Hello all! With the season winding its way down, I think that it is important to begin to reflect on the structure as a whole and begin to examine what worked and what did not work. In general, I have never quite agreed with the current 400 CP benchmark and have voiced this concern several times in the past. I think that its main flaw is that is situated in an awkward position between too hard and too easy. Upon initial read, that may sounding conflicting, and perhaps even contradictory, but allow me to explain further.
In the three seasons before this one, the invite structure has gone through two different permutations. In 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, the bar was set undeniably low, only requiring 300 CP for the initial qualification and allowing the Top 16 players to battle it out for a skip into Day 2. After that, we shifted from 300 CP to 500, while leaving the Top 16 race unchanged.
With 300 CP, the main complaint was that too many people were able to qualify and that Worlds would no longer be a field of the best of the best. Despite these complaints, I think that this model did exactly what TPCI wanted—and that was to not just make the event more accessible, but also put more people in seats at every event. A lower threshold incentives many people to “try” to go for the invite, whereas a higher one has a lot of people draw their line before the competition has even begun.
Historically, I have gone back and forth about whether or not this structure is ideal, and while I know I have voiced the complaints of other jaded, older players like me—bemoaning how much harder it used to be and how an invite hardly matter anymore—I realized sometime later that these sentiments were not only invalid but also hopelessly elitist. I think that this system was objectively superior to our current one.
Allowing more players to qualify does little to harm your own personal achievement, and it is important to never attempt to measure ourselves in terms of others. By only focusing on others, we become sort of curmudgeon, vindictively focused on others’ failures and successes rather than working harder on personal growth. Putting more people in seats at tournaments (and by extension Worlds) is intelligent from a business standpoint and does little to hamper the playing field. If there are more players in Day 1, it makes it that much easier. You have little to worry about as a competent player and merely should work to strive within the system rather than doing your best to undermine others.
The 500 CP system was problematic because it did not allow enough players to qualify. The lower thresholds of the other regions also make the statistics a little more difficult to analyze, but I recall going into Anaheim last year that there was an unfortunately low number of players that made Day 1 before the North American International Championship, with hundreds of players (like myself) needing to score a good finish at the NAIC to have a chance of qualifying. This ought to continue being the case as long as the International Championships have such a bloated pay out (and as long as North America continues to have a majority of the player base), but I digress. The situation last season was so dire that it saw the Championship Point structure adjusted in the middle of the year, which allowed many players who were lagging in the rankings to jump hundreds of points up when the changes took place retroactively.
The point of all this, of course, is to illustrate that 500 CP was too high and too difficult for many players to realistically aim for. I think there is nothing wrong with demanding more of players, and generally I am a strong proponent of a more exclusive World Championship, but based on most of TPCI’s recent actions, I think it shows that they are more interested in making a system that allows all players to aim big and qualify—and the 500 CP was not conducive to that aim.
With that explained, I think it should be self-evident how 400 CP is unfortunately in the middle of both of these systems. It is somehow not easy enough for many players, while also not having the difficulty of the 500 CP season. Considering the fact that EU and APAC regions are cutoff at a much lower 250, I see no reason why this current season could not have been yet another 300 iteration. I look forward and anticipate a new system come this summer when we are officially given information on the next season, but until we get the big announcement, I wanted to take some time in this article to further examine our current structure and propose several alternatives and solutions that can potentially yield our best season ever. Let’s jump right in!
Shock the System
When announced this year, public enemy #1 of the 400 CP structure was undoubtedly the fact that any given player could qualify entirely by winning League Cups. Easier said than done, of course, and to my knowledge, there are precisely zero players that have achieved such a feat this year. That in and of itself should speak volumes for how League Cups were really not the main problem with the structure this year.
I have very mixed feelings about League Cups as a concept and certainly would be in favor of seeming them go away or be lowered in priority in upcoming years, but I have never been against the fact that someone could win a ton of them and be qualified for Worlds.
Perhaps, this would be a problem if this fictional player did so only by winning eight-person, three round cups with no top cut every single time, but the fact of the matter is that League Cups tend to be fairly difficult if you live in a relatively competitive area. The number of players and rounds can be unforgiving of one bad opening hand, or one bad matchup, and I think that keeps them in a positive position within the structure. You do not need to win them for it to be relevant to your Championship Point total. Instead, you merely need to place them quarterly and do well at larger events and you are well on your way to qualifying for Worlds.
My own problems with League Cups tend to mostly be on a personal level, as my Cups seem orchestrated in such a way to waste as much time as possible. Each and every one is 2/3 Swiss, usually starting around noon with a lunch break and dinner break. If I lived in a different area, I would be a little more positive about their existence, but I think that I speak for a majority of the player base when I say that I would love to see a new BFL on League Cups. One per quarter seems like an overwhelmingly positive change, and would diminish their importance and the need for Top 16 racers to grind them out.
I have somewhat of a dismal record at my own Cups and tend to always lose out to a handful of hometown heroes who win multiple Cups per quarter. However, every single one of these “heroes” never qualify for Worlds, which ought to compound on my argument that League Cups are a red herring in regards to identifying the main problem with our current invite structure. If anything, the main problem is 100% the lack of BFL on Regionals. I do not think there is any proper justification for this, and I will be truly shocked if we enter into next season without it added back or even emphasized as a new rule.
Requiring the top players to play more events AND do well at a majority of them is a fair requirement, but as Sam Chen detailed recently on Twitter, the amount of grinding this year has entailed in unfair and ridiculous. I was personally a top 16 player in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and only had to go to 1-2 extra League Challenges to secure my standing, as opposed to Sam, who traversed multiple continents and countries over the course of a few short months.
The final thing that the lack of BFL diminishes: more than anything, it allows for mediocre finishes to constitute one’s season, and yet these players can still qualify for Worlds. This is not a targeted statement, or one with the intention to vilify those who meet this distinction, (might as well abuse the system if you can) but I think that someone who has played 5-6 Regionals and has made Day 2 at zero of them is far more problematic of for Worlds than someone who has won eight League Cups. Adding a new BFL to League Cups, Regionals and International Championships is absolutely the first thing that must change for next season, but beyond that, I am open to a fair amount of possibilities looking forward and want to conclude this section by cashing out my own personal ideas.
As always, I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this matter and find it likely that there are many points that I have easily overlooked and will do my best to respond if you reach out to me here or on Twitter!
A New Structure: Possible Solutions
#1: Lowering the Qualification Requirements
This one is obvious and one that I have referenced above, but I see nothing wrong with a return to 300 CP for Day 1-of Worlds. The top players will still be able to battle it out for those Top 16 spots, and I think a new and improved BFL requirement will do wonders to allow even more players into the top 16 race. Another possibility here, I think, would be to bump the North American to Top 22 like the EU. We have a larger player base than them, so it would make sense to give more players the opportunity for stipends.
#2: Add 1-2 Invite-only events in addition to Worlds
If your aim is to make Worlds more exclusive, then I think adding an additional tier of events that requires an invite or Championship Point threshold to be met is a very logical solution. A majority of other card games have several events that are difficult to qualify for with a larger, more prestigious event looming on the horizon. In Magic: the Gathering, you have your Pro Tour, which you can earn your way onto through past achievements or winning a series of lower-rated tournaments.
With the way Pokémon seems to be headed in this “esports era,” I think this would be an incredible change and I think one most people would be in favor of. You could have something as simple as winning a League Cup (similar to Gym Challenges of the past) qualify you for this next tier, while still having Worlds need more Championship Points or a strong placing at a big event. The more benchmarks that exist, the more things players have to strive and aspire toward, and I think well-embedded in Pokémon’s spirit of the game is the notion that all players are welcome and should have equal access to the necessary means to become the very best.
#3: Back to Top 40-50
From 2004 all the way to 2013, the only way to qualify for Worlds was to be ranked so high in your given region. I have absolutely no desire to revert back to an Elo Rating system, but I think that a return to a ranking system rather than a point benchmark would bring a certain competitive feeling back to the game. I think it would give qualifying for Worlds that “important” feeling that many players say our current systems have been missing. More importantly, I think that it would give more players a realistic chance to aim for a high position without being as difficult or as much of a grind as the current “top 16 or bust” model.
Of all these ideas, I think the “Pro Tour” solution is the most logical. It makes the game even more competitive without making anything unachievable even for an average player. As someone who has not been attending events as much the past several season, I would love to strive to merely be on the Pro Tour rather than have to grind out every weekend for a chance to skip one day of competition. I think that this solution could divide up our current Regional Championship schedule leaving some as open and some being “Tour only” or something to that effect.
However, as always, I remain unconvinced that any of what I have argued for today is absolutely correct and would love to hear what you think I missed or ideas of your own!
Squid Pro Quo: Malamar in Madison
In my last article, I voiced an early but optimistic opinion that I thought Malamar was incredible and would exceed the expectations of many. Since then, it has placed incredibly well at both Standard Events in Mexico. Without a doubt, I think this deck is tier one and will likely be incredible for its legality.
One of the main things I overlooked in thinking about its impact on the metagame is how it acts as a soft counter to Zoroark-GX. It is not reliant on Rare Candy to evolve, so Zoroark-GX is unable to prey on slow starts by quickly eliminating the basics. In addition to this, it is difficult for Zoroark-GX to keep up with as Riotous Beating is a 2HKO at best. Most of Malamar’s attackers can 1HKO Zoroark-GX with ease or at the very least, include techs to handle the dark menace. In a majority of my games with Malamar, I feel unbeatable. The hands are good, the draws are fast, and, outside of something like a turn two Garbotoxin, every game is mine to lose.
I did not anticipate the emergence of the mono-Psychic list that emerged out of Mexico, but it is much stronger than I initially assumed. I am still an advocate for the Ultra Necrozma-GX version, but the mirror match is very close and I will always be uneasy playing it. Here is the update on my list from last article, which remains my top choice for Madison this weekend:
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 34
Energy – 11
This list does little to diverge from the norm of this deck, but I do not think there is anything wrong with that. From last time, I essentially copied the structure from Sam Chen’s Mexico City Malamar list, with some minor adjustments to deal with Ultra Necrozma-GX’s different energy requirement. After that, my concern became a matter of doing my best to try to tech the list for the matchups I anticipate this weekend.
I did try many different trainer options that did not make the list, most notably Beast Ring, which I am sure I will get many questions on. Simply put, I just did not find it necessary to the deck, and it does not provide a huge benefit when the deck essentially already does what that card does on its own. I could end up eating my words on this matter, but it felt like a spot better spent with only 1-2 in the list, so I opted to take the deck in a different direction. Beast Ring is an incredible card, and I am certain there is a way to make use of it with many of the same attackers but obviously it thrives in decks like Buzzwole-GX that do not have access to the stability that is Psychic Recharge.
I did not have any success with trying Tool cards in the list (beyond Float Stone) and I think that this is the correct decision. I often see lists floating around on PTCGO or on Twitter that still play 1-2 Choice Band, and while useful at times, I also found them unnecessary largely. Mimikyu is the de facto 1 Prize attacker for the fact given that it can KO so many big threats with minimal effort, and I think that you would be making a mistake to not have it in your list. Mew FCO’s only benefit is that it has free retreat, but needing the Metal Energy to copy Ultra Necrozma-GX is often a hindrance. For that reason, I think Clefairy EVO would be my choice if I were to include another attacker.
Buzzwole-GX decks should be fairly easy, even with less pure Psychic attackers in the list, as we still have access to the big swing play with Dawn Wings’ GX attack if we are down on prizes. Zoroark-GX decks have a much harder time dealing with these attackers, and it is important in that matchup to do your best do not bench Dawn Wings. The mirror matchup ended up being far more compelling than I initially anticipated, and so a majority of my free spots in this list ended up attempting to hedge against that matchup.
Mewtwo-GX allows use to play as aggressively as possible and eliminates the need to try and navigate around Moon’s Eclipse-GX, as we can simply push through it with our own GX attack. The mirror match is often just a race where going first gives one player a considerably better chance to finish before the other, but Moon’s Eclipse is your main way to come back from behind. Being able to take that option away from our opponent is an incredible advantage.
Three copies of Parallel City is also mainly for mirror, and might seem excessive, but I think you’d be surprise at how often it affects the game. In any mirror match when I can place a Parallel City early, I feel like I have an incredible advantage and can prevent my opponent from willing up their bench with Inkay. The card has utility against many decks so it never feels like total dead weight and thus it is my main innovation for the deck. Many other decks use Parallel City as one of their primary “answers” to Malamar decks, and if you are able to beat them to placing it, then they are that much weaker against you with no way to prevent your onslaught of Psychic Recharge turn after turn.
I have tested more for Madison than I have tested for any other event this year and so I am eager to get there this weekend and try and figure out the format a little more. Despite the fact that there have been some events with Forbidden Light being legal, the format still feels relatively blind to me and playing in a blind format is one of my favorite things to do. It rewards players who do the work and are willing to take risks rather than simply playing the successful decklists from the previous weekend.
I am almost certain that I will end up playing Malamar in some capacity but am also not quite sure what the rest of the player base will favor. I foresee Zoroark-GX slowly rising back into popularity, with Buzzwole-GX continually decreasing in popularity until a deck emerges that can properly challenge Ultra Necrozma-GX. I am certain that there is a good Garbodor list out there could do very well in this format, but I have yet to find it—I would expect more Zoroark-GX/Garbodor than Espeon-GX/Garbodor, though.
My list does still have a few cards that I am not settled on and could see myself swapping in Giratina if many players decide to give Greninja a try, or maybe going through and adding Clefairy to further hedge against mirror. I look forward to coming back in a few weeks, and hopefully I will have some success to discuss but either way, let’s all do our best to finish the season with our best efforts.
Until next time!
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