Since the release of Guardians Rising, many players have lauded the format as being one of the most creative or perhaps skill-based ones in a very long time, though I am initially skeptical of any such claim. All too often, a “good format” merely translates to “a format I personally did well in”. After analyzing all the results from the North American International Championship, however, I think it is safe to conclude that PRC–GRI was a wonderful format. I always find it very rewarding to see top players doing well in such a gauntlet of an event. The top 8 this year in Indianapolis was mostly comprised of legends of the game, several of them already in possession of Championship Points totaling over 1000! When the very best players continue to be just that, it is usually an indicator that skillful play and thoughtful deck decisions are being rewarded.
The name Tord Reklev may be foreign or unknown to some. Yet, I was not surprised to see him take it all once the top 8 brackets had been posted and everyone was able to clearly analyze each and every matchup that would be taking place. Unfortunately, I was not able to see every game, but I was reasonably confident that Drampa/Garbodor would be able to take the whole event. Tord’s list in particular was almost a platonic ideal of pure consistency. Maximum supporters, four of each tool, four Tapu Lele-GX and so forth. I would have been highly shocked if John Kettler had been able to steal a series on him but, of course, stranger things have happened.
I am not entirely sure why Drampa/Garbodor fell off my radar as a potential deck. I was paired against it in the fifth round of the tournament (notably someone using Sam Chen’s top 4 list) and as soon as the match began, I quickly became convinced that this deck had to have been the correct play for the event!
All too often, I think players (and probably myself to an even more egregious level) simply ignore decks after a strong, but early-on in the format finish. Despite its results in Seattle, there would be no way for it to replicate such success ever again! Or so I would tell myself. Such a line of thinking is of course incredibly fallacious, but often if such a mentality is continually reinforced, then it is easier to accept it as being the case. Instead of having bad matchups, I think that Drampa/Garbodor had an incredible amount of 50/50s. Though some matchups were probably skewed in one way or another over the 50/50, the best part of having so many even matchups is that the better player will win more often than not.
Beyond the Surface: Improving Through Loss
I think it is very difficult for some players to stomach the notion that other are better than them. This is no doubt (at least in some part) a general psychological response and it is simply hard to stomach propositions such as “simply not good enough” or “my opponent just outplayed me” but I think that acknowledging such an idea is important or even necessary to becoming better players ourselves.
For instance, if we use running as an analogy, I do not think anyone would really be upset at the assertion that someone who has been running marathon for years would more likely be better than someone about to run their very first marathon. In this case, there is a very clear difference in the abilities of both of these hypothetical runners and so there is not much of a leap to be made between asserting that one might in fact be better than the other.
However, if we slightly adjust the premises to try to reflect the analogy toward Pokémon, people would probably be upset. It is so much easier for a player to observe each of their losses and point out arbitrary things like “poor luck”, “getting lucksacked”, “just not drawing what I needed to”, and so on. Instead, focus on slowing down the thought processes and simply accept that players can in fact be better than you. There is a reason why players like Igor Costa, Ryan Sablehaus, and our reigning NAIC Champion are at the very top and simply dismissing their success as luck is unhelpful in every single way. There are real and empirical reasons that the player you’ve known who plays more than you every single year fails to get an invite to compete at Worlds every and why certain players seem to barely play at all and ease their way to 500 Championship Points.
An Aside on Cheating
Finally, the last thing I want to address in this section is the assertion that many of the top players “cheat.” In the eight or so years I have been playing competitively, this term has been tossed around this year exponentially more than ever before. I am sure that a large degree off this is due to the increase in prize money at each event, and thus with more at stake, the more and more each win tends to mean.
However, I am of the belief that this term has been thrown around far too flippantly this season. I am not writing this section to defend or cast blame on anyone in particularly. Rather, I simply think that as players, we ought to be far less hasty in tossing this term around. Unless there is clear evidence from a video or a stream of something shady or illegal taking place, I think that judgment ought to be reserved. In a lot of ways, calling someone a cheater is just the new way to calling someone very lucky but obviously “cheating” is far more damaging of a term.
I have no doubt that people cheat. Maybe even some of the best players are in fact cheaters, but I still think that it is wrong to throw around the term so lightly. At the end of the day, I truly do believe that people (and by extension, players) are of sound morals and thusly giving a player the benefit of the doubt seems far more beneficial and intellectually virtuous than jumping into the latest Facebook thread and aiding in spreading the flames further.
A Different Take on Grass: Crafting a New Decidueye
With that somewhat lengthy aside complete, let’s jump into some actual Pokémon discussion, shall we! Leading into the NAIC, as many of you know, I was still in need of points to qualify for Worlds. Sitting at a meager 436/500 was nerve-wracking initially, but I was confident I could put in the appropriate amount of the work to make an educated decision for the event.
Despite my last several writings focusing mostly on Lurantis, my group and I decided to abandon the big bug in favor of Decidueye/Ninetales (though after Darkrai, Lurantis remained our #3 pick despite many ignoring it entirely). I have spent a good amount of time this season testing Decidueye, so I was happy to play something that I felt reasonably experienced with. Although we mostly ignored the deck here at SixPrizes, the idea of removing Vileplume out of the skeleton was a creation of my own, and had seen great success at consecutive regionals in Australia in the weeks leading up to the NAIC.
The general idea behind the deck was that Vileplume took up too much space to be worth still including in the deck, and by freeing up those 6 or so spots, you could devote the deck to various other matchups or simply boost the overall consistency without Vileplume. In my time testing the deck with Vileplume, I noticed that its Item lock ability was considerably less useful. Decks that removed various Item cards or perhaps reduced their VS Seeker count in an attempt to hedge against Garbodor decks also inadvertently made themselves all the more optimal against Vileplume. Tapu Lele’s presence in every deck also further increased the general consistency of a deck without relying on item cards and made Lysandre stalling tactics all the more accessible. The final straw with Vileplume in play is that often your own deck could become useless and in order to maximize the odds of getting Vileplume into play on the first turn, you had to play so many Item cards yourself which become a liability after evolving as well as only making things more difficult against Garbodor.
Abandoning Vileplume gave us much more space to prepare against Espeon/Garbodor which we perceived to be our worst matchup and the most popular deck of the event. We grinded this matchup many times over and despite all our best preparation, it still remained incredibly difficult not matter how to built the deck. The overall strategy was to ignore Decidueye entirely as an attacker and simply rotate between Tapu Lele, Tapu Koko and so on and just try to use Decidueye to Hollow Hunt and stack up damage over the course of the game with Feather Arrow. Espeon, even if Flareon was in play, could not threaten a large amount of damage even against our large Grass-typed Pokémon if we did not attach energy to it. We thought this would be enough to overcome this very difficult matchup.
The main thing with Espeon/Garbodor was that all their avenues of offense could be played around in ideal situations. As mentioned above, monitoring how many energy we committed to the board gave us control against Psychic. Trashalanche, of course, can be manipulated simply by playing as few items as possible and then even Psybeam was not a guaranteed strategy as you can always just flip heads in addition to just retreating out of it and thus despite our somewhat lackluster results against Espeon, we concluded that it was a manageable matchup and we would simply need some luck on our side to overcome.
It may sound foolish to leave certain things up to “luck” or “probability”, but every player who has won a any event knows that some luck will always be required. I think that Jay Hornung, a player with an incredible amount of impressive accomplishments has often said that all of his big breaks were a mere one top deck away from changing completely.
Here is the list that Mees Brenninkmeijer and myself settled on for the North American International Championships:
Pokémon – 22
1 Alolan Ninetales-GX
Trainers – 30
Energy – 8
Mees himself opted to play a second Choice Band over the second Tapu Koko. While I never really wished I had the second Choice Band, I think I definitely would have been safe with one Tapu Koko. Although it was incredibly standard, I am very happy with the way this list turned out. I think it is close to perfect and diverges only slightly from Igor Costa’s top four list. I do believe that our tech inclusions are considerably better against the metagame, though his list certainly boasts much more consistency than ours. If asked to play the whole tournament again, I think I would play this list without one copy of Tapu Koko and include a single Max Potion as the final spot.
Was I able to earn those last couple Championship Points with this list? Let’s find out!
Round 1: Mirror WLT
Round 2: Zoroark BKT/Drampa-GX WW
Round 3: Vikavolt SUM/Tapu Bulu-GX WW
Round 4: Vikavolt SUM/Tapu Bulu-GX WW
Round 5: Drampa-GX/Garbodor GRI LWT
Round 6: Decidueye-GX/Ninetales-GX/Vileplume AOR WLT
Round 7: Vikavolt SUM/Tapu Bulu-GX LWW
Round 8: Zoroark BKT/Drampa-GX WW
Round 9: Mirror LL
133rd +90 CP 506/500 earned
And there you have it! Although I narrowly missed making Day Two by losing that final round, it did feel like I was gifted these matchups from the powers that be. Vikavolt and Zoroark were incredibly easy for this list, and it is almost miraculous that I was able to play five of them in my nine rounds. Somehow, I managed to only play one Garbodor and zero super unfavorable decks like Volcanion. Mees was able to go all the way to top 32 with his list, narrowly losing a win-and-in in the penultimate round, which I think proves the power of the deck.
pokemonscreenshots.tumblr.comIn general, I really believe I have improved my pace of play over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, Decidueye tends to be somewhat of a slower, set-up deck regardless of how fast one plays and so even here, I was forced into some unfortunate ties. Against Drampa/Garbodor, we were tied at 6-6 Prizes and so I am not certain who would have pulled it out in the end, but I believe I was slightly unfavored based on the current board position. In my other two ties, however, I unfortunately was in unlosable positions, needing just one or two turns away from winning. My loss in the final round was against Stephane from France who ended up in the top 16 with his very similar list. To my dismay, his list was built to dismantle the mirror, which is exactly what happened! Between his two copies of Max Potion and tighter focus on consistency, I stood no chance in this final round.
A Trainer’s Reflection: Good Not Good
And so, despite my somewhat minimal involvement this season, I barely manage to qualify for Worlds once again. However, I cannot help but feel somewhat of a sour taste toward everything still. This is not to say that I think anything wrong took place. Rather, I think I am still unsatisfied with my own play.
In Chinese there is an expression (sometimes as a sentence and often as a question): 好不好 (hao bu hao or literally “good not good”).
This is how I think of myself within the game. But what exactly does this mean?
Essentially, I think of myself as good. I do not think there is any denying that in most regards I am a least an above average player. I have qualified for every World Championship since 2011, which also means I have qualified under every variant of Championship Point as well as ELO and top 40 only. Good!
And yet at the same time, I am not good. I have not earned a top 8 at anything large in sometime and despite my dedicated and consistent practicing regiment, I continually fall somewhat short. Not good! Does this make sense?
If anything, I think there are many things that can be both good and not good and my intention here is not to be some brooding or melodramatic figure. Instead, I think it is a good way for all of us to examine how there can be good things within our failures and shortcomings and bad things within our triumphs. It is only with this degree of self-reflection that we can progress as players and orient ourselves toward a future within the game that is more satisfactory.
There will always be elements of both the good and the bad in every thing that we do both in Pokémon and outside of this game. By only thinking of things as being strictly good or strictly bad, we eliminate various mentalities and ways to view situations that I think are ultimately more beneficial than simply being concerned with whether or not we made the Top Cut at any given event.
For the time being, competitive Pokémon is somewhat in a lull between events: the calm before the storm and the release of the next set. As such, I do apologize in part for this article being somewhat of an intermediary between content. While the NAIC is still fresh on my mind, I am very excited for Burning Shadows and look forward to all of the content that SixPrizes will be putting out in the coming weeks.
A majority of players will be aiming toward after August for the real bulk of the competitive season while others like myself have the sights set on Anaheim, California. Regardless of where the rest of the summer will take you, I want to wish everyone the best of luck in the coming months and hope that you were able to take something away from my thoughts and ramblings today.
Though my testing has only just begun for Burning Shadows, I am still optimistic that the format will be fresh and inventive just like our last one. I know that many players have already issue proclamations that it is much worse than SUM–GRI but I think it is safe to ignore such pessimistic utterances for the time being. Things like Gardevoir-GX and all the new Fire-typed support are likely to be very good, but declaring them as an unbeatable BDIF is laughable this early on. Only time will tell and I am very much looking forward to testing all sorts of new things!
Until next time!
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