So, you think you want to chase Top 16?
I’ve heard from more than a few people that’ve expressed that desire over the last few months, to which I usually offered a skeptical look and a testament that the chase isn’t half the glory it seems—and it’s easily twice the time. Being “the best,” at least “the best” according to Pokémon’s chosen definition this year, was an arduous, long, but also irreplaceable experience. For those that chased and fell short, I can only imagine the feeling that Monday morning brought, though—each individual sunk a lot into this, only for it to go sideways for some.
Fortunately, I am not one of those few. I was lucky enough to be clinched midway through Friday at NAIC, after my rearview mirror emptied of contenders able to eclipse my 1512 CP for the season. I can’t quite understate the feeling of that finally coming true, and I wrote about it pretty extensively yesterday—but I didn’t think it fit for the premium content environment, so we’re back today instead with a guide on how to navigate the upcoming season if you see yourself as a potential Top 16 aspirant.
There are a few interesting notes to keep in mind here: when I say Top 16 aspirant, in many respects, I do truly mean Top 16. Europe and Oceania’s races are somewhat different in dynamic, owing to their larger allotment and geographic isolation, and while Latin America’s tends to more closely resemble North America’s from my observations, there are still some limiting factors. As such, it could seem as though this article has a fairly narrow scope of players to which it applies—fortunately, I believe the advice is something I can fashion to both other zones and the more casual player. By examining the prescribed differences in preparation between those chasing Top 16 and those not, implicitly there’s a required evaluation of the non-Top 16er as well!
Maybe this will miss entirely, but given we’re in the lightest spot of the year for deck content, I figured this was the best time to give this topic a run. Hopefully everyone can find something interesting here, and if not, I do genuinely apologize. Either way, I invite you to hit me up @cschemanske on Twitter with feedback (or on the forums).
Speaking of feedback: as a brief site update, we decided that the survey I promised last month would be better done after NAIC, so we’ll be pushing that in the next few weeks. It’ll be a good opportunity for you to let us know what is and isn’t working for your experience on 6P, and we’ll aim to do what we can to make 6P better than ever heading into next season.
The next few weeks also hold great potential for the stats articles that people apparently like to read, so keep an eye out for those as well. We’ve just solidified a delegation for this year’s World Championship, which is a certain place to look for all sorts of interesting facts and figures.
With that in mind, though, let’s move into the highlight of the day: chasing Top 16. Much of this, of course, is predicated on TPCi not making significant changes to the structure. I’m comfortable writing on that premise because I believe the chances of them doing so are nearly zero, but if I happen to miss that guess, I’ll be back later in the summer with an update.
For some perspective real quick, I believe I traveled more than any other NA16er this year, and this is what my travel year looked like:
Or, you can see the States a bit better here:
Realistically speaking, that was probably as much travel as anyone could’ve put into this year’s race without being truly overzealous—and arguably, I was overzealous! If I had to do it again, I’d:
- Eliminate California. As a Midwest/Great Lakes player, California is an obnoxiously expensive place to get to—and the tournaments aren’t even that small to compensate! In its place, even a weekend off entirely would’ve probably been useful to me, but I’d realistically target a LATAM Special Event.
- Consider a new guiding principle: Smaller tournaments are easier to get big points at than bigger tournaments, and big points are how you make Top 16. For this reason, while Portland and Salt Lake City were more expensive trips than my average, they were higher utility because I had a better chance of getting meaningful points.
- Going into next year, this evolves a little bit. It is still going to be easier to get higher points at smaller tournaments, but once 227 is reached, it’ll be slightly less of a drop-off than this season: with the universal 6-2-1 cuts, you’ll be able to make a chance of Day 2 with the same standard at every event. Day 2 itself is going to become far more important, and in an unforeseen twist (you heard it here first), the 6-2-1 cut is going to incentive Top 16 chasers to look to smaller events, and those sans Day 2, more than ever.
- With that in mind: it’s too late to get on a plane to Valencia, but keep your eye out for the smaller Special Events. There’s unabashedly an advantage to being positioned in New York City, Chicago, or in reach of either of those two, as they generally feature better international fares than their counterparts. For those of us not there, though, it can often be worth looking at U.S. low-cost carrier flights to reposition to one of those spots, then take the cheaper international flight.This can often be even simpler: for the exact same flights, it would have cost me $400 more to ticket DTW-LAX-SYD directly for Oceania this year than it would have to separately ticket DTW-LAX, LAX-SYD. Get creative, or find a friend who knows what they’re looking for. Airlines are weird—I’m getting my degree in why, but all you need to know today is to keep an open mind.
- Absolutely still attend all 4 International Championships. Last year, one player made Top 16 while attending only North America’s event, but nobody achieved the feat this year. Chris Siakala came closer than anyone, but he’d have practically needed a Top 4 at NAIC to pull the feat off this year. This is one thing that, even if there’s evolution on the Special Event front, I can’t see TPCi changing about the structure. It is viable to miss a single IC, but I don’t think it’s wise to “plan” on chasing while attending less than 3/4.
- While Oceania is generally the most cost-prohibitive, it’s arguably a better choice to skip one of the cheaper ICs+a more costly Regional to facilitate the Oceania trip. It’s a simple numbers equation, and the numbers say that Oceania is the best source of “easy” points you’ll find all year. Now, on the other hand, this requires putting more of your eggs in a single basket, so if OCIC goes south, you’re really in a bad spot. There’s a cost/benefit analysis to be had here, because if it does go well, odds are it goes well enough to put you in a very strong spot—but obviously, failure is always a possibility.
- For those seeking a Day 1 invitation, the Oceania IC holds true as a pretty good points farm source, but obviously the costs can be silly. I would advise keeping an eye on flights from your locale, as you never know what can happen, especially for players located in Texas and on the Pacific Coast—quick drops in fares to Sydney or Auckland aren’t uncommon from these locations.
- Spend less time trying to maximize League Cup BFLs. Once you have two Top 8 or better finishes, unless in the true dregs of the race in the 19-13 area toward the end of the year, there’s an argument for recovery time over Cup chasing. I wish I’d taken this advise at a few points in Q1/Q3, as dedicating more time to preparing for a Regional would’ve been a better use. (Cups aren’t really all that great of testing, for the record.)
Pokemon ParadijsOverall, it’s about maximizing your chances to earn meaningful points. If I had to skip some of the cheaper Regionals (relative to me, of course) offhand, Dallas and Collinsville would be easy nominees because they will be some of the hardest events to get good kicker points at. But, on that subject: Dallas is probably positioned to be one of the most diversely attended events of the year again, and that’s no accident: it’s an airport hotel in the middle of winter in one of the US’ largest airports. The accessibility is unparalleled, and as such, when I suggest missing it, I really speak more in hypothetical principle than in reality, as it’s too easily accessible for most players chasing any degree of Worlds to consider missing it.
With those guiding ideas in mind, I want to shift over to discussing how a Top 16 chaser’s mindset can be different from that of an average player attending a given Regional Championship.
At any given tournament, you will have two competing priorities as a Top 16 chaser: winning the event and maintaining your position in the Top 16 hunt. While the only Top 16 that truly “matters” is the one after the last International Championship for Worlds, it’s obviously much easier and more cost-effective to maintain the standing for Stipend purposes, assuming TPCi doesn’t make any changes. Therefore, all year, there’s a sort of mental trapeze act to execute: you want to win every tournament you enter, but you also run into a spot where you don’t want to have high-risk odds of missing points at a tournament entirely.
The real life examples of this for me were in Costa Mesa and Portland this year. At both tournaments, I started 6-1, but instead of trying to win my next two matches to position better for Top 8, I sacrificed the chance to instead guarantee myself Top 32 points for the weekend. I distinctly regret the choice I made in Costa Mesa, though the one in Portland was more defensible because of my deck’s precarious position in the top table meta.
There’s no good choice for you on either side of this dilemma, but I do lean increasingly toward the spirit of the earlier point I made: you make Top 16 by achieving big finishes at tournaments. The incremental Top X finishes are good, and especially so at Internationals, but a series of Top 32s isn’t going to be good enough—as Ryan Allred heartbreakingly demonstrated this season.
Therefore, wherever possible, I think your primary goal has to be winning the tournament. At the same time, you always need to be conscious of the race, and that could manifest in things like your deck choice (maybe not playing that crazy rogue for a critical tournament) and other less-direct factors than choices to intentionally draw or otherwise.
On a week-to-week basis, unless you’re truly able to dedicate an incredible amount of time to the game, your testing will probably be less than ideal for any given tournament on its own. Many of the true greats of this season (Tord, Azul, etc.) put in the time to mitigate what I’m about to write, but for someone like me who was balancing this chase with being a full time student, testing was often where the slack was in my schedule.
Speaking of Buzzwole: I went into more than a few second half tournaments with a Buzzwole list and a prayer, knowing that Buzzwole was historically broken and that it would be effective against the meta I faced. I wrote frequently about Buzzwole’s status as a deck where going worse than 6-3 would be a challenge, and that was so perfectly attractive in the Top 16 race as a high ceiling, yet high floor, play. Only time will tell if next season offers us a similarly positioned play, but it’s something to keep in mind.
With less time to test things myself, for some stretches of the year I was reliant on my years’ of intuition, my network, and what time I could scrape out. In genuine honesty, I probably had one of the worse networks as this year’s Top 16 went, as I was not remotely attached to any of the big lists of the year. At major tournaments, there were usually 2-3 plays made by the “NA16” corp, and mine was almost always a minority within that.
In my genuine opinion, it takes more than a person’s own efforts to secure the Top 16 bid—without the aid of friends in a variety of areas, it’s supremely difficult to do. There are simply too many events, too many formats, and not enough time in the day. If my only job in life was to play this game, it’d probably be one thing, but when attempting to juggle any semblance of life outside of it, there’s no doubt in my mind as to the importance of one’s support network.
And that doesn’t mean you need to have friends in high places to achieve this: you merely need friends willing to take leaps with you. I’d have been toast without the friends along the way, and while I’m not going to name anyone as to avoid offending by omission, I can’t begin to overstate enough to you the importance of a good network in this game—and probably in life too, but this is heavy enough already.
That’s going to be it for me today. If you have any questions, or anything you’d like me to elaborate on, feel free to find me on the various social media options. I know this won’t have been every reader’s cup of tea, and I’m sorry for that, but hopefully you took something away no matter what.
It’s been a long season. Thanks for being a part of it with us at 6P.
All the best,
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