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What to play? A non time fixed analysis of decklist choosing – Part 1

09/11/2014 by 60Cards

Hello everyone, my name is João Lopes and this is my first article as a part of the team.


        I don't believe you'll be interested in my life story so let's keep my introduction short and simple: I'm a 22 year old Master division Player from Portugal. Most notable achievements are an invitation through LCQ (2010) and a National Championship win (2013).


        My goal here is to bring you a different kind of articles so don't expect any format change discussion, analysis on the impact of the newest TCG expansion or an overview of the latest tournament winning decks. Quite honestly, I think you'd be more interested in hearing about that from other players with a bigger name than me so I'll take this opportunity to write about something else: I want to write to you about the deeper mechanics and thought processes of the competitive portion of Pokémon TCG.


        So what does that mean? It's a wide variety of themes ranging from the evolution of deckbuilding and analysis of the choices and methods used by the players with the most success to stories about other formats and their metagame. It can be even famous games and plays and how we can relate to those times and learn with it.


        Sound boring? Well, it will be different but I'm open to all kinds of suggestions so I'm always open to write about anything the community desires.


        Today, however, I'm bringing you something quite familiar: a tournament report. These are the articles were I'll be writing about everything regarding the current format and the Portuguese tournament scene so you'll get the usual article stuff from my point of view without being bombarded with ten articles talking about different aspects of the same metagame.


        With this report I have a bigger goal. This is the first of a series of articles focusing on what you should consider when choosing a deck to play. What list to choose? What techs?

        This is a work unbounded by its timeframe so it can be visited anytime in the context of any format. Like I said, I don’t want to write more about the current format because there’s enough information out there. I want to write about mechanics and those don’t change with time.


        For the first part I’ll be focusing on a bad experience. Yes, a bad tournament performance.

        Our losses tell us much more than our wins so instead of writing a beautiful Regional win, I’ll start by writing about what you can learn from a failure. Success cases will be evaluated in other parts.


        This part will probably be the longest. I desire to give the readers a pleasant read so give me feedback if you enjoy a light long read or if you this is too tiring.


        Moving on:


        What to play? A non time fixed analysis of decklist choosing – Part 1


        Portugal gets three Regional championships for each season covering the south, center and north of the country.

        For this season I'll be attending two of them: Oporto and Lisbon.


        Today was the Oporto one and it has to be one of the tournaments I prepared the least to. Midterms and projects in college have kept me from playtesting therefore my decisions were more based in theory than practical testing results.




        So, what do you do when you're basically out of the tournament scene? November 8th brought some changes so I'm even more at a disadvantage right? Well, not quite...


        When rule changes appear, the first tournament will still be predictable due to a couple of reasons:


 - People will not derivate easily from what they know it works - and they shouldn't. Unless you proven you groundbreaking idea is really that good, your results with your rogue deck will not be positive. Too many people have tried being different for the sake of being different and it backfired.


 - Other Regional results have defined a metagame - Rule changes and a few cards back will not alter the results in the first few weeks of European Regionals. People know what decks are good and even if they tried it's not probable they found a new format breaking deck.


 - Overhyped ideas are being shoved down your throat for too long - yes, yes, yes, I know that somehow Tropical Beach gets uber good just now by doing the exact same thing in the exact same deck that gets absolutely no alterations from either the rule changes or the new set... Anyway, you'll know (thanks to forums and Facebook groups) what everyone is going to be doing or trying to do. It is not needed that you play with those people, players everywhere read those posts and will have the same perspective and you do (think of it as a kind of hive mind thing going on).


        Besides that, as a more familiar environment I already know what most players will be bringing to the table. Just a few days before the tournament this is what I'm expecting to see:


Plasma - Good old plasma... I love playing the deck and have mastered every aspect of the mirror. If I was sure the field would be full of plasma decks I would be quite confident in playing with the same list I've being using since Worlds. However, I know that while there will be a couple of plasmas, it won't be much more than that. There are players who definitely playing someting else.

Blastoise - It was a good choice before and it won't stop being one now. Despite Beach being incredibly cheap for us, I know that Blastoise will be the least played deck. However, only good players will play it so I'll keep it in mind.

Darkrai Variants - king of the people, the patron of the average player, Darkrai is the cheapest deck and that alone is a reason for wich I have to expect it. Just started playing? Buy Darkrai! Took a break from the game? Pick up a Darkrai! You’re poor? Darkrai's your friend! Didn't get new cards? Darkrai is oldschool! A solid deck that’s easy to pick up. People who build it will not be choosing other deck easily when the other options are much more expensive and everyone who hasn't made up their mind will be playing it just because they know it works (seriously, the deck doesn't die!).

Virizion - This guy... This guy is new kid in town and is possibly the greatest threat in the current meta. Its recent success in the US and the fact that it destroyed our first Regional are fact not to be ignored. Not everyone has Virizions but those who do are most likely playing Virizion/Mewtwo or Virizion Genesect (a weaker version of the deck, in my opinion).

Others - Flareon is a deck that always causes a buzz. I really don't know why but it's a fact. There is also the possibility of Empoleon which seems to be highly hyped right now, though I don't see many Portuguese piloting it.



        I decided not to play Plasma for this tournament. I feel the deck lost its hold of the format. If I were to attend the last Regional I would probably run with Suicune/Terrakion/Mewtwo as that metagame was very predictable but there's a huge risk in running pure counter decks: they automatically lose to anything besides the decks they are supposed to counter. Although it has a fantastic Blastoise, Plasma and Darkrai matchup, it does not answer a barrage of Bouffalants thanks to the Bouffer ability nor does it hold its own against some other random matchups like Zebtrika or Flareon.


        I think the strongest card in the current format is Bouffalant. One of my favorites of all time, it can exploit Silver Bangle to its full potential and OHKO an EX out of nowere. Also, it can be easily paired with Mewtwo with Deoxys, Mewtwo and Keldeo out there to counter Bouff, it is nice to have a Mewtwo of my own to retaliate. I would be definitely playing these two at the Regional.


        My choices have boiled down to two decks:





A solid and consistent deck that has proven its worth.
Great results in the US, just won the previous Regional in my country.
People are not prepared against it.
Immunity to lasers and random status decks like a random Gothitelle.


 Emerald Slash is not a reliable recovery method.
Never played the deck, can't be sure how to tweak the list without proper testing.
Bad Blastoise matchup.





I have vast experience with Darkrai and am confident with it.
I have played with Bouffalant and Mewtwo in all sort of combinations (Blastoise, Eels, Darkrai).
The return of Energy Switch makes the deck as versatile as ever.
Junk Hunt can get me out of bad starts and get me ahead in resources count in the late game.
Can recover easily.
Can spam hammers against Plasma.
Does not lose speed starting either first or second.


Not the most consistent list since a lot of trainers are needed.
Highly dependent on luck of the draw to get out of a bad situation.
Needs numerous tools (trainer cards) to execute its basic strategy.

        I feel like the best partner for Bouffalant has to be Darkrai now that Energy Switch is back. Not only that, Darkrai has a good matchup against anything non meta, any surprise or not so common deck will fall easily.

        Against Virizion, Enhanced hammer can put stop them for good. While they have a harder time setting up and recovering, Dark Patch and Energy Switch does that job a lot better.

        There's an issue that needs to be addressed: the Blastoise matchup. Historicaly, Darkrai has a really hard time against anything that can OHKO it. This time, however, we have bouffalants that can come out of nowhere and OHKO an EX right back! It's not easy to do the OHKO but to keep using Gold Breaker for 150 is easy. The good thing about that is that we're trading 1 prize for 2 in our favor and Night Spear adds some reach to the deck snipping for the last 30 damage.

        To add have an edge in that matchup I considered Frozen City for obvious reasons. Now Bouffalant becomes lethal and, as an added bonus, we have a way so score OHKO in the Virizion matchup (remember, it's ability prevents lasers but with fozen city a single energy attachment gets their Virizions an Mewtwos in OHKO range-20+150=170).

        Another card being considered was Crushing Hammer. However, testing showed it was overkill as the Enhanced Hammer did enough without relying on coin flips.

        After some thinking and testing in the Pokémon Trading Card Game Online, this was the final list:


        The testing results were better than I expected, Bouffalant with Silver Bangle is just too good! Now, on with the tournament:


        Round 1 - vs. Marco Brandão with Darkrai/Garbodor


        Marco is the 2010 National Champion and a consistent player on the top players. Going against him in the first round makes me think that the pairing algorithm does not produce random pairs of players for the first round: if it's a premier event on Oporto, first round has been, is and will be always against him.

        While shuffling he flipped over a Darkness Energy, mirror it is!

        For some reason I love playing mirror matches. If no techs are involved (and assuming that the early game is not completely one-sided) the game will develop into an interesting match where pure skill is tested. However, I have Bouffalant and that gives me an edge turning the matchup in my favor.

        The knowledge of his deck is an unfair advantage but even the odds I had to sleeve up my Enhanced Hammers at the last minute and since

        I don't like Flareon the deck (which is a shame since Flareon is one of my favorite Pokémon) it was pretty clear that I was piloting a Darkrai build, but which one?

        Upon hearing about my Enhanced Hammers he jokingly expressed his fear for Crushing Hammer letting me know that he thought I was playing Hammertime. Though they were cut in the final version, the returning Crushing Hammers were part of the original build though for this tournament so he was far from the truth.


Game 1


        He goes first after my mulligan with a Darkrai staring down my Sableye. He doesn’t do much on the first turn: attached, retreated to a Trubbish he just benched, dropped a Float Stone onto him and passed. The fact that he is playing Garbodor does affect me more than him but it still doesn't hinder me as much as you would expect. DCE's for retreat and, 

Junk Hunt and Energy Switch got me covered. Still it's annoying, I like my Dark Cloak, Buffer and Rush In way too much to have them turned off.

        With no energy attachment possible, I decide to use my Ultra Ball to fetch a Darkrai and pass. My start is slow but he is still setting up giving me a window of opportunity to even the field.

        I draw a N a attach an energy to a freshly drawn Bouffalant anticipating a Nigh Spear but, after a N and a few items played, including a laser, he Junk Hunts again continuing his sweep through his deck setting multiple Darkrais.

        Fal ling behind even more on board position, I have to go aggro and steal a win in the next few turns. I have a DCE, Energy Switch and a Skyla in my hand. I can prepare a Bouffalant and grab a laser for the KO but it’s so easy for him to KO me back (no Bouffer with Garbo in play) that I am forced to go with another option: I grab an Ultra Ball with the Skyla for my Mewtwo, attach the DCE, switch the Darkness Energy on Bouffalant onto him a KO his Sableye. This play, while safe, gives me no good return blow on the incoming Darkrai since I stripped my Bouffalant naked of its energy and have no remaining DCE's in hand. However, he opts to soften up my Mewtwo dropping Virbank and shooting a Laser putting it to sleep and finishes his turn grabbing his laser and another item back with the second Sableye.

        Fortunately, I woke up. I take down Virbank with my Frozen City to keep the laser damage at a minimum at to spread some on his field. After finally getting some Dark Patches going, I KO the final Sableye. Now it's time for the smack down of the big boys!

        He brings forth his Absol with an energy and a Dark Claw and attaches the second energy (enabling my Darkrai to revenge KO thanks to

Frozen City) and takes the two prizes. I start to get a second Darkrai ready and Night Spear targeting one of his two Darkrais for the 30 extra damage. He Night Spears me back taking a chunk of Bouffs HP but I'm ok with it because I send it to the active spot. I put down my own Virbank and equip Bouff with Bangle and switch an energy onto him before N'ing him down to only two cards. I miss the laser but still deal 150 damage putting him  in Night Spear snipping range.

        With only one viable option, he puts his less damaged Darkrai active. It has 50 damage (20 from Frozen City, 30 from the snipe) and he has to attach again adding it to 70 to be able to Night Spear and leave me with two Darkrais with not enough energy.

        I look at my hand: Energy Switch, Downsing Machine and a third card. I see the victory, I'll be able to get a laser with Downsing, switch an energy and attack for four prizes. He only has two cards, after he grabs he fifth prize victory will e mine!

        Well, not yet...

        After thinking for a bit he plays N giving me, you guessed it, nothing. He goes to one prize and hopes for the best as I promote a Darkrai.

        I get the laser but am an energy short! I laser trying to stall and N him to one card only. However, Darkrai does not remain asleep.

        That was the only opportunity to steal that game. After two attacks he manages to take the last prize.



Game 2


        After mulliganing three times I start with Bouffalant facing a Trubbish. In my hand I have two Darkness Energy and two Dark Patch but no Ultra Ball to get a sick start. I draw a Darkrai, attach to Bouff, play a N, bench another Bouff and pass.

        He successfully catches my benched Bouff which slows me down but it’s not a game changing play so I'm glad one Catcher is gone. It does buy him a turn as I only bench a Mewtwo and a energy before passing back.

        Now he speeds up the pace of the game. After retreating Trubbish thanks to a Float Stone and evolving to Garbodor, Marco manages score a KO with a Dark Claw a hits Mewtwo for 30.

        I have a Bouffalant to respond but with no Silver Bangle or LaserBank combo I can't do the magic 180. However, Gold Breaker for 120 and

a Double Colorless Energy in hand for Mewtwo are enough to deal with the big threat. He doesn't play N so that's exactly what happens.

        Sableye is up. He lasers me fipping heads but Mewtwo, being the best one-of card ever, wakes up right away!

        I drop Frozen City before taking my third prize to get some extra damage going but its immediately countered by his Virbank City Gym. Now Mewtwo has enough damage to fall before his Absol. He plays N and attacks.

        Its three prizes to two and things are not looking good for my side. I am forced to play the laser game and star Junk Hunting but my Darkrai gets Catchered and a Laser put him to sleep. I flip tails and his Darkrai defeats mine with the final Night Spear.



Result: Loss - 0/1


        Ok, that did not go well.

        Again, normally this sort of thing would not be done on a report. It would be done at home or with your testing group but let’s analyze the performance of my deck after this round:


What did correspond to theory:


This build is much more aggressive than other Darkrai Builds: Bouffalant is just unfair. The fact that we have DCE's and Silver Bangles enable us to get more damage out at faster pace. Mewtwo also scores KO's out of nowhere with just two energy and destroys Sableyes.
Frozen City helps getting OHKO's: an aggressive deck can benefit highly from a few extra damage counters on the opponent's Pokémon. This stadium does just that.

What didn't correspond to theory:


Skyla doesn't work on a Darkrai deck: Skyla was on the list to get that Dark Patch or Energy Switch needed. It's a way to get the final piece of the puzzle when making a play. However, this deck does not need one piece, it needs several. While other decks like Virizion variants, Blastoise and even Plasma often need just one specific card to any given situation, Darkrai always need to draw several cards to get something done. Anything that draws cards is better than Skyla in this deck.
Not enough supporters: I was able to put much pressure on both games due to the pure concept of the deck. When it comes to the build itself, the deck is just slow and inconsistent. Darkrai cannot have static hands, i.e. having its flow of card drawing and item card playing stopped for a turn. That's what let my opponent have a better setup and board position en both games.

What we learned:


Bicycle is needed: it's a reliable card draw resource thanks to Junk Hunt.

        So this build doesn't work as it should... It is very common to be fail to see the most obvious mistakes on a list when you don't put them to practice. While some things we can deduce thanks to previous experience, we never know how things will work out in each case. My list's supporter line is an example. Let's proceed.


Round 2 - v.s. Rui Alves - Plasma


        Rui has been away from the game and only recently came back. This is his first tournament since he decided to come back to the game.

I know his going to play Plasma since I helped him build his deck and has been practicing and studying the format for a while. Let's see how it goes...


Game 1


        This game was simple. I started putting pressure with Darkrai early on sniping his Kyurem for 30 ro put it in KO range for Mewtwo. He takes the bait and loads another Deoxys instead of the second Kyurem before KO'ing my Darkrai but I hammer away its energy, N him down to four and EX-Ball. As expected, he can't load Deoxys again and goes for Raiden Knuckle charging it up again.

        I retreat my Mewtwo with a Darkness Energy and Night Spear twice KO'ing a second Kyurem with the second one (thanks to a Laser) and finish his thundurus with Gold Breaker. He has a Thundurus with 30 damage and a Deoxys fully charged. If he Raiden Knuckles to load energy onto another attacker I win with Gold Breaker for 150. If he goes for Helix Force for the KO I win with EX-Ball. The game was over.



Game 2


        And now the deck shuts down... I cannot set-up so I Skyla for Enhanced Hammer and try to slow him down. However, two Thundurus put a stop to my plan and I start to see Kyurems getting ready to wreck my field. This is not looking good!

        I don't like to go with this stalling strategy but I have to. I fill his board with damage with Lasers but lose my three Sableyes and a  Boufallant in the process. I got him to play all four Lasers ans get ready to come back after N'ing him and going for Night Spear for two prizes. Unfortunately he draws a Skyla and gets Downsing Machine for a fifth Laser and with a Bangle on Kyurem he OHKO's my Darkrai with his last Kyurem carrying the last three energy he has. So close...



        That last game took a while so we go to Sudden Death. This should end on a tie but since the software was not accepting ties we had to play the old way.




        I start with a Mewtwo facing a Thundurus and attach a DCE. I want o speed up the game and get ready to lock the game with N next turn.

        As soon as his turn starts he goes "Wouldn't it be awesome to go for Helix Force?" but come on, he needs Deoxys, Colress Machine, Prism Energy and a Float Stone. That's too many cards!

        To my relief, he only gets the Deoxys, nothing more. I get a Darkness Energy and a Darkrai to retreat Mewtwo and I prevent him setting up with hammers. He doesn't draw anything and I get enough energy for a KO in a few turns.



Result - Win - 1/1


        What have we learned? Deck is slow. Having the same conclusions as the last game, there's no need of a graph.


Round 3 - v.s. João Brás - Blastoise


        Brás is highly praised for his lists. A fan "straight to the point" way of deckbuilding, you can expect no techs but a lot of consistency from his decks.

        He rarely makes mistakes and thinks over every play but plays really slow so winning the first game it's a must.


Game 1


        My Darkrai faces down his Keldeo. He Ultra Ball's for a Squirtle but doesn't get a Tropical Beach before passing the turn. I get Boufalant but can't make it attack immediately and get my Silver Bangle discarded with his Tool Scrapper.

        I try to make a Frozen City stick into play but two Tropical beaches take care of that as he struggles to get a Blastoise up. After a Colress he benches a second Squirtle and fills up his hand with beach. My decks stops, again. I offer my Sableye as I take advantage of his Tropical Beach.

        Blastoise comes up and so does a Black Kyurem EX. He then proceeds to a Black Ballista on my poor Sableye (talk about overkill) and attempt to return the blow with a Frozen City and a Gold Breaker for 150 with Bangle.

        At this time he finally reveals that his Blastoise list is longer running Computer Search: he returns the big monster with a Scoop Up Cyclone and KO's Bouff with a Keldeo.

        At least Frozen City enabled me to return the KO with a Darkrai but it would soon meet another blast from Kyurem now with no damage thanks to another Tropical Beach destroying my city.

        I rush through my deck to retaliate before getting trampled by his constant KO's. I'm able to deal 150 more damage but another Keldeo comes up. I get a Darkrai Night Spearing but his Mr.Mime stops me from taking his Kyurem from the bench. My deck is getting thin, I have to act fast.

        I decide to try to lock a Frozen City in play via Downsing Machine and get my third Bouffalant ready. After that my goal is to play Virbank, attack for 180 on the upcoming Keldeo and with the two extra prizes play N to get two cards into my deck and win the game after two Gold Breakers. He finds his forth Beach, the Virbank will be the last Stadium standing! However, an N leaves a but short on the resources I need and I'm only to deal only 150 damage. His Keldeo does not go down and wins him the game.



Game 2


        I don't remember much from this game. I know that I started putting pressure with Frozen City and Bouffalant he kept retreating and even used his Scoop Up Cyclone to heal off a Gold Breaker. We had a stadium war that I was able to win thanks to Sableye but it didn't accomplish much due to his Mr.Mime keeping his benched Pokémon safe from Darkai.

        Time is running out, I rush the game and pick up my pace trying to get as many turns of Night Spears and Gold Breakers that he can't deal with.

        End of time. Three Turns.

        I have only one prize. ONE. He has his four. Frozen City is locked in play, he can't attack nor can he Rush In and Retreat. All of his benched Pokémon are soaked with damage! That dreaded Mr. Mime is the bane of my existence!

        He sends his last undamaged Pokémon to the active spot: Blastoise. He can't even attach energy so he's forced to pass.

        I respond with a Laser and Night Spear. He plays N and hopes for the best.

        Dramatically drawing his cards he lets out a sigh of relief when his eyes met the only card in his deck that could saved him: Keldeo EX!

        With my Virbank on the discard pile and no time to Junk Hunt for it, I cannot OHKO it and the lasts turns end with me one attack short from the win.



Result - Loss - 1/2


        I was the favorite for Sudden Death but none of that matters now, he won. Like I said, it's very important to win this first game against Brás.

        I have to admit, the lack of Catcher does make Blastoise a lot more resilient against Darkrai. It's a tough matchup.

        Well, I'm out of top cut. Might as well recap what we got from this match:


What did correspond to theory:


Bouffalant still proves to be a force to be reckon with: it deals too much damage for just one prize. That is pure advantage over our opponent.

Frozen City can lock them: with all the damage pilling up, Frozen City almost stops them from playing energy.

What didn't correspond to theory:


Two Frozen City and a Downsing Machine are not enough to lock the stadium into play: it ends up being a waste of time Junk Hunting for  them. It's better to invest on Virbank wich can act on the turn it enter play than to try it with Frozen City wich is countered before doing anything.

What we learned:


Catcher is worth a try: the bench is safe. What better way to steal a win that to deny out opponent of that protection?

Mr. Mime is a bigger factor than expected: with Tropical Beach denying our stadiums, Gold Breaker often deals 150 and that Pokémon gets right away to the bench denying the KO. With no Night Spear damage to finish the job, the Blastoise player can almost erase the fact that damage was ever dealt.

         Like the first round, a close game but the just isn't fluid enough. Lesson learned.


Round 4 - v.s. ??? - Charizard


        He had a cool deck with Charizard, Silver Bangle and Celebi EX but it's just a fun deck. It was a easy win.

        With easy wins we learn nothing valuable. We learn much more from our losses than our wins therefore there is no graph to be made after this quick match.


Result - Win - 2/2


Round 5 - v.s. Óscar Batalha - Flareon


        I've known Óscar for a long time. He is really enthusiastic for the game and always loves the wackiest deck in the format. It’s no surprise he's playing Flareon this time.

        He's piloting a deck I just can't respect. It just seems to have no particularly any strategy at all!

        Leave it to the self-proclaimed "drawskill master" to get the most of a deck that is basically a pile of answer for specific situations.


        My memory is fuzzy about this match. In both games I stopped for a few turns to set up giving him an opportunity to get counter ready.

The unfair prize exchange (one for me, two for him) got him both wins even though I got down to one prize on both.


Result - Loss - 2/3


        The faulty consistency played a part on this game as well but one thing I learned is that an extra Mewtwo would be great in this matchup.

        Truth be told, my boy Mewtwo was a great asset during the whole tournament. That singleton was like a mascot which is funny since it’s my favorite Pokémon.


To conclude this part:


        Ok, so this was a missed opportunity. We, in Portugal, only have a few tournaments to get the 500 points, not top cutting is really bad for me. Well, sometimes it happens.


        Has we saw, making mental notes of every match you play will help us improve your deck until it gets as close as possible to perfection.

        The first step is always the concept, the theory. But without testing your theories there's is a lot of room for error.

Regardless of how good you are as a player, your deck can hinder your run or make your path easier. Knowing what to play and how to build your list for a specific tournament is the more important thing for a competitive player.


        Next time I'll talk about success cases and what's in the mind of the top players when they prepare to win major tournaments. Also, I'll cover how the same top player with the same perfect deck list can perform well on a tournament and bad on another. Metagames vary, a lot.


Please don't forget to give me your feedback. I'm just starting and I aim to improve.


 Until next time, have fun!

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