North of the Border

Canada Recap, Tuning Up for Week 2, the Anonymous Report, and Countering Capers
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I’m back! (pack)

Unlike the circumstances surrounding my last article, it’s only been a short while since I was last with you. Despite that short timeframe, so much has changed — a second look at the BLW-BKP format has yielded far different results than the first go around, and the resulting conundrum for Week 2 players is profound.

Today I’m going to take a look at my play for Week 1 before taking a look at the rest of my group’s selection. Both decks are options I believe merit consideration for the upcoming set of Regionals, so I’ll spend a moment discussing list options for each as well. Following that, we’ll move into looking at options for next weekend. Finally, I’d like to take a brief moment to address the article that was published yesterday regarding cheating in the Pokémon scene and offer a few suggestions for dealing with the antics mentioned.

With apologies to our European friends, I don’t have much to offer on Standard in either XY-BKP or XY-FCO. For those playing this coming weekend, I’d continue to push Vileplume as the best overall deck in format. As for after that? A different issue altogether.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Oh, Canada: Kitchener Regionals Recap

Heading into Canada, I desperately wanted one of the decks I covered in my last article to work. I realized this weekend that M Gardevoir has Wonder Energy at its disposal to make the Trevenant matchup even more interesting, which made me want to consider the deck even more. I have absolutely no idea how I’d go about fitting it, or if it’d be worthwhile, but it’s testament to the fact that Expanded has an overwhelming depth of options to consider.

However, at some point it became necessary to cut bait on the ideas there for the various caveats each was presented with last time. Yveltal-EX/Vileplume was too iffy against other Dark variants, M Gardevoir was simply too clunky, and I could simply never get the Vespiquen/Gallade idea to reliably take 6 Prizes often enough to justify its play in a best-of-three environment.

There was a lot of debate in my group about the metagame. It was widely agreed upon that Dark would be a major player in the event, but Trevenant BREAK’s potential role was the topic of lively debate. As Alex wrote last week, he believed Trevenant to be the preeminent threat in the format, and there was certainly no arguing that point: Florida and Oregon proved that exceptionally well.

The matter of debate was how that preeminence would manifest itself in the format. Some of the room believed Trevenant would be a widely-played, dynamic force in the room. Others began to wonder if it wouldn’t fall victim to “Sableye syndrome”: all the hype wouldn’t lead to it being the most played deck, but instead to be countered out of existence.

In either event, neither of those positions matter without the critical question: So what? Those who believed Trevenant would be a significant force in the tournament obviously were very leery of playing anything with a poor matchup against it, and much of the discussion revolved around that issue. Obviously, Dark variants tend to have an upper hand against Trevenant, so this camp’s thought process revolved much around Dark.

I eventually fell into the later camp, which concluded that an iffy matchup to Trevenant was probably an acceptable downside for a deck. In hindsight, perhaps the appropriate choice would have been to consider something like Night March, but I didn’t want to concede to Item lock. Moreover, Expanded is typically home to a host of concerns like Raikou/Eelektrik, Vespiquen/Flareon, etc. — and that fact dissuaded me from wanting to pursue a Night March route.

. . .

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*cue Eruption guitar solo*

Instead, I chose to look toward Primal Groudon. A bafflingly large share of the community seems to believe that the Yveltal matchup is a negative for Groudon, and I simply can’t agree. Mr. Mime turns any Yveltal BKT shenanigans obsolete, and as long as Groudon manages to set up two attackers, the trade simply isn’t there for Yveltal to win. Obviously, it’s not a particularly polar matchup, and it can certainly be lost, but I firmly believe the upper hand is in the Groudon player’s possession.

Caveat: A lot depends on the Groudon player’s list, of course. There are simply so many ways to go with the list, and seemingly-minute card choices can wildly influence the deck’s matchup spread.

In the end, two of us ended up playing this list:

Pokémon – 12

2 Groudon-EX PRC

1 Groudon-EX DEX

3 Primal Groudon-EX

4 Wobbuffet PHF

1 Regirock XY49

1 Mr. Mime PLF

Trainers – 39

4 Korrina

4 Professor Juniper

2 N

1 Lysandre

1 Olympia

1 Pokémon Center Lady

1 Xerosic

 

4 Puzzle of Time

3 VS Seeker

2 Robo Substitute

2 Focus Sash

1 Float Stone

1 Healing Scarf

1 Battle Compressor

1 Enhanced Hammer

1 Escape Rope

1 Max Potion

1 Mega Turbo

1 Professor’s Letter

1 Ultra Ball

1 Scramble Switch

 

4 Tropical Beach

Energy – 9

4 Strong

4 F

1 P

With the exception of the Energy, Groudon line, and minimal Supporters, I don’t think there’s a spot in this list that wasn’t argued over at one point or another. Fundamentally, we wanted a chance to beat everything, and Wobbuffet + Omega Barrier are an excellent foundation on which to construct that reality. The list of so-called “61st cards” might as well have been dubbed the list of 68th cards, because there are so many different things I could’ve justified in here. For that reason, if you ask me about any slot, there’s probably a complicated, intertwined bit of logic for its selection. There’s simply so much to consider in changing even one card.

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The “easy” button.

For example, the ACE SPEC slot changes the dynamics of the list tremendously. Originally I was testing Computer Search, but a few nights before the event, Sean Foisy and I discussed a Scramble Switch option. It quickly became my favorite way to play the deck, as it allows the use (and, reuse) of attackers without requiring the dedication of another 3+ turns of Energy attachments. Moreover, it preserves Energy in and of itself, which is a powerful tool in a deck generally lacking recovery options.

But, changing ACE SPECs required a shift in the deck’s overall composition — a natural consequence in any deck, but an especially profound one here. By dropping Computer Search, I created the need for a discard/search card of some sort, but the addition of Scramble Switch allowed the omission of an additional switching/mobility option. However, I wasn’t comfortable with Escape Rope as the only “Active-to-Bench” option in the deck, so Olympia edged ahead of Cassius for the recyclable switching out.

In total, one ACE SPEC change led to a matrix of other card choices being altered. Max Potion, Ultra Ball, Olympia, Regirock XY49, Switch, Enhanced Hammer (#2), Bunnelby PRC 121, and Cassius were just a few of the options whose stock shifted based on that one card change. It’s staggering what has to be considered in terms of resource and option management even in the deck building stage.

So, why were these decisions made? In general, the goal was to shore up the deck in as many matchups as possible with the simple goal of trying to outplay opponents in making up any remaining deficiencies. Mind you, that’s not necessarily doable in every matchup, but against the likes of Vespiquen/Flareon or Night March, I believed this list put me in a position to win games without overcompensating.

My one regret in the list at all is the half-effort put into the Trevenant matchup. In hindsight, the matchup is sketchy enough that Healing Scarf should’ve been more-heavily included — along with a 2nd Pokémon Center Lady, or perhaps a Steven — or completely excluded. It could have been beneficial against Seismitoad/Crobat and other things as well, but in hindsight, the better decision would’ve probably been to go all-in or completely tank the matchup.

Additional switching outs would’ve been nice to have, and Alex Hill was quick to note his disbelief at my low count (4) when he eventually saw the final list on Sunday. I ended up using Scramble Switch to bail myself out of subpar starters a few times over the course of the event, but I don’t know that I would’ve wanted another option often enough to justify the space.

Idea to keep in mind: Mr. Mime can Paralyze. Hey, you never know.

Here’s how my day went:

Ontario Regionals — Groudon — 160 Masters

R1: Darkrai-EX/Yveltal-EX (Speed Dark) (1-0)
R2: Darkrai-EX/Yveltal-EX (Speed Dark) (2-0)
R3: Vespiquen/Flareon (2-0)
R4: Darkrai-EX/Yveltal-EX (Speed Dark) (2-0)
R5: Seismitoad/Crobat/Lugia-EX AOR (0-2)
R6: Primal Groudon (0-2)
R7: Darkrai-EX BKP (Speed Dark) (1-2)
R8: Seismitoad/Crobat/Yveltal BKT (2-1)

The day started out really, really well before the wheels came off the train. Both Sean Foisy, who was playing the same list, and I ran out to 3-0 starts without dropping a single game. I overcame Alex Hill’s Speed Dark in the 4th round, while Sean dropped his first game of the day while tying a match with the event’s eventual winner, Jason Lum, who also played Groudon. Unfortunately for me, Jason’s earlier look at our list put me at an inherent disadvantage in Round 6 when TOM sentenced us to go tête-à-tête. I had no business winning anyway, as his list featured things like Bunnelby and Cassius that help significantly in the mirror match, but it was annoying nonetheless.

After an ugly Round 5 pairdown to Seismitoad/Crobat — the disruption featured in this particular list kept me from getting Energy for a bit too long in Game 1 and my deck simply didn’t set up in Game 2 — the mirror was certainly not what I had in mind. Frustratingly, pairdowns in both Round 5 and 6 saw me sit next to scores of great matchups such as M Rayquaza-EX and traditional Seismitoad/Crobat variants.

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It did end up winning the event.

My Round 7 loss was the epitome of frustration, as my Dark-piloting opponent didn’t appear to so much as play Yveltal-EX, which should’ve made the matchup laughably easy. Unfortunately, in Game 1 I gambled and lost on the odds of my opponent using Ghetsis, Game 2 saw me struggle tremendously to find Energy and barely squeak out a W, while in Game 3 I was unable to find enough (i.e. any) Basic Pokémon to send up after KOs while I was setting up my Groudon. Unfortunately, that’s simply a pitfall of the deck sometimes.

At its best, the deck can do things like it did in Round 3, where I fairly comfortably dismantled my opponent’s board behind Wobbuffet and Robo Substitute before reverting to Groudon/Regirock/Scramble Switch tricks to finish off his resources. I took 5 Prizes between the two games before my opponent conceded, as he’d have decked (or simply lost) after having been run out of resources. I believe this is a viable strategy for Groudon in a number of situations, and part of the “Puzzle” in piloting this deck is to know when to move aggressively and when to bide one’s time.

In the end, I can’t complain too much about a T32 finish, but I do believe the deck could’ve easily gone much further. As I mentioned, Jason Lum took home the event with Groudon, so I do believe it was a reasonable play for the day and I don’t regret the selection at all.

Dark Times: Turbo Darkrai’s Week 1 Impact

I’ve lost track of the number of times something like “Black is Back” is in one of these articles. It’s simply a constant that as long as Darkrai-EX is legal, Dark will find its way to some degree of success. In a largely confusing metagame that featured the specter of Trevenant BREAK lording over the conversation, I can’t fault any of my group for falling into the latter of my two aforementioned camps that preferred to beat the Tree.

Out of a group of around 10 players, all but two (the Groudon pioneers) played Dark lists of some sort. This was the main list:

Pokémon – 11

2 Darkrai-EX BKP

2 Darkrai-EX DEX

2 Yveltal-EX

2 Yveltal BKT

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

1 Malamar-EX

Trainers – 36

4 Professor Sycamore

2 N

2 Lysandre

1 AZ

1 Colress

1 Hex Maniac

1 Xerosic

 

4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

4 Dark Patch

4 Max Elixir

3 Fighting Fury Belt

1 Escape Rope

1 Tool Scrapper

1 Dowsing Machine

 

1 Reverse Valley

1 Parallel City

Energy – 13

10 D

3 Double Colorless

Alex Hill’s last article featured the prior iteration of this list, and I’m pleased to present the final variant for you today. In general, the Pokémon line has been streamlined since it was last shared, with Yveltal XY being deemed inferior to a 2nd copy of its BKT brother. Keldeo-EX and its companion Float Stone found their way out of the list in favor of Escape Rope and Hex Maniac. The last significant change was the addition of a 3rd Double Colorless Energy — over, if memory serves, the 3rd N.

Parallel City has a litany of uses against a widespread variety of matchups. Reducing Seismitoad’s damage output, eliminating your own Shaymins, providing a small out against poor M Rayquaza players — and more.

Most of the rest of the list is explained in Alex’s piece, so be sure to see what he had to say.

The list was streamlined to focus on the mirror match and to provide as significant an assurance against Trevenant as possible. However, in the end the result was rather disappointing, as only two of its players achieved point-bearing finishes. We’re not really sure what went wrong — other than my hunch on Trevenant’s relative non-presence being a winner — but in the end, with the exception of Zach Lesage’s Ontario Top 4, “Speed Dark” didn’t really see much success this weekend.

Instead, a Maxie’s-focused variant took the crown in Seattle (and 9th in Ontario). I now believe that’s probably the ideal way to play Dark heading into Week 2, which has a catalog of complications and implications to consider — which we’ll get into now.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Week 2 Meta Discussion

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Golden goose or red herring?

With that all said, it’s time to move on to Week 2. Historically, the movement from Week 1 to Week 2-of a Regionals set has been fairly pronounced. However, I’m unsure that’s as likely to happen this time around.

Oftentimes, a format shift results from the appearance of a completely new deck or new spin on an old favorite. We saw this between Winter Regionals’ first and second weekends with the appearance of Raikou/Eelektrik and Kevin Baxter’s spin on Vespiquen heavily influencing the fields in St. Louis and Anaheim. While Seismitoad/Crobat’s presence in Ontario comes as a bit of a surprise, and the Seattle showing of Vileplume/Jolteon-EX is interesting to see, neither deck is truly new to the scene in the way that Raikou/Eels was this Winter.

The best Winter Eel comparison is Rainbow Road’s (Xerneas BKT/Ho-Oh-EX DRX) emergence in Seattle. Unlike Eelektrik, I believe Xerneas has a few inherent flaws — reliance on Rebirth flips and Energy Switch, exposed Yveltal BKT weakness, and a reliance on Shaymin-EX/Jirachi-EX for setup. Of course, the strength of a streamable non-EX hitting for 190+ can’t be ignored, and the tech compatibility of the deck can’t be disregarded either.

But, I believe card access could be an issue that prevents Rainbow Road from blooming into a major Week 2 contender. Of course, it’s nothing like Tropical Beach, but Ho-Oh-EX isn’t exactly sitting in every competitive player’s binder, nor is it readily accessible to newer players. Eel had a history of competitive success, but Ho-Oh has had nothing of the sort.

Am I saying that there’ll be no shift in metagame? Of course not. Results of any kind won’t be outright ignored. I simply don’t believe that Rainbow Road has the same power to alter the metagame that Eelektrik did in the Winter.

As far as I’m concerned, this weekend’s results completely supersede Florida and Oregon’s in terms of relevance: I wouldn’t concern myself with anything that happened at either of those events. This weekend provided a much clearer look at the mature format now that it’s spent months at the forefront of the player-base’s focus rather than a few weeks at the peripheral.

Finally, if there’s anything I’ve learned about Expanded, it’s that it’s been a fundamentally stagnant format all year. Sure, new sets have altered the landscape a bit, but overall the Seismitoad/Vespiquen/Night March/Groudon/Rayquaza battle has dominated the narrative. More fundamentally, Item lock vs. Broken Items vs. The Field is a cycle that seemingly never ends.

With that context in mind, here are some decks I’m considering — or, at minimum, will be testing against — for next weekend.

Do-si-do: Night March

Pokémon – 16

4 Joltik PHF

4 Pumpkaboo PHF

4 Lampent PHF

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

1 Mr. Mime BKT

Trainers – 40

4 Professor Juniper

2 Lysandre

1 N

1 Hex Maniac

1 Ghetsis

1 Xerosic

1 Teammates

 

4 VS Seeker
4 Ultra Ball

4 Battle Compressor

4 Puzzle of Time

3 Trainers’ Mail

2 Pokémon Catcher

1 Target Whistle

1 Tool Scrapper

1 Float Stone

1 Fighting Fury Belt

1 Escape Rope

1 Computer Search

 

2 Dimension Valley

1 Parallel City

Energy – 4

4 Double Colorless

I suspect some of you will be adverse to the low count of Fighting Fury Belt, but I simply don’t believe that 30 vs. 70 or 60 vs. 100 is enough of a difference often enough to justify heavier counts of the card. The other notable omission is probably Jirachi-EX, and that’s a symptom of my reluctance to buy into all-in T1 plays like Stellar Guidance for Ghetsis. In decks without Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick, Archie’s Ace in the Hole, or Wally, I don’t generally believe Jirachi has a place. Another Shaymin would almost always be my call there, as it can easily act as a Supporter itself.

lysandre-flashfire-flf-104As for the Supporter count, it’s a bit higher than what most Night March lists have been featuring, but I believe this deck has a very real chance to beat both Trevenant and Vileplume variants simply by having a fast start. The Supporter line is built to enable that to the extent possible. The 2nd Lysandre is particularly helpful, as Trevenant usually finds itself benching something vulnerable to gust effects at some point in the game, and it only takes one turn for Night March to set up its side of the board.

Parallel City might be a bit unorthodox as well, but as you’ve probably come to understand by now, it sees play in a lot of my lists as a defensive option to mitigate Shaymin-EX’s vulnerability. It’s significantly more relevant in Standard, but nonetheless something to keep in mind in Expanded as well.

Mr. Mime swings the “Speed Dark” matchup tremendously, as it prevents the opposition from setting up a Darkrai-EX DEX with a Fighting Fury Belt to tank through multiple Night Marchers — oftentimes sealing the game. The Fairy one is chosen over the Psychic due to its more favorable Weakness/Resistance spread. Unlike Groudon, where Wobbuffet’s presence dictates the Psychic one to be superior, there’s no extenuating circumstances to make the typing otherwise significant.

If you were looking to make room for whatever reason, the 4th Juniper and 2nd Pokémon Catcher are probably the easiest cuts. I would never completely cut Catcher, as the option to Puzzle for it in a pinch is simply too good to completely omit.

This deck is an interesting Week 2 option due to its dominance over both EX-reliant concepts like Speed Dark, to a degree Maxie’s Yveltal, and things like Rainbow Road that require frail EXs as a part of their setup. In particular, I like the deck’s chances as Rainbow Road seems primed to become a part of a metagame that already was favorable to Night March. Aside from the Seismitoad/Crobat that showed up in Canada, I’d have gladly considered Night March a fairly high-ceiling play for last weekend. I don’t see anything that changes that fact going forward.

Blue Shell: Rainbow Road

Full disclosure: I am in no way trying to replicate Eli Covitz’s 2nd place Seattle list, which ought to be on Pokémon.com sometime this week. Instead, this is the list I’m going to start testing both as a possible play and a very eminent foe.

Pokémon – 13

4 Xerneas BKT

2 Ho-Oh-EX DRX

1 Keldeo-EX

1 Yveltal-EX

1 Yveltal BKT

1 Hoopa-EX AOR

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

1 Jirachi-EX

Trainers – 34

3 Professor Juniper

1 N

1 Lysandre

1 AZ

1 Colress

 

4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

3 Battle Compressor

3 Trainers’ Mail

3 Energy Switch

2 Fighting Fury Belt

2 Float Stone

1 Computer Search

1 Sacred Ash

 

4 Sky Field

Energy – 13

4 Double Colorless

4 Y

3 D

2 W

To say it’s a tight fit would be the understatement of the week. I’m in no way comfortable with most of these counts, and could justify switching them liberally throughout testing. The Supporter line feels woefully insufficient, but with Ultra Ball, Trainers’ Mail, etc. being outs to Shaymin and actual draw cards, it ought to work fairly decently. 3 Battle Compressor feels like a crime, but I simply don’t see room for a full set.

xerneas-breakthrough-bkt-107The Energy line is also uncomfortable, but there’s again no easy way around that fact. Might be worth considering a Smeargle BKT, although its type redundancy with Shaymin-EX makes me reluctant to do so. Water is for the odd Secret Sword and could easily be removed if you found another attacker that struck your fancy. In my browsing of the format’s options, there’s nothing else that jumps out at me as an immediate companion to this deck.

Darkrai-EX DEX might be worthy of consideration for free retreat, but for the moment that slot goes to Yveltal BKT. Yveltal has proven itself a generally strong, versatile card with merit in a multiplicity of situations, so I chose to include it here. Could easily be the cut for the aforementioned alternate attacker; I just didn’t find anything that seemed to add anything unique (and, worthwhile) to the deck.

AZ is my answer to opposing Yveltal BKTs. Without some sort of counter, it’s not difficult to foresee ugly 4-Prize swings becoming relatively commonplace with Lysandre for Keldeo-EX shenanigans. Obviously, it’s possible to simply pay the DCE, but I like the option of a Supporter to free my attachment up for an attacker.

Despite my just-stated opposition to Jirachi-EX, it makes sense here to check the box of another type. The original list played Maxie’s/Gallade, but I simply don’t see where the space for such a combo exists. Even without Maxie, I do believe Jirachi has a place here. As for Maxie’s itself, you could cut the Yveltal BKT fairly easily, but I truly don’t know where to begin in fitting the Maxie. For that matter, I almost wonder if Archeops wouldn’t be the superior play, as you certainly aren’t reliant on evolution.

I believe this deck has a real chance at being widely played this weekend. The player-base at large is nothing if not big on novelty, and this deck certainly has that going for it. As a completely new concept to the Expanded scene, I’m not sure how many players will be able to produce the deck — or a usable list — with enough time before Saturday. Access to Ho-Oh-EX and other cards is definitely the single biggest thing keeping this deck down in my mind. Otherwise, the strong Dark matchup is certainly something to consider.

I’m not only concerned about this deck’s presence in the metagame, but also the effect it will have on other players’ preparation processes.

For example, if I believe that other players will take steps to deal with Rainbow Road, it’s logical of me to expect them to look toward Trevenant BREAK, Seismitoad-EX, Night March, and other inherently-troublesome interactions for Xerneas. In that event, I not only need to consider Rainbow Road as a foe, but those decks as well. That’d be a nice, concise metagame I’d be reasonably comfortable with, except for the fact that Dark seems to be immune to logic and ought to see play anyway.

… This gets complicated quickly.

Talking Trees: Thoughts on Trevenant

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“Hey, so, how about that weather out there?”

On that note, I’d like to briefly discuss Trevenant as an option for this weekend. I’m not going to provide a list in this space, as Alex Hill just wrote at length about the deck and I have little to add to his analysis since we typically work from the same lists.

In general, Item lock is an extremely strong trait in a deck. Particularly in Expanded, where Battle Compressor engines find their way into a multitude of decks with regularity, the potential exists to simply win games via turn 1 Item lock. This is always going to make things like Trevenant and Vileplume attractive plays, but Trevenant’s obvious advantage is the one-sided nature of its lock. It pays for that benefit in that Lysandre can act as its counter, but in any event, nobody’s arguing that Trevenant is generally a strong card.

With Seismitoad, Rainbow Road, Groudon (arguably), and other favorable matchups making decent Week 1 showings, I suspect Trevenant BREAK makes its way back up some players’ lists of deck options. Speed Dark was a relative flop this weekend, with Maxie’s Yveltal having the better showing of the two, which is another boost to Trevenant’s playability. I’m not proposing that Maxie’s Yveltal struggles against Trevenant or anything of that nature, but it certainly has a greater chance of losing than its mono-type counterpart.

I believe things are shaping up well for Trevenant this weekend. However, even with that said, I can’t say that I’m going to be considering it myself. Simply, in every bit of significant testing (i.e. more than a single game in a sitting) I’ve ever done with the deck, I always come away thoroughly underwhelmed with its ability to close out games. From early dead-draws to elusive last Prizes, I’ve seen enough of a spectrum in playing that deck to poison its standing with me for a long while. I’ll probably obligatorily play around with it a bit more before Saturday, but at this moment, I’m more preparing for it to be in the meta than I am preparing to play it myself.


In conclusion, while I believe Rainbow Road could see some play, I’m not convinced that the metagame will shift all that terribly much from Week 1. Speed Dark might morph toward a Maxie’s approach, and Trevenant might see a bit larger slice of success, but otherwise, I believe the faces of the format will stay much the same.

Lookout: On the Cheating Article

For the last (or, for our non-subscribers, first) topic today, I’d like to address the anonymous article that hit our front page yesterday. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything that was said in the piece — in particular, the premise that cheating is mostly a tool used on novice players seems a bit off to me — it does a decent job of encapsulating the problem that faces our community at large. In particular, the problem of reputation is absolutely nailed by the author. There’s nothing more troublesome to the game’s community than a mob’s blind defense of a player’s actions.

“The hive mind is mindlessly protective of its pariahs.”

Couldn’t be more perfectly said. This weekend, yet another spate of drama hit the scene, as the stream at U.K. Nationals presented an unfortunately lengthy laundry list of problems. From slow play to double Supporters to double Prize cards (to double-double Prizes …), there was no shortage of issues to consider.

I’m not here today to pursue indictments against anyone, nor to spark conflict. But, some of what I’ve seen on Virbank City Gym and other Facebook groups this weekend in lieu of the fiasco is exactly what’s wrong with the community. In the link, the original poster raised an issue of questionable Prize selection by one of the streamed players. I have no issue with Kevin Baxter pointing out the occurrence, nor with those who offer rebuttal. The personal attacks against Kevin, however, are what leave me incredulous.

Before the mob heads my way, let me be clear that I am not accusing the Brits of anything abnormal. This past fall, an Eastern U.S. player was disqualified from a Regional for allegedly altering the contents of his deck. Community sentiment was baffling to me. It seemed that the game as a whole supported the plight of the disqualified rather than expressing basic critical skepticism of the situation. I know nothing of the specifics on that particular situation, and as such, have absolutely no idea what did or didn’t happen. Spoiler alert: Neither did 99% of the people on Virbank, both those defending and criticizing the accused. For that reason, I implore members of the community to truly think about their knowledge of a given situation before leaping into the next Virbank war.

I’m bringing this up here for a reason: as a player, you can protect yourself. Furthermore, it is your responsibility to protect yourself.

Yes — it is your responsibility to maintain the gamestate. No, it isn’t good that judges missed many of the errors made on the U.K. stream. It isn’t ideal that judges are complacent in slow play at tournaments around the world on a regular basis. I do agree with some of the sentiment that’s been raised about the judging quality in the game, but to the more drastic school of thought, I wish to point out that judging isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

You want a judge to keep hours that are longer than any player’s, be involved in event logistics, be on their feet for most of the day, and then have active knowledge of every single action that’s happening in a given match beyond what an opponent has? I agree in theory that things like writing down every action in a match are good steps, but in practice, it’s still 60+ minutes straight of trying to keep everything happening on both sides of a game straight. At some point, someone is bound to forget to write something down — and then we’re right back where we started.

I am in no way blaming the victim in any cheating situation. I am, however, advocating that players take an active role in protecting themselves from cheating.

Should a judge catch most of the gameplay errors that occurred at U.K. Nats this weekend? Definitely. Could an opponent have just as easily made those same observations? Undeniably. As a player, it is paramount that you’re paying attention to an opponent’s every action: if you can’t catch a misplay, why are you expecting a judge to? You are your greatest advocate. Period.

sentret aquapolis 16-9 2
Always keep a watchful eye on your opponents’ actions.

My advice for saving yourself from the issues we saw at U.K. Nationals this weekend:

Double Supporters/Energy Drops: I suspect I’m going to see a lot of gimmicky “Supporter Used” counters this weekend and in the future, and if that helps you keep track of your opponent, by all means, please utilize such an option. But, if you’re seeking maximum success and minimal attrition from the use of your tool, don’t excessively clutter the play area or seek your opponent’s active interaction with your counting method.

Extra Prizes: In both cases where this happened in the U.K., I’m astounded that the games went on as long as it did before someone realized. The opponent seemed eager to get on with his turn in both cases and divided his attention from the Prize selection.

My advice: If your opponent is playing Town Map, you should have absolutely no higher priority than knowing what’s selected. You should be paying 100% attention to that and that alone. If your opponent is not playing Town Map, even more so — it should take milliseconds.

Suspicious Actions: This goes both ways. As a player, I strongly advise you to avoid any and every appearance of sketchy behavior. I go to great lengths to avoid watching my brother’s matches — and, if I do, I watch from behind his point of view where I couldn’t ever be suspected of assisting him. I respect that you may have a ritual of drawing Prize cards in a random order, but don’t be surprised — or offended — when someone cries foul. If you haven’t done everything in your power to avoid appearing suspicious, you have little right to complain when a charge is brought.

On the flip side, if you believe something about your opponent’s play is suspicious, I strongly advise that you not hesitate to clarify the situation. Whether that’s asking your opponent to do something differently or involving a judge, there’s little bad that can happen from asking about a situation.

Slow Play: Rather than lecture you again, I’m going to link to this article where I covered slow play in detail before.

Slow play is the exception to my above “self defense” approach to cheating. In that event, you need to involve a judge as soon as possible — and know that a judge is likely watching once you ask, even if it doesn’t appear that way.

As someone who’s sat on the other side in the red and black bowling shirt, I would 100% back M.F.’s allegation that players who blatantly ignore judges’ warnings on slow play certainly exist. They, unfortunately, are where I can’t help you — and you can’t help yourself — as a player.


Between yesterday’s article and my commentary today, I hope you feel better equipped to deal with the very real specter of cheating in your coming events. I don’t know who our “M.F.” is, but I do know that I’m glad to see the conversation started.

One final bit I’d like to address separately from yesterday’s piece is that of pile shuffling. My comments, and those of Brit Pybas, were addressed in that article as well.

Obviously, I’m on record with my thoughts on the practice, but since I’ve yet to respond to Brit, I feel obliged to note the following: on a philosophical level, Brit is absolutely correct. True randomization is, realistically, outside the confines of human ability. Given the constraints (mainly, time) we work under in the game, the best we can hope for is an elementary form of pseudo-randomness. I would contend that the goal is to be create a deck in which the following conditions are met:

  • Any card has an arbitrarily equal chance of being next to any other.
  • Neither player has any knowledge of the location of any given card in the deck.

If you need to make pile shuffling part of your routine to reach that end, then I’m not going to argue with it. I do, however, caution that pile shuffling without sufficient follow-up fails to meet the first criteria. Essentially, you need to have equivalent odds of drawing a hand of any of the 7 cards to begin the game. There are roughly 386 million combinations of 7 cards that could be drawn from a given 60. If your odds aren’t the same to open cards 3, 5, 21, 36, 47, 52, and 59 as they are 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, and 60, that’s where issues arise.

Conclusion

I’m sorry to end on a somber note, but it’s unfortunately something that has to be said. I hope that perhaps we can see a cultural shift in the game, and I’m optimistic that this might be the start of that. Your best defense is your own vigilance, and I hope you take away some tips for dealing with such situations today.

That matter aside, there’s another pair of events in just a few short days. After that, we see a new set drop — I probably should go read those cards — and Nationals isn’t that far off. I’ll next be here writing for you right before Origins Game Fair’s “win-a-trip-to-Worlds” tournament, which will probably be the most significant event that occurs in the USA prior to our Nationals Championships. Otherwise, perhaps I’ll see you at a Regional sometime soon.

Christopher


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