Though it’s been over a month since I last wrote, it honestly does not feel like a whole lot has changed within the Pokémon community. Perhaps this is merely an artifact of the new tournament structure this year but I cannot remember a format “lasting” as long as PRC–EVO and I think I speak for everyone when I say “good riddance.” I do not necessarily think that it was a bad format by any means but it just got stale very fast.
I will spend some time today trying to analyze all of the trends that we saw come and go later in the article but it definitely was a unique field to observe. Sun & Moon appears to be a new “core” set which intends to change certain aspects of the game and introduce new mechanics and I have high hopes that it will give both Standard and Expanded a much needed update though only time will tell if this is correct or not.
- Finalizing the Format
- Analyzing the ABC Metagame
- League Cups: High Expectations, Low Results
- Closing Thoughts
I use the word “observe” with clear intention above, as unfortunately I was unable to participate in the format as much as I would have liked to. In my last article, I spent some time discussing my lackluster performance with Mega Scizor at Fort Wayne and highlighted my favor with Yveltal/Garbodor but outside of a League Challenge that occurred shortly after my article was released (which I would win with the exact list included in my last article) I was unable to attend either Dallas or Athens Regionals, both of which I wish I had been able to make.
I spent my Christmas (and some days before and after) in Taiwan where I got to visit the national university as well as do some general sightseeing and even attend a Pokémon-themed run on Christmas Eve (see photo above). Unfortunately, I arrived back home right around New Year’s and experienced an extreme case of jetlag, which forced me to cancel the plans I had initially made to attend the tournament.
After careful examination of the metagame, I recall informing my friends who were able to attend that I believed Mega Gardevoir to be the correct play for Dallas and while my recommendations were ignored, I was happy to see the deck dominate the tournament and be taken down by Xander Pero who piloted a perfect list. Something I observed as a trend amongst my fellow writers was how undervalued Fairy Drop was in most Gardevoir lists. In my own report on the deck, I recall highlighting how the card won me many of my games and before Fort Wayne Regionals I was even testing 4 copies of the card in my deck. To my surprise, however, most lists tended to play 0–1 copies of the card, which I think helped lead to incorrect matchup analysis (most notably Mega Gardevoir versus Yveltal/Garbodor). I believe that Xander and several players in Dallas proved my point though as their success was made on the back of 3 copies of Fairy Drop within their lists.
Contrastingly, I was unable to attend Athens simply do to conflicts with my work but I am not sure what I would have ended up playing for that tournament. Like many, I maintained a favorable opinion of Greninja and so I think that may have been the direction I ended up going in but after reading Christopher’s and Alex’s most recent articles, I am not sure if I will be considering playing this deck anytime soon. However, I am happy to note that my general opinion about Talonflame in the list — even in Standard — became the trend for the way the deck saw play in the latter half of this format. Of course, I do not claim full credit for this shift in deckbuilding but I am always happy to observe rightness in my own opinion even when I am not able to obtain results with the opinion itself.
Finally, to close my thoughts on the PRC–EVO format, I want to spend some time analyzing the meta as a whole and attempt to use this analysis to predict how the format may progress in the future and as a means to select the best deck for any given future format.
In Christopher Schemanske’s last article, he highlights what he refers to as the ABC deck choices, which is a way of describing how a metagame progresses to a certain point that requires a different analysis at each and every juncture to choose the “best” deck. I actually believe he is completely correct in the assessment but I simply want to explore this train of thought somewhat further so that we may apply it to any format and not just the one we’ve been forced to play for what seems like this entire season.
This ABC analysis is a lot like Rock-Paper-Scissors but I think it is considerably more complicated than that as sometimes Rock can be the correct play in a Paper metagame, so to speak. So before we continue, allow me to give quick and clear definitions of what makes a deck A, B, or C.
A is the type of deck that is best when the metagame is undefined. This lack of definition generally only occurs at the very beginning of any given format where there are very few (if not zero) events to analyze the results of and thus your deck choice can be made on little more than assumption.
To use the start of this year as an example, the A deck would have been Mega Mewtwo/Garbodor. The deck saw the most hype going into the season and thus was the main target for many when creating their deck for Orlando Regionals where I played Mega Gardevoir to attempt to hard counter the A play while others turned to Darkrai/Giratina and even Gyarados to do so. Other decks that I think would fit this criteria would be Mega Rayquaza, Rainbow Road, and Volcanion, all of which (along with Mega Mewtwo) were mostly obvious pairings and had existed to a lesser extent in previous formats and so players already had a general feel for how to build the decks and what their strengths or weaknesses were.
If we accept the above definition for an A deck, then naturally the B deck is one created to oppose the A deck. If you operate on the assumption that the majority of players will have their attention primarily focused on A then the play becomes B.
Mega Gardevoir, Darkrai/Giratina, and Yveltal/Garbodor would be the best examples of a B if we continue to use the same format as an example. For instance, I played Gardevoir in attempt to counter nothing but Mewtwo as did the Darkrai/Giratina players but I would argue that Yveltal/Garbodor did not aim to target a singular deck and rather attempted to hedge against the format as a whole. This notion is different but I still believe Yveltal/Garb would be categorized as a B deck because it attempts to prey on the initial assumptions of the community.
A C deck is one that continues the logical methodology adopted by the B players and attempts to stay one step ahead and forces the metagame to keep on evolving.
Finally, there are a couple of decks that I (perhaps controversially) do not fit in any of the above definitions and simply exist on their own. For instance, Greninja, I argue, is not built to beat anything specific. This is not to say that the general trend of the deck does not have its advantages over certain things and clearly the lists fluctuate based on which of the three metagames you anticipate. Greninja has transformed itself through A, B, and C metagames where it went from playing Faded Town to Rough Seas to Silent Lab but none of these slight list alterations force the deck into any of the above groups. These decks exist on their own and are at their best when they are completely underestimated. So alongside Greninja, I believe that Gyarados and the Vileplume Toolbox deck are situated within this category as well. All three are adaptable for an expected metagame but are not themselves a byproduct of attempting to counter anything.
For the most part, I believe any format in the history of the game can be essentially reduced to this ABC-O model and while my examples are exclusively for Standard this year, I am struggling to think of a time where the format did not adhere to this general structure. Sometimes there might just be an A and a B and maybe we even arrive at a D-type deck but I think the game itself is at its healthiest when there are no clear groupings.
Now what remains is attempting to use this analysis to our advantage.
So if we accept the four definitions of possible decks listed above, choosing a deck is as simple as figuring out which metagame we are entering into and trying to counter it, right? Sadly, I believe this is incorrect and frankly too simple of a way to think about the metagame. On the mere assumption that A > B > C > A, it would only take one counter-example to throw a wrench into this train of thought and off the top of my head there are several that immediately come to mind, but if you can think of any other examples, I would love to hear about them and encourage you to post them in the comments and I will give you my thoughts whenever I can.
To highlight the further complication of this model, I would like to return use Mega Gardevoir as an example. As previously stated, Mega Gardevoir is a B deck but notably favored against other B decks. When my team and I came up with Mega Gardevoir for Orlando Regionals, I had not anticipated the popularity of Darkrai/Giratina or Yveltal/Garbodor and yet I “accidentally” piloted something that I believe to be 60-40 or better against both of those decks. How do we factor in this accidental luck into our analysis? Can one B deck always be better than the others?
Another problem can be seen with Mega Scizor, which is a hard counter and relies on a near perfect metagame to thrive. In general, it is impossible to build something that counters everything and in the case of Scizor, you end up losing to certains A‘s, B‘s, or C‘s depending on if your list was prepared enough.
Finally, I believe the ABC-O model operates on the assumption that every single player operates in a rational manner or is also considering the exact same model and it should go without saying that this will never be the case. Some players think very little about what they are going to play and just go with their guts or play what they like. It is impossible to calculate for these sorts of players which is why sometimes you can make the absolute best deck but have your day ruined by deviations or the unexpected player who decided to play Sceptile in a field of Volcanion and so on.
I think that the best way to go about this is to examine what is known as Nash equilibrium. This formulation is one of the absolute cruxes of game theory and has remained applicable to almost everything since its inception many years ago. It states:
“In game theory, the Nash equilibrium is a solution concept of a non-cooperative game involving two or more players in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only his or her own strategy.”
To put this into our own terms, if a player is aware of the ABC-O model and the expectations of the future metagame, then is there a proper deck to be found on the assumption no one will change their strategy. This is the “equilibrium” and I think in most cases, finding this answer is will always lead to the right deck choice for the metagame. More literally, let’s imagine that it is the night before a tournament and I am situated in a hotel room with three different friends from three different testing groups. All four of us are open about which deck we believe we will play for the next day but we have not turned in our deck lists so many things could possibly change. After all of our information is shared, players ask themselves: “Could anything be gained if I change my deck and the other three players do not change their deck?” If the answer is yes, then you have not found the equilibrium. Putting this back into our own terms, a deck that fits within Nash equilibrium is the one that could not possibly be better regardless of if everyone is playing A, B, C, or O or even an even split between the three.
The player with Nash’s deck is the one who rests easy regardless of what everyone else is playing. If you can gain nothing by changing your own strategy, then you have successfully found the deck worth playing. It should also be noted that this changes for each and every event but I think it should be clear how it requires us to use the ABC-O model and goes deeper for the best guess in regards to finding the “play.”
I won’t get too much into the nitty-gritty of the actual calculations for this formula though historically, my team and I have used such analysis in choosing our deck for the last two World Championships which resulted in a 2nd place and two top 32s. A proper objection here is that we cannot be certain how many (if any) will also choose to deviate or act outside of basic logic which is true, but the theory itself calculates for deviation and so ought to yield considerably more accurate results than simply countering A with B, B with C, and so on. There will always be a best deck but it will require intensive analysis and can be thrown into chaos if there are any decks you are not aware of before entering into a tournament. Because anyone can deviate, our choice will never be perfect but I believe that this approach allows us to make real and calculated decisions instead of relying on our guts.
So now that we have gotten that heavier stuff out of the way, I want to briefly go over the two League Cups I have been able to attend over the last two weeks. Currently I only have 167 Championship Points which I acknowledge is way behind where I need to be if I intend to earn another invite this year but I remain optimistic in my hunt for points. Maximizing League Cups is one of the best ways to do this and so I prepared for one in Expanded and one in Standard but unfortunately fell a little short on both occasions.
For the first, I decided to play Seismitoad/Crobat which has easily been my favorite deck of the past couple of years and one that I am convinced can thrive assuming Trevenant is in minimal supply. I also believed that the new Giratina promo can help against its tougher matchups (the aforementioned Trevenant and Greninja decks) and so after acquiring one, I settled on this list for my first League Cup:
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 35
Energy – 8
This list ought to appear incredibly similar to the lists that made top 4 at two separate Regionals earlier in the year as both of those were mostly created by Eric Gansman who I talked to to help me come up with this list. The “main” thing that is missing from the list is Ghetsis which I wholeheartedly believe to be overrated in the Expanded format. It seems like a staple in most lists, especially with conjunction with Jirachi-EX, but it strikes me as being incredibly luck based and unneeded from a deck that is already favored against the heavy Item/Battle Compressor decks.
In order to take full advantage of the Giratina, you unfortunately have to remove Silent Lab from the list, which is a notable absence, but the Virbank + Laser combination is incredibly strong against most decks and ideally should help you swing the Trevenant matchup.
The main thing I disliked in this list is the 1/1 split between Jirachi-EX and Shaymin-EX as your support Pokémon and again, I acknowledge that this is the norm in any given Toad/Bats list but I have never been in favor of it myself. This was the first time I opted to give it a try instead of playing 2 Shaymin-EX and I can say that I would have had a much better tournament with a 2nd Shaymin somewhere in the list. For the future, I think I want to cut something in order to play a 2/1 split for further consistency instead of being forced to rely on only 1 Shaymin and the hope that I will need a specific Supporter at some point within the game.
Briefly, here is my report from this Cup:
Though this is not a matchup I wanted to face with a Seismitoad deck, I’ve had enough experience against to be confident in my ability to beat it despite my inherent weakness to Grass Pokémon. Vespiquen/Vileplume has always been weak against things with consistent Energy removal and Lysandre plays and I have enough Zubats, Golbats, and Crobats to chump block with as I try to be annoying as possible throughout the game. In the first game, I made a large blunder where my opponent had played a Hex Maniac and I used Computer Search for an incorrect card forgetting that losing my Abilities for a turn would prevent me from gaining access to free retreat on my Zubat. I ended up losing this first game fairly easily but would crush my opponent in the second game and be just a few turns shy of winning the third and unfortunately end in a draw instead of a win.
Though Beedrill may be Grass type, its attack does a very small amount of damage and relies on the various Special Conditions it inflicts to do most of the damage. Super Scoop Up also provided any easy out to the poison and paralysis and I cruised through this match with minimal difficulty.
This mirror has always been one of my absolute least favorites to play and this specific set proved to be no different than expected. The game plan of either player is simply to hope that you can draw into your Energy-removal Supporters and keep up your stream of Quaking Punch and if you ever miss a beat while your opponent keeps up the lock, you immediately lose and unfortunately this is what happened in both my games. I would start Seismitoad and my opponent would start Zubat and I would already be subjected to needing to get out of the Active in order to remove the poison from an opening Laser and then I would play my Team Flare Grunt or Xerosic and my opponent would have the appropriate response though I would always struggle to find any answer to the same sort of plays.
My opponent’s list was not particularly good and I ran away with this first game with one massive Lugia-EX and many Sneaky Bites. After taking a very quick 6-0 in the first game, my opponent opted to concede the entire series.
This matchup can be difficult if your opponent is able to get Archeops on their first turn or simply build up multiple 3+ Energy Yveltal-EX but Quaking Punch often proves too difficult to persevere through and I took both games with relative easy never breaking the Item lock and hitting my fair amount of heads with Super Scoop Up.
Final: 3-1-1, 4th place
Unfortunately here, there was no top cut but 30 points is nothing to scoff at. The Toad/Bats player who beat me in Round 3 ended up winning the whole thing and if we were able to play a top 4 or top 8, the mirror really could’ve gone either way. If I learned anything from this tournament, it was merely that Toad/Bats is as strong as I expected it to be though I am unsure if Decidueye-GX will outclass it as a partner for Seismitoad in the coming weeks.
My next League Cup was Standard and after observing the success that Turbo Darkrai had in Athens, I decided to give it a try. I believed it to be incredibly strong and consistent though at the cost of being linear to a fault. Here’s the list I ended up with:
Pokémon – 9
Trainers – 39
Energy – 12
I based this list of Chris Siakala’s and Russell LaParre’s lists that won and placed in the top 16 in Athens but did make a few minor adjustments. I decided to play a 2/2 Stadium split instead of 2/1 or 3/1 to try and give myself more of an advantage against decks that relied heavily on Sky Field and to try and give myself more outs against any opposing player who went first and was able to place a Silent Lab of their own on the board. Outside of that, the only other oddity within the list is playing 1 Yveltal-EX instead of the 4th Darkrai-EX. I did this mostly because that is what I own and the logic did not seem terrible. Were I to run up against some stray Zygarde/Carbink deck, having one big Pokémon that did not have Fighting Weakness sounded smart to me though at the end of the day it did not matter at all. I think that the 4th Darkrai or a Super Rod would probably be better after taking the deck through a tournament but I am still not completely certain.
This was a newer player with a clearly unrefined deck and I took the game with ease. Not much to mention here though I did begin to notice that Darkrai’s general damage output is not as high as I had initially expected.
I was disappointed to be playing against an unfavorable matchup early but I knew it could be easily won if a couple of things went my way and that was essentially the story of the entire game. I was able to gain a handful of small advantages almost every turn as my opponent would miss an Energy drop here, fail to find a Spirit Link there, and also be forced to discard Fairy Drops early on. I was able to see both of my Parallel City in a timely manner, which greatly helps, and while this matchup is clearly horrendous, I squeaked out a win.
Without Garbodor, I knew this matchup would be close and I would likely have to try to find my Silent Labs as quickly as possible. I took initiative in the game and tried to Lysandre the Volcanion-EX he was setting up early instead of dealing with the non-EX Volcanion at all. Through this method, I had the tempo the entire game and honestly thought I had the match locked down until after I N’d my opponent to 4 and out of nowhere he was able to get a double Max Elixir and attachment onto a fresh Salamence-EX that I had no means to deal with and had certainly not played around. It took 4 Prizes in two turns and I now believe that I don’t think Turbo Darkrai has any shot against a deck that plays this card.
Mirrors in general are never too pleasant to play but there are some occasions where the matchup becomes methodical and rewarding for smart play. This match, sadly, was not one of those occasions and I got blown out of the water once again. My opponent had a faster opening and was able to Hex me turn 1 when I had nothing but a Hoopa to rely on and also drew into his 2 Exp. Shares within the first couple of turns. I am never too upset about losing anymore but it’s always a bummer to play a game that is so lacking in meaningful interactions.
This round, my opponent decided to forgo walling me with a Jolteon and instead opted to lead with Jolteon and power up a Mega Mewtwo in the back which proved very difficult to handle. However, my opponent was not careful with his Energy attachments and ending up discarding a couple of Lightning Energy early on and having 3–4 stacked on one Mega Mewtwo which allowed me to Team Flare Grunt off his last remaining Lightning from Jolteon which prevented him from ending the game with Flash Ray. From there, I was able to KO Jolteon and trade with the only Mewtwo he had powered up which led to a win.
Final: 3-2, 5th place
Like with the previous Cup, I may not have performed well but the deck I chose (and the opponent who beat me in the mirror) would end up winning the whole thing, which I guess means my deck choice wasn’t particularly poor though dealing with repeated poor performance is never enjoyable. I have one League Cup left for each format this quarter and I hope to be able to replace my current finishes with at least one win. I am not sure what I will end up playing for either of them but I will be looking forward to reporting on them in my next article.
I do apologize that I have little mention of Sun & Moon in this article but my next article comes out very soon in February and will be entirely devoted to my testings and findings within the new format. Currently, I have not been able to focus at all on any of the new cards so any thoughts I have would be mere ramblings rather than anything substantial.
I will say that I am a huge fan of Team Skull Grunt and look forward to testing it out in just about everything. I always love small cards that are unexpected and can lead to gaining small and strategic advantages throughout the game. Currently, my eyes are set on exploring Seismitoad/Decidueye for Expanded and some sort of Tauros deck for Standard.
I hope you have enjoyed this article today and as always, if you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you so please do not hesitate to leave them below.
Until next time!
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