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Chase Moloney

Last-Minute Preparations for Nationals

Chase discusses metagaming and top plays for the last two weeks of National Championships.

06/26/2015 by Chase Moloney

Hello again, 60cards readers! In the month or so since my last article, I must confess, I've played less Pokémon than I would've liked. Pokémon's taken a backseat to school for me, but that'll soon be behind me after I graduate in a few days. Despite playing fewer games than usual, I've still kept up with the results of various National Championships and thrown around a good amount of deck ideas with friends, so I think I've figured out a lot of solid concepts. The last few National Championships, including my own, will take place this upcoming weekend, leaving only U.S. Nationals for the following weekend. This is always one of the most exciting parts of the season; the stakes are high and everyone's bringing their A game. The only more competitive event is Worlds, and the decks people bring there are sure to be determined by what unfolds over the next two weeks. So how can you set yourself up for success at such tough tournmanets?


My goal with this article is to show you how to succeed, both by analyzing the format as well as with some general advice, so without any further introductiosn, lets get started.

The removal of Trump Card has had an incredibly significant impact on the format. Not only does it change the format we're playing in, but it makes the interactions of the format since the card's release far less relevant to us now. Who knows how the BCR-PRC format would've gone without Trump Card? Certainly Exeggutor wouldn't have been the force it was and Toad likely would've had a more subdued precence. So then which decks become good in their absence? And would decks that thrived on positive matchups with those lock decks (like Virizion/Genesect) still have been viable? Usually, at this time in the format, we'd be simply be factoring the new Roaring Skies cards into our previous format, but now that format's results are essentially out the window, leaving players to figure out a new format that's very different, despite only one card's removal.

This confusion can be either positive or negative, depending on how you approach it. The ability to figure out what's good now, as well as predict what other people will percieve as good and play, is more important than ever. I don't think I've seen so many players lost in a format since the mid-season rotation four yeras ago. While less drastic than that, it's similar in that a lot of players will likely just play decks that the crowd perceives as strong, rather than taking the risk and playing something that a lot of people are overlooking. A lot of the reason that players like Ross Cawthon and Dylan Bryan are so successful with very unique decks is because they don't take their fellow player's view on the top decks as authoritative. They recogize that the vast majority of players don't really know what they're doing with a format, and just play what they hear people talking about, and while the majority often ends up finding the strong, obvious play, they tend to miss more subtle partnerships between cards that actually lead to the greatest success.

A great example from this season is the Donphan deck that Dylan Bryan used at the first set of Fall Regionals in North America. While Virizion/Genesect and Yveltal/Garbodor were the main combos on people's minds going into that weekend, Donphan quickly joined that list after Dylan showed how good it really was. Dylan was able to identify a deck that many other people had overlooked, which proved especially potent considering that weekend was the first set of major events since the rotation.



I believe we're in a similar situation right now, and that a lot of the people who win in coming weeks will be those who are able to find the combinations we've been missing. Some of these might be entirely new "rogue" decks, some might just be familiar decks with new modifications to give them a favorable position in the metagame, and others are decks that are known but have fallen out of favor. Unfortunately, I haven't found that incredible rogue strategy, so can't present you readers with one. I do have a few plays that people aren't talking about as much, though, and those are more than capable of winning if the metagame is right. Before I get into those decks though, let me run through my personal analysis of the format, deck by deck.

First off, I want to preface this by saying that these are just my perceptions right now, and I'm sure a lot of talented players will disagree with me. However, I believe my results in previous events speak to the fact that I generally know what I'm doing, and I stand behind my views.

When the ban was first announced, the deck that everyone immediately started talking about was naturally Night March. Trump Card was the effective counter card to the deck; returning a discard pile full of Night Marchers to the deck meant that the Night March player would have to dig to get those Compressors to discard them again. Even worse, against the pure Seismitoad decks, the Compressors would be locked indefinitely, leaving no way for the Night March player to refill their discard pile.  These Quad Seismitoad variants were already popular before the release of Roaring Skies, and Seismitoad/Shaymin became an incredibly popular choice after its release. Not only that, but Trevenant/Shaymin's similar ability to lock down the game effectively meant that Night March was unplayable. But now that Trump Card is gone, there's far less Item-lock in the format, and even the Item-lock decks that do exist now have no way to return the Night Marchers to the opponent's deck.

This lead to a lot of hype for the deck, a good amount of it justified, too. After all, it can strike for a one-hit knockout on anything as early as the first turn of the game. However, results of the first weekend of Nationals without Trump Card didn’t see Night March dominating the scene. In fact, it only saw a few Top 8 placements and no wins. If the deck is so good, then why is this? I'd say there's two reasons.

First, it was heavily countered. With people not knowing the format very much, Night March became the primary deck people were concerned with beating when going in blind. It's the type of deck that isn't dependent on the other decks to be threatening. It just throws a bunch of Pokémon in the discard and tries to take Prizes as quickly as possible, and this put a huge target on it. As such, everyone who played last weekend made sure they could beat it.

It's also just not that good. Part of this is that it's relatively easy to counter with things like Crobat, Seismitoad, Aegislash, Focus Sash, Donphan, and so on. The other part is that inherently, while you'll sometimes find the ideal turn-one combination, I find the deck can suffer a lot more than others if you have a mediocre opening. Night March lists generally run seven or eight total Energy and also needs Night Marchers discarded before it can do anything at all, meaning that if your opening hand doesn't have some way to draw a good amount of cards, you'll probably be dead in the water.

Especially because it's still on people's radar to counter, I don't recommend that anyone play Night March right now. The only way I can see the deck having a lot of success this format is if it falls of the radar for long enough that people stop concerning themselves with countering it, giving it an opening to come back and shine.

What was successful then? While a fairly large variety of decks made Top 8, Landorus/Crobat, Mega Rayquaza/Bronzong, Gengar/Trevenant, and Donphan were the main ones that caught my attention. I'd say, based on how much many spots it took up in Top Cut, that Landorus/Crobat variants are the decks to beat going into this weekend. Clearly they've benefited from the decrease in Seismitoad decks, and they're generally hard-hitting decks with fast enough attackers to keep up with almost anything thrown at them. 

Would I recommend you play them though? No, I'd say there is probably a better option for this weekend. Their success has been noted by people, and I don't expect many people to bring decks that have a negative matchup to Landorus/Crobat besides a few people who are big fans of Raichu or Mega Manectric. I anticipate a rise in Seismitoad variants as well as Mega Rayquaza/Bronzong in response, and can't honestly say I'd expect a lot of strong matchups for Landorus/Crobat. Sure, people will play it and some will do well, but I believe there are better options available.

I believe the correct approach to the format right now is to stay one step ahead. This week, that means playing a deck that does well against a majority of what did well last week, as well as against the decks you expect people to bring to counter last week's metagame. Here are my top picks for this weekend with lists and the insight behind them.

Gengar/Trevenant

With the ability to maintain a solid amount of damage combined with the disruption of Item-lock, this deck is a strong contender right now. With Trevenant locking Items as early as the very first turn, it's really easy to steal a win because your opponent just couldn't set up. Here's my current list.



I've based it loosely off a list that took second at Danish Nationals last weekend, but I changed it up a bit. The original list played a 1-1 line of Dragalge, which I ended up cutting for some additional consistency. I've never found Dragalge to be worth running. Sure, there are times when Retreat-locking the is helpful, but is it worth running a 1-1 line that won't always get set up, and that you often won't even have room for considering how tight this deck can get on Bench space? Perhaps if I expected Fairies or Yveltal, I'd play it, but other than that, I think those two slots can be put to better use.

I also added in a single Sigilyph, as it can give a lot of trouble to decks that aren't prepared. The ability to just throw up a wall that can't be touched by Pokémon-EX seemed too good not to include a single copy. It can even attack in rare situations if needed. It isn't a card that's part of your central game plan, but rather, a card that you can use to steal games that otherwise would've gone to your opponent. I'm still not sure it's inclusion is actually worth the spot, but for now it's in.

Seismitoad/Crobat

A deck with a respectable amount of success during States, and one that I personally played at the start of it, I believe this deck is back with a vengeance. It fell out of favor as people tended towards the faster, more Item-heavy Seismitoad decks that relied on disruption to win games. With Trump Card gone, though, those pesky Items can no longer be recycled and Seismitoad decks need to find another way to win the game with just Quaking Punch. One of the best ways to do this is to run Crobat lines to do significantly more damage, as well as carefully manage knockouts by choosing when and where to place those additional two or three counters. Here's my current list for it:



I went for as much consistency as possible with this build and tried not to cut any corners. The single copy of Dedenne FFI is primarily for a Mega Rayquaza that could get out of control and sweep, but it would also be useful if you happened to be paired against an Yveltal-EX deck. I went with Scoop Up Cyclone over Computer Search, as picking up Bats, damaged Toads, and Shaymin are all crucial, and I feel its power and utility puts it over the consistency of Computer Search. I opted for a second Colress over fourth VS Seeker as it works under item lock, Benches tend to be very large these days, and you don't have a lot of Supporter variety anyway. It's almost a matter of preference on that, though, so if you wanted a fourth VS Seeker instead, by no means would I disagree.

This deck's greatest strength right now is probably how it makes a lot of decks function a lot worse while piling on a lot of damage. This yields very positive matchups versus decks like Landorus/Crobat, Night March, Donphan, and Groudon. The decks that could give you trouble are primarily things that either lock you back and hit hard, like Gengar/Trevenant, or things like Mega Rayquaza/Bronzong variants that can overpower you with a decent start. I've got an interesting alternate build for this deck that just might be able to deal with the latter though.



Essentially a fusion between the Seismitoad/Crobat and Raichu/Crobat decks, this trades the damage of Hypnotoxic Laser for the ability to hit with Raichu. This is a very recent idea of mine and as such, I must confess, I haven't gotten the opportunity to test it yet. Ideally, the Seismitoad and Mewtwo should be able to deal with Landorus/Crobat and the Raichu should make Rayquaza decks a breeze. This is definitely a deck I need to investigate more, but I thought I'd share it now anyway. My greatest concern is probably something like Gengar/Trevenant if they are able to lock you quickly, or a Metal deck that is able to get a couple Aegislash going. Other than that, I think this presents itself as a very solid play.


Seismitoad/Garbodor

This is very similar to a deck I played for Fall Regionals at the beginning of the season, and to lists that saw success early on in City Championships. This is the one other version of Toad that I see as viable right now. Rather than piling on damage with Bats, this deck fully aims for disruption. With Quaking Punch, Garbotoxin, and Energy removal, the idea is that your opponent won't be able to do much and you'll slowly take the game, or at least get into a position where you win with a couple Grenade Hammers or X Balls.



The list is true to that goal, and is concise in what it's meant to do. Resource management is now much more important with this deck, and every Hammer or Laser should be really considered carefully. If you burn through your Items too quickly, expect to really struggle in the late game. On the other hand, if you go to the other extreme and hold your Hammers when removing that Energy could buy you a useful turn, then you might not even have a lead entering the late game. It takes experience to make these decisions, which is why I consider this deck one of the hardest to play right now.

The matchups I like with this deck are Landorus/Crobat, Night March, Rayquaza variants, and Donphan. Really, the only weak points I see for it are its Gengar/Trevenant matchup, as well as some inherent inconsistency that can be very costly due to the nature of the deck. You need the lock up as soon as possible, and coming back from a bad start is quite an uphill battle for Toad/Garb. I'm not sure how much play it will see, but if a few strong players pick it up, expect it to see a good amount of success.

Rayquaza/Bronzong

Perhaps the most powerful deck right now in terms of damage output and acceleration, this deck's strength lies in its ability to hit hard as well as in its resistance to Fighting. Here's the list I've been working with.



The idea behind this deck is to hit hard and fast with Mega Rayquaza-EX while maintaining a strong late game thanks to Bronzong. You also have options in the form of Aegislash, Heatran, and Kecleon. The Supporter count might seem low, but with three Shaymin and four VS Seeker, I think it's acceptable. Your matchup against Fighting decks is solid thanks to your Resistance and ability to OHKO anything with Skyfield and a full Bench. Tougher matchups are Night March and Raichu variants. Raichu just needs six Benched Pokémon or five Benched and a Band to knock out Mega Ray and Night March likewise needs only needs six Night Marchers discarded or five with a Band, if they're attacking with Joltik. You also have trouble decks that run Garbodor, since so much of your board presence and drawpower relies on Abilities.


Yveltal/Garbodor

To finish off the decklists, I thought I'd talk about an old favorite of mine that's generally fallen by the wayside, and why I think the deck could make a comeback.



I believe this deck is being heavily overlooked right now. With positive matchups against Landorus/Crobat, Donphan, Night March, and Metal and a close Seismitoad matchup, Yveltal/Garbodor is one of my top picks right now. The only real problems I see for it are Raichu variants as well as occasional slow starts. You rarely get a fully dead hand, but sometimes even with a Supporter, you just don't hit the right combination of cards and an otherwise positive matchup outspeeds you and takes the win.

The list is focused on consistency, with the only real techs being Dedenne to help against Colorless Rayquaza, which can sometimes be trouble depending on how fast you set up, and Pokémon Center Lady to help swing the Toad matchup. PCL is also just nice for healing damage in general, and can often swing a weird game in your favor by setting your opponent back a turn.


General thoughts and tips


And with that, I've exhausted all the plays that are going through my head for Nationals. I'm not sure which one is the correct play, but I'd wager it varies depending on which Nationals you're attending. Do your best to talk to people and read online in order to get a sense of what people are bringing to your Nationals. Metagaming is of the utmost importance right now.

Finally, I wanted to give some tips on last-minute deck building. I know I've been there, especially this year. Through testing, you've realized something doesn't work, or maybe just stumbled onto an idea you think could break the format. But here's the trouble: you didn't think of it until a couple days before, or even the night before the event. What's the correct course of action in this situation? Well, from my own experience, I'd actually recommend thinking it through thoroughly, and if it stands up to solid reasoning, just go for it! Some people would recommend that you trust what you know, but if you've determined that what you know is inferior, don't stick with it! HOWEVER, it's important that you don't go with something bad because you haven't had time to actually play with it.

By far the most important thing to make sure you have is consistency. It's the easiest corner to cut, and if you're not careful, you'll lose games where you just don't set up, despite the fact that you have "answers" to everything in the format. Decks made last minute most often lose because players haven't had time to play enough games to determine that the deck doesn't get its ideal setup very often. So, if you come up with your deck idea at 2:00 AM the day of the event (a time, I must confess, far too many of my successful decks are created), try to at least draw a few test hands to get a sense of what your starts might look like. A potential issue may come up, so make sure you've got someone else who's a fairly solid player to think these things through with.  You'll help balance each other's ideas out.

As I've said, I've got Canadian Nationals coming up in just a couple days, so if you're a reader from my country, be sure to come say hi! Good luck to everyone in their remaining Nationals and may the best player win. Worlds is soon upon us and the season's close is sure to be the most exciting part of it. So long and thanks for reading!

 

Chase 

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