The Big Five: Favorites to Win Worlds

Introduction

In today’s one and only pre-Worlds article, I briefly highlight five decks I consider to be the “big five” of the 2017 Worlds format. With Worlds just three days away and deck lists for Day One due in two, I figured it’s either now or never to go over the kings of Standard, and give overall forecasts for each.

Deck #1: Gardevoir GX
Winner, Japanese National Championship


Sample Decklist

Pros: Huge damage combined with energy acceleration; has branching Evolutions with multiple options for deck construction.

Cons: Takes too long to setup.

Tech options: Wonder Energy, for Espeon EX and Espeon GX.

Overall impression: This is a good play for Day One, but has an uphill battle headed into Day Two and the Anaheim Open, which will surely be influenced by Day One results. Timing seems critical with this deck, but it is also pretty safe. Probably a good play the whole weekend even if Saturday sees hate against it.


Deck #2: Volcanion
Winner, Oceania International Championship


Sample Decklist
Pros: Fast; huge damage; requires the least setup of the Big Five.

Cons: Linear playstyle; bad fringe matchups; somewhat inflexible.

Hot tech: Choice Band for Garde, mirror, and Garb’s big GX attackers.

Overall impression: Unlike the other four decks on this list, there’s no question it will be hugely popular in all major events at Worlds (Day One, Day Two, Anaheim Open).  I’ve never liked Volcanion all that much, and I may be biased, but I only see it winning Worlds if Day Two is mostly just a Melbourne replay.


Deck #3: Decidueye

Winner, Latin America International Championship


Sample Decklist
Pros: Lots of options; can lock anything out of the game.

Cons: Inconsistent at times; crippled by bad prize combinations; trapped in the same 50-card build.

Hot tech: Jolteon EX for Volcanion. Hard to get out and vulnerable to Turtonator’s Shell Trap, but otherwise the least likely tech Volcanion would counter.

Overall impression: Would you be surprised if you saw me playing it at Worlds? I have nothing further to say.

Deck #4: Greninja
Runner-up, Worlds 2016

Sample Decklist
Pros: Good when it sets up

Cons: Bad when it doesn’t set up

Hot tech: Talonflame BREAK. I wouldn’t even dream of cutting it or Talonflame for Worlds.

Overall impression: Greninja is incredibly well-positioned to win Worlds a year after it lost in Finals. That said, I hope everyone runs it.

Deck #5: Garbodor
Winner, North American International Championship

Sample Decklists

Pros: Insane amounts of options; consistent; stands a good chance of having a good metagame in Day Two.

Cons: Mediocre to bad matchups all over the place.

Hot tech: Vaporeon in Espygarb; any single-copy Supporter in Drampagarb.

Overall: I still think Garb is not well-positioned for Worlds, but it will overperform and maybe win if these five decks comprise 90% or more of the meta.

 
Conclusion

These five decks are by no means the only good decks in the format right now. Some options such as Gyarados shine for Day One, whereas others such as Zoroark can be incredible if the metagame warps in just the right way for Day Two. However, in as wide open and exciting a season such as this one, these five decks are the ones I identify as the  true kings of this season, so it’s no surprise they will be the defining forces headed into Pokemon’s biggest weekend of 2017.

Social Saturdays: The Story of Steve and Aaron Wang, and a TCEvolutions Product Review

Recently, Steve Wang of TCEvolutions offered to send me his new product for review: a rather cool set of metallic damage counters and GX marker.

I offered to do a review of the product; however, in getting to know Steve better, I learned that he had an interesting journey into the game. I think his story is the sort of dismissive attitude countless Pokemon parents take, so I decided to share it with you all, followed of course by my honest product review.


“Turnaround Standby” – TCEvolution’s Journey from Skeptic to Metallic Fanatic
Author: Steve Wang

Hello everyone, my name is Steve Wang and in case you are scratching your head right now because you don’t recognize the name or can’t remember which tournament that I top or won, don’t worry, you are correct in feeling that way.

I am not the usual pro-level players that contribute their tournament wisdom to this blog.  I’m coming to you as a Pokedad whose kid recently got involved in Pokemon TCG. Our journey into Pokemon TCG led us to discover a whole community of very welcoming and helpful people, many of which we became good friends with over the past year.  But I didn’t always hold this positive perception for Pokemon TCG…

Like many kids, my oldest son Aaron has been in love with Pokemon for years, and as a not-too  atypical parent I was sooo against it for years.  I could never understand why my son like them so much (it’s just fancy cardboard paper right?) and why he always needs more cards when he already has hundreds, possibly thousand of cards at home.

Every time when we are walking around shopping at big box stores like Target, we always spend  a lot of time standing in front of the Pokemon cards section, and he almost always will find a tin box, or a theme deck that he “needs.”  It’s a struggle as sometimes I cave in and buy it for him and sometimes I just have to put my foot down and say no (if you’re a parent reading this, you know exactly what I’m describing).  In order to try and get this under control a bit, I told him that I will only get him more cards if he brings home good grades or if it’s a special occasion (birthday or Christmas).

Of course, he turned out to be a great student and continuously brought home good grades, which means the cards just keep piling on. After about two years of collecting cards, my son started asking me to take him to local tournaments, and of course immediately I said, “NO!”  I told him that it is bad enough that he collects the cards, but now he is actually going to waste time and go play with these cards???

(Some great parent I was…)

But one thing about my son Aaron is he is persistent and continued to ask if he can go.  He even figured out where’s the closest league by navigating through the Pokemon website.  In order to try and deter him, I told him I will print the entire Pokemon TCG rule book for him (I believe over 50 pages) and if he can read all of it, understand it, and memorize the rules then we can go….of course he did it and I’m out of excuses not to take him.  Another reason why I said no (and he was not aware of this) was over the years I built a false negative perception of the type of people who are involved in Pokemon TCG.  My office is just down the street from a big collectible marketplace warehouse (Frank n Son’s) and for years I watched people walk into this place, some of which were rather sloppy-looking. Over time I formulated a false image in my head of the types of people involved in this industry.

This all changed when we showed up for our first tournament at a local card shop.  It was on a Wednesday night (a school night, but as luck would have it, they had that Wednesday off for some reason) and since there were no Juniors that night, he was lumped in with the masters, 22 in total.  He sat down in front of his first opponent and the gentlemen was well spoken, very nice to my son and I started to second guess my perception of the people involved in Pokemon.  As I watched my son play, I was amazed at what he was doing:  I watch my 10 year old son play with no help, knowing all the rules (one Energy per turn, one Supporter per turn, etc.) with a deck that he constructed himself by collecting cards meticulously over a long period of time, a few cards here, a few cards there, trading a few friends at school for what he needed (it was Darkrai/Yvetal/Dark Patch) and then proceed to win his first match!

As a father, even if you are not into the game, you are still proud of your kid’s achievement.   After the match the gentlemen was very nice and even started giving tips to my son on how to do better.  There was no hard feelings at all, and I saw my son’s face just light up, smiling, and having a great conversation with the opponent he just beat.  Aaron is usually a quiet and reserved kid so to see him just open up like that and socializing easily it was very delightful for me to see.  As the night went on and with each opponent he plays, everyone was very helpful and willing to give pointers to help with his game, and my perception for the people involved in this game completely changed.

By the time we finished the tournament at 11:00 PM, Aaron finished an amazing 12th out of 22 masters…but what really opened my eyes was it felt like my son found his “world”.  He found what he really enjoyed and he looked like a fish in the water playing this game.  He was all smiles and couldn’t stop talking about it on the drive home.  Some point during the drive home I said to him: “What if instead of fighting you about this card game, dad turn around and support you 100%?”  A moment of silence followed as my son probably couldn’t believe what he just heard.  In disbelief he asked “are you serious?” and I said yes, I’m going to put my full resource behind you and see just how far you can go, and I told him he’s got a talent in this and he should go for it.  I think the kiddo was so excited that night he could hardly sleep.

San Jose Regionals 2016

This turn of event was back in October of 2016 and since then we’ve gone to tournaments big and small, driving as far as 7+ hours to San Jose for the regionals, and we enjoyed together many successes, disappointments, and everything in between.  Aaron racked up a pretty impressive 215 championship points in his first year.   As a father, what I will enjoy the most looking back on this 10 years from now would simply be the time I was able to spend with my son.  We seem to always have great conversation when we are on those drives to tournaments and it really present an opportunity for father and son to bond.

From a parent’s perspective, I am now totally for kids getting involved in Pokemon TCG, and I’m an advocate for it at school when I speak to other parents about it (although I get a lot of odd looks). I proudly say we are involved with Pokemon TCG and we try our best to shine a positive light to the game and the great community people that are involved in it.  We try to help other kids and parents understand the game (Aaron did a presentation in his class after the San Jose regionals), so they don’t have the wrong perception about the game much like I had.

I think parents should take a closer look at the structure of the game before completely writing it off.  The game involves an incredible amount of strategy, patience, math, critical reading and thinking…all of which are great for kids to develop.  I hope in sharing our experience other parents can have a better and clearer understanding of what this game is all about.  I’m not only supporting my son Aaron; I now also actively participate in tournaments and play as well (I’m still a work in progress).  I really enjoy meeting new players and the tournament atmosphere.  Pokemon TCG has now become something our whole family enjoys together.

As a personal lesson learned:  Sometimes it is okay to be a kid with your kid, be on the journey with them, and have fun along the way. You never know just what amazing new experience and opportunity awaits that you probably would not have discovered on your own.

Unsurprisingly, their website is TCEvolutions.com !

TCEvolutions Product Review
Author: John Kettler

Steve and Aaron also conceptualized and created a cool new product for Pokemon TCG: metallic damage counters and GX markers. In fact, we started talking in part because I was impressed with their product while looking at a friend’s Twitter page!

While my review is going to be honest, it should come as no surprise that I really enjoy what they’ve been able to make, and am excited to use these at Worlds. Let’s go step by step though…

I received a custom mix-and-match kit featuring every type of core product in Steve’s arsenal. The kit I received included 14 numbered damage counters: eight ranging from 10-60, four ranging from 70-120, and two with large denominations going up to 230 and 240 (odds and evens). In total you have 1,430 damage in this single lot and I feel like the way that damage is divided offers a ton of versatility in damage placement for as few markers as possible. Contrast that to the normal player who carries around a bag full of dice, and you can see why a product like this makes sense. As far as the actual packaging goes, Steve puts them in some heavy-duty plastic wrap to ensure they get to you in a condition close to how they were originally produced.

You won’t have many, if any problems with tournament legality, since these are clearly damage counter dice and not randomizers. Newer players also run less of a risk of accidentally using these in place of their randomizers because, again, they’re clearly not randomizers since they have no pips like normal dice. Most importantly, all of these are six-sided, meaning it’s very hard for them to be knocked over. (The rules are silent about whether you can use 20-sided dice as damage counters, but just to be safe I would always suggest using six-sided only.)

The visual highlight of the whole package is the gorgeous GX marker. While it’s not too visually dissimilar from the official markers, the choice to keep its design minimalist complements the metallic nature of the marker pretty well. There are also just enough color options where it’s feasible to show off your personality some. Because the majority of my biggest accomplishments in Pokemon TCG involve green Pokemon (Ludicolo, Jumpluff, Accelgor, Vileplume, Decidueye), it was an easy choice to ask for green!

Last of all, the product I received came with a small black pouch. I think the pouch is a great start and a nice throw-in, although possibly too small once you start to add additional supplies like your coin, counters, and so on. This isn’t a big deal though, because I mostly consider it a throw-in.

For the general competitive playerbase, the price tag is workable. As of writing and without including shipping, it’s about $7 for a GX marker, various prices depending on the number of dice you buy, and then $22 for a six-dice/GX Marker combination.  Unlike the custom kit I received, the $22 kit may not include enough dice, especially if you’re an Expanded player using Mega Rayquaza (Sky Field) or Wailord EX (250 HP). I would say, though, that these damage counters should work fine in about 85+% of board states in Standard. I’m not sure if other competitive players who  received TCEvolutions dice for advertising purposes have received just as many as mine, but perhaps Steve might consider selling a value pack identical to this one.

As for the general philosophy of whether to purchase a product like this, it depends. Most of us just use dice and other things we find laying around, but for peace of mind it’s really nice not to have to shuffle around your bag to find the right stuff. It’s also a no-brainer purchase for someone already going full-foil, max rarity on their decks – it’s probably the classiest-looking damage counter product I’ve seen, and fits the aesthetic of a money deck incredibly well.

In conclusion, the TCEvolutions Dice/GX Marker combo is incredibly cool, and I’m excited to start using it. If you get the same 14 damage dice and marker I did, you’ll also be able to cover nearly any foreseeable board state. While I have some small criticisms about the pouch and some ideas on how TCEvolutions can enhance the product, Steve and Aaron are definitely using their sophisticated understanding of the player base to give us some really cool stuff.

P.S. See you at Worlds, guys!

 

Secret Wonders: A Survey of Worlds-Level Players and Secrecy

A fitting name for one of the game’s greatest sets.

Worlds is a little more than a week away, and the deadline to turn in deck lists for Day One is even closer. With a new set just out, we’re sure to see a lot of incredible surprises as soon as the first round.

But what of that? Just how big of a deal are secrets in the Pokémon TCG? Scroll down, dear reader, and I’ll tell you why…

Why Understanding Secrecy in Pokémon is Important

Yesterday we discussed the reasons why metagaming is important. You can read that article here, but basically little choices go an incredibly long way in Pokémon TCG – arguably more than in any other game. Players in Pokémon therefore rely on secrecy to hide their little and big choices from the competition, so understanding this thought process from some of the game’s best players is something I think is worthwhile.

A Survey of Secrets: Discussion and Analysis

In less than 48 hours, I was able to obtain and analyze the opinions of 27 Worlds-qualified players about secrets, mostly American and European. Below is the post I made, including seven questions and relevant explanations:

“This poll is designed to better understand the competitive community’s attitudes when it comes to secrecy about decks, techs, lists, and metagame. The answers themselves serve as useful competitive content, but I’ll also be analyzing the responses to write a HeyTrainer blog entry for Thursday. I will be factoring in all answers received by end of day on Wednesday.
(Anyone should feel free to answer, but I’ll only be factoring in Worlds competitors’ responses for the blog post.)

***Definition – “Secret, secretive,” and other variations of the word “secret” refer to withholding opinions and knowledge from almost all other players.

-Q1: Which day are you qualified for Worlds?
-Q2: How many years have you played competitively? “Competitively” means when you started attending any Play! Pokémon events other than prereleases.
-Q3: On a scale of 1-10, with “1” being not secretive at all and “10” being extremely secretive, how secretive do you think other Worlds competitors are being prior to this year’s World Championships?
-Q4: On a scale of 1-10, with “1” being not secretive at all and “10” being extremely secretive, how secretive do you think the competitive community is in general?
-Q5: On a scale of 1-10, with “1” not effective at all and “10” being extremely effective, how effective do you think it is to keep decks, techs, lists, and/or metagame calls secret?
-Q6: Do you perceive a particular age division, country, or player base as the “most secretive”? If so, please name the country or player base and explain why.
-Q7: What are your overall thoughts about secrecy in the competitive Pokémon TCG?”

Results
Q1 Sample Pool: 27 Worlds-qualified players (6 automatically qualified for Day Two)
Q2 median time playing competitively: 6 years (five players have played competitively for at least a decade)
Q3 median: 6 (most responses were 6 or above)
Q4 median: 5 (most stayed near the middle)
Q5 median: 7 (most responses were 7 or above; 5 people answered “10”)
Q6 discussion: See below
Q7 discussion: see below

Some responses were nuanced, which is good, but for the purposes of simplicity I assigned a few numbers based off my interpretation of the responses. So if someone gave me two numbers, I would in some cases take the higher number, or an average of the two numbers depending on what they said.

Analysis

Question 2: Most of our respondents are veteran players, having played competitively for a significant portion of their lives. And while I did not ask for player ages, I could tell nearly everyone who responded was 30 or under, meaning the average respondent has been on the competitive circuit for at least 20% of their lives. These are mostly people who have both seen the game grow over a solid period of time, and likewise have grown up with the game.

Question 3: Overall, Worlds-caliber players consider their competition as being somewhat more secretive than normal. I think this is in part explained by the answers in Question 5, which reveal that these same Worlds-level players think secret-keeping is highly effective.

Question 4: Our 27 Worlds qualifiers for the most part consider their peers in the general community to be secretive, but not quite as secretive as their fellow invitees. My interpretation is that the only reason Questions 3 and 4 had different results was specifically because of the prestige of the event.

Question 5: Overall, the Worlds players who responded consider secret-keeping to be very effective. Several of the explanations emphasized the importance of the tournament which makes sense – if a small amount of variance can mean the difference between $25,000 and $0, then edges along the margins matter!

Question 6: This is where things get very interesting. Of the 27 responses, I gave everyone a chance to call out a specific group they considered secretive. Here are the ones who got called out for one reason or another, and I’ll help break it down…

*Top 16 North American players
*Small Testing Groups
*Denmark
*Elite players
*Japan
*Europe
*Juniors
*Seniors
*Masters
*Masters in the U.S.

*Top 16 North American Masters: Variations of this answer all referred to the players who finished, and more or less stayed in the top 16 Masters in North America. These players received quarterly stipends to travel to each International Championship, and ultimately received automatic Day Two invitations along with additional trip stipends. Between the responses I read, and what I’ve personally heard online/in real life, many consider this group to be very “clique-y.” This has resulted in some distrust and belief that between special top 16 Facebook chats  and dramatic accounts of 2-3 top 16 players running off from their roommates, they are making a concerted effort to maintain secrets from the rest of the playing population.

As someone who’s been a part of secretive groups, and personally knows almost everyone a part of this group, I can tell you this is overblown. This misconception is mostly because the top 16 North American Masters are clique-y – but how are you not going to become clique-y when traveling around the world with these people who share your culture and nationality? And while I have yet to earn the street cred to be welcomed into the Valhalla that is the Top 16 Group Chat, I can guess that most of what they discuss is unrelated to decks or techs – probably some combination of obsessive figures related to maintaining their Top 16 status, girly gossip, and memes.


*Elite players in general: A couple people suggested elite players as a whole are uniquely secretive. This actually makes a little more sense if you consider that these 27 players also consider secret-keeping highly effective. Of course, nothing makes more sense than…

*Small Testing Groups: This is in my mind the best explanation for secret-keeping in the Pokémon TCG. Whether you look at the Top 16, elite players, or even your local league, you find the deepest and most effective maintenance of secrets when it’s a small testing group. Usually you will see these groups in the form of teams, but it’s not always that simple.

***Networks: However, oftentimes teams and testing groups “link” to one-another with a few shared members, resulting in a larger network of elite players, which to an outsider may be mistaken for a larger group. For example, at Mexico City Regionals, Michael Pramawat, Sam Chen, Kenny Britton, Ben Potter, and I roomed together. We also hid nothing and knew pretty much what each other was using. To an outsider with imperfect information, this would look like we were highly organized, when in fact we were only a network of different factions:

-The Pram/Potter/Ramey homestead
-X-Files
-Top 16 clique
-Cali crew
-Lone wolf (myself, who for several years hasn’t had a dedicated team or testing group)

To be honest, none of us were trying too hard to be secretive with other people, but it’s still a good example where a “testing group” breaks down and becomes a network, if for only one event. So testing groups are certainly the best explanation for secrecy at the individual level, but it is not always a rigid thing.


*Age groups: This seems like a wash, because I had two responses for the younger age groups and two for the Masters (one specifying the U.S. Masters in particular). However, the issue is worth examining because there’s at least some suspicion the secret-keeping differs depending on age group…

Yesterday we also discussed some of the shadier, overly aggressive tactics the younger age groups and their parents use against each other to get an edge. Oftentimes these include secret-keeping, and unsurprisingly this secret-keeping can become just as toxic. A particular Poke dad who used to play in an area of mine – let’s call him Lanky Larry – made a habit of asking as many Masters players as possible about the movements of other younger age group players, so he could best protect his son’s secrets while at the same time attempt to fish for as much information as possible. While this sort of behavior is certainly possible in Masters, Lanky Larries are a real and constant threat to the Spirit of the Game, and are an example when secret-keeping goes too far.

*Countries and continents: This is a little bit more absurd, but I think given the lack of communication between the regions can explain why there’s been distrust in the past. Several times in the past, Japanese players have come to Worlds with totally shocking, surprising decks, yet all evidence suggests these decks were never secret; rather, they were simply under the radar because other areas lack communication with Japan. An extreme minority of Americans, for example, actually test with Japanese players, so the barriers in language and means of communication are just too great. Therefore, many of the biggest country-exclusive surprises at Worlds can be explained by poor communication, and not secrecy.

(However, the members of Japan’s Team Torchic of Japan have been longtime fans and readers of HeyTrainer.org!)

Question 7: In this final question where I gave people a chance to sum up their overall feelings about secrets in the game, I received some very interesting observations. Above all, Worlds competitors consider the current state of secrecy in our game to be “fine” (yes, that exact word). Whether they think it’s useful, not useful, or don’t personally care at all, these pro players recognize secrets are a thing, but that more often than not it is not actually a problem. A couple of our oldest players observed that the days of obsessive secret-keeping are long since dead, and that what we have now is actually much more manageable than back in 2004-2010, when secrets were a defining trait of Pokémon TCG’s metagame.

Another common trend I observed was that a few players were measured in the way they view secret-keeping. One answer I found particularly revealing was the following:

“I am not too big a fan of secrecy. I think that being open about new ideas is beneficial to grow a stronger player base. I also am not a fan of the sort of cliques that this attitude of secrecy brings. I understand why it exists and to be honest I lived that life in a different card game and it got me to worlds so I’m not going to say it isn’t effective but in retrospect I would have made a lot more friends if my group and I shared more of our ideas.”

There is an incredible amount of truth in this comment because secrets and the politics behind secrets can be quite damaging – just see my above discussion of Lanky Larry. We’re not secret agents – we’re a bunch of guys (and some gals) tossing around pieces of shiny cardboard. Sometimes that cardboard-tossing can get us great prizes though, so you may arrive at a point where your perfectly rational, wisely-kept secret will make you less popular.


Some Final Thoughts

Ultimately, here’s where I see our competitive community stands on secrecy, as well as where I agree and disagree with the 27 respondents:

1. I am qualified for the first day of Worlds;

2. I have been a competitive player for 15 years;

3. Headed into Worlds, players are likely a solid 6 in terms of secrecy. Ideally we’re a 7 or even 8, but unless you know with certainty something is amazing, or you have been sworn to secrecy by a friend, your “kinda-sorta secret” idea will most likely be leaked. I’m sure it’s already happened a bit to me on PTCGO, and I know for a fact at least one user on there is probably aware of my general testing trends right now.

4. Our community as a whole is only a 3 in terms of secret-keeping. I think tournament attendees are actually great consumers of new deck and metagame information, and are overall happiest when there aren’t many secrets. The only reason I don’t say our community is a 1 is because of A) small testing circles and B) dark horse winners of major events always make great stories, and I think the general competitive community who didn’t qualify for Worlds loves seeing things like M Audino EX win.

5. I would agree with the respondents that secrecy (and most obscuring of information) is about a 7 in terms of effectiveness. If I were answering this back in 2005 or 2006, it would’ve been a 10 easily, but premium websites, Facebook groups, and blogs such as this seriously hinder the effectiveness of secrecy.

6. Small testing groups and the younger age groups are the most likely to keep secrets. I think countries and regions of the world are oftentimes mistaken as being secretive because of poor communication, or because small testing groups in those places have already developed.

7. Personally, I’m happy with the place secrecy has in the Pokémon TCG right now. As a competitive player, it’s vital to keep some surprises hidden, even if they’re small or not very flashy. However, you need to balance the benefits of secrecy with the benefits of opening up to others. Small testing circles run the risk of becoming echo chambers, so a diversity of thought you find in larger networks is oftentimes ideal.

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!

CONCLUSION

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!

Invitational Hazard: Pros, Cons, and Constructive Criticisms of the 2017-2018 Season’s Structure

Play! Pokemon: still suspiciously similar to the MLB logo!

In case you were living underneath a rock this week, Play! Pokémon dropped a much-appreciated early announcement regarding the prizes for the 2017-2018 tournament season, as well as the invitational structure for the 2018 World Championships. Today’s Social Saturday is dedicated entirely to evaluating the new system’s pros and cons, as well as offering up constructive criticism on how Play! Pokémon might improve upon itfor 2019 and beyond.


Evaluating the new system: Pros and Cons

Pros

1. A more inclusive Worlds. I always thought it was a brilliant idea to re-brand the Last Chance Qualifier into a closed, slightly more exclusive event known simply as Worlds Day One. The inclusiveness of this event was put into serious question for 2016-2017, but a mid-season point “curve” resulted in many people getting invites they simply would not have been able to earn otherwise. I generally like it when some portion of Worlds is inclusive because it’s simply a good marketing tool: It encourages above-average players to hustle for a very attainable goal, and makes the real event of the weekend – Day Two – also relatively attainable. While the competency of your Worlds Day One opponents may be higher than those you face on the first day of an International event, going a 4-2 record is simply much easier mathematically, meaning that a Worlds Day Two berth for a relatively mediocre player at the time could mean growth into a major competitive identity.

tldr – I think the structure of Worlds Day One is improved because it gives players an attainable goal, and offers a reasonable gateway for unknown players to rise in the ranks.

2. Transparency and timeliness. Whereas in the previous seasons we spent months into new seasons clueless about just what these big tournaments of ours would mean, Play! Pokémon has done a superb job laying out as many early details for us as they could. It would have been nice to get Liverpool details confirmed earlier than they were, but I think some easy guesswork was all we needed to know it would be essentially the same thing. A late July drop of this information is about the best we could have asked for.

3. It attempts to differentiate large International Championships from small ones. Although I still have many concerns about the details of next season’s Championship Point spread, I’m happy to see that the point payout will be deeper for some International Championships than others.

Cons

1. The Championship Point structure has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. While it’s great that Worlds is more inclusive, in many ways it’s the easiest it’s ever been for people to “buy” invitations. By that I mean players are now virtually guaranteed invitations as long as they travel to as many Regionals as they can, resulting  in anyone able to make Pokémon their obsessive hobby capable of getting an invitation, even if they have a severe lack of skill. While I’m by no means elitist on the topic of invitations to an event like Worlds, nor do I feel we need to ever go back to something as limited as 64 people for 2007, the bar is now so low that any bad player with enough free time and cash, as well as a decent enough archetype, will qualify.

Because there are so many issues I have with the new point structure, even compared to the 2016-2017 season, here are some brief comments:

-No Best Finish Limit for Regionals, and zero practical BFL for Internationals. While these events are certainly a notch higher than League Cups and have much more on the line, I find it bizarre they made zero effort to curb people’s ability to spam upper-tier events. Andrew Wamboldt of TheCharizardLounge.com made an excellent point that an unlimited BFL means players literally could trade going t League Cups in for hitting up the Regional Circuit. However, I think it’s still ultimately a problem because it inevitably results in a system where we are simply not coming close enough to calculating a season’s best players.

-Zero substantive change to Internationals Championship Point payouts. Play! Pokémon should have done the same sort of serious contrast between Melbourne and Indianapolis that the fans did, and come to the simple conclusion that Championship Point payouts of 130 all the way down to 64th place in a 260 person tournament is absurd. While I certainly agree that no system can ever be perfect, and we owe a lot of respect to the hard work P!P does in designing a system like this, there’s no way around several of the most important point choices being bizarre and inappropriate.

-Special Events now being worth the exact same point payout as Regionals. While the vast majority or even all of the SPEs are less attractive options due to not giving out direct cash prizes like Regionals, it’s nuts to see a flat-out less attractive tournament series receive the same points. It’s a more extreme version of the hypothetical where League Challenges – fun entry-level events – were given the exact same points as League Cups, which became an essential element to the Day Two grind this past season. It inevitably lures the rich frequent flier club players into areas which desperately need Championship Points, such as Puerto Rico and Mexico, and in the long run actually results in a less skillful World Championship because a little bit of variance in favor of a Day Two qualifier in the U.S. could result in almost no invites for whole territories or even entire countries.

I could go on, but let’s save it for the comments.

  1. The stipend system for Internationals is improved, but leaves much to be desired. When you’re having Regionals start as early as July, why do only the results from 2016-2017 count towards determining who gets help going to London in November? This is definitely an “in-the-weeds” sort of beef, and not at all something that’s terribly relevant to the normal playing community, but I think quarterly awards would have easily been the best way to go in order to keep the pools of players at these events unique and fresh.

    3. Day Two in general appears to be a grind. Unlimited Regionals for Best Finish Limits, coupled with increased awareness about the importance of International Championships could easily mean that the top 16 players next season may need as many as 1,500 Championship Points in order to get a free pass into Day Two.

    Constructive Criticism

    “Hello, hello! I am the official TOURNAMENT SEASON RATER! Want me to rate the CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS of your TOURNAMENTS?”

    Now that I’ve discussed a few pros and cons of the new structure, let’s consider three very important points I hope Play! Pokémon keeps in mind, and perhaps applies in order to improve 2019 and future seasons.

    1. Don’t change course mid-season. No matter how small the Junior division looks, and no matter how “packed” you want to make the World Championships look, please don’t surprise us with a sudden change in course.

    This point is mostly jaded by bias, as Play! Pokémon’s decision severely disadvantaged me personally. I For the first half of the season, I simply chose not to participate as much: the highest-ranked event I played in until February was a League Cup, in part because I didn’t want to pull the Regional circuit grind in an effort just to get a normal invite, so I figured the most cost-efficient approach would be a strong showing at the International Championship. I was more or less right about this: Had there not been a point bump, I would’ve clinched my Day One invite in Mexico – a mere three weeks before the NAIC.

    Play! Pokémon saw it was going to have a very exclusive, very short day one, and so to accommodate for a more inclusive pool, bumped points across the board. That’s all well and good, except for the fact that they bumped points for nearly every possible finish, mediocre ones included. This coupled with an extremely generous Best Finish Limit for Internationals and Regionals resulted in the frequent flier club essentially locking anyone else out from finishing in the top sixteen, even with a stellar finish at the NAIC. Had Pokémon just stuck with an easier or harder system from the start, I probably could have made better decisions with my season; instead I got punished severely for not riding the circuit from September to January.

    It’s a small universe I’m a part of, since this change only really disadvantaged about a dozen other competitive players, so let’s also look at it from the normal player’s perspective. There were more than a few people who gave up on this season entirely due to how hard it looked to qualify. And they’re right, because if you wanted an invite in the Master’s Division without going to an IC, you had to win a minimum of four tournaments: two league cups and two regionals! All these regionals still had marvelous attendance, but had Play! Pokémon simply started out with the easier system, rather than change course midway, it would have been so much better.

    2017-2018 is clearly a year geared towards making it easy to qualify for Worlds, so I hope we don’t see a sudden, not-easy-to-predict change like this again. Even if it’s a popular decision in the moment, Play! Pokémon runs a big risk of destabilizing its own tournament season, since the player base wants and needs as much information and stability as it can get.

    2. It’s fine if you want an inclusive Worlds – just be sure you have the venue space. As much as I love the Worlds experience and appreciate what Play! Pokémon does to make it happen, having such an inclusive World Championship became a very bad thing when it became apparent that the venue was tinier than baby shoes. Constantly having to flash my badge and wait an hour for Day One to start was a stressful experience, and despite San Francisco being the home to Niantic during the height of Pokémon GO’s popularity, Worlds 2016 does not rank among my best Pokémon experiences.

    To be fair, I’m not sure they even knew it was going to be in San Francisco by the time they announced the structure, but it’s still imprudent planning to make Worlds so easy to qualify for and yet have people waiting outside the venue for over an hour just to get in.

    3. While your players may sometimes be rude in the way they communicate, please don’t ignore them when they’re clearly speaking out in the best interest of the competitive TCG’s future. It’s easy to become desensitized to a person’s argument as “just another salty person being salty,” but hundreds of people have already cited many of the same issues I have in this post. I’m sure it’s hard seeing your hard work met with language much harsher adjectives than “absurd” or “bizarre,” but that’s because your players are passionate. What may seem to be a small issue regarding the Championship Point spread actually makes a big difference in how your competitive brand is perceived, as well as how competitive players will continue to enjoy your game and your tournaments.

    Posts like these don’t get called “Invitational Hazard” because everything is perfect, but they’re also not awarded passionate language like that when we just see the game as nothing more than a short form of entertainment. We really enjoy playing competitively, to the point where people spend the better parts of their day theorizing about the “best structure” for zero pay or accolades, so remember that even if players don’t use the nicest words, their hearts are in the right place.

Tournament Preparation Tips, by Demarcus Reddick


Introduction

The regional tournament you’ve spent months to prepare for is just a week away, and players all around are busy making their last minute changes to their decks. Some are still searching for what deck to play; others are looking for that magical tech that will take them over the top. A lot of times, however, it is not what deck you use in the tournament, but how you prepped for the tournament itself. The Regional and International tournaments have been growing larger and larger over the last two years, with the North American International Tournament being the largest ever. And if you’re not careful and make the right preparations beforehand, it can be the difference between either making day two or scrubbing out.

Before I start, allow me to introduce myself. My name’s DeMarcus Reddick. I live in Dallas, Texas. I started playing this game when it first came to America back in 1998. I started playing on a competitive level in 2006, becoming a judge in 2007. My biggest tournament victory came in 2010 at the Texas State Championship in the Master division. In 2012, I made the decision to switch my primary focus onto judging more major tournaments. I’ve judged eight Regional tournaments since 2012, including two times as head judge for the Senior division. I’ve also staffed at US Nationals twice: once as a volunteer, the other as a floor judge. This year at the NAIC, I volunteered and worked mostly at the deck check area. I’m currently a Stage 2 Judge.

This article is designed to help you have a better experience during tournaments. Whether you’ve underachieved or overachieved your expectations, you should leave saying, “I really enjoyed myself this weekend” without any regrets over how you actually prepared.

“What’s the Play?”

            The most common question right now is “what’s the play?” What is the deck that is the best of the best? What will get me that major tournament win? The answer really lies within yourself. In order to answer that question, ask yourself – what is your play style? What deck do you have the most experience with?

At large tournaments, it is best to play a deck that you’re more familiar with. In this format, every deck has an auto-loss to another deck. The only thing I will say is that you shouldn’t play something that will auto lose to the most popular deck. One more note: Be creative. Most decks do well because of the surprise factor. People don’t see it coming.

Tournament Expectations

As mentioned before, Pokémon tournaments are getting larger by the week. If you’re a Master, there can be at least 300-500 players in your age group. Yet there can be only one winner, so don’t go in thinking that you are guaranteed to win the whole thing. There are a lot of factors that go into a successful tournament win, and while playing the right deck and making the right moves matter, there are plenty of other factors that weigh in one winning the entire tournament. Things like what cards are drawn, what other decks are being played, how hot you run, what are your prize cards, and the flip of the coin are many factors that you can’t control in the tournament. There are of course ways to maximize your odds. If you focus on limiting your misplays, critically thinking your way out of tough spots, and just flat out enjoying the game in general, you’re going to be fine for the day.

Another thing to expect is to prepare for a long day. Masters will be nine rounds hands down. You need to be prepared mentally for a long main event day, which is something we’ll discuss later in the article.

Pre-tournament Preparations

Advance Preparation Pre-registration

            Some things you have to take into consideration is that this isn’t one of your local leagues where you can show up with just your deck and your trades and you’ll be fine. At a large major event, you need way more than that to have a successful day. The first thing is that if pre-registration is available, then you pre-register as early as possible. This way, you’re guaranteed your spot in the tournament. This also gives the Tournament Organizer a good Ballpark figure of the number of attendees to the tournament, which will allow them to make changes to a venue that will better meet the needs of the tournament players. In other words, pre-registration helps them help you.

The Day of the Tournament: SLEEP, SHOWER, EAT!!!

Please do all three.

1. The night before, you need a good night’s sleep, and playtesting your deck until 4:30 in the morning isn’t the best way to get that last minute preparation done, especially when your check in is at 8:00 in the morning. Chugging Monster and Mountain Dew all day will just leave you a jittery mess the entire day.

  1. Next, FOR THE LOVE OF ARCEUS TAKE A SHOWER!!!! I can’t stress this enough! There are going to be thousands upon thousands of people in a closed space. They do not need to smell your body odor because you decided to sleep in. You will be an annoyance to every player you meet, and if you’re spending all day worried about why people hate you, then you can’t focus on winning. If it gets too out of hand, there’s even a chance that you’re gonna be asked to leave the venue due to the distraction and health risk you pose. Also, the benefit of showering can be quite the calming thing you need before a tournament – it naturally wakes you up in the morning.
  2. Eat. Have a good breakfast: You’re gonna need fuel for the long day. It will give you the drive and determination to play and battle until you’re needing that lunch break. You should also bring something to snack on, or at least enough money for snacks being sold at the venue. It’s going to be a long day for you no matter what division you’re playing in. You will need to keep your energy up. You won’t be able to think straight if your stomach is rumbling because your body couldn’t make it to the lunch break – assuming you have one.

The Decklist

Now that we’ve covered that, let’s discuss a very important aspect of the tournament: your decklist. Your decklist is very important. A lot of penalties have been given due to decklist issues, from warnings to tournament-ending game losses. You need to review and double check your decklist often and thoroughly. It is a good idea to have your decklist written out before you make it to the venue. If you have to fill out your decklist on site, please arrive early enough to write it. Don’t show up 3 minutes before decklists are due and start writing it. It will not bode well for you in the end. Also, if you’re rushing in writing your list, then you’re more likely to make a mistake in writing it.

One note, if your handwriting is similar to a kindergartner on their first day of school, TYPE UP YOUR LIST. Illegibly written decklists can result in errors during checking. It will cause your deck to be miscounted if your 9’s looks like a 4. Most decklist creators also count the deck for you. While you’re preparing your decks, make sure that you’re keeping count of your deck. Do this throughout the tournament so that you don’t lose any cards during the tournament.

During the Tournament

Now that we’ve talked about what to do before the tournament, let’s get to what you need to do during the tournament. The first thing that I’m going to mention is that if you’re able to, take advantage of online pairings. The main advantage of using online pairings is that those pairings are up and ready to go well before the paper pairings. It lowers the chance of you playing the wrong opponent. The online pairings only show you who you’re playing. You don’t have to worry about accidentally reading the person’s name above yours because your names are very similar. Also, having online pairings cuts down on the traffic in front of the paper pairings. If you’re going to use the online pairings from your phone, bring a portable battery. It will be to your advantage, especially if you’re playing Pokemon GO during the tournament all day.

As you are reading your pairings, make sure that you take note of your table number as well as the name of your opponent. That way, if you’re at your table first, you can make sure that you’re playing the right person. When you see your opponent, introduce yourself. “Hello, my name is DeMarcus. Are you Chris?” If it is him, then you’re ready to go. If it’s not him, then you two can double check the pairings and make sure that you’re at the right table. Another thing that you should be keeping an eye out for is your record. If you’re supposed to be 3-0-1, then your record on the pairings should reflect that. If you see that your record is incorrect, then go to the computer area where you turn in your report of your matches to get it corrected.

Throughout the tournament, please keep note of all announcements made by the tournament staff. Whether or not it’s during the player meeting, or during random times during the tournament. Keep your ears at the ready when you’re hearing the staff make announcements. It could be you that is being called for an issue that needs to be taken care of. Or the tournament staff is answering the question that you’re asking.

Be cordial to everyone that you meet there, whether it be that random newcomer, the tournament judge, or the staff running the prize wall in the side event area. You don’t want to be known as the tournament scene jerk that seems to be the butt of the jokes on most social media sites. We are all supposed to uphold the Spirit of the Game here. It’s not that hard to be helpful and kind to others. Also, you’ll never know what kind of people you’ll meet and where your next friend will be from. That’s the great part about this tournament. Everyone from all walks of life coming together to enjoy something that we all love.

During the Match

Various interactions, like a game play error or disagreement about a ruling, may require a judge. If you need a judge, you need to immediately stop what you’re doing, raise your hand, and call for a judge. Keep your hand up until a judge can get to you. The one thing that you should not do is fix the problem yourself. In most cases, trying to fix the problem will make the situation worse and will make the penalty even worse than it needs to be. If you feel that your opponent is doing something that isn’t completely honest, call over a judge and explain the situation. Do not wait until the end of the round to bring up the discrepancy. It will be too late for the judges to do anything about the play, and complaining to your friends won’t change what happened.

Also, don’t forget: If you feel that the judge has given a bad ruling or penalty, you have the right, as a player, to appeal to the Head Judge. Your appeals can go up to your division head judge, then to the Overall Head Judge of the event. These people will be made known during the player meeting. (This is why you are paying attention during the player meeting!)

Keep in mind that you are not playing at your local venue. You have to play your matches as formally as possible. Do not play shorthand to save on time. If you’re going to play VS Seeker to search for a supporter, don’t just play it and call the supporter. Perform the action of the card. If you’re playing VS Seeker, get the targeted supporter and put it in your hand. You don’t want any confusion on whether or not the selected supporter is being played. Keep your moves clear. ANNOUNCE EVERYTHING and announce them properly. If you’re playing a pokemon that has an ability that activates when it is played on the bench, announce the ability. It is not “Shaymin for 4.” It is “I play Shaymin. I use Set Up to draw 4 cards.” Don’t play down Tapu Lele and pick up your deck to look through it. You play it, and call “Wonder Tag.” The difference can mean you using an ability properly or getting a prize penalty for searching your deck without proper effect. If you’re attacking with an attack that does damage, especially if the damage changes due to certain conditions, ANNOUNCE YOUR DAMAGE. It is not, “Dark Pulse for Knockout.” It is “Dark Pulse for 120 and the KO.” I know that these are semantics, but these are important little tidbits that will keep confusion away from your game and game state. Speaking of game state, keep up with your game state. A judge should be able to walk up to any match and tell exactly what is going on during the match.

I want to talk about match slips real quick. Match slips are used for large tournaments to get matches recorded in a timely manner. To fill out a match slip properly, both players need to initial under their names, along with winner being correctly identified. (Or tie if the match is a draw) If there’s any confusion with the match slip being marked, please bring it up to the runner so that the runner can make sure that the match is recorded properly. Also, when your match ends, take up your match slip as fast as possible. The number one reason for a delay in the tournament is that someone let it slip their mind to bring their slip up to the computer in a timely manner. If you’re holding a match slip, you’re holding up the tournament.

In Between Rounds

I’m gonna close out with what to do in between rounds. When you’re done with your match, let’s clear out of the play area. I know that you guys like to watch the important matches, but it is best to clear out of the play area. There are some valid reasons for this. For one, it will create an unnecessary situation for players being watched, especially those with anxiety issues. Every player deserves to have the same courtesy of a quiet peaceful match as you did. Another reason the play area should be cleared out is that it makes the staff’s job a little easier. If players are cluttered around the matches, it is difficult for them to get around to players that need them. If you’re wanting to watch matches, there will be multiple games streamed during the round. While you should clear the play area, you should be somewhere that you can hear the staff announcements. The most important one being: “Round X pairings are up!”

You should take care of yourself in between rounds. Grab a snack, use the bathroom, see if you’re able to get lunch if you’re not given a lunch break. If you’re given a lunch break during the tournament, then you should make note of the time to be back from lunch. Try to plan out to be back five minutes before the return time. You should plan out where you can go get lunch during the tournament. Scope out a number of places. Also, keep in mind that there will be a big delay if you’re getting food at places that are very close to or inside the venue.

In the unfortunate situation that you make the decision to drop from the tournament, please go to the area where you turn in your match slips and request a drop slip that will remove you from the tournament. This will keep the integrity of the tournament as pure as possible. It also is very considerate for the rest of the players in the tournament. Most people have come here to play the game all the way through until the end of the tournament. That means that they want to play the game. It’s no fun sitting there bored because someone just left without getting dropped from the tournament.

Conclusion

I really hope that all of you have enjoyed this article. I wrote this because I feel that people should be aware of how to play at a tournament, and not just focus on the deck that they select for the event.

 

Thoughts on Ghazgate

Wow, first off let me say thank you so much to all the blog’s fans who appreciated what I was doing by posting the Seena Ghaziaskar tournament report. I made it clear in the original post that the views expressed were from a tournament report written by Seena, and are his views only. However, now I’d like to take a chance to express my own views: first, on the purpose this site serves; and second, offering a bit of perspective on the judges’ side of this controversy.

Purpose of HeyTrainer, and How /blog Content is Chosen

Free Pokemon; free speech; free dumb

With very limited exception and deviation, those have always been the goals of this niche within a niche we call HeyTrainer.org. A key element to that is the free exchange of ideas: Even if the ideas themselves are offensive, or the people sharing them are, we rarely shy away from topics that are of substantive value to the competitive community. In the few short months we’ve been back, we’ve covered everything from a major archetype’s birth to why women won’t touch competitive TCG.

When guest columnists post blogs, I rarely exercise creative control over what they choose or don’t choose to say. The main editorial control I exercise is in presentation, scheduling, and maybe a few recommendations. I certainly exercise ultimate authority over what gets posted or removed, and have a strict set of rules I follow for what guest columns stay up.

However, a player being DQ’d is not one of those rules. In fact, a DQ’d player offers unique perspective into the competitive experience because they somehow reached the most egregious violation of the rules. Players rarely get DQ’d, but considering it’s the ultimate death-knell in one’s tournament aspirations, learning from the mistakes of DQ’d players is actually helpful.

No matter how you feel about whether Seena intentionally did anything wrong, or even if a DQ was the optimal penalty, pretty much everyone agrees a penalty was appropriate. Some big takeaways therefore are as follows:

A) You can lose a tournament over marked cards, so take your choice of sleeves seriously; and

B) Don’t use clear sleeves (unless they’re just double-sleeved)

Thoughts about the NAIC Judging

While I love sharing all sorts of different perspectives, I personally am not in the business of second-guessing the judges’ decision, or any decisions TPCi may make based off of those judging calls. In fact, I have a ton of respect for the judges who made this particular call. DQ’ing a player is rarely done lightly, and with so many checks and balances at the NAIC, any claim of bias is pure and utter nonsense.

Furthermore, most if not all of the judges directly involved in this situation can’t share their story. While judges are rarely paid and almost always volunteers, they still have a level of elevated professional expectations that normal Play! Pokemon members don’t. In the case of a DQ, keeping the drama to a minimum is actually an explicit requirement laid out in the penalty guidelines, so I doubt you’ll be hearing from those specific judges any time soon.

However, an anonymous source with some personal knowledge of the situation reached out to me. In Seena’s case, they claimed the way the issue began was with several players raising serious concerns about the clear sleeves. This “sketchiness” prompted the decision to deck check multiple times. Why the first deck check did not result in a DQ remains a mystery to me, but the source mentioned serious issues with the Double Colorless Energy and the Shaymin EX. The Double Colorless Energies’ condition were determined to be “most likely from play,” but still created an egregious marked card situation regardless of intent. That, combined with the Shaymin EX, resulted in the DQ.

I get the impression that penalties across the board were elevated at the NAIC. Between warnings for not having decks aligned North-South, match losses for writing on hands, and a game loss for a single tall sleeve, the NAIC judging staff were not playing around. However, I’m also 100% sure that the judging staff thought very carefully before deciding to DQ a player. Having judged several tournaments in the past, I can tell you: the hardest part about judging, and the reason why we have judges in the first place, is so that someone is there to make tough decisions.

Luis Baez: “Better Luck Next Year: 10 Things I Learned in My First (Half) Season Playing the Pokémon TCG”

In one of the very first episodes of the Pokémon anime, “Showdown in Pewter City,” Ash challenges Brock, the first Kanto Gym Leader, to battle with his inexperienced (and untrained) Pikachu despite multiple warnings from Misty that he wasn’t ready for it and needed more practice. Of course, Ash ignores her, and Brock’s Onix easily defeats Ash and his Pikachu in their first battle. It wasn’t pretty.

To be fair though, that thing’s huge.

Fast forward to the end of the episode: lessons are learned, Pikachu is trained up through some weird type of electroshock therapy, Ash gets a little lucky when sprinklers go off and wins his battle thanks to a timely Thundershock, and Brock gets leave his gym and join Ash and Misty on their adventures thanks to the return of his father.

It’s a good episode from the early Pokémon seasons, and it popped into my mind on my drive back home from the North American International Championships held last weekend in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Going into the tournament, I had 198 championship points. I started playing Pokémon in late-November after I serendipitously found myself at a great local shop in the Houston, Texas area called “Card Shack” for an Evolutions Pre-Release. The store owner was cool, the judge was friendly, and everyone else there participating was friendly and welcoming. Before this event, I tried to get back into the Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic scenes, but they weren’t welcoming when I left about ten years ago, and that was still the case last fall. As a kid, I collected Pokémon cards from Base Set through Neo Discovery, but never played competitively.

After competing in many league challenges, league cups, an ARG event, and three regionals (Dallas, Athens, and Roanoke) as a new player, I had to count on a top 4 finish at Indianapolis for a worlds invite. As you can already tell from the title of this post, it didn’t happen. I went 3-3-3 with an Espeon/Garbodor build on Day One. The only other deck I had a decent level of success with at locals prior to the International was Mega Rayquaza, but I didn’t feel like it was a good choice for last weekend given the popularity of Zorark, Drampa, and other decks that were either built around or had some element of one-prize attackers. I knew the turnout was going to be huge, and went with what I thought was a good play.

On the drive back to Texas, I started to think about what to take away from the season, and what I need to do differently this year to up my level of play for a worlds 2018 invite, and thought that I should write them up in case there are any new players reading this looking for advice on getting started, or other new-ish players who might’ve had a season similar to mine.

That’s when the “Showdown in Pewter City” episode came to mind. If Ash and Pikachu could mount a solid comeback, I could figure out a way to do the same. What follows are bits of advice that experienced players gave me along the way, and some things I figured out on my own. Everyone is different, and there is more than one way to skin a cat, so take all of this with a grain of salt. You have to find a routine that works for you, and hopefully these help you get there.

  1. Don’t Spend Money on Packs

Pretty early on, a lot of experienced players in the Houston area gave me this piece of advice: If you are a competitive player and want to travel from regional to regional, it is important to be smart with your money. Buy a playset of the major archetypes, or archetypes you are interested in, and use them when you need to. Contrast this to buying a case of Guardians Rising booster boxes for $575 – you most likely won’t even pull a playset of each major GX cards in the set.

Don’t get me wrong, opening packs with your friends is super fun. If you can afford it, go for it, but otherwise I’d stick to buying what you need and keeping it all in one binder.

For example, I purchased playsets of every GX Pokemon (including Tapu Lele GX) in Guardians rising and trainer cards for around $170.00. $120.00 of that cost were Tapu Leles, but it was definitely worth it. I keep all of these playsets sleeved in a 4X4 Dex Protection binder ready to go in case I want to play a certain deck on a given tournament day.

I also know for a fact that I do not have the “magic touch.” There is a well-known father and son team in the area who literally pull gold from each pack they pick up. I’ve even seen other players buy a back from the shelf, take it to their son to bless, and watch them open full art supporters and rainbow rare cards. My brother also has the magic touch, and got most of his Leles from Walgreens, but I get nothing but bulk each time I buy a pack, so I decided it was not for me.

Notable father-son duo, ca. 1999
  1. Hold On to Tournament Legal Cards

One thing I’ve noticed above newer players and less experienced players is that they trade legal cards or decks thinking that they are useless or dead, only to learn that a card in a newer set will bring it back to life. For example, many people I know gave up on Darkrai once Field Blower was tournament legal, only to have to buy or trade for the cards again after Guardians Rising because of the Altar of the Moone builds that were getting popular thanks to players in Europe.

The same was true when I watched people trade in their baby Vikavolts with the strong charge ability as bulk in the early days of Sun and Moon thinking it wasn’t going to be good for anything, only to see those cards shoot up in value and demand when a few of Pokemon’s top players placed in the Top 8 of Madison regionals with Metagross GX.

Not to mention poor Araqruanid and Wobbuffet, who (at least from my perspective) nobody cared about until Grant Mantley incorporated the card into his second-place Roanoke deck. Actually, now that I think about it, the same was true for the Steven supporter card in James Arnold’s first-place Roanoke deck.

The point is, hold on to your stuff (especially trainer cards), because you never know what will be incorporated into a good deck, or what future cards will make old ones competitive.

  1. Practice in Person

    Major League BASEBA– Errrr, Play Pokemon

When I first got back into the game, I played online a lot. I then went to play at local tournaments and would make small, dumb mistakes like trying to play two supporters, sometimes forgetting to lay out six prizes, and losing track of the board state. Grinding games in person at your local league or informal tournaments is incredibly helpful in terms of training yourself to get used to the competitive environment.

When you are at home playing the online version in comfy clothes and a quiet environment, you are forgetting that your local League Cups will have 30+ players in a loud, cramped environment, and that your Regionals have 500+ people playing right next to you. Focus is key at these events; you have to get used to playing in that environment, and I think playing in person goes a long way. Playing online just makes it seem way too easy.

I also think that playing in person gives you a much better feel for your ability to keep track of things in the discard and your deck without the ease of how the online version keeps everything organized for you. There were also games I played where people forget Garbotoxin is in effect, try to use abilities after Hex Maniac was played, or I forget that I played an energy for the turn (or forgetting the same about my opponents).

Again, you may be the exception to this rule (or I might be the exception if you turn the tables) and find the online practice just as helpful as in-person practice, which is totally cool. These are just some things that I personally am taking away from the season. A popular counter I’ve heard to this point is that there are plenty of top-level players who play online and succeed, but my hunch is that they grind in person much more than they play online.

It’s also important to play in person because of the networking and friend-making aspect of the game. For the first few months of playing, I attended two separate leagues in the Houston area religiously: one at Card Shack on Thursdays, and another Sunday afternoons at Asgard Games.

I liked the Card Shack league because every week was a small, four-round, standard format tournament, and the shop owners gave out cool prizes without asking for entry fees. Most of the people who attended were either just like me, or were experienced and were testing different builds of their decks. It was a good taste of what a more serious league cup would be like. There was also a top-tier, worlds qualifying player named Jason who would attend, and was happy to answer questions about the game and point people in the right direction (myself included). On Sundays at Asgard, the league was a little more relaxed where people played friendly pickup games and traded. At this point, I’ve made good friends with players from both leagues, and have gotten a good feel for the local scene.

For this upcoming season, I’ll get back into the swing of leagues, and most likely won’t play as much online.

  1. Net-deck (At the Beginning at Least)
Pokemon.com publishes top-finishing decks from Regionals and Internationals all the time.

For most of the season, I net-decked my lists for locals and league challenges and cups. I’d add or subtract a few cards based on personal preferences or the local meta. I feel like there are a lot of new players who try to go with their builds and ideas before they have mastered the fundamentals of the game.

I’d pick a build that a popular player has posted to learn the game. When you start to get good, you can experience with builds. If you are a player with less than three months of experience, I’d pick a deck you like that placed in the top 32 of last weekend’s internationals, and practice with it until rotation to get a good feel for what consistent decks are made of. From there, you can start to experiment with card changes.

  1. Don’t Forget About Real Life

This should go without saying, but like any other hobby, make sure your work, school, and family come first. As an attorney, I was hard-pressed for free time even before Pokémon, and I can definitely recall a two to three week stretch in early January where I spent a little too much time on the game.

Israel Sosa recently posted an article over at Some1’s PC here and talked about how much a short break in between Regionals helped him out. I think the same idea can be helpful on a more micro level from week to week or month to month. I think new players will learn that once they get a good feel for the game, they won’t need weekly or even bi-weekly practice like they did before.

Again, if you are a self-made millionaire and don’t have to work anymore, then I envy your ability to play Pokémon 24/7, but my hunch is that most of us have responsibilities outside of the game, and it’s important to not lose sight of that in favor of a card game.

  1. Get Used to Losing 

    Pikachu constantly scrubs out of tournaments.

            In the leagues I talked about above, I lost a lot at first. At League Challenges and Cups, I lost even more. It wasn’t until April (about four months in) that I won my first League Cup.

If your opponent is friendly, ask them questions about misplays they saw, or why they went for plays you didn’t understand. I’ve also found that people watching you play in a match will be sure to tell you as soon as the game is over how you misplayed. That was something that frustrated me at first, but I had a change of heart about it once I realized how incredibly helpful it is.

Don’t get frustrated over losses. Use them as learning experiences, and take notes to see what you can do to correct the mistake next time around.

One thing I want to do this next coming season is keep a notebook with my matches, and jot down my thoughts on how it went.

  1. Practice Early and Often Before Big Tournaments

This is probably a no-brainer, but practice, practice, practice before big tournaments. For Roanoke Regionals, I didn’t practice the week or night before the event. I thought I’d be okay just picking up Mega Rayquaza after having not played it for about ten days. I was wrong.

There is a lot to be said about keeping your hands warm before a big tournament, and practicing early and often before a big event helps you get a sixth sense for the intricacies of your deck.

  1. Sleeves

Opinions will vary on this issue, but I think the best sleeves are Dragon Shield matte. They have a good feel and shuffle well. KMCs seem to have lost their quality from 2005-2009 when I played Yu-Gi-Oh, and I can’t keep track of how many times Ultra Pro sleeves split on me (yes, including the Eclipse sleeves). You can also buy inner sleeves to go inside the matte sleeves for extra protection. Some people have told me Dragon Shield sleeves with an inner sleeve makes the cards “waterproof,” but I am not going to be the person who tests that theory.

The only alternative to Dragon Shield matte I’d go with are Pokémon Center Sleeves with oversleeves. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about (and yes, I know these are Ultra Pro sleeves – just an example!):

The oversleeve on the bottom goes over your standard Pokémon Center sleeves (including the sleeves in the elite trainer boxes). It increases the size of each card and your deck, but it makes shuffling so much more easy and smooth.

  1. Resources

The HeyTrainer blog and its Facebook companion group are great places to start. When I discovered it, I went back to posts at the beginning of the season and read from there. I did the same for other websites like sixprizes.com, thecharizardlounge.com, some1spc.com, and Pokebeach.com. There’s also a great site called 60cards.net. There are also great YouTubers out there like Tablemon and Trainer Chip who do a good job of explaining their decision making as they play with top tier decks on stream.

I’ve heard a lot of complaints from other players about paywalls on some of these websites, but if you are a new player I’d say a sub is definitely worth it to one or two premium sites.

I’m also a big fan of The Super-Rod Cast. For most of this season, it was probably the most consistent product out there that had the some of the best players as guests each week. Six Prizes has recently started a podcast, but I haven’t gotten a chance to listen to it yet. Ptcgradio is also good if you are a complete newcomer to the scene, but I’d look to the first two podcasts for more intermediate to advanced level content.

  1. Train On

            One thing I’ve noticed is that even the top players lose now and then. It is easy to get discouraged, but if you are really passionate about the game, the awesome community, and another outlet to set and accomplish goals for yourself, I think the Pokémon TCG community is the perfect place to do it.

There is something about the competitive scenes that takes me back to my high school and college days of traveling and competing in debate and mock trial tournaments with my friends and teammates, and if you’ve ever been part of a competitive community before Pokémon will suck you right in.

I emailed this video to myself to keep at the top of my “TCG” folder in my email as a reminder for the 2017-2018 season:

When the going gets tough, the tough get going! Good luck in the 2017-2018 season! I hope this article helps.

Seena Ghaziaskar NAIC Tournament Report

Seena Ghaziaskar is the 2005 United States National Champion and 2017 Origins Special Event winner.

Hey everyone. Today I’d like to share my tournament report from the Internationals.

Testing for the NAIC

In the weeks prior, I had been testing a multitude of decks but ultimately decided on Zoroark. I was worried that many people would try to counter it, but I ultimately decided it’s not worth fretting about too much with such a large player pool. The deck is very strong, probably one of the 2-3 best decks in the format, and I felt comfortable playing it.

List Analysis: Zoroark/Umbreon

Here is the list I used, followed by breakdowns on Pokemon and Trainer choices.

Pokemon: 21
4 Zoroark
4 Zorua
3 Zoroark BREAK
2 Tapu Lele GX
1 Drampa GX
1 Oranguru
1 Shaymin EX
2 Eevee
1 Umbreon GX
1 Flareon
1 Vaporeon

The addition of the Eevees adds another element to the deck. A fast Umbreon can put on early pressure and the snipe damage can set up easier eventual KOs with Zoroark, and Flareon and Vaporeon are a boost in the Vespiquen, Decidueye, Metagross, Lurantis, and Volcanion matchups. Even then, you still have one Drampa because it needs a heavy hitter.

I had flirted with 3-2 Umbreon, but immediately found that too clunky given that some matchups you don’t even use Umbreon at all. 2-1 felt sufficient, because since Umbreon is more of a secondary attacker than primary, you can afford it being prized.

Trainers: 29
4 Professor Sycamore
4 N
2 Lysandre
1 Teammates
1 Brigette
1 Hex Maniac
1 Professor Kukui
4 Ultra Ball
4 VS Seeker
3 Choice Band
2 Float Stone
1 Super Rod
1 Reverse Valley

Pretty standard. Most people play 2 Rescue Stretcher but I always felt 2 recovery cards was 1 too many, + I’m running a 3rd BREAK whereas most people run 2. Also, I like the option of putting Darks back in the deck given the most important attack is Foul Play, and sometimes you have to discard energies from bad Sycamores and using attacks like Bulu. Special Charge didn’t feel needed, because this isn’t a deck that chains DCE attackers like Bees and Gyarados. 4 Choice Band was flirted with at times but felt clunky in MUs where the card isn’t needed.

Energy: 10
5 Dark
4 Double Colorless
1 Rainbow

General Thoughts on the Deck

If I had to change the deck, I may consider cutting the lone Reverse Valley for a 4th Choice Band, and the 4th N for a 6th Dark Energy. Missing energy drops was a frustrating aspect of this deck. But overall, I was very happy with how the deck flowed throughout the day, although maybe in part it was because I wasn’t running into bad matchups like Greninja and Darkrai

As for the matchup breakdown, I feel like we’re favored against Espeon/Garbodor, slightly favored in mirror, favored v Metagross, even v Decidueye variants (perhaps a slight underdog), lose pretty solidly to Darkrai and Greninja, beat Lurantis and Volcanion. Next set will change everything though, so I’m not sure it’s playable.

Onto the Games

Round 1 v Vespiquen

He flips over a Zorua, so I expect I’m playing a Zoroark deck, but as soon as he benches Unown I know it’s Bees. Annoying, because right before the tournament, I cut Karen. His 1st turn results in attaching a DCE to Lele and Energy Driving my Drampa, and I’m able to pull off a 2 DCE/Lele/Band/Float Stone/Kukui play to OHKO the Lele. I take a 3-0 lead and trade from there. Time is called in Game 2, and there was a crucial turn where he was only able to Bee Revenge for 80, and I think I would’ve won this game because of this.

Round 2 v Volcanion

Vaporeon shined in this matchup. He ran Fighting Fury Belt and this is where Vaporeon became important. He takes a 1-0 or 2-0 lead but is unable to keep up in trades from there as Volcanions get OHKO’d by single prize attacking Zoroarks. He dead draws in Game 2 despite KO’ing a Drampa for the first 2 prizes, and a combination of Umbreon and Vaporeon finish off his weak board state.

Round 3 v Sylveon GX

This matchup seems pretty bad, but I do pull off the T1 Hex Maniac. Unfortunately I made a gross misplay where I habitually discarded a Kukui with my Ultra Ball. Having done this, I was unable to Strafe for 60 (Kukui/Reverse Valley) to KO his lone Eevee on the 2nd turn (worst misplay of the tournament). And then Sycamored for 7 and Shaymin’d for 5 and could not find the game winning DCE. The game drags on and I’m sitting there doing 70-100 with Umbreon, and eventually have a turn where I take 3 prizes by KO’ing an Eevee and Sylveon with Shadow Bullet and win. Game 2 I get out 2 Zoroark BREAK and he has to waste a turn to use Plea GX, but since his deck is putting on no offensive pressure I eventually reset them and win anyway. As is expected with Sylveon, time is called and he is nowhere near winning the game or decking me out. I believe he misplayed some Magical Ribbons in Game 1 because he had an eventual awkward mid game sequence where he was passing after a Max Potion.

Round 4 v Zoroark/Drampa

His first mistake was dropping a Magma Base when I had a Drampa with Energy on bench, and I proceed to take a 5-0 lead with that Drampa alone. I was unable to find Oranguru so some late game Ns kind of hurt, but I was eventually able to find what I needed for that last prize. Game 2 I don’t recall much, but I did have an important turn where Kukui allowed me to one shot a Tapu Koko with Umbreon. I think i got a fast Umbreon in this game and it put in a lot of work before it went down.

Round 5 v Volcanion

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jQ7Xae1YHY

This matchup was on stream. In Game 1 Vaporeon steals the show, as KO’ing back to back Volcanion EXs destroys his board and he concedes shortly after when I have 1 prize. Game 2 I realize my Vaporeon is prized, but I decide to bench 2 Eevee to bluff the threat and he does Lysandre KO one of the Eevees. I have a pretty slow start, and even have a awkward turn where I attach a Rainbow to KO my active Zorua falling behind 2-0 in prizes, just to Big Wheel out of a dead hand. I’m behind 4-1 or 4-2 when I have a sequence where I Hex back to back turns, and he is unable to take a prize on Zoroark BREAKS… eventually I dig through nearly my entire deck when I have 2 prizes left, and the Drampa that was sitting on the bench with 70HP gets to take the last 2 prizes with a Berserk on a Volcanion. I got lucky here, as he did have 2-3 turns where a Lysandre would’ve won him the game outright.

Round 6 v Zoroark/Drampa

The first game starts slow as I attach DCE to benched Zorua and he Lysandre kills it with Energy Drive. I repeat the same the next turn and he once again Lysandre KOs it with Energy Drive. I’m down 2 Zorua and 2 DCE at this point, but eventually I find a way to win this game through the power of Foul Playing Berserk and limiting my bench. Umbreon put a lot of work in the mid game sequence as well, with the 30 snipe damage being very relevant and being able to one shot Zoroarks thanks to Reverse Valley.

The DQ

At this point I get my 2nd deck check and the judges tell me that a few cards are marked, and that I am DQ’d. I’m pretty disappointed, because I worked SO damn hard this year to try and get an invite. I don’t think I played more Pokemon at any point from 2001-2009, and I don’t think I traveled and spent as much money as I have the past 3-4 months. But I guess mistakes happen, and I don’t feel any guilt because I did not deliberately mark cards, and never did I have an unfair advantage over any of my opponents.

Thoughts on the Season/Conclusion

I’m very satisfied with my year regardless of the bitter and unfair ending. I had 27 championship points heading into March, but went on a tear with 1st/2nd/2nd at League Cups (145 points), T8 at Virginia (100), and the win at Origins SPE (145). At 6-0, I had basically guaranteed the final points I needed to get over 500. I played well this season, practiced a LOT as you can see on the PTCGO leaderbards, and hope to play in the next big tournament I can.

(7/16 update: the staff have since offered additional commentary on the issues raised by this report. To read it, click here.)