Once again, we’re at a juncture in the 2016-2017 season. There are 5 Regional Championships and a pair of Internationals left for North American players this season (of course, elsewhere, the Regional situation is a bit more dire). We’re reaching a critical point for players chasing the 500 Championship Point barrier; chances to make up ground are quickly vanishing.
This past weekend saw Volcanion’s 2nd major tournament win this season. It’s an oft-maligned deck due its linear nature and weakness to Ability lock, but that linearity comes with some degree of consistency that is otherwise absent from the Standard format. It’s certainly not a surprising outcome, especially given the simply massive variety of decks that made appearances in Salt Lake City. That our Top 8 also consisted of a mix of Speed Dark, Mewtwo, and Decidueye is similarly unsurprising — they were among the most played decks, and are all proven forces in the metagame.
This weekend also saw a strange evolution in the Pokémon TCG. Whether or not the effect is permanent remains to be seen, but a number of players have jumped on board Twitter as a media outlet for the game. For the past few years, the community has largely been holed up in private Facebook groups, so perhaps this is the start of it branching out — or perhaps it’ll amount to nothing at all. If you’re interested in random musings, Pokémon stats, or otherwise, you can follow me @cschemanske, and if you’re one of the players just hopping over, the SixPrizes account @SixPrizes.
Today, I’m going to look back at the weekend and the fascinating metagame that developed. While my efforts this weekend came up a win or two shorter than I’d have liked, I’m not too upset with the Top 32 finish (which we’ll get into a little later) I came up with. While I didn’t use my spreadsheet methodology this weekend, the Utah staff team has gifted us some prime information about the SLC metgame, so we’ll spend some time today talking stats. Afterwards, I’ll take a look at a few under-covered decks that could be useful considerations for your next League Cup, in the event you’re heading to Brazil, or beyond.
Without further ado, let’s get into Salt Lake City!
I came into the week prior to the event not too sure what I wanted to play. It seemed as though Yveltal/Garbodor could be well-poised — and it’s relatively consistent, which is more than I can say for most of the format — but I was hesitant due to its myriad of 50/50 matchups and the West Coast’s propensity for playing Speed Dark regardless of its actual viability for a given tournament. That really only left M Mewtwo, M Rayquaza, and Decidueye/Vileplume as choices. I really didn’t want to play any of the 3, but knew I especially was hesitant to play a Mega deck in fear of Yveltal making a significant resurgence, so I was forced to try other options.
My brother and I tested a variety of concepts Friday night, but mainly hovered between Yveltal, Vespiquen, Mewtwo, Lapras, and Decidueye. The first and third were dubious for reasons I’ve already covered, while Vespiquen seemed questionable due to a projected high count of Decidueye (and Speed Dark too, for that matter). That really only left Lapras and Decidueye. I feared Lapras would have too hard a time dealing with players who’d previously had the opportunity to test against it, which left me in a bit of a bind:
You see, at some point Friday night, my brother posed the following: “What does Decidueye actually even beat?”
It was a legitimate question on the heals of losses to the likes of Mewtwo, Yveltal, and Lapras. And, to be honest, it’s not as though the deck really ever recovered in testing from that stretch of bad games; we simply didn’t find anything better. I went to bed Friday night begrudgingly playing Decidueye, but by the time Saturday morning had rolled back around, I was more than a bit nervous. That led to my consideration of Yveltal in a last-ditch effort to not play Decidueye. In fact, I was so undecided that when my mom decided at the venue about 3 minutes before deck list submission that she wanted a Super Rod in her M Rayquaza, the one in Yveltal had to suffice and my choice was made easy. In hindsight, I’m very glad for that fact.
The list, which you’ll probably largely recognize from Alex Hill’s article last week, was as follows:
Pokémon – 25
Trainers – 28
Energy – 7
Alex largely nails most of the analysis of this list, so I’ll dispense with that since you can refer back if you’re questioning anything (or, of course, you can contact either of us). There’s a key difference, though, in the inclusions of Mewtwo EVO in my list. This move was made in response to the dreadful results I was getting in testing the M Mewtwo matchup Friday night. While it didn’t outright turn the matchup, and I still thought it preferable to avoid Mewtwo altogether, it was useful and I preferred having an answer to simply rolling over when faced with a heavy Mewtwo.
The Trainers’ Mail cut was something Alex argued against in his last article, but I didn’t find missing it to be a particularly big deal. Trainers’ Mail’s effect is often somewhat intangible, though, so it’s hard to really evaluate whether the decision hurt me or not. I certainly had my share of dead hands, which indicates it may’ve been better to have the extra consistency, but I can’t know now. At the time, it was simply one of the least painful options.
The only tech I found myself potentially wondering about that I didn’t have was Silent Lab. It seems a bit counterintuitive, but could be something to test as a counter to Wobbuffet and general complement to Vileplume. Otherwise, I think the list is probably pretty standard. Let’s get into my tournament run:
SLC Regionals // 305 Masters // Decidueye-GX/Vileplume
R1 Decidueye-GX/Vileplume (1-1)
R2 Wailord-EX/Carbink/Wobbuffet (1-1)
R3 Volcanion-EX (2-1)
R4 M Rayquaza-EX/Wobbuffet (0-2)
R5 M Mewtwo-EX/Wobbuffet/Espeon-GX (2-1)
R6 Concession (W)
R7 Darkrai-EX (2-0)
R8 M Rayquaza-EX/Magearna-EX (2-0)
R9 M Mewtwo-EX/Wobbuffet (2-0)
Final: 6-1-2, 10th Place
To say the least, the day got off to a discouraging start. I’ll openly admit that I had no chance of actually winning Round 1, so when time was called and we weren’t even close to a conclusion (though that conclusion was inevitable), I certainly wasn’t upset. On the flip side, I had Round 2 as good as won…but came up a pair of turns short. I definitely was not in a position to complain, though, so I willingly ran with my 0-0-2 brethren from Round 3-on.
After falling to 1-1-2, I’ll admit that I was pretty much just counting down the minutes until I could free myself from playing more games with this deck — admittedly, I found playing Decidueye a tad boring. But, the wins kept coming, and by Round 8 I realized there might be a chance of something coming from the weekend.
I was surprised by how well the matches with Mewtwo went, but the lack of Garbodor in both lists was a double edged sword. On one hand, whenever a Mewtwo was Active, I was guaranteed the use of my Abilities, but my opponent now had a way to gain access to Items that I couldn’t prevent. In addition, my Round 9 opponent especially complicated matters with his triple Max Potion supply.
Ideally, this deck tries to deal with Wobbuffet by dropping a Feather Arrow on it while it’s still on the bench, setting up a Razor Leaf KO when it comes active. The problem I faced both in Round 9 and in Round 2 was Max Potion’s addition to the equation. Now, I had no way to effectively KO Wobbuffet, and risked exposure in almost every way that I might try. Particularly against Wailord, where I was faced with a Fighting Fury Belt-enabled troublemaker, Max Potion made life extraordinarily difficult. I’m truly unsure how I was ever in a position to take the Wailord series, but am perhaps more befuddled that I managed to take down M Mewtwo and his collection of cronies. Bide Barricade is the single biggest issue the deck has in my view, and I was only able to prevail through timely Lysandre plays and a steady supply of resources.
One of the most overlooked aspects of this deck is the GX attack conundrum. While I know many players simply choose to omit Tauros-GX, I do believe it has a valuable and effective place in the execution of Decidueye’s strategy. Even in situations where Mad Bull-GX is either unavailable or inadvisable, Tauros can be a formidable threat to decks like Turbo Darkrai-EX. Particularly in the early turns, I’ve found the deck can capably bluff a Mad Bull-GX‘s imminent threat and convince an opponent to simply not attack at all. In other scenarios, I’ve been able to use Feather Arrow to pile up enough damage that a combination of Rage and Owls enabled me to avoid the GX attack debate altogether.
Tauros is good against everything as an early wall, which is valuable in a deck trying to setup multiple Stage 2s. Lugia trades the wall effect — despite its similar HP, it just can’t threaten retaliation in the way Tauros does — for more of an offensive mindset. There’s merit in both approaches, but the general implausibility of using two separate Lugia to full effect in a single game encourages me to lean toward the split.
In situations where you’re unable to use Rage to accomplish what Mad Bull-GX is designed to do, it can force an interesting choice. Hollow Hunt-GX is a simply game-breaking effect when executed correctly, and oftentimes is the only way to successfully navigate a game where an opponent achieves a full setup. In situations this weekend where I was faced with a choice, I had to weigh the amount of resources I’d already burned through in the match.
When my discard pile featured multiple Energy cards, 2+ Lysandre, and other critical options, I generally concluded that Hollow Hunt-GX would be the more important piece of a successful puzzle. On the other hand, if I managed to setup without costing myself too many critical pieces, oftentimes the two Prize Cards I net from a Mad Bull-GX play made the exchange worthwhile. This was especially true in the mirror match, where Mad Bull-GX is the only way to effectively clear a clean Decidueye-GX from the board.
That was about the extent of the remarkable portions of my Day 1 experience. It should also be noted that my brother took the same Decidueye list into Top 32 at 6-2-1. Unlike myself, he managed to avoid some of the stranger concepts in the room, only taking losses to M Rayquaza and Volcanion. My Day 2 wasn’t nearly as remarkable:
SLC // Day 2 // Started 6-1-2
Final: 8-4-2, 20th Place
It certainly was disappointing to go from a solid starting position to this mediocre end. The wheels began to careen off course when I lost a Game 3 of Round 10 that I had all-but-won, and they had lost all traction by the time I was done dealing with a Tauros monstrosity that had a propensity for eliminating my Energy reserves. My brother was later able to take down the Tauros deck in Round 14, so it’s not a terrible matchup by any stretch.
Afterwards, I won a fairly monotonous mirror match and came up painstakingly short against Volcanion. In the final round, I basically sat around while my opponent managed to find any and every way to get unlucky with regards to his Double Colorless supply, and won pretty handily. In a twist of misfortune, my brother and I both ended at 8-4-2, capping off a fairly weird weekend. On the bright side, we got to go do better things than Pokémon anyway, so it worked out alright.
As we discussed previously, Top 8 featured a mix of blue-chip contenders like Mewtwo, Darkrai, Decideye, and Volcanion. There weren’t any terribly surprising contenders at the elite levels of the tournament, but there were a few lurking in Top 32. Michael Slutsky gave us a preview of those yesterday, but today, I’m going to take a look at one of the ones he didn’t get into as much depth on: Greninja. Afterwards, I want to analyze the metagame itself (thanks to some rare data provided by Utah’s staff), and look at what might be coming next for Roanoke and Brazil.
Now, it certainly would be unfair to say that Greninja is making a full-scale comeback. One player’s Top 32 performance is not enough to make that conclusion. But, I do believe the metagame is shaping up well for one of the most maligned decks in recent history. I have previously joined in this criticism, swearing to never again touch the deck. I’m not backing off of that, but I think it’s a concept that bears exploring as a player. As I’ve written before, it’s incredibly valuable to have insight into your opponent’s thought processes, and one key way of gaining that knowledge is testing with the deck in question. I may not play Greninja, but it’s valuable to me to have insight in case someone does so.
For one thing, I don’t really agree with Michael’s assessment of the deck’s place in the metagame. While I may have issues with it as a deck to begin with, I do see why it was positioned for success in Salt Lake City. My brother is very sick of hearing about the deck after my early-season insistence on playing it, but I was seriously floating the question of “What does this lose to?” and not getting any satisfying response. But, it’s Greninja, so I stayed away.
While Michael argues it struggles with Decidueye, I don’t really find that to be the case in theory. Perhaps I’m biased, as I happen to know that the Greninja player in SLC took at least one series off Decidueye over the course of the day, but Decidueye’s fragility is something to be concerned with for sure. I can see a list with Splash Energy, among other things, capitalizing on this principle to abuse Giant Water Shuriken and Greninja’s cheap attacks to out-damage Decidueye. Jirachi XY67 might be a solution as well, because without Razor Leaf, Decidueye has zero chance of actually out-damaging Greninja.
Greninja is at its most powerful when given time to setup, which is why Vileplume decks have always had a bit of a problem with the archetype. Even something as inherently inconsistent as Greninja can get up to speed when offered the cover of a Vileplume deck’s typically-slow start. Greninja is generally unaffected by Item lock — obviously, there is some effect, but it is less than most decks in today’s format suffer — which means it generally won’t have too much issue with Vileplume. This completes a complement of factors that leads to the idea that Greninja theoretically could have a very real chance of out-gunning everyone’s favorite Owls. Giant Water Shuriken’s ability to wipe Shaymins and Rowlets off the field can make life very interesting.
Here’s the list I’m going to be testing. It should be noted that it bears significant difference from lists we’ve seen in the past. That’s a mix of my somewhat-awareness of what Alex Krekeler played this weekend and my intuition of what it needs to succeed in this format.
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 34
Energy – 10
The anti-Decideye techs might give you an idea of why I’m not really sold on the idea that this deck has such a problem with the Owls. We have a complement of Hex Maniac and Weakness Policy to truly cause problems for Decidueye, and a supply of Splash Energy to keep things going even under Item lock.
Hex Maniac is generally pretty strong against a large spread of decks, including the likes of the Mega foes in the format, so it’s not a harmful thing to have in the deck by any means. This list misses out on some of the Energy denial we saw in lists doing well in late 2016, but those lists had to contend with Yveltal’s imposing presence on the format. That effect is all but gone at this point, and really, Greninja lacks an obvious “terrible” matchup in the field. Not to get too ahead of ourselves, but May’s release of a Windstorm reprint and Choice Band (+30 damage from attacks to GXs and EXs) mean that even if this falls flat in the remainder of PRC-SUM, it’ll have promise in the formats following.
I do think Greninja has the potential to see success in the near future, as unfortunate as that may be for my sanity. It still isn’t something I’ll touch; it’s simply burned me too much for that, but with that said, it’s probably something that should be kept in mind. Even in Portland’s Expanded format, where Greninja had 0 business being, it was part of my day — so, now that it’s seen a degree of high-profile success, prepare to once again be faced with Frogs every once in awhile.
We have a pretty unique opportunity this week to look back at Salt Lake City in a way that’s typically unavailable to us as players. The Utah staff undertook the tremendous effort to catalogue every archetype’s play frequency, and graciously made this information public for all the saps like me to spend a ton of time analyzing. The following graphic is 100% theirs, and I’d link you to it directly if it weren’t hiding in a closed Facebook group:
Remarkably, even with an admirable level of detail, the “Other” category manages to be the 5th-highest on the day. It’s been noted by some players that a few decks (M Gardevoir being among the most cited) have conspicuously low counts of actual play; I choose to assume some of them got lost en route to the bin known as “Other.” For the purposes of the following analysis, I’ve grouped some decks (like the Umbreon variants) into a single category. This simply makes it easier, and allows us to look at overarching card themes in a more impactful way. Some of this involves arbitrary decision making, but there’s no way around that. I still believe the broad themes we can perceive are of value.
First and foremost, some observations about the chart itself and the story it tells:
- There is an incredible amount of diversity present here. I always say that Regionals are truly somewhat a lottery of pairings luck, but this chart really hits home with the effect. Over 15% of the field was decks that 100% didn’t cross my mind before reading them on this chart. That’s an indication of a lot of stubbornness, but also a caution to those that would seek a “catch-all” counter deck. The variability in each field is immensely high — it’s probably not unreasonable to assume that if Utah showed this much diversity with 305 players, a 700 person event would only further demonstrate the effect (though, on a depreciating level).
- Quad Lapras had a lot of hype coming out of Europe and Puerto Rico. A few years ago, before the advent of digital media in the game, there’s no way it would’ve even had the 15 showings that it did. Things truly do move faster than ever.
- The incredible diversity implies a bit of a lesson in regards to deck selection: Consistent strategy execution is still king. A close second in importance is broad-applicabibility in strategy. Volcanion showed both in taking home SLC; it’s a deck that consistently hits hard against a variety of opposing strategies. Mewtwo lacks a bit in the consistency department, but the simple strategy of “stack Energy, hit for big damage” is unparalleled in its applicability to a wide range of matchups.
- Yveltal/Garbodor was the most represented deck that outright failed to net a Top 8 slot. I suspect some of its players were those that were still living under a London-sized rock, but I know for fact that it had skilled pilots in the field as well. The failure is a bit perplexing, but is probably due in part to its general spread of close matchups. On a bad day, variance can get the best of the world’s best Yveltal player.
With some general thoughts on the board, more specifically, I want to look at the decks that made Top 32. The following chart is a simple depiction, but I’m sure the folks at Complexity Card Gaming will have a prettier version to look at soon if you want to look in that direction at some point. For now, this will have to suffice:
Decidueye-GX was the biggest deck on Day 2, which is pretty remarkable. For one thing, it wasn’t even the biggest deck in the room — and as we’ll get into in a second, it carried players from Day 1 to Day 2 at one of the best rates in the tournament. This is, frankly, pretty shocking to me given the showing it had in Oceania. This marks the first time this season that the previous tournament’s “big deck” didn’t see an obvious drop in success at the following event. I’m not sure what this is really testament to: it’s obvious that digital media coverage in the game hasn’t dropped any, so perhaps Decidueye is really just that resilient to metagaming.
Like I said earlier, it’s not a surprise to anyone that Volcanion took down this tournament, but there is a level of notability to me in just how similar to Oceania this outcome really was. There was more Dark than we saw Down Under, but that’s typical of the West Coast to some extent anyway. The biggest departure is the sheer amount of M Mewtwo we saw in the field, which I expect is in response to what we saw in Oceania. Clearly, where people went wrong was accounting for Mewtwo’s Decidueye matchup. I know for sure that Aaron Tarbell’s Top 4 list also featured the Mewtwo EVO tech, so I suspect the matchup weighed heavily on the minds of Decidueye players as they went into SLC — it certainly weighed on mine.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m definitely not saying Salt Lake City was the second coming of Oceania. It certainly wasn’t, and it’d be disingenuous of me to make that conclusion. There were real differences in Top 32 and Top 8 for sure. But, the fact does remain that the departure is seemingly less marked than we’ve seen in other event-to-event turnovers this season. I’m willing to chalk this up more to variance and the smaller attendance in Salt Lake City (and especially a smaller level of out-of-state travelers due to the situation with SLC’s airport), but it’s an interesting trend to take note of regardless. It does suggest to me that Decidueye will continue to be a big force in Brazil and Roanoke.
Now that we’ve discussed a bit of both Day 1 and Day 2’s compositions, the really interesting comparison lies in examining the levels of success decks had in advancing to Top 32 from Day 1. I’ve seen a theory floated that things like M Mewtwo’s level of failure wouldn’t be replicated if the tournament were re-run 1000 times, but I don’t really know if I agree with that theory. There were somewhere around 5000 games of Pokémon played in the Master’s division this weekend, and while some degree of variance is inevitably to be expected, I think our tournament structure does a decent job of sifting out decks according to the field at large.
The following graph displays each archetype that made Top 32, along with the rate that deck advanced from Day 1. So, since we had 8 Decidueye/Vileplume players in Day 2 and 29 total players on Day 1, we see a success rate of 28%. It should be noted that, due to the irregularity of the numbers surrounding their situations, Gyarados, Tauros-GX, and Greninja have been omitted from this table.
Gyarados and Greninja were obviously under-the-radar plays that paid off for their pilots, but for the purposes of this examination, they simply pollute the goal of looking at the success of larger archetypes. As for Tauros, I strongly suspect the numbers compiled in Utah ended up tossing one or two similar archetypes into the “other” classification.
I think Umbreon is a bit of an outlier due to its low level of play, and, frankly, general inferiority in the format. Otherwise, the outliers on the other side are obvious: Decidueye and Turbo Dark managed to carry players to Day 2 in a way that other decks were simply unable to accomplish. The meaning behind this is a bit variable, as it can be argued that player skill had an influence on deck choice, and subsequently, on a deck’s success level in the event. While this is undeniably true on some level, I believe that using Day 2 results as a parameter mitigates this effect when examining the entire tournament.
On the other side of Decidueye/Dark’s excellence are Mewtwo and Yveltal, which dramatically underperformed. In response to the argument that skill is responsible for these effects: succinctly, I truly find such an explanation impossible. Plenty of good players played both of those archetypes, including our own Travis Nunlist’s selection of M Mewtwo and Israel Sosa’s usual Yveltal. This data suggests these decks were simply not good plays in Salt Lake City.
Other decks hovered around the 10% mark. Unfortunately, it’s not really easy for us to make judgement calls on what qualifies as a “significant” result based on a lack of data from other events, but the fact that the cut of 32 comes in as right around a 10% cut in the first place, statistically speaking, 10% representation is about what we’d expect a random deck with even matchups to advance to Day 2. So, in summary, while Decidueye and Dark performed exceptionally, and Mewtwo/Yveltal fell short of what might be expected, most other decks performed right around average.
Another way to look at this is the share of the field a deck had in Day 1 vs the share it enjoyed on Day 2. The following graph offers a look:
This offers us the same set of conclusions as the prior analysis, but it can sometimes help to look at data from a variety of perspectives. In my view, it was remarkable how close to predictable Volcanion operated. Its representation in Day 2 was just about perfectly proportional to what we’d expect. This somewhat plays into the prevailing narrative that Volcanion is a relatively linear deck that simply enjoys extreme power surge, but it’d be interesting to look at this data across more events to see if some more solid conclusions can be drawn.
What does this mean going forward? It indicates Decidueye and Turbo Dark are the decks you’re going to need to beat if you plan on making Day 2 at an event sometime soon. This sounds obvious, but something I’ve always tried to quantify is the effect we see when decks rise above the rest of the field after Rounds 1-4. I believe this sort of analysis is the first step on that road. Obviously, sometimes people manage to flaunt the math anyway, as Gyarados’ run this weekend proves. Generally though, things tend to regress toward a predictable mean, so while I can appreciate Michael Slutsky’s point from yesterday about the obsession Pokémon players have with avoiding variance in the game, there is an important place for grounded sanity in decision making processes.
This is the last dataset I wish to cite today, and it’s also the one with the most statistical machining behind it. If anyone’s interested in the nuts-and-bolts, I’m happy to share, but for the purposes of this piece’s length and simplicity, I’m going to simply present the final results. This graph depicts each deck’s movement on Day 2, in terms of Match Points, relative to each other deck in terms of percentile. In English: the higher the percent the deck scored, the more match points it, on average, earned its player on Day 2. Turbo Dark scores the highest, implying it was the most effective deck on Day 2, while M Rayquaza performed the worst. Volcanion was right in the middle.
Yveltal was very effective against the Day 2 field, as were Gyarados and Turbo Dark. In a way, this is the least useful of the metrics I’ve shared today (because you have to make Day 2 first in order for a deck’s relevance in Day 2 to be relevant), but it does offer some interesting output nonetheless. Perhaps in the future I’ll be able to analyze other tournaments in this respect, and we’ll be able to see if any trends emerge between archetypes’ successes on Day 1 and Day 2.
We’re nearing the end of this phase of the 2016-2017 season. By the time I’m next with you, we’ll have seen the penultimate International Championship of the year and be moving at full speed through a gauntlet of Regionals and Special Events as we head toward the season’s end in Indianapolis.
I hope you’ve found something insightful in today’s article. As always, if that wasn’t the case, if you’d like to hear more about a particular aspect, or just want to drop a comment on something, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter, Facebook, or the forums. As it happens, the form at the end of this article will reach me because I’m among the 6P Staff members that receive form feedback, but in general, that form isn’t a great place to provide messages that you want the author to respond to — it’s more for alerting 6P Staff if you feel an article is cause for concern or is especially awesome. In particular, I’d be interested in whether you found the figures and graphs in the later portion of the article insightful.
I won’t be in Brazil, but will be found throughout the continent in May+June as we navigate the remaining Regional Championships on the circuit. As always — while I may look like it — I generally don’t bite and am happy to hear from readers! I’m excited to see where things are heading for both us as a site and for the game as a whole. Friday will see Pablo Meza’s (re-)debut article hit the Front Page, and I hope you’re as excited as I am for that.
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