It’s over. Yes, for real! (Well, at least it probably is.) 11 months ago, TPCi dropped the bombshell that revolutionized the Pokémon TCG’s competitive structure. Fast forward through 30+ Regional Championships and 4 International Championships to the current day, and it’s been quite the ride.
As we all know, the 2016-2017 season wrapped up this weekend as the Pokémon world descended on Indianapolis for the Inaugural North American International Championships. It was truly an international affair, with 4 countries taking home Championships across the two games’ three divisions (that’s more diverse than some past World Championships, for perspective). While the rest of the world successfully conspired to crash what was formerly the USA’s annual 4th of July Poké-bash, it was still a great weekend for many Americans. Our own Alex Hill and Xander Pero, barring any Russian meddling, have both clinched Day 2 seats for the August’s World Championship.
For us at SixPrizes, the lead-in to the event was something entirely new. An article marathon of such a length is something I don’t believe we’ve seen before in Pokémon, and after coordinating it all with Alex…there’s a good reason for that. Regardless, we’d like to thank all of you that have supported the site throughout the season — even if just for the last week.
The new season is, depending on your perspective, upon us in either a mere 5 days or will check-in when Regionals begin post-Worlds. Either way, I’m excited for what it will bring for the site, and encourage you to stay tuned. In the interim however, we still have NAIC to settle, Burning Shadows to preview, and Worlds to prep for.
I’m here to kick off our summer “lull” coverage today with a look back at Indy. Calling it a “lull” was truly fair in the past, as Premier Events have never had much of a summer hold. This year is new, though, and League Cups theoretically can start as soon as July 10. In addition, the first Regional Championships of the season will be held in Liverpool, UK, at the end of July. As such, we’re going to pay a bit more attention to the results of Indy’s event this year than we probably did last year — PRC–GRI still matters to most!
Road to Indy: Choosing Darkrai
Personally, Indy was not a particularly remarkable event. Going in, I didn’t have all that spectacular an idea of what to play, but knew I’d default to Espeon/Garbodor if a better option didn’t present itself. We started off our testing with M Gardevoir-EX STS, and saw mild success on Wednesday night. We led off Thursday morning’s Gardevoir regimen with something of a classic speed-Darkrai-EX BKP list, which thoroughly trounced Gardevoir. Then, it faltered against Greninja and Volcanion. In the process, we got the sense that the deck wasn’t truly consistent enough to be a real contender.
So, we moved on. Something that caught our eyes was the Darkrai deck itself. You may remember that Alex and I panned the deck on the pre-NAIC podcast. Naturally, that statement worked out the way these sorts of things tend to, and we found Darkrai to be the most thoroughly consistent option. Going into the event, my parameters for selecting a deck were pretty well-defined. It should be noted that no finish at this event was of any use to my Top 16 North America chances other than a Top 8 (or, if things had gone reallyyy well, maybe a Top 16). As such, my consideration process was probably different than someone who needed a Top 256 for a Worlds invitation. Here’s where I was at, and where I’d recommend most people looking to a win a mega-tournament like this one should be:
- Matchups were mute, in a way. Look, certain reality: trying to metagame a 1300 person tournament is a bad idea. Sure, examine trends heading into the event. Have a feel for what’s going to be super popular. But, under no circumstances is it a good idea to take a deck into this sort of event with the philosophy “it beats X and Y, and loses to everything else.” While it would’ve been tempting to take the Espeon-and-Zoroark-proficent M Gardevoir into Indy, it had such trouble with so many other matchups that it wouldn’t have been smart. Matchups weren’t unimportant, but I wasn’t going to pick a deck because it had 1-2 “must-have” matchups to its name.
- Consistency was king. Going with the above, a deck that can execute a brilliant strategy in 1/2 games, but falls apart in the other 50%, is not a viable option for an event of this size.Ironically, this sort of boom-or-bust deck is the sort of thing that occasionally makes a sky-high run at these large events, so you could be right to argue with me that there’s merit in this sort of approach. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s strictly wrong to make such a play, but it’s also not the characteristic choice of type of person or player I am. I would rather not handicap myself in a large percentage of my games when I’m in a position where I need to play ~40 of those games to be successful (I’m looking at Greninja as the most obvious manifestation of this idea in Standard ’17).
- Resilience to Garbodor was a must. Even with its relative non-showings in Madison and Mexico City, I would still argue that Garbodor was the center of the format. It was a gateway of sorts: if your deck couldn’t beat it, it probably wasn’t going to do very well in Indy.
- Mirror, mirror: I really didn’t want to play Espeon mirror. I was undefeated in it in tournament settings prior to Indy, but literally hadn’t won a single testing game we played of it. Quite the Jeykl-and-Hyde scenario. With any deck, I wanted a mirror match that felt like more than a series of coin flips and Ns. I’m not even sure that I got this in my eventual pick, but I did pick a deck whose mirror wasn’t especially prominent as a compromise.
In the end, after more testing games than I’d have honestly liked, I settled on Darkrai. It fit most of the specifications above fairly well, had solid matchups with the big decks I expected, and was nothing if not consistent.
Here was the list:
Pokémon – 10
Trainers – 35
4 EXP. Share
Energy – 15
There’s a theory I’ve pushed in this space before regarding deck space utilization. Decks which are forced to operate as if they’re effectively less than 60 cards (like Greninja, which has at least 8 cards of evolving Basics) are at an inherent disadvantage compared to those that get to effectively utilize utility from all 60 in every situation. In reality, a deck that utilizes 100% of its space is probably not real, but the closer we get to 100%, the better I think a deck tends to be in its format.
Darkrai is weird in that we chose to play 15 Energy, yet I don’t feel this deck violates that principle in any way. Each Energy has utility at any time, particularly as a Max Elixir target. Relative to things like thick, bulky evolution lines, each individual Energy card is theoretically a legal target for play at any point in the game. That’s what makes such a space dedication viable in this deck (and others like Volcanion), whereas other decks that have such huge chunks of space dedicated to one function often suffer.
This list only has 1 true tech card, in Oricorio. Unlike most decks, there really isn’t as much of a place for it to be useful outside of the Vespiquen. Espeon and Zoroark effectively hit for decent damage, but sometimes fall just short of 1HKOs. Oricorio can help clean those up in those decks, but here, we’re generally either hitting for soft 2HKOs or 1HKOs; rarely the 150-160 range that Oricorio helps with. So, while Oricorio is a multi-purpose card here, it does fall a bit more into the single-track idea of a tech in Darkrai. Normally, I’m against 59 card decks for most matchups, but it did so much for the Vespiquen matchup that I felt it was a worthwhile trade.
Weighing Fighting Fury Belt and Choice Band counts is something that more thought should be put into before considering this deck for a League Cup. We tested most of the day with a simple 4-of count of Choice Band, but flipped over to the 3 Choice/1 FFB at pretty much my sole insistence. I’m not sure whether it was a good idea, as I couldn’t really refute some of the points Alex Hill made against it Thursday night, but in the end, he got onboard my train. I wanted the FFB as an extra twist against the mirror, Metagross-GX, Tapu Bulu-GX, and others. It actually put in pretty solid work for me, but I’m not sure if I can honestly say that I know it was better than a more conventional split.
My day went as follows:
North American International Championship — 1356 Masters, Darkrai
R1 Volcanion-EX (2-0)
R2 Tapu Koko-GX/Jolteon-EX (0-2)
R3 Espeon-GX/Garbodor GRI (2-0)
R4 Umbreon-GX/Zoroark BKT (2-0)
R5 Espeon-GX/Garbodor GRI (2-1)
R6 Turtonator-GX/Lurantis SM25 (2-1)
R7 M Rayquaza-EX/Zygarde-EX (0-2)
R8 Vespiquen AOR 10 (2-1)
R9 Vikavolt SUM/Tapu Bulu-GX (1-2)
Final: 6-3, Top 256.
In the end, I lost to things I would expect to lose to and beat the ones I expected to beat. The only possible exception would be Vikavolt in Round 9, but I can’t argue with the fact that a Turn 2 180 is incredibly difficult for Darkrai to beat. I sat next to my Round 6 opponent during Round 5, and spent the entirety of that Round hoping that I wouldn’t run into the Turtonator madness, going as far as to note the name of that player just in case.
Lo and behold, I see my pairing, and indeed I’m the lucky winner of a date with Shell Trap. Don’t ask me how I won this series. My opponent was insistent that Darkrai could be a bad matchup for him…I wasn’t sure whether to be more confused about the fact that he had tested against Darkrai or that he thought I was going to beat him. I felt pretty ashamed of my obvious lack of hope when I did somehow pull away with that win, but I do think the deck is something intriguing as this format winds down (and I’ll get back to it later).
We did utilize the spreadsheet method for this tournament, though, with some caution as I’m becoming aware of some flaws in its mathematical basis as a useful tool. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still certainly a useful tool, but we’re discovering that more thorough statistical analysis may be necessary for a useful picture to emerge. Merely on the precipice of that, though, so I don’t have more to discuss. For the record, I did note in the public space what the simple spreadsheet’s final iteration thought:
OK, sure, it was a bit vague. But, the spreadsheet thought I should either be playing Darkrai, Gardevoir, or Metagross. Of those 3, Metagross was far and away “safest.” As it happens, it’s a good thing that I didn’t make that play…
Overall, NAIC saw Decidueye/Vileplume rise again, Drampa reclaim the preferred-Garbodor-partner mantle from Espeon, and Volcanion make its presence felt once again. By my records, the only deck that any 6P writer played that we didn’t hit last week was the Decidueye/Ninetales concept that began sweeping through testing circles in the States early last week. In hindsight, it would’ve been good to incorporate, but I’m glad that we managed to cover most of our bases — even if the guess on Decidueye/Plume was a miss!
Turning The Corner: Beyond NAIC
For all intents and purposes, I think most of the pre-NAIC lists and content are still going to be useful in pursuing those first points of 2017/18. I’m not convinced we saw anything dramatic enough to force a huge meta shift, though it’s notable that Zoroark underperformed, and I’d be unsurprised to see Gustavo Wada’s Alolan Ninetales pop up here and there.
Before I head off for the day, I want to highlight the Turtonator concept I played against. Offhand, it seems very good against Espeon and a few other big decks from the weekend, but may struggle with Zoroark. More importantly, I think it’s an example of out-of-the-box thinking that can be valuable in approaching any format.
I honestly don’t know how long my opponent had been playing, or what his prior experiences in the game were, but I do have to say that I think there were a few things in the list that could’ve been improved (for example, I counted no less than 5 total copies of 3 unique Stadium cards), which leads me to wanting to test the concept out. I applaud the thinking that led to the point my opponent reached.
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 32
Energy – 14
Shell Trap is such a strange attack, but is useful against such a broad base of things. When combined with the appropriate damage modifiers, I think I can see scenarios where you go through opposing Pokémon merely with that attack, and only switch to hitting harder when it becomes necessary. In a way, Shell Trap allows you a unique form of setup protection: your opponent must either Lysandre or take heavy damage in return. It’s a really interesting card in its own right, which is something Andrew Mahone picked up on when he included it in his Top 8 Zoroark list.
Burning Energy fits incredibly well, and almost allows this deck to just plan on using Bright Flame for most of the game. With Choice Band/FFB and Lurantis’ Ability, Bright Flame now reaches for the upper echelon of damage output. In addition, Turtonator has a powerful GX attack in Nitro Tank, making the deck partially immune to N. It may not be the most amazing deck ever created, but it’s something I might mess around with at early League Cups. Don’t look now, but Burning Shadows has some interesting tools for Fire in general in Guzma and the “attach four R Energy” Supporter, so we may be back discussing this concept at a later date as well.
In any event, that brings me to the end of my discussion today. I hope you found something useful here, and as always, feel free to find me with any questions or comments that might come to you. It’s been a long year, but I’m grateful for the people that’ve been there to share it. It’s easy to lose sight of, but the people really are what make this game what it is to many of us.
Wishing you a successful season ahead,
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