It’s Super Bowl Sunday (well, technically Monday as of posting), and I had a unique opportunity to attend Alternate Reality Games’ (“ARG’s”) Texas “Pokemon TCG State Championship” in Houston! Since the Super Bowl was actually IN the city of Houston on the very same day, it was quite a trek for me to drive from my end of town to the event venue. However, I’ve been very intrigued by what ARG has to offer as a new source of organized play for Pokemon.
On Supporting Alternate Organized Play, and Why I Fought the Super Bowl to Attend ARG States
Before I go too far into this report, let me preface that as of writing, I have no affiliation with ARG. My only financial incentives to write this article extend to ads and the glorious DONATE button…the latter of which I promise not to plug too often, but is definitely worth considering if you enjoyed the article!
Anyways, I like the concept of alternate organized play (“OP”) because alternate options are healthy for the game’s growth.
1. First, and perhaps most importantly, Play! Pokemon is pretty much just Regionals and up now, so there's a huge gap in the season that needs to be filled for people who can't go to the 15-some locations. Alternate organized play means that locals whose seasons begin and end at League have an increased chance for something big and exciting to be accessible.
2. Second, actions taken in alternate OP can encourage the official OP to improve. I know a lot of players have voiced frustration about the length of Regional Championships, and can totally relate to that frustration. Most ARG events appear to have sidestepped this issue completely by having shorter preliminary rounds, and reserving the much longer best-two-of-three matches for top cut.
3. Alternate OP can be a lot more imaginative than main OP. Whereas a standard form of organized play always has to appeal to more standard sensibilities, alternate OP can create absurd situations such as “high-roller” entry fees of $100 and first place prizes as big or bigger than Regionals. If higher stakes aren’t your thing, alternate OP also opens up the possibility for new formats. Ever wanted to play a “draft World Championship” in a game which routinely disrespects and ignores draft? Maybe you’d like a respectable event for Legacy, the Pokemon Trading Card Game Online-exclusive format which to my knowledge has still not had a major tournament in real life? With dedicated business and groups groups like ARG, these dreams can become reality.
Those are some convincing reasons to go, huh? However, it gets complicated, especially when the prizes don’t look all that appetizing. The advertised breakdown for this particular tournament was as follows:
1st Place: Gold ARG State Chamionship Logo Medal, Champion Playmat, ARG Invitational Invite, ARG State Championship Lapel Pin, and current sealed Booster Packs.
2nd Place: Exclusive Top 8 Playmat, ARG Invitational Invite, ARG State Championship Lapel Pin, and current sealed Booster Packs.
3rd/4th Place: Exclusive Top 8 Playmat, ARG Invitational Invite, ARG State Championship Lapel Pin, and current sealed Booster Packs.
5th-8th Place: Exclusive Top 8 Playmat, ARG Invitational Invite, ARG State Championship Lapel Pin, and current sealed Boosters.
9th-16th Place: ARG State Championship Lapel Pin
**If 32+ players attend the event 9th-16th Place will receive Invitational Invites**
*Extra door prizes*
Booster Pack Prize Payout which is based on attendance.
8 to 18 Players: 1st 16 Packs, 2nd 8 Packs, 3rd/4th 4 Packs, 5th to 8th 2 Packs
19 to 36 Players: 1st 30 Packs, 2nd 15 Packs, 3rd to 4th 6 Packs, 5th to 8th 3 Packs
37 to + Players: 1st 60 Packs, 2nd 30 Packs, 3rd/4th 12 Packs, 5th-8th 6 Packs & 9th-16th 3 Packs.”
Prizing – For our attendance, first place got a box and a trophy. That actually isn’t so bad, and neither is second, but everyone third and below really didn’t get that much. For alternate OP like this, it’s awkward trying to balance the prizes, since small outfits like ARG don’t have nearly the resources and soft benefits that Nintendo or The Pokemon Company International does. What costs Play! Pokemon not much more than production and shipping to dole out as prizes costs companies no less than $60 or $70 to appropriate.
Top eight also got some cool mats pins, and a medal. I’m not sure what of this stuff is actually desirable to the players, but I’m sure these exist primarily to promote the ARG brand. Personally I would’ve been happy with cash or more packs where possible, but it is what it is.
Invitational Invites – Apparently there is an “ARG Invitational” happening from August 11th-13th of this year in Oaks, Pennsylvania. Since Pokemon TCG Worlds is held in August each year, there is a virtual if not absolute scheduling conflict, meaning many of the best competitors in the ARG circuit won’t even show up if they wanted to. This might be due to ARG wanting to run Pokemon alongside all of their other events, meaning that Pokemon’s inaugural first year won’t cost so much for them. However, the ARG invitational gives players without a worlds invite something competitive and exciting to do that weekend, which is always good for the game!
As an advertising award meant to add “value” to these qualifier events, however, I’m not sure if they do much. All I can say is that it’s a good thing ARG posts the invite list online, because there’s a high chance I’ll lose this advertisement I got.
$25 entry – okay, hold the phone…that’s REALLY expensive! I’m not sure how much it costs to make all those play mats, and who’s footing the bill for the ARG “kit,” but on paper, that’s a mediocre minimum payout. To be fair, the great store which actually ran this event opted to increase everyone’s pack payout considerably. However, I can’t help but think that if a more generous pack distribution was advertised by both ARG and the store, then attendance would have gone up.
My overall approach was…not to prepare. This was going to be a low-stakes tournament no matter how you look at it, and it was the end of this leg of Standard (Primal Clash-Evolutions). All the same, I messed around with a couple weird Giratina variants. The one which I came closest to using was the following:
The idea here is to counter as much of the metagame all at once. You have Zygarde for Darkrai EX; Giratina EX for Vespiquen; Spinda for Gyarados; Garbodor for Volcanion and Greninja; careful Faded Town shenanigans against Mewtwo and Gardevoir; and then a whole host of attrition strategies involving your attackers for other matchups. To handle the latest onslaught of Volcanion lists running Pokemon Catcher, I opted for a 3-2 Garbodor line and a Super Rod, ensuring that I can have as many as four Garbodor out in a single game.
However, as effective as this deck turned out to be in the few games of testing I played, I lost interest when accepting that I’d rather not end up in a situation where I burned my $25 entry fee in a local tournament for no payoff! And that’s actually an interesting point I’d like to study at some point: the impact an entry fee or other softer expenses have on deck choice.
In the end, I went with trusty Yveltal. I’ve been using it since it first came out, and it’s single-handedly earned me almost all of my Championship Points from both this season and the last. So why not break it out one last time?
If this list looks familiar, then you’ve probably seen something identical to what’s been played by Azul Garcia Griego, Jimmy Pendarivs, or Michael Pramawat to win their major events. The sole oddball inclusion is Lugia EX. It has the same HP, Resistance, and Weakness as Yveltal EX, and a slightly weaker first attack; however, its Deep Hurricane is incredibly useful. First, it offers me a way to reach higher damage ceilings that I can’t against low-energy threats, primarily Greninjas and Darkrai EX. Second, its secondary effect of discarding a Stadium gives me a tertiary way to rid the field of unfriendly Stadium cards.
Other techs I’ve included to make the Lugia even more dangerous include Giovanni’s Scheme (+20 damage) or Absol ROS (moving three Damage Counters from a previously damaged Pokemon to a vulnerable active). I included neither, which worked against me in a metagame which would turn out to be so heavy in Darkrai, but the deck works just fine.
Most of these ARG tournaments nationwide have been fairly small affairs, and this one was no different. Since this particular ARG had to compete with the Super Bowl, only 21 players total attended. Still, it was a good mix of people in the Houston area, as well as some people from Dallas – four hours away for those unfamiliar with the geography here in Texas.
I took a headcount of the entire field, and here was the divide:
7 Turbo Darkrai variants
3 Yveltal EX/Garbodor decks
2 M Gardevoir
1 M Mewtwo
1 Damage Change Mewtwo EX/Fighting Fury Belt
1 Giratina/Metal techs (!!!)
1 M Scizor
1 M Rayquaza/Jolteon
At this point I was thinking, “Man, I should have used my Zygarde garbage.” Too bad, so bad! When you run decks like Yveltal EX, you are hedging your bets against heavy fluctuations in the metagame. The plus side to always running decks like these is that you are rarely not in contention for winning the whole thing; the down side is that you can frequently find yourself in situations where you are the underdog against every single deck you play against. Obviously it didn’t pan out that way, but I look at this field and think I have a bad matchup against no fewer than 12 of these players. To that extent, I think any high finish was an overperformance on my part.
So, how did I finish? Read on to find out!
Round One: VS M Scizor
Both of us had slow starts, as I was stuck with a Lugia EX turn two Aero Ball against his regular Scizor EX. He drew out of his rut first, using Hoopa’s Scoundrel Ring to set up his M Scizor and bench, but the small amounts of damage with the Lugia EX paid off, as it allowed me to take complete control of the game with Yveltal Breakthrough. After Knocking Out his M Scizor EX, I forced the Hoopa into the active position, and locked him out of the game for the last four prizes, killing the active Hoopa and a benched EX at the same time. (1-0)
Round Two: VS Turbo Darkrai
I drew poorly and got steamrolled! While my first couple of turns were not bad enough to get me benched, there was no way I would be able to come back when he already had nine Darkness Energy on the board. (1-1)
Round Three: VS Volcanion
It seems like every single piece of luck went my way this game. His first turn resulted in a Professor Sycamore which discarded four Fire Energy from his hand. Additionally, both of his attempts to use Pokemon Catcher to bring up my Trubbish or Garbodor with a Float Stone yielded Tails-fails results. Finally, on top of no Abilities, I caught him on a brutal Delinquent play to discard his entire hand. This advance in resources gave me the time I needed to build up a couple very big, dangerous Yveltal EX’s, and I Knocked out his Volcanion EX’s with little problem. (2-1)
Round Four: VS M Gardevoir
M Gardevoir is one of those matchups that should on paper be too brutally difficult for Yveltal to even hope to compete in, yet in practice is actually very winnable. It’s a very methodical process where you chip away at only their attackers with Yveltal Breakthrough, and then close out with a heavily loaded Yveltal EX or Lugia EX. Multiple things can go against you when doing this, particularly well-timed Lysandres or Hawlucha Steam Siege plays to get keep Fright Night from shutting off Gardevoir’s Spirit Links.
However…none of that went against me at all this game. The moment I got out Fright Night via Yveltal Breakthrough, it’s as if the game grinded to a halt on his end. So I then turned my “methodical process” into a “methodical KO-everything-in-sight process”: I Lysandred up a vulnerable Hoopa EX on the bench, and would somehow find myself drawing all six of my Prizes with careful Pitch-Black Spears. Eventually I learned that almost ALL of his switching cards were prized – talk about bad luck! (3-1)
Round Five: VS M Mewtwo
I offered an intentional draw in order to make top eight….which he accepted! (3-1-1)
I finished 5th overall in Standings, but because we were cutting to a top eight, I still had a chance to play for the win…not to mention more packs!
Top Eight: VS Mirror
He ran a mirror list with a much larger emphasis on Yveltal EX, and less on the non-EX attackers. This worked out in my favor, as the whole tempo of the match became favorable for me. In both games, I took great care to spreading as much damage on his side of the board as possible before committing to an Evil Ball or Aero Ball attacker. I also guessed correctly he ran at least one between Olympia (Switch and Heal 30) or Pokemon Center Lady (Heal 6), so I took as many chances as I could to add damage to his EXs beyond these multiples. It paid off big time, as I would frequently find myself in spots where my decision play a Fighting Fury Belt on Yveltal GEN allowed me to Oblivion Wing for an extra ten damage turn one on a Pokemon I guessed would be Olympia’d, only to pay off around turn 10 to win me the game.
Both games more or less played out in this manner, though my Enhanced Hammers were of course huge in keeping his Yveltals under control.
Top Four: VS Turbo Darkrai
Game One – Despite being a completely different Darkrai player, my hand dealt out in a very similar manner to the one in Round Two. While my slow start this game was a bit better, repeated whiffs on Max Elixir coupled with not drawing into Energy pulled me further and further behind. I finally got an Yveltal EX into play and attacking, but it was quickly Knocked Out the next turn.
Game Two – He made the best out of a relatively weak hand, using a combination of two Lysandres and two Escape Ropes to keep my Yveltal Breakthrough from destroying his Yveltal EX tech and Darkrai EX. However, I reversed fortunes this game by being able to set up two “Ball” attackers with little difficulty, and mowed through his EXs with little trouble. He did not get close to an OHKO this game!
Game Three – My heart sinks to see my opening hand: Trubbish, three Max Elixir, a Float Stone, a Super Rod, and a Darkness! Although I top-decked a Professor Sycamore, I regrettably only drew into more unplayable garbage (pun intended), to the point where I had zero playable cards before benching my Shaymin EX! Meanwhile, Christian got out a turn two Darkrai EX dealing big damage, and I got benched by turn three.
I’m not sure if he ended up winning; however, it was an all-Darkrai finals, meaning there’s little guess as to what won.
Prizes and Conclusion
Omg your invited, guyz!
Pictured above is what I got for finishing third. While I still definitely have some reservations about that $25 price tag, my day out in ARG-land was fun, and got me some packs of the latest set…of which I owned none until today. The store was smart to increase the prize pool across the board, and they were really great hosts. I’m looking forward to their upcoming League Challenges and League Cups, which as I understand should have a much better prize payout than ARG!