Hi everyone, Kenny Wisdom here again. Over the past few weeks I’ve had a handful of different ideas for articles. After starting, stopping, and sometimes restarting several of them this week, unable to fully flesh out each thought into something of enough length and quality for a full article, I decided I’d tackle each subject on a smaller scale, so all of the ideas could fit into one article. We’re going to touch on a few different topics today, and I hope each of you finds value in at least one of them.
A few months ago I wrote an article talking about what I would add or remove from the Expanded ban list. Shortly thereafter the ban list was updated with no changes (as expected). I didn’t hear too many disagreements about what I wrote, but with two Regionals having happened since, I wanted to touch on a few of the thoughts I’ve seen expressed on social media lately.
Q: “Is Expanded broken?”
A: I don’t think Expanded is broken, but I do wonder how fun it is. Above anything else, the point of a format (and a game as a whole) is to be a fun, rewarding experience for the player. Looking over the Top 8 decks at the most recent Expanded Regional in Costa Mesa, we certainly see a little more diversity than Dallas’ Zoroark vs Drampa elimination rounds, but not by much. Sitting down for a tournament knowing that you’re going to spend most of your day getting Hex Maniac/Red Carded/Garbotoxin’d doesn’t sound like my idea of a great time, but I accept that I haven’t played the format as much as most, and different players find value in different things.
Q: “Should something be banned in Expanded?”
A: As I discussed the last time I wrote about this, there are a lot of ways to take possible bans. I’d say that now there are even more cards that could possibly be banned – Zoroark, Sky Field, Hex Maniac, Puzzle of Time, to name a few. Honestly, I’m not sure that banning really solves anything. If we ban Zoroark, we are essentially just going back to Expanded prior to Zoroark’s printing at the (very steep) cost of banning a new GX card being sold in boxes in Target. If we ban Sky Field, Night March probably becomes the new big bad. At this point I think it would take a number of bans to really fix anything, and it’s still not clear to me that something needs to be fixed.
If I were a betting man (am), I would bet that something from Zoroark will be banned in 2018, but I don’t feel confident betting on exactly what that will be.
I pride myself on being one of the more level-headed players when it comes to tilting, complaining about luck, and the like (though anyone that knows me knows that this was not always the case). I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how we as individuals perceive luck. Allow me to illustrate using two scenarios that I’ve been involved in recently.
The first is one that I see happen pretty consistently. Player A gets super ahead early, but stumbled a bit on the midgame, giving Player B a chance to get back into it. Player A gets N’d down to a single card and draws blanks for a few turns. Player B has a huge comeback, and is able to get down to a single prize with a superior boardstate, when, on the very last turn, Player A topdecks a Guzma for the win. Player B is frustrated that they lost after being so close to coming back, especially because their opponent got so lucky. I think we’ve all been on either side of this equation at one point or another.
But is Player A actually very lucky here? I don’t think so. It appears that way because the Guzma came off the deck at just the right time, but what about the four turns of dead-draws? If one of those cards were a Supporter or a Zoroark-GX, it would’ve allowed Player A to churn through their deck and likely be right back in the game. The truth of the matter is that Player A actually got unlucky drawing dead for those four turns, and drawing their out on the very last turn of the game was just variance normalizing. Player B was probably lucky to have even made it that long in the game, given the way the game started.
Recently, I won a match versus a friend on PTCGO recently, and in discussing it afterward, he mentioned that it came down to him missing an Energy on the last turn, and how unlucky that was. The first part is true – If he found another Energy to attach, he would have Knocked Out my active Pokémon and taken his sixth prize. The latter statement is where it get a little bit more interesting.
Even with looking back on our conversation it would be difficult if not impossible to recreate the game state, so I’m going to speak in much more general terms. My friend’s primary argument was that there were X cards left in the deck and Y energy left, giving them a Z% chance of drawing into it given the cards they had available. While odds are obviously a useful metric for determining your outs and play a large role in the game as a whole, I don’t think it’s useful to use them to determine whether you were lucky or unlucky, and if you’re going to, I think it’s important to look at the game from a more macro level. Yes, on the last turn, you may have had a 70% chance of winning. Using that information alone, it was unlucky that you did not win the game on that turn. When we pull back, though, things get much muddier.
Imagine that an Energy was discarded off of an Ultra Ball early, leaving you down one from the beginning. Imagine that you attached an extra Energy in the early game to go for a knockout rather than taking the more conservative 2HKO approach that would’ve allowed you to be more conservative with your Energy. Imagine that you trade away an Energy, momentarily forgetting that your last Puzzle of Time was prized. Imagine that, looking back at the game (even without the information of what would happen on the last turn), you can confidently say that all of these decisions were suboptimal. Did you still get unlucky by not drawing an Energy on that last turn? Or did you play in such a way throughout the game that gave you a much lower chance of drawing that Energy on the last turn? Does this mean you misplayed to lose? Did you get lucky to even be able to have the 70%er on that last turn?
The answer is “who cares?” The point of each of these stories isn’t necessarily to decide who is luckier, as that is entirely useless. The point is to get you to think about variance in a more flowing, macro way, and realize that you are in control of your own destiny in Pokémon more than you might think. Reevaluating how you perceive luck—both positively and negatively—is all upside for everyone involved.
On Charlotte and Portland
I’m incredibly excited for Portland Regionals next week. Not only is it going to be an incredibly fun experience, as long weekends surrounded by all of your best friends tend to be, but I’m itching to compete again as well. I haven’t played a Standard Regional since Vancouver back in October, and I couldn’t be more excited about getting to battle.
I fear that I don’t have as much to say as many of my fellow SixPrizes writers leading up to these events. I’m not going to Charlotte, and am going to let the results from that influence what I’m playing pretty heavily. I have a general understanding of all big decks in the format and have been toying around with a few things, but am gong to let players a lot better than me act first in Charlotte, and I expect my deck choice will largely be a reaction to what happens there, and whatever Travis and I can put together in the few days before the tournament.
I have tested the Jurassic Park (side note: Let it be clear that I coined this [extremely bad] name for the deck and no one can take that way from me) deck that Christopher wrote about this week, and have generally liked it. I think it’s a powerful strategy that matches up well versus a lot of what’s going on in the format at the moment. The fact that it struggles with Buzzwole gives me pause, but I am generally a fan of what it’s trying to do. I feel it is my responsibility to keep Travis in check with these sorts of ideas though, so I’m trying to remain somewhat of a pessimist about it. Shoutout to Christopher for being willing to share his extremely secret deck of which he is the sole creator. Schemanskedos has a nice ring to it.
Outside of that, I’ve mainly been playing around with various Zoroark builds – the consensus seems to be that Zoroark/Golisopod is the superior deck, but I have more reps with Zoroark/Lycanroc. I’ve also played a little bit of Gardevoir, but I spent most of last Autumn playing that deck, so it hasn’t been a top priority for me to re-learn right away. Buzzwole, Ho-Oh, and of course Greninja are also on my radar, though I’d expect I’d play a Zoroark variant before either of those.
I’ll end this section by saying that I think Standard is in a pretty good place right now. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t had to grind it week in and week out for the past several months, but I’ve enjoyed the games I’ve played and it seems like a genuinely fun format. It also seems pretty difficult to learn, as there is a lot going on and quite a few interesting interactions. I can’t say whether this translates to “skill testing,” but it’s been harder to pick up than most other recent formats.
I’ve been more or less retired from competitive play for the last few seasons, but I’ve obviously stayed deeply involved in the game in various forms. Though I don’t put the work into testing that a lot of my fellow writers do, I always stay up to date on both formats, and always playtest in the weeks leading up to a big event (whether I’m casting or playing).
The biggest change I’ve noticed since I’ve reached this stage of semi-retirement and the biggest shock whenever I prepare for an event I’m playing in again is just how much “homework” there is these days. I’m defining homework as “stuff you have to pay attention to outside of just playtesting.” Tournament results have always been a thing and metagaming will stop never being important, but with League Cups happening year round now, there’s more data than ever to sift through. On top of that, there are a number of content creators out there who are very influential on their fans, who often make up the majority of the playerbase at any given tournament. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been behind on the number of something a deck plays, or haven’t noticed a tech that has become popular, because I’m a few days behind on reading SixPrizes and haven’t checked out Azul’s stream this week, or whatever.
This isn’t to say this is a bad thing. More information is good, and can be beneficial to players of all levels. It’s great that newer/less experienced players have so many decklists to look at and articles to read, and it’s great that the top players are getting rewarded for paying a lot of attention and putting the work in. The culture of the game right now is objectively better than it was when I started playing, and I expect this trajectory to continue. But between this and the constant traveling that comes with competing at the highest level these days, the caster’s desk has never looked more comfortable.