Minding The Gaps

Stories of Gameplay Decisions, Testing Methods, and Deck Thoughts from London
Glad I didn’t have to clean up after celebrating!

Hey all, I’m excited to be back with you after a long weekend in London. My own tournament ended with a disappointing 2-3 finish but there was plenty to celebrate this weekend.

After a disappointing start to the year personally and as a testing group, Christopher and I really put in the work with testing for this tournament. We did our due diligence with tons of matchups and decks that were likely irrelevant just to cover all of our bases and. And the result? A Top 4 finish for Christopher and Top 32 finishes from his brother and Michael Slutsky. Other than my own performance, a great weekend that represented a really strong understanding of the metagame.

For today’s article, I’ll be discussing some of my thoughts from this weekend on decks, testing, and gameplay. I hope this information can be of use to you all, but if you’re just looking for decklists, Brit’s article from yesterday is an incredibly good recap of the event’s top performing lists and I encourage you to check that out.

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Research Records: How I Tested

My testing leading up to this past weekend was some of the best I’ve ever done, both before the event and on site. My confidence in Gardevoir as the BDIF gave me the time to test as many different deck ideas as I could. Since we had something incredibly solid to fall back on, we spent time testing everything from Crabominable to Gourgeist in hopes that we could find anything that stood a chance against the format.

In the future, I think I’ll aim to again find a good fallback option before aiming to break the metagame.

Not only did I test all sorts of decks leading into London, but I also was able to expand my testing circle. This meant I was hearing new thoughts on in-game decisions, as well as changes to my lists. Thankfully, the Standard format has slowed down a bit compared to the past few years. but this means that your in-game play is more important than ever. I’m constantly surprised at how much impact a few decisions can have on the outcome of a game, and I’m thankful to have a great group of testing partners to talk through them with me.

Along those same lines, I’ve actually found myself watching streams from players like Azul and Pablo Meza much more than I have in the past. Now more than ever, players of all skill levels can learn from watching others. I encourage you all to check out streams if you’re looking to step up your game (which I assume you are)!

I was also able to get some great testing in this weekend once I arrived in London, possibly the best single day testing session I’ve done at an event. There were a few key factors that played into this:

  1. The Airbnb we played at had multiple tables and easily allowed for 4-5 games to be played at a time.
  2. The tables were spread across several rooms, allowing for different ideas or list variations to be separately considered and developed.
  3. We had a lot of different decks built.
  4. We were completely open to all sorts of “bad” ideas if anyone seriously believed they could be good.

The end result of this was an environment where I really learned that the format was more wide open than I initially realized. We tested multiple Metal/Counter Toolbox type of decks, many different variations to Gardevoir lists, a crazy speed Volcanion list of Ryan Sabelhaus‘s creation, and probably several others decks that I didn’t even see.

These kind of “testing houses” are an idea I’ve heard are popular in the Magic community, but I’m not sure it is common in Pokémon. But after seeing some amazing testing first hand, I would highly recommend you try out a similar set up for a day of grinding games before a Regional or National level event some time. I might even start looking to stay at more Airbnbs than hotels whenever I’m going to an event even a single day early – the table space is that important.

Beating Gardevoir: Why So Hard?

One thing that I started to notice this weekend in my testing games, and when discussing with people that played the same Gardevoir list: even decks that tried hard to have a good matchup against Gardevoir often struggled to beat it. The combination of 4 Max Potion with Twilight-GX eventually allows a 230-HP behemoth named Gardevoir-GX to outlast anything that can’t 1HKO it. This is especially apparent in the matchup against the Golisopod/Zoroark deck that Tord won the tournament with. Christopher beat a similar list in Top 8 on the heels of a board that can never be 1HKO’d in the late game/once the Golisopod has burned its GX attack on a Tapu Lele or a Gallade.

Many things that can 1HKO a Gardevoir (read: Metal Attackers) have trouble with early aggression from Gallade (Registeel, Cobalion), or don’t trade favorably with your attackers (Celesteela-GX). In fact, Celesteela can’t even 1HKO Gallade or Tapu Lele-GX without a huge energy cost and a one time GX attack. Max Potion can also be used here in some situations to keep the race at a favorable position, and Gardevoir itself can even trade for the same 3 energy + Choice Band that Celesteela needs to 1HKO it.

One misconception that I had myself before fully testing different versions of Gardevoir was that the Max Potion version isn’t able to explode as much as versions that don’t devote space to healing. However, this just simply isn’t the case. The combination of Gallade and Octillery is unreal, letting you often dig 12 cards for the 2-3 cards you need to get key knockouts turn after turn. I often find myself “racing” with the deck, throwing as many Energy on the board as I could to guarantee that I take my 6 Prizes before my opponent, no matter what they do. You don’t even have to spend time using Max Potion on your Gardevoirs in these games, and I actually would guess I only use Twilight in about 35% of my games. The raw damage from Gardevoir is just unmatched right now, and Max Potion is the icing on the cake.

It’s rather apparent that Gardevoir is the best deck in the format right now. I wouldn’t bring a deck to a tournament if I wasn’t confident that it could beat Gardevoir, especially a list piloted by a very good player. However, I was intrigued to see that many players in London were playing decks that actually didn’t beat it. The only deck in the Top 8 that should solidly beat Gardy is Michael Long’s Greninja list, and Christopher even won G1 against that in R13 (he tied both series he played vs Greninja). Quite honestly, I went to bed on Saturday night expecting to wake up and watch Christopher win the whole thing.

While you might think the matchups are unfavorable, or even against decks like Zoroark/Golisopod and Silvally/Metal, due to watching Christopher’s Top 8 and Top 4 matches, we’ve since reflected on the tournament as a whole and the multiple games played against those matchups with our Gardevoir list. I would put the Golisopod/Zoroark matchup around 65/35, and the 35 represents the games where you don’t set up enough Stage 2 Pokémon. The Silvally/Metal list is probably a little more in their favor than that, but definitely not unfavorable for Gardevoir. Alex beat Zak’s Silvally in Round 9 and Christopher beat another in Round 14 (albeit on the heels of some pretty atrocious draws from Yasin) so there’s a bit of backing to what may seem like an outrageous claim.

On one hand, I’m actually kind of happy that Gardevoir is so hard to take down. Weakness has been seen as a little bit overpowered in the game recently, with matchups like Golisopod vs Greninja or Volcanion vs Golisopod being all but over before they start. It’s promising that we see decks like Gardy adapt and overcome the little picture on the bottom left corner of the card. However, the deck just seems a bit unfair. It’s that good. Well, it is until our Solgaleo overlords take over next set…

Spearfishing: The Remoraid Trend

Public Enemy #1.

As I’ve mentioned before, the relatively slow speed of the format right now makes in game decisions more impactful than ever. One such decision came up several times this weekend in the Gardevoir vs Golisopod/Zoroark matchup. I played against the same deck Tord won with in Round 4 and quickly noticed that my opponent went out of his way to Guzma and KO my Remoraid in all 3 games. And by “out of his way”, I mean instead of 1HKOing any of my “threats” like Ralts or Kirlia on my bench, even if they had an energy attached. Now, I normally wouldn’t notice a play such as this, but after discussing it with the Schemanskes and Michael Slutsky, they recalled opponents doing the same thing against them.

So, let’s start with the why. Why would someone make this play? The answer is rather simple. The advantage that Zoroark-GX gives them is that they can dig through their deck at will and recover from any N. If the Gardevoir player has an Octillery online, they essentially can do the same thing. From here, Gardy is pretty solidly favored as you have the capability to 1HKO all of their attackers where they have no chance to do the same to you. Even if you’re not taking one shots, you eventually can outlast them with 8 Max Potion or chase whichever KOs they can’t pick up with Acerola since you have access to 6 Guzma.

Now, if they cut off your draw power, they can theoretically N you out of the game. At the very least, they can stop you from setting up enough to take your prizes before they take all of theirs. Interestingly, in these games, the Golisopod player often goes down to just a single prize remaining after they just pick away at your board. They create a sort of “soft lock” where you can’t bench any more Pokémon that can be 1HKO’d or you’ll assuredly lose the game. Knocking Out your Octillery makes it harder to evolve the Ralts and Kirlia that you have benched in the middle of the game, so you better hope you didn’t bench enough Pokémon to give them all of their prizes.

Against a normal Gardevoir deck, I can see where this strategy would pay off. With a minimal board, Gardevoir is pretty underwhelming as an attacker, and can be dispatched with relative ease since almost anything in the Golisopod deck can 2HKO you. Most of the time, they aren’t even risking a retaliatory KO with only 1-2 energy on their attackers. You just don’t have the gas to keep up in the race.

However, I don’t think that this is the correct strategy against the Gardevoir list that we ran. The biggest factor is the 2nd Gallade, a significant threat to their entire deck. Once they’ve used Crossing Cut, they can’t even 1HKO you with anything. Even a Koko spread + Mewtwo EVO comes up just short of a KO. Their deck doesn’t really function without multiple Zoroark-GX on the bench to Trade away junk for Supporters and Puzzles. Each Gallade typically takes 2 Prizes, and threatens to take many more if not dealt with. They also represent the missing consistency that the Golisopod player has likely taken away from you, and while Premonition isn’t as strong without Abyssal Hand, it does enough to keep you in the game.

My biggest problem with this “chase the Remoraid” strategy is that it’s just not as cut and dry as the Golisopod players seemed to try to make it. In scenarios where a Gardy player has 1-2 Ralts/Kirlia on my bench, it makes a lot more sense to target those down before they get the chance to evolve. The Octillery can be 1HKO’d at a later time: Gardevoir and Gallade are much harder to get rid of once they hit the board. Maybe this strategy worked well in testing, and maybe they have a larger sample size to draw conclusions than I do.

When you play in your next tournament, try to keep an eye out for tendencies like this. If you can notice it early in a series, you can often use it to your advantage. For instance, in one of the games that I played against the Golisopod deck, I prized my Octillery and realized on my very first search. However, I still got the Remoraid on the first Brigette as a “bait” of sort. And you know what? It worked. He went right for it, just as I predicted. Such a play can help you keep 1 more Ralts on the board, which can translate into 1 more beefy Stage 2 Pokémon on the board in the late game. And as I found out this weekend, that could make all the difference.

A Ride On The Tube: Quick Stops

  • Buzzwole has more potential than I initially thought. I actually piloted a Buzzwole/Garb deck in some testing games to some decent success against Gardevoir and lost to a similar idea in Round 3. Two different variants made Top 8 to prove they were real contenders in the format. But can they consistently compete with Gardy and Golisopod? Only time will tell.
  • Volcanion surprised everyone this weekend (except maybe Michael Slutsky) with a dominant run to Top 8. I’m not sure which part of its run was more surprising: the fact that it made Top 8 or the fact that it lost at least 3 games to Tord’s Golisopod deck. Calling it a Golisopod deck might not be fair in these games actually, as it looked a lot more like a quad Zoroark idea, but still.
  • Speaking of a comeback story, I was pleased to see Decidueye storm back into the spotlight (albeit briefly). When I dropped from the event, Jimmy Pendarvis was 5-0 (10-0 in individual games!) and jokingly apologizing to me for not letting me in on his concoction. After I woke up from my much needed nap, I found out he somehow missed cut after that stellar start. Jimmy was pretty sick this weekend and I have to assume that played a role in his downfall. Much to the (anticipated) disdain of Christopher, I’ll be trying out some games with Decidueye in the next few weeks to see if it’s a serious contender for Memphis.
  • One of the biggest stories this weekend was the nearly complete absence of Drampa/Garbodor at the top tables. It’s not terribly surprising given the difficult matchups against Golisopod, Buzzwole, and Silvally variants. Any Gardevoir lists with double Gallade definitely don’t make it easier for Drampa to navigate the field either. Luckily for any Garbodor fans, it seems to be one of the only concepts that will be able to stand up to Solgaleo once the new set drops in February, so don’t lose hope yet!


And we’re out.

Thanks for reading everyone. Today’s piece was a bit different than normal so please feel free to give me your honest feedback. I’ve been struggling to find ways to bring you all interesting information without rehashing the same decks and talking points. Many readers only seem to want to glance at decklists and skim over the rest, but there’s a lot more to this game than just the deck you’re playing.

Until next time,


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