From Start to Finish

A Primer Guide on All Aspects of Tournament Preparation and a Dive into Greninja’s Resurgence

Welcome back! I covered my finish at Mexico Regionals in my article yesterday, so today I’ll be covering some other topics. My goal with this article is to provide tips for improvement outside of a specific deck. This includes tournament preparation, learning and developing as a player, and how to choose a deck for a tournament. With these tips — and the ones coming in the next two weeks — hopefully you can perform as well as you want to at North American Internationals!

Preparation: Easy as 1, 2, 3

In an ideal world, it’s incredibly important to put in the effort to play games with your deck before the tournament. At high stakes tournaments like Internationals or Regionals, players are good at the top tables. Making mistakes at 4-0, 6-1, etc., is detrimental and can cost you your tournament run. I made some mistakes in Mexico City last weekend during Day 1, which may have potentially caused me to miss Day 2. Even though I did very well, I could have done better before cut, maybe putting me at 31-33 points instead of 30 going into Top 8.

The first step I take when preparing for a large tournament is to identify the meta. Currently, the best decks are Zoroark, Espeon/Garbodor, Decidueye/Vileplume, and Vespiquen. Other decks that will see play are Volcanion, Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu, and Drampa/Garbodor. I love that there’s so many viable decks to take to a tournament. I’m a huge fan of Espeon/Garbodor because it has no auto-loss. Other decks have some, like Decidueye/Vileplume vs. Vespiquen or Metagross vs. Drampa/Garbodor. The main reason I stay away from decks with an auto-loss is because it’s entirely out of my control. With a deck that goes 50-50 vs. everything, most of the wins will be because I played better than my opponent.

Play a few games with every meta deck to see which you enjoy playing. Winning is important to some people, but the game becomes boring if you force yourself to play a deck. Orlando and Anaheim Regionals were two examples of when I played a deck that I disliked. Greninja and M Rayquaza were decks I didn’t enjoy playing at the time, which led me to finish poorly with them. One caveat is that the deck you enjoy playing the most may be utter garbage. If all you want is fun at a tournament, by all means play your favorite deck, but know that you won’t be able to win with every wacky concoction.

The first time I try building any deck, whether it’s a part of the meta or not, I build my own list. I find this helps me improve my list making for the future, since I can learn from my own mistakes.

When building anything for the first time, build it as consistently and routinely as possible. If you’re trying to build a Kommo-o-GX deck, why worry about the cards other than Kommo-o first? You should create a skeleton list with the bare essentials, then thicken out the consistency, and add tech cards as needed; examples are Oricorio GRI56, Hex Maniac, Field Blower, Sudowoodo GRI. The best example that I can give is Alex’s Decidueye/Alolan Ninetales list. It features few cards that diverge from the main strategy; only 3 come to mind. Simple lists are better than complex ones.

Once you’ve put in some testing with the deck and realized there’s too much consistency, cut back on it and improve the list. If the deck is struggling with Vespiquen, add an Oricorio GRI 56 or Karen. Learning the struggles of the deck allows you to improve upon it by changing the list. Diluting the strategy of the deck is also a problem by changing the deck too drastically. Decidueye/Vileplume will never beat Sylveon-GX, so don’t tech for it. An inconsistent list that has a card for every matchup will do worse than a consistent one. Perfecting the list before the tournament gives you a better shot of winning, and saves the regret when you do poorly because of it.

Once you’ve experimented with each deck, find a select few that you might actually play. Some decks are boring, incapable of winning, or simply less preferable than others. The decks I considered for Madison were Lurantis/Tapu Bulu, Waterbox, and Metagross. I tested them vs. specific matchups that may be troubling, rather than random games on PTCGO.

There should be a point in serious playtesting, more than just for fun. It’s a study of what happens, so why treat it any less seriously than a tournament? The matchups you test should be the prevalent decks in the meta. If Gyarados has received very little hype, play one or two games to develop a baseline strategy, but don’t play against it every time.

One strategy that’s also great for learning a matchup is to play it from the other side. You’ll develop a sense of how your opponent will try to beat you, allowing you to counteract their strategy.

Hail Mary: Testing auto-Losses
Sometimes, your chances are pretty invisible.

I know what you’re going to say: “But Xander, why test an auto-loss? Isn’t that counterintuitive?” To this, I say no. Once you sit down with your deck and ponder ANY way to beat an auto-loss, it isn’t one. Every deck has a chance to beat another, aside from relying on a “draw-pass” scenario. The odds may be incredibly slim, but are there. The best way to prove this is with an example:

Back when Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX and Pyroar were meta in 2014, I would always find myself on the VirGen side. Pyroar was built to beat EX decks because of its Intimidating Mane Ability. It also 1HKO every Pokémon in the deck with Scorching Fang and Weakness. In tournaments, I went 3-0 against Pyroar.

The way I won was to purposely let my opponent take 4 Prizes, hopefully within the first 3 turns of the game. They would have very little set up, aside from a single Pyroar or two. I would put all Energy and G-Booster onto a single Genesect-EX, and N them to 2. Enhanced Hammer would remove any Double Colorless Energy they had. I would win every game that they did not draw Blacksmith + R Energy before I took 6 Prizes.

This would work incredibly well in Best of 1, but also in Best of 3. My opponent didn’t have another chance in Best of 1, allowing me to sneak away with a win. It was more difficult in Best of 3, but still worked. Another application of this that you are more familiar with would be Mega Gardevoir vs. Mega Rayquaza, pre-Guardians Rising.

Mega Rayquaza can’t be Knocked Out in one hit by Mega Gardevoir, but it can vice versa. The way I would approach this match is to make sure my opponent is on odd prizing and I am on even. I would do this by benching Rattata and Hawlucha and sliding one to the Active. Hopefully they Knock it Out. I’d then use Lysandre 3 turns in a row, each with a different fully loaded Mega Gardevoir. The deck shouldn’t be able to load 3 Mega Gardevoir over 4 turns, but it happens sometimes. Games against Mega Rayquaza I should lose 0-2 become 1-2. The lesson to learn is that there’s always a way to win, even if it’s slim.

Tournament Time

Now comes the tournament. I always travel to Regionals the night before, unless they’re within driving range for the morning. Meeting up with friends Friday night is incredibly helpful in deciding what deck to play or final card options. I reserve the night before to test with few interruptions. Socializing or partying comes best after the tournament, although it’s important to have fun and see friends.

When planning itineraries, make sure to account a large window for error. This is an issue when trying to fly back Sunday night or drive Saturday morning. Tournaments tend to run late on Sunday, up to 6:30 P.M. Granted, if you’re playing that far in the tournament, you probably wouldn’t scoop since money is on the line. It just saves time if you do make it that far. Worst case, it gives you an extra hour or two to see friends if you do badly.

Obviously, bring all of the cards necessary for any changes you might make. I try to compact what I bring when I fly, but I make sure to grab anything that would be hard to acquire there. Random Pokémon or Trainers would be hard to find onsite. Popular/expensive cards are easier to acquire, but also break the bank harder. I find it’s better to bring anything that is viable, even if you don’t see it to be. I nearly left my Metagross-GX line and cards at home going into Madison, but I was smart enough to drive home after school and give myself the opportunity to play it.

Moving onto mid-tournament, planning food options is essential. Venues like Roanoke and Madison offered some food options onsite, but were largely unprepared. Other ones like Seattle and Dallas had ample food options at the venue. Obviously, some others completely failed in this department. If you can help it, bring any sort of snack and drink for Saturday. Depending on my stress level, I’ll either be consuming my usual amount of food or very little. Know what you like to eat and make it simple like a Clif Bar or sandwich.

The last part of mid-tournament habits is to learn from your mistakes. Instead of being hard on yourself for losing, learn what you can do to win next time. Analyze what went wrong and change your strategy for the next game/match. Talking to myself or a friend is my main way of doing this because it formulates my thoughts. Only thinking keeps everything jumbled, but speaking it organizes your thoughts. Once you’ve developed a strategy, test it. Make slight improvements and find something that provides you the best results.

Checking Prizes and Taking Notes

One thing that continues to baffle me is the low amount of players that check what’s prized. The first difference between a top player and a mediocre one is deducing Prize cards. The main purpose is to prevent misplays and make smart lines of play. For example, If I play 2 Tapu Lele-GX, I need to know how many are in my deck. If I’ve prized 1 of them and I fail to check, I’m vulnerable. I might have an amazing Lysandre play through Wonder Tag, but my 2nd Lele is hiding face-down.

These types of scenarios happen every game, usually deciding a win or a loss. I always check for everything that isn’t consistency first, like my Pokémon line, Stadiums, important Items/Supporters, and Energy. Professor Sycamore, N, Ultra Ball, and VS Seeker are all important cards, but don’t matter as much to know numbers. Knowing whether or not your single copy of Field Blower is prized is priceless.

The more advanced uses stemming from prize checking is based on probability. Imagine there are two lines of play I want to go for, but one of them has a piece prized. Automatically, this makes the other line better since it is more likely to happen. Probability is a large part of the game by separating wins and losses. Rough calculations of what will happen on choosing or not choosing to make a play can be game-winning. Upon first glance, checking for prizes may seem daunting, but it really only takes practice. Familiarity with your deck will make it quicker, especially if you develop a plan. Certain matchups change the plan of what you want to check for too.

Deck Choice! Bo1 vs. Bo3

The last section on tournament preparation is readying yourself for Best of 1 vs. Best of 3. They are two different formats, where two different types of decks thrive. It’s true that archetypes will carry over from each, but lists won’t. Lists that win League Cups or Special Events often have more tech cards than ones featured in Regionals or Internationals. In League Cups, one tech can win you the game. This isn’t true in Best of 3, since your opponent has another 2 games knowing you play the tech. It might only work once, unless it’s impossible to avoid like Sudowoodo GRI. I would add in an extra tech card or two to help swing matchups for Best of 1, but avoid them in Best of 3. Consistency is what’s important in a 9 round tournament when 7-2 is required.

The next piece of playing in Best of 3 is playing a deck that plays quickly. 50 minutes is hard for finishing 3 games, so choose a deck that makes them quick. Mill decks generally don’t work in either format, but would be hard to pull off at Regionals. During a Best of 1 tournament, X-1-1 is what makes cut. Ties are not as detrimental, since you can account for 1-2 and be guaranteed without losses. Don’t be afraid to take your time during Best of 1 since it’s 30 minutes for a single game, instead of only 50 for up to 3.

An important aspect of Best of 3 is knowing when to scoop and playing the clock. Against a bad matchup with a stolen Game 1, you might be able to tie or win depending on how long the first game took. It’s legal to play to tie, but keep in mind it’s illegal to stall. What I mean is making plays that would slow down the game via Lysandre or Team Flare Grunt, rather than going on the offensive.

Scooping is an important of preventing ties in long tournaments. At a 6-2 record, a tie would not push you into Day 2 (usually). Let’s say you win Game 1, but are losing Game 2. There’s no difference between a Tie and a Loss, so you may as well reset evenly at Game 3. People fear that they may lose Game 3 and regret not picking up a tie, but there would be no difference in finish. Finishing at 19 vs. 18 points provides no added benefit other than pride.

Greninja’s Unexpected Finish

Going into the first few League Cups and Regionals of Guardians Rising, Greninja was widely considered a BDIF contender. Field Blower gave it the tool to deal with Garbotoxin, the one thing in its path to endless victory. However, it didn’t have any performance at Seattle or Madison. Many people find it incredibly inconsistent and separated from skill, which is why no top-tier players pilot it. Despite this, both Alex and Zakary Krekeler managed to finish in Top 4 and Top 32 respectively in Mexico. Both of them played the same 60 cards. I don’t have the list, but it will be up on sometime soon.

Greninja succeeded because the Krekeler brothers are very experienced with the deck; they’ve been playing it for the whole year. It does have good matchups once the deck sets up. Drampa-GX/Zoroark, Drampa-GX/Garbodor, Volcanion are a few of the deck’s amazing matchups. Alex also went undefeated against Decidueye-GX/Vileplume over the weekend going 4-0 against it. He beat Azul Garcia Griego in Top 8 because of Talonflame BREAK. I think the card is insanely good, boasting 170 HP and Fire typing.

I would expect Greninja to be played throughout Origins and North America Internationals. It’s an easy, relatively inexpensive deck that players can pick up. Hopefully it can weather the hype for Drampa-GX/Zoroark.


Thanks for reading another one of my articles! I hope these thoughts and strategies will help you improve as a player. There are so many new players transitioning from other games this year that I see doing well at their first Regionals. To any and all of you, I hope you continue to evolve as a player. See you at Origins or Internationals!


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