Hi SixPrizes readers! It’s my pleasure to come back to you with some more of my thoughts on Pokémon. My last article spoke about the Expanded format and Regional Championships. In my area, City Championships couldn’t have been more different.
Cities were primarily Standard. Standard has a very different set of viable decks. Staple cards that found their way in to many decks over the past few years like N, Darkrai-EX, Keldeo-EX, and Flareon PLF were no longer options.
I recently heard an interesting story about the difference between the fox and the hedgehog. The fox knows many things, while the hedgehog knows one important thing. In many instances, the hedgehog is what we’re encouraged to be. The hedgehog has focus, whereas the fox is portrayed as scatterbrained. For Fall Regionals — and for Expanded — I endeavored to become the hedgehog (despite not knowing the expression at the time). For City Championships, I felt a different approach was needed and I had mixed results.
For more info on the hedgehog and the fox, check out Isaiah Berlin’s writing on the subject.
Before deciding how you want to treat a series of small events like Cities, you’ll want to make sure you understand the difference between an event series versus a large event. You’ll also want to wrap your head around how to try and maximize small changes compared to big ones. Hopefully my personal reflections on the changes I made across City Championships will help you be more thoughtful next time you have an event series to play in. If you played in Cities this year, by the end hopefully you’ll have some useful reflections on what you did and how it went (let me know in the comments!).
Games Played in Small Events vs. Big Events
In a given cycle of Regionals, the average player only participates in one Regional Championship. If they make the second day, and play out all of their rounds, that makes for 14 rounds of Swiss. Add in three more rounds of top cut, and it’s possible to play 51 total games over the weekend with one deck. This is exactly the time for a hedgehog mentality. Play that one deck, and play it very well.
By comparison, during City Championships, there will be plenty of competitive players making it out to 12 or more events. For Masters Division players, that will frequently mean five or six rounds of Swiss, and even if those are only best-of-one matches, this translates into upwards of 60 games played across the tournament series with different decks and lists. I could be wrong, but this seems like a case for the fox.
Getting ready for Fall Regionals, I probably played at least 40 or 50 games with one single deck. I can’t really be sure as to the exact number for any given list, but the one I used in Lancaster and Ft. Wayne probably accounted for the lion’s share of my matches played. Preparing for Cities, I probably played closer to 200 games across 6-8 completely different decks (so somewhere around 30 games per deck).
As an aside, I’d argue that after playing over 100 games, I probably wouldn’t be learning very much with the same deck and the same is true for you too.
On Making Adjustments
Admittedly, some of the small adjustments you’ll make during City Championships are difficult to swallow. For example, if you win an event (even if you’re undefeated) the decklist you won with could be obsolete the very next day. If you were to win an event with Night March on a Saturday, other players might start utilizing Assault Vest or Crobat on Sunday. You could be proactive and attempt to counter them with Startling Megaphone or Hex Maniac.
You might be reading this assuming I’m overthinking the cause-and-effect nature of deck and card choices. You might be right. In some instances, however, you’ll be able to double down on a good performance with a successful deck instead of needing to completely pivot away from it as people try and counter you. For example:
- If you’re trying to take the hedgehog approach and double down on the good performance, you’ll keep using Night March and make appropriate adjustments.
- If you’re more fox-brained and trying to pivot away, you can either switch to a deck that is good against what you won with or unaffected by counters to your deck. In the case of Night March, Yveltal/Zoroark/Gallade and Mega Manectric would be example decks respectively.
Furthermore, as you start playing more and more games at Cites, aspects of your lists will start to become public knowledge. Ideally, you’ll be having these sorts of conversations with friends at events:
Your Friend: I played against Toad/Bats in Round 1.
You: Did you win? Who was it? What was their Crobat line like?
Your Friend: No, his name was Adam Smith, and I think it was a 4-3-2 line.
Knowing the numbers on something like that, with some level of comfort, is a pretty big deal. A single game isn’t always enough time to be certain about something like that. However, if your friend observes what is probably a 4-3-2 line, then you observe what is probably a 4-3-2 line, by the time you play against the deck in top cut, you’ll feel very comfortable knowing that it’s a 4-3-2 line. In the same vein, this becomes a source of possible deception for that other competitor. You’d be taken off guard, and justifiably surprised, if in a critical moment they laid down a 3rd Crobat. Surprise Bite would be no misnomer in that scenario.
More rarely, you’ll be left waiting for the other shoe to drop. Someone using the hedgehog approach has cut a card, such as their 2nd Crobat, and you’re left playing around it. You’re trying to prevent yourself from losing to something that isn’t there. Lysandre is one of the most common cards to play for the win, and VS Seeker gives you a ton of access to it. If you think back to the format before VS Seeker, a 3rd Lysandre was a surprise factor for many players. Backing away from that 3rd Lysandre would have the same effect as other players learned your list. Perhaps more commonly than playing around a card that your opponent may have cut from their list, you might be playing around one of their final Prizes.
These kinds of small changes were more prevalent during other metagames, especially during the era where you could play Rare Candy the same turn you benched a Basic Pokémon and using a 1-0-1 Evolution line was a viable possibility.
Here are some quick examples of which card or line counts to manipulate to catch opponents off guard for different decks. I don’t want to dive too deep into these cases since it’s only a small facet of City Championships. This list of examples should be helpful to either the fox or the hedgehog. The hedgehog is working through the variety of options their own deck might have, while the fox probably just needs to think about how their most recent deck choice would combat each deck and its variants.
- Night March — Milotic PRC
- Mega Manectric — Articuno ROS 17, DCE, or Muscle Band
- Toad/Bats — Crobat line, AZ, Silent Lab
- Yveltal — Zoroark BKT, Yveltal XY
- Metal — Non-EX attackers
- Luacrio/Bats — Crobat line, AZ, Enhanced Hammer
- Vespiquen — A special case where changing your secondary attacker or the count of that attacker can have the desired effect
In my experience, this is VERY different from selecting appropriate techs for your metagame. Techs range from a count of 0 to 1 to improve a matchup; mixing up your counts changes how frequently your deck does something in particular, and makes you less predictable across multiple events. Getting your counts right — or changing them to be unpredictable — is very hedgehog-like compared to simply inserting techs.
First Up: Vespiquen Variations
I might be the world’s top proponent of Vespiquen. But honestly, the deck performs much better in Expanded. It loses access to a lot of its consistency and redundancy in Standard. I played a lot of different lists on PTCGO, and I tried a lot of different things in tournaments as well. I started with the list in my “Buzz Words” article and went in a few different directions. Check out these lists I tried (which may be more or less appropriate in your particular metagame):
- Great Matchups: Night March, Giratina, Mega Sceptile
- Weaker Matchups: Lucario/Bats, Mienshao
Pokémon – 28
2 Milotic PRC
Trainers – 25
Energy – 7
Raichu & Gallade Build
- Great Matchups: Mega Manectric, Yveltal
- Weaker Matchups: Giratina
Pokémon – 28
2 Milotic PRC
Trainers – 26
Energy – 6
Those lists and similar ones got me Top 8 and Top 4 finishes. I won two Expanded City Championships. In order to get more Championship Points I knew I’d need to get at least a Top 4 finish. Feeling like Vespiquen might not be the best bet, I decided to embrace my fox brain and try some new decks. I needed to find a deck that didn’t have the same deficiencies as Vespiquen, which were primarily an issue with Yveltal/Zoroark/Gallade and a susceptibility to decks with many single-Prize attackers.
Now We March
There are tons of decks in the Standard metagame. The first deck I would try was Night March. It was a deck that was seeing success, I had played it previously, and I saw a lot of success with it in practice games. It had all the makings of something I should try — even if it didn’t result in success.
The single event I played Night March at I was paired against Magnezone decks Rounds 1 and 2, losing both games before I dropped from the event. My Round 1 opponent, Andrew Mahone, made it as far as the finals so I couldn’t feel too bad. Here’s the list:
Pokémon – 19
2 Milotic PRC
Trainers – 37
1 Town Map
Energy – 4
I was heavily focusing on trying to beat EX-based decks. There had been Metal decks including Giratina, turbo Giratina, and Seismitoad/Giratina at previous events. In my testing, I was usually able to keep denying Giratina decks Energy long enough for me to win. Sometimes that Energy denial came from Enhanced Hammer, and other times it came from using Lysandre on a Benched Giratina to KO the attached Energy, thus stopping the Chaos Wheel.
Beating decks where I’d only be taking a single Prize each time appeared difficult but doable. I planned on using AZ to remove Shaymin from the Bench or possibly reuse Milotic.
Ultimately, I chose to abandon the deck instead of trying to improve the list. It wasn’t my two losses to a deck that seemed to be in the minority of the metagame — that would be a bad reason to abandon the deck. There were other decks in the metagame that would give Night March trouble, and other cards that were building popularity. Those cards included, most notably, Assault Vest and Crobat. Also, Night March didn’t have any super special advantages against popular decks.
Step into Darkness
Other players would move away from Night March, and this created an opening for decks featuring Mega Mewtwo-EX. M Manectric-EX wasn’t seeing a ton of play, but it was definitely present. My next plan was to try and use Yveltal/Zoroark/Gallade, but didn’t seem worthwhile to play Fighting techs or Gallade without a way to remove Flash Energy. Before I go into too much detail, here’s the list:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 29
Energy – 13
My goals for the list were consistency and positive matchups against Night March, Giratina, Vespiquen, Manectric, and Raichu. As it would happen, I got paired up against some Manectric decks, and I dead-drew into oblivion against them. However, I handily won against Metal, Night March, and the two anti-meta decks I encountered. My run ended in the Top 8 when I lost to Justin Bokhari’s Seismitoad/Bats. His ability to use Silent Lab, Judge, and Quaking Punch together was really fantastic. I saw Justin playing this deck a lot — he was definitely taking the hedgehog approach.
Would I do anything differently? I would probably run the deck again, but with Gallade instead of Regirock. Perhaps I should’ve just taken another shot with this same deck. This deck wasn’t exactly something super secret or super innovative, but earlier I mentioned which decks I was hoping for good matchups against. I’m going to give a rundown of how I try to get an advantage against each of these decks. Again, the hedgehog and the fox are reading this for different reasons.
Vs. Night March
Night Marchers are all 1HKO’d by Yveltal XY for 1 Energy and it helps to build future attackers. Possible follow-up attackers include another Yveltal, Regirock (to KO Joltik), Shaymin (to KO Joltik and remove a liability), Zoroark, or even Yveltal-EX (ideally only to close out the game).
As it would happen, Zoroark is useful against all the decks that incorporate Giratina since most of them tend to fill their Bench. Zoroark BREAK with Enhanced Hammer is absolutely devastating to Giratina to boot. AZ will let you recycle this critical attacker if you need to.
In order to set up, Vespiquen is usually stuck filling its Bench, making this a prime matchup for Zoroark’s Mind Jack. Yveltal with a Muscle Band can KO nearly any Basic in a Vespiquen deck.
This is Regirock’s time to shine. Assault Vest/Flash Energy can give him some problems, but Muscle Band and Enhanced Hammer should be able to get you over the hill. I tried to observe what the hedgehog players were doing and I sought to overcome it. It didn’t pan out for me in the tournament, but my hands were what I tend to describe as “I would’ve lost to anything.”
Probably still a bad matchup, but there were some good plays that I hoped could swing things my way. First: getting a KO with a regular Yveltal. Using a Muscle Band, Yveltal could KO a Zubat. Potentially it could even KO a Feebas if they were stuck starting with it. Enhanced Hammer would give me a possibility of running them out of resources. Zoroark would give me three easy knockouts. While it panned out that way in most of my PTCGO matches, I didn’t have the chance to play it out during a tournament.
Four Corners Manectric
Again, having not met great success my hope was to shift decks and do well. This go-around, my hope was to have a leg up on the following decks: Manectric, Yveltal/Zoroark, and Entei. I decided to build a Four Corners-style deck revolving around Manectric-EX. The Four Corners style appealed to me, and the fact that Manectric was increasing in success and popularity made me think it was also part of an auspicious rogue build. Here’s the list:
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 32
Energy – 12
I hadn’t been using Mega Manectric decks myself so I used Henry Ross-Clunis’ list as a starting point. Earlier I used the term Four Corners. For players unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is that you would add many different types (Energy types) of Pokémon to your deck in order to gain advantages in many different situations. This deck doesn’t hit the Four Corners in the Energy type scenario, but instead achieves it through three types and an Articuno tech. I built this deck on theory, and played dozens of games with it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a lot of games in against some important decks, namely Vespiquen and Night March.
Here’s some detail about our “four corners” in this deck:
- M Manectric: This Pokémon can 1HKO Yveltal-EX and any other Pokémon besides those teched against it from the Dark decks you’ll run into. Hex Maniac lets you punch through an Altaria protecting a Rayquaza-EX. To be clear, M Rayquaza (Colorless) wasn’t a part of my metagame when I built this, but it was a deck I was considering.
- Regirock: He’s a non-EX attacker that can do incredible things in the mirror match as well as eliminate Zoroark or Raichu.
- Regice: He’s a staple of Mega Manectric decks and shuts out some EX-centric decks. As a bonus, Ice Beam can KO Joltik or delay other large attackers. (Beware that Tyrantrum will bust through Resistance Blizzard.) Resistance Blizzard is also a great way to get at Entei since their primary defense — Assault Vest — won’t reduce the damage they take from Regice’s attack.
- Articuno: Articuno helps level the playing field against Night March, but it seems like that matchup would still be an uphill battle.
Would I do anything differently? This was a deck I got the idea for the Friday before a Sunday event. I should’ve played a lot more games to refine such a rogue idea. Ultimately, my tournament performance (and the incredibly diverse metagame) caused me to abandon this line of work. I didn’t realize going into the particular event how wide the metagame had become. I think the Four Corners concept might have paired better with Dark or Metal, but I didn’t get to put in the time with those concepts to possibly justify using them. If I was going to play a Metal deck in Standard, I would have gone a more typical route anyway.
Back to the Bees
Throughout all of this, people kept asking me why I didn’t switch back to Vespiquen. I was still unconvinced it was the deck to make me go all the way and win an event, even if it might have put up some better finishes these weird decks were giving me. You could say that the Best of Finish Limit was influencing my results, and you’d be right.
In parallel to all of my other testing, I was still playing around with various Vespiquen decklists. Someone eventually sent me a list that was floating around the internet for a Vespiquen/Vileplume deck. I had seen a handful of different lists for the deck and I was intrigued. Almost all of these lists had (what I thought) were some severe problems. This is entirely a skill the fox needs over the hedgehog. The hedgehog will be very familiar with any deck these choose to use, whereas the fox is far more likely to pick up a list and go. I hope the list of problems with the deck I discovered can serve as things for you to check off as you’re considering using a list you haven’t built yourself or played before:
- The deck had absolutely no way to deal with Aegislash (it played all Special Energies, no Lysandre, no Hex Maniac, and no Silent Lab).
- The deck played only 4 non-EX attackers, which meant it couldn’t play a 6- or 7-Prize game and it could never exhaust an opponent of resources.
- The deck included no Lysandre, meaning it could never deal with opponents who built up Benched threats and it could never KO Benched Shaymin-EXs.
All that being said, I was still very interested in the deck. It combined my love of Vespiquen with my love of Item lock, and 40 or so games later, I had settled on a list I wanted to bring to my next event:
Pokémon – 28
Trainers – 26
Energy – 6
I knew I was taking a risk with this choice. I was very much hoping to NOT play against Entei, and if I did, I hoped to at least be able to go first. Other than that, there were no matchups that I was particularly worried about. From my testing it seemed like I just needed to get out Vileplume while she was still effective, and hope that she didn’t get stuck. I ended up going 3-2 and missing cut with the deck, whiffing on early Vileplumes in three of my games and going second in four of them. (I was lucky enough to get a T1 Vileplume against Toad/Bats in Round 5.)
Author’s Note: I refer to Vileplume as she even though only 50% are female. I imagine mine is female; yours might not be.
I should begin by saying that the deck is perhaps overly optimistic in its card choices, but I hope that my version is more down to Earth than the version I saw floating around.
The builds that saw success in Expanded with Regice and Aegislash focused on locking people out of a win. This build was designed to go as fast as possible and not give your opponent the time to stabilize without the use of Item cards.
As for consistency cards, my research found the builds in Expanded took advantage of Pokémon Communication and the lists in Standard used Acro Bike. For me, Acro Bike became an acute problem. As many as four times per game, I was looking at 2 cards, and would be forced to lose at least 1 of them. In defense of those lists, they ran Bunnelby, but my experience made it feel like an ineffective solution. I moved those cards over to make the deck feel more stable.
Here are some thoughts on the card choices I went with that I wasn’t seeing elsewhere:
This might have been the best card to start with in the entire deck, and I probably should have dedicated more effort to making this card super effective.
- It allowed Vespiquen to more easily 2-shot Pokémon-EX without needing to invest 2 Vespiquen and 2 DCE.
- It could KO Night Marchers, any Basic Pokémon that would evolve into a non-EX attacker, or even trade with Entei if you get lucky.
- It has plenty of HP for you to send in after a Sky Return while still being an offensive threat.
- Unfortunately, it might be a win-more card. It is only good when the deck is running as intended with a Vileplume on my Bench.
One of the strongest cards in the Expanded build of Vileplume, I wanted to take advantage of it in Standard.
- Early game it would let me reuse Shaymin’s Set Up or get to switch into an attacker without retreating.
- Mid game sometimes I’d be able to avoid a 2HKO or pull Shaymin to my hand in order to be able to discard it with Sycamore later. Rarely I’d be able to pick up Vileplume, play Items, and re-bench her.
- Late game AZ helped remove Lysandre as a defensive solution for my opponent.
A strong card in many Vespiquen builds, Judge combos well with Unown and helps shuffle in resources for later.
- Early game sometimes I could cripple my opponents even more than just by preventing Items. It feels like a risky play unless I have a Benched Unown or two, and perhaps even a Forest of Giant Plants.
- Mid or late game it’s important to ruin your opponent’s hand, especially the turn before you’re worried they could promote a fresh attacker and Lysandre someone important.
Despite using Item lock, VS Seeker is such an incredibly strong wild card that you can’t ignore it. It helps punish opponents who KO a Vileplume and give you back your Item usage after you’ve burned through plenty of resources.
- By playing 2 or more, discarding even a single Supporter before using Set Up increases your probability of having the chance to draw deeper into your deck.
- It further strengthens AZ since you have an Item that can get back a resource instead of just going even further into the deck and your resources.
2 G Energy
Most importantly, it gave me more Energies to try and make my opponent KO the maximum number of attackers.
- An added bonus, it was usually an additional card that I could get out of my hand on the first turn as I was trying to draw with Set Up to get a Vileplume out.
- R Energy might have been better since it benefits from Scorched Earth which Entei uses.
- It was a weak answer to Aegislash, but it felt better than none. If Aegislash was a larger part of my metagame, I might’ve used Entei(s)/Blacksmith/R Energy and abandoned the Miltank option completely.
It feels unfortunate to admit, but my results suggest that I didn’t do a good job of choosing decks. If I had to do it over again, I probably would’ve explored Lucario/Bats sooner, skipped the Mega Manectric deck entirely, and circled back to a more traditional Bees list if those hadn’t worked out; perhaps one with Night Marchers.
I don’t believe I missed out on a secret formula for success; rather I didn’t put enough of the fundamentals into a lot of these lists. Plenty of them needed a larger sample size of games to give me an idea of their weaknesses. As I played many games, I found myself having two thoughts that greatly improved my learning curve that are important when trying to use your fox brain:
1. “If I had been playing against Deck X instead, this would be a great hand!”
This isn’t usually a bad feeling, unless the hand I’m looking at is just completely unplayable.
2. “If I was playing with Deck Y, this would be a great matchup!”
It isn’t enough to have this thought repeatedly. You need to look left and right during your matches, and ask yourself if your current deck or the deck you almost played would be a better choice in each of those seats as well.
I was sent a question by SixPrizes user Patrick1865. If you send me in your questions about topics I discuss, I’ll try to answer them in the following month’s article.
Patrick asked, “Hey there – we’ve been testing Zoroark in the Vespiquen Expanded list (cutting down on the Flareon line). I would love to see your opinion on this in your Underground piece. In the match ups where Mind Jack isn’t quite as strong as Vengeance, Stand In usually proves to make up for it! Thanks!”
I haven’t been experimenting in Expanded as much as in Standard because of the success I’ve seen with Flareon/Vespiquen. Perhaps that’s a mistake on my part. If your metagame has a lot of status effects, Zoroark might have some additional value, but I would try to stick to the 4/4/4/4 Eevee/Flareon/Combee/Vespiquen. I didn’t discuss this in the body of my article because I’ve been focusing on Standard for this piece and Zoroark as a substitute in Expanded didn’t really fit in.
I tried to work in a 2-2 Zoroark line, and it felt like a tight fit. I really liked being able to use Stand In when I had a Pokémon who was bad to start with like Jirachi-EX, Shaymin-EX, Exeggcute, or most importantly Unown. Zoroark would be really effective against Accelgor, which unfortunately isn’t much of the metagame. Stand In was also usually better than Audino when it came to Hypnotoxic Lasers, but didn’t always convert to a KO with Mind Jack.
There are some subtle advantages that I tend to enjoy with Flareon and Vespiquen that if Zoroark had them, I’d be working a lot harder to include him. Flareon can get energized by a Blacksmith, giving me more resources to power it up compared to Vespiquen. Vespiquen can retreat for free.
So for now I don’t see myself running Zoroark, but as new cards enter the format and metagame respectively, he might become a shining star. Recognizing that before other players will be a huge advantage and I wish you the best of luck, Patrick!
I walked away from City Championships with 150 points. This isn’t an overwhelmingly great result, but it’s still one I’m happy with. I have a World Championships invitation. I wish more events local to me had been Expanded format to better prepare for the upcoming Winter Regional Championships. I would’ve liked if Bees had been a better metagame choice for Standard.
I’ve talked on and on about this hedgehog versus fox stuff, and it’s interesting to think if I made the right choice in that regard to City Championships. I’m almost certain that the answer is yes. I acted like a hedgehog in Expanded where I was confident that I’m using good lists and trying to keep my edge, and I behaved like a fox in Standard where I was trying to carve out a new advantage and success. If I had achieved greater success in Standard, I would’ve shifted to hedgehog behavior and tried to leverage my success into more success instead of constantly trying to pivot away from decks I was merely learning from.
…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.
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