Aiming for the Bullseye

The Practice of Perfecting Practice in a Small Time Frame

Hey all! It feels weird to be writing so soon after my last article, but I’m digging our new schedule. These shorter articles encourage me to be more concise with my thoughts and get right to the meat of my content.

Right now, I’m starting to prepare for the Latin American International Championships. As I write this, I can’t believe it’s so soon! This tournament really snuck up on me. I’ve felt fairly disconnected from the game since Australia, skipping both Regionals and only attending 3 League Cups in that time. I haven’t really done much testing in that time either, so it’s time to really step it up.

In totality, I’m dedicating about 3 days in America where I can test a bit, and then 1 day in Brazil once I get there. For today’s article, I’m going to detail my testing plans and give you ways to adapt them for your own use when you also don’t have a lot of time available to test. Let’s jump in.

Research Records

Those are some pretty weird testing plans.

The first step in a rapid-fire testing regimen is to gather data on recent tournaments. At the most basic level, this means just seeing which deck won the most recent tournament and finding out which decks made top 8. Many players will either gravitate toward the most popular/successful deck or try to counter it.

Most of the time, I’d actually advocate waiting until an upcoming large tournament completes before heavily testing a deck. You want to make sure you are able to consider as much information as possible. If you prepare for a tournament using out of date metagame results, you might put all of your work into an obsolete deck.

For instance, if you were preparing for this year’s Athens Regionals (which took place on January 14), but you were expecting Yveltal to be the most heavily played deck because of the results of London Internationals (taking place in early December), you would have had a bad time. Between London and Athens, the Dallas Regional Championships saw a ton of players counter Yveltal, and no Yveltal deck even managed to make Top 8. Thus, Athens was basically devoid of Yveltal, and any decks built to beat it would likely have seen little success.

I usually like to go a bit further here, especially for big tournaments. At some point, I’ll also reach out to a few friends of mine to find out which decks were the most popular at the most recent Regional(s). This can give me information on player trends both in general and in a geographic region. Finding out which decks players tend to favor in a certain part of a country (or even a different country entirely when you’re playing abroad) can prevent you from making an especially bad deck choice. For example, the Western United States (especially California) tends to favor Dark decks, so many players know to stay away from playing Trevenant when they travel west.

Another part of my pre-testing research is to find out about new decks, or define matchups between decks I don’t know very well. When I see that a friend of mine played an interesting deck at a League Cup or Regional, I’ll usually reach out to them to ask what they think about the deck’s matchups and if they’d make changes to their decklist. Even if you don’t know a player personally, there are often good opportunities to ask these kinds of questions on forums, Facebook, or Twitter. Many players post their decklists quickly after an event and are typically open to questions about them at this point.

As this relates to my Brazil preparation, I waited until the results of Salt Lake City to really think about the metagame. Turbo Dark and Decidueye were the most played decks in the Top 32. Volcanion actually won the event, but I’m not too concerned about that because it was played in relatively low numbers overall. This is actually a relatively similar metagame and results set to what we saw in Melbourne.

Additionally, I’ve seen a decent amount of hype for the Lapras deck. It didn’t perform particularly well, but it was piloted by Michael Pramawat in SLC and Eric Gansman in Puerto Rico. When top players pick up a deck, I pay attention to it. There’s usually a reason that multiple players all separately like a deck. This usually indicates it has some strong matchups on the field, so I don’t want to be caught off guard by it.

Pokéchess: To Counter or not to Counter?

At this point, you have to decide which angle you want to come at your deck decision from. Sometimes there isn’t a very obvious set of top decks in the metagame, so I look to counter one that I think will pick up steam based on intuition, and pick a deck that’s consistent overall and can beat the targeted one.

Most of the time, there are 1-2 main threats in the metagame. Typically, it’s best just to find a deck that beats the main threat(s) while also keeping decent matchups on the rest of the field. You can usually take a bad matchup or two against decks that are beaten by your main threat(s) because you expect those decks to be beaten early in the tournament — before you can play them.

However, you can also take your “metagaming” a step further, and play to counter the decks that other players are going to use to counter the main threats. For instance, Yveltal was the main threat after London and heading into Dallas Regionals. If you could predict players would pilot M Gardevoir-EX to counter the Yveltal, you could play M Rayquaza to beat the M Gardevoir. As might be obvious, this can be incredibly risky. If the player base started including Zebstrika to beat Yveltal, they’d also beat your Rayqaza deck! You have to be careful if you take this approach in how you implement it.

If I were going to take this “counter the counter” approach, I’d want to wait until I see some evidence of players starting to counter the main threats before I committed. This might mean that you see a lot of League Challenges/Cups being won by counter decks, or maybe even a few of the Top 8 at a Regional being counter decks. It’s a risky strategy that can pay off, but I usually prefer to play it safe when I can.

As we head into Brazil, I’m planning to just counter the main threats. These include Turbo Darkrai and Decidueye, with a bit of Lapras. This actually covers my expected metagame pretty well, as Dark and Decidueye were the most played decks at both Melbourne and Salt Lake City. Past that, we know that Europeans favor Dark decks, and probably won’t bring Yveltal due to its slightly unfavorable matchup against Darkrai. Several Latin American and American players who are going have played either Darkrai or Decidueye recently, so it’s fair to expect these decks in high numbers.

As such, the decks I’m looking at right now are Rayquaza and Volcanion. Volcanion is the safest pick as far as a counter, since it usually beats Decidueye when played correctly and I theorize that it can beat Darkrai. Rayquaza does the opposite – beats Darkrai easily but has a tougher time against Decidueye. One interesting interaction here might be to test the matchup between Rayquaza and Volcanion. If other players think similarly, it might pay off to have the counter deck with the better head to head matchup!

As an example, a deck I might look to as a “counter the counter” deck is Vespiquen. Mewtwo, Rayquaza, and Volcanion are all decks that could see play as “counter” decks. Vespiquen does pretty well against all of them, and still stands a chance against Darkrai as well. Decidueye is a pretty atrocious matchup, but the presence of the other decks should diminish its impact on the format.

Serious Sleuthing: Identifying Problem Matchups
Perhaps uncomfortably close for comfort.

The next step in correctly targeting your testing is figuring out which matchups you most want to test. For the most part, this consists of matchups I haven’t played before, or ones that I think could be impacted by constructing one of the decks differently. Sometimes I find that changing out stadiums, supporters, or tech Pokémon can significantly impact a matchup.

For instance, Volcanion might beat Darkrai pretty consistently, but a full count of 3 Silent Lab in the Darkrai deck would destroy a Volcanion’s setup. From here, maybe I up the Stadium or draw Supporter count in Volcanion to see how it can adapt. The important step here would be realizing that you haven’t seen the impact of 3 Silent Lab in Darkrai on the Volcanion matchup.

It’s important to utilize the resources at your disposal at this point, especially since your available testing time is pretty low. You can ask a question on Twitter or in a Facebook group asking “Does Deck A beat Deck B?” and you’ll usually get some decent responses. While you won’t always get expert opinions, it’s usually fair to call a matchup “bad” if a large majority of the community says it is. At the very least, you’ll get an idea of how the matchup tends to go and maybe even some tips and things to look out for if players elaborate on their thoughts about a matchup.

At this point, I’ve basically already figured out what decks I care about playing/playing against. I just need to make sure I’m correct in all of my assumptions regarding how they interact with each other before I choose to play one. I also use this time to pick out which deck variants I want to test out during the actual testing session.

In my present day example, the matchup I’m most interested in testing is Volcanion vs Darkrai. Volcanion won against Darkrai in the finals of SLC, and also several times in Day 2 in Melbourne. However, I haven’t played it myself so I think it’s important that I sit on at least one side of the matchup. I’ll be trying out different counts of Silent Lab and Stadiums in general on both sides of the matchup, unless I find it heavily favored one way or another pretty quickly.

Volcanion vs the Garbodor decks (Yveltal and Mewtwo) is also high on my list. I want to find out if it’s worth trying to tech against Garbodor, or if I should just devote the space to cards that are better against other matchups. The counter I have in mind is Pokémon Catcher, which could help me KO Trubbish early, but it might not impact the matchup enough.

I’m also interested to see how Rayquaza fares against Volcanion. It’s not a matchup I’ve tested a lot recently, and the different stadiums (Faded Town, Parallel City, Sky Field, Rough Seas, Scorched Earch) that Volcanion can run can really impact the games.

This is a bit lower on the priority list, but I haven’t played a single game with or against Lapras. I don’t personally think I’m going to play it, but I want to see how it fares against the metagame. I also want to develop a game plan against it, both overall and specifically with whatever deck I’m playing. Lapras is a very different kind of deck, and you can’t approach it with the same “full steam ahead” attitude as you would with most other matchups. It’s important to realize when this is true and to devote extra time to work through such a matchup.

How to Test

Actual live look-in at Alex’s testing environment…or maybe not.

Lastly, we actually sit down and play some Pokémon. It seems like it took a while to get to this point, but the process is invaluable when you have a limited amount of time. It’s better to spend 2 days testing the right decks/matchups than to spend 3 days testing without any direction.

Here are some of my general tips for testing:

When I actually sit down to test, I actually like to play against the deck that I favor the most. I always have a drive to win so I won’t throw a game to influence my testing results or anything. Sometimes when I play a deck, I’ll make excuses for it, such as “it doesn’t dead-draw like this all the time” or “I just got really unlucky at the end.” When I play against the deck I like the most, I view the game from a more neutral angle, instead focusing on the results instead of excuses.

There are times in a testing session where I’ll either disregard implausible scenarios or change them. For instance, if my opponent mulligans 10 times, I don’t always take them all (or any). That’s an absurd amount of mulligans to have in one game and highly unlikely for most decks. One one hand, it’s good to see how a deck can react to a game that starts out like this. On the other side, 10 extra cards to start the game could put a deck at a severe advantage and skew your overall testing results. Most likely, I’d take 1-2 mulligans in this case, or I’d make sure to make a mental note about how that game started.

Another scenario I like to change is when your prizes are terrible. By this, I mean really bad, like all copies of a crucial card are prized. This could be anything from your Shaymin, to your main attacker, to a crucial set up Pokémon like Trubbish or Vileplume. In some cases, it can be good to play this game out to see how it would go. This can give you the knowledge of whether or not to scoop in this scenario if you run into it in tournament. However, when I’m strapped for time, I like to just swap out a random card in my deck for the crucial card in my prizes. This saves a decent amount of time (2-3 minutes of set up time, plus however long it takes you to get back to the same place in the game) and can lead to getting a few more valuable games in.

In some matchups, it can be helpful to “stack” a deck to test certain scenarios. A prime example of this is in Expanded when you want to see how your Evolution based deck can function against Archeops NVI. You might play 3 “worthless” games where your opponent doesn’t get out an Archeops, so you give them a decent hand and let them go first to get out the Archeops. Over an extended period of time, you’d see your opponent naturally get out the Archeops. But if you don’t have enough time to play that many games, I like this approach. This could apply to getting out a T1 Trubbish (with or without Float Stone), T1 Vileplume, T1 Hex Maniac, etc.

I like to play out testing games as far as possible. Even if I think I’m going to lose the game, I keep playing to confirm that a comeback isn’t possible. This gives me valuable information for when I’m playing in the actual tournament as I can more accurately decide when it’s worthwhile to scoop and when it’s worth spending another minute or two on a game that could be won.

To close, here’s the Volcanion list I’m most interested in testing. As far as lists for other decks I’m considering, I’d start with this list for Rayquaza and this list for Vespiquen.

Pokémon – 11

3 Volcanion STS

4 Volcanion-EX STS

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

1 Hoopa-EX AOR

1 Entei AOR 14

Trainers – 37

4 Professor Sycamore

2 N

2 Lysandre

1 Olympia

1 Fisherman


4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

4 Max Elixir

3 Trainers’ Mail

2 Pokémon Catcher

2 Energy Retrieval

2 Escape Rope

2 Float Stone

2 Fighting Fury Belt


2 Scorched Earth

Energy – 12

12 R

The Pokémon Catcher are there mostly to counter Trubbish but they’re also just generally useful, freeing up my supporter usage for draw when I need more out of my turn than just a gust effect. I also want to try without them and with another N + Trainers’ Mail if I find them to have little impact.

The other slot I’m wondering about is the Stadium. Scorched Earth should help me be more explosive, but I’m unsure if I’ll have the energy in hand consistently to discard with Scorched Earth and also to use with Steam Up. Faded Town is probably my next best option to cover any Mega Pokémon decks. If I cut Scorched Earth, I’d want to try to include more consistency as well.

If you have any other questions about this list or any changes, feel free to comment in the article thread on the forums!


Next stop…São Paulo!

That’s all for today! I’m super excited to compete this weekend in Brazil. I’ve been itching to compete in a major tournament again, even though it’s only been a month and a half since Australia. I guess I’m just used to the new pacing of this season already!

One last note, check out my Twitter and the official SixPrizes Twitter if you’re interested. The Pokémon community seems to be embracing the platform as of late and I really like seeing all of the growth.

Good luck to all of you who are competing in Brazil or in upcoming League Cups!


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