The Forest for the Frogs

Methods of Madness from Madison Greninja and Discussion of the Froggy Future

Nine (crazy) months later, the 2017/2018 North American Regionals slate is a wrap. With Madison over, we’ve had 15 events come and go, and with them, a year’s worth of chaos, fun, heartbreak, and everything in between. Of course, the season is far from over, with 3 more weekends of Special Events and Regionals around the world, one final “Cup weekend,” and then the North American International Championships to round it all off.

All of the events for the remainder of the season will be in the Standard format, which is a blessing to essentially everyone, but especially those of us who write about it. Keeping multiple formats straight is a challenge for all of us, and while we’re eagerly awaiting TPCi’s word on how next season will work, I really hope there’s something to replace the craziness of things like the Standard/Expanded/New Set Standard/New Set Expanded we played over the last few weeks. If that sort of thing is back on the schedule next year, we’ll see what we can do to better accommodate it in terms of content, as I felt this year might’ve been a bit slow.

I’m not entirely sure what order all of this will be released in, but now that we’re headed into the final stretch of the season, I have some analysis to drop on Regionals attendances, the idea of best finish limits, and probably some other stuff as well—including a fantasy competition for NAIC. Stay tuned over the next few days and weeks.

For now, though, we have a format to recap. Madison saw Malamar largely underperform, a 3 Buzzwole FLI Buzzwole/Lycanroc list do super well, and Greninja reemerge from the shadows. I would guess the former is a result of the latter two, and the general target that was on its back, but nonetheless its relative non-showing in Top 32 after largely dominating the first few weekends of international events is telling.

I definitely don’t like the Ultra Necrozma build, and I believe Madison’s results agree with me to that effect, but the so-called Psychic Malamar is a deck I like significantly more. Unfortunately, neither can do very much against most Zoroark variants, which is probably why we didn’t see them do much this weekend. Zoroark/Lycanroc was particular present on the weekend, and that’s no surprise given its overall consistency, draw, and potency of options.

Personally, going in, I felt this weekend was a fairly weird dynamic: pick a deck, and hope to find 7 good matchups via TOM’s good graces. In hindsight, this was an overestimation of many players’ experience with the format on my part, as I saw many “bad” matchups go the better player’s way in the end. But, this was my mindset going in. So, then there was this other idea…

What if instead of hoping for 7/9 good matchups, I took TOM out of the equation and said “My deck pretty much beats everything unless it’s hard-countered, but the problem is setting up. Instead of needing TOM, what if I merely (‘merely’) needed my deck to set up 2/3 games in 7/9 matches?”

Does that sound like anything to you? Greninja, perhaps?

As is well documented, I swore off Greninja after going 0-4 in San Jose’s 2016 Regional Championships, with my 4th loss being almost a literal theme deck and have been among its greatest detractors ever since. As I began analyzing this format, though, it became apparent that it could have a niche to fill. I bought too hard into the idea of pure Rock/Paper/Scissors—the format is far more than that—and decided instead to try to play the trump card above all.

My brother piloted this idea at a League Cup on Memorial Day, and casually managed to not lose a single game en route to winning the entire thing. While it’s a notorious “thing” that Alex draws far better than I ever can hope to with almost every deck, it was nonetheless a serious point in the deck’s favor. Nevertheless, a year and a half of frog-hating is not easily undone, and I spent the rest of the week searching high and low for a better option.

In fact, even after building and sleeving Greninja, I went to watch Wes Hollenberg and my brother test some games with a Buzzwole/Garbodor deck they’d collaborated on before the set’s official legality—mind you, the Order Pad count in the deck was sufficiently high to trigger my skepticism alarms, but I was pretty desperate not to play Greninja. Unfortunately, Wes won only about 2 of the ~10 games tested that evening, and I felt sufficiently backed into a Greninja corner.

This was the list we went with—scientifically constructed by me grabbing 58 cards on Memorial Day morning, handing them to Alex with a directive to find 2 more, and then him changing 1. (Oh, and the Froakie count eventually changed.) What can I say?

Pokémon – 19

4 Froakie FLI

4 Frogadier BKP

4 Greninja BKP

3 Greninja BREAK

1 Starmie EVO

1 Staryu BKP

1 Tapu Fini-GX

1 Tapu Lele-GX

Trainers – 31

4 Cynthia

4 N

3 Professor Sycamore

 

4 Ultra Ball

3 Evosoda

2 Enhanced Hammer

2 Field Blower

2 Super Rod

1 Counter Catcher

2 Choice Band

 

4 Brooklet Hill

Energy – 10

6 Water

4 Splash

gottacatchemall.tumblr.comBy my understanding, Sean Foisy and Chris Derocher adopted the same list, but with a Frogadier FLI over a Frogadier BKP. They both finished 6-3 in the end, and Sean was supportive of the FLI Frogadier in retrospect. It isn’t something Alex and I ever tested, but going forward it’d be in my list until it proved itself problematic in observation of his judgement on the matter.

A 2nd Counter Catcher is the 61st card for sure in my mind. It isn’t necessary to have 2, but it would make it far less important to play your single copy in as high-impact a spot as possible. As it is, when to play the Counter Catcher and when to hold it was definitely the hardest decision to be make when playing the game. A 3rd Enhanced, while seeming excessive, can help create winning gamestates against Buzzwole and Zoroark/Lycanroc, which would make it a strong consideration as well.

Tapu Fini was almost a cut, but it turned out to be far more useful than I originally anticipated, so I’m glad we kept it. The Hydro Shot tally on the weekend, from the best I’ve gathered, was three, so apparently there was even more use than I’d originally guessed. Starting it was only an impediment once, and ironically it serving as a damage shield against overeager Buzzwoles worked out decently well over the course of the day.

My rounds were as such:

Madison Regionals
723 Masters
Greninja BREAK

R1 Naganadel-GX/Buzzwole-GX (1-2)
R2 Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI (1-1)
R3 Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI (2-0)
R4 Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI (2-0)
R5 Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI (1-1)
R6 Ho-Oh-GX/Kiawe (1-2)
R7 Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI (2-0)
R8 Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI (2-0)
R9 Volcanion p/Lapras-GX (2-0)

Obviously, it was a very bad start. The Beast Box series was more about Greninja things than Beast Box, though Buzzwole sets up Naganadel KOs on Greninjas pretty well, which creates a bit of a mess to work through. Round 2’s tie was a pretty genuine case of an undecided match, as I both felt I could win and lose, but the tie in Round 5 stings significantly more. As my opponent noted himself, one more turn (so, in this case, about 10 seconds) would’ve given me the game, so quite messy. The 6th Round with Ho-Oh Kiawe featured another edition of #greninjathings—but, as I noted before, that’s entirely the bargain you make when playing this deck, so I certainly can’t complain.

I think my earlier juxtaposition of hitting 7 good matchups with setting up 14/21 games was in principle correct, but failed to consider the limitations of 50 minutes Best of 3. This is the first tournament since EUIC earlier this season that I took multiple unintentional ties, and only the 4th this season where I took a tie at all—ironically (or perhaps not), both of those EUIC ties were against Greninja. As such, the structure itself is something I don’t normally weigh too heavily when selecting a deck—I generally play quickly enough to facilitate a 3rd game’s completion where needed.

In this case, with a deck that needs to jump through some hoops before determining whether it’s worth scooping a game, it’s very hard to navigate that need to setup twice in three games. In essence, you compound the dicey nature of Greninja’s setups by placing a time component on the situation as well. In reality, I probably would need to log a lot more games to achieve a proper level of precision when deciding whether a given game is salvageable, and given I didn’t have that going in this weekend, I’m not surprised I took the pair of ties. For what it’s worth, my brother also took two natural ties, and while he does tie more often than I, his is still is a pretty low rate.

So, while I think I did successfully attain my “setup in 14/21 games in 7/9 rounds” criteria, that theory failed to account for the realities of the modern Bo3, 50+3, 7-2 cut era. In the end, it was a fairly significant tactical misstep to have not played more games with the deck myself going into the event, but sadly it’s partially a reality of this tournament structure. You’re all familiar with my disdain for the rapid nature of format changing these days, so I’ll dispense with that, but I do feel it was an important factor in my preparation.

On the Buzzwole Matchup

Most of your matchups are fairly straightforward: setup as many Frogs as possible, Counter Catcher something big, N, and Shadow Stitching a lot. Of course, it’s important to be aware of caveats—if your opponent can’t use any meaningful Abilities, you probably Moonlight Slash instead, for example. The Buzzwole matchup follows this general script, but with a few details worth calling out.

More often than not, you’re down 2 Prize cards before you set up a Greninja. In games where this doesn’t come to pass—unless they have simply amassed a large body of Energy and missed a critical Float Stone or something—you probably have a serious upper hand. In most scenarios, I actually fear Lycanroc more than Buzzwole. The benefit to Buzzwole from a Greninja perspective is that they can only Absorption once, and once they do, you’re free to not care about Dangerous Rogue.

Afterwards, in most games where they lead Buzzwole, they have 3 Prizes that they probably need 3 Knuckle Impact to grab. This usually is enough time for you to sufficiently diffuse the situation by removing their Energy (Enhanced or simple knockouts). Starmie is really important to taking this from a “you can probably do this” to “this is easy to pull off,” so it’s always good to get online here.

As a brief aside, many opponents this weekend made perplexing choices to remove Staryu from my board rather than a Greninja. As it happens, Greninja only gets harder to KO as the game advances, and Starmie is worthless without BREAKs in play, so I think it’s often the better choice to remove a Greninja.

Based on analysis of your opponent’s board and the immediate threat to you, it’s often a good call to knockout the Octillery, as this opens the ability for you to Moonlight Slash, further imparting a timer on their Knuckle Impact aspirations. If there is no other non-GX on the board, this is probably a weaker strategy because it requires wasting 2 Giant Water Shruiken that could probably be better spent just pursuing GX knockouts, but if Diancie p is still chilling around, this is an avenue I look toward.

In games where opponents don’t emphasize Lycanroc, I find winning isn’t too particularly difficult. Buzzwole requiring Guzma to reset Knuckle Impact is often prohibitive, and while it can reach OHKOs on BREAKs in a way Lycanroc can’t, I found an early Claw Slash was far harder to deal with than a Buzzwole swarm—often, I was forced to deal with the Lycanroc, N, and pray they didn’t find a Beast Ring swarm to hit me with.

It should also go without saying that, in any situation where you can avoid triggering Beast Ring, you should avoid triggering Beast Ring. The game gets much harder to manage if they’re able to make every item on their board a threat. In fact, one of the main draws to Greninja on my end was its ability to work around Beast Ring.

If you’re planning to play Buzzwole anytime soon, I’d test against Greninja pretty extensively, as it’s a pretty good matchup to facilitate attaining general familiarity with playing Buzzwole and a very good matchup to have experience against if there’s a chance you’re going to hit it. Further, it’s worth exploring the difference between leading Lycanroc and leading Buzzwole in a way that I haven’t yet been able to do. From a Greninja side, I’m still weighing whether it may be better to sometimes abandon the pretense of Ability lock and go full-in with Moonlight Slashes for critical numbers. More testing to follow!


Going forward, if you fancy a tussle with luck and some games that’ll shave time off your lifespan—did I mention that the Buzzwole matchup is a stressed mess?—Greninja could be a good candidate for you. With respect to NAIC ’18, it’s currently impossible to predict Giratina XY184’s saturation within the metagame. Too much Pokémon is yet to be played from now until then, though the lack of a major North American tournament is likely to help Greninja case in my mind: Americans tend to be America-centric, but Pokémon players also tend to develop an odd case of amnesia.

Therefore, I think many players will make plays based on their League Cups and local metas, a bit upon Madison, but with little regard for the International gauntlet yet to occur over the next few weekends. If there’s an exception to this rule, it’ll be the Mexico City Regional Championship—if there’s going to be a Giratina Barometer, that’ll be it.

Either way, if you think Greninja could be a deck of interest to you, I’d strongly advise starting to log as many games as possible and getting a feel for where you might need to scoop unwindable ones. In a general world, I think you can afford to waste about 7-9 minutes on a losing game in an average Best of 3, but definitely no more. It’s no accident that both of my resolved Game 3s were me getting destroyed by #greninjathings, as it’s hard to get 2 full games in when you lose a Game 1 of any significant length.

In any event, as we enter the final stretch to NAIC, always feel free to reach out if you have any questions or commentary on any articles. I’m in the earlier portion of our NAIC marathon, and while I’m definitely very unsure what I’ll be writing about for it at this point, it’s going to be a very interesting period of time this year—especially given the format at hand.

In addition to the general invitation for question and comment, we’ll be distributing a survey on your experience with SixPrizes this season via email shortly. For that, it’d be great if you went to SixPrizes.com/account and confirmed the contact email we have on file is current—we’ll probably get that going sometime mid-month.

Otherwise, as always, all the best in your endeavors.

Christopher


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