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Gendermon


The original image for this article was going to be a Salazzle, but all the fanart for that thing is obscene.

Since I won’t be able to write up a Social Saturday tomorrow, I figured I would address a very hot topic in the competitive Pokémon TCG community right now, which is how welcoming this community is to its female players. I’m going to tackle two sides of this: first, the history behind why so many more males play Pokémon TCG competitively than females; and second, what can be done to help the situation.

This is not a woman’s perspective – I was born a guy, and I’ve never identified as anything other than a guy. However, since I’m an old-school member of the competitive community, I believe that my perspective can shed light on this issue.

Preface

As fair warning, I will be making some generalizations in this post. These generalizations aren’t made lightly because they are essential both to provide background history and to guide us through issues that long pre-date Pokémon. Either way, I believe most people will be satisfied with the reasons behind these generalizations, and the way I’ve formulated them.

Gender and the Community

Principally, Pokémon TCG has been a uniquely difficult place for girls and women to thrive in because of three reasons: the early online community encouraging a male-only hierarchy, meritocracy, and social awkwardness.

1. The Early Online Community

Although kids of both sexes were encouraged to play Pokémon in the 90s, those who continued to play into the 2000s and wanted to be competitive in an era when Pokémon was dying had to become familiar with the technology of the day. This technology included the internet, a freeware program used to play Pokémon TCG online called Apprentice, and IRC – or internet relay chats.

I eventually found myself as a part of this network of players, and was in turn exposed to all sorts of cool people from around the world. But as cool as the situation was, it’s this intersection between competitiveness and technology that I believe is the original sin of the gender divide:

a. Competitiveness: While generalizing whether one sex is inherently more competitive than the other comes with a firestorm of passion, it is 100% safe to generalize that on average, men/boys are more often socialized into being competitive than women/girls.

b. Technology: On average, men/boys are more often encouraged to pursue and explore technology than are women/girls.

So if you wanted to be part of the in-group, you needed to be competitive, and you needed to explore some pretty obscure technology – two things that has done a poor job at encouraging women to do.


"Orlando, the only reason you're the player character and I'm not is because of age-old institutionalized sexism…and because I never downloaded mIRC."

2. Meritocracy

If you’ve never heard this word before, all it means is that people with abilities rule the group. And because the near-death of the Pokémon TCG in the early-2000s resulted in a gutting of many of its casual players, there wasn’t that much distance between the game’s elite players and its scrubs. As a result, you had a situation where a small in-game of elite players had a disproportionate impact on the direction of the community.


There can only be one…group of players.

Private message boards like Neo and LaFonte were run by top players, and for the most part only invited top players. And because these groups were private, it depended heavily on either already being part of the group, or being one of the lucky few invited into it.  In other words, female players simply had no opportunity to break into these groups because they missed out on this enclosed group many years before the fact.

Thankfully this isn’t nearly as big of a problem anymore. Through HeyTrainer, YouTube channels, and Facebook groups, the “in” group was itself turned inside-out. Nowadays the community is so large, one small group of good players doesn’t really make a difference when it comes to who finds opportunities to play better and find out about new decks.


Nowadays, more women are the highanders…Except the ones that are dead.

3. Social Awkwardness


"My name's Monty Carlos Danger. I like asking chicks out on dates in the middle of games, N-baiting, and then creepin' for their numbers after the match. I also have mad-sick DOJ statistics."

While the above two issues explain the history behind women players not having as many chances to grow competitively as their male counterparts, I think the biggest hurdle for women players right now is simple: As wonderful as the community is, we Pokémon players generally aren’t that socially-adjusted.

Social awkwardness applies to women in Pokémon just as much to men, but the effects are disproportionately worse on women who want to keep playing. The primary way is through casual but erosive degradation: being surprised that a female player can win; asking girls out on dates in the middle of a game; making thoughtlessly obscene remarks to degrade a woman online; and so on. Our current problem therefore is that certain players act bizarre or even sub-human around women.

Sometimes this behavior can be characterized as sexist, and sometimes it's not. Most of the time though, it can be understood as not thinking about women players the right way. Let’s change that!

Moving Forward

Sexism is an issue in Pokémon TCG, even if it’s an issue that’s not really Pokémon’s fault. There are forces that have been at play for a while, and the only way they can be dealt with is through action.

I by no means am saying you should start calling yourself a male feminist or a social justice warrior. I’m also not telling you to check your privilege. But I am saying that there are a lot of simple things guy players can do that would not only make this game a Heck of a lot more inviting for female players, but improve the quality of their own tournament performance in the process.

1. Remember that Pokémon TCG is not a hunting ground for dates, and is in fact one of the worst places to find a significant other! If you make it work and find the love of your life during a rousing Wailord mirror match, then congratulations, but I’m sure you are the exception and not the norm. Just enjoy the hobby for its own sake – and for God’s sake, please don’t use an ulterior motive to justify playing! It’s a distraction that serves no one well, and makes you look like a creep.

2. When you are sitting across a player of the opposite sex, they are first and foremost a friendly, capable rival before anything else.  What follows is that no matter what their gender or gender identity may be, that person is capable of beating you, a fact you always need to be in the back of your head. Thus, even if you are the grossest, nastiest misogynist in the world, you are inherently MOTIVATED to treat your female opponents with respect! If your goal is to win, then your goal is to play the board dispassionately, and not let something as silly as your opponent’s sex/gender affect the way you play…or the way you lose. Going on tilt because you lost to “a girl” is not only absurd, but really bad for your mentality for the rest of a tournament.

3. If you are a guy and a female player wants to talk decks/strategy with you, treat her like a friend* and colleague. If you’re a female but feel a little anxious about the idea of discussing decks but don’t want to risk getting creeped on, then maybe take the plunge and send a message to someone you trust to be behave like a reasonable adult. Build the network, increase the number of ideas available, and ultimately improve everyone’s tournament performances!

*Platonic friend, because we’re again assuming that competitive Pokémon TCG is a horrible place to find love.

Conclusion

Barring some unforeseen gender reassignment surgery, I will never know what it is like to be a Pokémon-playing woman. All the same, I hope both men and women alike benefitted from today’s entry! Between heavy conversations like cheating and sexism, it’s important to remember that we have a really special community of players. Having been a part of this community for as long as I have, I know we can overcome the issues we have to become better players and people.

An Educational Discussion on Rule Sharking

Two weeks ago, there was an incident of cheating caught on stream and fully confessed to shortly thereafter. The week after that, there was an incident of cheating caught on another stream, but talked out of with a claim that it was an accident. And just this past weekend at the Latin American International Championships, a player was disqualified from top eight (of over 600 people!) for having a blatantly marked sleeve.

With all this publicly visible cheating and rule-breaking going on, players are naturally on edge. But since we here at HeyTrainer value being ahead of the curve, we will be focusing on those on-edge, nervous, neurotic people who are the natural extension of any system or game with tons of rules.

Yes: Today, I’m talking about rule sharks. What they are, what they do, why do they exist, and where competitive players should fall on the spectrum of “by the book” play vs. forgiving and cooperative.

1. What is rules sharking?

Meet Garchom P. Edelman, Attorney at Law:

Mr. Edelman is a Pokemon attorney, and he is really, really good at everything he does:


-So good he was banned from Smogon


-So good he won Worlds and dominated the format for a year


…And so good, he even Mega Evolved!

However, despite what you may think, Garchom P. Edelman is not a rules shark! Rather, he is a Pokemon attorney. He went to three years of law school, took the bar exam, and obtained tons of real-world experience because he cares deeply about the rules and the spirit behind them. And since Garchom P. Edelman cares about his clients, he's plenty willing to work out issues in a peaceful manner. So while he may look like a rule shark, and indeed follows the rules, he is a reasonable man that exercises good judgment in being both an ace attorney and a tier one, OU fiend.

A rules shark, on the other hand, insists that everything be played 100% by the book, in 100% perfect procedure, with the sort of unreasonable rigidity you would expect from only the most stressed out people. Ironically though, rules sharks are so rigid they forget that many of the floor rules and penalty guidelines are never 100% set in stone either. Thus, unlike Garchom P. Edelman the Pokemon attorney, rules sharks don't know how to handle situations with no clear-cut answers that well.

2. What are common ways people rule shark in the Pokemon TCG?

I’m not going to take too big a stance on whether it’s a good or bad thing to be a rules shark – merely that it’s better to be sophisticated in your application of the rules, like Mr. Edelman. That said, there are some things you’ll see more often than others from rule sharks.

Common methods of rule sharking in the Pokemon TCG include, but are not limited to:

-Always lobbying for a re-flip, especially when it would be advantageous to the rules shark.

-Demanding that all pre-game and in-game procedures be followed exactly as written. For example, when Professor Birch’s Observation is played, many players will screw up the order by flipping the coin before shuffling. It is by no means a bad thing to insist that someone follow the order, but the rules lawyer is surely going to escalate the situation, either by demanding a re-flip or even involving the judge. Likewise, don’t expect any sort of flexibility if you’ve charged your mind after starting to shuffle for a search.

-Asking for take-backs without ever permitting take-backs themselves. Or generally speaking, players who exploit the spirit of the game built into the floor rules, but never exercise it themselves.

-Players who throw a hissy-fit – in other words, players who get mad – over the violation of extremely minor rules. It’s tough to draw the line at what is a “minor” rule, and is an issue in itself we’ll discuss later in today’s entry, but basically anything that has virtually zero effect on the game. For example, whereas it’s always fair to insist that all of the cards in your opponent’s deck face the same direction, you’re overdoing it if you keep your opponent from drawing crying smiley faces in their notes when they prize three Rowlets.


Don't they look cute resting in the prizes?

-May overlap with outright misapplication of the rules. A disturbing number of players attempting to stall insist that they are allowed 15 seconds per every in-game action. This type of behavior has never been allowed, and the penalty guidelines flat-out presume that people making these claims are stalling, which is a bannable offense. Since an equally disturbing number of local judges are ignorant of the rules, or otherwise unwilling to look up the rules when questioned, many of these cheater/rule shark hybrids get away without any penalty at all. This is the darkest you usually get when it comes to rules sharks (although it’s better just to call them cheaters at this point).

3. Why do people shark rules in the Pokemon TCG?

We’ve established that rule sharks are all strict, inflexible people in their readings, applications, and in some cases misapplications of the rules. But why do they act this way? Rules sharks have drastically different motivations in a card game. A couple of these reasons are applicable to any game, but a couple are specifically applicable to the culture we’ve developed in Pokemon, for better or for worse:


-The most common motivation is defensiveness. As I said in the intro, demanding strict adherence to all rules is a natural reaction to sensationalist incidences of cheating. And considering how much cheating probably goes on below the radar, can you really blame them?

-Technically legal exploitation of procedure to gain an advantage. This is the true “gray area” of rules sharking that everyone seems to have a different opinion on, but the common philosophy here is the strictest form of “no takebacks.”

-Exploitation of procedure to gain an unfair advantage, or simply to cheat.  Again, this steps beyond mere application of the rules because it’s an application of rules that don’t even exist. So say someone uses two Level Balls at the same time, gets a single Pokemon, starts shuffling, and then remembers their second search. It's a particularly scummy move of the other player to demand that the second search fails, as the double-search was an effort to speed up the pace of play in the first place. Thus, the player who was kindly speeding up their own pace of play will have to argue that procedure permits them to get two shuffles, thus mitigating the weak argument of the rules shark.

4. What is the ideal way to handle procedure in the Pokemon TCG?

We know what a rules “shark” is. We know why a rules shark does what it does. Now we need to find the ideal balance between applying the rules and maintaining integrity, such as our legal ace Garchom P. Edelman:

-Everyone without exception should know the rules of the game, floor rules, and penalty guidelines. Over 90% of nefarious rules sharking is impossible when you have actually read the rules, and it’s all available in your Pokemon Trainer Club account! Here’s a link to the actual rulebook.

Tl;dr – get educated

-The less experienced or privileged a player you are, the more you should insist that everything be done by the book. While skipping steps for things such as doing multiple searches for multiple Items is almost universally acceptable, you should take advantage of the judging staff whenever possible (and appropriate) if you’re a new player. While I know several players who believe that any question or dispute must always involve a judge, this should definitely be true if you’re either new to the game, visiting an area for the first time, or otherwise disadvantaged in some way relative to the other players.

Tl;dr –New players, go call a judge!

-Comply with your opponents’ reasonable requests. I believe that for an honest, experienced player who knows the rules to do well, mastering this balancing act can be quite useful. That’s because despite the fact that your game itself is a competition, actually executing the game with the least amount of stress possible is a cooperative task. Stress-free games are in turn valuable because your tournament performance expands across multiple matches, and you don’t want any emotional baggage from one match to carry over to the next…usually.

Consider the coin flip and the die roll. There are a lot of rules related to both of these, but as long as you meet requirements for both, then both are allowed. However, I can think of at least three issues off the top of my head:

a. What if my opponent doesn’t trust coin flips?
b. What if one of our coin goes into another playing area in a tight space?
c. What if for some reason the execution of my flips is bad that day and it keeps falling off the table?

Here, only scenario b has a bright line solution in the rules, and that’s only when your judge hasn’t declared an entire shared table as a shared playing area. In scenario a, you’re always allowed to use a regulation-appropriate coin no matter how your opponent feels about it; however, on the opening flip I always give my opponents the option to call the flip in the air so they can trust its result. Similarly in scenario c, if my flip keeps bouncing off the table, I eventually make an exception and just roll.  In both scenarios a and c, I’ve carved out ways to de-pressurize the situation while not compromising my rights as a player.

What if your opponent is acting unreasonable? What if they demand you stop using a perfectly valid randomizer, or try to keep you from skipping steps where appropriate, such as executing multiple searches at the same time? It’s in these moments where you have to stand up for your rights and exercise your knowledge of the rules. For instance, coins and dice that meet all the regulations for play are allowed, and skipping certain steps without 50 shuffles is totally acceptable under the rules as part of the broader goal of maintaining a lively pace. It’s at this point where you have something incredible happen: despite being the one to rely on the fine print of the rules yourself, you are acting more like that noble legal champion Garchom P. Edelmen, while your opponent is being the rules shark!

Tl;dr – work with your opponent when appropriate; object when inappropriate.


"OBJECTION!!!"

Conclusion

We might not be talking about pure cheating for the third week in a row, but I hope this deeper look into another form of potentially maladaptive Pokemon player was insightful. It's tough to find a balance between spirit of the game and strict adherence to the rules, but it should be proof enough that procedure is important! And as surprising as it might be, mastering this balance helps make you a more relaxed, more enjoyable player to go up against, not to mention helps your overall tournament performance.

So remember, be less like a rules shark, and more like Garchom P. Edelman, the Atticus Finch of the Pokemon TCG legal world!


"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around it…Although don't take that literally, because my claws are really, really sharp."

 


Pokemon Trading Card Game Online as a Testing Tool


Intro

Many of us play the Pokémon Trading Card Game online, or PTCGO for short. It has become the primary testing tool for many competitive players, but it is not without its drawbacks. Today we’ll be discussing the pros and cons of PTCGO as a testing tool, as well as some ways you can best use it to prepare for tournaments.

Generally, I’ve found that PTCGO is a very helpful tool, and it has become an important part of my testing regimen. For the below points, I’ll mostly be focusing on the “Versus” mode of PTCGO, but also somewhat factoring in the benefits associated with Friend Battle.


1. Pros

* There is no faster way to marathon games of Pokémon, regardless of the mode you’re playing. When I was preparing for my first Last Chance Qualifier back in 2008 and 2009, my “lofty” goal at the time was to play at least ten games a day, every day. Fast forward to 2017, and you can get ten games on PTCGO fairly quickly, and that’s not even including premature concessions!

* Similar to the above point, it’s generally an efficient use of your time. Questionable RNG and occasional glitches aside, playing any online program saves you time and effort involved in sleeving, shuffling, cutting, and all the other physical factors in the physical card game. With respect to PTCGO over most freeware versions of the Pokémon Trading Card Game, such as on PlayTCG.me or through Apprentice, PTCGO is almost completely automated.

* Versus Mode is the easiest way to discover “secret” or otherwise below-the-radar decks before they are unveiled. Wailord, Vespiquen/Vileplume, Gardevoir, Decidueye, and any other deck that had a period where it was not terribly well known or respected have all actually made early appearance in the sea of PTCG opponents – you just had to queue up enough times to find them.  


2. Cons

* The majority of your opponents are not as focused as they would be at an in-person event, or even in-person testing. Between the TV, multiple open browser windows, and finishing daily challenges, there are many factors that will make it less likely you’re playing against your random opponent’s best at any given time. The daily challenges in particular could skew the results in your game if your opponent is making an unusually risky move just to get an extra Knock Out, or deal that last 200 damage they need with a Lightning Pokémon to complete the Damage challenge.

*Glitches can disrupt or skew your testing. Between the past three releases, we’ve seen two very new and important cards suffer from horrible bugs on release day: Ninja Boy (Steam Siege) and Rotom Dex (Sun and Moon). This is hardly new, and in fact we see at least one important, metagame-significant card every other set end up broken for weeks if not MONTHS on end!

* You have to claw your way up in the ratings before you get to see the really good players that make PTCGO a useful testing tool outside of friend battles. Since this matchmaking rating is hidden so that you won’t obsess over it, you also have little to go off of until you start seeing name players you recognize in the community.


3. How to Best Utilize PTCGO as a Testing Tool

So you know the pros. You know the cons. Where do you go from here? And how do you maximize PTCGO’s benefits?

* Remember that Versus is for quantity, while Friend Battles are for quality. Random players rarely know you and chat is in fact shut off in Versus mode, meaning the only way you will know if you screwed up is if A) you catch it yourself; or B) some doofus is BM’ing (bad manners-ing) you with a sarcastic, well-timed drop of “well played!” – one of the only available pre-loaded phrases you can say to your opponent. However, while Versus won’t help you reach new depths as a player most of the time, it will help you become familiar with your deck, notice patterns in peoples’ moves, and generally learn to recognize most of the infinite board possibilities in the game. Conversely, spending some time with a trusted testing partner over Friend Battle means playing a couple really high-quality games and then analyzing the results, digging deep into the “why” of everything.

*Have some way of keeping track of all the cool ideas you come across on PTCGO. Note this doesn’t have to be as formal or rigid as an Excel spreadsheet; rather, it can be hopping into your deck editor and preserving the idea. A couple weeks before U.S. Nationals, I ran into Wailord EX/Suicune PLB before it became a worldwide phenomenon. What I did shortly thereafter was trade for some Wailords and build the deck online – BOOM! Secret deck preserved and now readily available for testing!

* If an important card is glitched on PTCGO, supplement or outright replace use of the program with other methods of testing, including the physical game itself.

*Win a lot. Because the more you win, the better players and decks you’ll see on average, meaning fewer people attaching Fighting Fury Belt to M Mewtwo EX!

Conclusion

Despite its flaws and quirks, PTCGO is a fantastic testing tool, and your window into some of the best decks and minds in the game. Just like a balanced diet, you can’t rely on PTCGO too much over other methods of growth like in-person games, theory crafting, and reading articles, but it is by far the largest platform for Pokémon TCG players in the world, and is something you don’t want to miss out on.

P.S. If you liked today's read on PTCGO, then I'd also encourage you to check out a similar article on The Charizard Lounge, located here.

Emergency Lifeline in Sao Paulo

Did you know that there are actually people spending over $1,000 USD to go to play Pokemon cards in São Paulo, Brazil tomorrow, and yet they have NO idea what to play?

Well, here at the Blog, we don't judge — we just get you on the footing you need to be on. Today's entry will be QUICK, but I hope it's helpful enough to guide some of you in the right direction in the nick of time.


1. If you're completely clueless about what to play, then use Turbo Darkrai. I've been in many spots where I was clueless about what to use before a big tournament, and I've found that on average, erring to the more consistent, simple deck in those spots has served me much better than erring on the side of a more inconsistent, complex deck. An International Championship is NOT the first time you should be picking up Decidueye/Vileplume, a somewhat inconsistent deck with tons of moving parts!

2. That said, I think the best overall play will be some variation of Decidueye/Vileplume with multiple Jolteon EX. If we expect Decidueye to go down in popularity, and Volcanion as well as Darkrai to go up in popularity, then a Decidueye list less catered to the mirror and more catered towards annihilating all-Basic decks will surely shine. Lapras is not the most confidence-inducing matchup, and neither are the Garbodor variants you might go up against, but Decidueye is not the hot deck on anyone's radar at the moment, and so I'd expect most players' last second deck decisions to involve excluding < a href="http://www.heytrainer.org/blog/posts/Owning_the_Owl:_How_to_Fight_Back_against_Decidueye__Vileplume">anti-Decidueye techs.

(Also, I really like Aaron Tarbell's minor tweak to the deck. Cutting a Trainers' Mail or Level Ball for a 4th N is a very cool idea because it opens up a Hollow Hunt GX target in some games, and because more Supporters are generally helpful in the mirror.)


3. The local metagame is mostly irrelevant. By its very nature, an "International" Championship is the culmination of several great international players. Except major tournaments held in Japan and the United States, I'm not even sure any other country's player base is large enough to influence what choices traveling players should make. So whatever you do play, don't let what you see on the pickup tables shake you too badly.

Post-publication update: Brazil's player base is massive.  Thanks to data released by Carlos Pero and compiled by Tim Crockford, this is the Master Division's breakdown in the TCG:


Given that information, Brazil has tons of math in its favor to win on its home turf, unlike the U.K. or Australia. However, with a field so massive, I doubt that there's a particular quirk brought in by the non-Brazilians that would shift the metagame too much. Similarly, I doubt that Brazilian players have a unique inclination to any one particular deck or strategy.

Summary on this point: Be prepared for the host country if you're not a Brazilian reader, but don't let what you see the night before the event scare you out of your deck choice.

4. If you're playing Volcanion, tech the Salamence EX. I don't have much to add on this point, but in most matchups it will be an extremely helpful backup attacker…including mirror and Darkrai, which I would expect to see a lot of thanks to points one and two.

5. If you have any doubts at all, then run more copies of Hex Maniac than less. That is all.

Q:  "But what if my deck shouldn't run Hex Maniac, like Decidueye? Then wouldn't you be wrong abut running more?"
A: Get that kinda smart aleck talk OFF OF MY BLOG!!!

…'Til next time.

-Kettler

“May the Honest Inherit the Earth”

Introduction

Today’s topic is a two-for-one: foul play, and trust. Although I normally save the more socially-themed articles for Saturdays, I considered it valuable to address them today because honest play is integral to competitive Pokémon! While it may not be apparent now, by the end of this article it should be clear that honest play is a vital trait in its own right

A Few Words on Cheaty McGee

I’ve heard (and seen) evidence against a certain…thing. This…thing committed what’s possibly some of the most blatant cheating I’ve ever seen in my life. This thing is also insane clickbait on various YouTube channels, including but not limited to that one guy who has an unhealthy obsessions with animals.

I shall not speak the names of the cheater, of the clickbait channel owners. However, I’d like to lead this entry off with some words on a purely hypothetical person: Cheaty McGee.


McGee’s the name and Cheating’s his game!

Cheaty is a simple man. He cheats on exams, cheats on his girlfriend, and of course cheats at Pokémon. In fact, he cheats so much, you can literally see it on his face! Who ever thought a man could blush so much his cheeks would turn into Colorless Energy?

Now, spotting Cheaty is awful easy in hindsight, but it’s tough to spot him in the moment! Insist on ALL of the following from your opponents, and it’ll be less likely you’ll get screwed over by guys like Cheaty McGee:

–North/South deck alignment. That means the open ends of the sleeves, or the tops of the cards, should be facing AWAY from the opponent!

–Sleeve conditions. While it’s an unreasonable expectation to demand that all sleeves be mint condition all the time, there are people who actually play with broken sleeves without replacing them! So when one sleeve is obviously busted, or different from the others, get it replaced ASAP.

–Do NOT permit your opponent to fan-draw! That means don’t let them draw in clumps; insist that they draw one at a time.

–4/17 update: FOCUS on what the opponent is doing. Even momentary distraction can result in incredibly shady actions.

–Hands (card hands) should be far away from your deck at all times. So when your opponent is searching their deck for a Pokémon, the hand should NEVER approach the proximity of the deck for any reason – even a second.

–Hands should be above the table at all times. I don’t care if you’re Mother Theresa; there’s no good reason to ever hold your hand in a way that obscures it from your opponent.


Sometimes, you can't even trust a nun.

Establishing Trust

So you’ve got an idea of who Cheaty McGee is and some of the more basic ways to stop him. Now here’s the flip side: What can YOU do to earn the trust of your opponents? With all this extremely negative talk going on due to Cheaty McGee's real-life counterpart, it's all too important to emphasize that our game is full of incredible people with lots of integrity. Thus, the rest of this entry will be about building a surprisingly valuable interpersonal relationship in competitive Pokemon.

But first, let's answer a simple question…

Why is Building Trust Important?

1. The unspoken, obvious things: Spirit of the game, friendship, pride in your game, etc…there are numerous things related to your own personal ethics that incentivize honesty. I assume these are the only reasons you will need, because I assume only the best out of my readers and think that the tangible benefits should be irrelevant. However, do keep in mind that there are tangible benefits, as well, which will fill out the rest of this list.

2. You will likely play in your local tournament scene numerous times, so trying to make your “best behavior” the norm rather than the exception will make the majority of your tournaments enjoyable experiences for you and those around you. This matters because if you’re constantly stressed, isolated, and alone, that rarely does good things for your play. So even if you AREN’T a cheater, but act in ways that are mostly inconsiderate of your opponent, then it will come back to bite you.

3. Trust facilitates smoother resolutions to mix-ups and game state errors. When you can be reasonably sure that the person you’re sitting across from is doing nothing malicious, then resolving the mistakes they may make is a more methodical, less stressful process. And when you’re playing for a long amount of time, less stress is good for your mind!

4. Trustworthy players on average have a wider playtesting network, borrowing opportunities, and people to road trip with or room with at tournaments. In other words, doofuses like Cheaty McGee don’t have many friends, so be trustworthy and you’ll have one less barrier to making friends!

(We can also get into what makes a player a bad roommate during a Nationals or Worlds trip, but that sounds like another topic for another day…)

How Do You Build Trust with Your Opponents?

1. Be willing to offer your opponent options they might not have considered. For example, when a player normally flips to choose who goes first, they give their opponent the option to call heads or tails. I mix up that formula a bit by also offering my opponent a third option: to call it in the middle of the air. Several of my friends in the Dallas and Houston areas joke about this all the time, and it’s kind of awkward, but it’s good to offer because some players fear a coin can be manipulated. By offering to remove that element of the coin flip entirely, even those players know I have zero interest in anything less than an honest result on the coin flip.

Same thing goes for cutting or tapping – why not offer them the chance to shuffle? For newer players who might not know this is even an option, that actually makes a big difference.

2. Announce actions. This might be extreme, but I actually announce almost everything I do: attachments, Attacks, Retreats, etc. Pretty much everything short of counting the first seven cards I draw – of which it also might be a good idea to do. At any rate, announcing too many things is better than announcing too little, which leads to the chance something might not be communicated well.

3. Don’t rush through actions. Part of the reason why players are so suspicious of the dreaded “fan draw” is because it is by nature a rush through what should otherwise be a very clear process: the drawing of multiple cards.

4. Never be afraid to call yourself out on your own mistakes. It’s inevitable that even the best players will make the occasional horrible game state error: a double-attachment, illegally playing Items under Item lock, an extra card drawn, and all sorts of other crazy things. Whatever it may be, at least bring it to your opponent’s attention the moment you catch it, and don’t be afraid to call the judge on yourself, either.

Conclusion

Now you know not only ways to deal with Cheaty McGee’s more common antics; you also have an idea of ways to build trust and rapport with your fellow players, as well. With dedication, hard-earned trust, and a vigilant community, we can flush the cheaters out of our game, and leave them behind in our memories.


Player Interview: Kenny Britton


Follow Kenny Britton on Twitter @KennyBritton4!

In the spirit of Social Saturdays and Quick Search, I’m starting a new, albeit less frequent column today: Player Interviews! Today we’re speaking with Anaheim Regional Champion KENNY BRITTON, who is one of this season’s most successful players. I go deep into the things that have made him a successful player, including playtesting habits, deck choices, and metagame calls.

Introductory + History

KETTLER: Would you mind telling everyone a bit about your player profile – when you started playing competitively, some of your past major accomplishments before this season, and so on?

KENNY B: I started playing casually with the release of HGSS Triumphant. I didn't transition to the competitive season until a year or two afterwards. I saw immediate success being able to top 4 my first major tournament (Arizona States) and from there I started on the path of grinding for Worlds invites. I haven't had any crazy accomplishments like winning a major event until this season. I had a bad case of losing in top 4 of states (5x) and top 8 of regionals. It was enough to secure multiple worlds invites but not satisfying enough as a person of competitive nature. My best accomplishment before this season was my sister who was my main play testing partner over the years. She had one of those amazing seasons in 2015 as she was able to win a States, a Regionals, and Top 8 Nationals in the same year. I ended up being the "weaker" sibling but I was really proud of her success.

KETTLER: Hahaha, so I think it’s safe to say between your accomplishments and your sister’s, we can spin that pretty positively into you and her easily being one of the strongest sibling duos in the game’s history. I’m not sure how active she is now, but how has having had a family member in the game helped improve your game other than playtesting? And did you actually get a local reputation as being the weaker Britton or is that mostly just kidding around?

KENNY B: She took this season off to focus on school so she is not active anymore. Having a family member allowed me to grow with her and my friends. We truly started from the bottom as players and over time and experience we got to the level we are at now. I've experienced tons of bad performances and failures but without it I wouldn't be the play I am today. I've gotten over being "unlucky" or "salty" and just accepted the variance of this game. And yeah it was a running joke of her being the "Better Britton" haha.

I also had a side strategy of "hedging" my deck choices from having a sibling. We could take my top 2 decks to a tournament and have some better odds of making the best call. We rarely played the same deck unless it was “BDIF.”

Recent Tournament Success
+ Investigation into Good Habits


This was where Kenny was at before Salt Lake City!

KETTLER: Hmm okay, so no sister to playtest with and no more hedging of deck choices. Have you done anything else differently this season as opposed to past cycles?

KENNY B: This is going to sound a bit strange but I have actually done something differently – I stopped putting effort into the game like I did in the past. I started this season casually and wanted to take a break. The new prize layout was very appealing though, and Mark Garcia gave me a great idea: treat each regionals as a poker tournament with a buy in of $30. It's a game we know very well and you have a decent chance at taking the big prize home.

I played my first tournament of the year in Arizona which I was 6th seed going into day two, but then I bombed and had a terrible Sunday because Vileplume Box was a weak call. My second tournament of my "casual" season was a League Challenge to just have some fun. Everyone was gaining points and I was enjoying taking a break from the game until my third tournament of the year. I actually wasn’t testing my decks until the night before, and in San Jose, we drove up and just theorymoned. The night before I played decks that I wouldn't end up playing (which is usually the case for me). Drew Kennett who won Arizona the regionals helped make my decision of playing Greninja and I just rolled with it. I went on a crazy run and got second place in San Jose, losing to Mark.

The San Jose run lit the fire again and I had the passion I once had. The release of Sun and Moon came out so I actually put in some effort to figure out how the decks worked. But once again I made my deck choice at 4 am with no testing of the actual deck or list. This would end up being my strategy for the season as major tournaments are every 2-3 weeks and there really isn't enough time to have a life and test games.

KETTLER: That’s really interesting to learn, since I know that between the HeyTrainer tournaments and things like Josh Bangle’s Road to States, you’re actually relatively active in the online tournament scene. Do you think online events are good practice, or do you just play in them exclusively for fun?

KENNY B: Oh yeah! I forgot about that. I found them extremely useful over the time I have been playing. They really let me try out deck ideas and lists that I'm not comfortable enough to play in a real tournament. It's really useful and efficient to get in games online instead of having to meet up with people or play in tournaments.

KETTLER: Anything else you’d like to mention about the recent successes?

KENNY B: One more thing I guess about my success is I have a great testing circle. There are a ton of great SoCal players that I can meet up within like a 30 minute drive and grind games for Regionals/Nationals/Worlds. I used to do this so much in the past and it definitely made all of us better players. The list goes on of players I've tested with in this area and most of them are recognizable to the community. I'm very fortunate to have such a strong circle nearby.


The List



KETTLER: Your Salt Lake City that got you 5th place this past weekend was very consistent, straightforward, and mostly unchanged from the traditional build for Turbo Darkrai. Were there any particular motivations you had in choosing Darkrai, and any tough calls in choosing the exact 60 you played?

KENNY B: The biggest philosophy I have as a player is making the best meta call. I try to stay up to date with the metagame and pay attention to the results. The Charizard Lounge is probably the biggest tool I've ever used and it's just so useful. So based on recent events I noticed a trend: People were hating on Decidueye Vileplume (arguably the best deck) and they were selling out to tech or beat it. Puerto Rico showed that and it started to hype up stuff like Yveltal Garbodor. It's usually impossible to counter every deck and you have to take some kind of risk with deck choice. I had about four decks I was considering and they all had their glaring problem or autoloss. My thought process with Darkrai was it's probably the most effective deck at taking down the counters to Decidueye Vileplume decks, and it's very reliable. It was also the best deck pre-SM. I also couldn't think of many players who would actually run or feel comfortable playing Vileplume. Everyone seemed stuck on the mindset of beating Decidueye instead of playing it so it seemed like a solid gamble. I took the gamble of dodging my bad match up and faced only one the entire run which I actually ended up beating in day two.

KETTLER: What made Turbo Darkrai a better call in your opinion than Darkrai/Giratina, which you used to win Anaheim?

KENNY B: I learned after Anaheim that I’d rather be the Turbo Dark player than Dragons. Even though I was able to win those games, it felt like a bad match up. The both have their pros and cons to the meta: I’d rather be Turbo Dark against Volcanion, Yveltal Garbodor, and Mirrors. On the other side I’d rather be Dragons against Bees, Mewtwo, Ray, and Vileplume. Based on my prediction of the metagame, the correct call was to go with Turbo Darkrai.

Miscellaneous

KETTLER: Finally, it’s fun to mention that you’re actually one of the oldest active account holders on the HeyTrainer forum. Considering it’s been several years since the majority of Pokemon social media migrated  to Facebook, what makes you keep visiting the boards?

KENNY B: Well I saw your post about bringing HeyTrainer back and I wanted to help do that. It was very helpful for when I started to play the game and it helped me grow as a player. Lots of great deck ideas were brewed on those forums and I've met a ton of the trainers in real life. It's very nostalgic but also something I wish would come back to the game.

KETTLER: That's all I got, man. Thanks a lot!

11th Hour Pick at the 11th Hour

Hey all! It's been a pretty slow week here on the blog because I was preparing for Salt Lake City's Regional Championship in the Standard format. Since we haven't had a major Standard tournament in the United States for two months, the metagame is very much in the air, thanks in large part to Decidueye/Vileplume warping the format.

I had planned on using Yveltal. Unfortunately, due to my flight being cancelled, I won't be going. <a href="http://www.heytrainer.org/blog/posts/My_Eye_on_Anaheim_Part_2>Cancelled flights haven't stopped me before</a>, but this time there was no hope left. All I had left I could do was get my ticket refund, send in my refund exception request to Utah Pokemon, pack my bags and go back home.

It's a shame, for sure, but I'm only disappointed because I feel something about playing this game. And since I have this blog, why not channel that passion into an 11th hour entry for players who are literally scrambling at the 11th hour? So I'm going to share the list I anticipated settling on at the literal 11th hour, as well as suggestions for the best last second decisions I think players of every major deck should consider:

The List That Could Have Been!

Yveltal/Garbdor came full circle in an incredible way, so it was with little doubt going t be my choice for Utah. Based on the things I was considering while at the airport, here's the list I believe I would have ultimately settled on–


Pokemon (12):

3 Yveltal EX
2 Yveltal BKT
2 Trubbish BKP
1 Garbodor BKP
2 Shaymin EX ROS
1 Jirachi Promo
1 Wobbuffet GEN

Trainers (35):

4 Professor Sycamore
3 N
2 Lysandre
2 Team Flare Grunt
1 Delinquent
1 Olympia
4 VS Seeker
4 Ultra Ball
4 Max Elixir
3 Fighting Fury Belt
3 Float Stone
1 Enhanced Hammer
1 Super Rod
2 Parallel City

Energy (13):

9 Darkness Energy
4 Double Colorless

Some notes about this list —

#1: It is designed with the projected metagame of Salt Lake City in mind. I expect lots of Yveltal and Decidueye, so having tons of Energy hate is extremely useful for those matchups. The high count on Team Flare Grunt can also result in really surprising interactions with Lapras, an otherwise poor matchup.

#2: Although debate rages on as to whether 2-1 Garbodor or 2-2 is better, I think 2-1 is ultimately superior in a metagame with a high count of mirror matches. I also believe that the combination of cards you already have are strong enough to deal with Decidueye/Vileplume, and most other relevant Ability-based matchups, for that matter!

#3: Jirachi Promo puts in solid work over the second Enhanced Hammer, mainly when you need to slow fast decks like M Rayquaza down to a more tempered pace. It also adds to the all-important Basic Pokemon count, reducing the odds of a worse starter like Shaymin EX or Wobbuffet.*
*Wobbuffet is a good starter against Decidueye, however!

#4: I cut Tauros GX/Ninja Boy from the list because it doesn't offer enough for any particular matchup. It's an incredible combo when you pull it off, and Tauros GX by itself can put some incredible pressure on your opponent, but it rarely tilts a game on its own!

Suggestions for Last-Second Tweaks

Decidueye: The above list is only one example of the sort of Energy denial I'd expect in Salt Lake City. you might want a slightly higher count of Energy if you aren't playing it to handle the much-improved Lapras lists, or Yveltal/Garbdr.

Lapras: Tech to beat Darkrai or mirror if yu have to; don't waste your time with Vespiquen and just suck up the loss. And since all you need t make day two and advance is a 6-3 record, Lapras can actually take these sorts of hits and still have a great time.

Darkrai: You're not gonna have a fun time at all against Decidueye, so you above all decks would probably benefit by just playing the best list psosible.

M Gardevoir: If you're playing this, then just run Brad's list with an extra Mega Turbo.

M Rayquaza: Run the Jolteon EX version; run two or more Hex Maniac; have a fun time.

Volcanion: You're probably gonna have a bad time.

Social Saturdays 5: The Great Claydol ex Prank

Although HeyTrainer won't be doing any April Fool's jokes this year (RIP), today we'll be going back to a time when secret decks and techs were more common than not, and to the joke deck that taught us why it isn't always smart to follow the hype: Claydol ex.

Setting the Scene for Secrecy

The first "secret" deck was actually not a secret at all, but the result of the international Pokemon TCG community not communicating much with Japan. Pokemon's homeland has always had a separate system of organized play, but back then its players very rarely spoke with those outside of their country. So in 2004, we experienced a swarm of nearly Japanese-exclusive Team Magma decks destroying their non-Japanese opponents, a Japan sweep in all three age groups, and the birth of the legend that is Tsuguyoshi Yamato.

The next season, Americans learned to appreciate the value of undisclosed information, and so began to deliberately develop their own secret decks The most famous among these is "Queendom," the deck that would ultimately dominate the Masters Division in 2005.

The Secret Deck that Never Was: "Troll-Dol ex"

It's 2006-2007, and Jimmy Ballard is fresh off of a stellar second place finish at the 2006 World Championships with his Eeveelutions deck. Jimmy is by nature more of a "rogue" player than a "secretive" player; in fact, he let many of his friends in on his second place deck months in advance of using it at Worlds!

I don't remember the exact details, but perhaps inspired by the sheer lunacy that can result of the secret deck phenomena, Jimmy and I had a fateful conversation that essentially went something like:

"Hey, wouldn't it be funny to make a fake secret deck?"
"Yeah lol."

And so, we found Claydol ex: the most horrible, yet nominally-believable secret card at the time. It should look horrible by anyone's standards at any time, I know, but keep in mind that its Type Shift Poke-Power was very attractive in a metagame where Psychic and Fighting Types in the same deck were a premium.

We spread the joke to some other players, who then went wild with it and spread the idea even further, to the point where a disproportionate amount of hype going into Nationals 2007 was for this very card…this very awful, awful card. What's even more hilarious wasn't merely that people paid attention to the card; some of these players who spread the joke gave legs to Claydol ex by making fake decklists!

It all came to a head at Nationals 2007, when several people ultimately netdecked this very awful concept, and did predictably poorly with it. However, the real surprise was that some people actually overcame the odds and did well with it! All the same, it became abundandtly clear that the community was trolled in the most hilarious, devastating way it ever was — or ever will be.

A Conclusion on Claydol

"The secret deck that never was" changed the way everyone saw secret decks. While the pranksters got their laughs, netdeckers would no longer blindly follow hype to this extent, and we actually saw a noticeable decrease in emphasis on "secret" information over the years. Although some decks such as Volcarona/Ampharos would imitate the sort of epic troll that Claydol ex pulled off, nothing ever came close in size or scope.

Happy April Fool's Day, everyone!

Next Level Pokemon Part One, by Drew Allen


Heytrainer.org: Where we don't just settle for Level 100!

Hey, HeyTrainer readers! Drew Allen back again, this time with a two-part article series. I recently re-read a book called Next Level Magic by Patrick Chapin. Even with what little understanding I have of Magic, I learned a ton from it, especially in the area of building good habits. Since then I’ve been thinking of how Chapman’s ideas can apply to the Pokémon TCG.

Today, we'll start with processing & utilizing information as well as planning ahead. But first, an introductory quote from the author:

 

“For the purposes of this strategy guide, we are assuming that your primary goal is to win — though obviously we want to have fun with people and maybe make money. Still, when we note that the primary goal is to win, it helps us be aware of what we are really trying to do.”
– Patrick Chapin, Next Level Magic


PROCESSING & UTILIZING INFORMATION:

Focusing on your Opponent’s Play

            It is critical to develop a good system of shortcuts for determining when your opponent is likely to do something that changes the board. An illogical attack is a classic example; another is when an opponent kills your second best Pokémon. Basically, whenever an opponent does something that you would not have done based on the information you have, you should stop and ask yourself what they might be planning.

 

            Assuming your opponent is a bad player may set yourself up for a loss, and even put your opponent in an advantageous position. So say you’re playing an Expanded Yveltal/Maxie’s mirror, and you have an undamaged active Darkrai-EX with three Darkness Energy, as well as a benched Yveltal-EX with one DCE. Your opponent’s field is an active damaged Yveltal-EX with 110 damage/five Energy/a Fighting Fury Belt, a Tauros GX with Float Stone, and a Darkrai-EX of their own. It’s tied at three prizes each, and you're positioned to win, with a big hand and lots of Darkness Energy in your deck. It’s your opponents turn and suddenly they decide to bring up your benched Yveltal-EX with a Lysandre and Evil Ball instead of killing your active Darkrai-EX.

 

            Seems odd, right? Why not take out the immediate threat in the Darkrai-EX? Situationally, this might actually be the correct play. If your opponent knows you have all of your ways to reuse N in the discard, and they have a guaranteed way of putting Gallade BKT into play the next, they’ve effectively put themselves in a position to win by saving the Darkrai-EX for a Knock Out later. However, if you figure out what they’re doing before they get a chance to play their turn out for the game, and have a Ghetsis, or a way to find and play Ghetsis, such as Computer Search or Dowsing Machine, then you may have well just stolen the game back from your opponent.


The boy

            Being aware of what your opponent does is a good habit to practice. And the more focused you are, the more useful information you are processing. "Focus multiplied by time" will always be at the core of any results you get in life and in Pokémon – dependent, of course, on the shortcuts/systems you employ. In any of the above areas, more focused time spent will obviously yield better results.

Checking your Resources:



            Another practice to get into when you play is checking resources every turn: cards in hand, cards in discard, Pokémon in play, Energy in play, cards in deck…

All of it. Every turn.

            You need to always know every card that is in effect and how it got there. You can't just float by in a daze. Some of the most important examples of this include VS seeker counts, tech supporter counts, and Pokémon line counts.

 

            This is mainly important for two reasons, the first of which is knowing if a play you’re planning on making is the “correct play”. I’ll use another Expanded matchup as an example: Let’s say you’re playing Seismitoad EX/Crobat and you’re up against Vespiquen/Flareon. Its pretty late in the game and your opponent has a Shaymin-EX with a Float Stone active that you can’t kill, an Eevee, and a Combee  on the bench. You have 2 Golbats on the bench and 2 Crobat in hand. You can Quaking Punch the Shaymin without killing it to keep up Item Lock, but how are you supposed to know which threat to Surprise Bite? An easy way to find an answer is checking your opponent’s discard pile: If your opponent has 4 Vespiquen in the discard but only 2 Flareon, the clear play is to double Surprise Bite the Eevee to prevent a Flareon from coming out, leaving your opponent with a much less threatening board for their next turn.

 

            The second reason to keep track of resources is for best-of-three match play. If you’ve played down to late game in your first game or two to know that your opponent isn’t playing a certain tech such as Delinquent or Ghetsis, it allows you to play out your turn differently. Knowing what resources to track of is also very important, like we talked about earlier having a good system of shortcuts lets you put your focus in the right place. For example, prioritizing your opponents’ counts of VS Seekers and Energy instead of counting how many trainers mail or draw supporters they have left is simply a better use of your time because of how vital VS and Energy are to the game. Draw Supporters and Trainers' Mails, while still relevant to keep track of situationally, are usually a much less impactful resource on your play.

 

    Ross Cawthon is a great example of someone who’s consistently checking resources. As made abundantly clear in past tournament reports on the HeyTrainer blog, Ross is going to know every single card in your list by game three: He takes notes, checks information on the first game thoroughly, and is always doing what he can to learn more about his opponent’s situation. There are reasons why he’s one of the most accomplished Pokémon TCG players to date, and resource knowledge is one of them.

    

PLANNING AHEAD & VISUALIZATION:

 

Proactive & Reactive Play

            In the Pokémon TCG, plays can be boiled down to one of two main categories: proactive and reactive. A proactive move forces your opponent to change their previously planned course of action or be put at a disadvantage, such as attaching a Tool to your Pokémon. A reactive play on the other hand brings the field back to a “neutral” state, like removing said Tool with a Tool Scrapper. In general, if you spend the whole game reacting to your opponent you’ll always be one step behind their game plan.

In his video on Some1sPC.com, Drew Kennett talks about creating a proactive board state. The specific example he uses is that he attaches a second energy to his Lurantis GX when using Sol Burst, not necessarily to Solar Blade the next turn, but to force a reactive play from his opponent. If I’m playing against Drew and I see that he has a Lurantis with two Energy and I have a benched Shaymin-EX, I’m put into a situation where I would rather attach my Fighting Fury Belt to give Shaymin-EX an extra 40 HP, rather than attach it to my active attaccker. By putting his opponent in a reactive position, Drew forces them to potentially either “waste” resources that they otherwise might have been able to use to help them win the game, or set himself up for the win if his opponents aren’t able to react accordingly.

 

Visualizing Aggro & Lock Decks:

 

            Magic: the Gathering is much more descriptive in naming its deck categories –  i.e. aggro, lock, mill, control, mana denial, reanimator, aggro-control etc. Pokémon has much less linear objectives, but for the most part each Pokémon deck falls into either an aggressive or controlling strategy.

            When playing an aggressive strategy, visualize how many turns your opponent has before you defeat them. You want to minimize that number of turns — and thinking this way can help keep you focused, avoiding errors that give them extra turns to draw what they need and then beat you outright. Mega Rayquaza and Vespiquen are both great examples of this in standard, Mega Ray more so because from turn 1 you’re hopefully swinging for 240 damage or at least a KO. An Energy denial deck functions off of the win condition of discarding all your opponent’s Energy, either through mill like in a Houndoom-EX deck, or straight power like in a Lycanroc-GX deck.  However, when you visualize the number of turns they have before they hit that win condition, you can play the game differently.

 

            It's hard to make a generic statement on what’s right to do in terms of visualization, and usually comes down to board state. So if for instance you know all of your opponent’s Energy denial cards are in the discard except for a 2-2 Raticate EVO line, and a Rattata EVO is in play, then the worst you will deal with is a single Energy discard for the turn, giving you much more flexibility.

 

            When playing a control deck, look at it the other way. Imagine how long your opponent is going to give you before taking six prizes to help give you an idea of how much time you have to spare before you try to take control of the game. Trevenant is a great example of a deck where you need to visualize how much time they have before you gain control, and react to what your opponent is doing so that you can put them on a “timer” by attacking with Silent Fear. Knowing whether or not you can afford to Silent Fear and hit multiple EXs on the bench without KO'ing anything, or to Tree Slam to take out an immediate threat is a skill that you need to pilot most control decks effectively. this is particularly important against matchups where they can explode against you, such as Turbo Darkrai.  Visualizing if your opponent has a threat in the coming turns lets you attack according to their field: If there’s no immediate threat, Silent Fear away and you’re a turn closer to winning; if there’s an immediate threat, though, then it might be worthwhile to Lysandre/Tree Slam the threat to keep up your control.

DECKBUILDING & METAGAME FLOW :


The Cascade Effect

 

The basis of the cascade effect is that if a deck gets decent enough results, the information cascade will create a chain reaction of decision-making where almost everyone involved is basing their decision on the decisions of others, who in turn base their decisions on others, regardless of their own personal results. The below quote illustrates my point:


“In the early part of the Twentieth Century, the American naturalist William Beebe came upon a strange sight in the Guyana jungle. A group of army ants was moving in a huge circle. The circle was 1,200 feet in circumference, and it took each ant two and a half hours to complete the loop. The ants went around and around the circle for two days until most of them dropped dead.



“What Beebe saw was what biologists call a ‘circular mill.' The mill is created when army ants find themselves separated from their colony. Once they're lost, they obey a single rule: follow the ant in front of you. The result is the mill, which usually only breaks up when a few ants struggle off by chance and the others follow them away.” – The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki


Ant mill…could Devour possibly be a reference?

              Just like the Guyanan ants, many deck builders base their actions solely off of what others before them have done. Back in 2014-2015, Jacob van Wagner won a split Standard/Expanded tournament with Seismitoad/slurpuff. People knew the deck was good and they followed in Jacob’s footsteps, with a good chunk of the meta in the coming weeks of tournaments being filled with Seismitoad/Slurpuff.


              So you have a sea of Seismitoad/Slurpuff mirrors, and you’re lost in a circular mill. What’s the solution? Well, some players wander off that track and innovate.
One cocky ant who wandered away from the Seismitoad/Slurpuff circle was TJ Traquair. Just after Primal Clash’s release, the first Provincials/States of the year were happening. TJ and I were both headed to Vancouver to attempt to take on a relatively defined Toad meta. TJ went into the tournament playing a Primal Kyogre deck, a new archetype that had just come out of Primal Clash. I had honestly written off this deck as bad and was playing Toad/Puff with some mirror techs along with what I would guess to be about 40% or more of the other players there. However, as set in my ways as I was, TJ swore by the deck and he ended up winning the tournament, destroying several Toad/Puffs in the process.

           More confident deck builders disrupt the signal that everyone else is getting, innovate, and in turn makepublic information seem less certain. That encourages others to rely on themselves rather than just follow everyone else, effectively causing a meta-game shift. Everyone votes on what they think the best deck is for that week. People then lays out their choices, see the results, and vote again with new choices. Great name players may think of nine bad ideas for every good idea, but they are breaking the mill by wandering away from conventional wisdom.

 

Finding a Balance



            This can lead to overconfidence: Deck builders overestimate their ability, their level of knowledge, and their decision-making prowess, in turn being more risk-averse in their deck ideas they play. This is detrimental for the overconfident deck builders themselves, since it means that they are more likely to choose poorly, but it is good for the community because overconfident people are less likely to get sucked into a negative information cascade, and in turn contribute innovative decks.

           I you are one of those chronically overconfident players who makes up innovative ideas but risks killing your season with them, listen to what the rest of your buddies have to say; let yourself be brought down to Earth. Involving yourself with two or three playtesting circles can help increase the odds that you're brought down to Earth, and in turn your chances of choosing the best deck overall.

 

            Still, mindless imitation of those around you is akin to being one of those army ants that marches in a circle until death. Basically, it is a fine line to walk between choosing what is “best in a vacuum” (knowing when to go with the crowd, i.e. Yveltal) versus what is “best in a given situation” (which often involves being that upstart who insists that they know something everyone else doesn't, i.e. Primal Kyogre).



            The truth is, people who netdeck all the time would tend to improve their group's decision making by changing it up and innovating a little more, even if their ideas are usually bad or even terrible. But it is their friends/playtest partners who would benefit the most, since it would expose the group to more ideas and possibilities at the cost of individuals using “less safe” ideas. What this means is that typically, people who netdeck do better than people who innovate. This makes sense, since net decks are generally good and new strategies are generally not. However, if you want to get an edge over the netdeckers, innovation is the way; you just need to be able to generate enough ideas that you can select the best.

 

 

"When you need or want help, ask for help… but don't become dependent on others to help you. You have to be able to help yourself, but not to be afraid to ask for help when you need it."-Excerpt from Next Level Magic

 

 

 

Shortcuts in Deckbuilding



          Most deck builders could spend more time and get better results by not building every deck from the ground-up, but can instead netdeck wisely as a jump-start to their testing.

          How do you choose which netdeck is best? One important point that most lower level opponents will overlook is that, when you’re examining a new decklist, take the source into account. If you read about a new deck designed by a top player, assume that there are subtleties to the decklist; card choices made that may not be obvious. On the other hand, if the pilot or deck designer is unknown, it is much more realistic possibility to believe that the apparently suboptimal card choices are actually just suboptimal.

Templating

            When building a deck from scratch, however, one of the most useful shortcuts to develop is a system of comparing whatever concept you have with any precedents that may exist. This is called Templating. Templating involves taking an existing deck archetype and rebuilding it using cards that are legal in the format you are playing. For instance, you can start with a vanilla turbo Dark skeleton, and then use that as the blueprint to help you build a Darkrai/dragons or turbo Dark deck in the format you are actually playing. Developing a system of shortcuts to help you think about deckbuilding theory is vital if you plan on making an impact on the deckbuilding community. These templating systems can include shortcuts such as borrowing energy counts from similar decks, studying decks that have successfully merged two strategies you are interested in, comparing draw consistency options, getting ideas for techs, etc. The point is the more effective your shortcuts are when building a deck, the more time you have to work on the list.

Conclusion

 That’s all for this week. Next time we’ll delve into part two, which includes the following topics:

*Mindset
*Building a Team; and finally
*Jedi Mind Games