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John Kettler

Metagame Matchups: A Method of Approaching the Worlds Metagame

John discusses his approach to Worlds 2017 preparation, and gives opinions on 15 major decks!

08/12/2017 by John Kettler

Hey, everyone! For those who don’t know of or remember me, my name is John Kettler. I’m a long-time competitive player of the Pokémon Trading Card Game, and previous author over here at 60cards. More importantly, I’m returning today to talk with you guys about a very special subject:

Tournament Preparation!

Today we’ll be talking solely about matchups: conceptualizing matchups, which decks to consider, and of course what might be favored going into arguably the most important tournament of 2017. I’ll mostly be doing this through a visual tool – a metagame matchup chart, to be specific. While this is certainly a Worlds-centric piece, I’m going to write it and discuss it in a way that should be useful to anyone preparing for any major event, including the upcoming Regional Championships. So even if you’re not going to Worlds, the rules and concepts I display here should be readily applicable to you.

The Great Metagame Matchup Chart

One thing I’ve often found myself doing from time to time is taking the whole known metagame, and then breaking down all of the decks’ matchups against one-another. Doing this has revealed some pretty good deck choices to me in the past, as well as identified several impressive dark horse picks for major events among the known field. Finally, breaking down decks into pure theory lets us easily identify what we need to beat in order for our rogue creations to do well. It’s this sort of process that blocks out the noise of other people telling you what’s good, and is a very internal exercise in which you’re really forced to think about all angles of a format.

On Making a Matchup Chart

My starting point for any matchup chart, including this one, is trying to list all of the decks that had some success in recent history. Additionally, if a new set has just come out, I try using whatever combination of theory and/or practical game experience to include projected archetypes into the mix. Finally, I place each deck name in an Excel file twice: once on a vertical line, and one on a Horizontal line.

From there, I’m ready to start picking winners and losers! Based only on normalized lists and no crazy techs that can tilt matchups radically, I assign each matchup one of three outcome predictions: favorable, unfavorable, or even. While most competitive players including myself usually forecast matchups by percentages (e.g., Garbodor is a 60%/40% favorite over Decidueye), a chart like this is only supposed to guide you to overall favorable plays – it’s not supposed to bog you down with millions of unreadable percentages. If percentages are how you understand the game, then let’s define those three categories:

Favorable = Any matchup percentage above 55%
Unfavorable = Any matchup percentage below 45%
Even = Any matchup percentage between 45%-55%

Understand the limitations and advantages of approaching a personal shorthand like this, especially for decks with lots of “even” matchups. Vespiquen, for example, may have a ton of even matchups, but your real-world experience and testing may show that those even matchups all trend positive, making it a great choice. Or they could all just trend negative and make the deck a horrible choice. At any rate, remember that this is only a preliminary tool, and because of that there are inherently some limitations to it.

To the far-right you’ll notice I’ve designated a final score for each deck. I arrived at those scores by awarding two points for every favorable matchup, zero points for every loss, and one point for every even matchup. Although actual tournaments award three points a win and one per tie, giving relative value to even matchups by bringing down the significance of favorable matchups lets us more closely find a deck’s actual metagame strength. For instance, if a deck has solely even matchups, that by no means suggests that a player will actually tie most of their games; in fact, the deck could be very speedy and never go to time! The “ties” or even points simply show that the matchup is not as strong as it could be.

You’ll also notice I didn’t give any extra weight for decks with positive matchups against popular decks. That’s in part because charts like these are used best as starting points, but it’s also because we’re not at a good point yet to predict what matchups should be given more emphasis for the Worlds format. These are where your metagaming skills become important, because obviously some of these favorable matchups are more significant than others. You’ll find that for some of my recommendations I go outside the limitations of the chart, suggesting more limited splits such as a five-deck or even two-deck Worlds.

Additional Considerations

Finally, here are some more thoughts about reading this chart before we discuss the actual matchups that define the 2017 World Championships:

- For matchups you don’t know but think should be pretty winnable for either side, call them “even” – at least in the beginning. That’s because we want to keep these decks in play for consideration, but not give them special preference.

- Prepare to discover lots of personal bias. That isn’t necessary a bad thing, but it’s important to understand your preferences so you can adjust accordingly.

- It’s okay to eliminate some decks from your initial chart. My original chart had more decks, but after identifying some decks as so awful or irrelevant, they had no place.

- I don’t include variants of the same deck (e.g. Garbodor, Decidueye) because those are ultimately metagame calls. So even if different versions will play out differently, and even if my predictions are made with particular versions in mind, it’s easier to stick to one card as your overall guidepost for a matchup. Decks which are significantly impacted by this approach are Garbodor (Drampa vs. Espeon vs. something else), Decidueye (Vileplume vs. Ninetales vs. Golisopod), and Golisopod (Zoroark vs. Eeveelutions vs. something else).

My Preliminary Worlds Matchup Chart

Listed below is my 2017 World Championship matchup chart, using the previously mentioned guidelines and approach. In total I have included 15 distinct archetypes that have defined this season, and are all likely to be played in at least some quantity at Worlds.

Matchup Chart

Click to enlarge

Deck Profiles Headed into the World Championships

It's one thing to just talk about the occasional matchup or two, but actually seeing all these decks matched against one-another offers either a whole new outlook on the format. Let’s give impressions about each one headed into the 2017 World Championship…

1. Volcanion: Better than ever, but still overrated by the general public. Kiawe is amazing, and Ho-Oh-GX is pretty good too. Okay, fine, but neither of those means Volcanion is suddenly an unbeatable deck. In fact, Volcanion has several questionable matchups against decks capable of seeing both hype and actual play at the World Championships, holding down its potential for a top-tier finish! Even though Volcanion has unquestionably become a better deck with these cards, so have all the other contenders headed into Anaheim, and my concern is that the most optimal versions of these lists will be unable to have the flexibility they need to combat any surprise metagame developments. I’m expecting several Volcanion to make Day Two and to be played Day Two, yet this is mostly just because it will be overplayed.

I’ve never been a big Volcanion fan, so maybe my perspective here is jaded. One way to account for this possible bias in my metagame prediction is an adjustment for what’s most likely to be played – namely Gardevoir, Garbodor, Greninja, Decidueye, and of course itself. When looking at the metagame as solely those five decks, we can suddenly become a lot more bullish about Volcanion’s outlook, since it has only one hard loss among the five. Additionally, if all you disagree with me on is the Decidueye matchup, and all you consider worrying about are those five decks, then Volcanion actually becomes the absolute best choice. Given all that, if you’re a diehard Volcanion fan, then playing it Day One could make a lot of sense should you consider the metagame more limited – you just need to be very mindful about any major metagame developments should you qualify for Day Two.

Garbodor variants
2. Garbodor variants: In a horrible spot right now, but perhaps also underrated by the metagame chart. As we discussed, a danger of relying too much on metagame charts is continuing to weigh all matchups equally. As the most dominant force of the PRC-GRI Standard format, Garbodor has an incredible legacy behind it headed into the World Championships. I believe this legacy is certain to warp the Worlds metagame, even if on paper it has a ton of bad or mediocre matchups thanks to Burning Shadows. After all, who cares if this deck has over half a dozen relevant bad matchups if the metagame gets flooded by itself, and then half of the non-Garbodor decks are even-to-good matchups like Decidueye, Greninja, and random stuff?
To be clear, I still think Garbodor would be a weak call going into Worlds, even though it literally just won a big Regional Championship in Liverpool. But it might not be as bad as this chart suggests.

3. Gardevoir-GX: Not unbeatable, but definitely lives up to the hype. When Gardevoir sets up, it’s an incredible machine of pure destruction, but with somewhat difficult matchups against Greninja, Gyarados, and Decidueye, it’s kept in check. My matchup ratings are perhaps a bit of underestimation in large part because one of those three threats, Gyarados, is guaranteed to be underplayed, and most people naturally dislike playing Decidueye-GX. Given that, and given the deck’s innate quality, Gardevoir-GX is clearly a tier one deck that will punish anyone who thinks they can go to Worlds Day One without preparing for it.

So what’s Gardevoir-GX’s most likely place at the World Championship? As the current hype king, it will inevitably benefit from lots of mirror matches throughout the weekend, meaning that any vulnerabilities suggested by the matchup chart won’t be on as much display. Furthermore, if the mix of decks is mostly comprised of Gardevoir and Garbodor, then Gardevoir naturally becomes a clear favorite to win Worlds as it would mostly play against even matchups (mirror) and favorable matchups (Garbodor). If that is the case, then Gardevoir-GX is the favorite to win Worlds, even if it’s not necessarily the best overall deck.

4. Alolan Ninetales: Better than ever, but a little too late. Alolan Ninetales has been on an impressive tear recently, placing 5th at the NAIC and 2nd at Liverpool Regionals. The deck only gets better as it at long last gets the non-GX Alolan Ninetales, a powerful tool to gain board control over your weaker or more questionable GX/EX matchups. Unfortunately, I think its release simply would have been a much bigger deal had it happened in time for the NAIC. Sure the presence of a new Alolan Ninetales means you have a lot more flexibility in tougher matchups like Decidueye, but Alolan Ninetales as a deck is hit hard by several of the most likely top contenders headed into the World Championships.



5. Decidueye-GX: A great choice and my current #1, though maybe I’m heavily biased. If you read this article without critically thinking about it, or being encouraged to do so, then you’d think that there was simply no other deck even remotely capable of besting Decidueye at this year’s World Championship. However, yours truly is biased, because I really like Decidueye-GX. To the surprise of no one who knows me personally, this is my #1 choice for Worlds, in large part because it’s just got so many favorable matchups based off of preliminary preparation. It’s also extremely beneficial that Gardevoir is a much larger metagame target right now, and also hopeful that Garbodor could be on the outs. Again though, if we consider Worlds to be a five-deck metagame rather than a 15-deck metagame, Decidueye is objectively not that great, and a poor Volcanion matchup – if that’s what you believe – results in Decidueye-GX being an underdog at best.

All in all, I would certainly not discourage anyone from using this deck. But take what I say with a grain of salt, and consider that there are a few matchups I might be overrating – Volcanion being chief among them.

6. Gyarados: A superb choice that’s heavily underrated by the general public. Unlike Decidueye-GX, I know that this conclusion is unrelated to bias because I’ve yet to even consider using Gyarados for a tournament all season. Nevertheless, this last stage of the season is a perfect time to use Gyarados because it has a lot of clearly positive matchups against a bunch of good decks, including hype lord Gardevoir-GX. It also helps that Gyarados as a deck is fairly static when it comes to any predictable tech shifts in the format – your good matchups are likely to stay good, and your bad ones are likely to stay bad. Perhaps the only exception I can think of is if Gyarados dominates Worlds Day One, resulting in a lot of bizarre last-second teching done by the Day Two crowd.

7. Greninja: Constantly catches lucky breaks with big metagame shifts. It’s no secret that Greninja is going to remain a solid contender for the 2017 World Championships, especially when it goes even to great matchups against two decks getting a sea of hype right now – Gardevoir-GX and Volcanion. As a Water choice its matchups are overall weaker than those of Gyarados, and gains a new bad Grass matchup in the form of Golisopod-GX, but it’s a pretty reliable choice nonetheless. I’d probably run it similarly to how Alex Krekeler did at the North American International Championship and include a Talonflame BREAK.

8. Golisopod-GX decks: Definitely a good card, but might not yet ready for the Worlds stage. Since multiple versions of this deck are floating around, let’s be clear that I’m contemplating both the Zoroark version and the Eeveelutions version. I think turn one 120 for a single Grass Energy is insane, and because Worlds still has several useful support cards such as the aforementioned Eeveelutions and Forest of Giant Plants, it’s even more insane.

So why isn’t Golisopod better reflected here? That’s because even with all these great stats, it seems so far like Golisopod lacks the strength to close out enough matchups to be a truly excellent choice. It’s difficult seeing it beat Gardevoir-GX or Decidueye-GX, and anything outside of hard counters is not enough to beat Gyarados. To be fair, I still see a ton of potential in Golisopod, and think that this is one of the decks I’m most likely underrating. Nevertheless, if you plan to pack Golisopod for Worlds, you’re going to need to prepare a lot in this final two weeks.

9. Darkrai-EX/GX: Likely going to get lots of hype in the days leading up to Worlds, but underperform. The reason why Darkrai Ex was so incredibly powerful prior to Guardians Rising was that it had ample support in the form of Fighting Fury Belt and EXP Share, neither of which could be discarded without weirder techs or great effort. Now that Field Blower is a common inclusion in most decks, Darkrai has gone in a more Ability-disrupting direction, opting to run Garbodor BKP as well as a slew of Float Stones and Choice Bands. While that was certainly a hyped concept headed into Internationals, it failed to deliver even with so many elite players running it.

Headed into Worlds, I am fully anticipating a Darkrai-EX/GX deck to be introduced as a contender, and am equally anticipating it to flop in dramatic fashion.

10. Vikavolt: Probably a bad choice. Vikavolt is a deck I instantly found myself enjoying the moment it came out, both before and after its excellent Basic attackers in Guardians Rising. However, when dispassionately playing the board and looking at this deck against the metagame, it appears to suffer greatly. It already didn’t have impressive matchup coverage, going even-to-negative games against the entire top eight of the NAIC, and now it’s seriously questionable whether Tapu Bulus can keep up against a constant swarm of Gardevoir-GX. Outside of running Professor Kukui or a well-timed Tapu Koko, you lack one-shot potential, whereas Gardevoir-GX constantly has one-hit KO potential against most GX Pokémon in Vikavolt. Overall, I just don’t see the new set doing any favors for this already-struggling deck.

11. Zoroark: A great dark horse contender if you can beat Gardevoir-GX. Zoroark was already plenty good headed into the NAIC, and while it picks up a couple challenging matchups in the forms of Gardevoir-GX and Golisopod-GX, being able to handle at least Gardevoir ought to make Zoroark a decent choice. On the other hand, not being able to handle that matchup is probably a death sentence for you, as Gardevoir-GX is doubtlessly the most hyped new deck headed into Worlds. It also doesn’t help that a couple natural metagame shifts could result in Zoroark underperforming, such as Greninja probably seeing a lot of play this month. Ultimately, the decision to run Zoroark could be an inspired one, but you have a similar set of concerns that Golisopod players do.

12. M Rayquaza: Sky Field decks aren’t good right now in Standard. I’ve seen some hype circulating around yet another M Rayquaza return, but I think some dispassionate analysis should discourage wanting to take part in something like that. Despite being underplayed at the North American International Championship, Rayquaza still didn’t go far simply because it didn’t have enough good matchups. Acerola’s inclusion in Burning Shadows certainly helps Rayquaza swarm when it’s not Knocked Out, but Burning Shadows is overall very hard on the Colorless Dragon due to Gardevoir-GX being such an efficient swarmer versus it, as well as Necrozma-GX being an offensively and defensively powerful tech option to beat it. Add on all the other hate cards in recent memory, such as Sudowoodo GRI, and it’s hard to see why Worlds should be a comeback event for Emerald Break.

13. Vespiquen: Almost every matchup it has is slightly unfavorable to slightly favorable. With some exception, Vespiquen’s better builds are locked in and predictable, but the deck still has a chance to shine under the right circumstances. Since teching for Vespiquen is a poor decision (thanks largely to a bunch of bigger threats from Burning Shadows), you’ll probably see fewer Oricorio and Karen, and the “hate” you do see such as Flareon AOR will be mostly irrelevant. While I wouldn’t personally play Vespiquen, it’s always a contender to come back with a vengeance.

14. Rainbow Road: Sky Field decks aren’t good right now in Standard, especially when they’re OHKO’d by Gardevoir. I barely included Rainbow Road in this lineup over M Gardevoir and Noivern, but think it’s at least worth addressing because there has been some talk of it being a surprise pick. Xerneas BKT is a fun, awesome card, but it suffers arguably even more than M Rayquaza-EX has thank to the more recent card pool. It’s also particularly scary to see Gardevoir-GX one-shotting your Xerneas with little difficulty, and to rarely have the Knock Out in response. Granted, a version of this list could do okay in that matchup with Bisharp, Choice Bands, and Professor Kukui to score a perfect OHKO; however, I am not optimistic about that matchup, which is yet another difficult game on top of an already unfavorable metagame.

15. Metagross: Capable of literally anything. With excellent matchups against hyped new decks and the NAIC winner Garbodor, yet poor or questionable matchups against Volcanion, Greninja, and Decidueye, Metagross is in the middle of the pack for very good reason. Considering how few rounds there will be both for Worlds Day One (5-7 in Masters) and Day Two (7-8), I’d be too scared to use it without some really good metagame intelligence. But if you commit to the risk and either day in Worlds turns out to be a slew of Gardevoir-GX, then you will be rewarded greatly

Day One Stars

Several of these decks should be equally good or equally bad no matter which day you’re playing. Several other decks are highly volatile metagame plays, which could either thrive or die depending on your matchups on either Day One or Day Two.

All the same, we can’t ignore a simple fact when metagaming: You can afford to lose more games Day One than in Day Two. Unlike Day Two, which is designed so that not even every 5-1-1 makes top eight, Day One exists only as a bar to entry, resulting in a lot more security against bad matchups or variance. Most of us think Worlds Day One will be six rounds for the Masters Division this year, with anyone garnering a 4-2 record advancing. If we’re right, then that means you could hit one or even two auto-loss matchups and still cruise to Day Two.

Your goal Day One is merely to qualify; your goal Day Two is to win. Here are three concepts I think are incredible choices for the sole purpose of advancing to Day Two.

A. Gyarados: My overall #2 pick based off of the metagame chart could actually be the safest path to Day Two. While there’s a serious argument to be had as to whether Gyarados could survive through seven rounds of Day Two with Greninja and Decidueye-GX, Worlds Day One will be large, diverse, and most importantly full of easy matchups. Two totally likely schedules a Gyarados player may face are four great matchups and two auto losses, or conversely three great matchups, two close matchups, and an auto loss. Either way, the end result is a high probability of qualifying for Day Two off of deck choice alone.

B. Gardevoir-GX: There’s no doubt Gardevoir-GX will have a target on its back for Day Two, but Worlds Day One is a good time to exploit the confusion with a proven, known quantity. Yeah, I know those are some suspect words to use for a card that literally just got released, but it’s hard to imagine missing Day Two with a solid, well-played Gardevoir-GX list. There’s also the bonus of being able to outplay some of your possible Decidueye opponents, and not have to worry too much about seeing more than a single Metagross-GX.

C. Any well-tested, inspired rogue with good matchups against the Big Five: Earlier up in our discussion I alluded to a practical five-deck meta comprised of Gardevoir, Garbodor, Decidueye, Greninja, and Volcanion. Using either my metagame chart or your own conclusions, it’s apparent these five decks, which have defined the 2016-2017 season, will also be the pillars of the Worlds metagame.

I’m not sure what your cute rogue might be, and it probably has a chance of crashing and burning Day Two. But I’d contend that of the six-seven rounds you play Day Two, a Masters Division player is almost guaranteed to play against a combination of these five decks for at least three, maybe four rounds. The result here is actually designing a deck capable of assuring you three auto wins, followed up with a single additional win to close out a Day Two qualification. So keep on testing and finding that right combination!

Conclusion

The above matchup chart analysis has been a real help to me both in formulating ideas in a limited amount of time, as well as to see the current status of the Standard format. There are limitations to my matchup chart, and I’m liable to change my mind on a couple of things in these last two weeks, but it's still important to build a foundation for your testing, which is just what I’ve aimed to do here.

 

[+9] okko


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