If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from today, it’s this: please, please never play Greninja in a tournament. I know, it’s tempting: 170-HP non-EXs, accelerated evolution, and an incredibly efficient attack and Ability. You can even fit tricks like Max Potion and Bursting Balloon!
It’s a tempting prospect. Don’t fall for it. One game, you’ll be on top of the world: a full suite of BREAKs, healing engine firing on all cylinders, and your opponent cornered. Then next, those same Bursting Balloons, Max Potions, and VS Seekers that enabled your prolific rise will accompany a lone Froakie as your hopes of success slip away. The “Greninja hand” phenomena, naturally, usually makes its presence felt when you least can afford it.
If you haven’t figured it out already, I played Greninja this weekend in Athens. If you haven’t figured out the outcome of the weekend, well … “mediocre” is probably the proper term. Today, I’m going to talk (as minimally as possible) about my experience this weekend before moving into discussion of Sun & Moon. It’s crazy to think about, but PRC–EVO is finally primarily in the rearview mirror, and the next major tournament (Anaheim) will take place with the new block released.
Greninja. It’s a deck I’ve played a few times this season, most successfully to a heartbreaking conclusion in Fort Wayne. I didn’t have an article at hand, so it’s not been covered previously, but in San Jose, I also chose the Frogs — and promptly went 0-4. At that point I swore I’d never play the deck again, but, as they say, old habits die hard.
I was drawn to it in Georgia because:
- I lacked a better option. My brother and mother, who usually end up playing something similar to myself and Alex Hill, played Vileplume and M Rayquaza respectively (and both finished ahead of me, notably). We simply lacked consensus. Until late on the night before the tournament, Rainbow Road was the frontrunner, but we unfortunately concluded it simply lost to too much too often to be a viable play.
- Greninja, when it runs well enough, can and will beat pretty much anything. It’s that simple.
- I expected the room to have a very good amount of M Rayquaza, M Gardevoir, and other semi Ability-reliant decks that struggle against Greninja. In addition, I felt the list we had fared very well against the Speed Dark concept that was seeing sizable hype heading into the event.
- The list we had was designed to beat mirror. I was fairly sure Greninja would be among the biggest decks at the event, so beating mirror was an absolute must.
Seems good enough, right? Well, this was the list we settled on:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 33
1 Eco Arm
Energy – 9
I made Top 8 at a League Cup last week with a list two cards off this one, so there was some history with the concept for me to cling to in comfort, I suppose. The Eco Arm is a strange idea that ended up paying off in mirror. In a game played by throwing 40 damage around a lot of times, the extra 60 adds up remarkably quickly. While we didn’t feel the need to go all out on a Bent Spoon, flexible techs like this one were something we were willing to take a chance on.
I don’t believe the list is otherwise remarkable. If you’re considering braving its flaws for a League Cup (don’t, though) or are simply thoroughly interested, I’d be happy to discuss other specific card choices we made. For now, though, this was my day:
Athens Regionals // Day 1 // 682 Masters
R1 M Mewtwo-EX BKT 64/Garbodor BKP (1-1)
R2 Greninja BKP (2-0)
R3 Glaceon-EX/Jolteon-EX/Garbodor BKP (0-2)
R4 Yveltal-EX/Garbodor BKP (0-2)
R5 Greninja BKP (2-0)
R6 Yveltal-EX/Garbodor BKP (2-1)
R7 Greninja BKP(1-2)
R8 Gyarados AOR 21 (2-0)
R9 Greninja BKP (2-1)
Final: 5-3-1, 141st place
Overall, a disappointing day, as by the end of Round 4, I was essentially playing for Top 64. The fact that it was somewhere around 5:00 by the time I came to that point in the day certainly only served to make a mentally long day into a marathon. The list largely did what it was supposed to do in beating mirror and not being strictly “out” of many matchups. I don’t believe I’d have faced Yveltal/Garbodor if I’d managed to dodge Pablo Meza’s Glaceon/Garbodor contraption in Round 3, as it quickly fell by the wayside. The tie Round 1 was a great result as far as I was concerned, as M Mewtwo is not a matchup I have much business winning, but coming out of Round 1 with less than 3 Match Points makes for an infinitely harder day — both in the climb that must be made and the metagame it must be made in.
As for the rest of my friends, most piloted Greninja to negative records. In most cases, once the day got off track, it careened wildly off the rails. The lone exceptions were the two Alex’s, my brother and Alex Hill, with whom you’re surely familiar. The pair played Vileplume and Greninja, respectively, to 6-2 starts before unfortunately getting paired in Round 9. The Vileplume list Alex Schemanske played was exactly the same as my Dallas play (though, a Trevenant-EX was strongly considered over the 2nd Glaceon-EX), and Alex Hill played these exact 60 to an underwhelming Day 2 finish. After beating my brother, he was simply beat by Greninja itself. I’m sure he’ll have more to say on the subject on Friday, of course, so I’ll leave it there.
More than ever, it should be apparent that success in these large-scale grind tournaments is predicated on a variety of luck, deck selection, and skill. I’m usually hesitant to list the last factor in this context, as I believe the first (in the form of TOM) is an under-considered and primary influence on tournament success, but the truth is that I watched more games blown this weekend by questionable technical play than any tournament I’ve ever attended.
The Top 8 and What It Means
Masters Top 8 ended as follows:
- Darkrai-EX BKP
- Vespiquen AOR 10/Raticate EVO/Zebstrika BKP/Garbodor BKP/Octillery BKT
- Vespiquen AOR 10/Zebstrika BKP
- Darkrai-EX BKP
- M Rayquaza-EX ROS 76
- M Rayquaza-EX ROS 76
- M Rayquaza-EX ROS 76
- Vespiquen AOR 10/Zebstrika BKP
It’s the last major tournament in the format, so I don’t wish to delve too far down the rabbit hole of one tournament’s Top 8, but it’s notable that Yveltal-EX completely failed to place in this — failing to reach even Top 32. Just over one short month ago, Yveltal was literally ruling the world in London. Two tournaments later, it completely failed to make an impact. What happened?
For one thing, we’re seeing the effects of the information age begin to fully mature in Pokémon. It sounds a bit silly, as technology has been pervasive in the average American or European’s life for a significant portion of time, but the explosive growth of consumable information in the game over the last year has truly elevated metagame shifts to the next level. Once Yveltal ran the table in London, literally the entire Pokémon world knew to aim at its head. The result was a middling performance in Dallas and an outright extermination in Athens. Similarly, M Gardevoir, champion of Texas, completely fell apart in Athens. If we had another event in PRC–EVO, I would bet that M Rayquaza and Vespiquen would both fail to register more than a combined four Top 32 finishes, and would be unlikely to Top 8 at all. Players are simply adapting more quickly than ever.
The cause is twofold: for one thing, as I’ve already discussed, players of all levels are now able to access relatively good information freely from a variety of YouTube channels and liberally from the wealth of premium article site options available. While not an entirely new phenomena, the past year has truly seen information saturation dawn in Pokémon.
The critical flashpoint that has allowed this transformation, though, is the shift away from multiple Regional weekends and the elimination of States.
In the past, regional metagames were somewhat of a factor — perhaps more than any of us realized, honestly — in an event’s outcome. Players were more concerned about what was happening in their local area: Regionals weren’t as large and were often duplicated on a weekend, and States fundamentally required players to have good ground knowledge of local trends.
With the centralization of tournaments, two things are happening simultaneously: every content creator in the United States is focusing on exactly one event and more players are attending that event. Where in the past a site’s writer geographic balance would heavily influence its content, everyone is now on the same page at all times. Every writer and content creator is focusing on the exact same set of most-recent results with the exact same next step in mind. Now, with players attending events in places they’ve never done so before, nearly every testing group is represented at every major event. With cross-pollination between testing groups, the same ideas are on every wavelength, being repeat in something somewhat resemblant of an echo chamber.
Greninja was easily one of the biggest decks this weekend despite a middling Dallas performance and the release of a seeming hard counter to its existence. How could this happen? Because once one content creator — or even one major testing group behind the scenes — saw the potential it had to capitalize on the metagame Dallas created, the entire world had that knowledge available. Everyone is tuned into everyone else at all times. In the past, the seemingly gutsy Greninja call would’ve been a choice of relatively few, and relatively “good” players. In fact, I know some of you are even gawking at me calling Greninja a “gutsy” play! Everyone knew Speed Dark would supplant Yveltal, right? This time around, because the content community summarily declared the death of Yveltal after Dallas, players of all backgrounds had the means to follow the hive mind and make a choice on those grounds.
OK, Christopher, so the change in structure and proliferation of digital content has led to players that were previously less connected to make decisions in something much more resemblant of a hive mind. What does it mean for me?
To be totally honest … I’m not yet 100% sure! I will readily confess that the preceding explanation for the unprecedented clarity in metagame shift is an epiphany I’ve only recently developed, and I’m still weighing its implications. First and foremost, I believe the next logical step in content’s evolution is a classic “wine-in-front-of-me” dilemma (for those unaware, Princess Bride contains the reference in question). If I’m a player that knows Deck A won the last event, Deck B is the hyped successor, and Deck C beats B but not A, what do I play?
Strangely enough, I believe the answer varies by age division. For the number of parents and younger readers we have, I’d love to explore this a bit further real quick:
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