A Primer on Pokemon Metagaming

Image credit: complexitycardgaming.com

Today we’ll be sharing a brief piece on metagame, targeted both at newer players getting into the competitive scene as well as veterans desperately preparing for Worlds next week.

Why Metagaming Matters

Metagaming is essential to success in the Pokemon TCG. Yet a lot of players spend a lot of time talking about metagame without ever actually knowing what “metagame” means.

It sounds like a $10 word, but all it means is the game played around the game. So if building your deck, dealing out your cards, and making in-game decisions can be called the “main game,” then things like deck countering, tech selections, and even other little decisions about the events you choose to attend can be considered the “metagame.” Being good at metagaming is arguably more important in Pokemon than any other card game because matchups count a lot, you constantly have access to your full deck, and there is no sideboard – all things that make your calls crucial.

Types of Basic Metagaming Methods

Deck countering: If you have a good idea of what the field of an event will look like, you can make a better informed deck selection and win the tournament. So if you’re pretty sure the 2017 World Championships will have a ton of Volcanion, Greninja BKP and Gyarados AOR suddenly look like much better choices, and acting on that knowledge makes you a better metagamer.

This doesn’t just apply to weakness, though – it can apply to exploiting any vulnerability in the field. Using Decidueye GX/Vileplume AOR was a metagame call of mine in Anaheim because I knew that even though Volcanion would be popular, I could bring up high Retreat Cost Volcanion EXs and then use Feather Arrow to score easy prizes on the bench. Thus, despite the Weakness to Fire, I played and went undefeated against five Volcanion decks in a row, effectively making Decidueye a “counter” to Volcanion.

Of course, everyone remembers Wailord EX/Suicune PLB from 2015…

Tech choices: These are essentially the same decisions you’re making as deck calls, but much smaller. In Pokemon, choosing whether or not to run a tech oftentimes results in radical matchup changes, turning a close matchup or even an autoloss into a favorable matchup.

I’m more likely to get writer’s block than get Roadblocked.

All Other Pre-Tournament Decisions: Aside from decks and techs, there are important metagame implications about everything you do leading up to a tournament. Are you writing your decklist in public or private? What time are you turning in your deck list? Who are you talking with prior to the event? All metagame calls in one way or another, and they play important parts in your deck and tech decisions.

Yes, it even means which Facebook groups you’re communicating in!

Strategy Recommendations

Deck Choice: Everyone knows it’s important to play a good deck for the field. If the best deck is countered to oblivion, then it is therefore not the best choice, making the counter deck or even a third option with good matchups against both decks much smarter choices. But because this is in constant flux, you need to pay attention to what’s going on around you. Stay on social media; have some idea of what the premium article sites are talking about prior to an event; and don’t ignore sudden hype the day or two before an event. People are bad at keeping secrets, so I’d say it’s sensitive moments like the night before when people start leaking all their best ideas.

Worlds-Specific Advice: Do your homework before Thursday. Since most Day One competitors are required to turn in their decklists on Thursday, you probably won’t enjoy as big of an advantage in hearing about hype and adjusting accordingly. That’s okay – you just need to compile all the information you know and make the best predictions based off of that.

Local Event Advice: It helps to have multiple decks ready since hard countering and scouting are most likely at these events. Even if you think you’re not a “name” player, good players are constantly keeping you in mind and what you will play.

Techs: Where you trend on techs seems to be very event dependent. The more likely you and others blend in, the less helpful it is to hard counter anything in particular and instead just opt for consistency. One of your biggest enemies in every game is a bad hand, so sometimes just choosing not to play the metagame and go for pure consistency works out well in your favor. Contrast that to League Cups, and sticking with your great deck but adding a bit of extra spice can pay off big-league.

Pre-Event Decisions: Since this is so broad, I’ll drop some specific observations I’ve had over the years. The overall theme is balancing your love of the game with prudent guarding of your information – keeping your cards close to you chest.

*At local events, don’t be that guy, and don’t tolerate other people being that guy. It’s good strategy to use the knowledge at hand to make the best decisions you can, but it can get so absurd you have people turn into wannabe secret agents, taking peaks at lists, being nosy about deck choices of opponents, and so on. Local events are the last places we need to be encouraging toxic behavior, and believe me, heavy-handed metagaming can get very toxic if you forget this is a social game meant to be enjoyed socially.

*Several overzealous parents and kids won’t get the memo from my point above, so if you’re in a younger division or a parent of a younger division player, be more cautious. Be friendly, trusting, and kind, but by all accounts, Juniors and Seniors are plagued with hard metagaming and hard deck/tech hate choices, so you are best served to maintain privacy in your deck choices on-site.

*Minimize the borrowing. This is a “do as I say, not as I do” commandment, because I personally like borrowing as well as loaning out cards, but if you’re playing the metagame optimally, you won’t need to borrow a single card.

*If deck lists and checks are done before a tournament starts, it’s best if you do yours right before the cutoff time. The more people whose decks are locked in, the less likely it is someone will get a fortunate glance at your list.

(Tournament Organizers and Judges, if you don’t want a flood of players at the last minute, either choose a different time to take up deck lists – before round one is a good time – or be very cautious and deliberate when it comes to securing the privacy of a deck check.)

*If you want to keep your probable deck list choices a secret, don’t play or talk about them in an overly public fashion. This is the essence of secrecy, and is the perfect transition into tomorrow’s blog entry!


This only scratches the surface, but I hope newer and Worlds players alike have a much better understanding of the basics of metagaming. Good luck in your next big events, guys!

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