Experts' corner

Daniel Altavilla

Gaining a Grasp - A Story of Cities Flops and Successes

Daniel goes over the 9 City Championships he attended.

02/02/2016 by Daniel Altavilla


Hey there, 60Cards readers! I've gone over a bunch of strong Standard and Expanded plays in preparation for Cities, and now that they've come to a close, it's time for us to recap and take in all the information we've gained. Cities were a fun time filled with laughs, successes, failures, happiness, anger, and even life lessons, and I feel that personally this season of Cities has taught me more about the game and about myself as a player than any other before.

Taking this information out of Cities has been a wonderful experience, and as I share my experiences with you all, I hope that you can relate to some of it and become enlightened. If there's any one part about this game that is most admirable, it's how much it can help people figure things out about themselves in real life and better themselves as players in their minds as well as at the table. In my opinion, there is no better feeling than enlightenment. In this game of Pokémon, there are people who are still creating decks that are subpar simply because they aren't following the basic formula: four Professor Sycamore, three N, one Colress, X Utility Supporters, four VS Seeker, etc. There are players that are stuck without the knowledge of deck composition who are struggling to win games because they're drawing into their 20 Basic Energy instead of the very few Pokémon/Trainers they play.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing these players. I'm stating that they just don't have a grasp on the deckbuilding part of this game, which leads back to my point. It's enlightening when you first are taught/figure out that you're better off with four Sycamore and four VS Seeker instead of one Sycamore, one Tierno, one Steven, and one VS Seeker. It's enlightening when you are granted with matchup knowledge, knowing exactly what an Yveltal-EX deck has to do to an Entei deck to overcome the poor matchup. It's enlightening to realize that a certain card within our extensive card pool combos with another card with such synergy and nobody has thought the combo up yet. There are just little things that some people do not have the experience or the luxury to know, people without a mentor in this game or people who just can't get a grasp.

With that being said, I hope you take this simple look back at my 2016 Season Cities reports and that you can take something out of this article, regardless of what it is. I hope that you gain a tighter grasp on this game.

 Week 1: Get Your Head in the Game!

Week 1 of Cities for me was a weak performance. Day 1 I took Zander Bennett's Raichu/Crobat/Milotic deck and performed terribly with it, because I decided against playtesting. I was careless, and I chose to enter the meta blind with a deck I didn't really have any experience with. Had I taken the time to test it, I would've realized that it had a ton of trouble with Giratina-EX, which happened to be large on the first weekend. I would've realized that the deck was not as consistent as it could have been, especially taking into account how fast the meta was at this point. Instead, I decided to just have fun and take it lightly. (I'll place each decklist below my discussion of each tournament for reference.) 

This deck is very strong on paper. The mixture of Raichu to KO anything in front of it with Crobat able to snipe things off of the Bench is always an attractive idea. The strongest part about this deck is its quick, aggressive gameplan. The biggest issue is its dead draws. Don't get me wrong - you can easily smash a City Championship with this deck, as it is very impossible to beat when it sets up. But it's not very easy to do that. First off, I have multiple issues with this list I ran.

Brigette: This card is a very nice one to run in a deck like this, considering you need to get your Basics out so you can actually Evolve your Pokémon and start your plan. But its shortcoming is that you don't have Computer Search, Battle Compressor, or Jirachi-EX to search it out! Instead, you run eleven Evolutions that you can start instead, along with only two draw Supporters. Point blank, relying on a Supporter to execute your strategy is better left for Expanded. We simply don't have the Standard resources to consistently get your Brigette out. This is why you should run Level Balls in her place.

Heavy reliance on Abilities: If you get hit with a Hex Maniac at any point, you either get knocked a turn behind in the game, or you're completely denied a KO. I love Crobat in the sense that damage spread is very strong and can grant you multiple options for KOs every turn through many of the attacks in your deck. You can go Golbat-double Crobat-Skill Dive on Shaymin-EX randomly to win a game, for example. But you also forsake Muscle Band in favor of Bat damage, which means your opponent now has options and can essentially control your damage output down to 160 Damage per turn. You can't use Shaymin-EX or Unown AOR which means you simply won't set up. It's a one-slot soft counter to your whole deck, and it is in most decks in Standard. Instead of a 4-3-2 Bat line, I'd run a 3-3-1 with two Muscle Bands. Worried about not filling up your Bench? You run unlimited Sacred Ash because of Milotic, so you'll have the knockout anyways. Plus, Muscle Band can be used when you don't have a Zubat Benched.

It shouldn't be a surprise why I find this deck underwhelming after figuring these two things out. It just isn't the play right now in Standard. Having a Basic attacker to fall back on is safer than just relying on Stage 1s without draw support. This has been a shortcoming of Raichu/Bats since the beginning of the archetype, and while the deck was played widely enough to pick up some wins, those seem like simple anomalies, as every time I run the deck I start to dislike it even more.

I spent the night with my good friend Mike and his son. The three of us took a break with Pokémon for a couple hours to dig into a huge seafood platter at a nearby restaurant, and the meal was a good way to rest my weary head after the losses of the day. I was so dead set on a consistent deck that could beat Giratina-EX that I psyched myself into duplicating Michael Canaves' M Sceptile-EX build that he had received 2nd Place with the night before. The three of us went back to our hotel room and contemplated what the play for the next day was. It seemed so difficult to pick something that could beat everything. In hindsight, that was my bigger problem throughout Cities: I was so obsessed with the notion of a deck that could beat everything that I didn't take into account what was actually being played. "M Sceptile beats Giratina-EX, sure! But what can it do versus Night March besides lose? But Raichu/Bats destroys Night March, so I'll just use that again. But wait, I just faced two Giratina-EX decks and two Seismitoad-EX/Crobat decks today so why would I put myself back into an unfavorable situation?" It was an endless cycle. Eventually, I built M Sceptile-EX and ended up going to sleep confident in the play I was about to use.

Brushing my teeth the next morning was when the nerves finally got to me and I choked. I decided that it wouldn't be wise to play M Sceptile-EX, and I had an M Manectric-EX/Target Whistle deck built that my buddy John Silvestro helped me out with. I then was sure that Manectric would be my play, so I brought that and Sceptile to the tournament. Upon arrival, my friend Harrison Leven and I started talking and joking around while waiting for the store to open and let us in. As we started talking, we drifted off into a discussion about the tournament and what the best play would be, as Pokémon players so often do. We decided upon his deck from the day prior, M Manectric-EX/Regice/Articuno/Techs. (This list is more than likely not my exact list. I messed up by not saving it on my phone, so the one I've posted is based on memory.) This play was a decent one for the tournament, but yet again I did something I shouldn't have. I built the deck the morning of the tournament with the limited resources I had on me, I ran the list Harrison and I built on the spot instead of running one I had tested and was comfortable with, and I ended up doing poorly. I played the deck fine, and I ended up with a final record of 5-2, but that wasn't enough for me. Had I tested, I would've seen how poorly the draws were for the deck. How difficult it was to have the appropriate Energy for each situation, how tough it was to overcome the M Mewtwo-EX matchup, considering the deck had such a large showing that day. I ended up with another failure, and this set the tone for the rest of Cities as me feeling unconfident.

This was a beautiful mind baby Harrison and I created. I'm pretty sure it's the first time he and I had worked together on a list since we were both in the Senior division and on the same team. I loved the list because I love M Manectric-EX, but I feel that the list was just too quickly built and not thought up enough.

The things I love most about the list are 

Raikou: Assault Vest and Shining Body together reduces 60 damage from anything with a special Energy attached. Helps a little bit against Vespiquen, especially with Parallel City facing them, and RIP Seismitoad-EX. Raikou is just awesome for so many matchups. He also applies a bunch of pressure to Entei, which is a simple enough matchup anyways.

Parallel City: Makes Rayquaza even easier. Limits your Bench vs Zoroark. Discards your Shaymin-EX. Harry and I teched it to apply pressure to Tyrantrum-EX/Bronzong, forcing them to discard everything late game. We kept it because it's absolutely insane in M Manectric. Vespiquen now needs 21 Pokémon in the discard to KO an M Manectric-EX, 25 if you have Vest attached. Discarding Shaymin-EX gives Night March less KO options if they don't have the 11 Marchers in discard. 

This is a pretty sick idea but a very poor list, and with a bit of tweaking it could have been good, but I quickly gave up on it once I found out about Entei. 

For an entire week I was just worried that I couldn't pull out a win. That the players in Orlando were too much for me. Why was that the case when I had done so well in the area in the past? Why did I even sweat it instead of just shrugging off the two failures that weekend and focus on actually preparing myself for the next weekend? These are the questions I asked myself in hindsight as Cities progressed.

Week 2: A Breath of Fresh Air

This weekend was one of my Dad's South Florida cities as well as one in Orlando. I ended up only going to the SoFlo one, which was honestly quite appropriate. Had I gone all the way back to Orlando and performed bad again, I would have a 3-4 hour car ride home contemplating my inadequacy. I'm not sure why I felt that way and continued playing instead of taking a break, but I'd like to think it's because I was just being a baby about the loss but deep inside I knew that I could pull out a win if I gave myself the chance. 

This weekend was one of my Dad's South Florida cities as well as one in Orlando. I ended up only going to the SoFlo one, which was honestly quite appropriate. Had I gone all the way back to Orlando and performed bad again, I would have a 3-4 hour car ride home contemplating my inadequacy. I'm not sure why I felt that way and continued playing instead of taking a break, but I'd like to think it's because I was just being a baby about the loss but deep inside I knew that I could pull out a win if I gave myself the chance.


I decided to run Sableye/Garbodor at this one, because I had yet to test Expanded and I wanted to just play the deck I was most comfortable with. I ended up losing Round 1 because of a misplay where I played too fast and recklessly, dropping down a Team Aqua's Secret Base to bump a Silent Lab before Retreating my active Shaymin-EX. There was a nasty ruling that happened during the game too, where my opponent and friend Daniel Lopez and I were split on a certain play and had to ask the judge what to do to resolve it. When there is something that two players don't agree on, the game always ends up being messy afterwards, and it's lame that it had to happen between two pals. Regardless, I played through the tournament beating an Yveltal-EX deck, a Donphan, a Speed Lugia, and a 60-card copy of Daniel Lopez's list.


Each game involved me having a control of the game that was unparalleled to anything I'd experienced before. This was the first time I really played a deck that could gain a complete lock, and it was such an empowering feeling. It brought my confidence back and I was hooked on this deck. For elaboration on my feelings toward lock decks and for my Sableye/Garbodor list from the tournament, check out a previous article here.

I ended up facing the same Toad/Bats list in Top 4 and coming out on top due to some clutch Burrows I got in the early stages of the game which forced my opponent into an even harder dead draw than he already had. In Finals, I met up with Daniel Lopez again, and we had an interesting set. I quickly took game one with a fast lock and a swarm of Pokémon. Games 2 and 3 both went the same way; I drew into no Pokémon and was quickly beaten by the aggressiveness of Toad/Bats.

This tournament was a good jump start to my CP, bringing me up to about 165 or so, and it gave me some valuable information about Lock decks in this game as well as restored my confidence in myself as a player. After the tournament, I went home, built an Entei/Charizard-EX list that Zander Bennett had given me, and decided that would be the deck I used during the next Standard City Championship. History repeated itself, and I spent another week without testing the deck I was going to play at the next tournament. I think I got exactly one game in beforehand! But for some reason, I had a good feeling about...

Week 3: A True Showcase of Prowess

Week 3 was a complete crapshoot. No matter what you ran, you needed to hit good matchups to win. Entei was just released on YouTube, it was being hyped up on Virbank, and everybody was prepared with Startling Megaph- oh wait, never mind. People STILL haven't teched Megaphone in their decks for Entei even after how strongly it performed in the first couple of weeks after its conception. I was afraid to run the deck for my lone Week 3 CC after it was posted by Team Fish Knuckles on YouTube, but I just went with it and decided that it would be a fine play because it hadn't had a big enough showing in Florida for people to rationalize teching for it.

Sure enough, it ended up being the right call. My only loss in Swiss was to my Channel partner John Dang and his Night March list with two Startling Megaphone. I only lost the game because of those techs and because of a mistake on my part starting Charizard-EX over Entei. Our Top 4 for the tournament was Kevin Kobayashi, John Dang, Omar Izaguirre, and myself, which proves something to me. We all had a grasp and an understanding of the decks we could potentially face and how to beat them. We each were a cut above the rest in this tournament and that's why we finished on top. It proved to me that there is more to this game than matchups and techs. It's not easy beating Trevenant/Gengar-EX with Entei. It's not easy overcoming ToadBats with Night March. But it's possible, and that's what some players just can't understand. There is no such thing as an autoloss. If you play a matchup hard enough, you can find some sort of exit. Think Frank Diaz in his Regionals win versus Matt Price. He milked every resource out of his deck to pull the win out. That's the example I run to when letting somebody know to never give up.

Another example is Jason Klaczynski at Nationals versus Wailord. He used a "cheap" method to win that game, but how many people do you know could have executed it that flawlessly without illegally stalling? Jason thought about that matchup over his morning Wheaties just like we all did, and he more than likely didn't find an absolute answer, but when he got into the hot seat, he took into consideration the rules of Top Cut, his resources, and he truly showcased his experience in this game to pull out a near-impossible win. That's what separates the good from the mediocre, and that's another example of a grasp on this game.

In Top 4, as fate would have it, I faced Omar Izaguirre for the second tournament in a row. He was running Yveltal/Zoroark/Gallade, and our games were close up until Game 3. Game 1 I drew horrible hands until he finally pulled out the win, but I was still a turn away. Game 2, I also drew horrible hands, but I was able to take the game after a very long one. Game 3, I hit a turn-one KO on Yveltal-EX, and I was able to get a KO every turn for the rest of the game, completely blowing Omar up. It was a very strong game for the deck and really proved to me that it didn't have a poor matchup, just was vulnerable to techs. Even a simple Xerosic knocked me out of Game 1, for example.


This isn't the list I played for the tournament, because that list is all over on YouTube and everyone more than likely has it by now. This list is the one I think is the best right now, and that's mainly because of how consistent this deck is and how many techs can be added. I decided to go with these techs:

1 Ditto XY40

Ditto is in here for multiple reasons. The main reason is that you can copy Seismitoad-EX with an Assault Vest attached to use Quaking Punch until your Bench is set up. Another reason is how horrid your matchup versus Gallade/Octillery can be. You can play Giovanni and copy Gallade's Sensitive Blade attack while using Blacksmith on a Benched attacker. You're potentially OHKO'ing a Gallade while having a backup attacker ready in return. Ditto is also strong against Zoroark, who has become a nuisance for this deck and caused players to tech Parallel City. Other cards it hits include Raichu and Vespiquen, though I doubt you'd ever have enough Pokémon in your discard for an OHKO. Ditto is very meta-sensitive and could be very strong in the right one.

1 Druddigon FLF

Lysandre Shaymin-EX end game when you have no attackers left, attach Muscle Band, win. Druddigon is a return attacker for Vespiquen, Raichu, and to sneak a KO on Shaymin-EX. It's pretty vital in the Night March matchup, among others.

1 Faded Town

Faded Town is another meta-sensitive tech. It's meant to do the last 20 damage you need to OHKO M Manectric-EX, and it should only be run in a one-of quantity if you expect Manectric decks. Otherwise, you'd be better off running a Parallel City or a fourth Scorched Earth.

In the Finals, I had to overcome Kevin Kobayashi's Seismitoad-EX/Manectric-EX/Crobat deck, and although he said it was a solid matchup for him because of Seismitoad, I thought differently. Firstly, I could OHKO anything with ease turn one unless he started Seismitoad-EX, and if that was the case, I could prepare myself accordingly for his turn. He had to use all of his other attackers and then drop a Toad down out of nowhere in hopes of beating me. I took Game 1 with relative ease. Game 2, he actually manage to plop down Toad as soon as I had a trash hand, and he won because I couldn't get a Blacksmith to Combustion Blast before he KO'd my Charizard-EX. Game 3, he started lone Zubat, and I donked him. 

I feel that on that day I showed myself that I was fully capable of doing it if I didn't hold myself back with an untested deck or with a deck that wasn't complete. I didn't test Entei, but everyone else tested it for me, and I had the matchup knowledge and the fortunate draws to pull out the win. 

I ended up not going to any Cities on Week 4, because of Christmas break. I did get to see a couple friends, eat some good food, and actually get some testing in, albeit Expanded. This break was necessary but it also had me itching to play more Pokémon. I was about 80-90 CP away from my Invite at this point, and I was hungry to seal it up during Cities so that I didn't have to be pressured for Winter Regionals.

Week 5: You Can Pick Your Friends...

...and you can pick your deck. But you can't pick your friend's deck.

This week, I decided to trust in Zander Bennett for the umpteenth time, and I went for his M Mewtwo-EX/Shrine of Memories list. I hadn't tested that either, of course. (I really need to learn my lesson!) The deck seemed so overpowered in theory, and at the CC I was attending, there wasn't a single Night March, but there was a matchup even worse for me and a deck that completely changed the last couple weeks of Standard CCs, which you can find in my last article here. Here's the list I ran:

The idea behind this deck is to take an OHKO to nothing and then to Damage Change the damage off into an OHKO on your opponent's Pokémon. It has a couple glaring weaknesses, but nothing that can't be worked around. It's a fast deck, and it's crazy fun. I loved playing the deck and I recommend messing around with it in Standard, especially without too much Night March in your area. This deck beats almost anything if it actually gets running, which is a problem for it. I'd consider:

-Steven: Steven is a Supporter which grabs you a Basic Energy and another Supporter. My friend Franco Takahashi runs Steven in his Mewtwo build to keep up against Seismitoad-EX and to keep a large hand size, and that's something that makes his deck a cut above the rest.

-More Basic Energy: One issue I had was not having enough Basic Energy to set up multiple Mewtwo. I only really had one out in a game and I was forced to dig to set up others. You'd think with four Turbo that you should be fine, but often that just isn't the case. You can't always expect to draw into what you need in a deck with limited draw support.

This was a pretty solid list on paper. Building it, I expected absolute destruction. My only fear was Night March, which explains the Weakness Policy. Nothing in the format can OHKO M Mewtwo-EX X, so I was convinced that this deck was the absolute best play for the Standard CC that weekend. I ended up taking only two losses that day, both to the same player. It was a Seismitoad-EX/Hammers deck, and my deck just couldn't do anything against it because of how many Energy I needed to attack and the horrible draws I was having. I feel that even with my Top 4 finish with the deck, it just wasn't the play and I had to work twice as hard to get it as far as I did.

The next day, I went for my pal Chris Fulop's Yveltal/Raichu deck. You can find an updated list in his latest article, here

I feel that the deck is a very strong choice, but there's something about Raichu that just won't cut it for me. People always figure that Raichu isn't enough by itself so they jam everything into a tight list with minimal draw support. I learned the hard way exactly how inconsistent the list was, and although it's stronger and more consistent than the Raichu/Bats list, mostly because Raichu is the only Evolution that you play so you have other attackers to fall back on.

Getting back to the City, I ended up losing Round 2 to Kevin Kobayashi because of dead draws. I used a Ghetsis without having any other Pokémon on my field, and I only hit one card. While I knocked him out of the game, I managed to prevent myself from advancing my game state, so I ended up losing to a Hypnotoxic Laser. I lost my next round to an M Manectric-EX deck because I couldn't draw into a single thing that I needed, and three of my Double Colorless Energy were Prized. Sour grapes aside, it was a fun day and it helped me realize just how inconsistent Raichu truly is...although I still decided I was going to use it one more time.

Week 6: Go With What You Know

Week 6 started out just as lame as Week 1. On the way to the tournament, my dad's car (MY car that he was using for the day) broke down so we had to push it down the street and into a parking spot to get it towed. When we finally arrived at the tourney, I was getting prepared to run Kyogre. I looked in my bag and realized I didn't even bring the Kyogre deck with me, so I quickly decided on YZG. Within five minutes of my decision, I had Raichu/Bats fully built with my list filled out. Seeing a pattern here? I wound up running that deck yet again and doing poorly yet again, losing to poor draws. This tournament really had me on the edge of my seat for the next day, because I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to complete my short-term goal of getting my invite with CC's.

Day 2 of the final weekend of my Cities run was a bit different. I went to the CC with M Manectric-EX/Genesect-EX, my trusty rusty Worlds deck, and I expected to run that. When I showed up, I saw two Fighting decks, and I decided against it immediately. Not sure if this was a good decision or not, but I definitely didn't mind, because I decided to try out Frank Diaz's Yveltal list. It was a sick play for the tournament and I'm very happy to have won with it. That entire day I was proven exactly how consistent and strong Yveltal-EX was, and how much skill it truly required. I almost lost my set against Kevin Kobayashi because of some vital misplays, for example.


This list is right out of my last article on Seismitoad-EX, and I'd recommend trying it out a couple times to really get a feel for something consistent. I thought there was plenty of power in a lock deck and while that holds true, there's indescribable power in being able to execute your strategy flawlessly often. This list may need some subtle changes befitting of the meta it's played in, but I love this list for right now and I could see it taking Regionals by storm. 

There's one more City Championship I went to after Week 6, where I played Seismitoad-EX/Manectric-EX/Crobat. There isn't much to say about this tournament, as we were told we had six Swiss rounds, so at 3-0 I played out my final two rounds instead of ID'ing, and after losing two in a row, we were told it was actually only five. Very disappointing to not get a chance to see how far I could've taken the deck, because I feel that it's one of the most incredible choices in Expanded right now, and I'd have loved to pilot it to a win.


I've compiled plenty of info into this article and I take pride in being able to help out anyone and everyone that read through this entire thing. I know I had a few ramblings about myself and little info that nobody is here to read, but that's all part of the Cities experience - little things that add up into something huge. If I want anyone to take something out of this article, it'll be that in order to really gain a grasp on the Pokémon TCG, you must find out what it is that's separating you from consistent players. Enrique Avila had minimal success up to his Nationals 2nd Place. Nobody had heard of Justin Sanchez or Brandon Salazar until they won Nationals. There's a point where people just look back at themselves, their playstyles, the things they need to work out, and they just get it. There's somebody who understands the game better who can help them out or somebody who can be there to point out their mistakes and that's when somebody can become truly good at this game. Don't necessarily become dependent on somebody else, but just try your hardest to study up on the good players and what it is that they do and why it is that they win. Think outside the box and really refine your grasp.

Thanks again for reading my articles, make sure to check out The Tuff Puff on YouTube, and Comment below and let me know how I'm doing! Until next time,

-Daniel Altavilla

[+11] okko


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