Coming out of the North American Internationals, I had a lot of ideas for things I wanted to write about. Last year at this time, I was writing about what it was like to Poképarent a child to winning the National Championship. Hopefully, I brought you a sense of the amazement and excitement of being in my shoes at the time.
This year, we had a similarly amazing outcome: Both my kids made Top 8 at the NAIC! Because they both lost in Top 8, the crazy feelings of last year aren’t as interesting to live through vicariously, so I thought I would write a little about what we went through getting started in Pokémon. While I can’t say that the experience that we had is an exact blueprint for how to make your child a competitive Pokémon player, I can say that it worked for us. In that regard, like any good case study, there are probably lessons to be gleaned from it.
How To Get Started in Competitive Pokémon
Because I am a dad of Pokémon people, people ask me how to get their kids into competitive Pokémon all the time. I have seen lots of opinions on this, mine is “win or go home.” And here is what I mean:
Winning is a three step process in Pokémon.
- Equipment. Have the right cards. Pokémon prints lots of bad cards and a few good cards. If you don’t have the good cards, you simply lose. Jason Klaszynski, playing a theme deck, loses basically every game he plays against someone with a top tier deck. If you don’t have the good cards, you just lose. It doesn’t matter how good you are.
- Skill. Pokémon is a game of skill. The same guys making day two again and again and again at tournaments is indicative of the fact that those guys just play better than everyone else. Some of the skill is in deck building, some of the skill is in-game play. You need both.
- Luck. Pokémon is a card game where you randomly draw cards from a shuffled deck. There are significant parts of the game that involve flipping coins. At the top tier of the game, you find equally skilled players that have chosen excellent cards from their comprehensive collection of cards. Luck is a frequent determiner of the outcome. As we are known to say, it’s better to be lucky than good at this game.
So if step one is to have the right cards, that means that if you show up at a tournament with bad cards, you just lose. Why? I don’t love this. I have seen other Poképarents make the opposite argument, that Pokémon tournaments are fun to play in of their own merit, but I disagree. Maybe this makes me a bad soccer dad, but to quote Frank Diaz, “we didn’t come all this way to lose.” While it can be fun and interesting to play and not do well initially, I suspect that this gets old quickly.
When we got started, we went to a local league because my son expressed an interest in trading Pokémon cards with his friends. I told him that I was not going to buy him cards because that is throwing money away, but I would take him to a local league to learn more about Pokémon.
He took the cards he had and we went to our local league. The league leader helped him build two bad decks out of his small card collection. She then played a “for-fun” game with him where he played his deck and she played Virizion/Genesect. Her deck did what it does and she was G-Boostering his Pokémon by Turn 3. He got destroyed, but my son loved it! As many of you know, he is a bright, competitive kid and he wanted to play more! What I learned was that our cards sucked compared to her cards. Her deck had amazing synergy and our deck’s synergy was that we had several different Grass Pokémon and mostly G Energy. Boom.
Now, some might take away from this the counterpoint to my comment earlier: my kid had a super fun time losing with his bad deck against her Tier 1 deck. I recognized that his card set gave him no chance in this matchup. I saw right away that if you don’t have a Tier 1 deck, you just lose all the time and if we wanted to play real games, we should get just such a deck.
Yet, the Internet had led me to the Pokémon league, so I knew it would not lead me astray. We needed better decks! Our best card was a Lugia-EX that we had gotten from his first tin. So this put us on to building a Plasma deck. I found a couple of sites that posted lists that had success similar to the lists that we felt like we could build. After all this, the intersection of lists we found allowed us to infer a certain skeleton of ~52 or so cards with a range of techs from there, varying from multiple Kyurem to Palkia-EX to Snorlax as Pokémon to Bicycles, Tool Scrappers, and Shadow Triad counts as Trainers. From there, we derived a list that we imagined wanting to play and acquired it card by card.
We started playing at a delightful time for beginners in many ways.
- Tournaments were free for Juniors.
- Tins were awesome. At the time, you could buy 4 Yveltal-EX tins and basically have the pieces for a tier 1 Yveltal deck. Similarly, you could buy Genesect tins and build Virizion/Genesect. Finally, you could buy Lugia/Thundurus/Deoxys tins and build Plasma. Those were, more or less, the only Pokémon-EX in those decks. Further, the Red Genesect theme deck was filled with valuable staples for this deck building. We bought 2 and got 2 Tool Scrappers, 4 Switches, 4 Ultra Balls, 4 Junipers, and 4 N. Today, the equivalent would be if they rolled out Drampa and Tapu Lele tins. It would be amazing for new players!
Tins today are actually as well-positioned as they were at the start of XY. If you buy the Volcanion theme deck and a few Volcanion-EX tins, you basically have a competitive deck. You could buy the White/Black Kyurem battle arena and not only have a few playable decks to test against your Volcanion theme deck, but you could raid it for Sycamore/N/Ultra Ball and have most of the staples to build a deck. It is (once again) a good time to get into the game!
The Red Genesect decks also included the training mat and we used the mat to refine our play skills a bit. We were bad. We did not know the rules very well, but we slowly got there. Of course, this was somewhat casual.
We did not have time to go to the local league again, but our first experience with Pokémon was in November, so Santa brought the first Red Genesect Theme Deck and an ETB for Christmas and my son’s February birthday yielded some key singles (2 Deoxys-EX, 1 Thunderus-EX, 1 Lugia-EX, 2 DCEs) and 2 Thunderus tins. So on the one hand, we recognized that we should skip to the end and just get a good deck. Conversely, I couldn’t bring myself to just drop all that cash right away. And I think that was fair. If I had just given my son an amazing deck, maybe he would not have sustained interest. Trickling the cards out ensured that as we invested in more and more of the cards, he was still looking for that. Let’s be clear: the reason he got this stuff for Christmas and his birthday is that it was what he wanted. So that seemed good and validating.
If you want to learn how to play the right way and quicker/better than I did, I now refer people to these videos. The short option is an official Pokémon video. The longer option is a bit old, but created by J-Wittz, a long-time and very skilled player who does a nice job.
When we got to around 56 cards of the 60 cards we imagined were our dream list, my son went to his first tournament. So, we did not go to a tournament until our deck was pretty good! While I had not yet articulated mentally the strategy for Pokémon success as succinctly as I have so far, I was aware that you had to have the cards to win. So, there was no point blowing a day if we weren’t even trying to win and we were just going to let kids beat us like a drum.
Going back and checking the Pokémon website archives, Liam went 2-3 at his first tournament. He won his first two rounds and then got smashed to finish 16th out of 23. My specific recollection is he lost his win-and-in to the top 8 to Alex Yung, now a very successful Senior. I have one picture from that tournament and it is him playing his win-and-in against Alex. Sitting next to them are Quinn Thompson, Georgia Honts and Liam Bray. We had no idea we were sitting next to and playing against some of the most successful Pokémon Juniors in the world. Crazy. It was at that tournament that we met and forged the beginnings of a Pokémon-long friendship with the Evans family.
Liam’s recollection of this tournament is much simpler: “I finished that tournament losing a win-and-in and thought, ‘I am really good at this!'” It is funny that he felt like that because I definitely felt like we achieved probably where we deserved to given what turned out to be a high quality list. The list allowed his medium skill to see medium success.
We decided to go to Nats because we thought it seemed funny/fun, where we got smashed (3-2-3), but that was the beginning of our Pokémon journey. I remember that we had to grind to get Play Points to have enough points to actually go. I distinctly remember kids asking my son and I, after we showed up at three League Challenges in a row in late May/early June to get our invite how many CPs we had. We didn’t even understand the question. After Nats, our next meaningful tournament was winning the LCQ at Worlds, which shows just how quickly, in Juniors, a player can go from just getting started to relevance. We played the same deck, with minor list tweaks, the entire season. Of course, the meta (particularly in Juniors) was much more stagnant at the time, with Virgen (Virizion/Genesect), Plasma, and Yveltal dominating the format from the moment we started playing until the World Championship with a smattering of Pyroar and Blastoise thrown in.
From that lottery ticket into Worlds, we knew we had to start grinding to have the same success and we got a Day One to Worlds the following year in Boston for both my kids and a Day Two for Worlds in SF for my oldest last year. This year, both my kids have a Day Two, which is a credit to their hard work. Now we switch decks frequently because we are much more comfortable with changing decks, new decks are variety – the spice of life, and because we have seen many instances of other kids trying to metagame us. Juniors has a relatively small pool of top tier players, so metagaming specific matchups and players is actually a thing.
The Keys to Success
What are the key takeaways from this tale?
First is clearly that an involved parent makes a difference. Could my eight year old son have used Google to identify several similar lists and distill them down to their common skeleton? Hell no. And I was generally able to do that with almost no understanding of what the cards do because I am an adult. Pattern-matching goes a long way.
Then I had to commit to getting him the cards. It was a slow, slow process for us because I was still loathe to make the investment, but I kept rationalizing that going to tournaments with bad cards and getting smashed was an investment of time that seemed dumb. If I was going to invest the time, shouldn’t we do it right? Of course, we started playing at a perfect time. There was no Shaymin-EX. There was no Tapu Lele-GX. The most expensive card we bought was a Deoxys-EX for $5.95. And it killed me to buy it. It absolutely killed me.
Second, we had a plan. Just like in business, I don’t think your plan has to be great, but I think having a plan is great. So on the one hand, we took it “slow”. We did not enter into a tournament or attend a league event until 5 months after our introductory Pokémon games. Having said that, when we did show up, while we did not understand the meta, we did not play the game particularly well, and did not know how tournaments worked, we won two games just by having a “baller” deck.
Should we have shown up with 30 cards of our 60 card skeleton earlier? Maybe. Maybe if we had shown up earlier with a bad deck and gotten smashed, we might have done better at the tournament that ended up being our first – the Maryland State Championship. Having said that, would my son have felt the same way? There are probably many ways to complete the journey, but this one worked for us.
I think having a plan to build a real deck is an important part of the competitive Pokémon process. If your plan is to just show up and lose that feels almost disrespectful to the competitiveness of your child! You wouldn’t enter your kid in a soccer tournament and make him wear an inflatable sumo suit. You wouldn’t enter him in his first chess tournament and make him wear a blindfold. You wouldn’t enter him in a basketball tournament and make him wear a potato sack around his legs. Why would you send him into Pokémon battle with a bad deck?
Take the time to go on the Internet and find a good deck. Good news: while the cards are, in some instances, more expensive than when I started playing, identifying a good starting skeleton/list is much easier today than it was in 2013. Sites like the official Pokémon website have vastly improved free resources available to players.
So that was a path to getting started in Pokémon, but how do I build an awesome list as a parent besides just copying Pokémon.com’s lists? How do I tell if a list is good? I spend a lot of time with new Juniors looking at their deck and giving them some pointers. Allow me to document them here for posterity.
Play with proxies. We played with paper print-outs of cards for months and months. We also played with bad decks because we couldn’t be bothered to print everything. But that was ok. There are two things you need to learn to identify:
First, learn to identify synergy in decks. Virgen was not a good deck because Virizion was a Grass type Pokémon and Genesect was a Grass type Pokémon and you could put a bunch of G Energy in your deck and that was good. There were lots of Grass type Pokémon in the format and adding any additional of them (save maybe a Tropius) made the deck worse.
Synergy is when cards interact in a way that makes them better when combined. Virizion’s attack let you attach 2 Energy to a Benched Pokémon. Genesect’s best attack (G-Booster) would kill any Pokémon in the format, but required you to discard 2 Energy. So for Genesect to be good, you needed a way to regularly attach multiple Energy to it. Virizion did this. SYNERGY.
A very similar example was Volcanion. Volcanion-EX had an Ability (Steam Up) that let you discard a fire Energy to do extra damage when you attack with a fire Pokémon and an attack that was powerful, but required many Energy attachments to execute. Volcanion (the non-EX) had a relatively weak attack for a single Energy that let you take 2 fire Energy from your discard and attach it to Benched Pokémon. The cycle of discarding using Volcanion-EX’s Steam Up Ability and then accelerating the Energy on to your Benched Pokémon to power up your big attacker is incredibly powerful. Because you can only attach one Energy from your hand to a Pokémon per turn, Energy acceleration decks are some of the best in the game and the synergy between Virizion and Genesect and between Volcanion and Volcanion-EX has made them some of the best decks in the game.
Night March is a different example that is not based on Energy acceleration. Night March is a deck that features 3 different Pokémon that all have the Night March attack. This attack does more damage for each Pokémon with the Night March attack that is in the discard pile. Battle Compressor was a card printed at the same time which allows you to discard 3 cards from your deck. The amazing thing about Night March was that as you discarded Night March Pokémon from your deck, your deck became more consistent. That is, the odds that you drew into cards that you needed like Energy or powerful trainers, increased as there were fewer and fewer cards in your deck.
So by playing a Battle Compressor and discarding 3 Night March Pokémon, you not only increased your damage output, but by thinning your deck of 4 cards, the odds that the next card you drew into was a card that advanced your game state was higher. So each Compressor you played made it easier to draw into the next Compressor or other key card you needed to continue to evolve your position. This made playing Night March appear effortless to outside viewers as they watched you time and again get exactly the cards you needed to take knock outs.
One of the best reasons to use decks that have already won tournaments and to net decklists is that the synergy of the Pokémon has already been validated. Victreebel/Raticate BREAK has synergy – you can poison Pokémon and also put them down to 10 hps with the attack, allowing you to theoretically stream KOs. Unfortunately, I think it has been demonstrated that this deck concept is bad because it performs terribly at large tournaments.
Second, you need to understand consistency. The first article I wrote for SixPrizes was dwelling on consistency, but every new player and Poképarent I talk to gets the same lecture. Initially, most every Junior player devalues Trainers, particularly Supporters, because they want to have so many Pokémon and so many Energy types to account for every possible situation and counter what the other player is doing. The best decks don’t do this at all. The best decks have high synergy and powerful strategies (e.g. attack with a Night Marcher with enough Night March Pokémon discarded to kill everything in a single attack; attack repeatedly with a Genesect that has enough Energy to kill everything in a single attack).
Countering everything is virtually untenable in a 60 card deck. Control decks are hard to build because there are many dimensions of control that one might want to exercise. Time and again, it has been demonstrated that it is far preferable to be able to execute your own amazing strategy consistently. In Espeon-GX/Garbodor decks, the strategy is to initially attack with Espeon-GX. This is a very effective strategy because the deck runs many Eevee and can use the Energy Evolution Ability to evolve immediately to Espeon-GX, which then attacks for a single Energy – the very Energy you used to evolve! Most lists run 4 Eevee, 4 Ultra Balls and 8 P Energy to ensure that they can consistently execute this strategy. A thick line of a single Pokémon, a thick line of Ultra Balls to let them find that Pokémon if they do not draw into it early, and a thick line of P Energy. The odds that they fail to execute that strategy quickly are very low.
That is why virtually every top tier deck runs 4 Ultra Ball. Being able to search for and get out a specific Pokémon from your deck allows you to set up and execute your strategy consistently. 4 Ultra Balls is the most you can have and you want that because starting with an Ultra Ball allows you to immediately grab Pokémon that you want to use. So having some deck search capability is important.
More important than that is a powerful draw engine. Too many new players fill their deck with Energy and Pokémon and devalue draw cards. Unfortunately, starting the game without a card that lets your draw cards is a recipe for disaster. To consistently execute your strategy requires you finding and playing cards in your deck. To do that, you need to draw cards. If your first turn consists of drawing a card, attaching an Energy, and attacking or passing, you are not executing your strategy, in all likelihood. You need to find an Ultra Ball, you may need to find Tools or Tool removal. You may need to find a Stadium.
The more draw cards are in your deck, the more likely you are to have a draw card. Of course, there are also what are euphemistically called “outs to draw”. This illustrates the value of Shaymin-EX and Tapu Lele-GX. These Pokémon actually allow you to either draw cards directly or get a Supporter from your deck! That means that adding one of these cards to your deck is virtually the same as adding a draw card. Further, it also means that if you find yourself without a draw card, but with an Ultra Ball, you could use your ball to grab those Pokémon, allowing you to draw cards. Because you run 4 Ultra Ball, adding a draw Pokémon increases your outs to draw by 5 cards. That significantly improves the consistency of a deck, explaining why those Pokémon are the most valued Pokémon in the format today.
The most important thing, in general, that you can get when you play your draw cards are more draw cards. You do not want to find yourself unintentionally unable to draw more cards. This speaks to the varying power of draw cards. A card like Professor Sycamore lets you draw seven cards. Cheren lets you draw three. The odds that you draw a card that will allow you to draw more cards next turn if you play a Cheren is much, much lower than if you play a Sycamore. For this reason (among others), Sycamore is generally thought of as a better draw Supporter card. You can play fewer draw cards in your deck and still have consistent draw if you are playing Sycamores compared to playing Cherens.
A strong draw engine allows you to play fewer Energy as well. Because you can only attach one Energy per turn, if you are drawing seven cards per turn you will find that you need much less Energy in deck than if you are playing without Supporters and simply drawing and passing/attaching/attacking each turn. After all, if you are drawing into more than one Energy every turn, generally speaking it is unnecessary and reflects deck inefficiency. Some decks play as little as 4 to 10 Energy cards. That is a lot of room to build a more powerful deck by replacing useless Energy slots with powerful Trainers and Pokémon!
Happy to supplement this with more stuff if people have ideas/questions in the comments.
Podcasts are a growth market in digital and no surprise, it has been a growth market in Pokémon as well. I am sure there are many podcasts that I am not aware of, but I wanted to comment briefly with some random opinions. After all, if you cared about my opinions on getting into Pokémon, maybe you want to hear my opinion on this. There are three primary podcasts that are on my radar: PTCGRadio, Super Rod-Cast, and the SixPrizes Podcast.
I think before you review something, you have to state the criteria for selection. My criteria is simple: I am looking for a gem that makes Team Halliburton better at Pokémon.
PTCGRadio is the granddaddy of Pokémon podcasts and in that regard, it is awesome. You feel like you know Ross and his style and congeniality make it a delight to listen to. Having said that, in many respects he has a collector mentality and while he is well-connected, he rarely uses that to bring real competitive content to the podcast. He is an ok player with strong opinions and in that regard, it is not amazing content unless you are interested in learning about upcoming sets. Having said that, until you have listened to it enough that you say “Good morning, or depending when you are listening to this, good afternoon, good evening or good night! My name is Ross and I was always told I have a voice for radio…” in a British accent, you have not given it the proper due as the granddaddy of Poké-podcasts, so get in there.
The Super Rod Cast is the kind of content that competitive players listen to for fun. Where the host of PTCGRadio is attempting to transition from player to commentator, the hosts of Super Rod Cast are somewhat new to the game and attempting to build the relationships and deep understanding of the game that will make them top-tier players. They host many good players and ask many good questions. They also engage in conversations of interest to the competitive community such as gender bias in the sport. Be sure to note, their show is not child friendly.
I may sound biased, but the new iteration of thhe SixPrizes Podcast is the best competitive content in the game. They analyze the meta with real ideas and real insight based on real testing. It features top tier players talking about how their testing is going. It is much less funny than either of the preceding podcasts, but the content is incredibly valuable insight into deck construction and the meta. If you listen to one podcast, it should be this one. This is not necessarily the entry point to competitive Pokémon, but it is where you end.
Chris Schemanske wrote at length about how it turns out Internationals dramatically skewed how Top 16 worked out for masters. I am pretty sure I have been highlighting how true that is for Juniors and Seniors since 30 seconds after London. The “rich get richer” incentive structure of comped travel and massive points for relatively small tournaments is probably the worst thing about the current point structure. It will be interesting to see how Pokémon reacts to this outcome. Already, they anticipate next year being somewhat different than this year even if they just roll it over due to four quarters of League Cups. Having said that, I suspect I would tweak the outcomes somewhat.
I think the challenge is that they want to have outsized awards for ICs because they want people to go, but until people go, it is essentially an arbitrage opportunity where people that go benefit disproportionately. But the comped travel, particularly in the smaller Junior and Senior division further instantiates a top-heavy distribution of players that attend.
Would I rename League Cups to City Championships to make them more accessible from a marketing perspective? Probably. But there you go. We can have multiple City Championships. No big deal if the City Champ changes every quarter.
Everything in this article (up to this point) was written prior to the new point structure analysis. I would append to all of this that people should expect Worlds, particulary for Juniors to be HUGE next year. It is so, so easy for Juniors to get 350 points. All you need is 3 first places and 5 second place finishes and you have your invite.
If you Top 8 a Regionals, you get 100 points. I heard on the SixPrizes podcast that the average League Cup last year had 3.8 Juniors. There is no kicker for Top 4, so one could lose every round at 8 4 person League Cups and get 256 points. That yields an invite when combined with a Top 8 finish at Regionals.
This is a huge, huge difference from last year, where, as we discussed previously, you more or less needed a Top 8 at a Regionals to get an invite prior to the big point change. It is interesting that they would lower the target while also making it so every North American Regionals (assuming history repeats itself) should have Top 16 points for Juniors. So there will be less of the previously noted “box out” effect in Juniors, but the box out effect will also be less important to determining whether people get invites.
Obviously, from a player perspective, one could say that it would be ideal to have an algorithmic model that provides more points at bigger tournaments, maybe particularly for “similar” tournaments that have such a diverse player turnout such as ICs. Pokémon has chosen not to do that, which is a marketing boon to smaller tournaments and, assuming money was not an object, an arbitrage opportunity for the player base. Sadly, because there is a real cost, the arbitrage opportunity is best exploited by the players already intending to travel a disproportionate amount, rather than allowing players to cherry-pick tournaments in less attractive locales.
Finally, the volume of League Cups vs. Cities/States (which, by their nature frequently scheduled over each other and were in a limited time window) means non-Regionals points will be much more available, I think, than in prior years.
Worlds 2018 is going to be an absolute mob scene. They better have a stadium for all the Juniors and their parents that will be there.
While I very much enjoyed the format for the last few months, despite the fact that the only tournament we attended was the NAIC, I am not looking forward to Worlds. I do not like the new Gardevoir-GX card. It seems to me that this is a Stage 2 that cannot lose to Garbodor. Between a set of attacks that has amazing numbers for killing Drampa, Espeon, and Garbodor, it also has a GX attack that seems custom-designed to ensure that Garbodor cannot take KOs. So if Garbodor was previously BDIF, this creates an archetype that clearly beats BDIF. How does one counter it? Metal seems to be the only obvious conclusion so far. Nabeel Hyatt, fellow Pokédad, has long complained that the problem with Pokémon is that weakness is over-powered.
But more to the point, Garbodor was my favorite, most balanced BDIF that I have yet seen. By the time NAIC rolled around, many, many players did not play Garb and that was because it was a BDIF that lost to skilled players. Good players found that they could play other decks and simply play them better and win.
To beat Garbodor, you had to play and construct your deck differently. As I pointed out in my last article, when I predicted the ascendence of Garbodor at NAIC, many speed versions of “pre-Guardians” decks (like M Ray, Darkrai, and Volcanion) test very well against lists that have seen success in the Guardians format, as long as you are not playing against Garbodor. Decks that thrived on fast starts and 5 minute turn ones got turned on their head by Garbodor decks that instantly were hitting for huge numbers. Conversely, a Volcanion player could design a list to beat Garbodor. The trade-off they had to make was how much worse they wished to make other matchups. The BDIF could not be defeated by one-card techs (although Mewtwo EVO is adorable).
But, the better a player you were, the fewer the compromises you had to make in your list. With skill and luck, you could simply not play items. It is a dramatically different meta we live in from one year ago when we were testing Night March or Vespiquen/Vileplume and having a 10 minute turn one vs. today where I have a turn one that is Brigette, attach, pass. And I am more or less happy with my board development.
I previously praised the concept of Pokémon-GX, and it is great to have Stage 2s that are way bigger and more powerful than Basic Pokémon, and it is fantastic how Evolution decks suddenly have a delightful home in the meta. Having said that, Gardevoir-GX is a card that makes the format more Rock/Paper/Scissors. If you develop your board slowly, you will be run over by Gardevoir. If you have a deck that allows you to develop your board quickly, you lose to Garbador. But if you play Garb, you lose to Gardevoir. This puts Gardevoir-GX in a strange place in the meta where it can only lose to really explosive starts (decks that are strongly countered by Garbodor) and metal.
Another thing that is interesting in Juniors is the changing mentality regarding coaching. Maybe it is the cash prizes. Maybe it is the evolution of the game. Maybe it is the pressure to be Top 4/16 being higher than ever without travel awards for top 100 for US Nats. But coaching has dramatically changed.
I wrote a year and half ago about how we experimented with coaching. Because I like trying stuff. Since then, I have heard of probably half-a-dozen Juniors that have coaches, many of whom work with them on a near full-time (once a week) basis. That is serious. Honestly, I continue to toy with trying coaches here and there when we want to get some more practice games in, but we have not gotten on that train. Maybe that is reflected in our results this year relative to other Juniors.
The Big Kahuna: NAIC Report
Enough of my prattling on about random stuff. Let’s talk about NAIC. Both of my kids had amazing tournaments. They both played Espeon/Garb. Here was our list:
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 28
Energy – 12
The three Eevee was rough. We would have liked four, but space was limited.
I was a big fan of the Flareon and there were times we thought about cutting the Garbotoxin and relying on the Flareon as the sole out against Metagross and Decidueye decks. As the dad, I realized I am a bit more conservative in deck building than I might be if I were playing because I didn’t want them to prize a key piece and just take a loss. I wanted two outs – Garbotoxin and Flareon.
Trashalanche begs to be streamed consistently at the end of the game and you worry that wasting a spot on Garbotoxin may impact that. Two Rescue Stretcher help fill that gap, but Garbotoxin is so good against the Tier 2 decks, it just seems too good to not run.
We committed fairly early on in our testing to adding a Shaymin-EX to whatever deck we were playing. As people adjusted decks to adapt to Garbodor and Tapu Lele-GX, it seemed like many lists simply had few ways to “push harder” to get a card because they no longer ran Trainers’ Mail or Shaymin-EX. We wanted to be able to “go a little harder” to take a KO if we needed it. Shaymin-EX and Oranguru both can let you do that. My oldest saw great utility in Oranguru and it let him make less linear turns, which plays to his strengths. Obviously, Oranguru is great late game also.
We debated the Oricorio vs. the Tapu Koko quite a bit. We knew we wanted to add one more tech attacker to make the deck less linear and give us more optionality. Oricorio is good against Vespiquen but we expected little Vespiquen. Tapu Koko is good against a few different things, sets up numbers well and it has free retreats, meaning that starting it is less bad.
Halliburton the Younger
R1: Walker WW v Gavin W. Espeon/Garb
Gavin was a beginner with a good deck. He made some poor plays like Fan Club for Lele, then benching the Lele and not Wonder Tagging. Twice he attached Psychic to Eevee and did not use the Ability. Walker prompted him to evolve and he took advantage, so Walker coached him up a bit but won easily despite dead-drawing in game one.
R2: Walker WLW v Cameron R. Espeon/Garb
The first two games were dead-draws. Last game went to third turn of time. Other kid played Weakness Policy as a tech but Walker was able to find Field Blower when needed. Cameron overly aggressive attached DCEs allowing Walker to hit him with big Psychics from time to time. Walker makes a nice play to Field Blower a Float Stone off his own Garb and attach Choice Band to win on the third turn of time.
R3: Walker WW v Aidan M. Metagross
Flareon destroys Aidan.
R4: Walker WLT v James K. Decitales
James is the fourth ranked NA player, so we were not stoked to see this matchup! Also, he is just a really good kid. This matchup in our testing gets worse the bigger the Ninetales line. James ran a 2-2. Game 1 saw Flareon put in the work. Game 2 he whiffed the Flareon and Garbotoxin and lost. In Game 3, James got three Decidueye out T1, but they ran out of time and Walker’s impending loss was averted.
R5: Walker LWL v Jared C. Greninja
R6: Walker LL v Lucas M Greninja
Walker came to regard the Greninja matchup as very bad, which is true.
R7: Walker WW v Bailey P. Espeon/Garb
Bailey N’d him low but he got the Garb for the win.
R8: Walker WW v Jakob M. Drampa Garb Toxapex
I think we were just happy to go home after an exceptionally long day so I have no notes.
5-2-1, advanced to Day Two. Four Garbodor decks were all wins, two Greninja decks were all losses, a tie to Decidueye and beating a Metagross. Fair cross section of the Junior meta there.
Halliburton the Older
R1: Liam WLW v Hunter S. Drampa/Garb
My son said three Espeon were huge in that matchup, giving him the Game 1 win. In Game 2, Drampa just ran him over. Magma Base gave chip damage to KO Espeon and then after an Espeon was KOd, Hunter would retreat behind a Koko and chip until he could Lysandre another Espeon and kill it so every game was very slow. Also, Hunter played like he had no items in his hand. In one game, he repeatedly Big Wheeled with a confused Drampa because he didn’t want to play the VS Seeker in his hand.
Finally, on the second to last turn of time, Hunter Rescue Stretchered a Tapu Lele to grab a Lysandre and used it on a Trubbish. He also used Field Blower on the Float Stone and Choice Bands off the board, and put the Tape Lele in the active and passed. But, by playing 4 items in his final turn, Liam was able to Sycamore a 20 card hand to grab a DCE to retreat, attach Choice Band to Benched Garb and hit for 170 to take final 2 Prizes on the final turn.
Yes, that means in Rd 1 for my older and Rd 2 for my younger, they won on the final turn of time. Stressful. And both played Garb decks round one, so we felt like it was going to be a mirror kind of tournament, which it was.
R2: Liam WW v Bryce N. Binder Drop
Bryce was a beginner playing a Darkrai Lugia Krokorok Malamar Pidgeot deck w/ R Energy.
R3: Liam WW v Tristan S. Decitales
Tristan played too many items.
R4: Liam WW v Braydon V. Straight Ninetales
Braydon played too many items too quickly.
R5: Liam LL v Regan R. Rainbow Road
The number one ranked player in the World gave Liam a beating. Couldn’t find the N when Regan got down to 2 Prizes. Regan skillfully played very few items and used Fan Club to set up repeatedly.
R6: Liam WLW VMAX B. Quad Darkrai
Max misplays, attacking with Tapu Lele with two Darks attempting to KO Garb by hitting for weakness. This is a mistake that will be made by Juniors again and again until Lele rotates. Having said that, it is a necessary balance aspect for the card to keep it from running wild. Liam then uses the extra turn to set up and go ahead in the Prize trade.
Max is a skilled competitor from Germany that has caused us problems again and again at tournaments. Expect him to show up at Worlds in a big way.
R7: Liam WW v William Wallace Rainbow Road
Better luck, better strategy, better outcome. Obviously, we never want to play William. As the number two ranked player in NA, he is a skilled opponent and we had just gotten wrecked by Rainbow Road moments earlier. Having said that, we spent a lot of time after the loss to Regan talking through the theorymon on this deck because Liam felt like it was a terrible matchup before and after the loss to Regan. I think we understand how to play this matchup at this point.
R8: Liam LWL v Zion D Zoroark
Matchup is hard! He streamed Zoroark BREAKS and put on a clinic.
Liam also advances to Day Two with a 6-2 record, so we are super grateful. We saw a slightly more diverse set of games in Liam’s matchups. We had no way of knowing at this point that three of our four losses were against kids that would make the Top 8. Solid!
Before I start, it is worth mentioning how great it is that we had a Day Two again. Much thanks to TPCi and Dave S. for making it happen. Last year they had a “new” tournament on Day Two because they could not carry results over. This year, they innovatively gave everyone a tie in Round 9 to force the TOM to allow them to carry records over to Day Two. This was great work by the TOM team to make things better. Very exciting for us to get to play more Pokémon and to avoid a repeat of last year where Liam was able to go 3-0 on Day Two and then ID into cut, kind of foiling the excitement.
Halliburton The Younger
R9: Walker WLW v Tristan S. Decitales
Liam had already beaten him, so Tristan knew how to play this matchup a bit better, but Garbotoxin was too strong in both games.
R10: Walker LWW v Roan G. M Gardevoir
Obviously, a hard matchup playing one of the best players in the world. This was a deck with a lot of hype going into the tournament but we found in our testing that Field Blower could really cause it to struggle. Roan steamrolled my youngest game one, game two he dead-drew in the face of three hexes in a row. Game three a huge Tapu Lele ran through his board.
R11: Walker WW v Brooke R. Vikabulu
Brooke dead-drew game one. Game two she declared Nature’s Judgement but did not have the Energy. Walker called a judge, judge ruled that her turn ended and Walker swept from there. Tough loss, but we take those.
R12: Wait for it…
Halliburton the Older:
R9: Liam LL v Austin M. M Gardevoir
Austin had to feel good getting revenge after his losses to Liam at Utah. Liam draws dead game one and gets benched turn two. Game two Liam N’s Austin to 2 and Austin had a Gardevoir with spirit link and Energy on the board. He draws Energy, Mallow, Lysandre off the N, Mallows for MGard. Liam can’t N after Mallow and he evolves and Lysandres Shaymin to win. Liam was astounded as time after time Austin got everything he needed off of N’s.
R10: Liam WW v Zachary B. Espeon/Garb
Xander Pero gave us a bunch of advice for playing the mirror before the tournament and you can see how it paid off. Just get out a bunch of Espeon, manage your items and win.
R11: Liam WW v James K. Decitales
Very stressful matchup against the fourth ranked player in NA. Liam’s early loss had put us in a place where a single loss would eliminate him from contention, but there were no easy games left. James whiffed the donk Game One when Liam Sky Returned a Shaymin into a Trubbish. Game two James had to use so many items killing Garbotoxin that Trashalanche for 240 repeatedly ended game. Garbotoxin dominated both games.
R12: Round 4-of Day Two was the inevitable moment that my children get paired against each other.
This was a parent’s nightmare. If they ID, they both have to win the next round to cut. If Liam loses he is eliminated. I tell the boys that I will not instruct them to ID or to play it out. They will have to work it out themselves. My youngest then spontaneously offers to concede to his older brother, theorizing (correctly) that if Liam wins he can ID into cut but if they ID now or Walker loses, either way Walker has to win the following round to lock himself into cut. #mantears
R13: Liam then IDs with Regan and Walker WWs to advance both my kids to Top 8 of the NAIC.
Top 8: Both lose to Greninja (Jared C. and Jackson H.). What can I say, it is a bad matchup.
So that is our tournament report. Can you tell I stopped taking notes after my kids got paired against each other? I blame the stress. Regardless, it is hard to complain about the outcome. Walker took three losses at the tournament, all to Greninja. That is a great tournament for the little guy and it allowed him to bump into 16th place in the NA rankings. I could not be prouder of his hard work paying off. His generosity of spirit and skilled play make me happy to be his dad. He probably gets it from his mother.
My kids played a million side events after that. I will say, they are less excited about side events these days because with the Prize Wall model, they don’t swag the Juniors nearly as crazily as they did in prior years.
I do have a few concluding comments on the NAIC. First, I have to say that I had mixed feelings about how the new travel thing worked out. Last year, the Top 16 all got their hotel taken care of by Pokémon. The result was that we shared a hotel with many of our BFFs and there was so much post-tournament Pokémon and community it really made the tournament feel special. I will never forget the random prerelease that Pokémon threw in the lobby of the hotel right after the tournament just because. My kids loved it.
That community mojo is amazing and I kind of miss that it isn’t quite structured like that now. Even for Worlds, we got the stipend but it doesn’t allow us to easily get into the sold out Marriott because we booked our own flight.
The lobby at the hotel in Boston (I don’t remember the hotel because we didn’t stay there!) was so much fun to hang out in for Worlds. Of course it was a nightmare for San Francisco, but that is different. So many international players were having such a good time as a group at the Crowne Plaza at the NAIC. It made me wish we had our US group more together.
Also, it is worth talking about the prizing. People were super bummed out because prizing for not making Top 32 was a swift kick in the pants. I have to agree. I think every Regional we attended made sure that every Junior won a few packs, regardless of where they ended up. How could the NAIC be worse? Pokémon’s counter to this was NAIC prizing worked exactly the same as the other ICs. But why? The NAIC was the biggest tournament of all time. You can just decide to do things differently. There was a Day Two. And it was awesome! Why not decide to prize a bit differently? Just do it.
Finally, some people may wonder what the Junior meta really looked like. Good news, I can tell you the exact composition of the Top 32 for Juniors Day Two at the NAIC:
- Espeon – 7
- Zoroark – 4
- Metagross – 4
- Greninja – 3
- Darkrai – 3
- MGard – 3
- Rainbow Road – 2
- Decidueye – 2
- Vikabulu – 2
- Vespi – 1
- MRay – 1
Top 8, meanwhile was:
- Espeon – 3
- Zoroark – 2
- Greninja – 2
- Rainbow Road – 1
So draw from that what you will!
Worlds is on the horizon. What are my kids doing to prepare? Mostly swimming. Summer is great.
For my oldest, the driving force in our Poké-adventure, this will be his last tournament as a Junior. I have been asking a bit about advice for aging up to Seniors, but I am always looking for more if you want to leave comments. I expect I will not really be writing too much going forward unless it turns out we are far more interesting as a family of a Senior than I imagine us to be. Our Junior story arc will not be complete until we battle through at Worlds. We have always done terribly at Worlds, so we are excited and nervous to have a final chance to be on this stage. My youngest has never successfully advanced to Day Two, so we are happy for him to have made Top 16.
We are planning to turn this into a vacation, but not in Anaheim, so this will be the first tournament where we don’t really bring a lot of cards because we don’t want to carry them all around. Expect me to ask if we can borrow some from you.
I look forward to meeting people at Worlds. Come introduce yourself! Always happy to play a fun game of Pokémon!