“May the Honest Inherit the Earth”

Introduction

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

A Few Words on Cheaty McGee

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sometimes, you can't even trust a nun.

Establishing Trust

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

But first, let's answer a simple question…

Why is Building Trust Important?

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

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

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

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

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

How Do You Build Trust with Your Opponents?

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


Player Interview: Kenny Britton


Follow Kenny Britton on Twitter @KennyBritton4!

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

Introductory + History

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Tournament Success
+ Investigation into Good Habits


This was where Kenny was at before Salt Lake City!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The List



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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous

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

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

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

11th Hour Pick at the 11th Hour

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

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

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

The List That Could Have Been!

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


Pokemon (12):

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

Trainers (35):

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

Energy (13):

9 Darkness Energy
4 Double Colorless

Some notes about this list —

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

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

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

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

Suggestions for Last-Second Tweaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Saturdays 5: The Great Claydol ex Prank

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

Setting the Scene for Secrecy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Conclusion on Claydol

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

Happy April Fool's Day, everyone!

Next Level Pokemon Part One, by Drew Allen


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

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

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

 

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


PROCESSING & UTILIZING INFORMATION:

Focusing on your Opponent’s Play

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

 

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

 

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


The boy

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

Checking your Resources:



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

All of it. Every turn.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

    

PLANNING AHEAD & VISUALIZATION:

 

Proactive & Reactive Play

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

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

 

Visualizing Aggro & Lock Decks:

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

DECKBUILDING & METAGAME FLOW :


The Cascade Effect

 

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


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



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


Ant mill…could Devour possibly be a reference?

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


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

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

 

Finding a Balance



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

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

 

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



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

 

 

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

 

 

 

Shortcuts in Deckbuilding



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

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

Templating

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

Conclusion

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

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

Hey There, Hexy Lady


(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.)

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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!!!

Social Saturdays 4: This Season is Weird

Introduction

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.

Background

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)

What’s Good?

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!

Conclusion

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.)

Jack_Bauers’s Interrogation: 24 Decks 24 Hours Before Portland Regionals


Introduction

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

Accelgor/Wobbuffet

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.”

Aerodactyl

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.”


Archie’s Blastoise

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.”

Decidueye/Vileplume

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.”


Decidueye/Seismitoad

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.

Greninja

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.”

Lurantis/Vileplume

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.”

M Rayquaza

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.”

Night March

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.”

Primal Groudon

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.”

Raikou/Eelektrik

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.”

Rainbow Road

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?!?!?!"

Sableye

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.”

Seismitoad/Crobat

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?”

Trevenant

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!?!?!?!?!”

Vespiquen/Flareon

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?!?!?!?!”

Vespiquen/Vileplume

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.”

Vileplume Toolbox

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?”

Volcanion

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…”

Yveltal/Maxie’s

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.”

Zygarde

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.”


Conclusion

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…

Accelgor/Wobbuffet
Decidueye/Vileplume
Night March
Rainbow Road (kinda)
Volcanion
Yveltal/Maxie’s

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

Rogue Hunting at Malmo Regionals

Introduction

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!

(Sorry, Oregon!)

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.

Deck Analysis

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!

Conclusion

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!)

Social Saturdays 3 — The Greatest Card



Introduction


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…


Process


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
Cessation Crystal


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):


Swoop! Teleporter


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):

Pidgeot FRLG

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
Scramble Energy

Tied for fifth seed, both of these cards provide devastating effects when behind on prizes.

Two Nominations (16 cards)




Twins
Holon Transceiver
Ancient Technical Machine Rock
Cyrus’s conspiracy
Chatot MD
Weavile UD
Sableye SF
Team Galatic's Invention Power Spray PL
Jirachi (EX Deoxys)
Gengar SF
Regigigas Lv. X SF
Claydol GE
Gyarados SF
Jumpluff HGSS, #6
Vileplume UD
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):


Gardevoir SW
Yveltal EX
Luxray GL LV.X
Uxie LA
Gust of Wind
Junk Arm
Call Energy
Accelgor DEX
Charizard Base
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!!!