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John Kettler

Out, but Not Counted Out: Staying Involved When Inactive, and a State Tournament Report

04/25/2016 by John Kettler

Introduction

Today, I'd like to outline a bit about my limited, yet striking experiences both observing and playing in State Championships. We can mostly say this article is about thought process: How to be active even while an absentee player; how to make the most out of a single event; and how to let several weeks of tournaments unfold in a way that's advantageous to you. I start with some crazy ideas, get even crazier, and then settle on a final deck that is all-too familiar (YGZ), but still incorporates many of the previously good ideas.

Watching from the Sidelines

Due to work, I couldn't make the first three weekends of States. Obviously it's disadvantageous not to be able to play in as many tournaments as you can, but the benefit is that with only one shot to get points at the end of the series, you can maximize your results.

Thanks to online testing, it was clear that Night March with Puzzle of Time would be a top contender. As the season went on, however, I was surprised at how little it seemed people were doing to stop it. Why is this deck dominating so much when a card exists -- Jolteon EX -- that flat-out counters basic-based decks?

But then it hit me: Jolteon had won. Wins like Jose Marrero's with Rayquaza/Jolteon were a bit under the radar relative to the Night March swarm, but the fact remained that it was a solid way to win. The only issue was getting it into play...so I decided to try a weird variant a couple of my friends here in Texas had brainstormed previously: Aromatisse with tech attackers.

Table of contents

Pokémon (19):

3 Spritzee BKT
3 Aromatisse XY
2 Xerneas XY
2 Sylveon EX
2 Shaymin EX
1 Lugia EX
1 Malamar EX
1 Sceptile EX
1 Jolteon EX
1 Regirock AOR
1 Jirachi PR
1 Bunnelby PRC

Trainers (30):

4 Pokémon Fan Club
3 Professor Sycamore
1 Judge
1 Shauna
1 AZ
1 Lysandre
1 Xerosic
4 Ultra Ball
4 VS Seeker
3 Fighting Fury Belt
2 Float Stone
1 Super Rod
4 Fairy Garden


Energy (11):

7 Fairy
4 Rainbow

The strategy was a rehashed concept from a couple seasons ago, utilizing Aromatisse's Fairy Transfer to juggle basic attackers. It's a great deck, but in the key matchup I needed it to win against -- Night March -- I found that I was still losing...and with Jolteon! I simply could not keep up.

Thinking More about Night March

For fun I posed to the members of the Pokémon Facebook group "Virbank City" a simple, open-ended question: How do we handle Night March? Many of the contributors suggested some surprisingly good ideas, but props to long-term Pokémon veteran Tyler Ninomura for possibly the most comprehensive, concise list of Night March counters to date:

 Item Lock:

Trevenant XY
Vileplume AOR
Seismitoad EX FUF

Anti-Basic Pokémon:
Jolteon EX GEN
Pyroar FLF
Trevenant BKP

Anti-Double Colorless Energy:

Jirachi XYP
Giratina EX AOR
Aegislash EX PHF
Enhanced Hammer
Xerosic
Team Flare Grunt

Mass Spread/Ability Damage:
Crobat PHF/Golbat PHF
Forretress FLF
Trevenant BREAK
Noivern FUF

Damage Reduction/HP Buffing:
Floette FLF (Grass Pokémon)
Aurorus FUF
Hard Charm
Assault Vest
Fighting Fury Belt

Although this was an excellent list, the proof of Night March's present place in the metagame is how easily it dismantles nearly everything on here. While many of us trying to counter Night March thought of the counter options in these terms (item lock, energy discard, HP buff, etc.), Night March players only had to think of them all in one simple way:

"Do the normal inclusions in my Night March list address the counter?"

Under almost all cases, the answer is a resounding "yes." For Abilities, you have Hex Maniac; for tools in almost all circumstances short of Pokémon with Omega Barrier, you have Startling Megaphone and Xerosic; and for energy discarding, you have Puzzle of time. Perhaps its only sore spot from this comprehensive yet limited picture of dealing with Night March are good attacks that hit multiple targets, but even then some careful playing and well-timed Puzzle of Time plays can be huge.

So what of the attacks? These are in retrospect to the whole State Championship portion of the season what I think players were missing: Night March may have powerful attacks, but so do many other decks.

Last-Second Ideas, Returning to an Old Favorite, and Tournament Report

After some serious consideration, I decided to travel to the State of Louisiana for their annual State Championship. The night before the tournament, I was still hungry to test, as well as for an easy Night March win. Despite my bad results with a tech Jolteon, the natural returning point was again Flash Ray. So I then took the remnants of my partially dismantled YGZ, removed Yveltals and Zoroarks, and -- among other things -- stuck Jolteon EXs, Hoopa EX, and Max Elixirs into the list. The result was...mixed. On the one hand, I could actually beat Night March in a single game; on the other hand, said win required not only extremely bad luck on my opponent's part (his last card in the deck being a Target Whistle), but a few misplays. Was this the best anything short of a ridiculous quad Jolteon deck could do?

At that point, I scared myself out of the Jolteon nonsense...only to play the same deck I had used for virtually all of League Challenges and City Championships: Yveltal. In both Standard and Expanded, Yveltal remains the most versatile, strategy-rich deck, giving you an assortment of excellent attackers to handle almost any situation. And in a metagame both with Night March and an endless variety of Night March counters, a toolbox is just what I needed...

Table of contents

Pokémon (16):

3 Yveltal XY
1 Yveltal BKT
2 Yveltal EX
2 Zorua BKT 79 (confusion)
2 Zoroark BKT 81
2 Gallade BKT
2 Shaymin-EX
1 Jirachi PR
1 Bunnelby PRC

Trainers (34):

4 Battle Compressor
4 Puzzle of Time
4 VS Seeker
4 Ultra Ball
3 Tainers' Mail
2 Float Stone
2 Muscle Band
1 Super Rod
2 Professor Sycamore
2 Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick
1 AZ
1 Judge
1 Hex Maniac
1 Lysandre
1 Xerosic
1 Reverse Valley

Energy (10):

6 Darkness
4 Double Colorless

Table of contents

Many of the same principles behind this list were utilized during City Championships, and can be found better discussed in my previous article for 60cards. The big differences now are critical tweaks to handle the latest iteration of the metagame.

-First, Puzzle of Time is such a great way not just for Night March to maintain its resources, but Yveltal as well. I don't see the odds of a turn one Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick with Gallade to be that much better because the benefits of drawing into two are not outweighed by the hindrance of running four more cards that don't draw you more cards. Nevertheless, they help every aspect of the deck.

-I had wavered on using Fright Night Yveltal in the past, but in a format with Fighting Fury Belt and Burst Balloon rampant, not to mention a very vulnerable Vileplume setup in Vespiquen/Vileplume, I deemed its inclusion to be necessary.

-Bunnelby is a stranger inclusion, but it helps in many situational ways. First, it serves as a tertiary way (after Super Rod and Puzzle of Time) to shuffle in Pokémon-EX so that you don't lose to decks Target Whistling Shaymin EX for easy prizes. Second, it helps conserve resources in a method not requiring items -- meaning you can use it even while dealing with Item lock from Seismitoad EX or Trevenant. Thirdly, and perhaps most interestingly, it supplements your more passive tactics. For example, if a game plan revolves heavily around using Jirachi's Stardust to wear down resources, Bunnelby can pile on top of that by discarding cards from the opponent's deck once Jirachi can Stardust no longer.

-Reverse Valley became the new Stadium of choice over Parallel City. Made mostly as a metagame decision, I thought that the occasional extra damage would serve me better than bench limiting, especially since I did not anticipate much Rayquaza or Raichu.


Other than those four key choices, the list is pretty straightforward YGZ. Consistency felt mildly lacking at times, but cutting the Bunnelby and/or the Reverse Valley would likely solve any issues you might have otherwise. For grinding smaller tournaments, a much more reliable build would subtract those two cards and include a fourth Trainers' Mail, as well as a third Professor Sycamore.


So what about the tournament itself? With over 100 Master division players, we had enough for seven rounds and a cut to top eight. Not as long as a Regional in the United States, but still very respectable for a smaller southern state.

Round one: VS Lucario EX/Crobat

Many of my games during Cities were close contests between Yveltal and Lucario. Yet despite how much had changed since my last big tournament, including the rise of Night March and Trevenant, here I was again against one of the most popular decks of Cities.

Game one gave me a perfect chance to approach the matchup as I generally want to, which is to use small attacks with Oblivion Wing to both set up my Yveltal EX to hit big later, as well as bypass any Focus Sashes. For the most part, it worked beautifully: She would bring up a Lucario; it would get hit for 30-60; and then I could finish it off in the subsequent turn without Yveltal EX getting knocked out. After dealing comfortably with a couple basics and her first Lucario, I just needed to apply some late-game pressure with Fright Night Yveltal to finish her off, handling both the active second Lucario and the benched Shaymin EX

The problem? She started hitting critical Super Scoop Up Heads. These important flips got her back into the game, and I began to feel some serious pressure myself. Fortunately, Puzzle of Time combined with Super Rod assures that I can maintain a heavy amount of resources into the late game, so despite a flurry of surprise healing, Enhanced Hammers, and more, I carried a battered, bruised Yveltal EX into an Evil Ball to seal the game.

Game two was a disaster, having no available draw with my lone Shaymin start to answer her turn two Lucario EX using Corkscrew Punch for 120. I was promptly benched around turn four.

Game three, we both understood that an early tie would cause lots of problems, meaning we had incentive to keep up the pace. Fortunately, I was able to get out to an early lead with Yveltal EX aggression. She then began to play to force the tie, making it as hard to knock out Pokémon as possible. But for every Focus Sash, there was Xerosic. For every remotely-energized Pokémon, there was an Yveltal EX ready to Evil Ball; and for every strangely unpowered Pokémon, there was just the right combination between Muscle Band and Reverse Valley to help me reach the exact amount I needed.

 

(1-0)

Round two: VS Greninja

Game one I had the right card combination to trigger a turn one Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick, which is valuable in winning this matchup. Gallade is by a wide margin the best attacker against Greninja with YGZ, and with Hex Maniac, it gets only better since they have no reasonable way to one-shot you in return. I promptly benched him within a few turns.

Game two was substantially closer. I got off early Hex Maniac plays to lock him out of the Water Shuriken Abilities, as well as a sick turn one 60 Oblivion Wing on a Froakie thanks to Puzzle of Time hijinks with Battle Compressor, Muscle Band, and Reverse Valley. However, I still could not get out Gallade, which meant my next best alternative was to transition into attacking aggressively with Yveltal EX along with Hex Maniac drops. The Evil Ball/Hex Maniac combination worked, but I knew it would not last forever, so I took the time to make sure I could move into another Yveltal EX.

 

Eventually the lock broke, and despite being several prizes ahead, my opponent caught up within a couple turns. THAT is the power of an unchecked Greninja, which is why Hex Maniac is so important in nearly every deck right now – especially Yveltal! But thanks to planning ahead, he could not make up the deficit, and I won a close match on prizes.

 

(2-0)

Round Three: VS Manectric EX/Crobat

Best described, these three games can be well-summarized by saying we traded turns having bad hands. My first game started with a combination of four Yveltal and no Supporters or Shaymin EX outs within the first few turns; his hand in the second game was much the same. The third game was quite possibly the exception, but my Gallade made a close final game a lot easier.

(3-0)

Round Four: VS Night March

Rounds four and five in this tournament were very satisfying. Despite YGZ not having changed much, the games proved that even a relatively normal list such as this one had all the tools necessary to win even close contests. Night March's attackers are too small to survive prolonged hits, Fright Night shutting off their tools, and easy kills against Shaymin EX. If nothing else, the Super Rod/Puzzles/Bunnelby/Jirachi combination assured that I would not stand much of a chance of giving away free Pokémon-EX prizes myself, and that I could play a much longer game than nearly any Night March list was capable of doing against me.

Both games in this first match were a perfect applications for the theory. I took the first knockout in the game that I could, discarded Double Colorless Energy cards through Jirachi and Xerosic when I could not get a knockout, and knocked out Shaymin EX both times in order to win each game. There was even an amusing moment in the first game, where the turn after I used Puzzle of Time just to get back a Shaymin EX to avoid a Target Whistle knockout, my opponent. Maybe with slightly worse starts I would've lost or tied, but I won the first game by 6-5 prizes (how I normally think it should go), and the second by 6-4 prizes. Definitely a close, fun series every time that I play it, but the next match would not go so perfectly...

(4-0)

Round Five: VS Night March

Game one: Whereas the previous match was defined by perfect application of theory, I only won the first game through serious fluke. My start was bad enough to require benching multiple Shaymins without having an immediate answer (AZ, Sky Return) to take it off of the bench. However, the rest of the tricks in my list, such as Jirachi and Fright Night Yveltal, all came into play, and kept me even. Because of some bad draws, he couldn't seem to Lysandre up my Shaymin EXs, and even had to lose Puzzle of Time pieces for unlucky things such as Sycamore to meet requirements for knockouts.

But then, something surreal happened:

He ran out of attackers, and Buddy-Buddy Rescue was stuck in his prizes.

What would have been a surefire win on his end, ending up the opposite way of the last series, became my game to lose. But my opponent, with no attackers and a single Double Colorless Energy, began juggling Sky Returns with Fighting Fury Belt so as to build up damage, hope he knocked something out, and then got the game with Lysandre. However, this was more a hope than anything realistic, so the result became a quickly dwindling clock, and me winning the game after about 35 minutes.

Game two: The next 15 minutes were anti-climactic. Even with slightly elevated pace of playing, this game would not end in time to give us a draw To make matters worse for him, my mediocre hand became perfect to keep myself alive: Bunnelby's Rototiller assured that I would have zero EXs available to Target Whistle, and Jirachi could Stardust Double Colorless Energy and threaten walling for an entire turn unopposed.

This second series against the Night March matchup was a luckier win than my first match against it, but it was still a well-earned win. I was now the last-standing undefeated with zero ties.

Round Six: VS Seismitoad/Giratina/Slowking

Generalizing the matchup between ToadTina and Yveltal, you can usually win with YGZ using one of two methods: outmuscling them, or using the secondary Pokémon in your list to win a long, drawn-out spamming of Jirachi and Stardust. The method you choose to rely on depends heavily on both players' opening hands and board states. By virtue of Crushing Hammer and Super Scoop Up flips, as well as both players using Puzzle of Time, nothing is guaranteed, and it can become very hilarious, very quickly.

The first game, I opted for the secondary strategy, and for the first half of the game it worked beautifully: I deprived him of several energy drops, as well as many prizes. However, as we mentioned above, his Crushing Hammer flips began to catch up with me, and so finding the energy to remove his energy...became far more difficult. About the final miss came when I used Professor Sycamore to draw zero energy out of seven cards. Eventually the strategy cracked, and he overwhelmed me pretty quickly.

The second game became a perfect example of the first strategy. Crushing Hammer flips make it so you can't charge immediately with Yveltal EX, but with what little time I had left, Oblivion Wing on the non-EX Yveltal helped me set up an Evil Ball that rightfully wrecked three Pokémon-EX very quickly, securing me the tie just in time for the +3 turns.

(5-0-1)

 

Round Seven: VS Seismitoad/Hammers (intentional draw)


As far as I understand, this was simply a pure Seismitoad deck with nothing but Seismitoad-themed support (Hammers at the forefront, but also Red Card, Head Ringers, among others). I didn't get to learn much more than that, though, because we intentionally drew to get an early dinner.

(5-0-2)

 

Doing this secured me the top seed, and I would find myself playing against...

Top Eight: VS Vespiquen/Vileplume

Normally this is a good matchup, especially with all of my auxiliary attackers, Fright Night Yveltal disrupting their normal game plan, and Jirachi Stardust.

 However, that's the normal game plan I enjoyed the normal game plan for the second game, but the first and third games were anti-climactic annihilations: for game one, a bunch of basics staring down turn one Item lock with him going first; and for game three, an entirely unplayable hand with lone Zorua.

Conclusion

It was a little disappointing not to turn my first seed into a first place, but I walked away with a nice addition to my Worlds points, and some motivation to attend more larger-scale tournaments. It was also some much-needed evidence that you can be out of the game for a while, but never really counted out if you stay on top of developments. That’s why sites like 60cards.net are so important!

 

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