One of the more interesting developments of Pokémon as it has progressed toward the “esports” era is the way that the flow of information has changed. I remember around the time when I first started playing, it was relatively difficult to find a good, new decklist. There were no public forums where brave new ideas were being shared in confidence. Instead, most of what we had were the Pokégym forums—the mere mention of which ought to make an older player such as myself chuckle in amusement.
The fact of the matter is that no one wanted to share anything real or substantial on this platform, and so a vast majority of the posts (particularly in the deck help section) were bad players giving harsh criticism to even worse players. Naturally, this kept the right information to the right people, and so the “secret deck” was much easier to maintain. Your local community seemed to play a much greater role in what decks you played, which cards you thought were good, and so on, which made competition considerably less predictable.
At any given event, I think it was realistic to expect that, for the majority of Swiss, you would play against more non-archetypes than archetypes, and even when you would play against an established archetypes, the decklists would vary incredibly from person to person—it would remain difficult at times to ever find a unified consensus for anything in the metagame. So much of tournaments, especially at the smaller level, were these bad decks squaring off round-after-round, and so no matter how many good players or “real” decks there were in the field, there would almost always be some nonsensical, mismashing of cards that would end up in the Top Cut.
It should also be worth noting that I did not start playing competitively until the latter half of the 2009-2010 season, and from what I understand, these symptoms were only worse in the years before this. Mind you, this is no attempt to discredit anyone who did really well “back in the day” and only performs averagely now, but rather an attempt to try and get everyone to understand what it was like before the Facebook groups and premium article sites. The fact of the matter is that the average player then could play a non-deck and have decent chances to make top 16 at a once-a-year Regional Championships, but now would never win more than two rounds.
Death of the (Deck) Author
In the old days, knowing the right people was the most important thing to finding the right decklist. I am certainly indebted to many of my older friends who showed me the ropes, but this was absolutely not a fair system. There was no public flow of information, which only further rewarded being withholding. There were secret decks from time to time, but what I think it ultimately amounts to (at least in terms of the game today) is that the players at the top were profiting from withholding very basic information.
A lot of the secret decks then were little more than combining the obvious, but when the obvious is sequestered or reserved in some way, it becomes a secret to be solved for anyone not in the loop. The irony of this is that the game was at its most secretive when there were almost no significant prizing and information has become borderline ubiquitous at the height of its profitability, but I digress.
From what I understand, there were several trial-run sites for premium Pokémon articles that never quite took off. I know what would eventually become The Top Cut (still called the Top Cut) would be the main contributor to this, but I am not sure if there were any others so please assist me if you have any more information here. SixPrizes, at least for as long as I have been playing, was certainly the first BIG success. I remember its introduction to the scene very well and have very fond memories reading the articles during my formative years in the game, and think a lot of the game’s history is certainly captured by the early days of the site.
At first, SixPrizes operated almost like a forum where anyone could write anything and get it published, should it meet some fairly basic guidelines. SixPrizes Underground would emerge sometime after that, and would be the first content in lifetime as a competitive player that became locked behind a paywall, with such greats as Josh Wittenkeller, Chris Fulop, and Jay Hornung among the initial writing crew.
It may have been an artifact of the Facebook group not taking off yet, but I do not quite remember there being a huge outcry against the first premium Pokémon site. In 2009 or 2010, I wanted the game to be as “esports” or “Magic-esque” as possible, and fostering such a competitive environment through premium content was simply the logical progression of this ideal. There is no need for a “pro scene,” and I take anyone who refers to themselves as a “professional player” with a heavy amount of cynicism, but I truly believe that iron sharpens iron—by placing a value on information, it forced the game to adapt. No longer were most players left to beg for scraps on Pokégym and maybe make the right friends with the right decklist.
There was not an overcrowded marketplace of competitor after competitor either. SixPrizes was the only game in town, and with a monopoly on the market, the early writers were defaulted to being the best. I do not think, though, that they were necessarily as keen to spread information authentically as (hopefully) most are today.
With more and more competitors popping up every year, it certainly has become hard to discern what value one site has over another or why we should continue to have our content locked behind paywalls. It is hard to imagine that many people subscribe to every website, and so it seems like some maybe just subscribe to one and share their information for another. More realistically, however, I acknowledge that despite being behind a paywall, the content of every website is more or less “free.”
With the exception of brand new players, I feel confident assuming that every competitive player at the very least knows somebody who knows somebody (who may know somebody, etc.) with access to an overwhelming majority of the paywall content. The information, like it or not, is going to become public one way or another, and I think there is a good reason nothing is “secret” anymore. There is no moral judgement to be cast here, but rather a request that we as writers or as players adapt accordingly and use this development to better our content and abilities as players.
I think anyone could make an argument for one site over another, and it is not my place here to argue for any of that. My point is simply to make it clear that information is as free or omnipresent as ever, and I think we are far beyond the point of claiming authorship for decks, ideas—there is no need to make an arms race out of producing content. A lot of the time these decks that are “secret” are the simple pairing of two incredibly powerful cards or something rogue and anti-meta that ultimately is not very good.
In the case of the former, the player who claims authorship or intellectual ownership for something like Big Basics of 2013 looks foolish for demanding recognition for something akin to coloring in the lines. I think it is is important to try and create new and rogue decks, but doing so requires an incredible amount of skepticism and self-awareness. It is easy to get carried away with a fresh deck idea with Pokémon that are entirely under-discussed but rarely do we strike gold in something like Shock Lock or The Truth.
Recently, this brings Jurassic Park (Talonflame/Rampardos) to mind, which sounded great in theory and created somewhat of a stir about it “leaking,” but ultimately this deck was just plain bad. By being deficient in skepticism and/or self-awareness, I think that many of us (myself included, it pains me to admit—I went out of my way to acquire everything for this deck) are also left looking foolish.
The final question I think we must address is whether or not the advent of premium sites and widespread information has made the game easier or more difficult, and if either outcome is a net positive for the game.
Whether the game now is better or worse than it was before it a completely separate matter, but I think there is no debate that competition is harder, and as competitive players, should we not demand the most difficult environment possible in order to best prove ourselves? I certainly think so! I’ve spent a lot of time recently discussing and arguing the meaning of “difficulty” in terms of our game, and while there does not appear to be an objective answer to this dilemma, it seems like there are clearly two separate schools of thought.
The first of which gauges difficulty in terms of size or scope. The longer and larger the tournament, the more difficult it is to succeed. Round after round, if you are pitted against more capable opponents and hitting an average spread of opposing decks, you have an increased number of opportunities to get lucky or unlucky. On the other hand, you could see the most difficult tournament in the world as the one with the highest concentration of top tier players. In jest, I have likened both of these views of difficulty to the following scenario: would you rather play in a sixteen round Regional Championship or an 11 person League Cup where the ten players other than yourself are all identical replicas of Tord Reklev or Michael Pramawat?
The distinction between the two definitions of difficulty is likely not as simple as answering that question, but I think it does do a good job of forcing us to evaluate which tournament would be harder. I think that I tend to be in the minority, but I think that I would rather play in the 11 person League Cup. If we assume that in either scenario that you have made a good deck choice (“good” is also difficult to quantify, but for sake of convenience, good should mean that your deck has a slight majority of favorable matchups, a few even matchups and one terrible matchup or something very similar to this skew), then I will always prefer to play in the smaller event.
In no way do I think I am better than Tord or Pramawat, but I am confident in my own abilities and understanding of the game to think that my chances are much better in a smaller setting rather than a large one. I think this will inevitably be the unpopular opinion, but I would love to hear what others think. I wonder if I am predicating too much of my argument on the assumption of making a good deck choice. Making this deck choice, in my view, is the hardest thing about preparing for a tournament because you will always do the best with the information present-at-hand but that does not necessarily factor in the thought processes of a group with access to completely different (and potentially opposing) information.
In my view, the average player now is really not that far behind the top players. The game is good, but most of the time reduced to a science where many of the matchups are decided on paper, and only in rare instances will a game go against what the matchup would indicate. Certainly, there are very small percentage plays that help separate the Tords from the Brits, but I truly wonder on how often these occur.
Despite some general uncertainties on my part, I do think we can come to agree that comparing tournaments of the past to tournaments now to be fundamentally impossible. A vast majority of US Nationals are now dwarfed by the Regional Championship of the month, and if we once considered that to be the most difficult tournament, it should follow that the tournaments bigger in size are only more difficult.
I do think that our definitions of what is difficult or ability to quantify difficult can become tangled by the semantics of language. Calling a tournament the “World Championships” by definition ought to make it the most difficult tournament in the world, but I am not so sure that’s how it works. Again, I acknowledge that I think my view will be in the minority, so I urge everyone to share their views and hopefully enlightened me on a point that I have overlooked.
Well this article certainly took an interesting turn, but I had a lot of fun writing it. Historically, I acknowledge that this sort of thing is not always well-received, and while I do enjoy them considerably more than your typical decklist dump. I am looking forward to hearing any feedback on it and hope that I am able to respond with positive insight.
I will admit that one reason that I opted for this piece rather than a new look at Lucario-GX or Zoroark-GX + its new best friend is that I knew I could not make it to Charlotte or Portland. As such, my testing has not been particularly focused. This is not to say that I have not been practicing, but rather that when I find the time to play, I have been focusing on more unorthodox concoctions (most of which warrant even less time than I have spent on them and certainly none of that should be spent here), but there is one quick list I would like to leave you with:
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 32
Energy – 9
Zoroark/Garbodor remains to be a pet deck of mine, and I think it is severely underrated at the moment. At lot of its detractors cut it down by asserting that it is the worst Zoroark-GX deck against other Zoroark-GX decks, and while I do not disagreement with this statement, I do not believe that it is enough to remove it from one’s consideration. Zoroark mirrors are very difficult, but I think at worst you are only slightly unfavored, and what Garbodor adds to the deck against every non-Zoroark-GX deck is what makes the deck better than what most tend to give it credit.
Psychic typing is incredibly powerful right now, and much of Lucario-GX’s strength comes from its resilience to being hard countered. Mew-EX was great for Buzzwole-GX because it was difficult to respond to if used early enough, but Lucario-GX has a one energy solution every time while also avoiding things like Mimikyu or Sudowoodo. I think the Garbotoxin + Bursting Balloon shell is still worth playing with, but after testing this around 20+ games, I can say that it is not sorely missed. Trashlanche is a nice answer to pesky threats like Hoopa, which many Zoroark-GX variants still do not have an answer for, and can be clutch against Espeon-GX—which is fresh of its Regional victory this past weekend.
Until next time!