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Max Armitage

New to Nationals

Max goes through some of tips, skills, and techs that you'll need to be successful at your National championships.

06/17/2016 by Max Armitage

Introduction

Hello, 60cards readers this is Max back with another article! This article will focus on what you can do other than picking a good deck to give yourself the best shot at doing well at the largest event of the year. Going into my seventh National Championship, I’m excited to try and spread some advice that I have picked up over the years playing in the tournament that is so often overlooked as people enter this event. This article’s advice will be mostly geared towards the U.S Nationals event in Ohio; however, it will apply to all tournaments that you enter in general. These tips are important to cover because in the weeks before Nationals there will surely be articles by other great players advising you on what to play and I think that these tips are equally important as your deck choice or understanding of the metagame heading into the tournament. As the Nationals hype builds, you will surely get caught up in booking flights and hotels, registering for the event, playtesting, orchestrating carpools, and other activities that it is very easy to lose sight of these tips and skills as you prepare for the tournament. By no means am I saying that you need to strictly adhere to the advice and tips of this article to be successful. However, by doing so, you can give yourself a significantly better chance of performing well at Nationals and making the most out of the money you spent to register for the penultimate event of the season. Disclaimer: if you’re looking for decklists this is not the article you should be reading!

Before the Tournament

In this section I will discuss the things that you can do before, or on the morning of, the event that can give you the edge during the tournament. As you know when you enter the tournament, you should be prepared to play a lot of Pokémon. Probably more Pokémon than any normal person would usually play in one sitting. The worst-case scenario you face is that each nine rounds of Pokémon you play hits the time limit of 50 minutes and you’re looking at roughly 7 hours of consecutive play. This sustained amount of focus is extremely taxing mentally and you need to do everything in your power to offset that time and make those 9 rounds as stress-free as possible. A lot of these things are tips that are aimed at making your body and mind function better for longer periods of time.

The first thing that I advise that you do in preparation for Nationals is to simply stay hydrated by drinking water on a more consistent basis leading up to the event and throughout the event. Being well hydrated will greatly benefit your ability to think clearly and improve your stamina which will be important as you go from round to round. The next thing you need to do is to eat a balanced breakfast on the morning of the event. Many hotels offer a free breakfast and it’s important that you take advantage of that or stop by a local restaurant before the event because speaking from personal experience, playing Pokémon on an empty stomach is dreadful. Nobody should expect their body to be able to focus through 9 rounds of Pokémon without giving it the proper fuel to do so. The next and probably most important tip of this section is to sleep as much as you can on the night before the main event. I can’t tell you how many times I hear it from Pokémon players that they only got five, four, or even just three hours of sleep. I don’t care if I sound like your mother on this one because I see it so many times people who think that they’re invincible and can play on no sleep and end up losing games by making careless mistakes and are exhausted by the end of round five. I don’t care if you haven’t touched a deck of cards in a year, the playtesting and extra deck preparation that you exchange for sleep are not worth being exhausted on the day of the largest event of the season. Whether you’re Jason Klaczynski or Kevin Baxter, it’s incredibly important to get a good night's rest before Nationals if you want to do well.

Moving on another thing that can improve your ability to focus during the event is to bring snacks to the event. So many times I have been thankful that I threw an extra granola bar or a bag of trail mix into my backpack to munch on in between rounds. On that same note you should also be prepared with your personal beverage of choice that will help you to focus as you play whether it be a caffeinated energy drink, a Gatorade, a Starbucks iced latte, or my personal favorite, a large carton of orange juice, it's another thing that you can do to improve your cognitive ability and to prevent you from crashing before the lunch break.

When you are preparing for the tournament, you obviously want to imagine and be prepared for going the distance and winning the event if you intend to do so. To do so, you’re going to have to play on stream probably multiple times and when you do, the judges at the event will require you to change your sleeves if you are using non-matte ones so that way the glare will not appear on the cameras. If you’re like most players, you’re most likely a little superstitious and having to change sleeves in the middle of your tournament run is the last thing you want to do. Not to mention the sleeves that you will receive to use from the people running the stream will not be broken in and will be very slippery as new Ultra Pros always are. To avoid this issue I highly advise that you choose a pair of sleeves that are matte on both sides, and new out of the package. This is the safest way to avoid having issues with judges about marked sleeves as well a fresh pair of sleeves for the largest event of the season feels very appropriate to me. You really have no excuse to not pay the extra couple dollars you need to spend to buy a new pack of sleeves in my opinion.

Now let's go through another scenario: it’s early morning in Ohio, you have just waded through a crowd of people to check the roster and see which flight you’re in, you find your seat for the player meeting and you’re instructed to take out your decklist and by the head judge and of course you have completed writing your decklist because you picked up blank sheets the night before and you’re a proactive and responsible Pokémon player. Now that your decklist is on the table and you’re making small talk with the people around you, there’s a period of time where the judges are collecting decklists. The best way to spend this time is to go over your decklist. What I mean by that is, pull out your deck, make sure it’s sixty cards, and that each card is written correctly on your decklist. It’s really ugly to hear your name get called to the judging table because you wrote your decklist incorrectly and it’s even uglier to have to replace your two copies of Lysandre with Basic Energy because you were too careless to write them. Triple-check your decklist while you have that golden opportunity to do so because you have no reason to receive a decklist error at Nationals but every year people's names are called up to the stage because they forgot to write a card or didn’t follow the instructions of the head judge and abbreviated a card's name. Don’t be that guy.

Speaking of decklists, if you’re a competitive player the cards that you choose to lock in and use at Nationals will most likely not be decided upon till the last minute. Oftentimes you’re stuck between choosing the last couple cards in your list or even picking what deck you’re going to play the morning of the event. With that in mind, it’s your responsibility to know your decklist. Know it inside and out, backwards and forwards, along with why you play each card because you have to memorize your deck list to effectively play a good game of Pokémon. I know that this is common sense but if I ask you to name the 60 cards that you’re using you should be able to do so if you intend to make a deep run into this tournament. Now let's talk about picking a deck for Nationals. In the weeks before Nationals there will inevitably be a lot of different people with a lot of different ideas trying to tell you what the best play for the big day is. That’s fine and I strongly encourage that you practice with a wide variety of decks and take your time as you eliminate decks and make sure your thought process for your deck choice is clear, logical, and justified. However there is one thing that I know going into the tournament: if you look at a deck and have an uneasy, dreading, or bad feeling about writing it down on paper, it’s not the deck for you. I don’t care how good or bad a deck is in the end. If you want to do well, you really do have to go with your gut and follow your instincts. If you enter with a deck that you don’t want to play, don’t enjoy playing, or don’t feel comfortable playing, the odds that you do well go down considerably. Even if the deck is most likely the right pick for the event, there’s a certain amount of confidence you have to have in it to do well.

Speaking of deck choice, let's talk about taking risks. In the past we have seen many players or groups of players choose very bold or what some people would even consider gimmicky decks to play, from Gothlock, to Pyroar, and most recently, the Wailord-EX deck. Many players like Edmund Kuras, Michael Pramawat, and Enrique Avila have benefitted greatly from their bold decisions to pilot unpopular decks, predicting that they would be able to avoid the counters of their decks. There will surely be the option to pull the trigger and play something wild and unexplored for Nationals and I urge you to consider your goals before making the decision on what to play. If you’re the person who just need to get those couple extra Championship Points to secure your Worlds invite, it may not be worth it to try something new and is most likely better to choose a safer option that has better odds of top cutting the event and is an all-around safer play. If you’re at Nationals with your Worlds invite already secured or very far out of reach, a risky and wild deck may be very appropriate for what you’re looking to achieve. Whatever you do choose to play, do be sure to consider why you’re playing at the event and what you’re comfortable piloting before selecting a deck to enter the tournament with.

That's the best deck advice that I have gotten and that I can give before playing in a big event. Now let's talk about things you can do while you’re at the venue, to boost your performance in the opening rounds of the event. When you wake up for first day of the Pokémon National Championships, there will most likely be emotions of nervousness mixed with excitement and restlessness. One of the best ways that I have learned to counteract these emotions is to set aside a period of time once you are locked in on what you want to play, choose a trusted friend, and warm up by playing two or three games of Pokémon. Regardless of whether you win lose or even play well, you will gain something from it. This is one of my favorite practices because it helps me to break down the anxiety and reminds me that I’m just playing Pokémon and that it’s just like any other day. For me personally, I generally make sure to play two or three games with my good friend Brandon Cantu because it helps me get into the groove and avoid making any silly errors in the opening games of the tournament. Warming up is a practice that surprisingly very few players actually take part in from my experience and is one of my favorite pre-tournament activities that I think everybody should do, especially if you have byes. Another thing that can help to ease the feeling of nervousness before any large tournament is to simply be sociable. By going out and talking with your fellow competitors you quickly forget about the stress and pressure you place on yourself when you play in a large event. Making friends and creating relationships with other players in something that every Pokémon player should be doing at every tournament and it really helps to put you in a better mood and creates a more comfortable playing environment!

This is one of my last two pieces of advice however it is very important to your success. Bring what you need to be successful at the tournament. Whether it be aspirin, chapstick, a sweater, a good luck charm, extra deodorant, chewing gum, a playmat, headphones, or even a notepad, bring the items that YOU need to be successful. The final piece of advice that I can give as you prepare for the tournament is to realize that you have just as good odds of winning the tournament as anybody else does. The Pokémon Trading Card Game does a great job at making sure that nobody enters tournaments with a great advantage over other people. For example in a sport one person may be taller than another and that gives them a direct advantage. This is not the case in Pokémon and that is highlighted by how many player do well even though they have relatively few accomplishments. Pokémon is not a game dominated by a single player or group of players and we see relatively unknown players have breakout performances commonly.

During the tournament

There are many things that Pokémon players often don’t do and things that Pokémon players should but don’t do that could give them advantages when they play. The first thing I am going to talk about is a skill that many people choose to not practice or utilize, and it is checking your Prizes. Checking your Prizes when you use a search card is something that I strongly encourage you to do because what’s in your Prizes should influence your play for the rest of the game and by not taking advantage of that information you’re handicapping yourself significantly.

For those who haven't practiced checking their prize cards at the beginning of a game, a good strategy when you search your deck is to first select the card that you're getting from the search effect and then go through your deck and check for cards based off of how many you run. For example, if you run four Ultra Balls and four Professor Sycamores, first check for those, and then do cards that you run three of like your Trainers' Mails and Shaymin-EX, and then do cards you run two of like your Lysandres and your Float Stones, and then finally check for the cards that you only run single copies of, like your Super Rod and Hex Maniac. Checking your Prizes is a difficult skill to learn and perform within a period of time and is one of the things that may take practice and experience before you get it down. One thing you're going to need to do before you start the process of searching your deck is to check your hand, discard pile, and playing field and be conscious of what is there before you start the process. Another tip that can make this significantly easier is to use different arts of the same card. By doing this you make it easier to check where each different art is and it makes it easier to count and keep track of as you go through your deck.

Another thing that is very similar to checking your Prizes because of the way that so many people choose not to take advantage of it is taking notes. If you weren’t aware, every player is allowed to take notes throughout the course of a game or set and it’s an incredibly useful tool to take some of the stress off of your brain by not having to remember things. For example, you should actively take notes of the counts of your opponent's cards as you see them because being able to know and recall the odds of your opponent drawing a card is very helpful as you play through a best-of-three series. If you take yourself seriously as a player, I strongly encourage that you bring a notepad and writing utensil to take advantage of this.

The next piece of advice is probably one of the hardest skills to master as you play Pokémon and is especially important at Nationals. You have to know when to scoop in a best-of-three series. It’s a common occurrence that you see two players play out a series and when time is called, only one and a half games have been completed and the person who won Game 1 wins the set. Being the person who’s tying and losing sets because they didn’t assess the board position thoroughly and wasted time playing out a Game 1 that was already lost is not an enjoyable experience. To complete multiple games in a best-of-three, you’re going to have to scoop a lot and I encourage you to practice playing under a time limit when you playtest for Nationals to get better at the skill of conceding. Also, playing a game where you’re behind is very mentally taxing as you try to slow down and take advantage of every situation. It takes longer to play perfectly and find a route to victory. This is why if you intend to make a comeback, you must be sure that it’s plausible and that you wouldn’t have better chances trying to win two games in a row.

Another skill that is important when playing a best-two-out-of-three series is being able to legally stall and slow down your pace of play throughout the course of a match. This takes a lot of discipline to play consistently slower throughout the course of a match, but it can be very useful for turning losses into ties and being able to make the most out of a poor matchup. However, this does not mean that I encourage stalling illegally by changing your pace of play in the middle of a game because of how the game is going. While we are on the topic of stalling, I think it is also important to discuss calling a judge and about how you need to familiarize yourself with the rules. Every play and turn in a large tournament like this one is important so you want to ensure that everything is happening in a fair and correct way from card interactions to pace of play. This is why it’s your right and your responsibility to call a judge if you feel like anything isn’t right, but on that same note, the judges are greatly outnumbered by the players and you should make sure you’re not wasting their time and your time over small things like accidentally drawing an extra card because that is so easily resolvable if both players agree.

About familiarizing yourself with the rules, the Pokémon website has a page of tournament resources, including a PDF that has all ruling and penalties and as a player you should make sure to do your part and know the rules of the game before you enter such a large tournament. This is so that you will know whether or not you need to appeal to a head judge if you feel like the ruling given to you is incorrect and so you can protect yourself from being cheated against.

Now onto a slightly less serious topic, let's talk about what to do when your opponent presents their deck to you. Personally, I don’t choose to shuffle my opponent's deck assuming that I have seen them randomize it appropriately (if not, I call a judge), but I can understand the appeal. For me I generally choose to cut my opponent's deck as it leaves me with a sense of control over my own destiny and prevents my opponent from stacking their deck. You should choose whatever option that you feel is appropriate for the situation while keeping the amount of time left in the round as a factor that you consider. Continuing on about ways that you can interact with your opponent that will help you to do better at Nationals and be a stronger competitor discussing the way that you communicate with your opponent is important. It’s your responsibility as a player to make every action that you do is clearly communicated to your opponent in an effort to avoid any and all misunderstandings and to give further purpose to every action that you make. The bottom line is that if you’re not verbally communicating your actions to your opponent, make sure that everything else you do is very well understood and clear to avoid penalty. Nobody wants to be one of the people at Nationals who accidentally receives a game loss because their opponent thought that they played a Supporter but they just used VS Seeker to put it into their hand.

Going back to a topic that I already discussed a bit while talking about the things you can do to help you focus is the actual focus that you’ll need to do well and get wins at Nationals. When you’re playing a very competitive game of Pokémon, there’s a lot happening but there are also long phases of time where you are doing nothing during your opponent's turn. These long turns are where a lot of people often lose focus and begin to check out how the games to the left and right of them are going and their mind drifts to things that aren’t important in that moment. Let me be the first to tell you that watching your opponent’s actions is a really good way of gaining information, intimidating your opponent with your confidence, and starting to learn how they play and is ultimately much more beneficial to you than getting a look at what the people around you are playing. You would probably be surprised by how often people accidentally reveal their cards to you while they’re going through the actions of their turn. I see so many Pokémon players who hold their cards at an angle that their opponent can see their hand, also known as bleeding, as they shuffle their cards around and think about what they’re going to do on their turn. You would also be surprised to see how many players who wear glasses that reflect the images of their cards off of their lens. If your opponent is doing either of these I strongly encourage that you notify them that you can see their hand or deck as it’s just good sportsmanship. To avoid making this mistake yourself you need to make an active effort to be conscious of the angle that you're holding your hand and deck in an effort to prevent revealing any extra information that can be crucial to your opponent.

Giving out information about your hand, deck, and gameplan is a mistake that is very common at Pokémon tournaments. Many players don’t make any sort of effort to try and hide their emotions or even prevent themselves from making exclamations about cards that they couldn’t draw or wish they would have had at certain points in a game once a game is over. Making these kinds of statements and showing disappointment or calmness can be both a weakness and a tool as you play, for example if you sigh after you look at what you draw off of an N it’s going to indicate that you didn’t draw good cards from the N and is basically a green light that signals for your opponent to attack. On this same note, if you have confidence that you’re a good actor, good enough to fake a sigh, you can easily encourage your opponent to promote a Pokémon that you can Knock Out because you drew a Sycamore off said N. Little interactions like these are why it’s so important to be consistent with the way that you act and interact with your opponent. You don’t want to be chatty the whole game and then suddenly become silent in a high pressure situation and vice versa.

Here’s another point in the article where I want to set another theoretical situation and I’ll elaborate on it as it unfolds. You’re 0-2 at Nationals after two very frustrating set where you drew poorly against bad matchups against player you feel like you could have beaten. At this point in the tournament your friends are all 2-0 playing the same deck and you’re jealous, frustrated, and understandably annoyed with how your day has gone so far. At this point the average Pokémon player would probably accept that they’re done for the day, throw in the towel and stop playing seriously for the remaining rounds. What you should do is realize you’re only 0-2 and all you have to do is win 6 rounds in a row and then you can intentionally draw into cut. I know this probably sounds farfetched but if you legitimately want to do well at the event, you should be able to bounce back from a loss or two. Another note on your ability to come back is that you have to play one game at a time. This is something that the experienced player can do and it is to be able to take all the emotions of frustration or annoyance in one game and to leave them in the dust and move on to continue playing the best games of Pokémon that you can. Going on tilt is the last thing that you want to do so you really need to be able to clear your mind, take a deep breath and continue executing your strategy as well as you can with the cards that you’re dealt.

Another thing that taking deep breaths is good for is to calm your nerves, I often get very shaky and nervous towards the end of a very tight game and it helps to put my cards down take a couple deep breaths and removing myself from the situation before playing out the last couple turns of the game. Another common mistake in your mindset is when people worry about what they could have done with their deck after they have entered their list while reflecting on your mistake may be important spending your energy on it mid tournament is not the time to do so. You really need to put that energy into the goal at hand which is winning games of Pokémon to advance further into the tournament. While we’re talking about mindsets let's talk about why you’re at Nationals. I write this article from the perspective of a competitive player and I assume that everybody reading has the goal to do as well as they can do and maybe even to earn the prestigious title of National Champion. At the same time, I also see many competitive Pokémon players entering the tournament with their excuses as to why they did poorly ready before they even lose. For example I often hear people throw around phrases like “I didn’t playtest” or “I’m bad” to justify a poor performance before they have even entered the tournament. In my opinion if you’re entering the largest tournament of the year with that sort of mindset and without trusting and having confidence in your ability to win the event you’re not using the money you spent on the entry fee effectively, to put it nicely. Every player no matter how experienced or skilled has an opportunity to be crowned the national champion in the coming weekends and without the goal to do so you give yourself no obligation or drive to give your best performance and waste a golden chance. I could write an entire article on the benefits of having a good mindset going into tournaments but for the sake of moving things along I will keep it at that. The last and final words of advice that I think every Pokémon player should follow during the event is to please do the community a favor and be as hygienic as possible. That means washing your hands, taking showers, and using proper toiletries to do your part in keeping the Pokémon community, healthy and stink free!

Tech Cards

While I know that decks, and card choices will surely be thoroughly discussed by my fellow 60cards writers and Pokémon community members, I think that I can share some of the strongest one card techs that you can include into your decks that will be very impactful throughout the course of a tournament. These one card techs have the ability to completely swing the course of a game, or even match when drawn or searched for. If you have the opportunity to fit these cards into your deck I strongly encourage doing so because of how strong they are.

Aegislash-EX

The first card that I would like to discuss in this section is Aegislash-EX. Playing an Aegislash tech has been one of my personal favourites in the Standard format since the City Championships season for various reasons. Aegislash-EX’s ability to be played in any deck has made it one of the most versatile and powerful techs for a long time. The card can take up one space in a deck and take care of an entire archetype, Vespiquen/Vileplume, because of the Ability. Even if it does not wall them out completely, it will at least force them to go against their strategy by making them have to play a Hex Maniac which gives you a wonderful opportunity to capitalize on. A one-card tech that is very useful against Mew-box and Night March, and creates a very favorable matchup versus Vespiquen/Vileplume is well worth the space in my opinion. There’s a reason that we see his card teched into the Water toolbox deck and used heavily in most Metal archetypes and it’s because Aegislash-EX is just that powerful of a card. A very impactful card that earns a 1 card spot in many decks.

Latios-EX

This card is another one of those cards that I have jumped on the opportunity to use whenever I could in the Standard format. There is so much value in the ability to play 1 card and win multiple games in a tournament solely because of said card. This card is stronger than even coming into the National Championships with so many low-HP Basics for it to prey on along with a best two out of three system where if you lose a game you are awarded the ability to pick whether or not you would like to go first. This Pokémon can singlehandedly take out any deck that runs Froakie, Jirachi, Remoraid, Night Marchers, Mew, Phantump, Oddish, Combee, Bunnelby, Zorua, Bronzor, Spinarak, Snivy and any other Pokémon that has under 60 HP in one turn because of the power of the Fast Raid attack. If your deck runs Psychic or Double Dragon Energy, I would automatically include a copy of Latios-EX. Speaking from personal experience I played a Latios-EX in my Seismitoad Giratina deck during states and the card was responsible for many fast wins which created potential for comebacks and kept me in or tied many series throughout the course of the tournament. You will not regret playing this card in your deck along with copies of Muscle Band and switching cards it makes for an almost broken threat. There are just too many small Basics being played right now to omit this card from your list, assuming you already run Double Dragon or Psychic Energy.

Professor Sycamore

Okay I know what you’re thinking, and you’re absolutely right, Professor Sycamore is not traditionally considered a “tech” card but hear me out. After states were over, we generally saw people running 2-3 Sycamore in their Standard decks because the overwhelmingly powerful Items and Pokémon in the format made a full set of four unnecessary. Once Fates Collide dropped and N was reintroduced to Standard along with the consistent presence of Trevenant, Vileplume, and Seismitoad, I think now is an appropriate time for almost every deck to be running a full set of four Professor Sycamore again. I don’t feel that it is necessary for me to describe how powerful this card is considering it has been a staple in nearly every deck for a very long time. If you have the extra slot to use make sure you consider the 3rd and 4th copies of Professor Sycamore. The time is now to break back out the 4th copy of your favourite professor. As they say, consistency is king!

Bunnelby

This card serves many purposes. It can be a surprise finisher to deck out your unsuspecting opponent, it can get you back valuable resources to help you recover from a rough start, it can help get you the edge in a stalemate situation, it can be a non-EX attacker to force your opponent to have to take 7 Prizes, and finally it can singlehandedly punish those players that are ballsy enough to bring the Wailord-EX deck to Nationals. If your deck could benefit from any of these things you should consider throwing in a Bunnelby. The card is versatile and powerful, what more need to be said?

Parallel City

Like Bunnelby this card can be splashed into a wide variety of decks and is incredibly versatile in its use. The main reason that I think you can justify using a parallel city right now is that the ability to cripple your opponent and force them to reduce their Bench to 3 Pokémon is very strong against Greninja, Metal, and M Rayquaza deck right now. That alongside its various other uses including reducing your opponent's damage, bumping your opponent's crucial Stadiums, and getting Pokémon with low remaining HP off of your Bench make a Parallel City seem great inclusion for certain decks. Personally I really don’t enjoy playing against uncontested, Dimension Valleys, Sky Fields, and Rough Seas, especially while N is in the format.

Conclusion

This article is definitely one that is very near and dear to my heart because Nationals has always been my favourite event of the year to attend and play in. Regardless of whether or not you actually do well at Nationals I’m confident that you will be able to enjoy the competitive atmosphere of the great event and will be able to bring home something from your trip. I want to personally thank those who actually took the time to read through this monster of an article and I hope you were able to benefit from reading it as much as I benefitted from writing it. Best of luck to all of those in their preparation for, travel to, and participation in Nationals, until next time.

-Max Armitage

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