We are running out of time for me to be a Pokédad to two Juniors! Only four tournaments left for us, I believe.
The last time I wrote was three months ago and at the time, I was in a bit of a salty state about the variance of Pokémon and feeling bad for my kiddos due to the variance. Shortly thereafter, the prescience of those statements hurt me so hard they burned. I want to talk about our bad decisions and bad luck at a few tournaments first, then talk about the good luck we had at a tournament and what we did there to illuminate some deck-building strategy concepts and try to make our own luck. So it will be a bit of Poké-dad philosophy followed by a bit of serious Pokémon theory.
Juniors Variance Continues to Be Brutal
Carlos Pero has been advocating a new model of top cut where there are no bubbles. I am 110% on that train, even though it is too late for my oldest son. In his final year in Juniors, we have attended seven large events, which is an extraordinary amount for us. He has made top cut at four of them. But consider this: he has only lost one round, at most, of Swiss in every tournament he has attended. A single loss in every tournament, cutting at approximately half. I am sure many Masters would agree, but it seems that consistently high-quality play is not enough. Heck, we said this at the National Championship. You have to just get red hot. A single, tiny misstep has derailed us from multiple tournaments. Some of those missteps were self-inflicted, but when you go 27-5-4 in Swiss over the course of seven tournaments (not including IDs), you expect to do better than missing cut at half the tournaments you go to. I look at that record and I don’t even understand how it is possible. I feel bad for both my guys at the number of cuts they have bubbled out of.
So if we were salty coming off Fort Wayne and London, Dallas offered us hope for redemption. We were super stoked to be going because our friends Kaden and Liam Hyatt would be there and they are Poké-BFFs for us. My kids were ready to move into their room with them if that was what it took to make sure they were spending every minute together.
Also, we felt pretty good about our deck choice. My oldest planned to play Houndoom because we felt confident that every Junior in the universe would play Yveltal. Our list was nothing special, but we thought it had good matchups vs. the meta. We felt great about this deck choice going into the tournament.
Halliburton The Younger
Rd 1 — Jacob A. — W
Rd 2 — Alexander O. — W
Rd 3 — William W. — L
Rd 4 — Ethan W. — L
Rd 5 — Aaron G. — W
Rd 6 — Hayden W. — W
Final: 4-2, 16th place
Halliburton The Older
Rd 1 — Abram B. — L
Rd 2 — Mack B. — W
Rd 3 — Alexander O. — W
Rd 4 — Micaiah H. — W
Rd 5 — Ethan W. — W
Rd 6 — Regan R. — ID
Final: 4-1-1, 9th place
For some reason, I can’t find my more detailed notes on this tournament, but the important thing to take away was this: We ID’d and bubbled 9th. Our only loss was first round against Typhlosion because it had 36 Energy cards, none Special, and attacked for a single Energy. We got to the 6th round and we knew our resistance was terrible, but we were on Table 2 and Regan’s father was super confident that we were in good shape, so I told my son it was OK to ID and we whiffed cut. Table 3 and 4 ID’d, so there were tons of 5-1-1’s and it turns out that we were the worst of them.
Honestly, I could not sleep that night.
I was deeply troubled by how I let my son down for weeks after the fact. Even now, as I write this, I am ashamed when my son peeks over my shoulder because this hurt me to the core.
I felt like that was some of my worst parenting ever.
I am confident that we would have won Round 6 and I didn’t even give my son the chance.
Walker took 16th — I won’t bore you with the details — giving him four straight Regional Top 16 finishes with only a single Regionals giving Top 16 points. It hurt me that a guy could have that much consistent success and be on the outside looking in for a Worlds invite.
So Dallas was excruciatingly painful. The only thing nice about it was getting barbecue with the Ng-Guzman team and watching a fellow Pokédad cut Top 32.
Cheating, Ruling, Judging
I wanted to take a moment to talk about cheating, judging, etc. I listened to the most recent Super Rod-cast about cheating in the game and it really spoke to me. I think there is a real quandary in Juniors between the want to be merciful to young children, not handing out game losses left and right, and the need to enforce fairness and justice. Pokémon, in this regard, is difficult to compare to other competitive games because Pokémon is for the kids! There is, I believe (I don’t really know, not gonna lie), a much bigger emphasis on Juniors in Pokémon than in other card games. So when Super Rod-cast talks about how in Magic, everything is basically a Game Loss instantly, I can see how one might not wish to apply this same stringency to Pokémon. Conversely, there are problems in the game and the lack of clear-cut rulings in some cases and the desire to be merciful in others brings about occasionally capricious outcomes.
While almost any experienced Master can speak to instances of cheating, I wanted to just share one or two stories to illustrate the complexity of the situation. Two years ago, my son was playing at a State Championship and he was paired against a player that a friend of ours had caught palming cards out of his discard just one week prior at another State Championship. With that in mind, we were on the lookout. And lo and behold, my son catches him palming his ACE SPEC back into his hand from his discard. We call a judge, the opponent says it was a mistake and he was confused about his discard, and they rule it a warning with no penalty.
Think about this: We were watching! As people noted when Eryk palmed cards on stream: How many times did this kid palm cards into his hand against less vigilant Junior players? Absent a reason to think otherwise, one would assume every round. And what was his penalty? More or less nothing. The lack of continuity from tournament to tournament meant he could get caught doing basically the most vile thing you could do in play twice and they write it off to “he’s a kid!” — despite the fact that he was top 16 North America at the time.
Judges are faced with a challenge — treat Table 1 the same as Table 100, or treat them differently. If you treat them differently, rulings feel capricious. If you treat them the same, then rulings at the Junior level do not differentiate between innocent mistakes by people that deserve TLC and a hug and malicious intentions. I definitely would prefer to err on the side of more aggressive penalties — frankly, I would be okay with “be mean to more senior Juniors” — but maybe I would have felt differently three years ago.
It was incredibly upsetting that we saw an opponent cheat because we heard he would cheat and we watched for it, then there is no penalty.
Contrast that with my experience at our first Nationals. My oldest had never played in a Best of 3 tournament before, so when he won the first round and second round went to time, his opponent told him it was a tie and they marked it a tie on the ballot. When we realized his error and approached the judges with the request that they simply ask both opponents if the ballot was marked in error, and if the opponents agree, correct it, we were met with a stone wall. And judges treat this as “They are kids, they will never make that mistake again! It is a learning experience!” This is a line we have heard dozens of times. I doubt “learning experience” is a line they ever use with Masters. What gets me riled up about that phrase is that it implies that the Junior rounds are less important than the Masters rounds. The thing that jumps out at me is that this is a correctable mistake. Now, TOs would claim that this risks putting tournaments off schedule, but my son missed cut because of that tie. So one could say that they ruined his tournament for the sake of keeping the tournament on schedule. You can say you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, but this is a slippery slope. They re-pair all the time. That is basically the same thing as our request. I have always thought that if two Masters approached the desk immediately after the round and said they filled out the ballot wrong, more consideration would have to be given then my Junior received.
Final story: In Dallas, prior to the last round, I saw a Junior ask another Junior to scoop to him. No lie. What is worse, the incredibly sweet, innocent Junior then agreed to scoop! He was bullied! When I told the judges, and the judges heard it from the player, and the judges heard it from the player’s parent, they ruled that because no judge had heard it, nothing could be done. As Donald Trump would say, “VERY SAD.”
Now I recognize, all of these situations are things that can go either way and maybe I am in the wrong on all of them. Hey, hopefully it makes for a lively comment section.
For Georgia, it was just me and my oldest. His brother did not want to miss his basketball game. I enjoyed spending some one-on-one time with my big guy and we very much enjoyed relaxing in beautiful Athens, GA. I tried to approach Athens with low expectations: We lacked confidence in our deck choice, I felt like we were destined to not get a break this year, and we just have to smell the roses this year as we wait patiently to see how it all plays out.
We were at a loss for what deck to run. We felt like things had played out in Dallas EXACTLY how we had expected them to play out. If we had cut, we felt like we could easily have gone all the way. The result was that we had let the cat out of the bag, but we didn’t have a new, better cat to play at the next tournament. We decided to just play Houndoom again, even though we didn’t feel particularly great about the choice.
Halliburton The Older
Rd 1 — Aida P. (Jolteon/Yanmega/Giratina) — WW
Rd 2 — Oscar A. (M Ray) — LL — Both games he hit a wave of Mega Turbo to power up an M Ray without Special Energy and then ran us over.
Rd 3 — Alexander W. (Yveltal) — WW
Rd 4 — Roan G. (Yveltal) — LWW
Rd 5 — Shawn C. (Vespi/Zeb) — WW
Top 8 — Sebastian M. (Volcanion) — LL
In case you were wondering how awful the Volcanion matchup is, not only do they have built-in acceleration to recover Energy from the discard, they hit for Weakness. This Top 8 match was over in about 15 minutes. Better pairings would have helped us a bit, but there you go.
Going back to Carlos Pero’s “No Bubble” top cut concept, I want to take a moment to name-check Shawn Cardella, a great, great Pokémon player. He went undefeated through the first three rounds of Swiss and thought he could ID his way into cut. Unfortunately, he ID’d Round 4 vs. a very favorable matchup for him: M Ray. Then in Round 5, he found himself down-paired and we had to play it out. Now he is playing a highly unfavorable matchup in Houndoom and he loses Round 5 and bubbles cut. Now, one could say that this was self-inflicted, but it certainly sucks. It would have been great for Shawn to have felt like he had a chance.
We didn’t go to Anaheim, which is a bummer, but there are financial constraints on most people. The Top 4 North American players all attended and performed amazing, further entrenching their spots in the Top 4 (following it up with trips to Australia and soon trips to Brazil). Our failure to get an iota of good luck at Orlando, Dallas, etc. meant we were on the outside looking in. Our consistent failure to cut at tournaments had cost us a trip to Australia and looking at the point situation coming out of Anaheim confirmed that the same people would be getting the trip to Brazil.
Andrew Wamboldt noted recently on HeyFonte that this same pattern is manifesting in Masters and suggested some solutions. It is interesting because there is definitely a situation where attending London and performing well sets you up for free trips the rest of the year because of the sheer amount of points distributed.
Regardless, we are excited about a new format and feel like we have an advantage because we have played a zillion different decks this year vs. our peers that have dialed in on a single deck. While my oldest played M Gardevoir, picking his deck the morning of the tournament, my youngest played Lurantis/Vileplume, a deck we had been working on for a month. Both of my kids went undefeated in Swiss, so the fact that my youngest swept through the tournament to his first ever Regional Top 8 is notable. Before I give you details on how we ended up, I wanted to talk a bit about how we ended up constructing that deck.
We didn’t go to Anaheim, so all of the sites and all of the chat online were about Standard Sun & Moon decks, but we couldn’t have cared less because we knew that our next tournament was two weeks after that playing Expanded. We asked around and tried to find friends that were in the same boat and one friend that we found was Dean Nezam. He told us that he and Fred Hoban had been working on a list for Lurantis/Vileplume. We had read the recent Charizard Lounge article on the same concept in Standard so we were eager to fool around with it.
The list they gave us was similar in many respects to Andrew’s list, with some adaption for the format. Instead of 3 Acro Bikes, 1 of the Ns, and 2 of the Lysandre, it had add 3 Battle Comps, a 2nd Level Ball, a 2nd Revitalizer, and a 4th Trainers’ Mail.
I wrote about our World’s experience playing a bad version of a very similar deck — Zygarde/Vileplume. We felt like, in retrospect, the challenge Zygarde had was that it took a very, very long time to actually take KOs and we had tweaked the deck where a turn one Plume was unreliable. Lurantis has some of the same issues (which is why it appears, I believe, that Decidueye will end up being the more popular, more effective build), but the ability to Chloroscythe addressed some of those issues. Further, the clunkiness of having both Zygarde and Carbink BREAK, in addition to Vileplume, is simplified by just having a single attacker. But as I said at the time, we had tested a significant amount with this deck and I had some opinions going in. One was that a mix of Level Balls, Battle Compressors, and Revitalizers was likely meh. The trick is this: When you Battle Compress a Vileplume line, the rest of the time you are trying to hit Revitalizers and Level Balls are simply clogging your deck. Similarly, if you prize a pair or something and realize you only have one Gloom in deck when you play Battle Compressor, you end up not Battle Compressing it because you have more outs with Level Ball and just randomly drawing into it then you do hitting Revitalizer. So all of a sudden, Compressors and Revitalizers are clogging your deck instead of being outs to Vileplume.
So trying to decide how you want to get the Vileplume out, unless you are playing a Vespiquen deck where you run an exceptionally thick Vileplume line, becomes a structural decision where streamlining the deck is a trade-off between Compressor/Revitalizer and Level Balls. I think the difference is either way you need a two-card combo to get two pieces, but with Level Balls, each one you play gives you fewer outs to the next piece, but Compressor/Revitalizer requires you draw into them in a proper order, however the act of Compressing increases the odds that you draw into the next piece by thinning your deck.
Further, a series of Battle Compressors actually sets this particular deck up for even more success. You can jettison all of the Gloom/Vileplume line, you can jettison Lurantis if you have Revitalizers in hand for them, you can discard Energy for future Flower Supply, and you can discard Items that you anticipate not finding playable in the future once the Vileplume hits the field.
This is a powerful combination. The idea that at the end of T1 you could have a deck that is a few Energy, a few Fomantis/Lurantis, and AZs and Lysandres while your opponent has a deck clogged with Items is incredibly strong.
Given this, we ended up with a streamlined list that we sent back to Dean where we cut the Level Balls and maxed out the Battle Compressors and Revitalizers.
Now, Andrew had popularized the concept of a 2-3-3 Vileplume line. His thinking at the time was “if you have a bad Sycamore, you might discard Gloom/Plume pieces, but you just bench the Oddish” so you never have problems getting an Oddish. Foolishly, we should have immediately realized that with a Compressor/Revitalizer model, you can go 2-2-2 and it is fine. Throwing Glooms and Vileplumes in the discard was your plan regardless. Dean responded shortly that he was seeing great results with our new, linear strategy and apparently passed this list to Mike Fouchet, who later, apparently, passed it to Ross Cawthon. Everyone later realized that going to a 2-2-2 Plume line was the best strategy, with people generally filling those 2 slots in with Acro Bikes. You see Ross Cawthon also cut the 4th Lurantis, the 4th Compressor and the 10th Energy and add 3 techs: 1 N, 1 Pal Pad, and 1 Silver Bangle.
Frankly, the Bangle is genius and the fact that you can attach a Bangle to a GX is not something that occurred to us. It dramatically improves the numbers Lurantis-GX can hit for. Pal Pad was lackluster in our testing. We added the 2 Acro Bikes. Acro Bikes are strong in several ways for this deck:
- Discarding cards is great. In that regard, they are similar to Compressors. Discarding Energy or Grass Pokémon is more or less no problem. So it is very rare that you draw two cards and discarding one is bad.
- You can’t Trainers’ Mail for Trainers’ Mail. Frequently you are digging for a Compressor or a Revitalizer and you play Trainers’ Mail. Acro Bike gives you more outs to draw from a Trainers’ Mail besides Ultra Ball for Shaymin or a Sycamore. It is great to go deeper in your deck. Chaining Trainers’ Mails and Acro Bike is something every Night March or Vespiquen player is comfortable with and loves.
Here was our final list:
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 33
Energy – 10
I have to tell you, this deck list was an absolute joy to write. It is so consistent it writes itself.
So here are the gory details.
Halliburton The Younger
Rd 1 — Sylvia S. (Yveltal) — WLW — T1 Plume Game 1, T1 Archeops/immediate scoop Game 2, T1 Plume Game 3.
Rd 2 — Le Han Z. (M Gardevoir) — WW
Rd 3 — Oscar A. (Yveltal) — WLW — Exact same as Rd 1; Plume/Archeops/Plume on T1.
Rd 4 — BROTHER — ID
As inevitable as death, my two kids are paired against each other. I tell them they can ID or play, I don’t care. They ID.
Rd 5 — Triston M. (Turbo Dark) — WW
Prizes both Oddish both games, but combination of Lurantis and AZ overwhelms his opponent. This really speaks to how the bulkiness of GX Pokémon is going to dramatically re-shape the game.
Rd 6 — Wesley C. (Yveltal/Darkrai/Techs) — WW
Rd 7 — Sebastian M. — ID
Top 8 — Sebastian E. (Yveltal) — LL
Game 1, dead hand. Game 2, prized 3 FoGP and Comp Search. Games ended quickly. I attribute this to the fact that immediately prior to Top 8, we had to resleeve from green Ultimate Guard sleeves to red Ultimate Guard sleeves. Our theme was off.
Best news of the tournament: With this Top 8, suddenly my youngest has a path to his Worlds invite. The grind pays off.
Halliburton The Older
Rd 1 — Aidan M. (Xerneas) — WW
Rd 2 — Jakob M. (PlumeBox) — WLW — Prized a Gardevoir Game 2 so Glaceon was able to lock him out of the game.
Rd 3 — Jack M. (Dragons) — WW
Rd 4 — BROTHER — ID
Rd 5 — Regan R. (Rainbow Road) — WW
T1 Ghetsis devastates opponent. Late-game Hex Maniac paired with killing the Active can create situations where it is difficult for them to get the Energy to stream attackers without access to Ho-Oh tricks.
Rd 6 — Micaiah Hall (Raikou/Eels/Gallade) — WW
Rd 7 — James K. — ID
Top 8 — Lucas M. (Rainbow Road) — WLW
Fighting Fury Belts are very annoying in this deck because you either have to find Rattata or you have to discard your entire Bench to KO a 1-Prize Xerneas. Conversely, T1 Ghetsis is a strong play that can devastate opponents and Hexing them and then taking their Energy off the board can put them in a position where they struggle to attack.
We had to resleeve here as well, but we went from red Ultimate Guard to red Ultimate Guard, so no mojo was lost in the making of this Top 8.
Top 4 — James K. (Yveltal) — WW
These games played out perfectly for us, finding Hex to get around Archeops and using Klefki FFI to disrupt damage numbers.
Finals — Sebastian E. (Yveltal) — LL
Game 1 came down to a Hypnotoxic Laser. My son has to attack to win, Sebastian flips head on sleep, Liam flips tails to wake up, so opponent has 75% chance of losing on coin flips and, of course, he gets everything he needs. Variance! Game 2 my son started Jirachi and had to Sycamore 2 VS Seeker T1, meaning he couldn’t find the Hex to break Archeops lock to get there. It was his first Jirachi start all tournament so we felt like we probably had it coming. Bad luck is the defining feature of our year.
The Junior Meta
It has been interesting to watch the meta evolve over the last few months. When last I wrote, Yveltal ruled the meta and that was true through Dallas as well. People had started running more Yveltal-EX and more Enhanced Hammers to improve the mirror, which had the side effect of driving out Special Energy decks that didn’t OHKO (Vespiquen and Gyarados being examples of OHKO decks that can sacrifice a DCE for 2 Prizes).
Turbo Dark and Vespiquen rose up as counters to Yveltal, but the release of Sun & Moon impacted Yveltal even more. Because Fright Night Yveltal doesn’t counter GX Pokémon and because Yveltal-EX is less compelling against this new army of 200+ HP Pokémon, Yveltal is much less impactful on the format. Without Hammers/Garb/Flare Grunt being widespread in the format, Juniors that adopted Giratina saw rapid success. Giratina combined with Xerneas or Darkrai gives more rapid damage acceleration then Turbo Dark. Thus we have come full-circle to a meta not dissimilar from Orlando where Volcanion (with more Grass Pokémon and less Garbodor in the format), Dark/Tina, and Mega Mewtwo all showed well.
While Alex, in his meta analysis, suggested decks like Gyarados and Gardevoir, I suspect we will see two trends:
- Juniors will continue to trail the Masters meta, picking up Decidueye/Vileplume (although it is a much dicier play in Bo1 League Cups), which counters Turbo Dark, or play Turbo Dark itself. More Mega Mewtwo and Volcanion will emerge as both are natural counters that Juniors will get from Masters looking to counter the BDIF. Further, Volcanion, M Mewtwo, and Turbo Dark are all extremely playable, very forgiving decks that don’t punish you brutally for less than exceptional resource management. You may lose, but it is rarely catastrophic. If you are going to start playing a deck like Gyarados, you might as well play Decidueye.
- There has been an emergence of Fairy/Tina exclusively in Juniors, which counters Yveltal and Turbo Dark fairly effectively, can fight M Mewtwo with Despair Ray, and has few counters. Expect people to continue to play it.
Pokémon is hard. Fortunately, my son continues to find the joy of just playing and we have been testing a bit more of late than we did through December and January. Playing Pokémon is fun! As I said in my last article, it is very challenging to find yourself in a situation where your story arc is not a rising denouement. Our last year in Juniors has been hard, filled with setbacks as much as success. Even now, I recognize that a strong North American Intercontinental, like last year’s US Nats, will be important for us to even make Top 8 this year.
We have two more Regionals: Utah and Virginia. Wish us luck! We need it.
Speaking of luck, I would also like to take a moment to wish Adam all the luck in the world in whatever he endeavors to do next. It has been a pleasure to work with him since day one of my Pokédad journey and that is why I continue to write for SixPrizes. Further, his work has made this my number one destination for great Poké-content.