Experts' corner

Chris Fulop

On The Road To...Indianapolis?

A Last-Minute Evaluation Of The Metagame Shift Before U.S. Nationals Over the July 4th Weekend.

07/02/2015 by Chris Fulop

Hello, everyone! So, up until recently, I was expecting to be writing my next – this...article in the week following U.S. Nationals. Well, I've been asked to write a final article before Nationals, and so, here I am. One more pre-Nationals article, to give you guys a big sendoff before the tournament.

We've had the fallout from multiple international National Championships since my last writing and the results shown one major trend: Crobat is the most dominant card in the format. Crobat, paired with any number of partners, has been the premier threat in this post-Trump Card format. Crobat has been paired with its BFFs Landorus-EX and Hawlucha (I honestly cannot believe just I typed that, but this deck showcases Zubat and friends' longest partners in crime. Please don't stop reading...I promise I won't say "BFFs" ever again.) Beyond that, another popular pairing has been with Raichu. Raichu/Crobat was a known top deck in Japan and Ross Cawthon piloted the deck to a first-seed finish after day one at Wisconsin Regionals even WITH Trump Card legal!

A week ago, I got the opportunity to do some streamcasting of a local "Super League Challenge" held at Derium's CCG in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. "What is a Super League Challenge?" you ask. Well, what the store decided to do was run a normal League Challenge, free of charge, and donate a whole ton of prize support towards the event. The idea was to get players into the store so they could try and start up weekly Pokémon tournaments, so they didn't mind taking the financial hit to make it happen. First place was a complete set of Roaring Skies and packs went all the way to the "Top 8," who got nine additional boosters. Why am I putting quotation marks around "Top 8"? Well, the Top 8 for this event was held after the completion of the actual League Challenge, with the Top 2 Juniors and Seniors alongside the Top 4 Masters being set aside and put into an eight-player, single-elimination tournament, separate from the actual League Challenge. (Standings from the official event finished after Swiss, as required.) The event saw Andrew Mahone win with Raichu/Crobat with some Seismitoad-EX in it, beating senior Joey Nawal's Mega Latios/Crobat deck in the final round of the tournament.

What is worth pointing out here is the evolution of the Crobat deck choices. The most hyped Crobat partner out of the gates was Raichu. I believe this deck, alongside the overall strength and popularity of Raichu in general, led to the abundance of Fighting/Crobats which occupied roughly half of the Top 8 at Denmark's Nationals. Landorus not only can one-shot a Raichu with a Strong Energy or Muscle Band, but it could also put pressure on the low-HP basics that Raichu and Crobat decks ran plenty of. Two of the other trends leading into the event with the loss of Trump Card were a reduction in the popularity of Seismitoad-EX and Mega Rayquaza-EX. Both of these were big challenges for Landorus-EX to deal with, and their downswing left a lucrative opening for the big Fighting-type Pokémon-EX.

Mahone saw the Top 8 results from Denmark the night before this League Challenge and decided to add some Toads into the deck as a strong countermeasure against the emerging Water-weak threat. Matthew Koo piloted a similar deck to the Finals in Canada this past weekend, losing to Chase Moloney, who appears nigh-unstoppable this year, and his Metal deck.

The Metal deck showcases the strength of Aegislash – whose defensive Ability is extremely powerful at the moment – and the beefy non-EX attacker Heatran, both powered by Bronzong's Metal Links. I've obviously been a huge fan of this deck for a while now, although previously Aegislash had not been as well-positioned as it is now. This deck, in a vacuum, is not as powerful as some of the other decks in the format, but it is very well-positioned against the most popular decks at the moment. Heatran in particular is a bit of a nightmare for Crobat decks. Raichu is heavily reliant on DCE to be able to attack, and in the process, is shut down pretty hard by Aegislash. A lot of decks, as a matter of fact, are ill-equipped to attack a high-HP Pokémon-EX without using Special Energy cards. The natural counter for Aegislash, Silent Lab, is simply not seeing much play at all. Aegislash hadn't seen a ton of play prior to this event, and many of the decks in the format have their own Stadium cards they need to play. Beyond this, decks do not want to turn off their own Shaymin-based draw engines. With Aegislash on the radar now, though, I do expect decks which otherwise have few answers to the card to run a copy or two. Raichu is still a bit out of luck though, as Silent Lab discards their necessary Sky Field, meaning they cannot one-shot an Aegislash anyway. (With a few Bat Abilities, that changes.)

Some of the other decks that did well in Denmark were Trevenant and Primal Groudon. Trevenant didn't really see much success in Canada, and I feel that it is just not terribly well-positioned. Raichu is a problem for the deck, as is the Metal deck. I'm just really not thrilled by the position of Item-lock decks at the moment. I have said in past articles that I did not want to play the decks for personal reasons, even though they were still theoretically viable in the metagame. I am not saying that they no longer are. I do feel that they are dangerously close to that state now, though. There are not a ton of decks soft to them and the metagame is full of hositile threats. While Groudon also did not make a major splash in Canada, the deck is still popular and a nightmare for Item-lock decks due to Groudon's Ancient Trait. I feel that if you want to try to use Trevenant or Seismitoad-EX, you really need to approach the decks in a different way than what is currently being explored. I'm not counting the decks out, but I do think that innovations need to be made. Seeing how I have already ruled out playing those decks even if they were quite well-positioned, it is safe to say that I am not going to be the guy putting in the legwork to get there with those cards.

Groudon is an interesting archetype. It struggles against some of the Crobat decks, although you can get around that by running healing cards. I believe the list from Denmark was running Super Potion. I'm not entirely sure I like that more than a Pokémon Center Lady, but I do see the uses of it being an Item instead of a Supporter. Paired with Pokémon Center Lady, you can actually wipe a lot of damage off a Groudon each turn, which is very powerful. A big selling point on the Super Potion, though, is that you can grab it with Korrina. Groudon is actually one of the decks which does run Silent Lab, as its only attacker is a Pokémon-EX that often has to have a Strong Energy attached to it (making it very weak to both Safeguard Pokémon, and Aegislash). The deck also needs a high count of Stadium cards to discard for Gaia Volcano anyway. The problem here is that I'm not sure that Groudon matches up very well against Heatran out of the Metal deck. Heatran cracks for 130 damage (150 with a Muscle Band) and I'm not sure how well Groudon handles being two-shotted by non-EX Pokémon that require Stadium discards (N becomes problematic near the end). Landorus/Crobat is able to Hammerhead a bunch of damage onto Groudon as it sets up, but it is worth noting that even in the current Wobbuffet builds, Mr. Mime is an option against this because, as a Psychic type, Wobbuffet does not turn its Ability off.

Groudon does face a bit of a challenge in Leafeon as well. If you look at the Canadian Nationals results, decks were running Leafeon alongside Crobat, which I assume is at least partially as a means to counter Groudon. When Leafeon smacks you for 160 damage for a single Energy before any Band/Bangle or Crobat damage, there is going to be a bit of a problem. I'm not sure if that type of tech is going to be widespread or not, as the lack of success from Groudon may reduce the amount of play it sees, but if you are looking at Groudon as an option, it is worth noting.

On the topic of Groudon, a card I've seen pop up on PTCGO some is Shrine of Memories. Now, the uses for this card are a bit on the fringe, but it lets Groudon attack for less Energy, or attack without discarding a Stadium. This is useful against decks like Seismitoad/Crawdaunt, which can actually pressure Groudon's Energy, but also against aggressive Raichu decks which can come out of the gates very quickly. Raichu can be challenging for Groudon because it can reliably two-hit Groudon, and if they are too fast and get ahead by too many Prizes, they can just win the prize race easily. Letting Groudon KO a Raichu for two Energy (if one is a Strong Energy) while still being a Primal (so it doesn't get OHKO'd in return) is kind of cute, but useful. The only reason this is a considerable inclusion, due to how rare it's applications are, is due to how many Stadiums you want in the deck anyway. With the growing need for Silent Lab, though, this may not be a luxury, especially since Seismitoad/Crawdaunt seems to be nowhere near the top tables. Groudon is another deck that I feel may want a bit of reworking to keep up with the metagame. I'm a bit biased, as I'd made my feelings on Wobbuffet known in the past, and this hasn't really changed much. You need a better way to answer Heatran and also Crobat damage.

This actually brings me to a card I am really excited about at the moment: Garbodor. One of my biggest objections to Wobbuffet is that unless you have a hit-and-run deck, there is a point where the lock ends and the deck you've been oppressing gets to explode and function as intended. The decks hindered by Wobbuffet run such explosive engines that they can get setup in a very short period of time and undo multiple turns of lock. If you transition into Garbotoxin, they never get that window. At that point, I feel a lot more interested in what Wobbuffet has to offer. This makes those turns you shut off Shaymin engines so much more impactful in the long run. Garbodor also shuts off Safeguard and Aegislash-EX so a card like Silent Lab is unnecessary. Wobbuffet also suffers from the "non-Psychic" stipulation because the Crobat line is Psychic. So is Trevenant, although it could be hard to stick a Tool onto Garbodor before you get locked off of Items. In some cases you can Lysandre into Items and turn off Trevenant for good (or until they see a Xerosic, at least). Metal decks also rely on Abilities to have any sort of game against Groudon. While Aegislash is a gambit to use due to the fear of Silent Lab, there is little Groudon decks can do to stop Heatran from messing up their day...except that without Metal Links, Heatran is a very expensive attacker! If Groudon transitions into a Garbodor lock midgame, the Metal deck is in for a really rough game. I also assume that there is no incentive to play Xerosic on their end, so they'd be stuck having to try to KO it with a Lysandre. Not exactly a spot I'd want to be in as the Metal player.

Outside of Groudon, I feel like Garbodor still pairs well with Seismitoad-EX. Decks have kind of taken for granted that this extremely annoying pairing has fallen by the wayside lately. Crobat functions well enough under just Quaking Punch, but remove the extra Bat damage as well and you've got a definite problem! Landorus/Crobat really relies on Crobat damage to compete, especially if the Toad deck has Super Scoop Up and healing Supporters, because they are stuck relying pretty heavily on Hawlucha. I feel like that deck benefitted greatly by the decline in Toad. Raichu/Crobat decks need either a pre-Quaking Punch Muscle Band to do 180 or they, too, rely on Bat damage to hit the OHKO necessary to play around Seismitoad's healing potential. I can definitely see a deck like this being viable. I'm not sure if you'd want to try a Quad Toad/Garbodor deck, or if some other attacker alongside Garbodor is better, like the old Yveltal/Seismitoad/Garbodor deck. I feel like Yveltal really struggles due to Raichu's prevailance, though.

Another good pairing with Garbodor is Raichu. Raichu is a card which is picked on fairly heavily by Crobat. It also hates having to deal with Aegislash. Garbodor has a bit of a clash with Raichu, though, because Raichu decks really benefit from cards like Shaymin-EX and Exeggcute which let you quickly and reliably fill your Bench. I'm not sure if you can get away with just running a bunch of Shaymin for the first few turns and then just throwing down Garbodor midgame. You can run a 1-1 Garbodor line for matchups you really want it in without hindering your overall game plan in matchups where Garbodor is unnecessary.

A possible build would be Landorus/Raichu/Garbodor. Could the deck win back-to-back National Championships?! Joking aside, the deck is likely still pretty strong. Raichu is a great primary attacker and Landorus' Hammerhead is great at setting up particularly beefy Pokemon for a nice 180 shot. One of the problems you get with Raichu decks is a lack of a cheap secondary attacker. Raichu is very demanding on your DCE count and if an opponent can burn all four of your DCE over a game, you find yourself unable to use Raichu in some spots. This is why I built Raichu/Bronzong. Bronzong wasn't being abused by any sense of the word, but it did keep up your attachments to alleviate the DCE issue.  Landorus fills a rare void of being a great attacker that can be powered on the first turn that does not eat up a DCE. Being a Basic, it can also attack on the first turn before Raichu can Evolve. One of the big selling points Mahone made when discussing the Seismitoad with me was in regards to it giving the Raichu/Crobat deck some sort of pressure on the first turn in addition to it being a Landorus counter. While this is absolutely true, Landorus has the advantage of using up one of your Basic Energy opposed to a DCE.

Another deck I saw at the Super League Challenge was a cool brew piloted by Corey Scott. Corey was running Raichu/Landorus with a bunch of Absol ROS! Absol is really cute with Hammerhead, as the attack leaves two piles of lingering damage that can later be moved with Absol. I actually feel like Absol is an incredibly good card that many players are simply overlooking at the moment. It seems like a great card in Crobat decks as well. Any deck that is able to just spray damage all over the field benefits from the card. It is particularly strong in decks with Scoop Up-type effects. In Bat builds, it does suffer a bit there because it is more lucrative to reset an actual Bat line in many situations, but there are spots where an immediate 30 damage being moved can win a game. Also, when I say Corey ran Absol, it wasn't just a single copy. I believe he was running three copies of the card. I feel that is a bit excessive, and I'd cut it down to a pair, but the fact that he was high enough on the card to want to run so many copies helps validate my suspicions of the its strength.

A deck that I haven't touched on yet which may be surprising to some is Night March. The deck was the default boogeyman of the post-Trump format, but has also struggled with putting up any results. Outside of being a bit flimsier than I'd wanted, the deck is just comically bad against Crobat decks. When various Bat builds are making up a huge portion of the field...and an even bigger percentage of the field at the top tables, Night March is just going to struggle. In many cases, I like to make the argument that a metagame is very cyclical and that Bat decks now have a huge target on their head, which will lead to them doing poorly, which will lead to them being played less, which will make Night March a viable choice again. While this may happen, I do not see it happening in time for Nationals. Right now, a strong counter to the Crobat decks has not really been established. You saw decks start to be prepared for mirror, and the Metal deck definitely rose to success on the fact it preyed on those decks. Yet even amongst top players, there isn't a great consensus on what is the best way to beat the Bat menace. When a successful counter isn't common knowledge, its effect will not really shape a metagame. Therefore, we are at best going to be a full stage of the cycle shy of a metagame where Night March is a safe play.

I just feel that as long as Bats are so popular, it will be difficult for Night March to succeed. The worst part is, it isn't even really a situation where you can justify playing the deck because it loses to the best deck but smashes everything else. The deck is actually really close against most of the field. Matchups where you just prey on a deck are not in circulation. The win percentage elsewhere to justify losing to such a prevalent card isn't there. Now, this said, I actually expect a decent amount of the deck at Nationals. The deck still has hype behind it and it is very easy to afford. Well, okay, this is less true now because most builds run Shaymin-EX. The more I think about it, though, it may be worth pursuing a Night March build without Shaymin-EX. The more I play with the deck, the more often I see that its losses to non-Crobat decks come from the fact you are getting your Shaymin Lysandre'd and picked off for a pair of Prizes. The extra speed you gain may not be worth the fact you are shooting yourself in the foot Prize exchange-wise. The deck was functional pre-Shaymin and it should still be now. A decline in Item-lock actually benefits its original engine as well.

There are a few universal findings I want to go over before I get into some of the lists for decks I am considering. (No, I do not have a specific deck choice lined up yet. There are a lot of decks to test and I'm more trying to learn the format as a whole then focus in on just a few decks at the moment.)

I still stand by my stance that Professor Juniper and Professor Sycamore and not worth playing at the moment. I've noticed that players in general have trimmed their numbers and I think people are just scared to consider that they should consider cutting them out entirely. With Shaymin-EX, your first turn is now good enough that you do not need to run such a risky card as Juniper. Past the first turn, I'd rather have Colress, and with how many cards Shaymin let's you see, and with VS Seeker, you'll generally have access to it. Mahone played 3 copies of Juniper at the Super League Challenge, and the card was very awkward for him every time he was on stream, and he even agreed with me after the fact they were very poor in the deck. (I don't even think it was just to shut up my badgering!)

Stadiums are extremely important. Groudon decks run six. Night March? Four. Sky Field decks should run four copies, as the card is crucial to their functioning. As a result, decks with Virbank need to run at least three to keep up. If you need to stick a Stadium, you need to be running a lot of copies of them. Even if Stadiums are not vital to your own deck, being able to disrupt another deck's use of them is potent as well.

I like running three Lysandre when possible. Drawing Lysandre early is important to get around Trevenant and Wobbuffet. Against Toad decks, you do not have access to VS Seeker and a third copy is important. Not just against Toad, but against decks in general, Lysandre is very strong now due to how many sitting-duck Shaymin there are on Benches. Against Toad specifically, this is a very real win condition to circumvent needing to KO 180 HP Pokémon that get Scooped Up all the time. I like adding a third copy because we have cut Jirachi from most decks in favor of Shaymin, and Jirachi was a major reason why two Lysandre felt so perfect. Yes, we have VS Seeker still, but that doesn't offset how much harder it is to draw into the card. Also, if you look at lists now, they are really stressing the work VS Seeker has to do. Supporter counts are down due to relying on VS Seeker to cover the counts later in the game. This means fewer copies to go towards Lysandre. Two Lysandre is functional, but I have liked having the third in decks which can fit it.  Also, if Donphan is a deck, you really do want to make sure you can fire off six Lysandre in a game, lest you get stuck behind Prizelss exchanges with Robo Substitutes, and I hate being forced to use every VS Seeker and every Lysandre in the deck perfectly to make that happen. Having that seventh play is a nice safety net. I understand Donphan isn't a major metagame factor, but I think the deck is strong and I like the insurance.

Now, lets actually get to the deck lists!

This is my current list for the deck. The one thing which stands out is how thin the Crobat line is! It doesn't need to be super-massive to get its job done. Unlike a lot of Crobat decks, Raichu hits extremely hard. Therefore you need less work done by the Bats to get KOs. Only two Crobat is a bit risky, but it hasn't been very bad at all. Golbat does most of the work. I do hate using Sky Field decks with no Exeggcute, but this build opts out of them for a few reasons. For one, you just can't fit them. Secondly, you lack any Battle Compressor, making them awkward. Finally, even if you reach a point endgame where you fail to maximize your Bench size, you shoul be able to offset it through Bat damage so it is not as backbreaking.

This is an update to my Bronzong/Raichu deck I was testing before. You'll notice an awkward 2-2 Mega Rayquaza with no Mega Turbo and no Spirit Link at all. The problem the deck had was dealing with Fighting/Bats. You couldn't get an OHKO on Landorus and the Bench damage ate you alive. I couldn't take the same approach as in Raichu/Bats by adding Seismitoad because that only stems the bleeding some. It two-hits a Landorus, but once Toad goes down, future Landorus still light you up. Hammerhead damage plus Bats is just brutal. I instead opted to run Mega Rayquaza, as it is quite good against Landorus-EX. It is actually pretty good against Crobat as well. It has a ton of HP and chews through their Pokémon pretty easily. It also gives you another weapon against Groudon decks. Since the deck doesn't really have a turn-one play anyway, you can just use that turn to use Rayquaza's Trait to Mega Evolve. Since you really only want Rayquaza for certain matchups, you can go out of your way to make it a priority there, so the Spirit Link is less necessary. I guess a lone copy could be okay, but it seems difficult to draw into at the right time. Another option is to trim down to a 1-1 Mega Rayquaza line and add in a combination of Kecleon, Cobalion-EX, Seismitoad-EX, and Aegislash-EX. Aegislash is less appealing in here because of how few Basic Metal Energy you run, but it is still strong. You can also run a Mr. Mime to help with Bench damage. The Sacred Ash is incredible in this build because you can realistically chain Raichu now. Since this deck uses the thin Bronzong line to keep powering up Raichu, you are not limited by how many DCE you have.

With this build, you'll notice only two Shaymin-EX, which is because we are not running Sky Field. As a result, Bench space is more important. I'm opting to go with the thus far very impressive Trainers' Mail over additional Supporters. Despite Bench space issues, I'm trying out a lone Absol. Again, so far I've really liked it. I mentioned before how I like pushing the Stadium counts higher, but this is a deck where just three copies of Fighting Stadium is fine. It isn't intrustmental to what the deck is trying to do. The deck is also not too upset if it is forced to play under Sky Field, as it opens your Bench up. Plus, the deck is naturally strong against Raichu, the primary user of Sky Field at the moment.

The idea here is simply to make your opponent waste as many attacks as possible. Between Robo Substitute and Focus Sash on your benched Donphan, they lose up to eight turns over the course of a game not taking KOs. Obviously this excludes shortcuts to get around these problems such as Xerosic or Bat Bites on Donphan. This deck is really strong against a lot of the field, but unfortunately, much like Night March, it is just not very good against Crobat decks. The problem here, unfortunately, is just the Crobat themselves. The damage output falters against them, and their Resistance plus Scoop Up effects are so difficult to chew through. Trying to KO Crobat past Super Scoop Ups, AZ, and all four VS Seeker on AZ is almost impossible. You'll notice the bare minimum of Silver Bangle and Muscle Band in this deck because you'll generally be attaching Focus Sash to Donphan, so the offensive Tools are less alluring. The lone Sacred Ash is to grab with Korrina to restock on your Donphan line.  The Battle Compressor is also a Korrina target, which then helps you grab your other Supporters via VS Seeker. It could be cleaner, but it's a spot well spent for consistency since we aren't really able to run Shaymin-EX or Jirachi-EX.

Hey, guys, we have a deck I use Sycamore in! I'm also running a lone copy of Shaymin-EX as the safety net. I'm not relying on the card, but I do want a copy in case things go south. It could just as easily be a Jirachi-EX, but I think as a lone copy, I prefer the Shaymin. The fact it can actually reset itself and remove itself as a target is nice too.

Back to back Sycamore lists? What is going on?! The Item line in this deck is a whole lot of one-ofs due to Korrina. I considered the one Shrine of Memories over the Silent Lab, but with the 2-1 line of Garbodor, I liked having a backup answer to Safeguard-type effects.

Super Scoop Up is good in this deck because it is a means to reset both Shaymin and Absol, heal against Crobat, and reset Landorus-EX. With 180 HP, some decks are going to struggle to one-shot a Landorus, and with it's cheap attack cost, it works very well with Super Scoop Up. The one copy of Seismitoad-EX functions similarly. You get the full set of Raichu in here alongside what amounts to early pressure from a Big Basics-style support.

To close out this article, I wanted to go over some very basic, but often overlooked advice for playing in a major tournament like Nationals. Most of this is common sense, but it is important enough that I want to stress it.

Be well-rested! I have a terrible sleep scheule. I'm used to staying up for multiple days at a time. I've violated this rule on so many occasions I should be ashamed; I should have no right to tell anyone to get enough sleep before a tournament! The first tournament I pulled an all-nighter for was the East Coast Stadium Challenge in 2004. I took Second Place, earning my Worlds Invite at the last day possible. I couldn't sleep in a car and we made the trip on a whim at the last second, so there wasn't a lot I could do to avoid this problem. I also played like garbage the whole day. I lost a round mid-tournament to extremely sloppy play and missed on-board math. I had no business making the Finals. At Regionals 2005, we did another all-night drive, and I had no sleep before the tournament. This was my introduction to Red Bull. (Thanks Dave Coleman. You are why I diet.) I won that tournament. Since then, I've made the mistake of not feeling like I need sleep before a big tournament. (Last spring, I won my first Magic Pro Tour Qualifier on no sleep.) I've gotten used to it, both mentally and physically. I've learned to have tunnel vision while playing. (Between rounds, I feel like I am dead once the adrenaline of a game fades.) The problem is, even though I've tricked myself into thinking it doesn't effect my play due to my successful results, it does. Even if you can play at 95% capacity while poorly rested, that adds up. There is no excuse to lose games due to stupid mistakes or even narrowly subpar play. Most people notice substantial dropoff with poor rest, especially as a tournament drags on. We have a lot of rounds of play, and with the conversion to match play, each round is more stressful and more draining. As matches take longer and go closer to time, you have less downtime between rounds to rest.

I'm not saying to get a full eight-to-ten hours of sleep before the tournament. First off, you're at Nationals. Half the fun is spending time with your friends you never get to see. Everyone is up late having fun. On top of this, players are busy trying to jam more games in and finish testing. I know for me, I have trouble sleeping before an event because my mind is racing with ideas, attempted innovations, and absolute terror that no matter how much I trust my deck, I am making a terrible choice. I've been doing this for seventeen years now. Guess what: that never goes away. Not while you are passionate about the game and your performance. Try for six hours of sleep, at least. Your body and your mind will thank you for it.

Eat enough food and drink enough water! This is similar to being well-rested. You want your body to be working at its best. Try to eat enough that you have energy, but eat well enough that you don't feel bogged down. Beverage-wise, if you can tolerate it, try to drink water. If not, just stay hydrated. I try to make a trip to the water fountain between every round. That may be excessive, but it has become a bit of a ritual for me. I guess if you don't trust disgusting public water fountains, a water bottle is okay too! I'm a huge fan of energy drinks, and I feel like not only do they keep me awake, but they really help my mind focus on a game. That said, I really try to reserve them for the end of a tournament. They are known for their crash, and I really don't want to be hit by that mid-tournament. Even if I am a bit tired mid-tournament, I try to save them for the last two or three rounds if I can get away with it.

I'm also terrible at the first half of this advice. I'm nervous at tournaments and as a result, I don't find myself eating. I avoid breakfast, but I almost never eat that meal so my body is somewhat used to that. I also usually find myself skipping lunch break too for the same reason. I feel like, by the time we are supposed to eat, my body has just hit a groove and I've gotten in the zone. Eating kicks me out of that, and usually makes me feel a bit uneasy by the time the post-lunch break round hits. I'm used to eating only one meal a day (I've ruined my metabolism. This is also why I diet.) and I still feel the effects. For most people, eating well is important.

On the topic of "lunch breaks," at most tournaments I go to, there is never enough food around within reasonable walking distance. The food that may be on site is usually tastes awful, is even worse for you, and is overpriced. Most nearby restaurants face the flood of players needing to eat within a roughly hour period. Imagine one-to-two-thousand people all rushing to the nearby restaurants all at one time. The lines are terrible and the wait makes an already-short lunch break even shorter. I like to come prepared by bringing some amount of food with me if I can. Not only does this make snacking throughout the day easy, but if getting lunch is difficult, you aren't out of luck.

Know your deck! I'm like a walking billboard for how not to handle a tournament. I've audibled to new decks at the last minute more than anyone I know, to very mixed results. In general, I cannot stress enough how important it is to know the ins and outs of your deck. I've beaten this into the ground in my articles but it is so, so important. Even if you feel so confident in your skills that you can play any deck in any matchup flawlessly (no one can), you cannot do so that quickly! We've all established that fifty-minute rounds are insufficient for matchplay. As a result, you need to be able to rush through your turns. You need as much of your deck's functions set to autopilot as possible. The more you know, the less time you need to think, and the better you are at avoiding draws. I could argue how important it is to be familiar with your deck in general, but when we are stressed by a terrible time limit, it becomes even more important. It isn't even just about being prepared to win games you'd lose with less experience; it is about avoiding draws, or time limit losses. You find yourself either rushing to sloppy play to avoid draws, or you find yourself playing better and getting draws. At Michigan States, I audibled to Yveltal/Seismitoad at the last minute and barely played the deck going into the tournament. I went 3-2-3, with almost every match nearing time. I'm a very quick player! I'd played the deck off and on throughout the season and had a general grasp on how it worked, but I found so many spots that required me to have to evaluate on the spot what I needed to do that I should have been able to bypass if I had known the matchups better. I was woefully ill-prepared for the mirror match (it is always the last match people test, it seems) and it showed. I wound up navigating the matches well, but I knew I was having to put a lot more time and thought into it then I normally would if I was better-tested.

Beyond it being an issue of actual match results, this ties into the first two points as well! The harder you have to think during your games, the more it drains you over an already-long day. It requires less work and it is less stressful. The faster you can play (without making mistakes, of course!) the more time you have for rest between rounds.

Watch your opponents and be assertive! These kind of tie into the same issue of preventing yourself from being cheated. Cheating is not as big a problem in Pokémon as some people want to portray it as. In general, the players are on the up and up. But at a big tournament with such important stakes, it is better to be careful. Most attempts to cheat are successful because a player's opponent does not pay attention to what they are doing. By being attentive, you also scare a potential cheater into fearing they may be caught. Once you establish that you are watching, it passively prevents the issue. There was a player locally who was a well-known, chronic cheater. He had never once attempted to pull anything on me because I always make it very clear at the start of the match that I'm observant.

As for being assertive, this is important with players who are either naturally too slow, or who are trying to stall. (Remember the difference between stalling and playing with time in mind. There is a difference. Just because your opponent is forcing you to lose on time, or draw, does not mean they are doing anything wrong. Their pace of play has to be beyond an acceptable level. Just because a player is playing more slowly than they previously had been doesn't mean that they are playing inappropriately. Almost everyone is forced to rush as they play, so returning to a natural pace of play once rushing is no longer beneficial to them isn't wrong.) Most players will speed up if confronted about the issue. You do not have to be rude, but you do need to convey the point. If you address the issue and nothing changes, do not hesitate the call a judge over quickly! Waiting until the end of a match doesn't help; so much time has elapsed, and nothing can be changed retroactively. If a problem persists, the quicker a judge can be called regarding the issue, the better. I am astounded by how passive many players are when they need to stand up for themselves in a match. Don't fall victim to this.

Watch your belongings! Things get lost or get stolen at big events. So much is going on, it is easy to either naturally lose track of things, or to fall victim to someone who is actively trying to steal things from distracted players. You won't go a Nationals without someone getting their things stolen, unfortunately, and you do not want that person to be you! I had four-thousand dollars worth of Magic the Gathering cards stolen from me at Grand Prix Columbus 2010. I've had friends get their entire collections stolen. It sucks and even if you pay reasonable attention, bad things can happen. Ever since my loss, I've gone out of my way not to carry everything on me at these events. I try to pack light, usually only my deck, and if I want to trade, a smaller trade binder. Don't let your belongings out of your sight. A common mistake is letting friends watch your things. They will not pay as much attention to them as you will, I promise. They are also only as accountable for them if they are lost as you are personally able to make them be. When sitting down, wrap your bag around your leg, and keep it somewhat in view. It is obnoxious to have to take the extra steps to safeguard your things, but it is better than having something terrible happen.



Despite all of this, while Nationals can be a very stressful tournament, it is also one of the most fun! I'm excited to get to play in the event again, and I look forward to seeing everyone there!



[+19] okko


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