Designing the Perfect Deck Pt. 2
Have you ever wanted to test play inside of a hyperbolic time chamber? Ever wished you had time for just a few more matches before a big event? Well then step right up and learn the best tips and tricks for effective practice!
05/10/2015 by Orion Craig
Stop! If you haven't yet, be sure to check out Part 1 of my FREE deck design tutorial by clicking HERE!
We meet again, 60cards reader. This time we will be discussing some tips and tricks to test out your newly designed wannabe masterpieces. Sure, you can do it the old fashioned way and spend hours testing different matchups over and over, and you probably should. First, however, you need to establish a that your deck meets a baseline viability against some of the most common matchups before your start grinding out matches the old fashioned way. These tips will take you from 0-60 faster than ever before, enabling you to get an idea of whether or not you should proceed with an idea. Enough jibber jabber- let’s get started!
Table of contents
How would you like to test inside of a hyperbolic time chamber? Wouldn’t it be great if you could actually create time to test your ideas? Yeah? Me too. Of course this is not a possibility, but when you use some of the tips below you’ll swear it’s the next best thing. What you’ll find when you read on is that you’ve been testing all wrong, and you didn’t even know there was another way! Unless playing Pokemon is your full-time job (a guy can dream, right?), you could always use a few extra games before that upcoming event, and today we’ll discover how to do that and more. How is this possible, you ask? Well first, let’s start off by breaking the rules, then we’ll get into some more general, and less naughty, tips.
This may sound odd at first, but if you test playing by the rules, then you’re doing it all wrong. By breaking certain rules you are able to test out specific scenarios over and over that could take several games to occur naturally just once. Additionally, you are able to learn certain nuances that would otherwise take ages to master. Lastly, breaking the rules allows you to test the limits of your deck in highly unfavorable situations. Let’s take a gander at some of my favorite rules to break.
“But, but, but… That’s not fair! If I can’t set my deck, they shouldn’t either.” Of course this isn’t fair, but some tournament games you’ll swear your opponent set their opening hand, too. You’re better off making sure your deck can handle a worst case scenario before you even bother testing it against par-for-the-course openings. Allowing your testing buddy to set their hand stresses your deck, closes skill gaps, heavily expedites testing, and increases familiarity with your deck in many ways. For these reasons, this is by far one of my most commonly used tricks.
First, setting the deck stresses what you’re capable of. If you can understand how to handle a matchup at its worst, you’ll have no problem blasting through a standard tournament match. I will warn you, however, that testing like this can leave you disheartened and disenchanted with your deck. Do not get downtrodden, my friend, and take a break from testing like this if you feel the depression creeping in.
Secondly, this trick allows you to test against specific scenarios that could take several games to occur naturally. This allows you to feel comfortable playing out an otherwise tricky situation. Do you want to know how Flareon fairs against Yveltal with a Toad+DCE start? Sure, you could play games until this occurs on its own, but that takes precious time you may not have if Regionals is just two days away.
Lastly, this method levels the playing field if your testing buddy isn't fully confident in the deck they're using. For instance, imagine if when practicing for FL Regionals neither Mike nor I felt fully confident using Yveltal. By allowing for a strong start we eliminated the need to work our way out of a poor opening, and could focus on mastering Flareon before our approaching deadline rather than waste time learning Yveltal. It worked out, too, as I ended up playing against over six Yveltal decks throughout the event.
Sometimes it's tough to get your list just right. Instead of spending precious time battling over theorymon with your testing buddy, it can be best to sleeve up with 59 or 61 cards and take it for a spin. In doing so, you might learn that one tech card really isn't necessary, or that 3 Lysander is actually overkill, for instance. Using an extra card, you can test out the viability of a tech, see if an extra supporter would help, and much much more without having to think about which cards to cut. If you decide the extra card is exceptionally helpful, you can then devote your precious time to discerning which card to cut.
Provided that you're like me, you'll sometimes find yourself spending an hour or more deliberating over that final card spot. I found that by using this trick I'm able to save a whole lot of time by getting down to business. Perhaps once you get a few games under your belt and see a handful more scenarios played out, you’ll understand exactly what to put in. Sure, you could throw in an extra support or similarly impactful card, but that could skew your data about stability. Whether or not you're in a time crunch I highly recommend this tactic as it has saved me many, many hours of careful deliberation.
Arguments over a 60th card come dangerously close to ending friendships more often than I'd like to admit. The best way to circumvent this is by playing 2 cards at once! If you've ever felt yourself torn between a 3rd Lysandre or a 4th VS Seeker, don't bother playing 10 or more games testing out each method. There's just no way to know which of your 3 Lysandre is the newly added copy, nor which VS Seeker is your 4th. Instead, mark one of the cards with a piece of paper in the sleeve or by using a junk proxy. Using this trick you will know exactly when you’ve drawn the debated card, and you won’t have to guess as to which would be the more commonly useful addition.
Now, each time you draw the marked card, simply establish whether a VS Seeker or Lysandre would be better suited for your situation. With just a few games, it'll be clear which one has effectively bailed you out of trouble time and again. This trick has so many applications I couldn't imagine nailing down the specifics of a list without it. In fact, you don’t even need to be considering two cards for this trick to come in handy. Perhaps you just wonder whether the 3rd N is really needed to boost stability, or if an unknown 60th card would be more useful. Simply mark the N, play a few games, and use the collected data to determine whether or not the N is needed. If not, THEN start debating what other card to put in. Sounds like a pretty cool time saver, huh?
"Seriously? Why would I play flippy cards just to get tails every time?" I know this may sound bizarre at first, but hear me out. Generally speaking, I don't recommend playing flip cards, e.g. Super Scoops Up, Pokemon Catcher, or Crushing Hammer, in a deck that can't afford to get more than a couple of tails in a row. Few things are more infuriating than losing an important match because of a series of bad flips. In order to test your deck's resistance to bad luck, try out a couple of games going 1-3 or even 0-4 on your flip cards. If you can’t win these games, maybe you should try a more consistent strategy. In the end, however, it’s up to how much risk you’re willing to take on when entering an event.
By now you may be noticing a pattern: in order to truly test your deck's strength, put yourself into disadvantageous positions when you're not playing for keeps. This way you'll be an expert-level underdog when the time comes. Nothing is more disheartening than watching your opponent weasel their way out of what seems like an impossible situation, so by utilizing some of these tricks you’ll master the art of breaking your opponent’s spirit.
Now, some pretty serious controversy surrounds this trick. Certain players hold the opinion that take backs will make you a weaker player. They feel learning from your mistakes is the best method, and taking back your misplays diminishes the learning process. While I understand and respect this opinion, I disagree, especially in the early stages of your deck's design.
When you have a new idea that could be viable, nothing will make you feel truly defeated like losing game after game during your initial learning process. By allowing for take backs you can experience the maximum potential of your deck without spending countless games familiarizing yourself with a new deck’s nuances. Once you've incorporated some of the other tricks to nail down your deck list and gotten some practice with your deck, feel free to turn on hard mode and play without take backs. Personally, however, I always practice on easy mode, as I feel it helps me learn. It's up to you to find out what works best for your situation, though.
Ah, one of the most quintessential hallmarks of a seasoned veteran. What do I mean by checking your prizes? Well, imagine that you're completely comfortable with your deck. You should know the exact 60 cards on your list, allowing you to figure out through process of elimination which cards are missing when you first search through your deck. I know this may sound intimidating, but by instituting the right method and getting a little practice this becomes rather easy.
"So, I've just picked up this new deck and you want me to know every single card?!" No, my dear friend, that's just crazy talk. What I suggest is you do your best, checking for your important techs, and actually peek at your prizes to verify after giving it your best shot. In doing so, you build the habit of checking for important cards without sacrificing the legitimacy of your testing, since in a tournament you should know at least half your prizes.
Additionally, once you've become experienced checking for the most important cards in your deck, I recommend counting your supporters, VS Seekers, and other important trainers, such as Max Potion or Colress Machine. This may sound unreasonable at first, but I have used a system for a quite a while that helps a considerable amount. When I start searching my deck, I use my first riffle through to check for techs, my Ace Spec, etc. Then, I go through again with a mental counter at 0-0-0-0... The first 0 represents Juniper, then the 2nd is for N, and so forth. As I pass each card, I only have to remember 4 or 5 numbers, instead of trying to keep track of each card I've seen. I know this may not sound useful at first, but it has been incredibly useful information for me. Let’s run through a quick example for your benefit.
Sam is searching her deck for the first time with Ultra Ball, and wants to know which cards are prized. She knows her list consists of 4 Professor Juniper, 3 N, 1 Colress and 4 VS Seeker so her counter starts out at 0-0-0-0. After looking through her hand, she notices 1 Juniper and 1 VS Seeker, so she mentally notes 1-0-0-1. After she passes her first N, she simply changes it to 1-1-0-1, then after seeing another Juniper 2-1-0-1. At the first sight of Colress, the counter flips to 2-1-1-1 and so forth. After ending up with a final count of 3-3-1-3, Sam can play the rest of the game knowing 1 Juniper and 1 VS Seeker are prized.
The importance of checking your prizes reaches far further than simply knowing what resources are missing. For instance, your instinct may be to use your only VS Seeker in hand for a Juniper, but because you checked for your prized supporters earlier in the game you know 2 out of your 4 remaining prize cards are supporter cards. With this knowledge, it may be in your best interest to use your VS Seeker for a Lysander, granting you a KO on an EX. You have extremely high odds of drawing a supporter out of your prizes, and leave yourself with only 2 prize cards in the process, which will be an easy game to finish out.
Lastly, I'm sure by now the importance of knowing your prizes is clear. The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you are to pull out a victory. Once you’ve mastered the art of checking for techs and supporters, you can take it a step further and check for energy or any other important cards in your deck. Furthermore, I suggest you checking your prizes as an ongoing effort throughout the entire match. As your deck gets smaller, it becomes even easier to see exactly which resources are left at your disposal. So with that said, get out there and practice, practice, practice! Do you have 5 minutes before you have to leave for class? Shuffle your deck, deal 6 face down cards, and search through the remaining cards to discover what’s missing. Doing this just a couple of times with your favorite deck can have a drastic affect on your execution of this incredibly powerful trick.
OK, we're done with cheating and it's time to talk about some simple tips. While these may not seem quite so radical in the face of what we’ve just discussed, I think you’ll find these tips catapult your testing and deck design to the next level. While the aforementioned tricks focused exclusively on test playing, these tips will include some ideas for how to strike that perfect balance when designing your deck, as well as some less devious means of perfecting your idea through diligent practice. The goal is the keep yourself from becoming stagnant as well as preventing yourself from looking at things from only one side. Have you ever seen an artist turn their head when looking at one of their works in progress? This idea is that by looking at things from another angle you may notice imperfections that were right in front of your nose, yet completely imperceptible. Additionally, there are times where your greatest inspiration could be discovered by turning the world you know on its head and seeing what falls out of its pockets.
"WHAAAAT?! I thought you said we were done cheating, Orion?" OK seriously do you not trust me yet? I feel like I'm always having to watch my back with how incredibly quick you are to judge and question me. I need some space to work, alright? Gosh. When I say flip the table, all I mean is to swap sides. Whether you do this literally or not, the aim here is to get your hands on a deck you're struggling against and play a few games from the other side. If you find a specific deck, let’s call it Yveltal, consistently giving you a hard time, then try playing the matchup from the other side. This way you'll quickly gain an understanding of what tactics really tick Yveltal off, and you’ll gain an understanding of what strategies to employ. Then, when you change back to your original deck, try to focus on the strategies that were giving Yveltal trouble while using your deck.
Additionally, this tip gives you insight into what thoughts will scamper through your opponent’s mind when battling against you. This is an incredibly important dimension of this tip to grasp. When you’re using your deck, your love for the idea can blind you to certain weaknesses that are only discovered after you try to hardest to unravel everything you’ve worked to create. Fear not, reader, as this is an important and necessary aspect to success in deck design. If your idea truly has merit, then you can adjust your strategy or even your list to combat this new threat, and in doing so you will wean out and weaknesses, thus handling any adversity you may face.
Lastly, perhaps whoever you hand your newborn brainchild to will see things differently than you do, and incredible strategies can emerge. Let’s look at an example of this I recently went through. If you’ve read nearly any of my articles, you must understand by now how much I loved my Princess Toadstool deck (R.I.P. November 5th, 2014-May 6th, 2015), and I’d like to share a little secret about how it gained so much power. When the deck was first built, I was so determined to abuse Quaking Punch+Hyper Hypnosis to lock down my opponents that’s nearly all I did. Of course this strategy is incredibly effective, and it lead me down a trail of love for and dedication to the deck. It wasn’t until a good friend of mine, Nick S., asked to try out the Toadstool after a City Championship that my understanding of the deck was expanded, however. Even though Nick’s success while piloting the deck was fairly limited, what I considered to be his unorthodox use of alternate attackers throughout the game intrigued me. While it seems completely obvious to use Darkrai EX as an attacker, I was so focused on locking people down that the thought never crossed my mind. As time passed and proper considerations were given I found myself using Darkrai and/or Malamar as an attacker nearly every game, and the deck’s strategy evolved to become even more powerful without having to change a single card on the list. It’s moments of enlightenment like this that drive my passion and interest in Pokemon. The ever evolving landscape known as the metagame is always asking to be radically shaken up, and my burning desire to accomplish this is what keeps my engines rumbling.
Yep, first we cheat and now we steal. Welcome, my friend, to the dark underbelly of expert-level competition. Of course I would never actually advocate the theft of someone else’s cards, but in the world of competition I high recommend, nay, demand you steal their intellectual property. Have you ever seen someone who has a deck that always seems to set up? Somehow, somewhere along the line they’ve hit that consistency sweet spot, or maybe discovered an interesting new way to set up. Now, just because they effectively pull of their chosen strategy does not mean their strategy is worth pulling off. This reliable yet unattractive deck, or jalopy, has an engine that would just be so perfect for the shiny new racecar you’ve been tweaking, however. So what would any sensible man or woman do in a situation like this? That’s right, you steal it! Strip down their deck until only the engine is left, and then rebuild your latest idea around your newfound foundation. Of course you can always make changes later, but getting off to the right start is almost as important as thinking of the right idea. Lets look at a hypothetical and then a real world example, shall we?
After Sam finished talking to us about how great her mad prize checking skills are, she got to thinking about a new idea. Her supporter line of 4 Juniper, 3 N, 1 Colress, 4 VS with 4 Acro Bike was consistently allowing her Medicham deck to go off without a hitch. Unfortunately, she just couldn’t get the deck to consistently win. Sam had all the Medicham, Muscle Band, and Strong Energy she needed, but the deck couldn’t quite handle her local metagame. After scrapping the deck, heavy hearted Sam began brainstorming for new ideas. “Oh! What about Yveltal EX with Seismitoad EX?” thought Sam. Now, this clearly clever girl figured that since Medicham was able to set up so well using its engine, she’d simply apply those exact same cards to her new, ground-breaking idea, only swapping out Medichams for Yveltal, Meditite for Seismitoad, and so forth. What were Sam’s findings? Her new deck was quite capable of winning, and still just as consistent! Great job, Sam. She was able to save time by utilizing an already functional engine in her new deck, instead of wasting time pondering how many VS Seeker or Professor Juniper she should play. I do this all of the time by actually laying out and sorting a given deck of mine, and physically swapping out the cards to ensure accuracy.
What’s that? You’ve seen something like this before? Of course you have! It’s all over the place in competitive card games. For instance, after Flareon’s sudden success, decks using the same low supporter, low energy, high trainer engine to effectively utilize Archie’s Ace in the Hole began showing up everywhere. Seismitoad EX+Swampert, Exeggutor+Empoleon, Empoleon/Magnezone, Night March+Empoleon, and much more began to copy the engine. It is this unrelenting analysis of the competition that enables you to use someone else’s success to your benefit.
Finally, by applying this principle to transfer engines between your own ideas or to become a bonafide car thief, you’ll find yourself saving a lot of time and effort as opposed to building your newest idea from the ground up each and every time. I recommend you use this tip any time you are presented with two ideas that have the same general needs as one another in terms of setup, and one of them already has a functioning engine installed. The beauty of a TCG is that new ideas emerge all the time, and taking full advantage of ground-breaking ideas will keep you on the cutting edge of the competition.
This discretionary tip is to be used with caution. Use it at the right time and you’ll put the finishing touches on your newest invention. If used improperly, however, it can cause you to discard your fledgling ideas before they’ve had a chance to spread their wings. In effect, timing your matches when you’re new to a deck can change the tone and pace of a match, causing you to rush through tough decisions or overlook nuances that could develop your idea before you’ve had a chance to grasp your deck’s potential. With that said, timing practice matches is a tip I neglect far more often than I’d like to admit, as the benefits are really quite significant. Once an idea is reaching its final stages, adding a stopwatch into the mix allows you to gain a full understanding of how your deck operates in a tournament setting. Imposing a time limit will not only reveal any troubles your deck has with completing a full best of three set, but may actually reveal unrealised strengths your deck may possess.
Once you gain a strong grasp on your deck, imposing a time limit will reveal any time related issues. That is not to say, however, that any deck that struggles with completing a best of three is unviable. Examples are littered throughout Pokemon history of long-fought battles and champions of perseverance. Two of the most recent examples of such decks are Empoleon/Magnezone and Accelgor/Chandelure. Nonetheless, time can be a very real issue for some decks. Due to the rules of Bo3 gameplay, any deck that struggles with completing a match is essentially doomed to failure if they lose the first game in a set. Game 2 will likely not finish, resulting in a loss and elimination from the top cut. The best way to work around this is the ensure your slow deck is stable, extremely potent, and you have absolute mastery of the deck. If you’re playing a speed deck, you have the leisure of considering your options carefully each turn, knowing the games will end quickly. With a slower deck, conversely, you are not afforded such luxury. By fully mastering your deck, however, you are able to play at a faster pace, increasing your chances of finishing matches as needed. Additionally, you will have greater understanding of when you are almost sure to lose, allowing you to confidently forfeit an unwinnable game and move on to the next one with minutes to spare. If you choose a slow deck, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
In contrast, time may be your greatest ally of all. If your deck’s strategy results in long, drawn-out games, winning the first match is nearly a sure-fire path to victory. Once you have that initial win under your belt, it should be effortless for you to draw the second game out until time is called, resulting in a match win. In fact, if you have total control during the first game, you may want to hold off winning as long as possible so that your opponent is left with even less time to finish games 2 and 3. I briefly mentioned this strategy during my recap of round 1 at AL States, and Sami Sekkoum goes into much greater detail of this strategy in his most recent article, so be sure to check it out. Princess Toadstool, for instance, has the ability to win games fairly quickly through use of Hypnotoxic Laser, heavy hitting EXs, and shutting your opponent’s deck down with Quaking Punch. Conversely, it can stall games out almost indefinitely through the use of Max Potion and Lysandre’s Trump Card to prolong your amphibian’s life, meaning time could act not as a constraint, but quite contrarily wielded as a weapon.
In short, stopwatches are cheap or even free if you have a smartphone. There is no excuse to forgo testing at least a few games before an event on a clock. No excuse, that is, unless you’re lazy as I am. If anything, it will make your feel more comfortable and prepared for your next tournament. This is one of the most basic yet essential tips I can offer.
I gag every time I hear anything to the effect of “I can only play speed decks.” No, sweet, kind, supportive reader, you cannot “only play speed decks.” Perhaps you prefer them. Maybe they’re just more fun for you. But if you truly can only play speed decks, that is simply because you’ve never practiced the vast number of alternatives. If you want to make a name for yourself, you must break away from such an incredibly restricting mantra and branch out into unknown territory; and you must do it right now. If you decide otherwise, your success will be heavily influenced not by your personal ingenuity, your ability to hard-read a metagame, or the incalculable hours you’ve spent practicing for the upcoming tournament, but by how speed decks, or whatever decks you limit yourself to, fit into the current metagame. Now, let’s get you out of that comfort zone!
First, vow to never utter such a phrase again. If not for your benefit, then please do it for me, your trusted friend and ally. If you continue to propagate such an absurd motto, failure with any other style of deck is near certain. As long as you believe speed decks are your only means of success, you will take each failure with any other deck much harder. Instead of learning from your mistakes, you will be discouraged to the point of abdicating your duty of consistently impressing your crowds of untold fans. This mindset can poison your potential, and ruin your reputation.
Second, having an understanding of different styles of deck building enables you to effectively counter each one. If you know what goes into setting up a slow deck, you can then build a strategy around inhibiting their attempts at victory. Conversely, awareness of strategies that enable a setup deck to handle speedier competition can assist you in designing the perfect speed deck. Knowing your competition is paramount to your success as a player, and limiting yourself is no way to take on such a daunting task.
Finally, I want to say absolutely nothing is wrong with having a favorite style of deck, but do not allow your preferences to narrow your vision and turn you into a one trick pony. If you’re constantly searching for a setup deck in a meta dominated by speed decks, it may be you who discovers the next game changer. Spend too much time on ideas that are mediocre at best, however, and you’ll find yourself ill equipped for the next big tournament. All of principles encapsulated within this tip apply to those of you who only play rogue decks as well. Rogue decks are cool. Rogue decks are edgy. Rogue decks are only rogue if they’re actually good. Otherwise, we have another name for them: bad decks that nobody plays. I have created my fair share of rogue decks, but I have also understood when the metagame had no room for new ideas, causing me to choose a mainstream deck. You should take as much pride in the flair you add to a meta deck in order to thwart the competition as you do when piloting an entirely new rogue idea.
We’ve talked about so many wildly different yet incredibly impactful tips and tricks that I want to finish up with a quick recap. Think of this as your cheat sheet, or a TL;DR for those less inclined to read every proverbial golden nugget I’ve lain before them. In fact, it may even behoove you to print what follows and keep it in your deck box or binder as a reminder.
This not only speeds up testing by ensuring the deck you’re looking to beat has a strong start, but allows you to stress test your deck against its hardest matchups, better preparing you for the competition.
Whenever that 60th slot eludes you, take your deck for a spin with 59 or 61 cards. After a few games, you’ll have a much better understanding of what your deck needs to survive.
If you’re undecided between two similar cards, put in a proxy and determine which card would be most apropos each time it is drawn. Use this data to determine which card deserves the final spot.
Yet another stress test tactic which reveals whether or not your deck heavily relies on successful coin flips. After collecting data, determine whether or not your deck involves an acceptable level of risk for you.
During the early stages of developing a deck, trying to play perfectly can be daunting. Allow yourself some leeway while you discern whether or not your idea is worth pursuring.
Cutting yourself some slack when checking prizes with a new deck maintains legitimacy while building good habits. Try out the 0-0-0-0 counting method for more advances prize checks. Knowledge is power!
Getting your hands dirty by playing with one of your toughest matchups is sometimes all it takes to turn an unfavorable matchup into a favorable one. Additionally, the insight learned by watching someone else play your deck can be invaluable.
Stealing other player’s intellectual property and using it for your own devious plans saves a lot of time. You may also transfer engines between your own decks for a consistent outline from which to build out your newest idea.
Stopwatches can help you discover weaknesses, devise new strategies, and prepare you for the pressures of playing in a tournament.
Limiting yourself to one or two styles can narrow your vision and inhibit your ingenuity. Humbly learn from your mistakes and you’ll soon find yourself on top.
At last that’s a wrap for part 2 of my series on deck design. As always, post any questions in the comment section below, and if you learned anything be sure to share this article on Facebook! Still want more? Check out Part 1 of my free deck design tutorial if you haven't already by clicking HERE! I really appreciate you taking the time to read my articles, and I'll see you again soon.
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