Hello everyone! I am very happy to be back writing once again. Though admittedly not a ton has happened in the TCG universe since my last piece, I think many (including myself) have gotten into the full swing of making our preparations for Burning Shadows. Though the set itself will not be legal until Worlds, this “off season” period has everyone theorizing and trying to figure out what the next big thing is going to be. Not everyone will be attending the World Championships or the Anaheim Open unfortunately (though I would recommend any with the appropriate means to consider such a venture, especially if you are considering playing competitively next season). Thankfully, rotation has been announced as well!
It is somewhat unfortunate that the only PRC–BUS format tournament is going to be the most important event of the year. I am never a fan of such limited or narrowly-relevant formats, but I suppose there is a time and a place for everything. The rotation toward BREAKthrough and onward caught few by surprise, and I think leaves a lot to be desired. Keeping it at BKT leaves us with an odd amalgamation of various types of cards and mechanics, and if anything, you’d think that the most intelligent decision would involve cycling sets to a point with as few mechanics, terms and keywords as possible to be as open to any prospective newer players.
If we were to cycle to something crazy like Sun & Moon-on, it would make the card pool quite limited, which unfortunately was not the case. Instead, with BKT–BUS, we’ll have everything from BREAK cards to several Mega and Pokémon-GX, which I think is understandably not satisfactory, as many players have already expressed. I, for one, cannot wait for the day when Professor Juniper, Professor Sycamore, and N are no longer in the format and only until that day arrives, do I think we’ll be able to observe a noticeable difference in the way games play out and formats progress. However, I do always enjoy the freshness and novelty that any rotation might provide and so, despite the obvious shortcomings of BKT-on for Standard, I will look forward to preparing for this format come the fall.
Finally, it is worth addressing the lack rotation for Expanded. In the past, I know I have expressed a desire for Expanded to rotate (instead of banning), though I noted that this would likely be improbable. Then, I felt like I was in a minority with such an opinion, but now that years have passed and BW-on has been the Expanded format for several years, it does feel somewhat strange that nothing (aside the pair of bans) has occurred. Perhaps next year, Expanded will get the shakeup that it deserves and maybe even a third format will be introduced! Who knows?
I think the biggest thing that helps keep a game alive is accessibility toward a newer audience the precedence of Expanded is easily the most limiting thing for a newer player.
Black and White was released in 2011, and while many of the cards do not hold much of a value anymore, they are certainly not readily available, which complicates the matter even further. The longer one has played, the easier it is to keep up with a larger card pool, but, frankly, the BW-on card pool is just too large for there to be a predictable metagame or points of easy access for someone who has not been playing the TCG for several years. I do not look forward to another year of anticipating multiple rounds of Night March, Yveltal/Maxie’s while playing Seismitoad/Crobat, but I do have some faith that we will see a new and updated ban list over the next year. At any rate, happy hunting to those already focused on the 2017-2018 season!
Seasonal Sensation: The Snowballing Stipends
It was my intention to talk about this in my last piece, but I got somewhat sidetracked and then Christopher wrote a longer and better piece on the whole subject matter. In his research, you can find a bulk of the statistics and information regarding who qualified for Worlds this year, how many were able to do it, and the projected turn out for Day 1 in Anaheim. With that in mind, I do not wish to dwell on the mathematics of the event. It is my intention in this section to focus on the ramifications of the current invitation structure.
As Christopher also pointed out, I think the biggest qualm of the past season was the way that stipends were dealt. It seemed pretty ridiculous that people who bombed the World Championships were still able to get free rides to the first and even second International Championships. I have no problem with the high Worlds finishers (even if they made day two from the Top 16 or Top 22) being able to get in on this free ride, but something definitely seemed amiss otherwise. Is it unfair? Not necessarily. Is it problematic? Almost certainly! A “rich getting richer” system not only benefits very few, but it also incentivizes even less. As someone who has placed well at Worlds the past two years and not been a part of the stipend system, I was almost guaranteed from the very beginning not to be a part of the Top 16 race from the very first event.
I guess when we examine this problem even further, the problem not only lies in the stipends but also in the overall point payout from the International Championships. I think that for an event as large as the North American International, the points were incredibly justified and I do not really have a problem with some (myself included, of course) being able to earn their invites to the World Championships with mediocre Indy finishes.
However, when those same points are available for an International Championships like the one in Melbourne, where 18 match points made Day 2 en masse, things begin to get much more suspect. With this cycle, it essentially required anyone on the hunt for the Top 16 to attend each and every International Championship to keep up with the pack, and when you are not being given several thousand dollars just to attend, it is hard to justify even traveling that far if you have other factors to consider.
I think that the most logical solution is to hinge Championship Point payout on some sort of attendance multiplier in order to keep things as open as possible. This multiplier would also well not only on International Championships, but perhaps with every event except for those at the lowest level. Regionals can be taken advantage of as well! My friend and teammate Mees Brenninkmeijer has already began crunching some numbers and expenditures for next season and he is greatly considering shelling out around 1000 dollars just to attend Regionals (not Internationals) in Australia next year simply because they are so small, but the payout in terms of both prizing and Championship Points remains the same.
There is somewhat of a counter-argument to my sentiments here in that even when attending these events, a player still has to do well, so clearly some amount of skill is proven even getting these “easier” Championship Points. It certainly is not my intention to insinuate that any of the players in question are not amongst the very best. The issue is with the system as a whole and there is no moral prerogative to not take advantage of the flaws while you have the chance!
I have no doubt that TPCi is aware of the issues from the current year and with rumors floating about involving a further increase in prizing for the upcoming season, I do hope that they will implement safeguards that gives (mostly) everyone a fighting chance to be in the Top 16. Maybe North America will get a bump to a Top 22 like the EU next year? I think something like that as well as giving out the first batch of travel stipends based on the early portion of the season and Worlds instead of just the incumbent top 16 would be a boon. We will just have to wait and see!
Examining the Worlds Structure as a Whole
The final thing I wish to address in this bit is my quandaries about the invite structure as a whole. Was the 2016-2017 season an improvement from the previous seasons or was it a regression? I am curious to hear what many think on this subject matter, as for the most part, I cannot think of a majority opinion on the matter. But, for me, I think it was ultimately a regression. The increase from 300 to 500 Championship Points at first appeared to be an improvement and a desire to make earning an invite much harder, but I think with the mid-season buff to the point structure, TPCi once again showed that they are more interested in a Worlds for all rather than an incredibly small event.
In general, I do think that my opinion has somewhat opened in regard to the ideal World Championship that I would like to see. In the past, I think I was mostly in favor for something closer to the Hearthstone invitation structure where only four players per region (NA, EU, China and APAC) are able to attend, but after observing that structure over the past few years, I think that it is far more demanding than anything else.
With few exceptions, the invitees are drastically different every single year. I think the narrative for a game is greatly developed through the most prestigious of events, and if the structure is too difficult for players to create that narrative for themselves, the game as a whole, in my opinion, suffers because it becomes to much to distinguish consistent play from consistent luck. Instead, I am now much more open to a bigger event, but think that Pokémon itself is somewhat lost as to what they truly want to host for a World Championships.
With events like the Anaheim Open, I think that they somewhat expose themselves being more concerned with the size of their events rather than the prestige. I noted the exact same thing in the past with the Boston Open, but I find the notion of a tournament that excludes only the very best to be somewhat ridiculous and more in line with a participatory awards rather than a means to becoming the very best. And once again, I must repeat that there is nothing wrong with this mindset and nothing wrong with wanting to compete in the Anaheim Open (as I will most assuredly be participating should I fail to make it through the first day of the event).
I think that if this is TPCi’s intention, then they ought to double-down on making all events open to the public and once again lower the point requirement for Worlds, but still incentivize a chase for the top few placings on the leaderboards. The 2016-2017 structure was caught somewhere in the middle, and as a result I think it suffered, unable to flourish — as we can see with the relatively low attendance for Day 1. If Christopher’s initial projections are correct, then many will be able to make it to day two with a mediocre record, which certainly invalidates the struggles of those who fought and clawed to be directly seeded into Day 2. Perhaps what I am asking for is too much or too difficult to actualize, but it is cathartic to get my thoughts out this way in such a manner. I am curious as to what everyone else thinks on the structure and my own personal ramblings and of course will update my thoughts on the matter once we are introduced to the invite structure for the coming season. But that is enough talk on the matter for today! Let’s get into some Burning Shadows decks, shall we?
A 4 Deck Circle: Examining the New Format
Though many have expressed their dissatisfaction with the format post-Burning Shadows, or at the very least believed it to be noticeably worse than our last format, I am finding myself in total disagreement. This is not to say that the previous format was not wonderful, but I do think that it was somewhat limited by the presence of Garbodor and without any real tools printed to combat Trashalanche, I believe that it was BDIF in some capacity without much debate. However, with the new set, I think that there are many new avenues available to navigate dealing with the trash menace — and I am excited to explore them.
With every “blind” format, I think we really do get to see a time for players who put in the work to shine. Last year, we had a blind format at the World Championships for the first time, with it being the first event with Steam Siege being legal. But, for the most part, the impact of that set was largely unfelt. It did not add anything new to the table (though the Japanese did show up with various Fire decks and placed acceptably well), it mostly just added new tools to older and already proven archetypes. Night March was made even stronger with Special Charge and Pokémon Ranger, and Greninja was given a new support partner in Talonflame — but everything else was essentially things that we had already seen. It is my hope and prediction that Burning Shadows will prove to be much different!
Though it is much too early to be making definitive claims, I think that the top archetypes will be comprised of a combination of old and new concepts. Many have already rushed to the card sepulcher and cried the death of Garbodor, but despite the existence of hard counters like Gardevoir-GX, I would be highly shocked if Trashalanche goes away entirely.
For the moment, I believe that there are four clear and distinct front-runners for BDIF in the new format and they all have interesting interactions with each other. Unfortunately, many of the matchups are somewhat polarizing, so a large factor to succeeding at Worlds this year will likely be your deck choice, but thankfully it is not quite a rock-paper-scissors format. To give a clearer example, I believe that the best decks at the moment are Gardevoir/Gallade, Decidueye Spread, Metagross, and Volcanion varients. Fire ought to be favored against Decidueye and Metagross while facing a close but unfavored matchup against Gardevoir. Contrastingly, I think Gardevoir is unfavored against the other two decks as well. This gives the projected matchups of these top decks a somewhat circular nature, but as we dive into the lists, I’ll try to explain how each deck might have a chance to come out favorable against the other three.
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 32
Energy – 14
In general, this list deviates very little from Ryan Sabelhaus’s top 8 list from the NAIC, and I think that is for very good reason. That list, in my opinion, was close to perfect and saw a considerable amount of success with the group that played it. I have made some slight adjustments to adjust for a less Garbodor heavy metagame, which I think gives the deck a considerable amount of speed, and does not require it to play as conservatively as it did in the previous format.
The biggest additions to the team are Kiawe and Ho-Oh-GX, and both cards are absolutely incredible. At a glance, I think Ho-Oh might appear to be a little underwhelming but its biggest feat is that it does not feature a Water weakness, making your matchup against things like Greninja all the better. If you go first a turn one Kiawe onto Ho-Oh almost guarentees a free 1HKO on any Pokémon in the format (especially when combined with a Steam Up or two).
To me, this is the real frontrunner for BDIF in the format and will most assuredly be a force to be reckoned with come Worlds. Many of the popular decks in the last format existed on the proposition that Volcanion was not going to be all that popular. Metagross and Decidueye both cannot thrive in an environment where you could conceivably play against Fire 40% of the time, and I think that will be a great factor in building decks looking forward.
Finally, I believe the verdict to still be out on whether or not Gardevoir-GX is favored in this matchup. In the testing I have done, the matchup is incredibly dependent on who wins the opening coin flip as the turn 1 combo (as mentioned above) can easily sweep a slower set-up deck like Gardevoir.
pokemon-paradijs.comWhile I do believe that Volcanion is the most powerful deck in the format, Gardevoir-GX is the flavor of the month. I think that this deck is absolutely a tier one threat and I am somewhat amused at the idea of another Gardevoir/Gallade combination being printed as a Worlds deck again. There is, otherwise, little I have to say on this deck for the moment. I know my testing partner and good friend Travis Nunlist has dedicated a large portion of his time to testing the deck and essentially all of my opinions on the matter as in someway just a derivative of his and so I will leave the bulk of explaining Gardevoir up to his article later in the month.
The only thing that I would like to add is that Gardevoir (and anything attempting to evolve) will still struggle against Decidueye spread. However, Gardevoir has the potential to remedy this with the inclusion of Wonder Energy. For the moment, Special Energy denial seems to be at an all-time low in the format and this card has a lot of potential as it allows you to dodge Espeon-EX’s Miracle Shine as well as various other threats like Espeon-GX and the like. I am not sure if I would play more than 1-2 copies of the card in a Gardevoir list. but I have always been a fan of playing a next-to excessive amount of energy in my lists if I can find the space. With the norm for any given Gardevoir list seeming to be about 7 Y Energy, I do not see much trouble attempt to add two Wonder Energy to that mix.
Pokémon – 18
1 Tapu Lele ???
1 Alolan Ninetales-GX
Trainers – 32
Energy – 10
The irony of this list is actually that I was somewhat under the impression that a Metagross-GX deck with a bigger focus on other (and notably Psychic) attackers was an invention of my own creation but as you can see, Christopher actually featured something incredibly similar in his own article. Our lists are very similar, as I made some adjustments to match some of the choices that he had settled upon. My list, noticeably, is a bit more focused on other alternative attackers and really wants to take full advantage of the Psychic Pokémon to try to have some semblance of a chance against Volcanion.
Necrozoma is my favorite addition to the deck and since reading the initial scan of the card, I have been relatively certain that this card would be incredible in the right deck. Maybe the best option is a deck more focused on spread with Tapu Koko and such and attempt to end the game with one GX attack, but for the moment, I really enjoy the versatility that this card adds to Metagross as well as the other various choices in the list. Magearna-EX, like Wonder Energy, provides an opportunity to deny Decidueye Spread of its win condition in Espeon-EX as well as having considerable utility in more fringe scenarios.
Final Deck Ideas
I’m sure you have noticed that I did not include a list for Decidueye Spread anywhere in this article, and that is simply because I think the perfect lists are already available from last format. If I were to keep playing the deck (and I do believe that it still has a lot of potential as the format continues to shift in favor of evolving), I would simply swap one Lysansdre for a Guzma and a Tapu Koko for a Max Potion from Mees and I’s NAIC list. Acerola is likely worth testing as well. I have found it somewhat underwhelming as a 1-of, though there are many easy adjustments one could make if you felt inclined to try it even still.
Outside of the three archetypes discussed above, I do think that the format is still wide open and that there are likely several top decks that no one has discovered yet. Though I do not have list for either of these concepts and I do not want to waste space with pure theorymon, I do think that the Necrozoma Spread deck (perhaps with Garbodor as well) mentioned above has a lot of potential. Even Rhyperior could prove itself to be somewhat of a threat. I think that mill as a concept has a ton of great cards in the current format and could see Rhyperior working out well with lots of disruption, Acerola and Devolution Spray.
Hopefully by my next article, I will have tons of fresh information to share with everyone, but until next time!
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