Hi SixPrizes readers! As the season comes to a close, many of you are probably in the same boat that I am, which is trying to score as many Championship Points as you can at League Challenges. I had seen diminishing success with Vespiquen/Zoroark across State Championships and knew I needed to try something different. I was looking for a deck that would see success against Night March, Greninja, and Trevenant (like many players during States, I’m sure). I wound up deciding on Vespiquen/Vileplume.
In today’s article I’m going to walk you through the list I played, how I updated it for Expanded, how the ideas from my last article apply to these lists, and some cards from Fates Collide that I found thought provoking. If you’ve read my other articles, you’ll notice I frame a lot of my thinking in the same way — but before all is said and done I’ve got some new things for you to consider as well.
Why I Sprung for Vespiplume
Other than believing I’d have positive matchups, why Vespiquen/Vileplume? If you follow me or my writing on SixPrizes, it’s no surprise that I’d choose another deck that plays Vespiquen:
- The deck got some new tools in Generations
- The dominance of Night March had helped to narrow the metagame
- Puzzle of Time is a format-changing Item card
- Vileplume from Undaunted was a card I used to great effect
My Standard list from City Championships that I mentioned in my “Fox Trot” article left me wanting something more. Here it is for easy reference:
Pokémon – 28
Trainers – 26
Energy – 6
So there are certain things about this list that will jump out at players who have played this deck or looked at lists for it previously.
Early lists I looked at for a starting point used both of these cards. After playing some games, they were useful only about half of the time due to my own Item lock. For me, this translated them into coin-flip cards so I skipped them. I did run a high AZ count to compensate, along with VS Seekers. Despite initially liking VS Seeker, you’ll see that I eventually drop it.
2 Miltank and Basic Energy
Conceptually, I usually like trying to make my opponent KO six attackers. We obviously live in a world where Lysandre and Pokémon Catcher are options, but one of the weaknesses of the deck is that it could lose by having all of its Vespiquens KO’d and have no offensive threat left. Furthermore, Miltank often does 80 before Vespiquen would if you have a bad hand. This was an idea I liked, but Miltank ended up proving to be not strong enough during City Championships and I moved on from it.
Judge was strong hand disruption, but like the Item cards from earlier, it usually wasn’t good enough. After playing some games with a more recent list, the hand disruption and shuffle draw being too weak is probably a sign of issues the deck had overall. If you’re looking beyond the upcoming Regionals and into a format with Fates Collide, N is probably going to become a stronger choice. I struggled to find room for N in my Expanded list, but ended up not being able to manage it.
Here is an updated list I ended up winning a 5-round Standard League Challenge with:
Pokémon – 28
Trainers – 26
Energy – 6
You may recognize the Pokémon lineup — I took it directly from Alex Hill’s article. I had different feelings on trainers than he did, reflected in my list above. A quick recap on his single-Pokémon choices:
Sometimes, it singlehandedly locks your opponent out of the game. One of the most common scenarios where this worked in my favor was when an opponent would have no access to their Lysandre. This might be from failing to draw it, it being stuck in the Prize cards, or having been forced to discard it to an early Professor Sycamore. The nature of Vileplume’s Item denial and the nature of Jolteon’s Prize denial helps to increase the likelihood of this scenario. This is one of those snapshots I talked about in my last article. Another snapshot stems from Jolteon’s free retreat. In some sub-optimal situations I found the following to be true:
- Jolteon-EX in the Active
- Hand containing DCE and Professor Sycamore
- Bench with Shaymin-EX and no Combee
Getting to drop the DCE onto Shaymin instead of Sycamore’ing it away is nice, and a trick that other lists have. Dealing 30 to soften up my opponent’s Active is a slight bonus. Letting Jolteon soak the damage and retreat for free on my following turn is a really big deal. If you look across the design of the game from 1998 until now, you’ve probably observed fewer and fewer high-HP Pokémon with free retreat.
Jirachi is really good against Toad/Tina decks, but I didn’t play against any across my practice and the event I played in. However, I did end up burning 2 DCEs in some games against Night March and Vespiquen. That’s incredible value that few other single-Energy attackers can net you.
I didn’t get to use Bunnelby to meaningful effect at first. “At first,” in this case means lots of practice games, and plenty of time on PTCGO. It went so poorly for me that I never played it in my City Championships list. When we built my friend Alex Tessmer a Vespiplume deck for State Championships, he was totally and utterly sold on the card. When presented with this new information, I revisited the card.
Bunnelby works fantastically at extremes. Bunnelby is also a very effective card when both players are drawing poorly. I ran into situations against both Greninja and other Vespiplume decks where I opened with a Bunnelby, the ability to build a Vileplume, and very little else. As my opponent and I both struggled to topdeck out of our bad situation, I was milling 2 cards for every 1 they drew. The lucky part, of course, is that they didn’t have an answer. On the flip-side, once an opponent built an answer to Bunnelby, in many games, I was able to get a return KO with Vespiquen.
At one point, I even experimented with dropping the Jirachi in favor of another Bunnelby. I was surprised by the result: games where the 2nd Bunnelby was good and Jirachi would’ve been irrelevant were games that I didn’t seem to have a way to win anyway.
Part of my thinking on the Items that I played was that if I had multiple Items in hand, I wanted them all to be good. Also, I wanted to make the most out of Revitalizer.
Ultimately, I wish I had the space for a 4th Compressor. It helps you get to the good stuff in your deck, but without something else it doesn’t get you any further toward getting everything you need on the first turn. This is the one Vespiquen variant where I felt comfortable not maxing out on this card. In particular, as with all Items, it’s almost always totally dead in the late game due to your own Vileplume.
If you’ve played enough games with Acro Bike, you’ve hit one of those bad-bike snapshots:
- Two cards you need immediately
- One card you need immediately, and one you desperately need later
- Two cards that don’t help you now, but you’ll depend on later
Automatically, this made me opt not to play 4 copies. I wasn’t sure how many was a good starting point for testing, so I chose 2 to copy from Ross Cawthon’s successful Night March list from States.
The positive snapshot for Acro Bike is that you can discard an irrelevant Pokémon and snag an otherwise unsearchable Double Colorless Energy.
At only 1 copy, it seems insignificant. Typically, it snagged me a useful card with precision that Acro Bike didn’t offer me, and would frequently allow me to play my hand down to fewer cards for Shaymin’s Set Up. At worst I could grab an Unown and use Farewell Letter to get an effect similar to Acro Bike.
In theory, Level Ball is excellent to grab the single Jirachi or Bunnelby, but between their limited usefulness and the fact we’re talking about 3 cards that are at 1 copy in the deck, this happens about as infrequently as you’d imagine.
Revitalizer is the card that sold me on this deck. Previously, discarding DCEs wasn’t the only problem — if you needed to discard too many Vileplume parts things could get sketchy. On one hand, you could entirely miss a Vileplume by discard and prizing too many parts. On the other hand, you could discard parts only to have your remaining Vileplume KO’d.
Using 2 or more Revitalizer actually makes the deck easier to pilot, and totally changes the nature of Battle Compressor. If you have at least 2 copies of Oddish, Gloom, and Vileplume in your deck, discarding a 1-1-1 line to Battle Compressor improves your odds of hitting a T1 Vileplume. Revitalizer is the only Item that allows you to go 2-for-1 on Pokémon in Standard. Typically, the only way you can go 2-for-1 via an Item is for Energy cards (Professor’s Letter or Energy Retrieval).
Vileplume Then vs. Now
After getting games under my belt, I came to see a really substantial difference in the overall feel of how decks utilizing Vileplume from Undaunted compared to Vespiplume. If you didn’t play that format, this might not be interesting to you and you’ll want to skip ahead to my section on Expanded below. First, that old-timey list:
Pokémon – 25
1 Azelf LA
2 Uxie LA
1 Gloom UD
Trainers – 23
1 Palmer’s Contribution
Energy – 12
Disclaimer: This is from my notes, and it may have some glaring issues for those of you still playing this format regularly. Here’s why this deck feels so different from modern Vileplume strategies:
- There are many Basic Pokémon you want to start with in order to set up. A generous count puts you at 10.
- There are lots of Supporters so you can win a long, stable game.
- You don’t aim for an incredibly fast Vileplume since Spiritomb can block Trainer cards (now Items).
- Overall, this is a control deck.
I thought it was funny that despite the substantial differences, it still tried to make use of Basics that did quirky things like Roserade GL in place of modern Vileplume’s Jirachi, Bunnelby, or Jolteon-EX. It also had a dedicated partner who did attacking (not a wide toolbox of them).
“But what about Expanded?”
I won’t beat around the bush — my list is pretty similar.
Pokémon – 28
Trainers – 26
Energy – 6
Vespiplume is trying to pull off a 7-card combo on the first turn of the game. Simply put, nothing is going to get you there as fast or as consistently as Computer Search. At worst, it’s your 5th Ultra Ball. At best, you get the benefit of discarding 2 cards you really didn’t want for +20 off of Bee Revenge and the card of your choice. It may seem strange that I cut an Acro Bike for it, but I wasn’t incredibly excited about the card to begin with. Furthermore, in the snapshot I liked Acro Bike the most in — it gets completely outshone by Computer Search.
I was pretty torn on including Exeggcute, but it’s an excellent target for Battle Compressor, and complements a deck with 4 Ultra Ball as well as Computer Search. The net effect of making my hand better as I was on my way to a Vileplume was typically the same from Exeggcute as the Unown that I had dropped. Exeggcute was more explosive, but Unown had more late-game opportunities. Unfortunately, without a discard outlet, Exeggcute in hand early is strictly worse than Unown. At 1 copy, I made the trade-off and hoped for the best.
Gloom from Boundaries Crossed has an attack called Foul Odor. It confuses both Gloom and your opponent’s Active. It also has a Resistance to Water. Between those two facts, it was simply better than Gloom from Ancient Origins. Playing in a single Expanded event, with only a few rounds, I didn’t expect this to matter — but I was able to steal a win against Isaiah Rufus in the mirror match going second because he lost multiple Confusion flips.
The additional AZ (over a Sycamore) was an effort to switch things up, further compensate for my lack of Float Stone, and give myself a chance for explosive turns mid game by using AZ to pick up and replay Vileplume. From the games I’ve watched with others playing, the AZ on Vileplume seemed like it was more closely tied to the Vileplume/Regice deck from Fall Regionals and I didn’t completely have a grasp on why it fell out of favor.
True Grit and the Value in Persistence
Psychological grit is the perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Preparing to play a Pokémon deck might seem like an overly specific example, but on the other hand, you’re knee-deep in a SixPrizes article. Grit as it applies to Pokémon is more than just playing games, deliberate practice, or other times it takes a brand new analysis to help you understand the way the game works as an observer.
Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion of the 10,000-Hour Rule, and K. Anders Ericsson has had some critical things to say on expertise and practice too. How many games does it take? It depends on a lot — you, the deck, and the metagame just to name a few factors. One of my goals was to have a deeper understanding of Vespiplume and figure out something new I hadn’t read online yet.
I checked on PTCGO to see how many games I’ve played with Vespiplume variants — the answer surprised me: over 70 games. That only takes into account the intersection of these two particular Pokémon. These games are incremental on top of hundreds of games with older Vileplume decks, and hundreds of games with Vespiquen. In terms of the big picture, time has been on my side as someone who’s playing since Base Set and has had the opportunity to play against high caliber opponents over and over.
Before extensive practice, I wrote off Vespiplume. Part of how I overcame my dislike of the deck was practice; it gave me the deeper understanding of the deck I needed conceptually and mathematically. Every game you’d hope to do two things on your first turn: fuel a powerful Bee Revenge and get Vileplume onto your Bench. This involves getting 7 specific cards into play, and none of them fetch the others. It’s quite a feat! Watch or play just a few games and you’ll see that those two goals are often at odds with one another.
An example of this I chose to look into was discarding a Vileplume sometimes makes sense, and discarding a critical card you want in play is simply a thing that other decks don’t do. This was a skill I knew I’d need to refine in regard to this exact deck if I wanted to enjoy success with it.
Keys to the Combo and Item lock
Playing lots of games does two things — it helps you build a special sense of when you’re likely to succeed at getting Vileplume out despite discarding one from your hand, but it also lets you hone in on the common points where you’re making this choice. I found two particular situations would come up over and over:
- Is it worth discarding a Vileplume to an Ultra Ball to grab a Shaymin-EX?
- Is it worth discarding a Vileplume to a Professor Sycamore for the chance to fuel Bee Revenge with more Item cards?
If I knew what to do in this situation that was easy to imagine, I felt like I’d be able to take steps to make good decisions in more novel situations. I didn’t want to rely on just the sense I had developed to answer this question. It felt pretty unscientific and didn’t take into account whether or not my opponent’s deck ran hot or cold. I hadn’t taken scientific notes, and despite being a relatively common situation, it didn’t come up even every three games. Running a mathematical analysis on it seemed to be overthinking the problem. I tried to split the difference by simplifying the problem into a very specific concept:
With a known number of “outs” in my deck, is it worth discarding a Vileplume to go to 0 cards in hand and draw 6 cards off of Shaymin-EX’s Set Up?
Part of the oversimplification is that it’s almost impossible to draw 6 cards in that situation and have absolutely no ability to dive deeper into your deck. Depending on your mix of Prizes, discard pile, and remaining deck, you’re frequently above 95% to continue playing cards after Set Up. So any answer I arrived at would be an underestimate.
Another part of the problem is that even if you’re discarding Vileplume, you may not even have everything you need to play Vileplume — if you’re keeping score, that means Forest of Giant Plants, Oddish, and Gloom.
Your baseline should be the number of outs that are in your list if you haven’t searched your deck yet. Typically, your outs for getting a Vileplume are 3 Vileplume and 4 Ultra Balls. If you’ve discarded a Vileplume, you can immediately lower your count to 2 Vileplume and 4 Ultra Balls, but add 2 Revitalizer to bring your total count to 8. Part of why I’m so keen on the 2 Revitalizer to improve your odds instead of keeping them neutral.
Take a look at my results:
The numbers reinforce the obvious conclusion we’ve already understood — with many cards in deck and few ways to get out Vileplume, don’t discard it. With few cards in deck and plenty of ways to get out Vileplume, you could discard it for the advantages of playing Items and the extra 10 damage from Bee Revenge.
In trying to think about numbers, math, and how they relate to playing games, I always try to keep in mind that the numbers paint an incomplete picture. In this case the probability doesn’t show the dramatic benefit from hitting the right cards, or what may become your inevitable defeat from missing. If you zoom out a little bit, the way you play to win an individual game might even change depending on the circumstances of what round it is and your present record.
Something else not reflected in my stoplight table is that even though I’m showing when you can successfully get to Vileplume, I’m not showing if you’ll lose the game from taking that path. An experienced player could look at their game state in a real game and make that determination.
I dove pretty deep into the rabbit hole by thinking about this. I did a pulse check and decided against going any further. I don’t often say this, but if you think you’ve got some insights on this and you want to chat me up about this kind of analysis at event I’d really enjoy it.
Closing Remarks and the Lesson Learned
There isn’t a magic number, or a hard and fast rule for the situation I’ve talked about. In trying to tackle this problem myself, I hit a handful of unsatisfying conclusions for how helpful methods outside of practice would turn out to be. So what’s the point? What’s the lesson here about grit?
On the surface, the lesson about grit is that playing games matters. This isn’t a novel conclusion. The lesson I learned, both from playing Vespiplume and from the unsatisfying analysis I performed, is that it’s worth trying something new. I finally put my best effort into succeeding with a strategy I had been eyeballing all season by crafting a list to my own preferences from a solid starting point. As for the analysis, I think of it like preparing to run a race — even if I don’t hit my goal on the 5k, maybe my effort matters for next time. If I don’t try something different to succeed, I won’t uncover something new. With that in mind SixPrizes readers, go out and try something new!
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