The most amazing thing about the World Championship this year, besides our stellar lack of success, was the number of Pokédads from all over the world that approached me to thank me for writing about the Junior meta. I had dads from Australia to England approach me out of the blue and tell me how much they appreciate what I do here. It was super awesome to meet all of you and I won’t soon forget it! I even had a few moms say hi. No question, the best part of writing for SixPrizes has been how people recognize me out of the blue and approach me to talk about things. I work in the software industry so I have a natural introversion that is more easily overcome when people come talk to me. So thanks for talking to me! It definitely helped while away the time that we beauty pageant dads spend standing around when we aren’t stage-managing the contestants.
I also have a really funny story to tell on the heels of our success at Nationals. If you were listening closely, at one point after Round 4 or 5 on Day Two they started paging my son. He and I went up to find out what was the problem. By the time we got up there, they had resolved the problem, which was this: They had two decklists submitted with my son’s name, but they had realized that one was titled “Liam Halliburton’s Decklist” because it was a straight net-deck of his National Championship winning list that another child had submitted. Sweet. While they would not reveal the identity of the owner, I salute you on your brilliant choice! Hopefully you swapped the Tyrantrum and Cassius for a Hydreigon and an AZ. Regardless, you are a class act and should net-deck future lists from us, albeit not the one coming up.
My youngest son played in Day One and went 1-3 drop with Vespiquen/Night March. My oldest went 3-4 on Day Two. While both outcomes were unremarkable, I thought I would document at least the Day Two results and our learnings because I felt like so many people were so enthusiastic about my writing it would be remiss if I didn’t.
How We Got To Know Vileplume
I think I have talked enough about how, when it comes to choosing decks, we like to choose the most toxic deck in the format. That means I spent a lot of time fooling around with Vespiquen/Vileplume after it was released, but we never got to the point where we felt comfortable with it.
As I have always said, another criteria we have for decks is that we try to choose a deck where we can minimize the likelihood that the deck craps out on us and maximize the likelihood where we will have the chance to use skilled play to work our way out of bad situations. I think this concept is less appropriate in Masters — where the skill level is so much higher it can be advantageous to pilot a deck that is able to get lucky and consequently shape the outcome (e.g., start Talonflame) — than in Juniors, where out-playing people is probably a bit easier if you are a skillful player.
Let me be clear: While we have had success, I am not representing my child as having more skill; he merely views himself as someone with enough skill to deserve to have his wins and losses determined by his playing ability. I am also representing that Juniors are far less comfortable with picking up their opening hand and saying, “Oh, I lose, but that’s OK” than Masters are. Juniors want to have a chance every single game — hence my youngest will ruin a deck to make sure that he has consistent draw. Which is the exact opposite of the goal (highest odds of winning) in some ways but fulfills this concept concretely.
I guess my point is that Juniors would prefer 50/50 matchups (because they think they are awesome and can win!) vs. the field where I think Masters are probably better served by 60/40 odds with one or two auto-losses. Why rely on skill when you can have great matchups?!?
. . .
Anyway, Vespiplume is one of those decks where sometimes you look at your opening hand and you realize spectacular failure is imminent. Even worse, sometimes you look at your opening hand and feel great, then mill yourself down to 3 cards to get set up and realize that even “everything working perfectly” is about to result in a spectacular loss before your opponent has even had a turn. In fact, spectacular loss is going to happen even if the opponent doesn’t draw into Energy and is stuck draw-passing for the next three turns. We re-tested with Jolteon a few months later and it didn’t really get better.
But we liked the idea because it made opponents sad and drummed Night March pretty consistently. While older players had interacted with Vileplume’s Irritating Pollen Ability in prior formats, this was our first interaction with it and we started exploring other ways to use it. I have written previously about how we don’t invent decks — we refine them — but our most interesting and novel concept in deck-building this year sprung from this: Xatu/Vileplume.
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 35
Energy – 8
This was a riff on Grant Manley’s Animal Control deck — obviously, we loved the idea of total control, but we needed to make sure that the cards we fed our opponent were 100% useless, hence we came to the conclusion that we could Item-lock our opponent, then feed them Items using Xatu’s Future Sight attack while burrowing out all of their Energy and Supporters.
Grant’s Dodrio line was too hard to set up under Item lock and our Bench was already crowded, so it was abandoned in favor of an army of Float Stones. You needed to draw into two to start: If you got a Float Stone on a Bunnelby and a Natu before you dropped Vileplume, you were set. A third was icing on the cake.
The situations where this deck failed was when the opponent had 1-Energy attackers that they got set up right away. We were then reliant on knocking off the Energy to start the Xatu/Bunnelby cycle which took a few turns to set up because Xatu is a Stage 1 Pokémon. Therefore we added a Jolteon-EX under the logic that such situations generally stemmed from a Basic attacker, hence we could hard-wall that attacker and kill it with Jolteon-EX, setting up our board for success. Further, Jolteon-EX was a free-retreater and much bulkier than our other Pokémon, making it the perfect starter and early wall while we set up our board.
The second your opponent misses a turn of playing a Supporter, you can Lysandre something hard-to-retreat and engage the lock, cycling Future Sight to feed them Items and double Burrows to remove playable cards from their deck (along with the occasional Rototiller to give you resources back).
This deck worked surprisingly well (albeit with thin Pokémon lines — make sure you check your Prizes early!) and if you are looking for a fun, random deck to play at a League, feel free to give it a whirl. We played it a lot with friends because it was hilarious to lock people, but unfortunately it never won enough to deserve competitive play. 1-Energy attackers and a little Energy suppression would destroy it. T1 Item lock wrecked it. It might work more effectively with the more easily set up Aipom STS’s Fiddle Around attack, but it would take twice as long to Burrow an opponent out. Sounds like a tie.
Also, what this taught us was that there are two ways to get Vileplume out: Battle Compressor with tons of Revitalizers would allow you to quickly compress a 1-1-1 line and then bring it back. Unfortunately, doing the same thing with a thin Vileplume line could be hard because if a piece was prized you would put yourself in a situation where you had discarded key pieces and had to draw into Revitalizers to get the pieces you need. Generally, there could be no compromise — you either committed to max Compressors and max Revitalizers or you went with tons of Balls. While Battle Compressors and Revitalizer synergized brilliantly with Vespiquen and a thick line of Vileplume where the goal was to discard all of them eventually, we found that with a thin line, running tons of Level Balls was equally effective, particularly if you have other low-HP Pokémon that you can Level Ball for.
. . .
So when Fighting/Vileplume came out of Japan, we tested that. We could tell the list was terrible, but we recognized that it was a somewhat viable idea: Fighting has a host of 1-Energy attackers and Zygarde-EX’s sheer bulk made it somewhat Night March-resistant. Thus Fighting opened up a world where you could run more Energy than Vespiplume, the attackers were more easily set up because they were generally Basics, the Carbink provided an adorable hard wall that could win games on occasion, and a powered-up Zygarde-EX could run through opponents.
When we saw it had success at Nats in Masters and we knew that we needed a deck that could beat Night March for Worlds, it was where we started testing. Our take on the meta was consistent with a lot of others: Seismitoad-EX was not crippled by Pokémon Ranger. Giratina-EX was crippled. We expected lots of Night March. It was the BDIF. We expected a lot of Trevenant in Juniors because Trevenant is the easiest deck to play that kills Night March. You just keep digging until you get the T1 Wally. It’s a little bit brain-dead in that way.
I was traveling for work a fair bit prior to Worlds, so we didn’t get the consistent testing in that we might have liked and Fighting/Vileplume became the deck that we had most worked on as we headed to San Francisco. Unfortunately, I think we felt like we should play it because we were comfortable with it and not because we thought it was an incredibly effective deck. I was a bit down because it seemed like we still lost in testing a fair bit to Night March if they played Vespiquen (which we did) and the Trev matchup was a struggle. We added the Aroma of Gratitude Shaymin-EX in our testing and it improved the Trev matchup some in testing, but it was still quite difficult due to the Fighting Resistance. Further, Magnetic Storm proved ephemeral as they had tons of Stadiums and we had to draw into our lone copy to be useful.
Our list at tournament time looked like this:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 32
Energy – 10
We made a few late changes that I had mixed feelings about, so I might as well mention them:
- We dropped a 3rd Level Ball for a 3rd N. My son thought he drew dead too often. While this gave us more flexibility late game and under Item lock, we probably shouldn’t have made this change. We had 3 Shaymin-EX ROS, 4 Ultra Ball, 4 Trainers’ Mail, 4 Sycamore, and 2 N. That is plenty of draw in a deck. We sacrificed some ability to set up the T1 lock by losing that Ball. I would change that if I could do it again.
- We cut a Revitalizer and added the 3rd Shaymin-EX ROS. This was probably good. To set up the T1 lock you need to look at a lot of cards on your first turn. Our theory was that you needed to see around 20 cards T1 to get the lock up, so you needed to get a Shaymin-EX out, maybe two, and hit a Sycamore to have seen enough cards to get the Stadium and pieces you needed. Prizing a Shaymin could make it hard, although it seemed more or less fine in testing.
- We cut a Bunnelby for the Promo Shaymin-EX. It’s funny; I used the Bunnelby all the time in testing. My son said he never used it. Of course, my trepidation around the deck was because I lost all the time with it. My son felt like he had more success. Maybe our differing play-styles in this regard reflected these outcomes. While the theorymon and advice we received indicated that the Promo Shaymin was huge, it didn’t particularly change outcomes in the tournament.
- Finally, I would mention that it would be ideal if you could add another 1-1 Carbink line. Carbink is your best starting Pokémon and you probably have to get a Carbink BREAK out to power up your big attackers and win. Generally this means, in addition to setting up the Vileplume line, you need to get a Carbink onto your Bench. Particularly with two, you can’t count on drawing into the line the way you want. Another argument for Level Balls and lots of them.
After testing it extensively, the conclusion I think I reached is that it really is a poor man’s Vespiquen/Vileplume. The magic of a well-executed Vespiquen/Vileplume deck is that you put huge and immediate pressure on your opponent. They have to, while under Item lock, develop a strategy to deal with two or three Pokémon teed up that are going to 1-shot everything on the opponent’s board. The fact that the Vespiquen is hitting for 180 or 200 with a single Energy attachment and you may have 2 or 3 on the board is the thing that puts that deck over the top. Fighting/Vileplume is a different, less effective deck: You will start out hitting for usually 20-60 damage on your first few turns either with Carbink or Zygarde-EX. This gives your opponent time to draw into their Hex Maniac, attach Energy, or work out their issues. It also gives plenty of run room to opponents with Fighting Resistance such as Trev or Yveltal.
We rolled with it even though I tried to get both of my children to run Trevenant or Night March instead. When Brit Pybas had success with Waterbox on Day One, I even tried to get my son to consider going Waterbox (I will confess we would have tested this more if PTCGO had not failed Ninja Boy). But when we looked at the top tables in Juniors on Day One, it was tons of Trev and tons of Night March and my son felt like this was the deck that gave us the best odds. After his prior success sticking with his most comfortable play, who was I to argue?
Rd 1 vs. Mateus Carvalho Rocha w/ Night March (WW)
The Brazilian National Champion! Both games ended with Mateus Shaymin-looping Zygarde-EX while Liam Cell Stormed the damage off until he drew into the Energy he needed to KO the Shaymin. Mateus went on to have an incredible tournament (4-2-1) and unfortunately this loss probably prevented him from making cut. Mateus’ parents were incredibly nice despite the fact that they spoke no English, but they continually stopped by and asked how Liam was doing — I think they were needing better resistance from us if they had avoided that last loss.
Rd 2 vs. Enrico Marini w/ Metals (WLL)
Back-to-back Hexes to kill all of Liam’s Carbinks allowed a giant Aegislash to run through Liam’s board in Game 3. The Italian ended up being the 5th seed going into cut and had an incredible tournament run.
Rd 3 vs. Ondrej Nepevny w/ Yveltal/Vileplume (LL)
People have characterized Fighting/Vileplume as proof that you can just pair Vileplume with anything and it works pretty well. The joke was on us this game as Ondrej took his Fighting Resistance and mowed us down. In Game 1, our opponent from the Czech Republic built a 7-Energy Yveltal-EX that destroyed our board. In Game 2, my son needed one of the two remaining Strong Energy in his 9-card deck to KO the Shaymin-EX and win the game: Professor Sycamore whiffs! The last two cards in his deck are the cards he needs. Ondrej Lysandre’s Vileplume and proceeds to deck us out.
Rd 4 vs. Marco Bucci w/ Trevenant (LL)
Another Italian! My son told me afterward that Marco had a great Trev list. I think what he meant was that Marco got everything he needed — a wave of Grunts, Hammers, Red Cards, and Head Ringers destroyed us. I think my son was remembering his Worlds run last year in an EX-heavy meta where 4 Head Ringers were incredibly effective. Marco ended up 2-5, so I think in this less-EX meta it was not as effective against others as it was against our Zygarde-EX. Also, I think my son was on tilt a bit as he had some misplays: Lysandre’ing around Trev and then attempting to play Items, forgetting that he still had the Vileplume set up.
Rd 5 vs. Jeanette Lim w/ Night March (WLW)
Whew, our first games won in a while! That felt good! Jeanette also ended up 2-5 but was a powerful opponent — I was informed that she had won three Regionals in Australia playing Night March. And as a proponent of the matriarchy, I was super happy to see a young girl competing hard.
Rd 6 vs. Keita Soubaigne w/ Vespiquen/Vileplume (WLL)
That will take the wind right out of your sails. Missing the T1 lock in Game 3 cost us dearly against our French opponent.
Rd 7 vs. Will Fletcher-Wells w/ Toad/Tina/Garb (WW)
Liam hit the T1 lock Game 1, Will scooped and said he didn’t feel like playing a second game against our deck. I guess that was the idea of our deck. And life near the bottom tables. At the very least, ending on a win left my son feeling great about his tournament and eager to move on to side events and grind some packs.
That was how our tournament ended. As I told people after the fact, we wanted a deck that beat Night March, we ended up with a deck that beat Night March, and we lost to everything else.
To reflect back on the broader tournament, there are a few things I want to note and shout-out about:
1) Worlds is a great, great event and this year was really fun: We didn’t play a single US player this time around, unlike last year. It is somewhat amazing given that fully one-third of the competitors were American, but I am grateful. This is why we come to Worlds!
2) OK, this Worlds was a bit of a show: I love, love, love San Francisco, but the facilities were kind of chaos. Kids love to play Pokémon and I am sad at the loss of open gaming, the Marriott attempted to move players many times, sometimes kids had to stand outside in cold weather for hours in lines, rooms were cramped with little or no room for parents, and people frequently moved us for evacuation facilitation. I know TPCi already knows all the problems and I know that the facility thing is not completely their fault, and I assume it will be way, way better next year.
Unlike some of the people on Virbank who long for the good ole’ days, I recognize that embracing Pokémon TCG as an eSport means we need to encourage and facilitate spectators. Our close friend JP Chin would probably not be playing Pokémon today if he had not been able to come down, spectate, and play side events at the World Championship in Washington, DC. That initial exposure to the excitement of Pokémon and the spectacle of the World Championship led him to qualifying for Day One this year, going 4-0, and then scrubbing out with us on Day Two. But it was awesome! More spectating is mo’ betta’ for the game.
If we believe watching streams is fun, then we should believe that encouraging people to come to the tournament and have a way to get involved should be even better. I have no love for the location next year — Anaheim sounds dull — but I assume the venue and facilities will be on point as TPCi fixes these problems and continues to evolve the sport.
3) Maybe it was the extra round or maybe it was the fact that my oldest had a Day One bye, but I felt like Day One was harder this year than last. Probably both. As they added rounds for the Juniors, I really felt the grinder aspect of the Day One invite that my friends in Masters spoke about last year. Of the people we playtested with prior to Day One, Liam Hyatt, Walker, Colby Evans, Kyle Inman, and many more incredibly skilled players failed to advance to Day Two.
4) A return to Japanese Junior dominance: I was told prior to last year that Japanese Juniors typically do disproportionately well at Worlds because in Japan, they only have two age brackets and the Japanese Juniors have to play with older kids resulting in a high skill level among the most successful Juniors. While last year ran contrary to that theory, this year proved it out as the only non-Japanese kids to cut were our opponent in Round 2 (Enrico) and our great friends Roan Godfrey-Robbins and Christian Moreno. Roan has many more years of being a Junior ahead of him and an incredibly bright future. I have written about him before so hearing that he made Top 4 at Worlds should come as no surprise to readers. He is a great, great player and a good guy. Similarly, Christian wrapped up his last year in Juniors proving that his Nats run was no fluke.
5) A few other shout-outs: Our good friend Landon Frank bubbled at 10th. Jayk Chen, who we met and playtested with a ton on Wednesday and Thursday made Top 16. Isaac Petruski, Travis Beckwith, Aiden Yeung, Adam Omarali, Nathan Friedman, and Piper Lepine — all frequently mentioned in my articles this year — all made Top 32.
6) Our SF buddy, Kayden Hyatt, the Pokékid on YouTube (go subscribe), played a list one card off ours and demonstrated that it was probably more wrong deck than poor play by going 3-3-1. Similarly, last year’s 2nd place World Champ Junior, Alejandro Ng-Guzman, went 3-3-1 Day One in Seniors playing Fighting/Vileplume (with a list maybe 2 cards off ours) and is a great, great friend (as is his dad). Regardless, it was awesome to spend a week hanging out with Kayden and I know that we look forward to more video chatting.
7) I might as well comment on Regionals for a second. I think the new format for Regionals presents some interesting challenges for Juniors. I have historically characterized the Junior meta as fast followers of the Masters meta. Interestingly, with this new schedule the mix of Standard and Expanded Regionals as new cards are released mean it will be virtually impossible to just “play the deck that won last week.” I suspect the result will be more diversity in the Juniors meta but a much more difficult meta to metagame effectively.
The importance of building relationships with the most successful Masters is likely to be higher than ever. The importance of having access to leading thinkers via sites like SixPrizes as well. I think Pokémon.com posting decklists decreased the value of paywall subscription sites over the last year as you could simply net-deck the last week’s winning decks, but this will return some of the value of theory-moning and looking ahead back to the forefront.
Also, I am super sad about Virginia Regionals moving to Roanoke and the lack of Massachusetts Regionals. There will be no tournaments local to the Washington, DC area now, which bums us out. What do people in NYC do?
8) We are excited about Sun & Moon coming out. We really enjoyed the VGC stream and I thought the commentary was excellent. People keep telling us, and it seems to me, that the VGC is super skill-based. This makes me very interested, although I must confess that the thing I love about Pokémon TCG for my eight- and ten-year-old is that it is not electronic.
That is a wrap for this year! I feel excited about the coming year and grateful for the support of friends like the Hyatts, Evans, Ng-Guzmans, Hurleys, Smiths and Chins (and many other people I forgot) and TPCi who gave us generous stipends for both Nats and Worlds. I am very fortunate that both of my kids will be Juniors again this year, which means that we will try to go get double stipends again, probably.
One of the changes that most excites me is the new prize support for Regionals. I hypothetically assume that prizes for Juniors in TCG will be ~$1000+ for Top 4 ($50k/6 sports = ~$8k = $4k for 1st, $2k for 2nd, $1k for Top 4), which might support us trying to travel a bit and grind, which will be necessary with the loss of Massachusetts and the local Virginia tourney.