Hey everyone! It’s been a while since my last article, and the Pokémon circuit (along with the world) has been much different since then. Times are uncertain, and the #1 priority for everyone is to stay safe. It’s important to acknowledge current events, even in this medium. I hope you all are safe and finding ways to occupy yourself. Luckily for us, PTCGO and other video games are great ways to spend free time provided you have internet—which you must have, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Personally, I’ve reinvested time in League of Legends.
Online tournaments are a new emergence, and I’m grateful that Limitless and others are organizing them. Continued interest during this offseason will keep players engaged and anticipating the return of regular tournaments. It’s a difficult transition for all, with many technical issues along the way, but I’m glad that there’s headway being made.
One tournament you might’ve heard of is the Faded Town Invitational—which I’m playing in! It’s a stacked lineup of players and I encourage you to follow it once it goes live.
Now, with all that out of the way, I’d like to introduce you to the topics at hand: the offseason, becoming a better player, and the world between the two. It’s slippery, and frankly reminds me of a fad diet. “Follow these seven steps and you’ll be winning Regionals in no time!” That, of course, isn’t true. Improvement is more nuanced, and impossible to write in a single article. It’s easy to tell, but difficult to teach.
The coach’s methodology from my short-lived tennis career in high school was as follows: improve in the offseason; compete in the spring. I admit that my school’s program was better than most, but it was fact that everyone played during the offseason, indoors. Tennis season is only 10 weeks, so the major improvements a player made were in the other 42.
This is somewhat comparable to Pokémon due to the nature of its circuit. I’d argue that Pokémon hasn’t had an offseason since the pre-Internationals structure. Here’s the tournament progression when I started in 2009, and what it is today. BRs = Battle Roads, LCs = League Challenges.
- BRs → Cities → States → Regionals → BRs → Nationals → Worlds
- LCs, League Cups, Regionals, and Internationals → Worlds
As you can see, the former structure had a linear progression of relevance. The prizes (and points once we converted to CP in 2012) ramped up as the year progressed. The second wave of Battle Roads disobeys this trend, but that’s merely because those tournaments were practice for Nationals.
I consider Battle Roads to be the offseason of the first structure. They award points, but they’re League Challenges. The Day 2 invite structure hadn’t been imposed yet—you didn’t need to grind them. Comparing this to the modern structure, there is now no offseason. It’s a continuous stretch of tournaments from start to finish. There is no breathing room.
The lack of an offseason is what contributes to player burnout. This phenomenon doesn’t occur for the casual player as much, because the casual player has breaks between the tournaments they attend. For Day 2 invite-chasers, there is no break.
Philosophically speaking, an offseason is necessary for the longevity of a player-base. It’s no secret that half of the people chasing the Day 2 invite hate it as much as they love it, and that’s on the price tag when you sign up for the chase. It’s exactly that: a chase, a grind.
You might be wondering, why do people still chase? Well, why do you go to work? It makes money. And there’s fun along the way, too.
Perhaps the side point I was trying to get at is that offseasons are important. They provide a time to take a step back, recollect, and return stronger than before. Now, let’s move off of my opinion, and onto that of my coaches from high school.
The first step is to label where you want to improve. Quantifiable goals are best, but it’s difficult to quantify without rattling off hoped tournament placings. If possible, narrow down the area of your game that you want to improve. Do you want to learn one deck really well? Learn more decks? Sequencing? Playing faster? There are a million questions to ask.
From there, you should formulate a plan of improvement. What strategy will you employ to actually achieve your goal? Watch VODs? Play many games on PTCGO? Hire a coach? Once again, the possibilities go on.
There’s reason to practice in a competitive setting, and also to make modifications to that setting in order to foster learning. We all know how to play a traditional game of Pokémon, but adding conditions or additional measures can improve what you get out of it. My tennis drills were never just a rally; they were rallies with added conditions that promoted specific, advantageous behavior.
Then, the third and final step is to commit to your strategy and see it through. If you give up halfway through, then you won’t see results for two reasons. The first is the obvious one: you stopped training. You won’t be able to run faster if you aren’t running. The second reason is mental. If you’ve given up, then improving isn’t important to you, and results won’t come until you’ve broken that mindset.
Gaining a deep understanding of the game is the most important thing a player can do. Here’s my definition: the ability to realize fundamental components of deck-building and strategy. Notably, this allows you to make most decisions extremely quickly, allowing you to play faster. In a competitive setting, this reduces your rate of tying. Another benefit is the ability to play most decks competently upon picking them up. Archetypes exist, and being able to recognize archetypes in a current deck reduces the time it takes to learn it.
Announcing Your Rationale
The best exercise for this is to play a game of Pokémon while announcing the reason for everything you’re doing. This is similar to playing open-hand, which is when you and your opponent have your hands revealed at all times. The point of announcing everything is to put a reason behind every action, no matter how trivial. If you can’t think of a reason to play a card, then don’t play it.
The purpose of this exercise is to always have a reason behind playing a card. Over time, you’ll know the reason without having to think; it’ll become second nature. In stressful situations, you won’t crack as often because you’ll have developed a natural instinct for playing correctly. More preparation is always better. A good comparison is chess. The world’s best players prepare extensively, researching variations of openings beyond 20 moves deep. They can create an edge over the opponent by knowing the best response ahead of time, via computer. They reduce the opportunity for error.
Another benefit of this exercise is promoting discipline. One mistake that I see myself doing in League of Legends is trying to pull off “the cool play.” Against my better judgement, I try to do something flashy or fun, irrationally. This is an undisciplined action. If I fully committed myself to winning, I’d have chosen something different. In Pokémon, some undisciplined actions are going for the riskier play, trying to pull off a flashy move, and not adapting to the current situation. These are a detriment to your success.
Researching Older Formats
A great way of learning more about the game is to see where the game has evolved from. Single-, double-, and triple-Prize card metas have existed. Don’t you think there’s a difference in playstyle across these formats? The answer is a resounding yes. In one way or another, playing more Pokémon will help you improve. I have two specific reasons that it’s important:
- First, you can learn about formats in which other skills were valued.
- Second, you can apply deck-building themes from one format to the next.
When you’re able to identify the true win conditions of a deck, and how to capitalize on those win conditions during the deck-building process, you’ll create stronger decks. That’s how I came up with ADP/Keldeo-GX with Rosa and Custom Catchers for Daytona Beach Regionals.
The best recent example of valued skills across formats is 2017: PRC–BUS, the format defined by Garbodor GRI. As you might expect, one of the most valuable skills was knowing when to play Items. Does the Pokémon you get off of Ultra Ball make up for the additional Item in your discard? Trashalanche revamped deck-building and strictly defined what decks were viable, and how they countered Trashalanche. Volcanion modified its strategy to withhold Max Elixir, Vespiquen didn’t care because it was a single-Prize deck, and Garbodor mirror matches were dictated by how few Items could be played.
Another format worth looking at is 2014 (NXD–FLF). Pyroar FLF was newly released before U.S. Nationals, and most players thought it was a joke. It ended up getting 2nd. At Worlds, Pyroar was nonexistent and Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX PLB (VirGen) took 1st and 2nd in Masters. This exemplifies the meta shift from tournament to tournament, and especially the rise and fall of hyped decks. Due to Pyroar’s existence, people picked decks that folded to VirGen like Aromatisse XY/Max Potion, which VirGen preyed upon.
The last formats to look at are 2006 (HL–HP) and 2010 (DP–UL), which utilize search-Supporter cards. 2006 and similar formats had access to the Holon engine, while 2010 revolved around Roseanne’s Research and Cyrus’s Conspiracy; paired with Claydol GE. These decks were built very different than those today.
Sequencing is another important topic to cover when looking to improve. Playing cards in the right order increases your chances by only a few percentage points for each individual action, but this adds up over the course of a tournament. One bad sequence can lead to missing the card you need, which leads to a loss, which is what separates you from making and missing cut.
Sequencing is all about maximizing the probability of hitting the card you need. If you want to find Welder with Stellar Wish, use Giant Hearth first. It’s that simple. Some decks have very complicated sequencing routes like old Giratina/Malamar. That deck relied on maximizing its sequencing to best set up while hoping to attack with Shadow Impact on turn two. When there are multiple paths of sequencing, figure out which piece is most important, and plan accordingly.
Jirachi TEU decks are littered with sequencing decisions because you can time your Stellar Wish. Do you use it before your Supporter, or afterward? In most cases, the answer is afterward. Let’s say you’re looking for Great Catcher to win the game. If you wait until after Professor’s Research to Stellar Wish, your probability of hitting it is 12/X, where X equals the number of cards left in deck. If you Stellar Wish before Professor’s Research, your odds are lowered because you may have repeat cards.
Imagine this scenario: You Stellar Wish into three Energy, your single copy of Ordinary Rod, and an Escape Board. You take the Escape Board. Then, you Professor’s Research and draw Ordinary Rod and six other dead cards. You missed out on seeing a unique card because you saw Ordinary Rod twice.
Using Stellar Wish first (before Professor’s Research, in this scenario) can decrease the number of unique cards seen from 12 to 7! That’s assuming you draw into the same 5 cards you Stellar Wish‘d for, plus two more. Of course that’s unlikely, but still possible.
Similarly to sequencing, when done correctly, thinning (or proactively discarding superfluous resources) increases your probability of drawing the card you need slightly. However, when done poorly, you can lose immediately! The essence of thinning is determining what cards are essential. This must be done on a game-to-game basis, but is matchup-dependent as well. For example, your Giratina XY184 will not be useful against non-BREAK decks. Mimikyu CEC 97 with Shadow Box will not be useful against ADP/Zacian V.
There’s not much to say other than that practice makes perfect. There’s no comprehensive guide to thinning because every game is unique. In any case, learn what cards in your deck are vital, and those that aren’t.
Pace of play isn’t something that’s directly coachable, but is something to be improved upon. When I find myself spending extra time to make a decision, it’s for one of two reasons:
- I’m inexperienced with the deck, or
- it’s a very hard decision.
The best way to solve the first one is to follow the first condition I said, which is to announce all reasonings when doing them. People can play very quickly if they’ve reduced the number of meaningful decisions. The goal here is to create as much familiarity as possible.
The second path is harder to find a solution for. The first question to ask is “how can I lose the game by making this decision?” Consider any consequences that might happen. If there’s a chance your Pikachu & Zekrom-GX gets blown up after you just accelerated 3 Energies onto it, it might not be the best idea to do so. Analyzing risk is a great, fast answer for figuring out an option when under time pressure. Usually, the safer play is the correct one to make unless your win condition requires otherwise.
The last skill that I’ll cover is deck-building. This one is near and dear to me, and something I treasure than the game itself. I believe that deck-building is harder than actually playing the game, as so much is determined from the decklist stage. Putting together the perfect 60 is much harder than playing across one opponent on a Saturday. Fundamentally, your deck might beat another—props to you for designing it that way. You might also be unprepared for a surge of an unexpected archetype—unfortunately, you weren’t prepared.
The secondary part of deck-building that I love is its process. First, start with your barebones list of whatever deck you want to modify. Play a few solitaire hands with it. Does it feel smooth? What counts feel wrong? Adjust accordingly. In this stage, it should be pretty easy to tell what needed changing, due to it being the first few games.
Then, once you’ve established a relatively good list, you figure out what the final cuts are. I like to lay out my 60 and pull any potential cuts out, placing them aside from the rest of the cards. I also lay out the cards I’d add in place of them in a separate pile. I have two categories: luxuries and meta techs. Luxuries are exactly as their name. They’re waiting spaces for you to find more impactful cards to add. Lana’s Fishing Rod is a good example from my Daytona Beach deck. It helps, but isn’t necessary. As for meta techs, these are cards that shore up a specific matchup. I thought about Lucario & Melmetal-GX and Hoopa UNM, but decided the additional space elsewhere was more valuable.
With these last few card slots, you want to determine how to increase your matchup equity against the expected meta. It’s important to remember that every deck will be in the room, but you won’t play against every deck. You can completely ignore the possibility of Doll Stall, but there’s likely at least one person playing it in the room. It’s unlucky if you play against them, and all you can do is move on.
A final piece to highlight is staying true to your win condition. If you’re playing ADP/Zacian V, there’s no reason to get cute by adding unnecessary cards that detract from your goal of being the most aggressive deck. Energy Switch might give you additional mobility with your Energy, but it can also clunk up the deck, resulting in an awkward start. For Mewtwo & Mew-GX, Mallow & Lana is a great card, but too much of it results in too few Welders being played.
I hope you enjoyed this article and took something away from it. It’s refreshing to write about something not directly related to the meta, but also difficult because it’s a different type of writing required. This felt more exploratory than usual, and I didn’t know where it was going to go once I started. Regardless, thank you for making it this far and hopefully you’re doing alright.
Since there aren’t any events anytime soon, feel free to reach out on here or on Twitter if you have any questions/comments/etc. Stay safe everyone!
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