On the Thought of Thought

Christopher on Portland, Psychology of Gameplay, and Standard as a Field

Finally, we’ve hit a bit of a break in the madness of the Pokémon grind—for the last time this season, we’re looking down two straight weekends in which North American players have nothing to do other than League Cups. Of course, League Cups are frequently-enough an “experience” in their own right, so a true break isn’t really coming for those in pursuit of the Top 16 dream this season.

But that’s okay—in a respect, I suppose it’s what we signed up for. With the precedent now for North Americans descending on places like Bogota, Colombia for Special Events now set, next season is going to be even more wild—the best of luck to those of you that decide to take on the pursuit in ’18/19. From the middle of the fray, trust me, it’s a wild ride.

Since I’m there already, I want to briefly touch on a recently-emerged issue. It’s certainly not the fault of the players that seek easier (on a numerical basis, it simply is easier; this is without reasonable dispute) points in places like South America that we’ve now let that genie out of the bottle. The fact that TPCi permits, and by function of their structure, encourages it, it is enough to cleanse those players in my mind. It isn’t their fault that TPCi has created an incentive structure that encourages them to pursue easier events over harder—by extension, damaging the invite potential of the local area’s own players.

If TPCi sees an issue with this behavior—and we don’t know if they do—it’s on them to pursue solutions like region-locking. To be brutally honest, a Best Finish Limit isn’t going to help anything, especially in this area: nobody is going to win enough elsewhere to ever make an “easy” Top 8 a bad value proposition from a Championship Point perspective. From a cost perspective, with the right home airport, it’s amazing how quickly it becomes more viable to fly to Argentina than Oregon.

The landscape in the game is ever-changing; there’s no doubt of that. South America’s Special Events are over for the season—at least as far as I know—but this’ll certainly raise its head again next season. We’ll see what comes from any changes to next season, but it’s an interesting issue that I don’t think will be “resolved” by next year.

Speaking of years, this weekend marked the passing of a year since Alex and I took over the day-to-day here at SixPrizes. We think it’s been a pretty good year, and all indications that we’ve gotten from you are that you largely agree. We’re working on some initiatives behind the scenes, and while nothing has come together solidly enough to make an announcement today, we want to remind that you can always get in touch with us via @SixPrizes, email us support(at)SixPrizes.com, or drop Alex or I a line on the forums or social media. We’re always looking to be moving forward in our efforts, and hearing from you is the best way we can do that.

To commemorate our year, we’re offering a brief coupon code campaign—probably running for the next few days. You can use “ANNIVERSARY” for 10% off the first term of any new subscription. If you’re just looking to check us out for the first time, this code gives you a great opportunity to try Underground out for a cheaper cost. We’re headed into the crux of the season; this would be a great time to get a level up on your game!

Portland Past: Reviewing Portland Regionals

Getting into actual content, we’re recently off Portland Regionals—by the magic of me forgetting to edit Xander’s report in a timely manner, you can read his report as of yesterday, which conveniently parlays into me talking about the event more. Unfortunately, I can’t claim that I brilliantly set up this progression of events, but I’ll take happy accidents where I can get them.

As you might’ve heard, I played Lucario-GX in Portland—with a list featuring oddities like Pokémon Catcher and heavy Regirock-EX. For your convenience in considering the deck’s viability, my matchups were as follows:

466 Masters

R1 Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI (2-1)
R2 Buzzwole-GX/Garbodor (2-0)
R3 Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI (2-0)
R4 Tapu Bulu-GX/Vikavolt SUM (2-0)
R5 Espeon-GX/Garbodor (0-2)
R6 Lucario-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI/Zoroark-GX (2-1)
R7 Lucario-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI/Zoroark-GX (2-1)

R10 Sylveon-GX (2-1)
R11 Zoroark-GX/Lucario-GX/2 Mew-EX (0-2)
R12 Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX (1-2)
R13 Sylveon-GX (0-2)
R14 ID

To take an uncharacteristic approach to reviewing a tournament, I want to use Portland as a lens to look through decision making in this game. Like in Costa Mesa earlier last month, I was out to a fast 6-1 start and elected to take the safe double ID into Top 32 rather than attempt to play out the last two matches. Honestly, I regret my decision entirely, even though I probably would’ve lost Round 8 to the Sylveon I faced. It’s not a matchup I completely lose (as demonstrated by my Round 10 defeat of Sam Chen’s iteration), but when me and my Round 8 met again in Round 13, I was roundly destroyed. I took the ID knowing what he was playing.

It’s way easier to sit here in hindsight and go “it didn’t work out for Top 8, obviously I should’ve played,” but the feeling of safety in the heat of the moment is attractive enough to sometimes usurp the steady logic that dictates the right decision to win the tournament is to always play those two matches (unless, of course, you have something like a situation where you need 60 points for your Worlds invitation—obviously, T32 is the primary goal there).

In the “maintain Top 16” mindset, I’ve taken a lot of conservative IDs lately to ensure I got some points out of an event. In Collinsville, I took a Round 9 ID to guarantee Top 256 rather than playing for a Top 128 spot. I think that decision was sensible (I guarantee myself 20 points while losing out on the chance to get 10 more, but removing the chance to get 0). I’m less sure that my calls in Costa Mesa and Portland were right—guaranteeing 60 points, avoiding the risk of falling to 50, and putting myself in a worse spot for 80+.

From a strictly mathematical perspective, they were simply wrong, but with the context of Top 16 and the moving target, it’s far more complicated. If I miss out by a few points (which, for the record, I don’t think anyone will do this year—I think it’ll be a clear disparity that separates 15th or 16th from the 17-18 range, but I’ll digress on that rant today), I’ll obviously regret that call later. Thus is the beauty and risk of in-the-moment decisions, though: they’re far more likely to be clouded by emotion. From a pure logic standpoint, I should never take those IDs.

It’s always a weird dynamic, and I suppose I hope I’m in a spot later this year to see what route I take, but being aware of situations where you can fall trap to emotion-over-logic is half the battle of making the right decision the next time. In-game, this can manifest in a number of ways. “Tilt,” where a player gets mad about an unfortunate “luck” event, misplay, judge call, or something else, is a good example of instances where players can become their own worst enemies on the basis of emotions. Clouded judgement is never a good thing in this game, and to be at the top of your game, you need to be thinking clearly.

Realizing that certain situations are out of your own control and trying to absolve yourself of worrying about them is not only a good approach to rectifying “tilt” in this respect, but a good general life skill. I tend to agonize over everything imaginable, so in a general sense, I sympathize heavily with those that can have issues with this separation. I’m not particularly good at “letting go” of things in this sense, but what I have mastered is compartmentalizing them for later handling.

It doesn’t help me to get annoyed about my opponent’s jaw-dropping defiance of the “laws” of probability at the table, but it doesn’t really hurt anything if I wait until I’m writing for you fine folks to work through that frustration!

That outlet can come in any number of ways: I’ve admittedly sent my share of angry post-game texts, written about some particularly heartbreaking situations over the years, and am sometimes guilty of that post-game rant to a group of friends. You all know the one. What’s key is that it doesn’t affect your thought process at the table.

This is one of the few areas that I think certain people are more predisposed to success than others. There’s an increasingly compelling body of research suggesting a link between temperament and biology, and without a doubt, some people have reached a point in life where they manage stressors and anger more healthily or effectively than others. I’ll spare you the full rant on that subject today. The point here, though, is simple: I believe effective management of emotion at the table (and in managing your tournament run) is a key skill for reaching the top level of the game.

That worked out to be a more lengthy aside than I anticipated initially, but let’s circle back to the Lucario deck I played itself. The beauty of Lucario is that it’s not easily hard-countered. Mew-EX is a nice idea for sure, but as long as I took the first Prize and manage to chain Lucario, it’s not a winning strategy. Being able to 1HKO almost everything in the game only further emphasizes its power.

In Round 11, my 4th Riolu met an untimely end in Game 1, which set me back substantially in efforts to deal with his last Mew, and Game 2 was a simple bloodbath—a prized Lele forced me to gamble off my Prizes on a Turn 2 KO, but more importantly, meant I didn’t get to set up more of my board on that second turn. I think the matchup is widely winnable, but that I hit some unfortunate timing.

Otherwise, I don’t think my matchups were anything too surprising. Beating Fighting decks was entirely in line with my expectations for the deck, and while I didn’t test it much before hand (and took my brother’s word for it, largely), that was one of the primary draws. I basically lucked out against Sam’s Sylveon in Round 10, benching him in the nick of time in both Games 1/3, and it’s not a matchup I’d generally favor. Field Blower, which probably should make its way into the list, would be the only good way to make the matchup something of a conversation.

Moving forward, I’d lean toward more of a Zoroark/Lucario focus if I were to play the Fighting focus in Standard again. I think it badly wants the extra draw afforded by Zoroark, and that the extra draw makes it worth skimping on other advantages like Lycanroc or “broken” Items like Super Scoop Up. If I were to stick with exploring straight Lucario, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Super Scoop Up version would have some intriguing matchups mine lacked—for example, being able to reset Lucario could probably singlehandedly reform the Sylveon matchup.

The Field: Other Decks Post-Portland

I was, as a function of a number of things, pretty much out of all loops other than Xander’s Espeon pre-Portland (naturally, I blew him off—thus goes life). The first I heard that anyone was rebelling against the sanctity of the Bulu-free world was Round 4 on Saturday as I watched the stream match from my own table. In hindsight, it was a decent play for this event, provided you could get it to draw effectively: bad matchups were few, and it was one of the only decks that consistently could be confident it would beat the stupid concepts of the format like Hoopa and Sylveon.

I’m always hesitant to engage with a deck that relies on a Stage 2 as support alone, as it usually means the deck is not only vulnerable to inherent inconsistency (setting up the S2), but also almost-completely neutered when that Stage 2 is removed from play. Attacking Stage 2s like Gardevoir and Metagross are at least not trying to stream an attacker and the Stage 2; only one. Stage 2s that are support-only that feature an attacker that self-destructs, as Bulu does? Yikes.

We won’t even get into Greninja as a category. The fact of the matter is that 210 is a great number right now, and Bulu can get there effectively when it sets up. If you’re comfortable with your fate lying in the hands of drawing well for a few hours, Bulu could be a good play for your upcoming League Cup. I considered it such for mine this weekend, and I stuck with the list Alex played in Portland.

As it happens, my brother made the same call for this Cup. I went 3-1-1 in Swiss, losing a match in which I somehow managed to knock my recently-sleeved deck on top of my hand after setting up, thereby destroying my own game state. I’m literally not sure I could recreate this if I had to. Otherwise, I moved effectively through some Buzzwole and Metal decks; the things Bulu does when it does things like Turn 2 210. Alex went 1-4 after skillfully managing to not be dropped at 1-3 and prize 3 Tapu Bulu in Round 5. Before that, Bulu did the other half of “Bulu things” and he lost to some strange, strange stuff.

It’s that result dichotomy that scares me with things like Vikavolt headed into a large tournament like Brazil at the end of the month. This gets a bit back into that psychology I talked about earlier—I’m fairly risk-averse in general, let alone headed into the last big chance for points before Columbus. If you told me I could take the 110 points for Top 128 without playing, I’d probably do it. The points supply in Brazil is almost hilarious, with the equivalent of Regional T4s handed out for far, far lesser performances. Therefore, I think you’ll see that most of the foreign travelers to that event will stick with less-risky plays. We’ll see, though—I could be off, but I like to hope not.

If you’re with your invite, but not in the Top X picture in your region, the next few months will probably be weird. At least in North America, Top 16 is on its own planet in point total right now, so there probably won’t be any late-season contenders barring some crazy May run. I would be unsurprised to see 1 person jump into the race, but short of being that one, you’re probably looking to win tournaments more than manage points for the next few months.

For those clinging to berths on top or looking for the last points for an invite, there’ll be a conflicting incentive: winning is always great, but racking up points is almost “necessary.”

We’re headed into the crux of the season. I’ll be back with you next only after the Latin American International, on the 30th, due to a fluke of our scheduling this month. In the interim, feel free to reach out if you have questions—I’ll note that I am very bad at Messenger Requests as a general rule, but will tend to get you anywhere else.

Otherwise, as always, all the best to you.


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