Setting Sights

7 New Year’s Pokémon Resolutions (and an Update on Engines)

The start of the new year offers everyone an opportunity to reflect — to look forward to new experiences, say goodbye to past challenges, and strive to make this year better than the last. For many of us, we start by hitting the ground running with resolutions — little (or big) goals we set for ourselves that usually fizzle out in less than a month’s time. Yes, it’s a well-known fact that New Year’s resolutions are hard to keep unless you change so much about yourself that it’s less a devotion to your resolution than it is a complete lifestyle change. It’s like trying to add Archie’s Ace in the Hole or Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick to a deck that hasn’t been completely overhauled to make those cards work — you might find the magic combo every now and then, but unless you completely reengineer your deck those cards more often become a waste of space.

And don’t take my word for it — there’s plenty of evidence that backs up the severe fallacy of trying to keep New Year’s resolutions without changing much else in your life. Take a look at of some of the statistics there are for resolutions:

new year's resolution
Source: Statistic Brain

Now, I’m usually skeptical of statistics, but if I can extrapolate just one thing from this it’s that most people are not successful in achieving their resolution. At just 8%, it’s pretty clear that we are woefully unprepared to make a change when a new calendar goes up on the wall.

Let me stop real quick to tell you that, yes, this article is going to be about resolutions. It’s going to be about my resolutions for playing Pokémon, and while they might dip into my own personal habits, I think now’s a time as ever for everyone to stop and reconsider a few things about the game. Along the way I will provide some perspective on what it’s like being a father of two children while still wanting to play the game, and I’ll let you in on what I’m looking forward to with the new year.

A Quick Update On My Last Article

bike bicycle ride bridge
Not to tire you on engines again, but …

In my last article I dug pretty deep into various Supporter engines that appear in top decks of our two main formats. I want to tweak one of those engines here after seeing one deck in particular find success during City Championships. This deck centers around the Entei from Ancient Origins with the Theta Double Ancient Trait and features a Supporter/Item engine dedicated to using either Blacksmith or Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick with ease. I’m currently running my build with Gallade BKT — take a look:

Pokémon – 9

4 Entei AOR 15

1 Gallade BKT

1 Charizard-EX FLF 12

3 Shaymin-EX ROS

Trainers – 39

1 Professor Sycamore

2 Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick

2 Lysandre

3 Blacksmith


4 VS Seeker

4 Acro Bike

4 Battle Compressor

4 Trainers’ Mail

4 Ultra Ball

4 Muscle Band

3 Assault Vest

1 Professor’s Letter


3 Scorched Earth

Energy – 12

8 R

4 Double Colorless

As you can see, perhaps the most striking thing about this list is the lone Professor Sycamore. In my previous article, I included a “Maxie’s Supporter Engine” that had 4 Professor Sycamore in it. The main difference here is Sycamore being swapped out for Acro Bike. I’ve played with the above Supporter engine multiple times, and it’s solid. What really sells me on it (aside from the presence of Acro Bike) is the inclusion of Scorched Earth and a 3rd Shaymin-EX for maximum draw power.

My gut tells me that this same engine cannot be ported over to ArchieStoise so easily, mostly because of the missing Scorched Earth and Blacksmith. Still, these Maxie’s/Archie’s Supporter engines are wholly dependent on Item cards to get the combo off, more so than I realized.

Alright, with that bit of clarification, let’s get on to my resolutions …

Resolution 1: You Gotta Be In It To Win It

My first resolution is an obvious one: I want to play in more tournaments this year. This may seem like a no-brainer, but trust me when I say that given where I am in life right now, dedicating weekends to Pokémon is an incredibly difficult thing to do. I love the game and I desperately want to be more involved with it, but I have two children right now that are too young to compete in tournaments, making a casual trip to a tournament a near impossibility.

I feel this is an important resolution to discuss because I’m in the very middle of this transition period between being able to play freely by myself and being able to play with my kids. On top of that, I’ve had a few readers reach out to me who are in this same place or have something else going on that prevents them from playing (school, college, work, etc.), so I thought I would throw out some tips and at least give you a sense of what it’s like to be in this odd, slightly frustrating limbo.

“Prepare snacks … find babysitter … sleeve deck …”

First of all, practically everything relies on planning. For me to go to a tournament, for instance, I would need to find a babysitter for one or both of my kids, plan out meals for everyone, and determine whether or not my wife was going with me. All of these items of business have their own intricacies, and this has absolutely nothing to do with what deck I’m playing, whether or not I have the cards, and so on. Gone are the days when I could just wake up on a Saturday, decide to drive the two hours it took to get to a tournament, and play with a deck I had been working on for weeks. These days I’m lucky if I even know it’s a Saturday when I wake up!

What this means for me — and what it may mean for you if you’re in a similar place — is that executive functioning skills (things like time management, planning, problem-solving, etc.) are absolutely necessary if you want to hope to play Pokémon again before you’re 40 years old with kids. If you want to compete in a tournament coming up, let whoever is close to you know and start planning out the particulars on your own. Work out the details so that you have an answer when asked what you’re going to do about X, Y, and Z. Also, no disrespect if you are that 40-year-old with kids who play! I envy you given that my daughter is more interested in Shopkins right now than Pokémon cards.

Second, you might have to seriously consider taking a break from the tournament scene. This doesn’t mean you have to quit the game, it just means you have to think about playing it in a different way. For me, this has mostly been done through PTCGO where I can hone my skills, work on decks, and continue to build my digital collection of cards. Now, I realize this advice is practically the opposite of my resolution, but I’m slowly getting to a place where I can safely and sanely take my family to a bigger tournament, compete in it, and make sure everyone has fun. Just a few months ago I couldn’t say that, so for anyone who’s knee-deep in this problem of having too much going on other than Pokémon, just know that it gets better.

Also, while it won’t garner you any Championship Points, there are Leagues, Prereleases, and local tournaments you should check out to stay involved while freeing up some of your time. Far too often I see players get busy with school or work and drop Pokémon altogether, never even considering they can spend an hour a week at a League and stay connected.

The last thing to consider is the reward and point structures tournaments have that determines who makes it to Worlds, who gets travel rewards, and so on. Over the years there has been an increasing emphasis on points and rank that favors quantity over quality. Of course, you have to be able to perform well at the tournaments you go to, but going to a high number of tournaments significantly increases your chance of receiving invites and awards. If this seems obvious, consider that years ago winners of Regional Championships earned travel awards to Nationals; this is no longer the case, as number of Championship Points determines who earns these rewards.

Once again, I’m resolving to show up at more tournaments this year by planning things out a little better (we’ve already been talking about Virginia Regionals), and if it’s still too much to make it out to tournaments, I’ll plan on looking into local Leagues and events that at least keep me up to speed with the game.

Resolution 2: Play Different Decks!

durant nvi devour
I’ve announced this attack way too many times …

As it’s gotten harder and harder for me to make it out to tournaments each weekend, I made the serious mistake of putting all of my eggs in one basket. For the last couple of months I’ve played little more than a Durant deck on PTCGO in the hopes that I’d be able to catch players off guard at the Winter Regionals and nab a strong showing. I like my Durant deck a lot, it’s pretty solid, and the format seemed good for it. Here’s that list by the way:

Pokémon – 8

4 Durant NVI

2 Sableye DEX

1 Jirachi XY67

1 Jirachi-EX

Trainers – 44

4 Professor Sycamore

3 N

2 Lysandre

2 Team Flare Grunt

1 Colress

1 Xerosic

1 Brigette


4 VS Seeker

4 Level Ball

4 Crushing Hammer

3 Head Ringer

3 Pokémon Catcher

3 Trainers’ Mail

2 Enhanced Hammer

2 Revive

2 Super Rod

1 Tool Scrapper

1 Dowsing Machine


1 Silent Lab

Energy – 8

5 M

3 Prism

Though I will probably still play the deck, the issue I’m facing right now is that it just doesn’t perform well against some of the more popular decks in the metagame currently. The aforementioned Entei deck is a pure nightmare, Zoroark BKT is a headache, and Blastoise PLB decks with Archie’s still gives me a bunch of trouble (even with the Silent Lab).

As a result of all this, my second resolution is to get out there and play a greater variety of decks. This seems ironic given that I write about various decks on this site and often do a lot of research on what’s popular in the metagame, but I’m a creature of habit. It’s easier at times to sit down and play something I’ve nearly committed to muscle memory than try something challenging and new.

I currently have 105 created decks on PTCGO, and though some of them are duplicates of the same deck with minute differences, it remains foolish for me to play a single deck over and over again without changing it up a bit. Some of the decks in my library are even rogue ideas I’ve come up with over the past year or so, so the thought that I might have gold just sitting there while I discard my opponent’s deck over and over again feels wrong.

Also, it feels boring.

This game is meant to be challenging, mentally stimulating, and fun. Yet I’ve turned it into a grind. At 194 games played (and 162 of them won), my Durant deck should be in top shape. Heck, it was probably in top shape 100 games ago, but I’ve kept playing and playing and playing.

Recently — within the past couple of weeks — I’ve tried to change my habits. PTCGO has a neat feature that allows you to look at your opponent’s deck post-game (players can turn this off if they’d like), so every now and then when I face an intriguing idea I’ll look if I can and copy the deck. In this way I’ve put together multiple decks and tested them out. Furthermore, I’ve got a healthy number of ideas I’ve developed that have barely been touched, so I’ve gone back to many of those to tinker with them. While I can’t say I’ve broken the format so far, the following decks have just been hanging out in my deck manager, waiting for a chance to get played:

If you’re anything like me, you might be doing the same thing by pouring all of your focus into one or two decks. I challenge you to try new things out and revisit some of those ideas you might have had in the past. Also, if you’d like a list for any of the decks I just mentioned, just let me know. None of them perform all that well, but they’re fun at the least.

Resolution 3: Test Underrated Cards

m houndoom-ex bkt 22 16-9
The underdogs, you could say.

Don’t confuse this with “find the worst cards ever and try to make them semi-decent.” I probably won’t be playing Hand Scope anytime soon (though I’ve definitely thought about giving it a try just to see if it really is that bad). Rather, let’s take a card like M Houndoom-EX. On the surface, it seems like an okay card: nice attack cost, decent damage output, expected HP. Most people have shifted their attention to the “mill” quality in Houndoom-EX’s first attack and glossed over using M Houndoom-EX as a lethal attacker.

Looked at quickly, most players would only see the potential in Houndoom-EX when paired with Bunnelby PRC 121, but what happens when we try to make M Houndoom-EX competitive? Let’s do a quick analysis of the card. Here are all the hurdles this card must jump to be any good:

  • Low Damage Output. Compared to something like M Manectric-EX, this seems silly, but M Houndoom-EX has a damage cap (assuming it has a Houndoom Spirit Link attached) that doesn’t KO most Pokémon-EX and gets nowhere close to taking care of M Pokémon-EX.
  • Unimpressive HP. 210 HP isn’t that bad, but it’s not all that great either for a M Pokémon-EX. I think the biggest issue here is the relative ease with which Water Pokémon can KO M Houndoom-EX. A Keldeo-EX with just 3 Water Energy gets the 1HKO, putting this deck at a near auto-loss against “ArchieStoise.” Moreover, the 210-damage cap is something Night March decks can hit somewhat reliably, so there’s another bad matchup.
  • Bad Weakness. Particularly against Seismitoad-EX and ArchieStoise decks.

Thankfully, that’s basically it. The card really isn’t that bad. Looking at this list of disadvantages, I figure that Crobat PHF would be a good partner for M Houndoom-EX. It helps fill in the gaps where damage output isn’t that great, can tackle the Night March matchup, and syncs up nicely with the use of AZ (which can bounce a damaged M Houndoom-EX back to the hand). Given that, here’s what I put together:

Pokémon – 19

3 Houndoom-EX

3 M Houndoom-EX

4 Zubat PHF

4 Golbat PHF

3 Crobat PHF

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

Trainers – 30

4 Professor Sycamore

2 Professor Birch’s Observations

2 Lysandre

2 Blacksmith

2 AZ


4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

4 Super Scoop Up

3 Houndoom Spirit Link

2 Muscle Band

1 Tool Retriever

Energy – 11

7 R

4 Burning

So, the idea for this resolution is to stop discounting cards before I give them a try, something I have a habit of doing. If you’ll notice, I’m also giving Tool Retriever a try in this deck as well (something I don’t think I’ve ever played). Spoiler alert: this deck is still only mediocre; I’m not sure how to get it to work as efficiently as possible.

The best example of putting this into action came with the release of BREAKthrough. The card creators seemed to be cognizant of making the new BREAK mechanic have at least a chance of being used, as there’s a case for why each of the Pokémon BREAK are good. Chesnaught BREAK, for instance, can be played with Forest of Giant Plants. The other Stage 2 Pokémon BREAK — Florges BREAK — evolves from a Pokémon whose Ability allows you to run an incredibly low number of Energy in your deck. Raichu BREAK can be paired successfully with Eelektrik NVI. Noivern BREAK and Zoroark BREAK are arguably playable without second glance. Marowak BREAK is still on the fence, but there’s a Marowak coming out sometime in the future that has an Ability that nullifies Seismitoad-EX.

Almost all of these cards have an air of mediocrity about them, but I’ve been trying to get them to work in some way. And that’s the point. Sure, there are cards that get released that are automatically seen as competitive, but we still see unconventional decks come up through the woodwork, many of which would never have been discovered if every player stuck to what was predictably good.

Resolution 4: Focus More on the “Minutia” of Play

For context, the term “minutia” here refers to small plays that many players make without even thinking about them — plays often overlooked that can add up to significant differences in the way a game progresses. This isn’t playing an Ultra Ball to get a Crobat PHF to put your opponent’s Pokémon within KO range, it’s more the question of what you discarded with that Ultra Ball.

I revealed earlier that I’ve spent a lot of time playing Durant within the past few months. One advantage it has afforded me is the chance to put a microscope up to these minutia plays that can so often lead to a game loss. Let me give you a couple of examples to demonstrate my point:

Example 1: The Retreating Dilemma
No switching available … where do we attach the Energy?

I remember briefly discussing this common mistake some time ago in another article, and yet I found myself making the same mistake over and over again. Playing Durant repeatedly helped me to zero in on the issue, and sure enough it’s something I know not to do anymore. What, then, is the retreating dilemma?

Say you open with a Jirachi-EX using a deck that doesn’t run many switching cards (replace Jirachi-EX with whatever non-attacker you’d like if need be). You bench your attacker and attach an Energy card to your Active Pokémon with the intention of retreating to your attacker on your next turn. There are a number of issues with what you just did, the main one being that you’ve exposed yourself to losing a turn of attacking. If you have another Pokémon on your Bench you don’t intend to attack with, your opponent can use a Lysandre to bring it up and stall you for a turn. If your opponent plays Team Flare Grunt, they may be able to strip the Energy away from your Active Pokémon, again costing you a turn.

The correct play, then, is to simply attach your Energy card to the Benched attacker. It’s a simple misplay, one I’m sure many people have made multiple times, and yet it’s often overlooked. Consider the huge cost of making this misplay with a Durant deck. In many cases games come down to just one or two turns that wold make all the difference, and if you’re giving up one of those turns in the initial stages of the game, you may be sabotaging yourself without even knowing it.

Example 2: The Silent Lab Experiment

At some point within the past few weeks I deemed ArchieStoise an auto-loss for my Durant deck. After losing to the multiple times, I decided I do something about it. I took a close look at the matchup and after careful consideration decided to put in a Silent Lab to at least have a shot at winning during the late game. In many cases it worked, but I came across a specific misplay I was apt to make during that late game phase.

Typically, the path to victory in this specific matchup involves dropping a Silent Lab when my opponent has between 1 and 3 Prize cards left, using a Pokémon Catcher to pull something up from the Bench, then playing an N to give my opponent very little to work with. On two occasions nearly back to back I made the same mistake of bringing up a Blastoise rather than an Energy-less Keldeo-EX with a Head Ringer attached. Of course, my opponent in each case casually attached a Float Stone to the Blastoise, retreated, and won against me in the long run.

I call this a minutia play because it’s a small detail in an otherwise complex strategy, and it’s one that I really shouldn’t be making. It’s also one that any onlooker would look at and dismiss as bad luck rather than a misplay. In both those cases I knew my opponent just wouldn’t be able to get the Energy on the Keldeo-EX to retreat it, and yet I brought up Blastoise because it had a higher Retreat Cost — because it felt right.

Resolution 5: Take a Dip Into the Card Pool

beheeyem bkt 16-9 2
Let’s explore alien territory.

I mean it with all my heart when I say that right now is one of the most exciting times to play the Pokémon TCG in the history of the game (part of why this list of resolutions exists!). With the inclusion of an updated Expanded format, there are now two significantly different ways to play this game. And with a card pool as large as it is right now, you’re basically free to play whatever you’d like. I personally love it.

Each new set that comes out has the capability of revamping years-old cards, which can be really exciting. Take, for instance, the fact that we will soon get a Beheeyem BREAK card. Whether or not it ends up being that good, there’s an excellent choice for Elgyem from Noble Victories with a first attack that allows you to search your deck for two Basic Pokémon and put them on your Bench. That’s a card from five years ago that all of a sudden sees another chance for play because of a card released this year.

Add to that countless other cards like PlusPower, Devolution Spray, Eelektrik NVI, etc. that can still be accessed for Expanded play and you have the daunting and exciting task of identifying synergy between cards released as much as five years apart. What, for instance, does PlusPower do for Medicham PRC? Would it be wise to match Accelgor DEX with Vileplume AOR? What Stage 1s from past sets benefit from the Ancient Origins Eeveelutions?

When I played Steelix Prime at Worlds in 2010, the one card that changed everything in my testing with that deck was PlusPower — it practically turned a 50/50 matchup against Luxray LV.X/Garchomp LV.X (“Luxchomp”) into an auto-win. I say this to emphasize the power that even a single card can have on a matchup. When Forest of Giant Plants was released, I spent a long time poring over every Grass-type Pokémon that evolved, seeking some hidden combo that would change everything.

Resolution 6: Update Your Software

One thing I’ve been really sloppy with — and it relates somewhat to the last resolution — is how I update my decks with each new set. Basically, I don’t. My Tool Drop deck is stuck in time — it looks exactly the same today as it did months and months ago. The last time I touched it was when Phantom Forces came out (you know, Dimension Valley), and the problem with that should be obvious. By not updating your decks with each set, you’re limiting your choices with every tournament you play.

If you’re like me, this can prove difficult because of the number of decks you have. Even if you take just a few minutes reviewing each deck, that time adds up quickly when you have 100+ decks to review. My suggestion? Spend the time it takes to review each deck. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of rogue ideas I’ve thrown together that would benefit from some reviewing. Add to that the number of past archetypes that have gained advantages with newer sets (I recall seeing someone perform well at a City Championship just recently with a Plasma deck).

I know it will take a lot of time, but it’s worth it. Consider what Donphan decks looked like before and after Phantom Forces (not to mention Furious Fists, which made the deck viable in the first place): Zekrom and Reshiram were replaced with Robo Substitutes, Lysandre’s Trump Card provided much-needed insurance against Enhanced Hammers and discarded Pokémon, and of course VS Seeker made every deck automatically better. Someone took notice when Furious Fists made Donphan PLS a good card, then again when Phantom Forces made it that much better.

Besides, doing this is probably one of the best ways to dedicate time that otherwise would be spent playing the same three or so decks (talking to myself mostly here). In this way you get the chance to recognize new combos, build on your own previous work, and get excited about trying out new ideas. My own goal here is to have all of my decks up to date a week before we go to Virginia Regionals.

Resolution 7: Collect Ideas

tracey notes writing binoculars
Jot down any neat info you come across!

I touched on this briefly before when I mentioned the option to view your opponent’s deck in PTCGO. Truthfully though, that’s just the beginning when it comes to collecting ideas, lists, and so on. I might sound like a typical “net-decker,” but aren’t we all anyway? Technology has allowed us to share and divulge information like never before, and if you’re not absorbing all that you can while perusing Facebook sites or TCG websites, you’re doing it wrong.

This is not so much a resolution for myself as it is an idea for everyone else because I already do this a lot. Coming across an interesting deck on my phone or computer, I’ll take a screenshot and save it in a certain folder. Later, I’ll pull those screenshots up and basically build those same decks into my deck manager on PTCGO. While it definitely has a “net-decker” feel to it, I’m mostly concerned with testing the deck out and seeing whether or not it may branch off into improvements or other decks entirely.

At it’s core, I’m collecting ideas. Sometimes those ideas go nowhere (I played against a Latios-EX ROS/Forretress FLF speed deck the other day and thought it was awesome; it’s not), but other times those ideas are solid in a way that shows the original mind behind it knew what they were doing.


A new year is upon us, and with it comes an opportunity for me to get more involved with this game I treasure so much. The resolutions I’ve covered today are ones I hope I can keep. Typically, it’s not so hard to do the things you love, so I’m hitting the ground running with that in mind.

If you liked this article, let me know! I’m always looking for new ideas on what to write about, so drop me a message if you’ve got something for me to cover. Also, share your own resolutions Underground if you’d like. I’d love to hear them!

Thanks for reading, and I hope this marks the best year yet for all of us.

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