Hey, I am back with another update. I suspect I am the oldest writer on SixPrizes by more than a decade, so I get to be a cranky old man. There were a few things I wanted to get out there, so I will talk about those cranky subjects, and City Championships, and then give you a Top 8 report from Juniors at Virginia Regionals.
My last article was the “pre-Cities” article about team dynamics, yet we still weren’t invited to join any teams. :-P
Since that time, Cities has happened and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about that for just a few minutes. Cities for Juniors is a different thing than for Masters but there are similarities. For Masters, it is the easiest way to get an invite. For Juniors, it is also the easiest way to get an invite. There are frequently very few Juniors at a tournament, but they are still fairly competitive tournaments with astronomical variance. We attended one tournament with just five Juniors!
Of course, the people that show up at most of these tournaments are in-it-to-win-it kids. In many tournaments, more than half of the kids attended Nationals the prior year. Given that 200 Juniors attended the National Championship last year and many of them aged up, that speaks to how intense many of these kids are and the hard-working efforts of diligent Poké-parents.
And with so few kids, a single loss could be crippling: at one or two tournaments there was not even a top cut. My oldest son got a 2nd place at a Cities this year because he got donked in the third round of a three-round tournament with no top cut.
So incredibly high variance dominates the outcomes of Junior Cities to a degree. There was not a single tournament that was a “gimme” for us this Cities. Maybe it is easier in other parts of the country.
I will tell you one story of Poké-parenting that aggravates me for putting myself out like this, and I guess it is a happy ending, but it makes me say, “WHY DO I BOTHER?” We went to one tournament — and I may be off on some of these details, so this is loosely paraphrased — where I brought a couple of kids, including our friend JP, who needed a Top 4 to get his invite. My oldest needed more 1st place finishes to stay on the Top 16 grind. Anything else did not help him.
First round, my two kids are paired against each other, of course, and they ID. Second round, my oldest plays one of the best players in the world and beats him. Third round he plays another player of similar caliber.
Meanwhile, JP goes undefeated and last round of Swiss plays my youngest, where we realize they can ID and both cut assuming my oldest wins, which he does. JP concedes in Top 4 to my oldest, my youngest wins the other side of the bracket (playing Lucario/Bats and beating Mega Ray in Top 4! He 2-1’d the other kid decking him out both times. Pretty hot! A matchup does not get worse than that. I am super proud of my 8-year-old.) and we close out the finals.
This was inexact and off on some details, but the concept is basically right: I drive ~3 hours, spend all day sitting at some gaming store, my oldest kid plays two rounds of competitive Pokémon and plays on his Nintendo DS for 3 hours. Entire day lost for two rounds of Pokémon.
Frankly, that isn’t how I would like it to be, but it is what it is. Managing IDs and scoops in a best-of-one tournament with high variance has to be accounted and managed.
I played at one of these tournaments, using Entei, and went 2-2 before Juniors were done and I dropped so we could go home. I had tried to decide between Night March and Entei before the tournament and picked Entei because it was more fun and I knew I would drop anyway. My Entei deck basically won or lost depending on Roller Skates flips. Flipping for all of the draw in your deck is absolutely comic and I had a blast all day.
This was our second Cities cycle and Cities weighed heavily on our minds. I have talked before about how last year we had a terrible, terrible Cities. My oldest son barely got any points at Cities, missed several tournaments with the flu, and just struggled. He got 70 points and we worried that there were only a few State Championship tournaments left to get points at or we would be out of contention. We felt pressure coming out of Cities. We bubbled horrifically at VA Regionals. This time we felt pressure going into Cities because my oldest was in the Top 16 North America and given how everyone talks about how easy it is for Juniors to win Cities, we felt like we needed strong performances to keep on the pace.
We got there: in eight Cities, my oldest came away with four 1st place finishes, getting the fourth at the last Cities we attended. Having said that, I am equally or more proud of his younger brother. We closed out finals at two Cities and they got paired in Top 4 twice. He also scooped to his older brother in Swiss several times, including the tournament that was three rounds with no top cut. I cannot tell you how many times my kids got paired in the 1st round of Swiss. I know it felt like every weekend at least once. I think the TOM conspires against me.
We played a lot of Standard. I think we only attended two Expanded tournaments and those tournaments were very poorly attended for Juniors so it was difficult to draw conclusions about the meta or the effectiveness of our decks with so few rounds. Let me talk a little more broadly about the decks we played in Standard.
We started out Cities playing Lucario/Bats. We felt like the release of Regice AOR made Mega Manectric/Water incredibly viable and we wanted to play a deck that beat it. My son loves Bats and how it gives a slightly non-linear strategy to a deck. We also wanted something that was strong against Toad/Giratina and that meant 1-Energy attackers. Also, attackers that hit for Weakness are few and far between.
Here was one of our lists:
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 32
Energy – 9
I think this is about as middle-of-the-road and uninteresting as a list could be. Consistency was the most important thing for us. We teched the last 3 cards in and out week to week, but it performed well for us. Unfortunately, our best Poké-buddy and frequently Cited partner in crime, Colby E., also hit on the same strategy. We fooled around for a while trying to figure out a good tech to give us the edge in the mirror, but eventually threw in the towel. Two 2nd places at Cities came from losses to Colby. Fortunately for us, Colby got his fourth 1st place the day prior to our last Cities tournament so we were all winners! We won one Cities with this list. I would say that the thing that most jumps out about this deck is that the Psychic-type attackers to battle Lucario in Standard are terrible (… outside of Pumpkaboo. SPOILER ALERT!).
After that, we fooled around with Yveltal/Gallade. There are tons of Yveltal/Gallade lists out there, so I won’t bore you with ours, but it was fairly representative. We wanted something that was equally strong against Mega Manectric but had a better Fighting matchup, so of course we had to play the dark bird.
This was fine and we had good success with Yveltal/Gallade — we won one Cities playing it. I do want to talk about this deck for a second just to formally put my thoughts on paper: it was OK. What is funny about this deck is that you have to run a lot of Item-based draw to allow you to hit the Maxie’s. Unfortunately, this means you have very little room to put in techs. Every tech you put in is a card that makes it harder to hit the Maxie’s when you could be putting in consistency cards. Once you hit the Maxie’s, whenever I used Premonition I felt like I looked at my top 5 cards and they were: Acro Bike, Battle Compressor, Trainers’ Mail, Unown, Acro Bike. I was always wanting to put in cards that would make Premonition “fun,” as I grabbed cards that disrupted my opponent and set me up for victory, but there was never room. The result was that Premonition felt somewhat wasted. All I would do is put the DCE on the top of the deck if I could each time.
The result was that I kind of thought Yveltal/Archeops might not have a strong performance at Regionals. On the one hand, the incentive to run an Yveltal/Maxie’s build is even higher with a partner like Gallade. Unfortunately, every card removed to add in Dark Patch and LaserBanks is another card that lowers the probability of a timely Maxie’s. (Exception: Jirachi-EX, which makes a huge, huge, huge difference. I miss it terribly.) Israel Sosa did not hit the Archeops frequently in his Regionals run and if you need the Archeops you need it. If you don’t care whether it comes out or when, then why subvert the entire deck to support Maxie’s? It seems like straight Yveltal will be at an advantage relative to this deck.
Further, we were seeing Mega Manectric decks run more and more Flash Energy. Our attempts to fool around with Yveltal/Regirock/Hammers taught us that it can still be difficult to draw into Hammers and hit combos at the exact right moment. Obviously, we are very dumb because we were immediately proven wrong by great Masters at VA Regionals.
Our final Cities win came running Night March. Our list here was prototypical as well. This was a deck that I had personally been testing for several weeks and we felt pretty good about it, but my son had played maybe one game with it prior to entering the tournament. Night March is just a beast, but as Brit Pybas is fond of saying (very loose paraphrase), “A format where the BDIF is the BDIF because Target Whistle/Shaymin-EX is kind of sad.”
Russell LaParre made a great point to me the other day as my son was running through people with Night March: when the testers were designing cards, Battle Compressor was built and released with Trump Card. As everyone may recollect, there is a reason that Night March wasn’t a thing until Worlds: Trump Card/Quaking Punch ended the game instantly for Night Marchers. It was more than a hard counter — it was game over in all capitals. And teching a Toad for Night March was easy. And Trump Card wasn’t even a tech: every deck ran one.
Without Trump Card, Battle Compressor decks reward aggression. Brit has described them as non-interactive, and while I like the idea of different deck mechanics and using Battle Compressor, I have to agree that it seems not great for the game.
The Junior Meta
What does the Junior meta look like now? At every tournament we attended, there were people running Mega Manectric and having success. Our close friend JP C. caught fire and earned his invite playing it paired with Raikou and Regice. We really expected to see a lot of that come Regionals. Similarly, because the Mega Ray matchup is so good against Mega Manectric and it is a big hitter, we expected that to be widely prevalent as well (as discussed in our last article).
We projected that Yveltal/Maxie’s and Vespiquen will be popular, but not as widespread as in the Masters meta because Battle Compressor decks require a certain amount of skill to pilot well and the skill bar is simply lower for other decks. While Toad/Tina had tremendous success among Juniors in the last Regionals cycle, there was been virtually no Toad/Tina in our metagame as Juniors tech Jirachi to counter it and fear the counter.
Night March is an incredible deck in Standard, but I think we expect to see less of it in Expanded: Garbodor can cripple it, and there will be more Landy/Bats and Toad/Bats in response to Manectric decks.
Changing of the Guard
Our chronology of Junior life can be summed up thusly:
- Start playing in March of 2014, luck into winning LCQ to compete at Worlds.
- Pressure to earn invite and get back to Worlds last year. Lose win-and-in round at PA Regionals, scrub out Cities, tie win-and-in round at VA Regionals, spend States desperately trying to earn invite. Ended up at 25th in North America with breakout results at every States we attended.
- Success at first tournament of this season leads us to believe we could Top 16. Grind, grind, grind.
It is a grind. I am not gonna lie. I understand why you always see people who are almost numb to the game after years of this. And I feel like I see some burnout happening. Also, Hearthstone. Guys like Dylan Dreyer and Dylan Bryan, friends and some of my favorite fellow SixPrizes writers, have barely attended tournaments. Brit wrote an article during Cities about how he didn’t go to any Cities but he had some decks he would have played if he had. Kenny Wisdom and Sorina Radu have a new podcast where it almost feels like they have a segment devoted to: “I didn’t go to this tournament because real life and I like sleep.” Obviously, we haven’t been playing very long, but I assume people going away from the game and then some of them coming back is a perfectly natural thing that happens all the time. I know last year Brit had written an article about how he was burnt out and then he wrote an article about how he was re-energized. And he was still Top 16.
It happens. For my Junior, he is just not super interested in Pokémon right now. And I know that sucks for others that are hard-working Poké-parents and are testing aggressively with their kids and playtesting constantly these days to hear, because I am going to talk about how my kid had good success at VA Regionals, but there you go. I mentioned above that he played one game with Night March before he won a Cities with it. I would say playing one or two games of Pokémon per week between Cities was pretty typical for us over the holidays. I have talked before about how Juniors are very busy and it is hard to find time to playtest, but we have more time than that. He simply has other interests. It is basketball season and he is in two leagues. He loves Star Wars Battlefront on the PS4. He even loves to read probably more than play Pokémon right now (although not reading SixPrizes, which bores him).
It also runs over into his deck choices. Why are we not playing Mega Manectric? Already ran that at Worlds. Why not play Vespiquen at VA Regionals? Already ran that at PA Regionals. We will play a non-BDIF if it is fun. We tested Entei a bunch during Cities because playing Entei is hilarious. We almost convinced ourselves to run a crazy Wobbuffet deck the day before VA Regionals. Why? Because we hadn’t tested it at all and it seemed like fun. I recognize this kind of trap thinking happens to Masters all the time. MUST BE STRONG!
There are moments where, as a parent, I want him to have a bad tournament so he knows that you have to work to be good, but I guess we will take it day by day. He still has a lot of fun at tournaments, the bigger the better. At VA Regionals, he really enjoyed running around the venue (although some judge apparently said they would give the kids a game loss for running!) with some of his best buddies: Colby E., Ethan C., Kyle I., Alejandro N., Roan G., Jason A., JP, Luke & Hunter S., and others.
So as I said, we thought the meta was Mega Pokémon, so we resolved fairly early on to play Toad/Tina. We thought other people might lean in that direction as well so we tried to plan ahead for that possibility.
If you listen to one of Squeaky’s Cities prep things, I had sent in the question “Meta of Mega Manectric, Toad/Tina in Expanded, what should I run?” His and Andrew’s response: That sounds like an insane meta. Of course, Andrew recommended running Vespiquen/Vileplume.
We tried to find other decks because we wanted a less linear deck strategy than Quaking Punch/Chaos Wheel, but frankly, Toad/Tina just tested better. I would say we played more practice games with Toad/Tina in the two weeks before that tournament than we did testing during all of Cities, but that probably means we played 10 games. So our sample size was small, but there you go. We had a bad matchup vs. Yveltal, we knew that, but it was pretty good vs. everything else. We thought if the meta was Mega Manectric & Mega Ray, Yveltal would be scared off, so we went for it. The other deck we looked closely at was Night March and our good friend Jason A. played our Night March list to end with a 4-2 record, barely missing cut.
Pokémon – 9
Trainers – 43
Energy – 8
There were just a few elements of this list that make it interesting. One is the 4 Trainers’ Mail. We ran fewer Flare Grunts, Head Ringers, and techs than other decks, but we hoped to have more explosive opening turns. The Hammer was our other tech. In Juniors, we have found it is always worth it to tech an Enhanced Hammer because people are more prone to mismanaging Energy attachments and it seemed like it would be good in the mirror.
It is funny — when you look at Masters, they always, always put 4 Crushing Hammer in before they put an Enhanced Hammer even though there are only one or two decks in the meta today that don’t use Special Energy. Enhanced Hammers are not flippy! That seems like it would be worth something. Even a deck like Yveltal typically has more than 1/3 Special Energy. Should 1/3 of your Hammers be non-flippy destroyers of Special Energy? Even in a situation where they are running basic Energy and you draw into the card, the Crushing Hammer had a 50% likelihood to be just as useless as the Enhanced Hammer. I have no way to really analyze this, but I suspect that Enhanced Hammer is underrated in deck building. This is my contribution to re-shaping the meta.
My youngest decided not to play this weekend because he wanted to play basketball, so this was just my oldest.
Here was how he did:
R1: Theodore V. (Landy/Bats/Jirachi) – WW
R2: Malachi F. (Toad/Tina) – WW
R3: Yuto M. (Toad/Tina)- LWW
R4: Adam O. (Toad/Bats) – WW
R5: Ethan M. (Toad/Bats) – WLL
R6: Isaac P. (Yveltal) – ID
T8: Kyle I. (Toad/Tina) – WLL
Turns out the meta was all Toad, all the time! Yveltal would have been a solid play.
Round 1, we played a good friend, Theodore, who appears to have made the most awful deck choice at the tournament. He played Landy at a tournament full of Toads. Ouch.
Round 3, we played Yuto, another very competitive local kid that won a number of Cities. Yuto is frequently kryptonite for us, so it was good to escape with a win. He lost his win-and-in round in Round 6 to our good friend Colby E. (also playing Toad/Tina).
Round 4, 5, and 6 were all against kids that made the Top 8, but I suppose that is how it goes at the top tables. In Round 5, I think we had the option to ID into cut, but my son had been beating Toad decks all day and felt good about the matchup so he decided to play it out. Both games he lost he started Shaymin and missed the T1 Energy attachment. So that’s bad.
Round 6, even though we needed to win to secure making cut, he opted to risk ID’ing in, knowing one 4-1-1 would bubble. Yveltal is a terrible matchup. Obviously, the fact that we had played such strong players throughout the tournament made us feel better about where we would be in the pile of 4-1-1 players.
In Top 8, we won the first game. We scooped the second game a few turns in when the Quaking Punches started and we were simply not ready. Game 3 was an easy win for Kyle again when we prized Keldeo-EX, which is important in the mirror. Kyle then beat Toad/Bats and lost to Adam O.’s Toad/Bats in the finals. That means that we handed Adam his only loss of the tournament! Is there a consolation prize? Also, knowing that we would have played two more rounds against Toad is pretty crazy: that is about as monolithic as a meta could be.
While this was the first tournament that I had to pay to enter my Junior in (besides some LCs in VA), every single Junior got at least 6 packs. That seems pretty fair. I will post our pulls on Virbank. Haha! I will not. I hate that, actually.
We will be in Florida to play some BREAKpoint with some marginally novel trolly deck. Shoot me a tweet @bhalliburton or leave a note in the forum if you want to meet up and hang out or about how they need to start paying me for these non-Underground articles! Or if you want me to join your team! My next article will be a thorough analysis of card choices in our Florida Regionals deck, where we have gone to a bit more trouble to really unwind the format.