Facing the World with Your Best

A Guide to Putting Yourself in the Best Position to Succeed in the Pokémon TCG

Well, last time, I told you that I’d be back on a short turnaround. Little did I know that, in terms of articles, it’d be even shorter than I expected!

Nevertheless, I have some interesting stuff to get into today. I believe we’re at a point where Standard is pretty sorted and Memphis will be a matter of making a meta call based on the amount of Gardevoir, Golisopod, or things like Fire you anticipate. To be honest, as a non-player in the event, it’s not something I’m putting much thought into at this point, but I know my answer to Standard at this point is to play Gardevoir until they shut me down (probably in February, at this rate).

Therefore, today’s piece is going to focus more on some tournament play best practices. I’ve watched a lot of Pokémon (and at this point, there’s a lot of Pokémon to be watched with streaming backlogs), and over time, there are some themes that emerge that I believe players should think about. I’m not sure it’ll be everyone’s favorite article ever, as I’ll be offering on Standard only briefly, but I hope that you find something interesting here.

For a preview of the remainder of the week: my understanding is that Xander Pero will have a look at Golisopod/Zoroark, Jimmy Pendarvis will have some additional Standard thoughts, and Kenny Wisdom will be looking at some cultural issues in the game. Kenny’s article should be good discussion, and I’m fairly sure it’ll be paywall-free to facilitate that. Look forward to it.

But, first, I want to offer a truly detailed, thorough, revolutionary, and exhaustive analysis of the best deck in format.

The Best Deck in Format: Unveiled

This is simple, folks.

Okay, but actually: I do want to highlight my League Cup this weekend as an illustrative example. Gardevoir did very well at the last Cup in Michigan, sweeping something like half of Top 8, so I expected people to counter it. It did not help my situation that Michigan, and especially this venue, has always been somewhat inclined toward Metagross—plus, I’d just written about Metagross, too.

So, when I saw a sea of Metagross, Silvally, and other Metal-stuff comprising about half of the field in Round 1, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. Nevertheless, I went 4-2 (dropping games to Metagross and Greninja—nothing surprising, and I probably should’ve considered Giratina XY184 for this tournament) and my brother won the event. Gardevoir is so good that it can come out on top in metagames catered to beat it.

More nationally, for some reason, people seem to have decided Volcanion makes sense to counter Golisopod and the Gardevoir counters. The benefit for Gardevoir? Another very good, albeit very caution-worthy, matchup. I’m not feeling the Volcanion swing. For perspective, I’d sooner get on the Vikavolt train that seems to be getting around, and I think very little of Vikavolt as a deck.

As we head into Memphis, I don’t foresee anything revolutionary arising. It’s possible that someone manages to take Silvally-GX a step further (I don’t currently believe Silvally/Registeel CIN/Celesteela-GX has long term merit), but nothing else in Crimson Invasion seems poised to take advantage of our meta shifts. I’ll be watching eagerly, as we approach 1000 players, to see how the metagame shakes out. I would, without a doubt, play a Gardevoir list within a card or two of my London one. I expect that’ll be a fairly popular choice.

Seeing Success: Optimizing Your Play

The ideal decision is out there somewhere!

Personally, I’m very interested in things happening in as optimal a way as possible. I’m in school for study in operations research/operations engineering, so to say the least, optimizing things is important to me. In Pokémon, there are a number of ways to look at this. Things like sequencing of plays are usually such that they must happen one way; a player’s only impact on the optimal path can be doing these things incorrectly.

There are some softer areas of the game, though, like the way you handle things like your shuffling and Prize cards that can have great impact as well. Today, I want to offer a guide to some personal habits that I believe can provide an edge in your in-game play. From things like not overthinking your promotion choice (Float Stone offers Free Retreat, my friends) to keeping on the straight and narrow in terms of play, there are a lot of things to consider.

I’m not going to talk so much about ways to improve your play as much as physical, game-mechanics handling strategies that can help you avoid (or mitigate) issues with the rules of the game. When I see players needlessly exposing themselves to extra scrutiny or risk, I cringe inside wondering what possessed them to make such a choice. Hopefully I can help you not be that person in the future.

Handling Your Hand: The New Era

As you’re probably aware by now, the infraction level for drawing an extra card has been upgraded from Game Play Error: Minor to Game Play Error: Major. With this, the starting penalty at Tier 2 (Regional, Special, International) Events now sits at a Prize Loss. For seeing an extra card, you earn a Prize Penalty. To say the least, it’s not something you want to be doing.

For this, among other reasons, I play things a bit differently than most players. Off an N, Red Card, or anything else happening to my hand during my opponent’s turn, I simply set aside the appropriate number of cards and place them on the table. This offers me a few benefits:

  • If it later comes up that I have drawn the wrong number of cards, I haven’t seen them, and the situation is far more reversible.
    • This actually happened in Madison earlier this year during my Top 8 (sadly, not on stream), and while I was still sitting at the Warning tier, as I self-corrected (after staring at it for about 10 seconds, I went “wait, what?” and pointed it out) and gained no advantage, there was no need for a penalty.
    • Even during my own turn, I generally try to do this rather than fan drawing, or even doing one-at-a-time while looking. While I think trying to outlaw/legislate fan drawing is a poor pursuit, this method makes it harder to draw more cards and gives me an extra chance to recognize and self-correct before I see anything (and create a problematic game state).
  • Especially with Red Card, where your opponent may have the option of playing more than 1, it gives absolutely no indication of the content of my hand. I’m known for a pretty cold and unexpressive game face anyway, but even with that said, few people have complete control over every facial tell. By not paying any attention to my own cards until they actually matter to me, I close off any avenue for information leakage.
  • Instead of looking at, and considering, my own cards, my whole attention is on my opponent’s actions. Therefore, I’m more likely to catch any game play errors (intentional or not) committed on my opponent’s side as well. You are your own best advocate in every game of Pokémon; I value watching my opponent’s side of the board pretty highly.

pokemon-paradijs.comHonestly, since there are no cards in the format that entail interaction with my opponent (looking at you, Power Spray), there is nothing I gain by looking at my hand ahead of time. I suspect some folks are going to respond that they use this time for planning the following turn—if that’s something you need to do to keep a decent pace of play, do it. This will go for everything I discuss today: you need to play in a way that sets yourself up for success; I bring this up only as something to consider. I generally have no issue looking at my hand and formulating a plan within the time guidelines.

In addition, I find that it sometimes behooves me to not start planning until my opponent’s turn is over. While people generally make pretty predictable plays (the game generally isn’t rocket science), there are situations where your opponent could do something unexpected. At this point, you, already with an idea on how to play your next turn, might miss an obvious superior choice that evolved out of your opponent’s play. I believe this is optimal, but acknowledge some will need to accommodate themselves differently.

Purpose with Prizes: Handling knockouts

The saddest prizes in record history?

This goes pretty similarly with not looking at my hand until my turn, but there’s a bit different of an argument against my perspective. When I take a knockout, for one thing, I never look at my Prize cards until my opponent has discarded the card and is in clear agreement with my assessment of the damage output. Sometimes, I miss things, and—in what may come to be a theme in this discussion—it benefits me naught to see them that much earlier.

But, usually, I go even further and won’t look at my Prize cards—or, often, even put them anywhere near my hand—until my next turn, or at least midway through my opponent’s next turn. In the event either I or my opponent discover a game play error that requires a rewind behind me drawing those Prize cards, I’m in a far prettier position if they’re indisputably offset from the rest of my hand and I have no certain knowledge of what they are than if I’ve mixed them with the rest of my hand.

Some unscrupulous opponents may try to argue they “don’t know” what the Prizes are, even given this. When playing someone I don’t know at all, I generally keep a pretty significant distance between the two, which makes that argument harder. Sometimes, it’ll work out for that opponent anyway, but this is all about increasing our own resiliency against bad situations. Given that there’s nothing you gain by looking at your Prize cards early anyway, this is a no-cost way to avoid (or, at least, mitigate) bad situations.

It should be noted that trying to exploit a Game Play Error for an extra knockout is a serious offense that good judges will explore the possibility of before rendering a final judgement on a situation. You may not escape penalty for your Game Player error in this situation, but at the minimum you will have avoided further damaging the game state.

Perspective Primer: On Dubious Actions

I puzzle you a classic dilemma in the game: you see three Guzma in a row during your opening Wonder Tag. For many, the temptation is to “declump” these cards, perhaps moving one to the top or bottom of the deck. Some players go so far as to look through their deck before the game to ensure nothing is “clumped.” Essentially, those players seek an even, not random, distribution of resources.

The line between legal and illegal gets a bit grey with declumping. Few judges will tell you that they like any of the above, but most won’t bat an eye at the former as long as a shuffle is performed. On the other hand, I think more folks would be inclined to simply shut down the latter behavior—neither, though, is explicitly outlawed in the tournament rules (simply, you must meet the requirements for a randomized deck before you present it for an opponent’s cut/shuffle).

We’re not concerned with what is legal here, though, but what the ramifications of our actions are. Declumping achieves—exclusively—one of two things:

  • Wasting Time
  • Cheating

If your shuffling is such that your evenly-distributed, post-declumping pattern survives in your deck, you have committed an offense under Section 6 of the TCG Tournament Rules, which refers such offenses to Unsporting Conduct for penalization. If your shuffling is sufficient to destroy the actions of your declumping, you have wasted the time you just spent declumping.

There are zero desirable outcomes that can come from declumping. Most of our audience is likely aware of the controversy that arose during Seniors Finals at the North American International Championships this year. Michael Long, during a Dive Ball, moved a Rescue Stretcher from midway through his deck to the bottom and proceeded to shuffle in a manner that does not fulfill the requirements for randomization outlined in the governing regulations. Michael has been cited as explaining this action as declumping; others are skeptical.

I don’t wish to take a position on that issue here, but it’s fundamentally illustrative: when you declump, you needlessly expose yourself to dangerous situations. If Michael was truly declumping, this entire situation could have entirely mitigated if he simply hadn’t done so! Instead, he’s dogged to this day with the fallout.

Another super common example of unnecessary exposure to criticism happens from some players’ methods of taking Prizes. When you lay out your Prize cards in a 2-2-2 or 3-3 manner, then proceed to take a prize in the middle of others, (say, the middle left in a 2-2-2), you are inviting nothing but trouble. Let’s consider the exhaustive list of reasons you would be advantaged by making this choice:

  • Your card is marked, therefore, you are drawing a Prize with the knowledge of its identity.

There’s a section of the Penalty Guidelines for stuff like this. I generally recommend staying away from it.

In all seriousness, there’s just no good reason to take actions like this. You’re inviting trouble and scrutiny with such actions for zero benefit. In a game so defined by perceptions at this point in time—the mob can and will turn in a moment—it genuinely escapes my understanding that anyone continues these behaviors. On what planet can the risks be worthwhile?

Principles of Promotion: New Actives

This one will be short: I have watched countless players waste time hemming and hawing over what Pokémon to promote after a knockout when they have things like double Float Stone on their board. This is time you simply don’t need to waste! Even with one Free Retreater, there’s usually no reason not to promote it—the odd Guzma situation maybe exempted.

Games at the moment are slower than they’ve been in a long time, and every second counts. My advice is to be definitive in your actions and avoid overthinking every situation. Sometimes, you can overthink yourself into a backwards mess.


A twist on our normal sunset fare.

I was inspired to write this piece after playing in London and watching some sloppy play, but it comes on the heels of seeing much of the same for the last year or so. Like I said earlier, I’ve watched a lot of Pokémon—San Jose was my first Regional at home in, well, awhile, and I’ve seen a lot at this point. I firmly believe the ideas I’ve mentioned above are good ways to put yourself in the best position to avoid trouble, optimize your game progression, and see success in Pokémon.

As I mentioned earlier, you’ll have Xander tomorrow to take you through Golisopod. If I’m not on record already with this, I really don’t understand how that deck expects to reliably beat Gardevoir, but there are some smart people that feel differently (Xander included), so look forward to that tomorrow.

Otherwise, I’ll see you on the other side of Memphis. All the best there, and in the rest of your endeavors.


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