 — WLW
T4: Yveltal-EX/Gallade BKT — WLL
I started off the day on the wrong note, as you can see on the right. Unfortunately for my mom, the stream of dead cards was unrelenting. The meta didn’t shift all that much, as Night March continued to be a focal point. My match with Gallade/Octillery was incredibly close, and it probably came down to unfortunate Prize cards on my opponent’s part, as he was unable to find a Focus Sash on the critical turn in which his last Gallade bit the dust. Otherwise, I would’ve probably been on my way to 2-1.
My Swiss loss on the day was to a Yveltal list that I later found out featured Seismitoad. I was annihilated, as my lone Entei was no match for his early large Yveltal-EX. Fortunately, I didn’t open dead the rest of the day, and skated into Top 8 on the heels of a R7 ID. My opponent was 4-0-2 heading into the round, and unfortunately came up 9th, but I don’t think either of us fancied a spin on the Russian roulette wheel that the Entei mirror match figured to be.
I finally broke the Top 8 barrier, only dropping Game 2 due to another low Basic, no Supporter start. The other two games were some of the better ones I played all week, and the Pokémon Catcher definitely were part of what made the difference in my taking the match.
Unfortunately, my luck ran out in Top 4. After running blisteringly well in Game 1, my deck decided to allow me to burn ~20 cards without seeing a Blacksmith or VS Seeker on Turn 1-of Game 2, and after topdecking a Blacksmith on my second turn, I proceeded to not play another Supporter for the rest of the match. Hands of 4 or 5 Energy found their ways into both Games 2 and 3, and my run was ended. It stung to lose, but a date with Meinshao would’ve met me in the finals, and I honestly have no idea how that would’ve gone.
Takeaway: Pokémon Catcher is huge in the Standard format. Shaymin-EX is so much a part of the game that any way to drag it up has merit. A way to drag it up and still draw cards has exceptional potential. Those who remember the last time Pokémon Reversal was big are currently cringing along with me, but I do believe that Catcher is one of the big cards in the format.
Day 6: Gravity’s Tug
At this point, I had cut 4/5 days and was performing the best of anyone at the marathon in terms of strictly making Top 8. I’m not sure if it was sleep-deprived delirium, an arrogant sense of immortality, or some other factor, but I resolved to play Kyogre-EX/Zoroark for the penultimate day of the marathon. The basis of this decision was an expectation of Entei continuing to rise, as it did from Day 4 to 5, but instead, I was faced with a metagame that regressed back to Day 4 form: tons of Night March, little Entei.
Day 6, 52 Masters, Kyogre
Final Record: 2-4
Winning Deck: Vespiquen/Bannette
The tone was set by a Round 1 Noivern that couldn’t flip tails on Echolocation. Normally, I would’ve dropped after the second consecutive day of playing against my mother (this time in a R2 battle of Water-type futility), but I had gone five days without dropping — what was four more rounds? I ended up with one of my worst tournament performances ever, and it simply isn’t worth writing more about.
The following is a decklist for Kyogre/Zoroark improved based on my terrible experience. I can’t say I recommend you pick it up, but I figured enough of you would be curious that I’d include something.
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 34
Energy – 12
My only note is that it’s absolutely imperative to play one of each Zorua. There’s literally no reason not to, and it allows you the advantage of seeing different arts to “check” Prizes early game. Otherwise, I’ll take questions in the comments, but otherwise I’m not sold on the deck.
Takeaway: Kyogre is still an Energy-hungry monster whose damage output still somehow manages to underwhelm. Back to the binder.
Day 7: Finishing It Out
I didn’t even bother trying to metagame, to tell the truth. My mind was already half in Chicago (which we’ll get to in a moment), and the other half was watching this debacle. I basically concluded that ultra-consistency was the best call for the last day, as I expected that people would either stick to their guns or break out the crazy decks. M Rayquaza is the hallmark of consistency in my eyes, so I took it for one last spin. The Mr. Mime was swapped for a 2nd Jirachi XY67.
Day 7, 54 Masters, M Rayquaza
Another highly mediocre day. I was half right: the fun decks did come out. The other half, where M Rayquaza was supposed to be consistent, turned out to be a mirage unique to my head. Vileplume/Houndoom is as agonizing as it sounds — the entire strategy of Houndoom Mill combo’d with Vileplume for added disruption. It didn’t even require Vileplume, however, as my opponent took advantage of a prized DCE and Switch to run me out of Energy relatively quickly despite the lack of the flower’s presence.
Again, I should’ve dropped, but in the spirit of finishing what I started, I now can at least hold my head high in the end. .500 wasn’t an ideal way to go out, but I have to say that I’m overall very pleased with my marathon performance. Even if I didn’t take any home, I did have the most Top 8s of any player in Dallas, and I suppose that’s a feather of some sorts for my proverbial cap.
Takeaway: The Xerneas deck that had seen some success, peaking at 2nd on the last day, seems pretty good.
Xerneas BKT/Golurk AORMarathon Favorite:
More affectionately referred to by many as “Rainbow Road,” this deck is a toolbox based around Xerneas BKT, a card that caught my eye from its initial translation into English. Straight damage is hard to come by in a Fairy-type container, and admittedly, my positive first impression was due to its potential against Tyrantrum-EX.
However, Michael Feller engineered another avenue to make use of Xerneas. I was his first opponent at the marathon with the deck, and ironically, I beat him R1 of the fourth day with his prior days’ choice of Entei. If memory serves, his records were 3-3, 5-2, and T8 going into the final day of the marathon where it obviously all clicked. You can watch his finals/T8 matches from the last day here and here. My mom played against him twice in addition to my one experience, and after picking her brain, I’m pretty confident that I have the list down fairly close to an original ~55 cards. The following is that list supplemented with my own intuition:
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 28
Energy – 12
It looks crazy, crazy inconsistent … and definitely can be. The beauty of the deck is its simplistic, fast damage output, but you don’t exactly see that intuitively on paper. The key here is Golurk’s Ability, allowing it to count as two separate types for the purposes of Rainbow Force. With a Bench of Golurk, Octillery, Smeargle/Shaymin, Xerneas, and Bronzong, the magic numbers of 170/180 are exceeded easily.
I have found the deck’s biggest weakness to be the reliance on a Turn 1 Brigette. I’ve not lost a game, tournament or testing, in which I find Brigette that first turn. If that doesn’t happen, you often find yourself too far behind the eight ball to catch up — particularly in close matchups like Night March or Vespiquen.
Teammates is absolutely irreplaceable in streaming Xerneas, so a 2nd copy is included. In matchups with Night March/Vespiquen where you fall behind the Prize trade early, it’s important to plan your Teammates several turns ahead. Ideally, you want to eventually find yourself with a set-up Xerneas and their Shaymin-EX waiting on the bench for you to turn things around with a Lysandre.
Golurk is also a decent attacking option against M Manectric and M Mewtwo decks, which is why a copy of Dimension Valley finds its way into the list. It’s also useful in conjunction with Sky Field, as it can be used to bump your own Shaymin-EX in a two-turn process. With Teammates, the 1-of Stadiums are surprisingly accessible.
If you have more questions on the list, you know where to find me. Otherwise, I’m going to move ahead into the theoretical concept of the article: metagaming.
The Process of Mind-Gaming the Metagame
Throughout this article and my last, I’ve emphasized an importance on not simply playing a deck blindly and expecting success. It’s important to consider every bit of information you have available, while of course also determining the credibility/strength of that information. This can range from the knowledge that Yveltal-EX lists in an area are tending to play Parallel City to the knowledge that there isn’t any Yveltal-EX in an area at all. I’m going to briefly run through my thought process heading into an event in general terms here before taking a look at an example of myself going through this process.
1. Gather Initial Thoughts
– This can include a preference about a deck (“I really want to play Yveltal”), a desire to include a certain tech in my deck (Parallel City?), what players I expect to be in attendance (my teammates, the next state over, etc.), or just about anything else. This is where you set your starting mental parameters, and perhaps, where you pick a deck to evaluate the competitive worth with this process.
2. Obtain Information
– This can be anything from knowledge of what some local players are intending to use, what made Top 4 at last weekend’s League Challenge, or yesterday’s Top 8 results. Places like the Charizard Lounge and the Virbank City Facebook group are great places to start your sleuthing. Keeping a pulse on your local player base’s tendencies becomes very important in the process of metagaming (i.e., I know of some local players that will reliably play Manectric until the end of its time and count that as information in this step).
3. Evaluate Information
– This is the particularly critical step in the process. It doesn’t help you very much to know what won on Thanksgiving if you’re planning to attend an event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. During a marathon, the results of Day 4 are going to have a heck of a lot more impact on the metagame for Day 5 than the results of Day 1 will. First-hand knowledge of what most of the room played on Saturday is fairly strong basis for starting to guess what will happen on Sunday — knowledge exclusively of the Top 8 finishers isn’t.
4. Interpret Information
– Independently of the information’s validity, you’ve obtained information that leads you to believe your next City Championship will be comprised of mostly Archie’s Blastosie variants. Does this mean you want to play heavy Hex Maniac in Yveltal-EX, or that you want to find another deck altogether? Does a meta of Seismitoad-EX require me to disregard my initial preference for a deck, or do I simply need to add more Promo Jirachi to help the matchup?
5. Weigh the Merits of Metagaming
– Based on the results of steps 3/4, you then need to decide how much the results of your metagame analysis will impact your decision making. If all you know is the Top 8 of a previous tournament might cause a specific bad matchup to show up, you shouldn’t ignore that data, but you also shouldn’t switch decks entirely based on it.
– If that Top 8 actually being a wider representation of the meta (an unknown) would simply lead you to change a few card counts, it’s potentially worth taking that gamble. Sometimes, what you can do with varying amounts of information is dependent on the magnitude of the proposed change: it’s much more justifiable to change my 60th card than it is my entire archetype based on weak information.
I’ll get to this more later, but … sometimes, that weight will approach zero! While I believe any information should be evaluated, there is a point where information is so vague/the potential effect on your deck so little that it simply isn’t worth thinking about the consequences of that information. For example, my transition from Day 4 to Day 5 in Dallas: I stuck with Entei despite knowing little about the M Manectric matchup for it, trusting that people were already fairly set in their ways. Bottom line: sometimes you have to gamble.
If any of that doesn’t make perfect sense, please do reach out and let me know. In general, metagaming is an effective tool for seeing success at small- to mid-size tournaments. Tournaments like Regionals, Nationals, and Worlds still can see the tool employed effectively, but I would caution you to weigh it much less heavily in your thought process due to the nature of having so many people in attendance.
From South to North: Transitioning to Chicago
So, all of those metagaming things I just talked about? On the weekend prior to this article’s release, I took a late flight home from Dallas into Chicago with the intention of playing part of the tail-end of the Chicago Marathon. I now had to apply these metagaming steps going into a tournament where most of the players had a week’s worth of local metagame experience over me — a tall order, to say the least.
The following was written by my crazed, sleep-deprived mind on New Year’s Day as I went from pre-tournament in Wylie, TX to sleep in Chicago, IL. As such, the “present tense” is in reference to what happened last Friday — not what’s happening as you’re reading. “tomorrow” is nothing more than a reference to Saturday.
Step 1: Gathering Initial Thoughts
As I leave Dallas today, I know for a fact that the Xerneas deck is well on its way to winning today, having somehow beaten Night March in Top 8. I’m not sure how good it is against Mega-EXs, so I’m going to have to keep an eye out in Chicago’s results for things like Kyogre and Groudon. It’s definitely the deck I want to play though, and, generally speaking, I believe it’s good against a wide spread of matchups. The surprise factor doesn’t hurt either.
Step 2: Obtaining Information
Considering the first three or four events in Dallas feel to me like a distant memory, I do wonder if perhaps the Chicagoan players are feeling the same by this point. Moreover, any action/reaction that might’ve occurred from the first few days’ events is likely to show up in the results of the more recent events. For that reason, I’m inclined to place rather extreme emphasis on the last event or two rather than consider the entirety of the marathon. So then, what’s won the last two days in Chicago?
- T8: Vespiquen (×2), Night March (×2), Raichu/Crobat (×2), Yveltal/Toad/Zoroark, Yveltal/Gallade, Latios/Crobat/Gallade/Toad, Manectric/Crobat, M Mewtwo/Yveltal
- 2nd: Toad/Empoleon, M Mewtwo/Yveltal
- 1st: Yveltal/Zoroark/Gallade, Toad/Empoleon
As metagames go, I believe the significance between Top 8 and Top 4 is marginal enough to throw them all together. Really, I almost consider putting 2nd place back with the pack as well, but I believe there’s a connotation around “finals” that can stick in some players’ heads. That connotation is especially strong when the deck is something a bit out of line with the norm, and both of the runners-up here fit that bill — admittedly, to different degrees. M Mewtwo has seen some degree of success on a regional scale, but hadn’t exactly seen national acclaim.
Step 3: Evaluating Information
While I’m sure there’ll be some folks claiming to have “thought of it first,” all credit goes to Jeremiah Williams for Seismitoad/Empoleon’s location on the national stage. If the last year of tournaments has one takeaway, it’s that people tend to love Quaking Punch. Moreover, this is the kind of deck that has a shock factor that makes people want to emulate it. Heading into my Chicago event, I fully believe it’s a deck that should be heavily present, and not something I want to take a loss too.
Otherwise, the success of decks like Vespiquen, Raichu, and Night March is telling of one of two things: overrepresentation of those decks or a feeding frenzy of bulky EX decks like Yveltal and Manectric. Of course there’s also an intermediary of both causes occurring at once, which makes this rather arbitrary as something to read from. Obviously, reconstructing a metagame from the top down is a flawed process fundamentally, so conjecture like this needs to be utilized in a “this variant vs that variant” type of decision (Milotic or Bronzong in Night March, for example) rather than while choosing an archetype. For this reason, I’m going to not worry about the cause behind these decks’ presence, but simply acknowledge them as facts of life.
The X Factor: Marathon Structure
There’s a key factor at work here unique to this particular marathon tournament: the off-day. How can something as innocuous as New Year’s Day dramatically alter the tournament landscape for tomorrow? In Chicago (and, by tradition, most marathons — Dallas and Georgia bucked the trend this year) New Year’s Day featured a fun event rather than a sanctioned City Championship. Traditionally, player turnout for such events isn’t great: on the heels of a six-day grind, it’s so much easier to simply sleep in.
It’s easy to underestimate the sheer amount of hours a marathon City can take. These City Championships aren’t short affairs, often eating from 8am to 8pm by the time drive time and lunch breaks are accounted for. I can personally assure you that the last thing on anyone’s wish list the evening after Day 3 or 4-of a marathon is playing more Pokémon. Thus, there really isn’t that much opportunity to cook up a good counter-deck idea, let alone to narrow down a list. To tell the truth, I attribute the lack of meta changes in Dallas to this phenomenon, and am inclined to think the same of what happened in Chicago.
Truthfully, if there is a crazy counter-deck to be had in Chicago, I don’t think it would have yet seen the light of day because a hypothetical player of such a deck wouldn’t have had the time to iron out the list to be consistent enough to succeed in Standard. Similarly, I believe Seismitoad/Empoleon could’ve had a more significant presence in Chicago the last few days if not for the lack of available time to reconstruct/iron out a list.
Author’s Note: I’d like to make clear that while I didn’t list it on the basic metagaming template in the above section, it’s essential to keep special circumstances like this in mind. You could technically classify it under “Gathering Thoughts,” but I preferred to mention the off-day here as it directly affected the amount of weight I placed on the Top 8 information.
Step 4: Interpreting Information
All of the above changes with the day’s interruption. I would wager a guess that as I sit mired in my 1-2 misery in Wylie, most players sticking around for the remainder of the Chicago marathon are sitting in their various hotel/living rooms cooking up their answers to the final two days. For that reason, I expect many are going through the same process as I, only with the advantage of greater knowledge of the prior days’ meta. I expect many will come to the same conclusion as I: Seismitoad will be big. For that reason, weird things like Straight Metal and Groudon could easily become features in the metagame.
I would guess some of you are starting to question the validity of my conjecture at this stage. Such questions are completely valid, and why I’m not going to go any further with this. Quite frankly, it’s extremely risky to attempt to next-level metagame a tournament based on sound, first-party information. It’s paramount to suicide to do so with information as limited as mine. For that reason, I have no choice but to scamper back up my rabbit hole, returning to a primary goal of beating Seismitoad.
The other issue with the off-day that makes the previous thought little more than theory? It may well convince people to simply play whatever they “feel like” playing. At that points, all bets would be off. In such an event, no conclusion is truly safe, but I still tend to believe Seismitoad will be a part of the day.
Now, that doesn’t mean I’m throwing everything else out. I’m assuming there’ll be a Vespiquen presence, based on the above results, and Raichu seems likely to make some sort of appearance as well (its success in Georgia today may contribute as well). Normally, that would cause me to default to Entei/Charizard, but the Seismitoad matchup would certainly be too poor to bear.
Off of the top of my head, the best deck against the Seismitoad/Empoleon phenomena would probably be M Mewtwo/Zoroark. Indeed, a deck of that nature already saw success this week in Chicago. M Mewtwo also has the capability to simply overpower other decks, which would greatly help potential fringe threats like Primal Groudon-EX. The risk here would be an auto-loss to Night March — a deck that often seems to work its way into every metagame.
Step 5: Weighing Metagaming
A plane flight behind me, I’ve indeed received word that the aforementioned Xerneas BKT deck just won the day in Wylie, TX, having beaten both Night March and Entei en route to the crown. Both of those are decks that I perceived to be bad matchups for Xerneas, but apparently they can be won. I suspect that the unknown factor of the matchup played a good deal into both outcomes, but that is something I still would have for the Chicago event.
Errata: It’s been brought to my attention that my source was incorrect: Xerneas did not win the final day in Dallas, but instead took 2nd to Alex Fields’ Yveltal-EX/Zoroark BKT/Gallade BKT. This, ironically, plays into the point of this part of the article: sometimes, your information just quite isn’t what you think it is. My apologies to Alex for the initially incorrect result.
At this point, I have to weigh the usability of my metagaming. Quite frankly, with the number of moving parts at play, my information is just a drop in an enormous bucket of potential outcomes. I’m fighting an uphill battle. My metagaming tells me M Mewtwo-EX/Zoroark would be a good call, but it has one very uncomfortably ugly matchup in the form of Night March. Night March was something I reasoned could easily exist, and I’m not sure that the benefit of beating a deck I don’t know to surely exist eclipses the pitfall of losing to one that almost always exists.
So, I’m left with a choice: gamble on minimal information or take a deck nobody knows anything about (myself, admittedly, included to a degree) that has decidedly positive matchups against things like M Manectric and M Mewtwo, but many unknowns.
Welcome back to the present. In the end, I played Xerneas BKT for my day in Chicago. I ended up mostly discounting the results of my metagaming in favor of playing a “comfort deck” and hoping for the best. The potential for information-gathering for future events was no small part in my decision, and I’m glad to say it went about as well as possible in that department. I can’t stress enough that, in spite of my emphasis today on metagaming, sometimes it’s the best decision to throw it out the window.
And for that reason, I need to amend/expand my response to a forum question on my last article: sometimes it is better to disregard metagame knowledge and hope for the best. I still would advise a player to heed/consider any whispers that make their way out, but as I’ve tried to illustrate above, sometimes there’re situations where you need to weigh the potential benefit of metagaming (and the value you put on that information) with the risk of being dead wrong. I decided that my meta information was too weak to completely base a significant play on, but I also strayed away from my preferred play of Entei in favor of something that could stand a chance against Seismitoad.
We’ve already covered the deck earlier, so let’s just hop right into the day’s outcome:
Chicago, 54 Masters, Rainbow Road
Final Record: 3-3
Winning Deck: Night March/Vespiquen
In hindsight, I overestimated Seismitoad’s influence on the metagame, which certainly wasn’t a bad thing for me. I was 3-0 with the Turn 1 Brigette and 0-3 without (despite almost stealing a win in Round 4 against Entei), which leads me to want to make some list changes. If I were to play the deck this weekend, I’d drop a Y Energy and the Sky Field in favor of the full set of Trainers’ Mail. In addition, I’d heavily weigh dropping an Ultra Ball in favor of a 3rd Battle Compressor. Both alterations are definitely focused on achieving the Turn 1 Brigette, because it’s amazing how smoothly this all flows once that occurs.
Anyway, I tend to blame the failure of my metagaming on the lack of depth of my information — even a day-old text to the effect of “oh, decks x and y were really big today” would’ve been something more to go on than what I had. Moreover, marathons are truly unique in that they eventually seem to stop evolving. My fundamental error was in not recognizing that fact.
Conclusion: Onwards and Upwards
I hope you all found something of interest in here, and more importantly, something of use. The game we play isn’t simple to figure out, but that’s half the fun. I obviously didn’t end my marathon experience on the highest of notes, but overall, I can’t complain about the flow of the week.
I’m unsure if I’ll be back with you all before Regionals, and if I’m not, best of luck to everyone in that endeavor. I’ll personally be in attendance for St. Louis and perhaps one of the Week 3 events. Of course, before that, there are still two more weekends of Cities begging to have their points won.
Good luck to you all.
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