The last time I wrote about Juniors in early December, Q1 was wrapping up and we were looking forward to a rather sparse Regional schedule in Q2. Fast forward to today and Ultra Prism is out, St. Louis just finished (biggest Juniors attendance ever!), there is 3 Regionals in March, and Q3 Cups are starting up.
I had intended to write a recap of our Dallas and St. Louis experience, but due to work travel conflicts I couldn’t take Benjamin to St. Louis. Thanks to all the friends that asked about Benjamin and missed him; he appreciated people thinking about him.
Preparing for Dallas
We spent a lot more time preparing for this event than usual due to the 6 week break between Memphis and Dallas Regionals. This long stretch, without any significant tournaments, meant players could theory and test solely on Expanded decks. I want to share some of my insights on Juniors metagaming, how the Masters meta evolved for Dallas, and how we decided to play Wailord.
The Juniors metagame is an odd paradox that is both easy and hard to predict at the same time. An easy trend to see is whatever topped the last Regional in the Masters division will become popular in Juniors. But we’re also seeing Juniors quickly adapt to the popular picks by playing counters to the expected meta. My view is Facebook groups and article sites, and to a lesser extent Masters coaching of juniors, is narrowing the gap between the Junior and Masters metas.
With the Juniors meta becoming more complex, it is even more crucial to understand. Small changes in the meta make a much bigger impact in a tournament of 60-70 Juniors compared to much bigger pool of 1000+ Masters. In Memphis, 19 of the 60 Juniors played Gardevoir—nearly 33%! You needed to know going into the day how you’re going to beat Gardevoir, and the decks with the best matchups or right techs had an edge.
I start out preparing for each major event by analyzing the metagame to find the right decks to focus our testing. With limited time for a parent and child, it’s worth spending some time upfront to zero in on a few decks. There are a few broad categories I use to label decks I think are viable for a tournament.
- What did well in Masters at the last event.
- Hard counters to the best deck.
- Counter to the counters.
- Comfort picks/non-meta. (e.g. things you don’t bother testing against)
Looking at the Masters results from San Jose, my initial analysis of the expected metagame had the best decks as Zoroark variants and Night March. These decks are consistent, attack for a single energy attachment, and can 1-shot almost anything.
The counters were pretty easy to identify: things that shut off Abilities, discard Special Energy, and disrupt explosive starts. Articles sites were providing lists for all kinds of Seismitoad decks, especially Toad/Zoroark, which combined the disruptive combination of Quaking Punch and Hypnotoxic Lasers with the consistent draw of Zoroark’s Trade. Garbotoxin and Parallel City were also very strong counter strategies when paired with the right attacker.
Shortly after Seismitoad was on everyone’s radar early on, Pokémon Ranger resurged as a key tech that could swing the matchup back into Zoroark and Night March’s favor. This “tech a single card” against the counter idea often comes up when there’s obvious momentum behind a counter deck. We saw leading up to St. Louis that Greninja was a hyped choice to counter new Ability-reliant cards like Dusk Mane Necrozma/Magnezone. The hype was so much that although Greninja only made up 5% of the 1000+ Masters field, 127 players (about 12% total) played Giratina promo in their deck to improve their Greninja matchup.
Once people started playing Pokémon Ranger in Cups and on PTCGO, Seismitoad became a lot less appealing. Your strategy is based on locking items, but one turn of Pokémon Ranger play can cause the game to spin out of control for the Toad player. Instead we looked for a stronger lock—one that could not be easily broken: Wailord.
Xander Pero posted an article on January 2nd which really caught my attention because it combined he best aspects of the Top 8 deck from San Jose and surprise 9th place “Wishiwashi-Walls” deck from Memphis. We used his decklist as our starting point and tested the deck non-stop for a month against every matchup we expected to see. The deck was favorable against all Zoroark variants and Night March, without any counters (so I thought). We felt safe settling on Wailord to counter the meta because even though it topped San Jose few people actually considered it a threat (especially in Juniors) because of the inaccessibility of Tropical Beach.
As Dallas came closer, talk about “counters to the counters” started picking up. Golisopod was getting some hype because Jose Marrero came in 1st and 2nd in back-to-back League Cups with Golisopod/Zoroark. Enhanced Hammer is useless against its basic G Energy, and Golisopod easily 1-shots both Seismitoad and Wailord. Bunnelby also started to see some talk in Zoroark decks since they run a high count of Pokémon anyway and it can recover energy or deck out Wailord.
These last minute counters to the counter had me so concerned that I contemplated switching decks 2 days before the tournament. Instead we decided to hedge our bets and play our own techs against our counters. Here’s the list we ended up playing:
Pokémon – 7
1 Hoopa SLG 55
Trainers – 52
Energy – 1
We ended up blending Travis Nunlist’s Wailord list in his January 19th article with Drew Kennet’s last minute article right before the tournament. As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of TCG article sites and base a lot of our testing and list choices on their recommendations.
We played Buzzwole-GX instead of Wishiwashi GX based on Drew’s comments that it can 1HKO an opposing Bunnelby. If you play Prism Energy you can Jet Punch for 60 damage on a Bunnelby and still use Xurkitree’s Lightning GX attack. I couldn’t find any downside to Buzzwole compared to Wishiwashi as they both have more than 180HP, and Buzzwole’s Psychic Weakness isn’t any more relevant than Wishiwashi’s Lightning Weakness. It’s a stretch to think Buzzwole can win you the matchup against Bunnelby, but I was adamant I didn’t want an auto-loss to a one card tech. I found out afterward from RK9 Labs that only 1 Junior included Bunnelby at all, so while my worrying wasn’t 100% unfounded, it didn’t matter in the end.
We made space for techs by cutting a few cards from previous lists that didn’t help any relevant matchups. Rough Seas was only good for Trevenant, which I expected zero play in Juniors because it’s frustrating to grind out games and still lose to Zoroark decks. We also dropped Xerosic and Team Skull Grunt because we already ran enough energy denial. The tech’s we added were a Fighting Fury Belt and Parallel City to help the Golisopod matchup by boosting Wailord’s HP and reducing damage.
Hitting good matchups in the first round is crucial to the success of an anti-meta deck, because your deck is built to beat a specific metagame. We’re hoping to avoid Fire and Dark decks running 12+ energy and energy recovery Pokémon (Yveltal, Volcanion). Darkrai and Turtonator can’t compete with DCE decks like Zoroark or Night March, and a Round 1 win means we’re less likely to play those decks in later rounds.
Round 1: Night March 2-0 — Gavin M. — W (1-0)
Fortunately Round 1 is against Night March, a matchup we’ve teched heavily against with Karen and a Fighting Fury Belt. Both Wailord and Xurkitree are strong blockers that can’t easily be Knocked Out in one hit. The general Night March strategy against Wailord is to put at least 11 Night Marchers in the discard and attack with Joltik or Marshadow-GX using a Choice Band to reach 250 damage.
If the Night March player is too aggressive and leaves only Marshadow as an attacker, the Wailord player can lock them out of the game with Xurkitree-GX. Xuriktree’s Ability prevents damage from Pokémon with Special Energy, and opponents need to use Hex Maniac to do any damage at all. But Marshadow can only copy Night March using its own Ability, and playing Hex Maniac means they can no longer attack. It’s an subtle interaction I had never seen discussed before, which we only realized when testing on the flight to Dallas.
Game 1 goes according to plan and we win by deckout. In Game 2 the opponent starts lone Zorua, draws and passes. I doubt the opponent had a dead hand, so I can only guess the shock of being milled Game 1 made him start off ultra-conservative.
Benjamin plays down Buzzwole, attaches Prism energy and AZ’s his active to use Jet Punch for a KO on the lone Zorua (60 damage after weakness). In what might be a first for a Wailord player, he wins in one turn by benching his opponent, playing his shortest game of the day.
Round 2: Seismitoad Zoroark 2-0 — Mia S. — W (2-0)
This is a matchup we’re happy to see because Seismitoad attempts to disrupt energy, but Wailord executes that strategy better. The Toad player’s Team Flare Grunts and Enhanced Hammers are useless, and Wailord will always win in the long-run since it has unlimited energy disruption and healing using Lusamine. Quaking Punch locks our items, but we play 24 supporters, so there’s always something disruptive to play to break the lock. Quaking Punch does so little damage compared to Wailord’s 250HP that it’s fine to spend turns playing Lusamine or Skyla to retrieve an AZ or Team Flare Grunt.
Round 3: Seismitoad Zoroark 2-0 — Isaac T. — W (3-0)
We play another Toad deck, run them out of energy and deck them out.
Round 4: Seismitoad Zoroark 1-1 — Sebastian E. — T (3-0-1)
We face the 3rd Toad/Zoroark deck in a row, but Game 1 doesn’t go to plan. Wailord should always win a long game versus Toad once stabilized, but Wailord runs so little draw and hand refresh, awkward starts can end quickly. Skyla for Tropical Beach is the main draw approach, but when Item locked, your hand can be too big to draw off Beach. Skyla for Nest Ball is also a common first turn play to ensure you don’t get benched before you can start disrupting energy.
In Game 1, Benjamin’s opponent gets off to a fast start, Quaking Punching with a Choice Band to do 60 damage from Turn 1. If the Toad player has a Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym, they can be doing 90 damage on their turn (120 coming back to them). That gives the Wailord Player only 3 turns to bench another basic and find a healing supporter. Benjamin is stuck with a dead hand and loses very quickly due to not drawing any more Pokémon.
Game 2 goes as expected, but Game 3 never finishes, resulting in a tie.
Round 5: Wailord 2-0 — Ethan D. — W (4-0-1)
When I find out Benjamin is playing the Wailord mirror, my heart drops because I’m sure he’s going to tie and need to win his last 2 rounds to make cut. I had thought extensively about the Wailord mirror in the week leading up to Dallas because Facebook groups were debating if a mirror could result in a perfect stalemate that never ends.
If each Wailord player has multiple Lusamine and knows how to play the matchup neither player should ever deckout. Without going into a long explanation, Team Rocket’s Handiwork and Delinquent cannot mill faster than Lusamine can recover. A game without bad prizing or misplays should go on forever until time runs out.
One of our last cuts for our final list was to remove Hugh (both players draw or discard until they have 5 cards), which I had theoried was a great tech for the mirror because hand sizes can get very big. Hugh is one of the few cards that can force a big discard.
A tie is so inevitable that a Wailord player in Masters I talked to joked he would just offer ID in the mirror and get something to eat. I was shocked when Benjamin reported that he won the match with a swift 2-0. It turns out his opponent was not playing 2 Lusamine, and instead played 3 Team Rocket’s Handiwork. A mirror where the opponent doesn’t play 2 Lusamine basically turns the matchup into an auto-win. Once the opponent runs out of VS Seekers and Puzzles of Time, they can never recover cards and you’ll slowly mill them by alternating Lusamine and Team Rocket’s Handiwork while keeping yourself from decking out.
Round 6: Zoroark/Lycanroc/Alolan Muk 2-0 — Bodhi R — W (5-0-1)
Zoroark/Lycanroc is one of the most aggressive decks in Expanded, but they use Epecial energy and can never Knock Out a Wailord in 1-shot. Their Alolan Muk can nullify Xurkitree and Hoopa’s Abilities, so Wailord is the best defender in this matchup. Benjamin wins to secure a spot in Top Cut.
Round 7: Night March ID — Benny B. — T (5-0-2)
Night March is a favorable matchup so we ID to get our opponent into Top Cut. Benjamin finishes the day as one of two 5-0-2’s, and is the first seed after Day 1 for the first time at a Regional.
Day 1 could not have ended any better. Our meta call works out perfectly, hitting 7 DCE decks on the day and only dropping 1 game total.
Top 8: Golisopod/Zoroark 1-2 – Blake M. – L (5-1-2)
Juniors Top Cut consists of 7 DCE decks and Wailord, but we find out we’re paired against our worst matchup in Golisopod/Zoroark. Our list had some techs specifically for Golisopod, but it’s still a hard matchup because they hit Wailord for weakness and can attack Xurkitree using basic energy.
Our game plan against Golisopod is much different than other games because Wailord takes a back seat to Xurkitree and Hoopa. A Golisopod with a Choice Band can use First Impression to 1HKO Wailord, and they can Cross-Cut-GX a Xurkitree if they use Hex Maniac. Some of the strategies we discussed going into the match include:
- Tank with Buzzwole because it’s 190HP puts it out of range of a 1HKO
- Use Parallel City to reduce Golisopod’s attacks by 20 to prevent First Impression + Choice Band 1HKOs on a belted Wailord, First Impression on Hoopa or Cross-Cut-GX on a Xuriktree
- Use Xurkitree’s Lightning GX to put their Hex Maniac into their prizes
- Field Blower any Choice Bands to cap First Impression at 240 damage on a Wailord
- Put Fighting Fury Belt on Hoopa to prevent it from being 1HKO’d
The games were extremely close, but Benjamin couldn’t pull out the win, losing in the 3rd game. Top 8 was stiff competition, with 3 already-crowned Regional champions from this season!
It was Benjamin’s 3rd time making Top Cut, but he’s now lost in Top 8 every time. He’ll make it further in cut someday, but I thought for sure Dallas would be the one that gets him over the hump. Overall it was a fun event, and all the preparation and hard work paid off with some CP and prizes.
Preparing for St Louis
I just wrote 6 pages about how we built our deck, prepared for matchups and teched against counters for Dallas. My summary of our St Louis prep is a lot simpler: play Vika/Bulu. In reality we had only 3 weeks to prepare for St Louis, but it felt like far less. Ultra Prism came out and I was at a loss to whether any new deck (Garchomp, Empoleon, Dusk Mane Necronzma) was good. It didn’t help that our family was Knocked Out with the flu the week after Dallas either.
I personally was putting all my testing into the Professor’s Cup, a tournament for Professors being held the Friday before St Louis Regionals. The tournament used a made-up format with special rules that required some for intense deck building and play testing. I finished a paltry 4-3, with 2 losses being to crazy rule changes announced as the round started. Fortunately my deck testing did pay off as 3 players in our testing group made Top 16, including the winner and runner-up. If anyone’s interested Registeel/Solageleo GRI (non-GX) was the best deck in the Professor’s Cup.
Back to St Louis, we looked at Lycanroc/Zoroark and Buzzwole/Lycanroc as the best decks since it placed at the top of Masters in Memphis. We decided to go the counter route and chose Bulu because it has solid matchup against those decks and required minimal changes from Ultra Prism. The only bad matchups it has are to Gardevoir, Garbotoxin and itself. I guessed Gardevoir would decline due to Buzzwole and Lycanroc aggression, which was based on the Oceania IC results. We added extra Field Blowers to shore up Garb matchups and swapped Sycamore for Cynthia to conserve key resources. We played all the pre-Ultra Prism matchups plus Gardevoir/Zoroark from Oceania IC and ignored all the new decks because we decided they weren’t that good.
Although Benjamin couldn’t attend at the last minute, St. Louis Juniors Top 8. looked as if many others took the same counter Zoroark and Buzzwole approach. I don’t know what every Junior played, but it’s shocking to see zero Buzzwole or Zoroark decks made Top Cut. The top 2 Junior decks from the Oceania IC just a week before were countered enough to see no results.
There’s some common themes in the Top 8 decks. We can see three of the decks (including the winning Golisopod/Garb) used Garbotoxin to lock abilities and another played Greninja to Shadow Stitch. Two were grass decks (1 Golisopod-GX, 1 Tapu Bulu-GX) to counter Lycanroc, while 5 used psychic attackers (2 Espeon-GX, 3 Mew/Mewtwo EX) which can 1HKO Buzzwole. The only new Ultra Prism decks in Top 8 were two Dusk Mane Necrozma/Magnezone decks.
Q2 Top 16 North America Review & Q3 Preview
Last article I did a pretty in-depth analysis on the Top 16 standings and how many tournaments Juniors were attending. Q2 had only 3 regionals and an IC, so there’s not much new to report. 450CP was the cutoff for Top 16 rankings, which equates to 2 quarters of League Cups (100CP each) and 250CP from Regionals/IC.
Only 1 player changed in the Top 16 between Q1 and Q2, showing how solidified the rankings are already with only half of the season complete. The 15th and 16th ranked players didn’t earn any Regional/IC CP in Q2 at all, but managed to stay in Top 16 through the strength of their Top 8 finishes at the EUIC in Q1 alone.
Q3 Cups run until May 17, 2018 which provides us 3 full months to earn CP, but the Top 16 cutoff for North America Internationals stipends is May 3rd. If you’re competing for a Top 16 spot, make sure to get your 2 Cups finishes before the end of April. Other than cups, there’s only 4 major tournaments before NAIC stipend cutoff, 3 regionals in March (Costa Mesa, Charlotte, Portland) and Latin America IC in Brazil. I expect the Q3 Top 16 cutoff to be about 600CP.
Good luck to everyone at the upcoming tournaments! I’m very excited to attend and staff Charlotte Regionals in my home state of North Carolina on March 17th-18th. I’m very curious if the pattern of Mega-Regionals with 1000+ Masters will continue here, as Charlotte is a prime location for many to fly or drive. I’m hoping Juniors attendance will be strong. I know a few Juniors from my local league in Wilmington will be going to their first Regional there. Maybe we’ll even break 100 Juniors and see the Top 32 CP kicker reached (we can dream).
I’ll be busy judging, but if you see me, stop me and say hi. I love connecting with fellow parents and hearing about other family’s Poké journeys.