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Orion Craig

Designing the Perfect Deck Pt. 1

If you've ever wondered how to reach the perfect balance of consistency and counter techs, then step inside and learn what it takes to design with the best.

04/29/2015 by Orion Craig

Happy Wednesday 60cards.net reader, and welcome once again to my newest installment all about deck design. Tournament reports and deck reviews are all well and good, but my goal is to provide for you, kind reader, as much lasting benefit as possible with my articles. If I teach you a deck, I prepare you for a tournament. When I step back and help you understand the underlying strategy behind Pokemon, you not only become prepared for season after season of play, but you can take those skills into almost any trading card game or even strategy games in general. I plan to write more articles of this type and less tournament reports going forward. If you like this article and think of a topic you’d like to see me explore in future articles, I would love for you to post it in a comment below. Now, let’s get started!

Introduction

This article is meant to be more broad-spectrum than my most recent articles. I hope you are able to take the deck design insight found within and use it to your advantage for seasons to come. It’s no secret that designing the perfect deck and effective test-play go hand in hand. Deciding on the proper strategies and techs simply is not possible without going through several iterations of an idea, evolving test game after test game. In my opinion, proper deck building is more important than player skill. Even the best player cannot win if he or she is not equipped with the proper tools. Of course we must be reasonable enough to understand you still need to have knowledge of your deck and it’s matchups to truly be successful, however, which brings us full circle to the importance of practicing. I’m sure you now understand just how essential and related these two ideas are. This article will focus mostly on deck design, with my next article having a focus on proper test play techniques.

Now, in an effort to teach you as much as possible I will discuss many different topics, tips, and tricks to bring your game to the next level. Some individual idea may not have generous amounts of space afforded to it due to the relative simplicity of certain topics, but I’ll do my best to keep the article from feeling like I just drank two cups of coffee and developed ADHD. If at any point you feel as though you already fully understand one of the simpler ideas contained within, feel free to skip ahead. With that said, let’s dive in!

Choosing Your Deck

You may think this is the most important piece to the wannabe Pokemon Master’s puzzle, and in a way it is. By choosing the correct deck for a tournament, you immediately put yourself at an advantage before the event even begins. That is not to say, however, you cannot win with a suboptimal deck choice, however. While one could say deck choice is the most important aspect, it goes much deeper than that, and I hope to illustrate this idea here. What is so incredibly interesting and appealing about Trading Card Games as opposed to fighting games, board games, and other forms of competition is the level of ingenuity and customizability. I do not mean to suggest fighting games aren’t complicated, as they most certainly are, but you could say the player who chooses the best fighter from a set list of 50 or so pre-set options is at an inherent advantage from the beginning. When talking about a trading card game, however, there is no pre-set list of decks. New ideas are designed and engineered for success all the time, with some of the biggest tournaments of the season being won with never-before-seen ideas. One of the most famous being Ross C. piloting “The Truth” at worlds 2011. Ross went home a World’s finalist by inventing something totally new right under everyone’s nose.

What do I mean when I say deck selection goes deeper than you might think? Well, in order to choose the best deck, you first have to find it, and if that fails you must then create it. This last option is by far my favorite aspect of Pokemon. Before you embark on a journey to find or design the perfect deck, there is one very important factor to consider: the metagame. Now, this article is not meant to talk about the metagame or how to define it, so I’ll keep it brief here. Basically, in order to design a deck with the tools needed for success, you must determine what it is you need to beat. If you show up with a hammer and your opponents all have screws, you’ll have a hard time giving them the pounding they deserve! It’s simply not enough to say your deck is consistent or quick to execute its intended strategy if the strategy in mind simply doesn’t effectively deal with the most popular decks. Generally speaking, you can split decks up into one of three categories in regards to how they approach the meta: jack of all trades (but master of none), special OPS, and trained assassin.

Jack of all Trades

These decks tend to boast a 50-50 or at best 60-40 against the vast majority of the metagame. They are usually very consistent at performing their intended goal, and often easier to play than other decks. Toad Puff comes to mind as a deck that can beat almost anything, but tends to lose to a deck you just dominated the previous round. Personally, I avoid these kinds of decks but many feel through advanced player skill and a few techs they have their greatest chance of victory with such a deck. The lack of clear weakness is very appealing to many, and provides a comfort zone for those unwilling, unable, or unconfident in their ability to predict the metagame. These decks usually revolve around a one-size-fits-all strategy and simply hope to make it work out in each of their games.

Special OPS

Decks that fall under this category are easily my favorite. They have 70-30’s or better against certain meta decks, 50-50s or 60-40s vs others, and a few bad matchups you hope to avoid. By carefully choosing a deck like this, you can find yourself in a field of heavily favored matchups and few negative ones. Make the wrong meta call, however, and you’ll quickly feel like an injured swimmer in a pool of hungry sharks. One of my all-time favorite decks, Princess Toadstool, falls into this category. Virizion Genesect, metal variants, and Exeggutor were truly awful matchups, but other Toad variants and Night March were near auto-wins. Decks like Flareon tended to be 50-50 or 60-40 depending on how they were built, though. These decks usually have a varying strategy or specific techs for different matchups, and find strength in their versatility. Often times this results in a more difficult deck to play, as matchup specific knowledge is key.

Trained Assassin

Trained Assassins are extreme version of Special OPS decks. They tend to have several bad matchups, but boast a few extremely one-sided matchups in their favor. You could say they “Assassinate” specific decks without mercy, but when caught off guard defeat is almost certain. If you’re able to get a hard-read on the meta, then a deck like this can work wonders for you. Guess even slightly wrong and no amount of clever play skill will save you. I generally reserve these decks for smaller, more predictable events such as LCs and Cities due to the wide variety generally found at large events spelling doom for a deck as matchup dependant as an Assassin.

Deck Design 101: Consistency

So, now that we have an idea of what kinds of decks we can build, let’s take a crash course in learning how to fit the pieces together to create something worthwhile. There are so many facets to deck building, yet I feel confident after we cover some of the most important factors to consider you will find yourself approaching deck building differently. Some of the most crucial things to consider are consistency, tempo, covering your weaknesses, and proper test playing. Imagine for a moment if you could design a consistent deck which is able to gain tempo against the majority of the metagame, while covering its most glaring weaknesses. It goes without saying that this is the goal of anyone with their eyes trained on the first place trophy. We will not be able to cover every topic listed in this article, but I promise you my future articles will be dedicated to designing solid decks until I’ve explored every topic I can think of. Feel free to suggest anything I may overlook in the comments below.

Types Consistency

In the past, I used to value consistency above all else when starting out with a deck. In theory, having a supposed 70-30 matchup meant nothing if your deck would draw dead and lose 20% or even 10%  of the time, I reasoned. While consistency is still very important, recent rule changes allow for best of 3 gameplay, which allows us to slightly adjust decks toward matchup coverage and away from consistency. Please do not read this and infer consistency is unimportant, as that is clearly not the case; however, I tend to be willing to play one or two less supporters than usual if it means effectively handling an additional matchup. Anything past that and I tend to get nervous in regards to my deck’s ability to perform game after game.

Moreover, this topic can be broken down further into two closely related categories: resource consistency, and having a consistent strategy. Let’s look at these individually in regards to how they affect deck design.

Resource Consistency

First, I’ll cover the larger of the two categories: resource consistency. Naturally, it’s very important to have what resources you need when you need them. Resource consistency is the ability to do just that. Many players refer to this simply as draw power, but in truth this is just one facet of resource consistency. Professor Juniper, Pokemon Fan Club, Acro Bike, Skyla, Empoleon, Swampert, Shaymin EX (upcoming Roaring Skies), Battle Compressor, etc all constitute resource consistency. As you can see, I’ve included cards that do more than simply draw more cards. Resource consistency can be broken down into three categories called search, deck thinning, and draw power. When combined, these three factors are widely referred to as your engine. When used properly, a good engine keeps your deck running through cards and hammering your opponent with your intended strategy. In order to fully understand these three categories, I’ll define and discuss them in detail

Search

Search cards allow you to search your deck for specific, predefined types of cards. Skyla, Ultra Ball, and Pokemon Fan Club are examples of this. While these cards are very powerful in the right situation, do not be fooled into thinking they are inherently superior over draw supporters. Skyla is incredibly powerful when you only need one specific trainer card in a given situation, which can make it feel more consistent than a draw card, but while Skyla and cards like it boast an alluring guaranteed selection, they lack versatility and continuation. Let’s examine this a little closer.

Versatility is a major weakness of search cards. If, for instance, you have a Pokemon Fan Club but really need an energy, then you are out of luck. If you have a Skyla but really need two cards to make a game-changing move, such as attaching and energy and playing a Hypnotoxic Laser, then you’ll be hoping to top deck a Professor Juniper instead. This is not to say search cards are bad by any means, but it is important to understand their flaws and limitations and how to compensate for them. Generally, I like to play fewer search cards in favor of using VS Seeker to retrieve them at the perfect time, rather than fill my deck with cards that consistently limit my options. Additionally, you can typically take out one N in favor of one Colress without losing draw power, but you may not always take out one N and for Skyla and expect your deck to behave the same. My general rule of thumb is two search cards count as one draw card; however, I always recommend test playing to confirm any change in consistency before heading off to a tournament. Replacing one tech card with another has very clear and predictable effects on your deck, as techs generally do not affect the overall flow of your deck, only specific matchups. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about changes to consistency.

Continuation is the ability to keep your deck zooming throughout all stages of the game. In the past, cards like Claydol GE and Uxie LA performed this beautifully, allowing players to consistently cycle through their deck turn after turn via constant draw power. With draw power handled, search cards were at the forefront of design. Nowadays, cards like Slurpuff and Empoleon hope to keep players from sputtering to a halt mid and late game. The difference is the comparative weakness of both the latter cards. Slurpuff only draws one or two cards per turn, and Empoleon is far from playable in every deck. For this reason, draw supporters have stolen the spotlight in recent years. Continuation is a weak point for search cards such as Skyla. After using Skyla to search out the Hypnotoxic Laser you desperately needed, you’d better hope to have another supporter to use next turn to keep your pistons firing. Professor Juniper, however, has the ability to not only draw the Laser you’re looking for, but can draw another supporter for next turn as well. Herein lies the power of draw over search, and is just one of the many reasons search cards are a specialty inclusion as opposed to a staple in most decks. It’s also worth noting draw supporters enable you to execute a number of different strategies based upon what you draw, whereas search cards tend to limit your options based on what they can seek out.

Deck Thinning

One of the most commonly overlooked aspects of consistency is deck thinning. Cards such as Acro Bike, Empoleon’s Diving Draw, Ultra Ball, and Battle compressor all constitute as deck thinning. This strategy is based around removing unneeded cards from your deck to increase the odds of drawing what you actually need as the game progresses. Deck thinning is both a tactic used when designing your deck and during tournament play.

First, let’s start off by taking a look at the heaviest abuser of deck thinning in a very, very long time: Flareon. Abuse of deck thinning cards allowed Flareon players to run very little energy and draw power, yet draw exactly what they needed due to having few cards in the deck come mid game. This deck is designed to discard as many Pokemon as possible for the benefit of Vengeance, enabling the player to have fifteen or less cards in deck  by turn three or four. If you still do not see the power of deck thinning, let’s get our good friend statistics involved as we imagine the following scenario:

Alex is playing his favorite deck, Flareon, against Brian, who is using Toad/Puff. By turn three, Alex has fifteen cards remaining while Brian still has thirty-five. Both players have one Slurpuff in play, and both are hoping to draw one of their four Double Colorless Energies next turn. Without the use of a supporter, Alex has a 47% chance of drawing his DCE between his top deck and Tasting. Brian, on the other hand, has only a 22% chance. Woah! That’s over double the chance of drawing a DCE! If we consider supporter cards, it becomes even more clear Alex is at an advantage. Not only is Alex more likely to draw a supporter with such a small deck, but a Juniper would mean he draws over half his remaining deck!

I hope that by now you understand the significance of designing for deck thinning. While not all decks can be built in this way, it is still worth taking into consideration when determining consistency. One final note on designing this way is the power of Lysandre’s Trump Card. This card essentially resets the decks of both players, which tends to leave you with a bunch of cards you simply do not need. The ability to quickly discard those cards can leave you with a lean, mean, knock-out taking machine soon after a Trump Card while your opponents fumbles to keep his engines running.

Lastly, let’s examine a more advanced deck thinning technique that can be used during all gameplay, practically regardless of how your deck is designed. Let’s assuming Alex needs an energy card once again, and his hand is N, Ultra Ball, Xerneas and Spritzee. Alex is one smart cookie, so he uses Ultra Ball, discarding the two Pokemon in hand, and searches for a Xerneas to bench. “Wait, what? Alex already had a Xerneas, so why did he Ultra Ball for another instead of benching the on he had?” you may think. Well, dear reader, if Alex had simply played N, let’s say he would be drawing six out of twenty cards in his deck, hoping to draw one of his three energy. While his odds are pretty good that way, playing Ultra Ball, discarding two Pokemon, and benching a third leaved him with only sixteen cards left and a much higher chance of drawing what he needs. While no player can definitively attribute one instance of proper deck thinning to winning a game, it’s no secret that consistently removing cards you no longer need from your deck will keep your deck running smoothly. Another example of this tactic is Empoleon’s Diving Draw. Empoleon is often combo’d with Exeggcute because his Propagate ability allows a “free” discard for Empoleon. Sometimes, however, it can be best to Diving Draw a card from your hand you may no longer need instead. The same goes for playing Ultra Ball with an Exeggcute in your discard.

Now, does deck thinning seem basic to you? Good, then you are one step closer to finding consistent success with your decks. If you’re still a little confused, that’s OK. Feel free to post any lasting questions in the comments below and I will do my best to answer.

Draw Power

A healthy mixture of Pokemon, supporter, and trainer based draw enables a player to handle all situations. Realistically, however, certain strategies thrive when focused on a specific type of draw power. Let’s go into detail on how to determine the best mixture for a deck, and look at real-world examples of a couple extremes on the spectrum.

Supporter Based Draw

When most players think of consistency, this is what comes to mind first and foremost. Sadly, some believe the more draw supporters (N, Professor Juniper, Colress, etc) the more consistent their deck will be. In actuality, the correct number of such supporter cards depends on several factors. As we all know, you may only play one supporter per turn. For this reason, having several draw supporters in your hand can be a very bad thing. In fact, I could argue playing one too many supporters (and consequently cutting a more useful card out) is more detrimental than playing one too few. This takes us back to the idea that you must have the tools necessary to win, regardless of player skill. If you take out tools in favor of excessive supporters, you are hindering your chance at 1st place. Ideally, you only want one or two supporters in your hand at a time to provide adequate options without holding you back. I tend to work off of a baseline of about ten draw supporters with four VS seeker, and adjust based on deck thinning, search cards, trainer based draw, pokemon based draw, and, most importantly, test play. The perfect number of supporters is heavily affected by your level of alternate consistency options and the complexity of your deck’s strategy. While all of the above factors may seem overwhelming at first, take solace in knowing you will quickly understand if your deck is functional or not if you practice, practice, practice and tweak, tweak, tweak!

Let’s take a quick look at a basic supporter only engine that Justin S., Harrison L., and I used at VA Regionals and a very similar to the lineup to what Justin S. used to reach 2nd place at FL Regionals:

Supporter Based Draw

Juniper

The draw power provided by this card is so consistent and powerful it is the first supporter to max out. In this case, consistent refers to Juniper drawing 7 cards no matter the weather. Through rain, snow, sleet, or thunderstorms Juniper is there for you, drawing over nearly 15% of your remaining deck turn one. N, on the other hand, punishes you for drawing prizes and trying to win, and Colress is only your friend after you or your opponent have a developed board. The only time less than 4 Juniper is warranted is when Archie shenanigans are involved, due to Juniper clogging your hand up to prevent an Archie play.

N

Playing a heavy N count is quite controversial, and I honestly tend to play 1-2 N in most decks. Due to the total lack of  trainer and pokemon based draw, however, 4 N was warranted to maintain proper consistency. Early game N is great to draw 6 without having to discard all of the resources in your hand, and late game N can shut your opponent out of the game if they’ve drawn several prizes. Mid game, however, N has little use due to drawing a weak 3-4 cards, which is not strong enough to shut your opponents down, nor can you rely on it to keep your motor rumbling.

Colress

Again, this is usually a 1 of to abuse with VS Seeker, but trainer/pokemon draw didn’t really seem to fit the deck, so a heavy Colress count was a must. With so many supporters in the deck, playing Colress for 3 or 4 wasn’t an unreasonable strategy to dig for a more useful draw card. Sorry Shauna, you just don’t do it for me, girl. Do yourself a favor and never, ever play Shauna.

Jirachi EX/Ultra Ball

I consider these cards supporters because of Jirachi’s Stellar Guidance. Since Jirachi searches for a supporter and Ultra Ball searches for Jirachi, you can consider Ultra Ball as a one-time supporter when necessary. Sometimes I’ll have an N when my opponent’s hand is dead, so Ultra Ball grabs me the Juniper I need to keep them out of the game. I do not consider these cards supporters for the purposes of counting total supporters, however.

Normally I would not recommend playing this many supporters, but the total lack of alternate consistency meant supporters were the only way for this deck to keep going. If you must draw a supporter every time you play one in order to keep your engine’s humming, it’s a good idea to fit in quite a few. At the time, Bicycle and Roller Skates were the two primary trainer to draw cards. Bicycle didn’t fit the deck, as large hands were very common with Yveltal, and Roller Skates is too flipp and inconsistent to use without other forms of consistency. Dropping one or two supporters for Roller Skates just wouldn’t make sense.

Pros:

-Total resistance to Garbodor shutting off Pokemon Draw

-Strong Defense against trainer lock

-Extremely high odds of starting with a supporter, meaning few dead hands

Cons:

-Crippled by Exeggutor’s Block

-Does not combo with Trump Card, leaving you with several unplayable cards late game if Trumped

-Decreased access to extraneous resources like Crushing Hammer, SSU, etc.

-Most effective with straightforward strategies (Could be a pro depending on your deck)

Pokemon Engines

Certain Pokemon can contribute towards your draw power, reducing the need for supporters. Slurpuff, Empoleon, and the coming Shaymin EX all provide additional draw power without filling your deck with supporters. Typically, Pokemon based draw is less extreme when compared to supporter cards (Slurpuff draws 1 or 2 while Juniper draws 7), but has the advantage of being recurring, and has the ability to combo with your supporter. In short, once Slurpuff is out he is able to draw a card or two every turn of the game, regardless of what you have in hand and without playing a card, whereas you may only use each Juniper once, meaning you take from a limited supply of resources each time. This may seem obvious, but is a very important distinction to make. A single Slurpuff can easily net you ten or more cards in a game, and may be used in combination with more Slurpuffs to provide an even more powerful draw engine. On top of all that, Pokemon stick around after an N unlike any supporters you may be hoarding, granting you the ability to keep going after being disrupted. Decks that need a constant supply of resources throughout the entire game benefit greatly from Pokemon based draw for this reason. Lastly, Slurpuff can work together with draw supporters to gain additional cards, which is something additional supporters cannot do due to the limit of one supporter per turn. For instance, Juniper+Tasting draws 8-9 cards, whereas drawing a second Juniper does you no good.

This is taken from Nathan’s 1st place AL list, as I want to provide real-world examples of the engines I’m talking about. This excerpt from Nathan’s list is an excellent example of a pokemon-based engine for many reasons. I do not feel it is necessary for me to review every card in this list, so I’ll group it up into related cards.

Pokemon

Unlike most Toad/Puff decks, Nathan went for an alternate approach with Archie/Swampert. With Swampert allowing Nathan to set his deck each turn and Slurpuff providing constant draw support, a heavily reduced supporter count is very reasonable. In a deck without Archie, Swampert would be dropped for a thicker Slurpuff line in many cases.

Supporters

As you can see, there is a heavily reduced number of supporters compared to the above Yveltal list. Nathan ran only 6 draw supporters, which is nearly half! Additionally, there were several harassment supporters in the form of Xerosic, Team Flare Grunt, and Cassius. When you can rely on your Pokemon for consistency, supporters like these become a lot more powerful because you are able to keep your engines from stalling out on turns you opt for a Xerosic or Cassius.

Trainers

Now, most decks that use Pokemon as a part of their engine still run a few consistency trainers. Acro Bike has the ability to draw you into either Slurpuffs or draw supporters, while simultaneously thinning out your deck to be more consistent. Moreover, Battle Compressor is not only a staple for the Archie decks, but allows Slurpuff and Acro Bike to draw higher quality cards throughout the game. Of course Battle Compressor also combos nicely with VS Seeker.

Pros:

-Works very well with Trump Card to recycle resources such as Crushing Hammer

-Allows heavier use of Team Flare Grunt, AZ, Xerosic, etc by taking focus off of draw supporters

-Mid-Late game draw power is guaranteed. As you run low on supporters, your Pokemon stay in play

-Decreased susceptibility to late game Ns

Cons:

-Weakness to Garbodor

-Weakness to trainer lock. You play less supporters, and can no longer Ultra Ball to consistently set up Slurpuff/Empoleon early on.

-Less supporters means more dead hand openings

Turbo Trainers

Finally, we arrive at the drag racer of consistency engines: heavy trainers, minimal supporters, and sometimes a dash of Pokemon draw. They have existed at various points throughout history and usually aim for a huge advantage early game, praying to maintain the lead into the late game. For this reason, turbo trainer decks tend to be pretty uncommon, as they typically have little potential for comebacks. All of this changed with the release of Lysandre’s Trump Card, however. Suddenly, after you’ve played all of your trainers to blaze through your resources, you can Trump everything back in and start all over. Additionally, there are more consistency trainers than ever with Bicycle, Acro Bike, Roller Skates, Maintenance, Battle Compressor, and the upcoming Trainer’s Post to consider. While incredibly weak to trainer lock, decks like these try to counter Toad through pokemon based strategies, or by being Toad decks themselves. Such engines work best with decks able to take a huge lead by utilizing access to a large amount of resources, such as Crushing Hammer, Colress Machine, armies of Pokemon, Headringer, etc.

This engine comes from a Turbo Lugia deck claiming a top 4 finish at VA regionals and it’s pretty clear to see why. The sheer speed and wild consistency meant claiming three prizes within the first two turns was more fact than fantasy. Simon L. even stated he would Battle Compressor away Trump Card, Lysandre, and either N or Colress with his first compressor. Nothing says turbo trainer like throwing away almost half your supporters on turn one!

Supporters

Playing only six draw supporters shows just how much you are able to rely on trainers for consistency. Interestingly, while this deck does not rely on supporters for consistency, cards like Team Flare Grunt, Xerosic, etc were excluded due to the nature of the deck. Turbo trainer decks can go either way, such as some Toad variants that cycle through their deck many times to use Crushing Hammers, Team Flare Grunts, etc all game long to harass their way to victory.

Trainers

Bicycle is an interesting card that needs a deck designed around it to work best. Simon did this perfectly by swapping out Lysandres, which can clog up your hand, with Catcher. Additionally, burnable cards like Town Map and Colress Machine make Bicycle a breeze to use. It’s interesting to see Battle Compressor in a deck that doesn’t benefit as heavily off of discarded cards the way Flareon or Archie decks do, which goes to show the power of deck thinning. You can expect some of the trainers used may be swapped out for more recent cards such as Acro Bike depending on a deck’s strategy.

Pros:

-Extremely fast engine

-Cycles through your deck over and over without slowing down

-Abuses Trump Card, which can hurt other decks that work off their discard pile

-Totally immunity to Garbodor

-Very consistent

Cons:

-Countered by trainer lock

-Unable to support intricate strategies- speed without finesse

-Consumes a lot of space

Resource Summary

I hope you’ve learned a lot so far. Looking at the different ways to provide consistency is one thing, but striking the correct balance is another beast entirely. Hopefully, with the information I’ve provided, you’ll be able to select the correct engine for your deck. Keep in mind I intentionally picked extreme examples of each engine. Decks are capable of running a mixture of two or even all three. Flareon comes to mind as a deck that uses both Pokemon and trainer based consistency, while Empoleon/Magnezone utilizes mostly Pokemon and supporter consistency, with just a splash of a few trainers. Once you practice enough, you’ll begin to gain an instinct for what works best, how much consistency is enough, and what a proper engine looks like. Typically, engines aren’t something to copy and paste from one deck to another. The slightest differences can have a huge impact on the way a deck works. For instance, I included two Pokemon Fan Club in Toadstool as a snap decision just before AL States and could not be happier with the decision. Those two card changes had such a major impact on the deck’s overall consistency I can’t imagine playing without them now. Similarly, I had all but given up on Flareon until Michael Canaves overhauled the engine, granting both Mike and I considerable success with the deck.

Consistent Strategies

In short, consistent strategies can be boiled down to not biting off more than you can chew. Some strategies just aren’t worth the amount of resources they require. Whenever you are looking to build a deck, you should be able to condense the overall strategy down to one or two sentences at a maximum.

Once you understand your deck’s strategy, building your deck becomes much easier. It can be very easy to lose site of your strategy, however, so sometimes it is necessary to step back and see where you’ve gone astray. Additionally, if you have a strategy in mind it becomes much easier to search for weaknesses. Then, you can find ways to counter your weaknesses, which I will explain in detail in a later article. This strategy, weaknesses, counters model (SWC) is pivotal in ironing out ideas before sleeving a single card. If you can master this model, you will save yourself a lot of time by avoiding less-than-viable decks, which means more time to think of new ideas! When using the SWC model, do you need to include a counter for every weakness? That depends on your metagame and whether that weakness is likely to show up. Let’s look at a few examples of this SWC model in action.

Toad/Puff:

Strategy: Enforce constant trainer lock while harassing the opponent’s energy. Use special conditions to supplement low damage output.

Weaknesses: Ways to break trainer lock, cheap attackers, energy acceleration.

Counters: The most common way to break trainer lock is special conditions. Keldeo+Float stone takes care of that. Headringer handles cheap EX attackers by making them cost an additional energy. Energy acceleration comes in every form, so it’s infeasible to name a specific counter. Head Ringer and targeted energy removal can hinder accelerating attacks, while ability lock can put a stop to ability based accel. Of course there is no need to counter trainer based acceleration due to Quaking Punch.


Toadstool: 

Strategy: Sleep lock opponents while healing away damage through Max Potion and AZ.

Weaknesses: Preventing special conditions, one hit KOs, ability lock.

Counters: First, what stops special conditions? Virizion and Keldeo. Sadly, there is not real counter to Virizion, which is why VirGen and Exeggutor are such terrible matchups. This is when meta-based calls come into play. Keldeo can be countered through Lysandre, however. Unless two Keldeo are present, one lucky sleep flip means a knocked out Keldeo.

One hit KOs are a tricky one to deal with as well. First, you must look at what decks are capable of such a feat. VirGen, Groudon, Yveltal and in a way Kyogre due to bench damage setups. VirGen we know is horrible anyway, Groudon and Kyogre are both countered by a muscle banded Genesect of our own, and Yveltal is countered by our own Yveltal. As you can see, just two slots fix 3 out of 4 bad matchups. This kind of forethought and careful consideration is what makes a good idea into a great deck.

Garbodor is the only ability lock right now, and he requires a tool to do his job. Because of our own Toad, your opponent cannot play tools unless it’s very early in the game before our first Quaking Punch. On the off chance Garbodor gets set up, only one Xerosic is needed to permanently disable Garbodor.


Empoleon/Magnezone: 

Strategy: Swarm low energy attackers while recycling Life Dew.

This one is tricky. The weaknesses aren’t entirely apparent just from the strategy. In these cases, just dig a little deeper what a few clarifying questions. “What are your attackers, how much setup is needed, and how do you set up?” This is a rare instance where a deck tends to lose mostly to itself, I.E. drawing bad hands due to needing multiple stage 2s to succeed. Any time a deck takes significant setup, it’s clear any kind of lock will inhibit that. In this case, lock is the deck’s only weakness.

Weakness: Trainer lock, ability lock

Counters: In a deck that utilizes no special conditions, Cryogonal comes to mind as an excellent Toad counter. Additionally, Pokemon Center Lady is effective in buying time to set up due to healing poison and a hefty chunk of damage. Ability lock, on the other hand, is only enforced by Garbodor. Unless accompanied by trainer lock, Xerosic+VS Seeker make quick work of the garbage bag. If trainer lock is present, you have a hard game ahead of you so be sure to play a deck like this in the correct meta.

So, now that we understand the basics of finding a deck’s main strategy and how to preserve that goal, it’s important to understand some strategies simply aren’t worth the effort required. If a deck requires too many resources, has too many or uncounterable weakness, or is simply too slow or inconsistent for the meta, it’s time to move on to a new deck. Do not be mislead in thinking complicated or slow strategies are unviable, however. Some of the best examples of highly involved strategies include Gothitelle/Accelgor, Gliscor/Spiritomb, Speed Spread/Absolutions, and more. It’s important to make sure the setup required for a strategy is in proportion to the deck’s power. While using the above method of strategy, weaknesses, counters will help you discern what is and is not worthwhile, test playing is the only foolproof method of determining a deck’s viability.

Conclusion

Designing the perfect deck is never an easy process, and often times involves many iterations of an idea. The most important takeaway is understanding your options when approaching a challenge so that you have all the tools you need to build a competitive deck, and the speed, efficiency, and consistency with which you able to to do this will come with time and practice. I feel there is so much knowledge embedded in this article, I recommend reading it again after a few days to truly absorb everything we’ve learned together.

It sure has been a ton of fun writing this article, and I hope you leave this page feeling as though you’ve learned a hefty sum. Trust me when I say there will be more to come, and it will be soon is HERE! As always, if you have any questions please post a comment below and get a discussion going!

 

-Orion

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