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Sami Sekkoum

Become Legendary #2 - Blockading, and Deck-building.

Exeggutor. I can honestly say that I have rarely, if ever played a deck that felt so…unreasonable?

04/10/2015 by Sami Sekkoum

Let me start by saying that I’m going to be writing a new little segment alongside the ‘Become Legendary’ series on 60cards. It’s going to be called ‘Sami’s daily Musings’, though it should perhaps more accurately be ‘semi-daily musings’, as it won’t be every day (though that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). It’ll be random thoughts about the Pokemon TCG - decks, recent tournament experiences, and card choices/ideas I’ve seen online. They won’t be a great deal of length, but will still be filled with information - and you’ll be able to follow my thought process when finalizing deck lists or making deck choices for events. This tournament report should be a good indication of what to expect, as I typically dislike writing reports - and will likely end up moving toward putting most in the form of my new series.

I played in Yeovil Regionals this weekend, piloting an Exeggutor deck to a 4-1-1 Swiss finish before conceding to a friend in Top 8. The majority of my car trip was spent rambling about how little fun I’d had at Pokemon events recently, but when asked why that was? I found it difficult to sum up. Part of it felt as though it was because I had played for so long? Though, the realization that the tournament scene itself had gotten much more competitive was probably a huge factor too. Who doesn’t like winning? I certainly enjoy playing Pokemon, just more-so when I’m on the friendlier side of variance. My tournament results this year had been pretty poor, having found myself on the bad end of a pretty sick run of cards - which was okay because it meant I got to play more Resistance at events! You really have to just take bad streaks in your stride - I know that I for one, have been insanely lucky in the past to have chalked up as many wins as I have, or even to have been granted the opportunity to play in an era that was nowhere near as tough as it is currently. Any more success I have from this point forward, I am totally grateful for - with the acceptance that I’m certainly due a run of misfortune at some point.

I was sleeving up my Yveltal EX’s the night before the tournament, when it hit me. I am sick and tired of saying Y-Cyclone. I am sick  and tired of counting Evil ball energy, and I am sick and tired of playing this deck. I wasn’t enjoying Pokemon tournaments (at least partially) because they weren’t presenting me with anything new. I wasn’t learning anything new at them, and my opponents were able to easily navigate games against a deck that was an entirely known entity. Sure, there had been many iterations of Yveltal EX decks since its release, but they were largely quite similar - also i’d played them all. People know what to expect when playing against these decks, and I didn’t think they were powerful enough, or well positioned enough to justify entering another tournament with a weapon everyone had access to. 

Enter Exeggutor. I can honestly say that I have rarely, if ever played a deck that felt so…unreasonable? The closest feeling I’ve had when playing decks that presented similar control, are probably the Mew-Lock deck in 2006, and Vileplume/Gengar/Spiritomb in 2011. They are decks that are rare in design, and can feel unbeatable when running at even average capacity. 

I tried building Exeggutor/Genesect a long, long time ago after hearing from Takuya Yoneda that the deck was strong. Red Card had just been printed, and we all thought the sky was on the verge of collapse. However, it was also at a time in which Virizion/Genesect decks were at the height of their popularity - a very tough matchup. Tropical Beach was also still legal - another card that was very tough to beat. So the Exeggutor deck found itself reserved to PTCGO casual games and a life of mediocrity.                                                                                                                                 
Enter Battle Compressor, Lysandre’s Trump card and Jason Klaczynski. In January, Jason messages me the following:

"How is Exeggutor not a monster deck? No deck can function without Supporters. What if we copied the Seismitoad/Slurpuff Trump card strategy, but with Exeggutor? We have access to all of our cards again, but they don't, since they can't play supporters. Instead of Slurpuff, we could use Delphox or Magnezone. Delphox, however, could be a fire-type attacker to counter both V/G and Metal Decks. Discuss."

The idea is quickly dismissed by everyone in our testing group, since players had tried Exeggutor in the past, always to no avail. Though, our skepticism was well founded by the fact that he’d previously been testing a Stoutland/Palkia EX deck on PTCGO, which, I’ll politely describe as ‘unplayable’ - even though there are a wide array of words I think are more accurate. Yet, after playing the deck extensively on PTCGO, insists he is on to something. It's not until Archie's & Empoleon debut that he vehemently insists he has the best deck in the format, cutting Delphox in favor of Archie's & Empoleon, while also saving spots that allow room for a variety of supporters and useful Pokémon like Dragalge. After seeing Jason T8 at the Illinois State Championship with Exeggutor, I finally give in and begin playing the deck.

 Jason is almost solely responsible for the list I played, with my decision to change a few cards that I thought seemed a little out of place for my area. I think he may have created one of the coolest and most powerful decks of all time; with those yet to play the deck totally oblivious to it. Anyone who has been Blockade locked? He’s the awful person responsible for doing this to you! 

An important thing to note, and the reason I changed the original list sent to me, is I’ll often choose to play cards that do things a little worse then another card - if they are a little more versatile or better positioned. An example being Startling Megaphone vs Xerosic. When you want Startling megaphone in a situation? Xerosic feels extremely awkward, clunky, and a lot less powerful - but when you want Xerosic and have Startling Megaphone? It can be the difference between a win and a loss. With Seismitoad ex being as prominent as it is, and this deck feeling like it can beat anything if able to actually play its cards - Xerosic was a snap inclusion. 

I was running late to the event, still unsure on what to play and had both Yveltal and Exeggutor in my bag. One of the things that annoys me most about tournaments is having to fill out deck-lists, so I called my friend Luke who was at the venue, who graciously offered to fill one out for me. He said he would only do so if I played Exeggutor. He did, and so I did.

My only issue with this deck is that I didn't utilize a card that I think is criminally underplayed - and one of my current favorites. Acro Bike! I love seeing cards, having more options, and thinning things that aren’t absolutely essential - and Acro Bike does all of these in one card. The issue of course being space - with Acro Bike being another dead card against a deck that can cause us problems in Seismitoad EX/Slurpluff, it can also just be a liability.

Since playing this event, I’ve come across another list I quite like. This deck was piloted by Brit Pybas to a first place finish at the Arkansas State Championships. It doesn’t have as many answers as mine, but is certainly a little more consistent. I’m definitely a fan.

I think the deck absolutely wants a way of beating Landorus EX’s Hammerhead - with Mr Mime being close to staple. The matchup hinges on that card alone, and you’re taking what is generally a pretty good matchup and making it close to un-winnable for one spot in your deck. I guess if you expected the deck not to show up in great numbers you could justify cutting it? Though, its probably still popular enough to warrant Mime’s inclusion, I think. A means of dealing with Keldeo/Float Stone is also pretty important. Whether its Dragalge, or just running a Startling Megaphone/Xerosic. I don’t think you can accept weakening your Landorus EX matchup,  and then the decks that also run Keldeo EX/Float Stone, too.

Jirachi EX #2 is also staple. I think you’d play a third before just the solitary copy, even.

The random water energy is...well, pretty random. You should almost never announce an attack that isn’t Blockade - unless its a game winning Stomp or Megalo Cannon. For all intensive purposes, your Pokemon’s attacks only read ‘Blockade’. -1 Water +1 Grass. OR just +1 non-energy card.

What Brit’s list gains in consistency, it loses in tricks vs Seismitoad decks. Munna is able to break Quaking Punch at some point in the matchup, and once it happens? The floodgates open, and the matchup becomes extremely difficult to lose. With one less Jirachi EX, he may not be able to apply enough pressure on their Double Colourless energy. Another Xerosic or TFG may be useful as guaranteed energy removal.

A card I could never see myself cutting is Town Map. I initially thought it was surplus to requirements, with many of our cards in the threes and fours, meaning it was unlikely we’d prize anything crucial. On Jason’s advice I kept it though, and boy was he right. The deck really cannot function if your Lysandre’s Trump card is prized, and being able to sequence what you draw from your prizes is also a cool added bonus.   

Cutting the Munna from the list is cool because I think it allows us to cut AZ, too. AZ was a subtle insurance policy for situations in which we open Munna, but was also just our quasi-switch card. Also allows the reuse of Jirachi EX, or to pick up a Genesect EX and put the Plasma energy in the discard for a Trump card - leading to more Red Signaling down the line.

The things that intrigued me in Brit’s list are (obviously) the Acrobikes - and the fourth grass energy would be greatly welcomed. Though, perhaps four grass is somewhat of a luxury. Unsure. 

My day was pretty straight forward, with a couple of ugly spots resulting in a loss and a tie. I didn’t face any real unique situations worthy of writing about - other than that I found that it’s extremely important to test this deck a lot before an event. There are tons of factors that dictate what to Battle compressor away, and choosing incorrectly is a huge deal - you do not want to spend tournament time trying to figure out some of the more subtle strategies. Especially as Compressor decisions are based on the matchup.

I played a Herbal energy at the event, but would have cut it after round 3. I think the random use of healing 30, is mitigated by the situations where its your only energy and have to attach it before you are damaged, OR the horrendously awkward spots in which you are trying to retreat for a T2 Blockade, but cannot attach it to Mr Mime or Jirachi EX. It’s also more vulnerable to Enhanced Hammer, obviously. On that note, I’d like to reiterate that I would love another Grass energy - I found myself having to preemptively Trump Card after using Red Signal/Sycamore on some energy, wanting to make sure I could keep Blockading.

As soon as I had conceded in Top 8, I knew what I wanted out of the deck, and what I wanted to try. Our discussions on the car journey home were about Soccer, Music, and Food. My mind however was fixated on the deck, and its evolution.

I had a Regionals in Antwerp a week and a half later, and wanted to play the deck again. Let’s take a look at the the list I registered, and how different it is.

Random tip - I typically never play with FA cards, though have made an exception with Trump Card and Archie’s. Being able to find them quickly is important, especially when there are a whole host of things you want to prize check for on turn one of the game. Until you Town Map, of course.

Cutting Empoleon

An aspect of my game that I was only able to fully master pretty late in my playing career, was the ability to appreciate which cards truly mattered, and which didn’t matter enough to warrant inclusion. A card may seem really good, but if it isn’t essential - it has to at-least be in the conversation toward being cut entirely.

I remember my first quasi-epiphany, I was 11 years old. I was playing a fire deck, and really didn’t own many good cards at all. I had very few good draw cards, and ended up just throwing all of my best cards in - ultimately yielding a pretty horrendous deck. It had a thin Typhlosion line in it, and an Umbreon too. I remember thinking...‘why doesn’t everyone play Umbreon in their Arcanine decks?’ - Probably because they didn’t own any, I would snigger to myself whilst reading the flavour text on the card. Umbreon was so powerful, and I am so lucky to have him!

I remember using a Blaine to attach a second fire energy to my Blaine’s Growlithe, and Heat Tackle an Eevee for a KO on turn one at the Super Trainer Showdown. I then evolved into Blaine’s Arcanine and took a prize on each of the next two turns to win the game. It hit me - as good as I thought Umbreon was...It had nothing on Blaines Arcanine. Why am I not building my deck around Blaine’s Arcanine and just trimming everything that doesn’t contribute to this juggernaut strategy? When I got my Umbreon out, he was pretty cool, and even resisted Espeon (which was heavily played) - but I really didn’t need him to win.

I felt as though Empoleon was my Umbreon. A ‘win by more card’ that wasn’t essential to the strategy of the deck. When you were ahead? The card was insanely powerful, closing out games and removing almost any chance at all of a comeback. At Yeovil, I got Empoleon out 4 times all day, and the games were not remotely close when I did. You know what, though? The games didn’t feel remotely close when I didn’t have it out either. Blockade is such an unreasonable effect, that drawing 2 free cards a turn (especially after a Trump card), though being an awesome effect that ‘feels’ broken - isn’t even required to win. Not to mention the liability that Empoleon presents against your bad matchups - Mirror, and Virizion EX/Genesect EX, as you give them an opportunity to have Red Signal break the lock. It’s also very difficult to get down against Seismitoad EX, unless you are able to do so on turn 1 as thinning your hand for Archie’s Ace in the hole becomes almost impossible once Quaking Punched. 

The Exeggutor deck, like most lock-decks, wants to establish itself as early as possible in order to limit the amount of actual interaction its opponents are able to have with it. For this, all we want is to dig a little deeper as early as possible (Acrobike). Empoleon did allow for insane nut draws, though was often just something to be compressed because you never wanted to draw it.

The Empoleon/Archie combo adds another, rather annoying dynamic to the deck.

Couple of simple things you need to know: Jirachi EX can Stellar Guidance for Archie’s Ace in the Hole. Ultra Ball can get Jirachi EX, so essentially also gets Archie’s Ace in the Hole.

VS Seeker can get Archie’s Ace in the Hole once it has been discarded with Battle Compressor. Naturally, if your hand permits, you can Compress:

It’ll often occur that you’ll want to thin Empoleon, with your first or second Battle compressor. The issue revolves around whether we also discard the Archie’s Ace in the Hole, if we have an even number of outs to finding it. It’s a little difficult to calculate this in a timely manner during a tournament, but it becomes extremely important to do so once we justify the inclusion of the combo in the deck.

For example, we’ll start with something simple/common. Lets assume we have access to all 4 VS Seeker in our deck, but none in our hand. Lets also assume we have one Jirachi EX, and 3 Ultra Ball in the deck. Computer Search can locate either side, so is simultaneously an out for both.

We are about to play a Professor Juniper to try and draw a way of playing Archie for Empoleon next turn, though are unsure whether to thin the Archie with the Compressor we have. If there are more outs on either side, it’s likely we should just go with the math and hope to draw the side with the additional outs. Though, what if the math is even - or rather, that context of the game-state doesn’t support it?

What if there are more Ultra Ball in the deck, meaning we should NOT Compressor the Archie according to the math; though, what if in drawing an Ultra Ball, it is likely we would prioritize searching for an Exeggutor anyway? What if the space on our bench is extremely important - needing to prioritize Mr Mime/Munna, Virizion or Genesect? Can we afford to Stellar Guidance for an Empoleon (taking up two bench spaces?). Add to this that I just wanted more draw and filtering in the early turns of the game, and Empoleon had to go. I also worried that some of the better players had figured out how good Exeggutor was, and Empoleon is entirely a liability in mirror due to Red Signal. I played and won most games comfortably the week before, so opted to simply play without it. I did not miss it at all. Similarly, though a few other cards justified positions the week before, I expected an extremely high amount of Seismitoad EX decks, and adjusted accordingly with more Supporter energy removal. Similarly, I made other cuts based on expectation. i.e. no Mr Mime for the anticipated lack of Landorus ex.

Become Legendary - Random tip.

This week however, I did encounter a pretty unique scenario. It was against what I’d now consider one of the worst matchups the Exeggutor deck has. It was game one, and I was playing against a Mega Manectric ex deck, with Keldeo ex, and Rough Seas. I fell behind early, but was finally able to Xerosic a Keldeo EX’s Float Stone and keep the Manectric asleep for a turn. This allowed me enough time to make sure my Exeggutors were not being KO’d. I was finally able to seize control of the game, and all of her energy had been removed with her drawing largely irrelevant cards. The only issue is, a a pair of Keldeo EX (neither Float stoned) alongside Rough Seas were making it incredibly difficult to actually take prizes. Now, I couldn’t break the lock and Stomp the Keldeo EX’s, but also had one Virbank prized so it became difficult to continually counter her stadiums, given I only had access to one of my own.

So I created my best effort of a loop with Battle Compressors and Trump card to redraw my singleton Virbank OR Computer Search. Holding everything that I didn’t want in my deck in my hand. Once Rough Seas was gone, I would compress as much as I possibly could including energy, and supporters in order to be able to repeatedly Acrobike into the cards that mattered. This would have been much easier with Empoleon, for sure.

Once a Virbank would stick, I would take a KO quite quickly on Keldeo EX due to weakness. If she countered the stadium? I would Trump Card and Computer Search for the Virbank. With my opponent unwilling to sacrifice her second Keldeo EX, a Manectric EX was then KO’d. I now had 2 Prize cards remaining. 

In order to avoid this same situation occurring again in game 2, I did something I feel most players would neglect. Something that I spoke about in my first article about context based plays in Pokemon, that to a random bystander may seem like mistakes, but go much deeper in tournament play.

I had a Genesect EX on my bench, and she had a Keldeo EX on hers. I could have attached a Plasma energy and used Red Signal for my last two prizes winning the game immediately. In game 3, I would absolutely not hesitate to do so. Though, in game one, against what seems like an awful matchup, compounded by their ability to apply quick pressure and end a fast game 2? I held the Plasma energy. I held it for almost 20 minutes. I didn’t counter her freshly drawn Rough Seas and let her heal my Blockade every turn. I would Trump card to make it so Mega Manectric EX could not attach energy to her bench from the discard pile, and Blockaded for 10 damage a turn. When she got down to one prize as time had just been called - I Red Signaled and ended the game. I did not allow myself to draw a supporter-less hand and lose a game two, because I appreciated a rare situation. One that prevents me from taking my final prize until I desire to, and one in which my opponent is certainly checkmated, but doesn’t realize it. I eliminated luck entirely.

This deck will afford you a big edge when played correctly, but will also present you with unique scenarios. When you are playing against a deck that cannot put you in any situation to disrupt your win condition, make sure you are fully aware of how you manage the game. If they don’t have Crushing Hammers, or Hypnotoxic Laser - and cannot N/Lysandre through Blockade; you are playing sub-optimally by taking that KO any earlier than I did. 

What to Battle Compressor? 

From this point forward, (in all of my articles) the term ‘Random deck’ will mean something we have little or no information on. Perhaps that we only see Jirachi EX, or Mr Mime as their starter. Sure we could make educated guesses as to what deck may play these given that not all can afford the bench room, but lets just treat them as ‘random’ for now.

Versus a Random deck, Aromatisse, Donphan - or any deck that doesn’t apply pressure extremely quickly; I’ll usually always just compress triple Exeggcute. I don’t know if i’ll have the Archie combo in my deck moving forward, but Empoleon or random Pokemon that aren’t useful in the matchup usually go next.

Versus decks like Seismitoad ex? I’ll often thin one Team Flare Grunt, especially if i have a VS Seeker in my hand. I’ll also thin one, if I am about to play a Professor Juniper - because I can draw and play a VS Seeker. I never thin Jirachi EX as it’s an out to Supporter Removal. Turn one Compressor is usually Exeggcute, Exeggcute, TFG/Xerosic. Unless I don’t have a draw supporter for the turn, in which case I’d just keep access to all my energy removal in the deck.

Typically - early in the game it’ll just be three Exeggcute, though.

Ironically - and what most players most commonly do, is I don’t tend to compress additional Battle Compressors. I’ll thin Energy, Pokemon, and even Supporters before them usually - when i’ve established a Blockade lock. This is because post-Trump card, I want to be able to re-thin my deck of bad cards, to then draw more Crushing Hammers. Again, this is subtle and you have to know the deck well enough to determine when for example - one or two of your limited energy supply is not needed. 

No real conclusion - Just that I hope this was a little more informative than most tournament reports!

Until next time.

Sami Sekkoum

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