Preparing for London Intercontinentals
Hi trainers, Paulo back again with a preview of the tournament everybody is talking about. Hope you enjoy the read!
11/08/2016 by Paulo Mimoso
"This article is part of 60cards article competition"
Europe got the distinction of hosting the first ever Intercontinental tournament after the event format structure was announced after Worlds, in an indication of what direction TPCi wanted to steer the game in the future, for both TCG and VGC.
In my opinion, it was a noble effort to raise their arguments in the e-sports competitive market but some of these few past events (Phoenix, Liverpool and Philadelphia) showed us that a lot of fighting still has to be done to improve quality for both players and viewers. Awful organization, expensive sign-up cost allied to a poor and ineffective cash tree payout and lack of stream options are some of the main criticisms directed at TPCi, that now regulates these events directly in Europe (even if mediated by independent organizers such as TournamentCenter in Liverpool and AMIGO will take charge of Dortmund), met with mixed feedback on behalf of players who were expecting a bit more regarding the sacrifices made in losing Cities, the old Regionals and Nationals. Players in the Old Continent were met with discontempt with the delay in League Cups and some countries (Portugal, Norway, Finland) not having League Challenges at all, making it near impossible for peripheral countries' players to garner enough CP to qualify for the Anaheim World Cup since big events are also located far from those areas.
Rumours regarding Regionals held in peripheral countries place them in the nearest in Madrid (Spain) and Copenhagen (Denmark), still quite far and expensive from listed countries, and these will be prepared reportedly once per season. While peripheral countries have been undoubtedly the most harmed by these changes, one can also not disregard the possibilities that european low-cost airlines offer (a flight from Lisbon to Ciampino, Roma or Stansted, London, costs as much as 25€ if booked with enough time in advance) and the inevitable comparison to our north american counterparts, who have it far worse with distance and venue location - the whole North England area in the Northeast has no Regionals and Canada finds itself as well fairly unrepresented with what I think is only 1 or 2 Regionals.
The new structure represents an investment for TPCi though; an investment in the Pokémon brand taking a lift on the 20th anniversary landmark and the ephemeral Pokémon GO's success, so it's pretty much guaranteed that we'll see much more of this in the upcoming seasons, accompanying the underlying number increase in event attendance,which is to say Pokémon is alive, well, and recommended, despite errors yet still to be corrected.
European Metagame Synthesis
So far in 2016 only England and Germany have seen (and will see) relevant events with reportable outcomes and I'll focus on these for the time being. Essen's SPIEL special event in October saw in Dark a pretty steady archetype, with a solid backup from some of Standard's most powerful decks, Gardevoir, Mewtwo and Volcanion, while Liverpool saw the confirmation of Gardevoir as a powerhouse and the ressurgence of some viable options like Gyarados AOR, Rainbow Road, my favourites Scizor and the trademarked Robin Schulz's Giratina, likewise the only person to make top cut at both events with the same deck. Danish/Dutch Steffen Eriksen won Essen with a singular Yveltal/Mew list (his lists always have that unique flavoured touch!), french Cédric Gouin took Liverpool with (surprisingly) M Rayquaza and portuguese Gonçalo Ferreira conquering the world's first ever League Cup with Yveltal as well.
I'm not keen on focusing in only the winning decks, however, because sampling out like that is anecdotal and doesn't provide sufficient data on why the deck is performing well because as we saw with Scizor in Liverpool, as long as those deck lists had a direct counter to Volcanion, it would be extremely unlikely to perform well given the proliferation of Volcanion decks in Top 32 (slightly over 20%). In fact, I'm choosing the broader option and view what decks in total had a decent record (more than decent actually, since the competition had 265 Masters and no Day 2):
Fig. 1 - Pie chart of the Top 32 decks in Liverpool. Source: Complexity Card Gaming.
We can draw out from the chart that Gardevoir is the threat to eliminate in the following competitions given its prevalence (22% total presence in Top 32) and average top placement slots taken. Volcanion, while in a really high position (21%) failed to take any top cut slots at all, hindered mainly by a high number of foreseeable Greninja and Waterbox players, aided with the all-mighty Gyarados that caused a sensation in Phoenix. Dark also gets a fair share of the pie with 15.6% representation, in the faces of the insanely popular and widely acknowledged Darkrai/Giratina and Yveltal/Mew decks.
The surprises were, however, Scizor and Rainbow Road (2 and 3 decks accordingly, 3 of these made Top 8), two of the decks I had tested the most up to this point and had sort of given up on them due to the inherent weaknesses; Volcanion for Scizor and Parallel City for Rainbow Road. I'm not sure what were Mehdi Hafi's and the british scissor brothers' course throughout the tournament but I'm guessing they had to avoid some bad matchups to get to this point. Even more surprising was the big win for M Rayquaza EX, in such a simple and straightforward list with only a single Super Rod that one would ask why didn't Parallel City hamper the deck big time -- but the fact is Cédric actually made it and reopened the format's concept with early hyped decks. Me and Nico Sutter discussed this a lot in early August and got to the conclusion that M Rayquaza would always be the deck to beat in this format given its celerity and ease to perform such big numbers in such a short amount of turns, and that despite of its many weaknesses, the deck could meet a varying degree of success. It just happened that the single top cut representation (of a not very large pool of Rayquaza players, I'd assume) took the gold back to the land of Charlemagne.
In the opposite direction, the biggest disappointment so far in Europe has been M Mewtwo EX. The deck hasn't been exactly overhyped and its power level is realistic and swift, but in all truth the deck has been finding true hard times with the sudden rise of M Gardevoir from Steam Siege which hits it for weakness, as well as dark variants that can land a punch against it. My two cents are that Mewtwo is facing the same troubles Rayquaza went through just a while back and is trying to readapt itself into the format as soon as there is an opening (and for Mewtwo, it will resurface as soon as M Gardy loses significance, which will only be possible through prevalent metal usage (not necessarily Scizor, can be Magearna-EX or Cobalion STS) or just pure positive prize exchange (in which Rainbow Road gets the most out of the game right now).
Whether this is a clear point indication of what's going to happen in London, I can tell you it will most certainly be not. London is in a entirely different setting and will feature some of North America's best players; this small Worlds environment will spawn a lot of curiosity and can spark originality from plyers that will make everything to stand out in the biggest tournament Europe has ever seen.
The first ever Intercontinentals are going to be held in the city of London, the capital of the United Kingdom, between the days of 9 and 11 December 2016, although registration starts for Masters on Thursday the 8th from 6pm to 9pm. We still have no data regarding pre-registrations at this point, one month away from the event, and can already predict there will be difficulties regarding this particular aspect, which is not a good sign at all. Pokémon's website event locator mention the pre-registration clause so we still need info on that.
Admission for Juniors and Seniors will cost 25 GBP (28€ and 31$, respectively) and 40 GBP for Masters (45€ and almost 50$). The high price reflects the probable payout expected for players and the combined prize pool that TPCi allegedly reports as being 250,000$ (far from the truth, according to recent Regionals' countings). The likely entrance prizes are a commemorative playmat, 2 booster packs from XY Evolutions, and a unique promo card. You can see more information in the event locator: London Intercontinental Event Description
Fig. 2 - ExCel Exhibition Centre's Western Gateway, the main access for the Intercontinental Tournament.
The event will be held in the ExCeL Exhibition Center, 10km to the east of the city centre (and conveniently close to the London City Airport, bathed by the Thames). For those of us who have to purchase flights, I found that the best flight prices range from Wednesday 7th to Monday 12th (~60€ back flight Lisbon-Stansted) with Ryanair. While this may not be the case with many other players, especially those living in Scandinavia, East Europe or America, my recommendation on searching for flights goes for sites such as e-dreams, momondo and SkyScanner, even if you don't purchase there, since you'll pay a hefty comission cost. Buy from the airline itself instead. Additionally, there are 5 different airport choices within London: Heathrow is the main one and at times the most expensive, London City Airport would be insanely perfect if one can find routes there at pretended dates and has the quid for it since the venue is just around the corner, and the 3 suburban options Stansted, Gatwick and Luton, all located roughly 40-50km away from the city centre in three different directions (North, South and Northwest, respectively).
In my case, I found Stansted to be the most cost effective even when compared to Heathrow. Example: return flight to Heathrow with Ryanair would cost me a little over 100€ and would grant me access to the subway added to less time expended in distance covered; however, the Stansted option cost me 60€ with the same air company and there is a transportation option, a shuttle if you want to call it that way, called Stansted Express that offers return tickets to Liverpool Street in the heart of London. Sometimes they'll harbour promotions and I snatched one at 20€, leaving me to city centre at the total cost of 80€. It's best if you book these online with some time beforehand, and please keep in mind these prices reflect my purchase in early November and these are subject to permanent change, including gradual increase. Most of who will be reading will have (fortunately) purchased their trips and won't be needing this information, but for those caught unawares -- you might want to hurry up.
Since I'm not from London (or have never been to the UK for that matter) I might not be the best person to provide directions, but as a geographer and former Erasmus student who went on in an European semester-long Pokémon adventure, I hold quite a luggage in the art of "desenrascar" (Portuguese word for getting out of a sticky situation in any way you can) and so the options I see viable to get to the ExCel from the city centre are from the Underground: for those getting out in Liverpool Street from Stansted, the Central line will do just fine, only one station westward to Bank where you can change to the DLR. You can access the DLR as well from Circle and District tubes, that pass through the center, and getting out in Monument. The DLR, beginning at the intersection of Bank and Monument, goes eastwards to 3 exits that serve the ExCeL and nearby hotels and guesthouses: Royal Victoria (West) and Prince Albert (East), with Custom House for ExCeL, described as a light train stop, serving in the middle of it. Royal Victoria might be your best option though, since there are many shops, food courts and hotels serving the pathway leading to the venue and exploration before the event to know where you can guide yourself in case of any need is highly recommended.
Fig. 3 - London Tube Map. ExCeL is located in the east segment, in the DLR line.
As far as accomodation goes, the 2 Ibis Hotels located just outside the venue offer good options for relatively cheap for who has a family or just wants some comfort and time to focus on the competitive side. But for backpackers like me who enjoy visiting the cities they're in for events (as I did for every international endeavour I took) and since I work as a hostel receptionist, I might hand out some nifty recommendations for accomodation that are both relatively close to the event and the city centre, as well as being cheaper than hotels:
- Via Limehouse Hostel (DRL line, cheapest option [only 16€ per night], 6.8 score on Booking)
- RMA Hostel (District line, 7.3 score on Booking)
- Wombats City Hostel (Whitechapel area, DRL line, 8.7 score on Booking)
- Park Villa Boutique Hostel (Mile End, District and Central lines, most expensive [~32€/night], 9.2 score on Booking)
These are few but worthwile options for people who want to get away with it slightly cheaper while enjoying the perks that a multicultural city such as London can offer. The hostel experience is perfect to meet new friends from different cultural backgrounds and contact with city landscape can net you local acquaintances. Some of my good friends are actually people I met in these circumstances and undoubtedly I'd do it all over again. It's just a matter of what you're planning to spend your time in one of the most highly regarded cities in the world. I, personally, look forward to it.
Rather than trying to theorymon-ing or take a bold move to predict the metagame because at this point it seems quite settled but varied, I'd say preparing yourself for a big event has so much more into it than just picking the right deck. Indeed, sometimes the playing aspect is just a factor in the general chart of performing well throughout the day. If you feel extremely tired or hungry I guarantee you your probability of obtaining Top Cut dramatically decreases. That being said, the tournament lasts for 3 whole days (and for those who won't make it to Day 2, there most certainly will be profitable side events to take part in), with the meeting hours ranging from 8 to 9 am, and round hours prolonging themselves to the whole day. Bear in mind that this is the first time that a tournament of this scale takes place in Europe and many aspects regarding organization and time structure WILL go wrong, so don't take their planning as granted and protect yourself from undesired outcomes.
Fig. 3 - Fateful encounter in Liverpool Regionals between João Lopes, a portuguese player and one of my teammates, and Danilo Cavalieri, one of the most renowned european judges. Pokémon sure is a little box of surprises.
Always sleep from 7 to 9 hours and be sure to be at the venue with enough time beforehand to avoid being late due to any sort of miscalculation or hazard. Never distract yourself regarding time to avoid situations like the ones in Philadelphia, where people got dropped out for grabbing a slice of pizza because lunch hours had been taken out due to a software problem that delayed pairings. The best way to counter this is to bring snacks in your backpack, alongside a big bottle of water. Fruit is highly recommended, but bring them inside a tupperware to prevent it getting spoilt or squashed inside your backpack. Pieces of apple, pear, peach or banana will do just fine. Chocolate and/or cereal bars are also really good, due to their high nutritional value and little space occupied. Chocolates, particularly, pack a high punch of chemicals that enhance your focus around 30 minutes after ingestion and improve your general performance. Chocolates are used profusely by astronauts and explorers in their voyages due to high resistance of chocolate to different environments and nutrition/calories ratio. Be mindful not to eat too many of them as they have lots of sugar! Cereal bars are also an excellent option for feeling yourself with more energy and lighten up yourself a bit. These will do just fine in case of a meal absent time but do not replace a typical meal so take care to respect your body's needs.
I also like to take energy drinks to an event. The caffeine ingestion can boost you a lot especially if you're sleepy and don't like coffee (as it's my case). I found myself performing well in many events due to taurine but please don't take more than one at least per day as taking too much of those substances WILL decrease your focus and turn you into a jumpy fella until nightfall. Chewing gum is a nice alternative to improve focus. It has been told that the chewing motion stimulates brain activity and makes you more prone to take decisions quicker and with more certainty. Many sports athletes follow this and chew gums during competitions, as well as coaches (a famous example being Sir Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United coach).
Finally, please take care of your belongings. As an event of this magnitude takes place, there will most certainly be situations you want to avoid in order to not get the shorter end of the stick. Always keep an eye on your stuff, trust nobody (that was a bit nihilistic lol) and, most of all, be nice and friendly to everyone else in the venue, be it players, judges, kids or parents. This will net you more benefits that you might expect. Never forget that the main reason you're participating here, rather than the competitive part, is the social aspect of the community. All the memories and pleasant things you'll garner here will come from being with other people who share the same interests as you. Do your best to enjoy them as the Intercontinentals, despite being the first and risking itself to have structural errors, take a long promise to be memorable to most of us who go to events in this magnitude for the very first time. This reminds me, by the way, of a very special side-event I'm organizing for 18+ year old players that has tradition in the now-extinct ECC and will take place after rounds. Have you checked it already? ;)
Thank you all for reading. I hope you guys enjoyed it and I promise next time I write there will be an extensive report of my performance in the London Intercontinentals, focusing on not only the PTCG strategy and results but as well on tournament output and community development. Stay sharp and see you in the UK everyone :)
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