Hey everybody, I’m back with some more commentary on Juniors. We had a successful tournament (Philadelphia) and a pretty poor tournament (Orlando), but I think we learned something about Pokémon at all of them and my kids had a really great time (except for the outcomes), so I can’t complain.
Having said that, let me complain a bit about stuff that isn’t on Masters’ radar so no one else really complains about it, but somebody should do something. What is the point of being a cranky old dad if you can’t complain about stuff?
Gripe #1: Regionals Payouts
Masters get cash. Juniors do not. Getting an Amex corporate travel thing is meh. Amex charges a ton for you to use them. Essentially, Amex skims 10%+ right off the top as their fees.
Scholarships are pretty meh too. My understanding is they don’t pay interest, so you can get a scholarship for 10 years in the future that just rots while someone else is making money on your money.
I assume Pokémon did not realize that their awards for Juniors work out badly for all the PokéParents. I haven’t met someone who has liked winning yet.
Finally, I ended my last article speculating that the way the “$50k Regional prize payout” would work was that it would be divided evenly among the 6 TCG + VGC age division combinations. Instead, it has been widely discussed that they are using a kicker to determine the funding.
Let me be clear: it is more expensive for Juniors to travel than Masters. They have to take a parent with them. They can’t crash with 10 other guys in a room. Generally, they can’t drive or grab a ride with a buddy (or stranger) for 12 hours — they have to fly.
So when you create a situation where, generally, a single child is going to get $1k, one child is going to get $500, and two will get $250, that means traveling to attend events for Juniors is a money-loser.
Nominally, in Masters, if you make it to the finals you have paid for the trip, probably the next trip, and maybe a third. There is a model where conceptually if you just kicked ass all year you could finance a “ramen Poké” lifestyle. With payouts cut to a fraction of Masters, this game turns into economic warfare for Juniors. Sam Chen and Roan Godfrey-Robbins may be the only players who have attended every single Regionals this year. That means you have some parents that are more hardcore than basically every Master out there.
I have said before that people joke about Juniors but the competition is real. Roan has three 2nd place finishes at three Regionals after finishing 3rd at Worlds this past year. Every single Junior knows that the road to basically winning any Regionals involves going through him. Now imagine if I told you that Will Post had gotten to the finals at every Regionals so far this year, going undefeated in Swiss every single tournament and then crushing people in Top 8 and Top 4. AND HE WOULD BE AT EVERY REGIONAL THE REST OF THE YEAR.
OK, change into some fresh underpants.
That is #juniorlife. You get to play some theme-deckers, but at the top of the game, it is absolutely brutal. And with fewer rounds, the variance is soul-crushing. More details forthcoming.
Gripe #2: Brutal Competition Meets 400 Points
I am on the record as not being a fan of raising the point targets. I feel like there is a meme of “old players” that “remember when qualifying for Worlds was special” and the new rules had ruined it. Maybe that is a thing for Masters, and Worlds should be something that only a few select ballers get to do. But I agree that qualifying for Worlds is special which is why I am okay with being relatively permissive for Juniors. Why not let more kids play at Worlds? More kids is mo’ better. If Worlds is amazing, why wouldn’t it be the biggest tournament in the world? Why does it have to be an exclusive event? In point of fact, for the last three years, Worlds has been much bigger than even US Nationals — a tournament so much bigger than any Junior can imagine, it is mind-boggling. And it makes it awesome.
I have two Juniors so figuring out how to get two boys their invites is a god-awful nightmare. Which brings us to:
League Cups. What more is there to say? I have two Juniors. We need League Cups, and lots of them. Lots of them. Lots. Of. Them. Frankly, I don’t want to take my kids to any more League Challenges, but I feel like we have to go to a few now that it is November because I lack faith that League Cups will appear soon. When do quarters reset? How can they announce that caps are time-boxed to distinct periods without telling us when the periods are?
With, I am assuming, a maximum of 6 League Cups possible, and given the kickers for event attendance that apply to Juniors (points will typically only be given out at Regionals for Top 8), that means that Top 8’ing a Regional is required for a Junior to get his or her invite. That is pretty hard. How hard? Details forthcoming. I have no idea how popular or profligate League Cups will be, but they certainly seem like they are turning out to be such an exclusive, rare event that winning 4 or 6 would feel to me like it would be enough for an invite.
So I think I mentioned in my last article that Regionals actually had us a bit bummed. Massachusetts is cancelled. Virginia is now super far away from us. We went to Orlando in February as part of a family vacation and now they moved it up to October so that would mean two trips in 6 months, but the alternative if we wanted to do something besides PA and VA would be to go to a brand new tournament that we have never attended before. Our choices are Fort Wayne for Thanksgiving, Dallas for New Years, Athens in January, and everything else would be much, much further away (St. Louis, I guess? Wisconsin?). All of those seem sucky because we are a family and therefore thought we would not attend tournaments on holidays because we have family stuff to do so we decided to rise up and hit Orlando. We flew in and out.
Orlando was great. The kids swam a bit on Friday and it was pleasantly warm. The tournament felt really organized. I work in IT and the thing that I think really differentiated Orlando from Philadelphia was transparency. They had problems with registration and they immediately got on the microphone and instead of saying, “We have to re-register everyone,” they said, “We have to re-register a bunch of you BECAUSE X HAPPENED, we think it will take 5 minutes, we will give you an update in 5 minutes.”
That really, really makes a difference.
Also, I recognize that this may be a point of contention, but I think their online pairing and registration software is better.
Basically, my kids were heavily, heavily, heavily influenced by this video by Russell LaParre:
I have to say, this video is the video version of the Donphan article written by Dylan Bryan right here at SixPrizes. And let us be clear, I am pretty sure the Donphan article is the best article ever written about a Pokémon deck.
The video laid out the excellent matchups and strategies for a nicely non-linear deck and my kids watched the video and then said, “WE ARE PLAYING THAT.” We made a few tweaks, but that was pretty much the plan. So both kids more or less played the same list. My youngest cut the Umbreon-EX for an extra N.
Just for variety and since it is all Yveltal anyway, I will give you the timeline-based double tournament report:
Halliburton The Younger (HTY): WW vs. don’t remember (sorry) — (1-0)
Halliburton The Older (HTO): LWL vs. (sorry) Volcanion — (0-1)
The loss to Volcanion went like this: start Mew, go first, don’t have other Pokémon, play Trainers’ Mail, play Sycamore, play Trainers’ Mail, never see another Pokémon or Ultra Ball, get donked. Win Game 2 easily. Game 3 other guy needs an Energy to win, HTO Delinquents him to zero cards with win in hand the next turn, opponent topdecks Sycamore to win. Pretty sure playing Delinquent perfect and then opponent lucks into critical topdeck is life.
His parents were super excited that their son beat HTO. It made me realize what this year was going to be like. Now let’s be clear, I am not mad (overly?) about it. I recognize that it is going to be like that. But I feel bad for my kid to feel that pressure. I remember Landon Frank’s dad talking to me about how Landon felt like people had these expectations every time he showed up at a tournament. Tough. And I get how it feels. In a critical game in Philly where my 8-year-old was playing against Toad/Bats and twice I saw him fist-pump and go “YES” when he flipped heads to wake up after a key LaserBank, I told a buddy, “I know he should act like he has been there, but honestly, I don’t think he ever has been there.”
HTY vs. William W. (Dark/Tina) — LL (1-1)
HTO vs. Damien L. (M Mewtwo) — WW (1-1)
HTY showed his 8-year-old-ness by evolving to Garb to get his hand size down and then playing down Shaymin. He felt good about his loss because the second game was close. Frankly, HTY did not practice enough prior to Orlando and this is what happens to people who don’t practice enough. William Wallace is the eventual tournament winner so HTY’s loss is to the Regional Champion.
HTO vs. HTY
Oh, for the love of god. We flew 2,000 miles for this? The boys ID because FAM but at this point they are both 1-1-1. I don’t have the heart to tell one to scoop so I tell them they can play it out or ID. They have to be PERFECT to make cut now.
HTY vs. Sebastian E. (M Mewtwo) — WW (2-1-1)
HTO vs. Brady B. (M Mewtwo) — WW (2-1-1)
HTY vs. Leonor R. — LWT (2-1-2)
HTO vs. Austin M. (Xerneas/M Mewtwo) — LWT (2-1-2)
HTY actually felt pretty good about this game because his board state was overwhelming at the end of Game 3.
HTO was very upset after this round. We haven’t had too many tears from the big guy playing Pokémon but we had ’em today. He came over afterward chagrined but fine and told me that he was one turn away from winning. And as he told me the story and walked me through what happened, he realized that they only played two turns of overtime. He had game and didn’t get to play his turn. No hard feelings if the parent is reading this, but he felt like his opponent had tried to confuse and rush him in extra time and this led to his lack of understanding of the board state. He became incredibly upset that he let himself be exploited and this put him out of the running at the tournament.
He’ll never make that mistake again.
Dream is dead.
Both boys WW vs. Darkrai/Giratina
On to Philadelphia and some Expanded Pokémon. We were excited to have it back at the Convention Center instead of out in the middle of nowhere and hoped that would attract more Juniors. For Juniors, more or less, the tournament was fine. We were out long before the problems Saturday evening, so we have no complaints. And cheesesteaks are delicious.
We enjoyed testing a variety of decks in preparation for Philadelphia and looked at Greninja, Sableye, Accelgor, Yveltal/Archeops, Primal Groudon, Turbo Dark, Mega Manectric, Trevenant, and Raikou/Eels.
Before I give you round-by-round analysis, I want to talk about how we thought about the meta and how we plotted our strategy. First, we looked at Phoenix’s results. People that know us and have read our prior articles (Florida), know we love Sableye so seeing TJ do well warmed our hearts.
We wanted to play something toxic because that is what we like and we started out thinking about Garbodor. Many Masters were talking about how PA was going to see a lot of Yveltal/Archeops to counter Greninja. We also felt like Trevenant would be popular. It has done great at every Expanded Regional and is obviously a powerhouse deck. In Expanded, Jirachi-EX basically ensures that if the Trevenant player goes first he can enforce an Item lock that will extend from the beginning of the game to the end.
(As an aside, what does Trevenant have to do to get banned? Is winning every division in a tournament not enough? Do they need to do it again at the next Regional? It is not unlikely. It takes luck to beat it. The joy of the game when the opponent enforces an instant, game-long Item lock cannot possibly exist and the success of Trevenant in Expanded is definitely set up to warp the meta. Even hard counters like Latias-EX or the new Giratina still require you to successfully draw into the counter before you die.)
As always, when there is a deck so overwhelming, one can either counter it or one can play it. We considered both. Unfortunately, the lock is so brutal that even Yveltal, Trevenant’s natural enemy, is an inconsistent counter. But we discovered what felt like a powerful tool to thwart Trevenant (albeit inconsistently): Wobbuffet. If you start Wobbuffet, they cannot play a Ball for Jirachi-EX to grab the Wally. Further, Wobbuffet cripples many decks: Turbo Dark, Greninja, and Eels. We liked starting Wobbuffet. It is like a Silent Lab you put in play on turn 0.
You may remember from our testing for Worlds last year that I was mildly obsessed with Primal Groudon, but ended up settling on Mega Manectric. We thought both of these decks were powerful plays. Adding Wobbuffet to Mega Manectric/Tool Drop allows you to both have amazing Wobbuffet starts and use Psychic Assault to take 2HKOs with a 1-Prize attacker.
We also felt like Turbo Dark was very strong. Our experience at MA Regionals last year, reported in our Nats report, taught us that Max Elixirs win the mirror and we felt like there would be a fair bit of Yveltal, so we were inclined to go Turbo. Further, Yveltal/Archeops requires such an Item-heavy engine to hit the Maxie’s consistently we felt like it put that deck at an even bigger disadvantage to Trev decks.
. . .
Back to Primal Groudon. I have a soft spot for this deck so I was excited to see it do well in AZ and happy to pick it up and play a few games. And I won. I won a bunch. It was incredibly difficult for my kids to beat me when I played Groudon. So we thought about that. And then we saw our good buddy, Dean Nezam, at an LC and he told us he could lend us some Tropical Beaches. And all of the sudden it got kind of real.
Let me take a moment and talk about the basic Groudon strategy to inform any new-ish or less experienced players about the appeal of Groudon. Basically here is the plan:
If you go first or second, your turns play out the same:
- T1: Attach Energy, use Tropical Beach
- T2: Wobbuffet dies going into your turn, attach Energy, evolve to Primal Groudon
- T3: Wobbuffet dies going into your turn, attach Energy, evolve second Groudon
- T4: Wobbuffet dies going into your turn, attach Energy, take 2 Prizes
- T5: Primal Groudon takes a hit, doesn’t die, take 2 Prizes, attach Energy
- T6: Primal Groudon dies, Robo Sub or something, attach Energy, Mega Turbo
- T7: Stall a turn (Primal Groudon 2.0 could be taking damage here) or Mega Turbo, attach Energy, take 2 Prizes
Now, the “stall” turn could be somewhere earlier and it frequently is: the opponent may suffer from the Wobbuffet or decide to use Tropical Beach. This gives you an extra turn to hit the Beach as well. The stall could also be playing Pokémon Center Lady and Super Potion and converting an opponent’s 2HKO to a 3HKO. If you do that, you only need one Groudon to win the entire game.
So as long as you can figure out a way to survive one or two turns without giving up a Prize and you can hit the Stadiums you need and/or Lysandre the EXs you need to get Prizes, then you just win. It seems close to the other guy, but you just win. As I told a friend who was unfamiliar with the deck, “We will be as inexorable as a glacier.”
Or, as HTO said, “I don’t know if I can play this deck the entire tournament. It is so boring!”
Every game plays out eerily similar. Stall, sacrificing Wobbuffet after Wobbuffet while you build up two Primal Groudon that will stomp everything beneath them. Use Omega Barrier to make the opponent play a 7-Prize game.
Here was our list:
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 38
4 VS Seeker
Energy – 10
Here are some thoughts on key cards:
3-3 Groudon, 1 Regirock: Rolling 2-2 style takes a bold, bold man. We just didn’t have it in us. These counts matter more if you think you will play a lot of 1-Prize attackers. HTO felt much more comfortable with the 3-3 count because he liked having two Primals every game.
0 Teammates: Teammates is a good card. Our buddy Michael Canaves basically played the exact same list we played and he cut a VS Seeker for a Teammates. Teammates would really help in the Trevenant matchup. VS Seeker is really helpful when you need to hit Lysandres to get your Prizes.
2 Lysandre: When you come up with the Groudon, a common tactic for an opponent is to have a threat on the Bench to return fire with. You will probably want to Lysandre on that turn. You do not want Lysandre prized.
0 Ace Trainer: Some people like Ace Trainer. Michael Canaves played a 1/1 N/Ace Trainer split. We wanted more outs to draw on turn 1, although passing a turn and then getting to Ace Trainer the other guy is pretty strong disruption.
1 Hex Maniac: Critical for dealing with Giratina.
1 Xerosic: We tested a Megaphone and maybe regret not playing it. Xerosic is the only Tool removal in the deck. It can remove Head Ringers or remove opposing Fighting Fury Belts. Removing an FFB can be important in the Yveltal matchup if you missed Strong Energies when powering up Groudon. The infrequent Head Ringer can also put you off tempo. Xerosic’ing a Special Energy can also give you that critical extra turn you need.
2 Focus Sash: We tested 1 Sash and 1 Hard Charm a lot. We ended up with 2 Sash because the real issue is that it is super critical to survive two turns. There are not a lot of ways that Charm helps your Groudon turn 2HKOs into 3HKOs, so the benefit is not super significant.
1 Battle Compressor: This can improve your draw situation in a spot where you might be put in the awkward situation of playing back-to-back-to-back Korrinas because you start Korrina and VS Seeker. Alternately, you can compress a Lysandre or Pokémon Center Lady to set up plays and compress an Energy to set up Mega Turbo. This was the 60th card.
1 Enhanced Hammer: You know you will need to stall for one turn. This can help you do it.
1 Computer Search: This is a subject of hot debate. Alternately, you could drop the Super Potion, play a Max Potion, and play a Scramble Switch. This lets you do a lot of cute things, particularly with double Puzzle of Time. Alternately, you could play a Gold Potion and double Puzzle for Gold Potion and have a crazy heal turn. Both of these plays are how you turn 2HKOs into 3HKOs. That means you win the game without having a 2nd Groudon. They can be game-changers. Conversely, Computer Search helps makes sure that you execute those first three or four turns flawlessly. Failure to do so means you never get to even try to execute these complex, game-winning combos. It helps you get Supporters, make Energy attachments, find Tropical Beach. The consistency is meaningful. I suspect we would have been equally happy running it either way.
HTY ran Mega Manectric with Wobbuffet, Tool Drop Trubbish, and Garbodor.
Let’s review a few rounds, which for reasons I can’t explain, I took terrible notes on:
R1 vs. Alex F. — T
R2 vs. Max R. — W
R3 vs. Dylan R. — W
R4 vs. HTO — L
R5 vs. Coleman B. — W
R6 vs. Austin M. — W
Final: 4-1-1, 10th place
This was tough. My little guy scooped to his brother because he did not want a repeat of Orlando and he recognized that being 2-0-2 meant he could not ID later and would have to play it out at the top tables to make cut, so taking a loss was exactly the same. Meanwhile, his brother had already played Roan so his situation in later round would be theoretically improved. When he got to the final round, he was on Table 4, making him the top 3-1-1 and he defeated his opponent. Yet when standings were posted, of the 6 4-1-1 players, he was dead last in SoS (strength of schedule) and missed cut. Bitter for both of us. There is just no winning for us when brothers get constantly paired against each other no matter where we go or what we do.
So HTY went to PA, never lost, and missed cut. #feelsbadman ??
R1 vs. Hayden C. (Trev) — WW
R2 vs. Morgan H. — WW
R3 vs. Roan G. (Donphan) — LWT
R4 vs. HTY — W
R5 vs. William W. (MegaMan) — WW
R6 vs. Benny B. — ID
T8 vs. William W. (MegaMan) — WW
T4 vs. Roan G. (Donphan) — LL
My notes are equally bad but my memory is slightly better. HTO was done with his rounds blazing fast as the glacier rolled over people.
Hayden C. is one of our best, best friends. He is the IRL best friend of HTY and traveled with us to many tournaments. His Hammer variant of Trev is not as good as Balloons vs. Groudon. William Wallace, the winner of Orlando Regionals, had the incredible bad luck of being matched up against our Fighting deck repeatedly. This is a horrible matchup for him.
Roan’s Donphan deck is a very tough matchup. Round 3 was very close and HTO felt like he would pull it out, but in Top 4 he was hammered. In Game 2, HTO got decked out because he had to Sycamore two Puzzles turn 1 and prized both Switch and Escape Rope and could never get his Wobbuffet out of the Active.
Well played, Roan!
As a parent, I wonder if I should have asked HTO to play it out in Round 6 for his brother. On the one hand, if he had lost, it would have put HTO at 4-1-1 — a position so obviously precarious that his brother went 4-1-1 and missed cut. Alternately, if he had won, his opponent (the eventual tournament winner), would have been 4-2 and another 4-1-1 would have been squeezed in. With the improved SoS that HTO would have had, maybe HTY would have bumped up and made cut. His opponent was playing Trev/Hammers, so it is a hard, hard matchup, but doable.
Leave parenting advice in the comments. I probably made a mistake, but then, I can’t seem to get it right. We scoop, we don’t; when 4-1-1 is not good enough to cut, if TOM keeps pairing my kids against each other then my family can’t win.
Regardless, Benny then used Trev to lock down Donphan and march to victory, proving that Robert Davies is the real PokéDad master. He is a great booster for the kids and has an uncanny feel for the game. It is impressive to watch Team Davies at work.
What the Future Holds
So that was the story of how two guys could lose three rounds over the course of two tournaments and finish 3rd, 10th, 12th, and 13th. That seems kinda rough.
I know I said that we don’t typically travel that much earlier, but we find ourselves in an interesting situation. I am pretty sure, despite the typical lack of communication from Pokémon, that we have a trip to London for the International Championships in December. Unfortunately due to Pokémon’s poor planning, my wife and I will have to use all of our vacation time for the year to swing this trip. That means that we will not be visiting family for Thanksgiving, so we might try to figure out how to do Fort Wayne.
I submitted a request to support to Pokémon complaining about the London tournament schedule already. The announced plan is to have Juniors play starting on Saturday, which means there will be a day of Pokémon with a lot of incredibly bored Juniors and then Top 8 on Sunday, which is the day we are supposed to fly home. I assume they are having Masters start Friday and then Juniors/Seniors on Saturday as a space consideration, but they could do it better. Also, that eliminates the possibility of a Top 32 for Juniors/Seniors. Doing the Top 32 for Juniors, despite the fact that they didn’t have 128 entries, at US Nationals, as I noted in my article on the subject, was FREAKING AWESOME and they should duplicate it. Kids want more Pokémon. You gotta put the kids in a situation where they can play. Side events on Friday will be over-run if they don’t let the kids start.
We hope to see lots of friends in London and maybe Fort Wayne as a warm-up!