I welcome myself back after a layoff from writing, but it seemed worth catching up as we rush toward the North American International Championships. When last we spoke, the Halliburton clan was headed to Salt Lake City and Roanoke Regionals before we wrapped up for the year. We lost in the finals in Salt Lake City and finished Top 8 in Roanoke. I figured I would do a quick survey of some of the content on SixPrizes so far, add some comments on the new set, and provide thoughts heading into North America.
Standard v. Expanded & Guardians Rising
Let me start with some thoughts on the Standard format compared to Expanded. When you look at our results, it is clear that we do much better in Expanded than we do in Standard so there is clearly bias. Regardless, my argument in favor of Expanded is this:
- First, the variety of cards allow for more deck consistency and this should theoretically decrease variance. Cards like Colress, Computer Search, and Jirachi-EX make decks more consistent, preventing dead-draw failures. I am an advocate of ban lists as the meta evolves, but bigger card sets create more creativity as long as we don’t allow broken to take over. Also, I would ban Trevenant XY.
- Second, I am a believer that more decks and diversity create opportunity for more-skilled players. While the West Coast fixation on Dark decks showed through in the Expanded results in Portland, when you look at Masters outcomes at St. Louis, you see 8 different decks in Top 8, so there is diversity in viable decks. There have been far too many moments in the Standard format where it feels very rock-paper-scissors.
This brings us to Guardians Rising, an extremely exciting set. There are a number of attributes to this set that make it interesting:
- Pokémon-GX are exciting! This is old news from Sun & Moon, but the idea that really bulky Pokémon come in the form of Evolutions rather than Basics is neat. I am a big, big fan. The incentive to play Evolution decks is awesome.
- Field Blower is great! Hala is great! Confusion is great! Oricorio is great, both Psychic ones. Rescue Stretcher! Choice Band gives us a card that can be put on Evolved Pokémon to provide a meaningful alternative to Fighting Fury Belt. Frankly, Fighting Fury Belt as the best aggressive Tool in the format provided another powerful incentive to run EX and Big Basic decks. With Choice Band available to a broader set of Pokémon, deck diversity is incented. All of these are cards that promote deck-building diversity and are generally skill cards.
- Garbodor is great. A Pokémon that punishes people that try to go through their deck quickly is fantastic for balancing the format.
- Tapu Lele-GX is great. Massive increase in the consistency of decks with minimal punishment — a viable attacker, an easy retreater, bulky, no Weakness. Why would you not run a bunch of these! They are not bad starters, they give you more outs to the key Supporters you need. While Battle Compressor and VS Seeker encouraged us to play 1-of Supporters and thin our decks lightning fast, Tapu Lele will encourage us to again run 1-of Supporters, but to save our resources for future Tapu Lele.
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake is way outside of our play area, but we were en route to Vegas to visit grandparents for Spring Break so we decided to stop on the way and play some Pokémon!
Both my kids played Mega Rayquaza. I think the theory-mon went something like this: Yveltal BKT is not making a comeback because its ineffectiveness against Pokémon-GX make it a liability. Deciplume is the BDIF, but like Greninja, it is a deck that loses to itself. Finally, Turbo Dark, M Ray, and Lapras had strong buzz going into the tournament. We decided to out-speed everyone and Mega Ray some people.
Halliburton the Elder
Quick tournament report for my older son:
Round 1: Lapras (WW. 1-0.)
6-0, 6-2 from a Prize card perspective. This was the Lapras decks only loss in Swiss, but M Ray just runs over it. The only Prizes he took were off the GX attack after the outcome was already decided.
Round 2: Turbo Dark (WLL. 1-1.)
At home, when we Ultra Ball for Hoopa, in the interest of time we grab all the pieces we need. My son Ultra Balls T1 and grabs a M Ray, which was a piece he intended to grab off the Hoopa. He then proceeds to lose terribly. Game 3 was more misplays, then his opponent draws the Lysandre off the N to 2 to win.
Round 3: Sceptile/Glaceon/Jolteon/Decidueye (WW. 2-1.)
Round 4: M Ray (WW. 3-1.)
Mia S. is a super competitive West Coast player. She draws dead Game 1 and chooses to go second Game 2. T1 and T2 Hex and then she scoops. When will Juniors learn that there is never a good reason to go second? She had already beaten Roan and Aiden so this was a good win.
Round 5: Despair Ray Gardevoir (WLW. 4-1.)
James K. forgets to play Hex at the end of his turn and loses. It happens.
Round 6: ID (4-1-1)
Top 8: Lapras (WW)
Rematch from Round 1, Lapras never takes a Prize.
Top 4: M Ray (LWW)
Bodhi has grown tremendously as a player this year and it was a hard-fought game.
Finals: Lycanroc (LL)
And so it goes. This was pretty much in line with expectations given our year.
My youngest played Mega Rayquaza again, this time with a Gumshoos-GX tech for Giratina. My oldest played Deciplume. My oldest reported after Round 2 that everyone, more or less, was playing Deciplume.
Halliburton the Elder
Here is my oldest:
Round 1: Mega Ray (WLT. 0-0-1.)
He wins a long Game 1 vs. Jacob C., then massively bricks and loses Game 2 in 5 minutes. Time is called during T1 of Game 3. My son was in total control game one, but mistimed taking the victory, clearly. He did not realize quite how hard he could brick, I suspect.
Round 2: Volcanion (WW. 1-0-1.)
Round 3: Yveltal (WW. 2-0-1.)
Micaiah H. is a well-respected Junior player, so this was a tougher game than you might expect. He ended up 4-2-1, so this deck choice performed very well for him.
Round 4: Volcanion (LWW. 3-0-1.)
Shawn Cardella is a frequently mentioned person in these tournament reports and he had beaten my younger son in an earlier round. My son told me he was playing really fast in Game 3 and it was challenging because he had the perfect starting hand only to discover that both of his Vileplume were prized. He got them out of Prizes quickly to lock Shawn out of access to his discarded Pokémon Ranger and then wall with Regice to win. This was definitely a game where his awareness of time remaining helped him get the right outcome.
Round 5: Volcanion (LWW. 4-0-1.)
Ummm, Volcanion is more prevalent than I told you? Funny draws but I guess in a tournament filled with Deciplume, all of the Volcanion decks are doing well.
Round 6: Deciplume (WLL. 4-1-1.)
Benny B., eventual winner of the tournament, beats him.
Round 7: Wait for it …
Halliburton the Younger
Here is my younger son’s report. Once again, he was playing M Ray.
Round 1: M Gardevoir (Brilliant Arrow) (WW. 1-0.)
Clark H. is a good player, but M Ray is too fast for Brilliant Arrow.
Round 2: Volcanion/Salamence (LL. 1-1.)
Shawn Cardella! I reported earlier that he had given my youngest a loss. Here it is.
Round 3: Volcanion (LWT. 1-1-1.)
So this day seems like it is going off the rails. Must win out to cut.
Round 4: Darktina (WW. 2-1-1.)
Interestingly, my son never needed to use Gumshoos’ attack against Hailey B. Giratina never got online.
Round 5: M Gard (both versions) (WW. 3-1-1.)
M Gard just loses against M Ray.
Round 6: Deciplume (WW. 4-1-1.)
Walker has not lost a game since his tie. Yay! All he needs to do is win Round 7 to advance. Further, he did not play a single child over the course of the tournament that ended up with a losing record.
Round 7: … Halliburton v. Halliburton!
Both are 4-1-1, they cannot ID. They are Table 4, the top 3 tables all ID into cut with at least 16 points. Unfortunately, there was another player with 13 points, but the bracket breaks don’t go our way and they have to play each other for the right to play in Top 8. My youngest wins a three-game battle WLW as my oldest draw-passes the first turn of Game 3 to give him the victory. The other 4-1-1 loses to let a 5-2 bubble in as Regan Retzloff maintains his streak of Standard tournaments that he has top cut at, but the tournament has ended for my oldest.
Top 8: Deciplume (LWL)
A close game against William Wallace, but couldn’t get there.
Thoughts on Points
How long has it been since I wrote something? So long that the point adjustment happened in the interim. I wanted to address that from a Junior perspective for just a moment.
I am ok with it, but not ridiculously happy about how it went down. Every Junior from the start of the year knew that the way it worked: you had to Top 8 a Regionals to get your invite. There are not enough tournaments that awarded Top 16 points for someone to get in without a Top 8. This meant that since the start of the year, it was a given that you needed to Top 8 to qualify. Given the amount that William Wallace, Roan Godfrey-Robbins, and Regan Retzloff traveled (and, to a lesser extent, my son, James K., and Benny Billinger) this meant that there was a very small window for North American Juniors to get their invite. My youngest had assumed he would not get his invite, then, as previously chronicled, when he Top 8’d at St. Louis, he was incredibly excited. Suddenly an invite was possible.
Shortly after, Pokémon changed the policy and voilà, he had his invite. It was kind of deflating for him to get his invite without “getting it at a tournament,” if you take my meaning. We had spent time talking about what League Cups to go for him to get his invite and he was excited to test and get ready to go WIN! Getting his invite had him excited. Finding out that Pokémon had decided to just give him one was less exciting. He didn’t feel like he earned it as much as he thought he would.
Having said that, I am on the record that bigger is better when it comes to Juniors and the Pokémon World Championships, so while it would certainly serve my kids well to have kept the point bar high, I am excited to see a bigger, better event. It was just a bit anti-climactic for us. Oh well.
I have talked a little about how Regan, William, and Roan used their attendance and subsequent strong performances at Internationals to propel themselves to amazing positions in the TCG. As people close in on their invites, I wanted to briefly talk about the impact on Regionals of high-travel Juniors. Or not even high-travel Juniors, but just good players. Shortly below is a data set that looks at all the US Regionals (minus Mexico — although Regan, Roan, Bodhi, and William all performed well there — because it was akin to a small League Cup; with only 13 Juniors, it was just more free points for those willing to travel).
Before we dive into the data, keep in mind that very few tournaments had top 16 points. You needed to be in Top 8 to get points at most of these tournaments, so this is the entire snapshot, in many instances, of points distributed at a tournament.
This shows every family with more than one Top 8 finish. When you look at the data, a couple of things jump out at you:
10 families comprised over 50% of the top cut, on average, at every Regionals this year. That means, relatively speaking, you were competing for less than 4 spots to get points. If you extend this out to the top 15 families, they comprise 2/3 of the Top 8 slots. Adding in the three kids with 2 Top 8’s, these 18 families comprise fully 71% of the Top 8s at US Regionals this year. San Jose and Portland are crazy outliers. But setting aside Portland, starting at St. Louis, only one or two children that had not made a Top 8 at a prior tournament made a Top 8 at a tournament. So by February, it was more or less game over for other kids.
In total, setting aside San Jose and Portland, if you were not one of the top 18 families, there were only 24 other kids who made a Top 8 at a North America Regional. Four Regionals were so competitive that only one kid who had not previously made a Top 8 made cut at that tournament. So while I was conceptually ok with the idea that you needed a Top 8 at a Regional to “deserve” your invitation to the World Championship, there was so much boxing out that took place, less than 64 kids would even have the opportunity to get their invitation in this fashion and more than 10 of them came from San Jose and Portland.
Finally, you can see how Dallas and St. Louis with their central position in the season schedule and central location geographically was a nexus for the competitive action that took place.
Crazily, you may look at this data set and think that a lot of people must have traveled a ton. Some did. But some did not. And some were borderline. In our instance, while the Halliburton family had Top 8’s at 40% of the Regionals this year, we attended only 8 of the 15 Regional events. And there were at least 4 instances where my kids prevented each other from making cut. Other players, Armando springs to mind, also attended a very limited set of Regionals.
Some Thoughts on North American Internationals for Juniors
The rise of Garbodor creates an interesting tension for many Juniors. I assume some Juniors will be like us and will have not played at a single meaningful tournament in the new format. Others will have played many rounds, having visited Seattle, Madison, Mexico City, and Origins.
The thing that is interesting in testing is that “old format” decks do spectacularly when pitted against “new format” decks unless you are playing against Garbodor. Many of these new decks are designed to develop their board state more slowly. So in testing, some players that have a comfort level with an “old deck” will find that they should just play that deck and take the auto-loss to Garbodor. Already, at many tournaments, the meta is advancing for Masters and Garbodor does not appear, on face, to be the dominant force that it was. Juniors and their Poké-parents should not mistake this for something different than what it is: all of these decks have been shaped by Garbodor.
You ignore Garbodor at your peril. It is incredibly easy to sweep a game with a Garbodor or two set up and someone playing into it. There is no way to do well at this tournament without dealing with it.
Having said that, it is clear that a deck built to defeat it can utilize almost any strategy or Pokémon and find a way to get it done. The result is a diverse meta that has more Stage 1 and Stage 2 decks than I have seen since my children started playing.
I am a big believer that this format is still largely unexplored. I think in Masters there will be a lot of innovation in the format and I would not be surprised to see a Wailord-esque deck take the tournament by storm.
Having not attended any tournaments in the new format, I suspect my children are at a substantial disadvantage going into North American Internationals, but they want to be the best there ever was! Well, kind of. As I have noted on social media, my kids only want to play chess these days. I always mention how I love meeting other Pokédads. Feel free to introduce yourself and hey, let’s play a game! I could use the practice.