Heytrainer.org: Where we don't just settle for Level 100!
Hey, HeyTrainer readers! Drew Allen back again, this time with a two-part article series. I recently re-read a book called Next Level Magic by Patrick Chapin. Even with what little understanding I have of Magic, I learned a ton from it, especially in the area of building good habits. Since then I’ve been thinking of how Chapman’s ideas can apply to the Pokémon TCG.
Today, we'll start with processing & utilizing information as well as planning ahead. But first, an introductory quote from the author:
“For the purposes of this strategy guide, we are assuming that your primary goal is to win — though obviously we want to have fun with people and maybe make money. Still, when we note that the primary goal is to win, it helps us be aware of what we are really trying to do.”
– Patrick Chapin, Next Level Magic
PROCESSING & UTILIZING INFORMATION:
Focusing on your Opponent’s Play
It is critical to develop a good system of shortcuts for determining when your opponent is likely to do something that changes the board. An illogical attack is a classic example; another is when an opponent kills your second best Pokémon. Basically, whenever an opponent does something that you would not have done based on the information you have, you should stop and ask yourself what they might be planning.
Assuming your opponent is a bad player may set yourself up for a loss, and even put your opponent in an advantageous position. So say you’re playing an Expanded Yveltal/Maxie’s mirror, and you have an undamaged active Darkrai-EX with three Darkness Energy, as well as a benched Yveltal-EX with one DCE. Your opponent’s field is an active damaged Yveltal-EX with 110 damage/five Energy/a Fighting Fury Belt, a Tauros GX with Float Stone, and a Darkrai-EX of their own. It’s tied at three prizes each, and you're positioned to win, with a big hand and lots of Darkness Energy in your deck. It’s your opponents turn and suddenly they decide to bring up your benched Yveltal-EX with a Lysandre and Evil Ball instead of killing your active Darkrai-EX.
Seems odd, right? Why not take out the immediate threat in the Darkrai-EX? Situationally, this might actually be the correct play. If your opponent knows you have all of your ways to reuse N in the discard, and they have a guaranteed way of putting Gallade BKT into play the next, they’ve effectively put themselves in a position to win by saving the Darkrai-EX for a Knock Out later. However, if you figure out what they’re doing before they get a chance to play their turn out for the game, and have a Ghetsis, or a way to find and play Ghetsis, such as Computer Search or Dowsing Machine, then you may have well just stolen the game back from your opponent.
Being aware of what your opponent does is a good habit to practice. And the more focused you are, the more useful information you are processing. "Focus multiplied by time" will always be at the core of any results you get in life and in Pokémon – dependent, of course, on the shortcuts/systems you employ. In any of the above areas, more focused time spent will obviously yield better results.
Checking your Resources:
Another practice to get into when you play is checking resources every turn: cards in hand, cards in discard, Pokémon in play, Energy in play, cards in deck…
All of it. Every turn.
You need to always know every card that is in effect and how it got there. You can't just float by in a daze. Some of the most important examples of this include VS seeker counts, tech supporter counts, and Pokémon line counts.
This is mainly important for two reasons, the first of which is knowing if a play you’re planning on making is the “correct play”. I’ll use another Expanded matchup as an example: Let’s say you’re playing Seismitoad EX/Crobat and you’re up against Vespiquen/Flareon. Its pretty late in the game and your opponent has a Shaymin-EX with a Float Stone active that you can’t kill, an Eevee, and a Combee on the bench. You have 2 Golbats on the bench and 2 Crobat in hand. You can Quaking Punch the Shaymin without killing it to keep up Item Lock, but how are you supposed to know which threat to Surprise Bite? An easy way to find an answer is checking your opponent’s discard pile: If your opponent has 4 Vespiquen in the discard but only 2 Flareon, the clear play is to double Surprise Bite the Eevee to prevent a Flareon from coming out, leaving your opponent with a much less threatening board for their next turn.
The second reason to keep track of resources is for best-of-three match play. If you’ve played down to late game in your first game or two to know that your opponent isn’t playing a certain tech such as Delinquent or Ghetsis, it allows you to play out your turn differently. Knowing what resources to track of is also very important, like we talked about earlier having a good system of shortcuts lets you put your focus in the right place. For example, prioritizing your opponents’ counts of VS Seekers and Energy instead of counting how many trainers mail or draw supporters they have left is simply a better use of your time because of how vital VS and Energy are to the game. Draw Supporters and Trainers' Mails, while still relevant to keep track of situationally, are usually a much less impactful resource on your play.
Ross Cawthon is a great example of someone who’s consistently checking resources. As made abundantly clear in past tournament reports on the HeyTrainer blog, Ross is going to know every single card in your list by game three: He takes notes, checks information on the first game thoroughly, and is always doing what he can to learn more about his opponent’s situation. There are reasons why he’s one of the most accomplished Pokémon TCG players to date, and resource knowledge is one of them.
PLANNING AHEAD & VISUALIZATION:
Proactive & Reactive Play
In the Pokémon TCG, plays can be boiled down to one of two main categories: proactive and reactive. A proactive move forces your opponent to change their previously planned course of action or be put at a disadvantage, such as attaching a Tool to your Pokémon. A reactive play on the other hand brings the field back to a “neutral” state, like removing said Tool with a Tool Scrapper. In general, if you spend the whole game reacting to your opponent you’ll always be one step behind their game plan.
In his video on Some1sPC.com, Drew Kennett talks about creating a proactive board state. The specific example he uses is that he attaches a second energy to his Lurantis GX when using Sol Burst, not necessarily to Solar Blade the next turn, but to force a reactive play from his opponent. If I’m playing against Drew and I see that he has a Lurantis with two Energy and I have a benched Shaymin-EX, I’m put into a situation where I would rather attach my Fighting Fury Belt to give Shaymin-EX an extra 40 HP, rather than attach it to my active attaccker. By putting his opponent in a reactive position, Drew forces them to potentially either “waste” resources that they otherwise might have been able to use to help them win the game, or set himself up for the win if his opponents aren’t able to react accordingly.
Visualizing Aggro & Lock Decks:
Magic: the Gathering is much more descriptive in naming its deck categories – i.e. aggro, lock, mill, control, mana denial, reanimator, aggro-control etc. Pokémon has much less linear objectives, but for the most part each Pokémon deck falls into either an aggressive or controlling strategy.
When playing an aggressive strategy, visualize how many turns your opponent has before you defeat them. You want to minimize that number of turns — and thinking this way can help keep you focused, avoiding errors that give them extra turns to draw what they need and then beat you outright. Mega Rayquaza and Vespiquen are both great examples of this in standard, Mega Ray more so because from turn 1 you’re hopefully swinging for 240 damage or at least a KO. An Energy denial deck functions off of the win condition of discarding all your opponent’s Energy, either through mill like in a Houndoom-EX deck, or straight power like in a Lycanroc-GX deck. However, when you visualize the number of turns they have before they hit that win condition, you can play the game differently.
It's hard to make a generic statement on what’s right to do in terms of visualization, and usually comes down to board state. So if for instance you know all of your opponent’s Energy denial cards are in the discard except for a 2-2 Raticate EVO line, and a Rattata EVO is in play, then the worst you will deal with is a single Energy discard for the turn, giving you much more flexibility.
When playing a control deck, look at it the other way. Imagine how long your opponent is going to give you before taking six prizes to help give you an idea of how much time you have to spare before you try to take control of the game. Trevenant is a great example of a deck where you need to visualize how much time they have before you gain control, and react to what your opponent is doing so that you can put them on a “timer” by attacking with Silent Fear. Knowing whether or not you can afford to Silent Fear and hit multiple EXs on the bench without KO'ing anything, or to Tree Slam to take out an immediate threat is a skill that you need to pilot most control decks effectively. this is particularly important against matchups where they can explode against you, such as Turbo Darkrai. Visualizing if your opponent has a threat in the coming turns lets you attack according to their field: If there’s no immediate threat, Silent Fear away and you’re a turn closer to winning; if there’s an immediate threat, though, then it might be worthwhile to Lysandre/Tree Slam the threat to keep up your control.
DECKBUILDING & METAGAME FLOW :
The Cascade Effect
The basis of the cascade effect is that if a deck gets decent enough results, the information cascade will create a chain reaction of decision-making where almost everyone involved is basing their decision on the decisions of others, who in turn base their decisions on others, regardless of their own personal results. The below quote illustrates my point:
“In the early part of the Twentieth Century, the American naturalist William Beebe came upon a strange sight in the Guyana jungle. A group of army ants was moving in a huge circle. The circle was 1,200 feet in circumference, and it took each ant two and a half hours to complete the loop. The ants went around and around the circle for two days until most of them dropped dead.
“What Beebe saw was what biologists call a ‘circular mill.' The mill is created when army ants find themselves separated from their colony. Once they're lost, they obey a single rule: follow the ant in front of you. The result is the mill, which usually only breaks up when a few ants struggle off by chance and the others follow them away.” – The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki
Ant mill…could Devour possibly be a reference?
Just like the Guyanan ants, many deck builders base their actions solely off of what others before them have done. Back in 2014-2015, Jacob van Wagner won a split Standard/Expanded tournament with Seismitoad/slurpuff. People knew the deck was good and they followed in Jacob’s footsteps, with a good chunk of the meta in the coming weeks of tournaments being filled with Seismitoad/Slurpuff.
So you have a sea of Seismitoad/Slurpuff mirrors, and you’re lost in a circular mill. What’s the solution? Well, some players wander off that track and innovate. One cocky ant who wandered away from the Seismitoad/Slurpuff circle was TJ Traquair. Just after Primal Clash’s release, the first Provincials/States of the year were happening. TJ and I were both headed to Vancouver to attempt to take on a relatively defined Toad meta. TJ went into the tournament playing a Primal Kyogre deck, a new archetype that had just come out of Primal Clash. I had honestly written off this deck as bad and was playing Toad/Puff with some mirror techs along with what I would guess to be about 40% or more of the other players there. However, as set in my ways as I was, TJ swore by the deck and he ended up winning the tournament, destroying several Toad/Puffs in the process.
More confident deck builders disrupt the signal that everyone else is getting, innovate, and in turn makepublic information seem less certain. That encourages others to rely on themselves rather than just follow everyone else, effectively causing a meta-game shift. Everyone votes on what they think the best deck is for that week. People then lays out their choices, see the results, and vote again with new choices. Great name players may think of nine bad ideas for every good idea, but they are breaking the mill by wandering away from conventional wisdom.
Finding a Balance
This can lead to overconfidence: Deck builders overestimate their ability, their level of knowledge, and their decision-making prowess, in turn being more risk-averse in their deck ideas they play. This is detrimental for the overconfident deck builders themselves, since it means that they are more likely to choose poorly, but it is good for the community because overconfident people are less likely to get sucked into a negative information cascade, and in turn contribute innovative decks.
I you are one of those chronically overconfident players who makes up innovative ideas but risks killing your season with them, listen to what the rest of your buddies have to say; let yourself be brought down to Earth. Involving yourself with two or three playtesting circles can help increase the odds that you're brought down to Earth, and in turn your chances of choosing the best deck overall.
Still, mindless imitation of those around you is akin to being one of those army ants that marches in a circle until death. Basically, it is a fine line to walk between choosing what is “best in a vacuum” (knowing when to go with the crowd, i.e. Yveltal) versus what is “best in a given situation” (which often involves being that upstart who insists that they know something everyone else doesn't, i.e. Primal Kyogre).
The truth is, people who netdeck all the time would tend to improve their group's decision making by changing it up and innovating a little more, even if their ideas are usually bad or even terrible. But it is their friends/playtest partners who would benefit the most, since it would expose the group to more ideas and possibilities at the cost of individuals using “less safe” ideas. What this means is that typically, people who netdeck do better than people who innovate. This makes sense, since net decks are generally good and new strategies are generally not. However, if you want to get an edge over the netdeckers, innovation is the way; you just need to be able to generate enough ideas that you can select the best.
"When you need or want help, ask for help… but don't become dependent on others to help you. You have to be able to help yourself, but not to be afraid to ask for help when you need it."-Excerpt from Next Level Magic
Shortcuts in Deckbuilding
Most deck builders could spend more time and get better results by not building every deck from the ground-up, but can instead netdeck wisely as a jump-start to their testing.
How do you choose which netdeck is best? One important point that most lower level opponents will overlook is that, when you’re examining a new decklist, take the source into account. If you read about a new deck designed by a top player, assume that there are subtleties to the decklist; card choices made that may not be obvious. On the other hand, if the pilot or deck designer is unknown, it is much more realistic possibility to believe that the apparently suboptimal card choices are actually just suboptimal.
When building a deck from scratch, however, one of the most useful shortcuts to develop is a system of comparing whatever concept you have with any precedents that may exist. This is called Templating. Templating involves taking an existing deck archetype and rebuilding it using cards that are legal in the format you are playing. For instance, you can start with a vanilla turbo Dark skeleton, and then use that as the blueprint to help you build a Darkrai/dragons or turbo Dark deck in the format you are actually playing. Developing a system of shortcuts to help you think about deckbuilding theory is vital if you plan on making an impact on the deckbuilding community. These templating systems can include shortcuts such as borrowing energy counts from similar decks, studying decks that have successfully merged two strategies you are interested in, comparing draw consistency options, getting ideas for techs, etc. The point is the more effective your shortcuts are when building a deck, the more time you have to work on the list.
That’s all for this week. Next time we’ll delve into part two, which includes the following topics:
*Building a Team; and finally
*Jedi Mind Games
(Because most of the fan art of Hex Maniac is too disturbing to include here, I’ve decided to replace any instances where I would have used pictures of Hex Maniac with images of Alex Forrest from Fatal Attraction.)
I'm not sure this is going to be much better…
As we talked about two weeks ago, Hex Maniac is among the strongest cards against Decidueye/Vilelpume. It should come as no surprise then that Hex Maniac has seen a resurgence in play. Today’s going to be a short and sweet entry, but we’ll be addressing two things: Why Hex is so good in general, and what you can do to play or build around it.
The Witch is Back
I've been reading your blog, John, and you have pretty eyes.
At the start of the 2016-2017 Standard format, Hex Maniac was rarely played in favor of 2-2 Garbodor lines, which no longer had a direct counter in the form of Tool removal. As 2016 drew to a close, Hex Maniac began to see play again, first as a replacement to a single copy of Garbodor, and again as supplemental Ability lock in decks like Turbo Darkrai that didn’t want to dedicate so many cards to a Garbodor line.
Thanks to Decidueye/Vileplume producing an extremely powerful Item lock, Hex Maniac’s usage surged, and here we are in the present day. Nearly every deck short of Volcanion and Decidueye/Vileplume itself is packing at least one copy of Hex Maniac, and every deck that already ran Hex is running more of it. Just check out a couple of these recently successful lists in both Standard and Expanded:
The first is a slightly altered version of Alex Wilson’s winning Collinsville list piloted by Jose Marrero in Florida; the second is an M Gardevoir list Brad Curcio used to win a recent Houston-area League Cup; Both may seem like anecdotal instances of two good players doing well with Hex Maniac, but in my opinion it’s a sign of things to come: Expect lots of Hex Maniac at the Salt Lake City Regional Championship.
That doesn’t mean that you should discredit other Ability lock threats like Garbodor and Wobbuffet – they’re definitely still running around! But in terms of splashability and versatility, no other Ability lock is more reliable than a simple inclusion of Hex Maniac.
Treatment for the Hex’s Mania
Why don't you post more pictures of me on your blog, John? Don't you care about me?
Of course, every card's malady has a cure and Hex Maniac is no different. So whether you yourself are planning to play Decidueye/Vileplume, or are simply a player caught up in the Hex Manic Mania of ’17, here are some ways to play and build around virtually unstoppable Ability lock:
1. Don’t forget Hex Maniac when it’s been played! Simple, I know, but the worst damage Hex Maniac does is not when it achieves its intended counter effect; it’s when a player negligently forgets about it and misplays. The number one mistake? Benching Shaymin EX and attempting to Set Up, only to be reminded by your opponent that you can’t.
I’m sure if you play online, you’ve done this at least once because you were distracted. That’s okay, but if you’re going to a real tournament with real prizes on the line, I hope me reminding you about this will decrease the chances you actually do it!
2. Be mindful that Hex Maniac could be played at literally any point in the game, so make decisions accordingly. For instance, when Decidueye is facing off against either M Gardevoir or M Rayquaza, you will get hit with Hex Maniac at least two or three times in the game. That means you’ll lose your Feather Arrows at least two or three times, so your targets for those turns when you “do” have Abilities really count. So Punish those Megas!
3. Know when to “punt” hands or entire turns. You were going to have an amazing turn that dug through half of your deck, but because your Hex Maniac is played, that’s not happening. Your next best alternative is to punt; that is, to make a play which is your new best option. For example, if your opening hand contained a Professor Sycamore and an Ultra Ball, and your original optimal move was to Ultra Ball for a Shaymin EX and use Set Up to draw four or five cards, your next best option might be to use the Ultra Ball, search for an attacker, and then just play the Sycamore to draw a new hand of seven. In other situations, you might now be missing enough Damage for a Knock Out, and it might be advantageous to Retreat your attacker and pass, waiting for the next turn when you can use Abilities (assuming a follow-up Hex isn’t likely).
4. Run enough draw cards in your list to not get locked out of the game. My punting scenario described in point #3 is impossible if you don’t have a draw card; instead what happens is that you just draw and pass in misery. This results in the dreaded “Hex lock” position, where the player who is using Hex Maniac continues to set up, draw cards with Shaymin EX, and continue to use copies of Hex Maniac. This is the biggest fear people who are playing optimally should have, but it can be reduced if you run enough outs to the lock.
How much draw is enough draw? That depends on the deck, as each deck has unique requirements that require more cards to chain. But lists with at least seven real draw Supporters (not counting VS Seeker) and 4 Trainers’ Mail can more often than not weasel out of the Hex lock. This is my exact count in Decidueye/Vileplume, and I’ve definitely flirted with higher Supporter draw counts before.
Although it’s unstoppable, disrupts strategies, and even ends games all on its own, Hex Maniac is a balanced card and it can be defeated. You just need to be flexible, patient, and smart in the way that you deal with it.
(Also, for what it’s worth, both Hex Maniac and Alex Forrest are poor depictions of mental illness in media – get educated!)
I WILL NOT BE IGNORED, JOHN! THIS ARTICLE ISN'T OVER!!!
In today’s edition of Social Saturday, we’re going to talk a little bit about the drastic changes that have occurred between the 2016 and 2017 season of Play! Pokémon, the official tournament organizers of the Pokémon Trading Card Game. Although there are lots of positive aspects of the new season, there is plenty of room for improvement. We’ll go over both sides, and ultimately offer some suggestions for how to improve organized play not only for next season, but for years to come.
Before we get into the changes themselves, let’s set the stage first, because it’s important you know the history to understand the present…
I’m a lawyer, and rarely do I get to comment on how the law directly impacts my hobbies. However, thanks to a little case called Yale v. Wizards of the Coast (link < a href="http://icv2.com/articles/news/view/34293/are-magic-judges-employees">here, I can. For those who don’t know, Wizards of the Coast is the company that owns and produces Magic: The Gathering, and also once distributed Pokémon cards in markets outside of Japan. It’s also the leader in all aspects of not only card game mechanics and testing, but event organization. One key aspect of the way nearly all card tournaments have been organized is the volunteering judges and staff do at events. Most of the time this involves compensation in money or booster packs; other times it involves jack-squat.
The catch? Well, unless Pokémon decides to turn organized play into a non-profit, nothing about Play! Pokémon or tournaments is charity, turning the idea of “volunteer” judges in on its head.
So if these judges getting cash or packs aren’t volunteers, then what are they?
According to some, they’re employees.
I can think of arguments going both ways. On one hand, these people are paid money, have the equivalent of company handbooks they abide by, and more; on the other hand, tournament judges can just as easily be argued as being beneficiaries of the tournament as the players. While this is by no means a settled question, the Yale case could send shockwaves across all card games, including Pokémon. If judges are considered “employees,” then that means class members could potentially get back pay, unpaid overtime, and the company itself could be hit with a fine.
Where We are Now
Now, I’m not an attorney for Pokémon, but between my professional background in law and personal background in Pokémon, I can bet that the ultra-cautious, uber-smart lawyers associated with Play! Pokémon wanted to preempt as many legal risks as possible. That means immediate restructuring to the volunteer system of organized play, who is responsible for whom…and who Pokémon doesn’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole.
That’s my speculation, anyways. This might only be part of the equation, or none of the equation. At any rate, the system has changed, and there are potentially very good reasons for it having been changed!
This season, we’ve seen the following things done differently:
* City, State, and National Championships removed;
** League Cups, International Championships, and “Special Events” as a formal category;
** A drastic increase in Regional Championship prize payouts;
** More routine prizes for top-ranked players in each of the major ranking zones (North America, Latin America, Europe, Oceania)
First and foremost, the prizes at Regionals are insane. It hasn’t been too long since the Nationals prize pool was once the size of the current Regionals payout, boxes and money and all! Better still, the prizes go pretty deep at huge-attendance events: For finishing in the top 64 of a Regional with over 500 attendees, you can get $250 – WOW!
Second, the season is now year-‘round. That means you could play Pokémon every single weekend, earn invites to play in both TCG and video game Worlds, and travel all over the World. Alternatively, since have lots of chances to run hot and set yourself up for an invite, you could do what I did and just choose a point to start playing major events.
What’s Not Good?
First, and more heavily related to our discussion of the “Pokémon-doesn’t-want-to-touch-employees-with-a-ten-foot-pole” point: Because League Cups are given to card shops to run as opposed to tournament organizers, the quality is extremely inconsistent. Out of the three I’ve attended this season, their structure, prize payout, and even basic things like time limits and format were presented in radically different ways. So while you can go to more League Cups in a year, the quality of the events is much, much worse at large.
The second problem is one that’s not new to any of us who have played Pokémon for a while, but communication is shaky. Despite the Championship Point minimum to qualify for Worlds being much higher this season, no League Cups were held at all in the first quarter of the season. Additionally, many of the cash payouts were not solidified until at least one Regional was already held, and those prizes were heavily delayed as a result.
Finally, there appear to be several peculiarities in the prizing structure, mostly related to the International Championships. Regionals need to meet a much larger attendance threshold to scale to – at most – half the prize pool of an International Championship. Perhaps Pokémon didn’t anticipate how much growth Regionals would experience, but these events at bare minimum rival the International Championships in competitiveness, and at most dwarf them in size and scope.
What Could be Changed?
So Pokémon’s a more decentralized, more year-‘round, and bigger-dollar game than ever before. Those are all good things, and should not be ignored despite my criticisms. But my criticisms are made with the goal of being constructive, so here are some ideas for ways to improve Organized Play for next season:
—Quality Assurance for League Cups. Allow some opportunities for League Cups to be run at locations other than card shops, have rigid standards of review for card shops’ handling of League Cups, or both. Letting organizers pick locations other than card shops at least once a year allows for a few more options and a lot more breathing room, while at the same time keeping the card shop owners from monopolizing the power. As for said card shop owners, Play! Pokémon should treat any mismanagement of tournaments on their part very strictly. Contrary to popular belief, bad tournaments are worse than no tournaments at all, because bad tournament experiences can result in destroying someone’s interest in the game.
—When Play! Pokémon is being non-responsive, send support tickets. Part of the Pokémon customer service support system involves “support tickets,” which alert Pokémon of issues:
1) Go to Pokemon.com
2) Scroll down to “Customer Service”
3) Select “Ask a Question”
4) Log into your Trainer Club Account
5) Click “Continue”
6) Click “Ask a Question” (kind of silly to have to click “Ask a Question” twice)
7) Select your appropriate categories and fire away!
Play! Pokémon hears legitimate and frivolous complaints from people all the time, from “Where’s my stipend?” to “I don’t like Pikachu, I think he’s ugly and stupid and for babies.” If you’ve ever worked a job in customer service, you should be aware of the type of garbage these people have to put up with. But if many reasonable, similar complaints about the same thing are flooding in, any customer service worth its salt needs to take notice!
–Make prize scaling more uniform and balanced. This is by far the hardest issue and most up for debate, but it’s confusing and a little strange why International Championships enjoy their biggest prize payout with just a couple hundred people, whereas a Regional has to get up to 500 for even half the same. That’s why I think the increased prize kickers should be uniform between the big events; that is, while let International Championships continue to pay out more, let the next level of Regionals prizes trigger at the exact same point those prizes would for Internationals. Additionally, since there’s a large chance that North American Internationals will be far larger than any other, allow for an increased prize threshold at the 1,000+ attendee range.
Granted, we could still see that since each event allows for increased prize support, but it would be very awkward if the winner of the 1,500 person behemoth that is North American internationals receives the exact same prize payout as the winner of the 250 person event recently held in Melbourne, Australia!
These aren't necessarily bad times we live in for the game, but there are issues with the way tournaments are organized that at least need to be identified, criticized, and debated. Although both the legal and marketing teams supporting Play!
Pokémon are very risk-averse and careful in the way they operate, they're also among the best when it comes to customer service. So if you have any issues with the way tournaments have operated this season, let them know, because they will listen!!!
(Other companies aren't as nice, however.)
Another Expanded Regionals is less than 48 hours away, but from the time of publication, you really only have around 24 hours to choose your deck.
If you’re going to Portland, Oregon’s Expanded regional, which deck should you choose? It’s in these moments it’s most helpful to use a holistic – that is, a complete – approach to viewing the metagame. But to keep it super-short and super-helpful, I’ve divided each deck into four really simple discussion: pros, cons, would I play it (“pull the trigger” as per the 24 theme), and what Jack Bauer thinks about each deck or card.
The clock is ticking, so choose wisely…
24 Deck Countdown, Featuring John Kettler and Jack Bauer
Pros: Well-positioned lock deck when stock in lock decks is UP! Rayquaza can beat it but it will have to be a thoughtful list and not a netdeck of the winning Collinsville build (i.e., it needs Magearna EX).
Cons: Needs to keep drawing its pieces to win; heavily dependent on DCE.
Would I pull the trigger? YES.
Jack Bauer Rating: “Definitely a terrorist.”
Pros: Heavily underused deck with lots of surprise factor remaining; plays a great non-EX trade game.
Cons: Horrible against Vileplume going second; lots of RNG with thinning down the hand with Maxie or to get an Aerodactyl.
Would I pull the trigger? NO.
Jack Bauer Rating: “We live in a post-9/11 world and this thing’s using an Attack called Jet Draft? To Gitmo with you.”
Pros: Even to great matchups against many of the decks picking up steam, which are more worried about teching for Vileplume. Benefits from a surge in Rayquaza, Night March, and Volcanion.
Cons: Still awful versus Vileplume; still has trouble hitting turn one Archie even two years after it won Worlds.
Would I pull the trigger? NO.
Jack Bauer Rating: “Archie is the leader of a known eco-terrorist organization. I’ll find him and hunt him down by any means necessary.”
Pros: Extremely powerful lock deck; wins most games where it doesn’t prize three Rowlet or whiff Vileplume.
Cons: Now a much bigger metagame target; weak Volcanion and Accelgor matchups, which are both picking up Steam.
Would I pull the trigger? YES, but only because I have good mojo with the deck.
Jack Bauer Rating: “GET AWAY FROM THE WINDOWS!!! …We don’t know where the Feather Arrows are coming.”
Pros: Has mostly even to positive matchups across the metagame; easily splashable techs to counter Archeops.
Cons: Never wins convincingly; still struggles a bit vs Yveltal/Archeops even with Wobbuffet and Blends.
Would I pull the trigger? NO, though it’s an underrated deck in a metagame targeting Vileplume.
Jack Bauer Rating: “It’s dominated Japan and top eighted Collinsville. So maybe… maybe you should be a little more afraid of this deck than you are right now.
Pros: Only semi-competitive if Grass is somehow absent.
Cons: Horrible vs Grass; lots of other negative matchups that are uphill battles.
Would I pull the trigger? NO.
Jack Bauer Rating: “Terrorists love to attack under the cover of night.”
Pros: VERY consistent and perhaps the MOST consistent Vileplume variant; mostly even to good matchups.
Cons: Very linear in its operation and I’m uneasy about its chances vs Rayquaza.
Would I pull the trigger? NO
Jack Bauer Rating: “There are FOUR AZ in this deck, and you’re not willing to tell me it’s associated with radical jihad?!”
M Gardevoir EX
Pros: In “theory” does well vs the meta; consistent.
Cons: In practice does awful vs the meta; bricks to Irritating Pollen on Vileplume.
Would I pull the trigger? NO
Jack Bauer Rating: “I trusted you! My wife and daughter almost DIED at Collinsville because of you!!!”
M Manectric EX
Pros: In theory does well vs the meta; consistent.
Cons: Does seem to conform to those assumptions, but has a bad Night March matchup and I have no idea what sort of list I would want to run.
Would I pull the trigger? NO, but if you have a good working version of the deck, then Portland would be the ideal place to run it.
Jack Bauer Rating: “I wish I had a bomb-sniffing dog handy.”
Pro: Super-powerful, super-consistent deck with the potential to wade through a sea of players.
Cons: Has a huge target on its back; the metagame is trending against it; bad Night March matchup.
Would I pull the trigger? NO
Jack Bauer Rating: “Intensifying Burns can’t melt steel beams.”
Pros: Supremely consistent; the metagame is extremely favorable for it; easy to play if you’re less experienced; could probably tech a bit to beat its bad matchups
Cons: Struggles vs any Vileplume.
Would I pull the trigger? YES
Jack Bauer Rating: “An insurgency, in Portland? It’s more likely than you think.”
Pros: Reliable tank deck with tons of offensive power; Wobbuffet is great in Standard and Expanded right now.
Cons: Still weak to Grass; still slow.
Would I pull the trigger? NO
Jack Bauer Rating: “The only way you’re going to die is if I kill you. Your Gaia Volcano’s not going off.”
Pros: Great trades with many of the most popular EX decks; in theory should beat Mega Ray.
Cons: Struggles a ton vs Vileplume decks; slaughtered by Decidueye; in practice somehow struggles to Mega Ray due to Hex and not having more Energy acceleration.
Would I pull the trigger? NO
Jack Bauer Rating: “If you try to Thunder Lance me, I will have to Feather Arrow you back. And I promise I won’t miss.”
Pros: Really powerful; a non-EX version of Mega Ray; better Yveltal matchup; might be subject of a Kale Chalifoux article someday.
Cons: Lots of moving parts; shares the same Weaknesses of Mega Ray
Would I pull the trigger? Tempted.
Jack Bauer Rating: "XERNEAS! BISHARP! VOLCANION! They've all admitted to being part of the conspiracy! What are the others' names?!?!?!"
Pros: Powerful lock.
Cons: Not good vs Vileplume; requires a very favorable metagame and flawless play over a long day; might not survive a one-day Regional.
Would I pull the trigger? No.
Jack Bauer Rating: “You’re worse than a traitor, Sableye. That’s because traitors have a cause – you just wanna hunt for junk all day.”
Pros: Consistent; multi-layered lock deck; good vs a lot of the emerging metagame from Collinsville except Grass.
Cons: Horrible vs Grass; not particularly good in general right now.
Would I pull the trigger? No.
Jack Bauer Rating: “I survived getting hit by five Feather Arrows and an Aero Ball. Do you think Flash Bites would even phase me?”
Pros: Still the most consistent Item lock in the game; would theoretically do well in a long day if it dodges Dark.
Cons: Has to depend on dodging the most consistently powerful, successful deck of the last 3-5 years.
Would I pull the trigger? No.
Jack Bauer Rating: “You may think you’re not Weak to me because of who I work for, but believe me…I am very dark.”
Turbo Darkrai (and Darkrai/Dragons)
Pros: Very powerful; consistent; simple; exploits a metagame full of surprised and meta decks.
Cons: Struggles vs the emergent metagame of Collinsville.
Would I pull the trigger? No, though I'd be more likely to pull it for Darkrai/Dragons
Jack Bauer Rating: “I’ve been following you this whole time, Darkrai. You’ve won Worlds, but now some Emeralds and Feathers are too much for you? WHY!?!?!?!?!”
Pros: Consistent; lots of versatility; not as bad vs Vileplume as you might think; hits for all Weaknesses.
Cons: brittle; struggles vs Darkrai; might get hexed out of the game; bad vs Night March.
Would I pull the trigger? No, but just barely.
Jack Bauer Rating: “WHERE ARE THE POKEMON IN THE DISCARD PILE? WHERE?!?!?!?!”
Pros: Super-consistent; has quite a few good matchups.
Cons: Too linear in its operation past turn one; much better Vileplume variants to choose from; horrible vs Decidueye.
Would I pull the trigger? No
Jack Bauer Rating: “I’m Federal Agent Jack Bauer…This is the longest turn of my lfie.”
Pros: Versatile; has lots of matchup and type coverage.
Cons: A little clunky; probably better just to combine the concept with Vileplume/Decidueye instead.
Would I pull the trigger? No
Jack Bauer Rating: “Basics can’t kill you…Evolutions can’t kill you…not even Pokemon-EX. Are you backed by the Chinese government?”
Pros: Very powerful and consistent; the metagame is favoring it and disfavoring its bad matchups; should destroy most Vileplume variants.
Cons: Struggles a bit against Mega Ray; has some other metagame holes, but nothing unforgivable.
Would I pull the trigger? YES
Jack Bauer Rating: “When all four Steam Ups activate, the bomb will detonate. We don’t have much time left…”
Pros: Has an answer for everything; can tech for everything; more or less consistent (i.e., benefits form best two of three match play)
Cons: Needs enough hate to deal with Vileplume variants
Would I pull the trigger? YES
Jack Bauer Rating: “You’ve been around for so long, old man, yet here you are, still threatening the American people.”
Pros: was pretty dang good against the old metagame
Cons: Horrible against the new metagame
Would I pull the trigger? No
Jack Bauer Rating: “Tell me where the Diamond Gift is, or I’ll break your hand.”
In summary, these are the following decks I would strongly consider for Portland, and ones you should feel good about if you already plan on using them…
Rainbow Road (kinda)
Your deck choice may depend on what you’re shooting for, as well. At this point in the season, some decks that aren’t outstanding versus anything but can play against the metagame will be great for those trying to inch to the finish line to get their invites, while more volatile decks like Night March and Rainbow Road would be more attractive if you need a win. Of course, the other 18 decks are on this list for a reason, and I’m sure there are decks that will do well I didn’t even write about.
I hope that helps! 'Cause if it didn't, you'll be telling me…
"Everyone dies starting with you, Kettler." ~Jack Bauer
Another Regional tournament has come and gone — this time in Malmo, Sweden, and Decidueye enjoys another win! However, to just leave it at that would waste a lot of precious metagame analysis, as well as losing out on some interesting developments and a great story.
On Europe: Land of the (Also) Free
Despite some Pokemon communities on Facebook and Reddit reaching as many as 20,000 users, I believe that there's an incredible lack of depth in understanding between the various continents, tournaments, and their players, so I wanna take this quick opportunity to address that:
This season, Europe has had many Regionals and special events, just like the rest of the world. However, the distinguishing characteristic between Regionals in Europe (or everywhere else) and the United States is that Regional Championships in the United States are mind-numbingly massive.
Europe is getting close to making Pokemon great again as well, considering that the Malmo, Sweden regional is that country's second largest tournament in history. However, for various reasons caused by responsible persons at all levels, I'm not sure if European organized play is as large as it is in the United States. Thus, while the Regional tournaments there have seen a proportionately similar explosion in attendance, you simply can't compare the size or scope of the events.
As a result, flame wars start. Someone in a small European country may feel slighted by their acocmplishments not being respected, or an American who has to go through the grind at 500 and 700-person events may feel a bit envious. It'll happen, and the reactions to it will range from amusement to keyboard rage.
I'm here to tell you that much the same way young teenagers in Masters (ages 15+) try to belittle the accomplishments of younger teenagers in the Senior Division (ages 11-14), it's actually pretty silly for the various continents to belittle each other's accomplishments, whether those are wins or high placements. Here's why:
1. Mathematically, it's getting harder to win for everyone. The commentators at Collinsville were amused at how the U.S. Regionals of today are of the same size, player skill level, and dollar value of U.S. Nationals just 7-8 years ago. Likewise, European Regionals — once only as well-attended as large City Championships in the United States — are threatening to be larger than at least one or two U.S. Regionals!
So where does that put Europe in relation to the U.S.? Assuming equal skill level, U.S. Regionals are generally much harder to do well at or win. If the average skill level is the same at both Regionals, and there are 500 people at one versus 300 at the other, there is simply no denying that the 500-person tournament is mathematically harder.
Take heart though, because there are many situations where making top eight or winning is actually much harder in Europe. Malmo Regionals for instance, which had 200 people and thus not enough for a day two, required a 6-1-1 record to advance to the top eight. That's tough stuff! Contrast that to Oregon, which may end up with just enough people for a day two, allowing for one of the most forgiving day two cutoffs of the entire season.
There, feel a bit better now? 😀
2. When good cash prizes are on the line, good players will be everywhere. In the two Regional Championships I played in, I had the pleasure of facing off against Ross "The Boss" Cawthon three times. That's because there's big money on the line at Regionals now, so you can bet your bottom dollar Rosses will be going to everything their schedules permit. Europe's Regionals are of a similar payout, so naturally their equivalent of a "Ross" will be highly likely to go to those events, as well, meaning you must overcome these challenges if you want to win a Regional. All Europe has to do now is agree who gets to be their Ross Cawthon equivalent. Is it Mees Brenninkmeijer? Someone else?
Nah, my money's on (T)Angela Merkel.
All right. Now that I'm done settling the incredibly funny "U.S. versus Europe" debate in about the most reasonable, comprehensive, non-trollish way ever put to pen, let's get into the meat of the entry: the decks!
(Special thanks goes to both Complexity and Limitless TCG. Without their efforts, event coverage and discussion would have been much harder if not impossible.)
Champion: Gonçalo Ferreira (Decidueye GX/Vileplume AOR/Toolbox techs)
Poor Lugia got cut off!
This is Mr. Ferreira's second Regionals win this season, and what an incredible achievement it is! As we talked about in the Collinsville report, Decidueye's core list can switch out Energy quite easily, allowing for the use of tech attackers. Here, Gonçalo decided to replace his Grass with Rainbows in order to accommodate a tech Jolteon EX for the Volcanion matchup. Everything else, including the Espeon EX for mirror, achieves its purpose in a normal list running Grass Energy
The "potential" for this concept is incredibly deep, and doesn't necessary begin or end with running only Jolteon. You could also run a Glaceon EX for hate decks not quite as well represented, such as pesky Espeon GX/Wobbuffet variants or certain Mega Rayquaza builds. You might also want to keep a very close eye on how new big basics from Guardians Rising could influence the deck. For now though, do you really want to run more attackers that would require a colored Energy than Jolteon EX? …Probably not.
As one final note, I find it interesting how a lot of the European lists run two Shaymin EX over three. In any deck, the number of Shaymin EX you run should depend on the point at which you receive too just enough returns for each card's inclusion. It's the reason why I ultimately went down from four to three in time for Anaheim, and very well may be the reason why these players use only two. My decision to stay at three is based on two simple reasons: a belief that digging for turn one Vileplume and Decidueye is 100% worth the inclusion, and the utter fear of bricking with this deck. Three Shaymin help with both those concerns, but I still consider this very much open for debate.
Runner-Up: Mikael Jacobs (Decidueye GX/Espeon GX)
Decidueye GX/Espeon GX is one of those ideas people have stewed over, but never really gone for…that is, until last weekend. With this deck, you get to enjoy the power of Decidueye as well as the raw power of Espeon GX. You also enjoy access to the Ancient Origins Type-adding Eeveelutions, which can be teched as appropriate for your metagame. The list also has a lot of construction peculiarities, including 1/1 Shaymin EX/Oranguru, 3 VS Seeker, 3 Forest of Giant Plants, and 3 Trainers' Mail. All of these are justifiable in one way or another, but my mpression is that it is much weaker against the mirror than it could be otherwise. That could be alleviated with a faster Pokemon and draw line, as on average the normal Decidueye/Vileplume list will be outdrawing and outspeeding this. Nevertheless, the sheer versatility of these attackers allows for victory in slower games.
Of all the decks that did well in Malmo, I consider this one to make the biggest impact on the metagame. It has answers to nearly everything in the metagame, including mirror, and whatever this particular list may struggle with could easily be changed for your own tournament scene.
Top Four: Karl Peters (Quad Lapras GX)
Perhaps the most unexpectedly successful deck of the weekend, Lapras GX is now another in a long line of attrition decks built to outlast its opponents. The result is that quite often your opponent will run out of resources simply trying to deal with Lapras, let alone actually killing it. Karl splashes in a little bit of everything that makes a Water Box deck great, but with an incredible amount of Energy denial as well.
This deck struggles against Decidueye, but not for the reasons you might think. Sure, you'd rather not have Weakness to Grass, but a Grass Weakness becomes mostly irrelevant when you can discard Energy. Unfortunately, therein lies the problem: You lose most of your Energy denial cards under Item lock! Furthermore, the brilliance of some inclusions, such as Team Skull Grunt as a natural counter to a Decidueye GX using Hollow Hunt to get back Energy cards, is limited by card count.
Furthermore, it's questionable against Turbo Darkrai. You may have a lot of Energy denial, but careful playing of resources at every point in the game can make this an incredibly difficult matchup for the Lapras player to win. Although Karl won his top eight match against Darkrai in a nailbiter, he's also a veteran of the game who saw a narrow window of opportunity to deck his opponent out, and went for it.
If you like Lapras and want to play what is among the format's least expensive decks, then you've found what you've been looking for! But unless you feel very confident against both Darkrai and Decidueye, you may want to steer clear of Lapras.
Top Four: Jindrich Nepevny (Mega Mewtwo/Espeon/Wobbufet)
Lastly we have a more traditional counter to the current metagame, albeit with some less conventional tweaks. Rather than run Garbodor, Jindrich opts for more Wobbbuffets. He also run a 1-1 Espeon GX line for the mirror and miscellaneous situations, a very high count on Float Stone, and only one Shaymin EX (!). That last call in particular kills me a bit: Despite running and hoping to start with Wobbuffet, you will still rely on and exploit Shaymin EX quite often, chaining those crucial turns where you need Mega Turbo and a Double Colorless to deal enough damage. With two copies you can do that quite often, but with one I foresee a lot of bricking situations.
Of the top four decks, Jindrich's was the best-equipped to beat Decidueye/Vileplume. Despite my above criticisms, this is a Mewtwo list built not only for early-game Ability lock, but to make Decidueye's Lysandre/Feather Arrow lock strategy against high Retreat Cost Pokemon impossible. It was just his bad fortune that he went up against Mikael, whose version of Decidueye clearly had the tools it needed to outmuscle Mega Mewtwo!
It was a lot of fun analyzing and considering the possibilities for each of these four decks! I hope this served as a good opportunity to de-mystify Europe for some of our American readers, as well as to explore some interesting decks that could have a long-lasting effect on the World stage.
(P.S. I promise I'll be putting out an Expanded-focused article later this week! Less frowning Oregons and more smiling ones!)
As most of you know, HeyTrainer.org has two parts: a blog and a forum. Our forum is a close-knit community of elite players, comic misfits, and individuals who just love our brand of freedom.
Since it’s great to see everyone’s opinions mesh, we love various contests throughout the year, from online tournaments, to deckbuilding competitions, to even popularity contests! However, it’s been a sweet seven years since we’ve discussed what we consider the greatest cards of all time…
Our nominations process was simple: name any ten cards you like. That’s it. No need to win a tournament, do well, or even be a competitive card – nothing! Because of that, you’ll see some pretty surprising things end up on our list, and some even more surprising snubs.
We received many, many cards, but in the end, only 32 could advance…
Previous Finalists (two cards):
Holon’s Castform DF
To make nominations a bit simpler, I decided to give automatic invites to our champion and runner-up from the last contest. These cards will be the first and second overall seeds.
Holon’s Castform is one of only a precious few Pokemon capable of being attached as Energy without relying on any Ability or Poke-Power, as well as one of the best starter Pokemon from its era. Cessation Crystal is a Garbotoxin on anything.
Five nominations (one card):
The most popular card of the nominating process, Swoop! Teleporter is the spiritual predecessor to Ninja Boy from Steam Siege. It’s also an Item card, making it far more useful.
Four nominations (one card):
The Fourth seed overall, Pidgeot FRLG’s Quick Search Poke Power is a Computer Search a turn! It is one of the greatest consistency cards of all time, and is the inspiration for our Quick Search card column.
Three nominations (two cards):
Pow! Hand Extension
Tied for fifth seed, both of these cards provide devastating effects when behind on prizes.
Two Nominations (16 cards)
Ancient Technical Machine Rock
Team Galatic's Invention Power Spray PL
Jirachi (EX Deoxys)
Regigigas Lv. X SF
Jumpluff HGSS, #6
Mew Prime (Triumphant 97)
That’s a pretty big tie for 7th seed, isn’t it! These cards span seven years of competitive Pokemon, and provide the backbone of many of the “retro” decks you see people playing with at Internationals and Worlds.
Wild Cards (10 cards):
Luxray GL LV.X
Gust of Wind
Cleffa Neo Genesis
There were many, many cards with only one nomination each, so I decided that I’d round out the bracket with ten I deemed to be among the game’s most legendary. It also includes the sole XY-block card on the list, Yveltal EX.
Snubs and No-Shows
Of course, several cards that did get a single nomination weren’t seconded or otherwise recognized as a wild card, and even more cards weren’t nominated at all! More obvious snubs like Blastoise BCR, Darkrai EX DEX, Eelektrik NVI, and Seismitoad EX FUF are a product of the culture on Heytrainer’s forums. Although our blog is safe reading for all ages, the forums are geared toward an adult audience, so it only makes sense that the nominations of our adult members reflect the eras of the TCG they find most nostalgic.
Final Thoughts, and Conclusion
That’s that! If you’d like to vote for your favorites, adult players should feel free to sign up for or log into heytrainer.org/forum during voting periods. Whether you’re voting or just curious, however, you can check out all the action < a href=” http://challonge.com/HTGreatestCard”>here.
Polls go up tomorrow — good luck, cardboard!!!