Salt Lake City just wrapped up, and with it, Volcanion managed to notch its second major victory this season, with both coming post-Sun & Moon. While I was unable to attend, our own Christopher Schemanske was able to put up a Top 32 showing. His article is coming later in the week, and with it, some better analysis of the tournament overall. He’ll also have more time to digest the metagame and its shifts from Australia. I’m first, though, which means I get dibs on the peculiar decks that made cut.
Amidst a field strangled by Decidueye, we had three stars try to make their case: Gyarados, Umbreon/Decidueye, and, perhaps the most shocking, Greninja. Discussing these three is my reward, and to complete my indulgence, I’ll bore you with more of that signature Slutsky ramblin’. Luckily for me, these three decks really help emphasize the point I make in the second part of this article, so let’s fly, you fools!
While I’m not totally privy to the overall metagame as I wasn’t present to witness it, I can get a snapshot of it from the Top 32: lots of Decidueye/Vileplume, Volcanion, Turbo Dark, and a smattering of other meta decks. Boooooooooring! Looking at those three unique decks, though, and you’ll see each one struggles greatly somewhere. Gyarados and Greninja get obliterated by Decidueye, while Umbreon gets run over by Volcanion. Why play those decks when they have such serious faults?
Out of Left Field: SLC Surprises
In Greninja’s case, the answer is the same as it’s always been: Greninja can beat almost any deck when set up, and against most EX decks, it shines, trading incredibly favorably: Turbo Dark, Volcanion, Lapras and Rayquaza are all matchups where Greninja shines…assuming you don’t brick. In almost every match, you’ll go down early, N, then mount a comeback and win.
While Vileplume isn’t actually too much of a problem for Greninja (it has historically always had a strong Plume matchup), the combination of Vileplume and Decidueye is more than enough to put that deck out of commission…or so we thought! It is likely that the Greninja was able to dodge most of the Decidueye during the first day, preying on favorable matchups. Unfortunately, in Day 2, there was far less room to hide and the Owls came to feast.
Greninja and Decidueye-based decks actually have pretty similar matchups, given that they’re pretty similar decks (bulky Pokémon with powerful damage-dealing Abilities and moderately strong attacks). In theory, this would mean that Greninja should be primed for success. The problem here is that anytime Greninja would be a strong play in this meta, Decidueye is likewise a strong play, and because other players leaning toward Decidueye are thinking the same thing, that means you’ll have auto-losses lurking in the field.
The decks have the same general level of variance as far as draws go, but Greninja now has the added variance of Decidueye, a wildly popular archetype. I am biased and hate to admit it, but Decidueye really does it better, right now. Regardless, Greninja still more than made its mark, fighting into Day 2. I commend Alex Krekeler for having the stones to stick with it and am extremely curious to see how he approached the deck in this green format. Christopher will have a look at a list on Wednesday.
Gyarados is actually a deck that’s already had success so far in this format, making it to Day 2 in Anaheim and the finals of Sheffield, before falling to Decidueye. Decidueye is unwinnable for Gyarados, for obvious reasons. Decidueye’s popularity should, therefore, kill off any hope of Gyarados. Yet, again, someone bit their thumb at the haters and proved that Gyarados can still find success — and why wouldn’t it? It goes without saying that Gyarados handles Volcanion, and against most of the rest of the field, trades super favorably. It’s able to hit up to 220 as a non-EX! Volcanion ultimately winning the tournament and showing up in predictable numbers is proof that Gyarados wasn’t necessarily a bad play, provided it dodged Decidueye. Day 1, I assume Gyarados was able to dance around the Owls, preying on Volcanion and its ilk.
The gamble here is pretty calculated: despite Volcanion winning Oceania, many still regarded the deck as mediocre (a viewpoint I share, actually, even today), and one that would not have an effect on the numbers of Decidueye/Vileplume. For many, this meant that Decidueye would be the deck to beat, and Volcanion wouldn’t have any more impact on the metagame than it’s ever had. For Gyarados, however, he bet on the opposite.
The healthy amount of Volcanion in the second day is likely an extrapolation of the meta in general. While not an overwhelming amount, there was likely more than enough Volcanion on the first day for Gyarados to feast. Of course, Volcanion isn’t the only matchup Gyarados would like to see, but I have no doubt that this was the primary motivation behind the choice, and a strategy that’s worked all too often this season. Like Greninja, however, Day 2 was a dark day for Gyarados, as it likely found itself in the Owl’s nest.
Here’s the list Jose Marrero used to take 9th place in Anaheim:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 44
Energy – 4
While the Salt Lake list may be a little different, I think most Gyarados decks nowadays have fairly similar builds. Repeatedly using Teammates to stream Gyarados is essential, and the deck packs some supplementary draw (Octillery, Acro, Lucky Helmet, Shaymin) to assist on the turns you do Teammates. I’d consider cutting Tauros in exchange for something like another Dive Ball to increase the consistency of the deck and make it move a bit faster. Alternatively, a Hex Maniac might be worth exploring in pursuit of a fighting chance against Decidueye. However, I think that’s still a lost cause and you might as well just accept it.
This is maybe the most interesting deck in Day 2, from an unbiased/general standpoint. There’s some mild synergy between these two, I suppose, in that Decidueye turns Shadow Bullet’s 30-snipe into a more potent number and generally boosts the perceived power level of an otherwise-underwhelming attack. Even Strafe gets a boost here, “hitting” for higher numbers and granting a beefy target in Decidueye to skip into.
While I don’t know the list, I imagine it also ran at least some semblance of a basic attacker, likely Tauros-GX or Lugia-EX, to provide some of the utility that more conventional Decidueye decks yield. Other than this, though, I don’t really know why the two were paired together. Decidueye has much better partners than Umbreon (Vileplume, obviously), and Umbreon is generally pretty underwhelming. Perhaps Decidueye is actually the answer Umbreon has needed to compete in today’s format, which would be a welcome addition, as Umbreon is a very cool card. Dark Call-GX is actually a very strong GX attack, when correctly timed, and Decidueye can provide you a bit of ammo on the turn you use it to make up for not attacking.
I am curious to see if this deck was based off, at least in part, the Umbreon/Vileplume deck from a recent European Regional. The theory with that deck was a fast trainer lock to slow the game down to Umbreon’s level, where Shadow Bullet is a strong attack. I actually tried that deck out when it was initially posted online, because it struck me as a genuinely very interesting deck. My testing was…less than successful, as I found it to be wildly inconsistent and, frankly, quite bad (not to disparage the creator or anyone who enjoys it, because it is a very cool deck that’s just not for me).
Umbreon/Decidueye seems much more consistent, though, as you have access to trainers. I’m not sure what the matchup spread for it is, but I imagine Volcanion and that quad Lapras deck (one that I think is, likewise, quite bad — something that I am in stark contrast with some of our other writers on) are extremely unfavorable. As was the case with the previous two, Umbreon likely dodged its poor matchups thanks to a larger field Day 1 and ran out of places to hide on the second day, as Volcanion and Lapras cleaned it up.
Ultimately, more than the others, this is likely just a pet deck that happened to have strong matchups somewhere in the field, and one the pilot felt was rewarding enough to believe in. As I’ll discuss below, I think this is totally acceptable, and a welcomed change.
Pokémon – 21
1 Tech Attacker
Trainers – 29
Energy – 10
I don’t know if this is anywhere close to the actual list, but I based it largely off of a Decidueye/Vileplume list, effectively substituting Vileplume for Umbreon. The lack of Item lock should make it more consistent as well. Feel free to lower the Decidueye count and add other attackers or different consistency cards.
Well, that’s what I’ve got on Salt Lake. Look forward to more analysis later on in the week, and be prepared for my favorite part of this article!
Matching Up Favorably
In my last article, I kinda cut loose on the format. Feel free to read that diatribe of mine; let me know what you think. I’ll tell you that since then, my thoughts haven’t really changed. I still find both formats to be absolute garbage, and I am eagerly awaiting the next set and the release of Tool removal. I don’t want to talk about that anymore, though, because it depresses me. What I do want to touch on is an unhealthy consequence of those formats, and more importantly, what I think players aren’t doing to address it.
Both Expanded and Standard are rigidly matchup based, probably more so than any other time I can think of. Yes, the game has been steadily progressing to this point for a while, but I think it is more polarizing now than it’s ever been. If I’m playing Darkrai and you’re playing Decidueye/Vileplume, I will likely lose the match before I draw a card, if I lose the flip. If I’m playing Mewtwo and you’re playing Gardevoir, I will likely lose the match before I draw a card, if you have a strong open. There are exceptions in every instance; even the ones that I mentioned, but for every deck, there are one or two tangible and unavoidable auto-losses — this is a well known and accepted fact.
When players think back to the golden days of Pokémon, they think of how tech cards could be used to remedy poor matchups. LuxChomp, the BDIF in the Majestic Dawn – Call of Legends format struggled with Vilegar, a deck that Trainer locked from the very beginning (sound familiar?).
To combat this, LuxChomp often included cards like Dialga G LV.X or Blaziken FB, cards that could either negate trainer lock or disrupt the opponent’s field (many of you may be newer and unfamiliar with these cards and interactions, but know that the specifics themselves are largely irrelevant to this discussion, so don’t feel bad). While this didn’t outright flip the match, it did provide a serious boost, sometimes shifting a matchup as much as 5% points, which can be pretty significant.
Fast forward back to today’s game, and we have none of that. Deck building in recent years has been very simplistic, because the entire game is centered around one thing: Shaymin-EX. As a result, every deck relies on virtually the exact same engine, often times down to the exact counts: Volcanion, Mewtwo and Turbo Dark are decks with very different strategies, yet they all run 4 Sycamore, 2-3 N, 2 Lysandre, 2 Shaymin, 1 Hoopa, 4 VS Seeker, 1-2 singleton supporters (Olympia, Delinquent, etc).
Again, there are slight variations, but for the most part, you could keep those cards sleeved, change the colors of the deck, and no one would be the wiser. This means that the game has very little, if any room, for significant alterations that can affect matchup percentages because that engine is the only viable one. Further, the engine has one speed, (“GO!!”) and any changes you could make to help a matchup would tremendously slow you down, which will cost you everywhere else. Turbo Dark could theoretically survive against a deck like Decidueye/Vileplume by including more Supporters, Olympia, Yveltal XY, etc., but doing so would mean you would be drastically slower than decks like Volcanion: all-but guaranteeing a loss there as a result.
Decks cannot be built very differently, so they are simply exploited by another matchup in the field. None of this is new, and I think a lot of people generally just accept this as fact. Where the problem lies, then, is what people don’t do to address it. I think that a lot of choices in this format are motivated by this fear. The best way I can explain this is with an analogy of a deck that’s had an interesting life story: Solgaleo/Lurantis. The deck’s beginning starts in an Elite Trainer Box — seriously, it’s in the booklet — which is why I affectionately refer to it as ETB.
The deck is a powerhouse, capable of defeating many of the game’s top decks…provided it sets up. The reason why this deck sees virtually no play whatsoever, though, is simple: Volcanion, and to a lesser extent, Vespiquen. Volcanion is the dictionary definition of an auto-loss (I always joke that Volcanion can be beat if they just don’t play any cards), for obvious reasons. Vespiquen is likewise very bad, with or without Flareon, just because it’s an extremely powerful non-EX deck and trades favorably against ETB.
I and other friends put the deck through rigorous testing leading up to Anaheim (our own Alex Hill even flirted with it briefly, but set it aside due to an abysmal Vespiquen matchup). When the dust settled, only Drew Kennett had the stones to stick with it, piloting to a Top 16 finish.
Funnily enough, I had the deck 100% sleeved and had a list written out for it, in my bag, in the venue, and was considering it up until the runner asked for my decklist.
At that point, I chickened out, switched to Mewtwo, bombed the tournament, and the rest is history. Last weekend, I had a double-header of League Cups. After Anaheim, I decided to largely give up on pursuing an invite, freeing me to play anything I wanted, and that meant Solgaleo. On Saturday, I again had the deck and list 100% ready to go, showed up, discovered a 30 person field with about 8 Volcanion, chickened out, played Mewtwo, then bombed the tournament (notice a trend here?). On Sunday, I again showed up with the deck and list 100% ready to go, assumed there’d be 3-4 Volcanion in this 20 person field, and decided to go with my heart this time: consequences be damned.
What happened next was… quite honestly, a pretty startling revelation. I think there were 22 players, and of them, I believe three Volcanion and one Vespiquen, which is about 18% of the field; in a small tournament like this, that many auto-losses is a veritable death sentence.
That Sunday, however, TOM was kind to me: not only did I avoid every single one of them, none of them made cut! The shakedown of the top 8 was a dream field for me, and I managed to pilot it to the finals before being defeated by Turbo Dark, an auto-win (ironic, huh!), taking my Cities + League Cup finals record to a new low of 0-12. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I took a gamble that was so unnecessary given the lax nature of the tournament, and yet had it pay off so resoundingly. If anything, Sunday was a thought experiment, and my thoughts were completely validated. If you’re going to take away anything from this month’s rant, it’s this:
If you are considering playing a deck that you think is primed to do well (assuming you avoid an auto-loss) you should absolutely play the deck.
This line of thought is honestly the final stop for a lot of players before they decide on a deck, and I think a lot of players chicken out. So many times I have talked to people who were considering X deck, were scared of Y, played Z instead, did poorly, and retrospectively figured they should have just gone with X anyway. This fear of deck Y often drives people to drop their preferred “pet” deck and settle with a deck that’s more 50-50 on the field (such as Mewtwo or Yveltal).
However, this means that people choosing to play a 50-50 deck are forcing themselves into a corner, eschewing any discernable advantage with the hopes of simply running hot all weekend. They’ve taken away their option of capitalizing on strong matchups in exchange for the perceived lower volatility. In reality, 50-50 decks still have the same level of variance as you with regards to draws, and don’t have any extra losses to give over the course of the tournament. Given that your perceived ceiling is greater with your “pet” deck, is the tradeoff of going back to a 50-50 deck really all that valuable?
For Expanded, I use this old adage when discussing decks: “It doesn’t matter what meta call you make, because it’s the wrong one. Just hope you get lucky.” In Anaheim, I only played one Volcanion, and that was because I had lost the round before, to Decidueye (an auto-win for Solgaleo); had I played the deck there, I would have been 3-0 at that point, in a field more favorable than not to Solgaleo. Had Drew won his win and in, he would have faced Turbo Dark (or Dark/Dragons) all the way into the finals, and very likely could have won the entire event.
While Drew ultimately suffered from the harsh realities of a Stage 2 deck in a format patently incapable of supporting them, the fact remains that he chose a deck with much higher peaks and valleys, and was rewarded for it. Greninja has been a successful Stage 2 deck this year, with those same peaks and valleys, and the story there is the same: players rewarded for going with their gut, as opposed to listening to that fear, and striking gold.
When figuring general Day 1 records with a deck, many good players generally think to give one game in a series to poor draws, and one match to variance (either multiple dead-draws, or whatever). I think including hitting an auto-loss should be considered a variable trait, and therefore should simply be accounted for as one of the matches you give. If you look at it this way, all the auto-losses suddenly become far less scary: if you’ve got two matches to give anyway, count facing an auto-loss as one of those. If you face more than one auto-loss, as well as bad variance elsewhere, then oh well, that’s Pokémon, it happens to everyone on any given day.
Variance is at an all-time high right now, and I think players should start embracing that fact more consciously. Doing so eliminates the fear and pressure of wondering if you’ll run into an auto-loss, and most importantly, allows you to more fully enjoy your experience, because you got to play a deck you actually enjoyed.
Tying this back in with the current format at large is simple: look at the results of Salt Lake! Three players took decks with some harsh auto-losses into a tournament they really had no place being, accepted those losses, avoided them enough, and found success. Moreover, I’ll bet those players had more fun over the course of the tournament than a lot of other players, not only because they took a much larger gamble than anyone else that paid off, but because they got to play something they really enjoyed.
Well, that’s all I’ve got for today! Hope you enjoyed it, and I’d love to know your thoughts on my ramblings. We’re just starting a new era under Christopher and Alex’s guidance, and I couldn’t be more excited. SixPrizes is in great hands going forward, and I can’t wait for you guys to see how we’ll grow the game and as a community.
As always, leave a comment, and have a great day!