01/04/2017 by Caleb Gedemer
Ever wonder what went into making some of the better players in the Pokemon Trading Card Game? Personally, I have always been curious about things like this, and today you will step into my shoes to see how I got to where I am at. I am especially proud of how I have been coming along this season, using a logistical and realistic approach to (hopefully) pave my path to the World Championships. Today I will also finish up with some final thoughts going towards upcoming Standard format events. I hope you enjoy!
Table of contents
Starting this piece takes a bit of background on myself: I have been playing competitively for five years now (this is my fifth full season). Outside of those five years, I had been playing casually for even longer. This casual nature of play was mainly due to me being naive and younger at the time, also, my parents were not willing to take me to events as often as they were in my later years.
In my adolescence, most of my knowledge of the game was derived from forum communities back when those were popular. These forums provided very little substance to what was really going on in the competitive world, so they were of little help. Even earlier than that, I did not actually have access to the Internet (imagine that, in the world we live in now), and with little tournament experience, I was quite frankly clueless as to what I was doing. The combination of my lack of mobility in getting to tournaments, combined with a lack of knowledge made it hard to become competitive.
I did, however, have many successes even in the Junior and Senior divisions albeit my limitations. At almost every event that I was able to attend I would place in the Top Eight or so, or even win. I was unfamiliar with the tournament structure, so “qualifying for the World Championship” had no real meaning to me, and I never qualified in these early years as a result.
Around the time when I was in my second year in the Senior Division, I became more acquainted with the competitive scene through help from knowledgeable local players. I still was never able to compete enough to get an invitation to the World Championships, that is, until my final year in the Senior Division. I attended fourteen events (this number seems crazy these days with the number of events I play in) this year. I had the mindset that I had to do well at every event I went to. This was very stressful for a teenager, but I was able to do it. Most of my time outside of school was devoted to Pokemon (I was too young, still, for a real job). This made me extremely skilled with the decks that I chose to play.
Aging up the next year, I basically abandoned the thought of making Worlds again. With the bar of points being raised to five hundred, I thought it was a pipe dream. But, after winning four City Championships rather handily (I attended seven, making the top cut at six of them and winning four), this dream became reality. My success carried over to bigger events, and I performed well the entire season, squeaking into Worlds with just over the necessary point total.
Going into my second year in the Masters division, I had found myself in the centerfold of a group of solid players, where we collaborated to better ourselves and work as a team. I spoke with players (some of which are not as active anymore) like Alejandro Luna, Austin Bentheimer, Franco Llamas III, Joe Baka, Ryan Bruckner, and Ryan Grant, among others. Alejandro Luna and Joe Baka, specifically, had ties to the greatest player of all time, Jason Klaczynski. Still as a younger player, I always dreamed to get to play Pokemon with Jason at some point, but it seemed like something out of a storybook.
After the conclusion of a State Championship in March of 2015, I remember speaking to Jason, and we agreed on a certain point about the deck we both chose to play for the tournament (Exeggutor). He turned to me and said “You know, Caleb, we could be friends”. Obviously, this made me feel like a schoolgirl, although nothing seemed to come of it. Occasionally he would message me on social media and we would exchange very basic thoughts about the game, nothing extremely in depth, not until Kansas Regionals in May of the same year. I was heading into a Top Eight cut with the Exeggutor deck I chose to play. Here, Jason opened up to me and we really began to talk collaboratively about deck choices for the next day and things of that nature.
The following week was another Regional event in Wisconsin: we played the same exact Seismitoad-EX/Shaymin-EX deck, where I lost the win and in round for Top Eight, and Jason took the entire event home with a first place finish. From here on out, we played Pokemon like crazy for the rest of the summer.
This dedicated testing led to the 2015 United States National Championship winning Seismitoad-EX deck with Garbodor, which Jason and I both played. That World Championship, we came across a hot new addition of a Hippowdon tech in the same exact deck, switching the Water Energy for Fighting Energy. This change solved every issue the deck had, and left potential losses to luck.
The 2015-2016 season is when I really claimed a large boat of confidence in myself as an individual player (Jason began to take a break from the game), where I went on a tear the entire season, claiming six hundred ten Championship Points and being the main contributor in my testing group. This year I was also a contributor and testing partner for the second place Greninja BREAK deck at the World Championship, piloted by Cody Walinski.
Heading into the current season of play, I have had a rejuvenated urge to keep playing and hope to obtain an invitation to the World Championships at some point. I was the first player to make Top Eight at two different Regional Championships and hope to continue my successes.
Worlds, as it turns out, always seems to be the bane of my existence, and that is a big part of the reason I keep coming back every year. Hopefully one day I can excel at the big event itself.
Before An Event
Choosing a deck for a tournament is always something on a player’s mind, and for myself, I like to make deck decisions before an event, if possible. In ideal situations, I like to decide a build about a week before a competition. Knowing my deck before a tournament ensures that not only will I know the decklist inside and out, but I will have a comprehensive knowledge of the deck itself. Heading into something with confidence and intellect is always better than a last minute, sometimes irrational, decision.
Early on in my playing career I decided I wanted to keep my costs lower, so I chose to run only the lowest rarity of cards. This way, playing is cheaper and my opponents would not know how many copies of a card I was using, as they would if I were to play, for instance, one N from Noble Victories, one N from Dark Explorers, and so on. Additionally, somewhat obsessively, I always play the newest version of certain cards as well, like with the whole N debacle once again, I would choose to play the N from Fates Collide, the newest print. This choice of art is more of an obsessive choice, but I thought it was worth mentioning, as there are some logical reasons for doing so.
I personally know many people that slack off in this category, but it seems to me that many of the top players around all have a very strict method of organizing cards. Personally, I use cardboard boxes that are sized to fit trading cards. These can be found at any old hobby shop locally, or even online. They are extremely cheap and easy to fit in a backpack. Having easy access to many cards at a time is always crucial when making a last minute deck decision, as I have numerous times right before a tournament. Boxes are the best, most malleable storage option out there, so they make the most sense to use when trying to find a place to stuff things.
When purchasing cards, sleeves, and things of that sort, I log all of it on a big spreadsheet so that I know how much it all costs me. I even have a master spreadsheet of my entire inventory of cards, for convenience. This makes it easy to keep things modest and to always remember what is needed, and what is wanted. Having everything in order like this may seem very tedious, but having knowledge of all my cards in one click or touch is fantastic if I would like to know if I already have something before I buy it, or whatever the case may be.
Gameplay Decision Making
When I begin to play a new deck, I always play it slower and think of as many possible outcomes as I possibly can. This means I will knowingly think through playing even something like an Ultra Ball. I think about questions like “What will I lose if I Discard this card and this card?” or “Will I have an opportunity to get these cards back later on?” Taking things like these into account makes it easy to make a tough pick. Obviously, some things are better than others, like if I were to open with something like this for an opening hand and my opening draw: Xerneas, Sky Field, Lysandre, N, Professor Sycamore, Ultra Ball, Fairy Energy, Double Colorless Energy, I will more than likely start by Discarding the Lysandre and the N, or Professor Sycamore (depending on how aggressive I was looking to be in my play). Discarding the Supporters of my choice allows for use of them later on with VS Seeker, which is extremely useful.
Look for Tells
Over the summer of 2015 I really got into poker, reading and watching lots of content about tells. They are easier to spot, and definitely have meaning in the Pokemon Trading Card Game. If you take the time to watch your opponent’s face after playing an N, one can pick up on some nonverbals as to the strength of the new hand they received; things like that. This one is not completely about “tells”, but just being more aware of your opponent’s mood can simply shed some insight about how they are doing in a game. Additionally, looking for these sorts of things can make a player more alert and focused. There is no reason not to be aware of these, so why not research them for yourself?
When I wake up the morning before a tournament, I generally feel sick. Not entirely because of nerves, but because when I do not get to sleep much, my stomach feels upset. Anyways, I generally operate at events with minimal food intake, but the fluids and snacks I do consume are incredibly important. Sometimes when I play I even work up a sweat, so I always have a water bottle on me filled up for my convenience. Additionally, I sometimes try to keep snacks on me, if I think of it beforehand. A little bite to eat in between rounds helps a player keep focused and not lose interest due to hunger.
Play the Best Deck, or Play the Counter
Historically, I have always tried to test decks enough that I have a firm grasp on what I believe is the “best” deck. Occasionally, I will step out of the box and try to play a deck that counters what I expect to be played, but generally I stick to just playing what I think has the best matchups overall. When playing something that is just good all around, tournaments are more predictable because most matchups are winnable and it comes down to more luck than anything. The worst part of doing bad at an event for me is knowing that I should have played a different deck. Luckily, though, that has not happened in ages, because I believe that I always make a good deck choice.
So many players nowadays are quick to say that they do not even test anymore. While this may be true, I cannot believe how rash an oversight like that is. Playing even a little is better than nothing, and absolutely nothing harmful can come from playing more Pokemon. The ins and outs to a deck are discovered by playing test games, and without it, a player will be learning entirely on the fly during an event. Some may be able to pull something of that nature off successfully, but that number is very far and few between when it comes to the average population of Pokemon Trading Card Game players. I play quite a bit of Pokemon every day to polish my skill, and make sure I am on top of things. Practice never hurts.
A lost art in the game of Pokemon that I am proud to say that I uphold in every match I play. Over the summer of my aging up from the Senior Division to Masters, I practiced over and over again on what cards were in my Prizes. I would sit down with a friend and he would time me and at the end I would flip over my Prizes and usually celebrate that I got them all right. At the time I was on the slower end of things, but as time has gone on I have found ways to make the process easier on myself. I try not to think of every card constantly all at once, but rather choose a few different cards at once and count the numbers of the copies I see in the deck as I look through. I tally the number of cards that I picked out and repeat them mentally “one, one, two”, etc. The process is also simpler when you pick a section to start with, like Pokemon, Trainers, or Energy. Keeping tabs on Prizes is quite amazing after you start taking them, since you know what ones are still face down and can play to the tune of what is in there. Say I have three Prizes left, and a Professor Sycamore in there. This knowledge can give me an opportunity to make a more risky play, like perhaps using my only VS Seeker in hand for a Lysandre instead of a draw Supporter, with the hopes that the Sycamore turns up as the Prize I take for the knockout.
I am sure that many of you put your cards in piles, usually six, before a game. This is not even shuffling. “Pile shuffling” does nothing to randomize a deck, and in fact, makes its order not random at all. Players should never shuffle like this before a game because it is simply pointless. A bridge or mash shuffle a large number of times is more than sufficient when preparing for a game. In game, a bridge or mash shuffle five to seven times is enough to provide proper randomization and ensure fairness for both players all the while keeping the game on track and going in a timely fashion.
I am not here to claim I am a statistical expert by any means, but a lot of the “odds” calculations in card games are more of a best guess, anyways. Let me start by taking a very point-blank scenario: if I were to have a Super Rod in hand with multiple Basic Energy in my Discard, along with a Max Elixir, it is clearly optimal to play the Super Rod, replenishing the deck with more Basic Energy before playing the lottery on the Max Elixir. While this is a very clear-cut example, sometimes odds are more valuable than you may think. When debating between playing an N and being defensive, or using a Professor Sycamore to stay aggressive, it is advisable to search an opponent’s Discard beforehand to see how many outs to the N they will have. I like to keep rough tabs on both mine and my opponent’s deck sizes so that calculations can be more precise, in addition. Things like this can go a long way in an event, and come up very often. Many times have I surveyed my field and decided that I could risk compromising my long game by digging for a resource in my deck, since I knew it was probable that it was in there.
After the 2015 National Championship, my second in Masters, I decided after a loss from a slowplaying opponent that I needed to start wearing a watch to keep track of time. This player was a little more well-known in the community and I felt a little shy to call a judge on them without hard evidence. Had I been wearing a watch at the time I may have been inclined to stand up for myself more and have some kind of medium to prove it to the judging staff. At any rate, wearing a timepiece is highly advisable for any player looking to take their game to the next level.
By the age of eighteen, I have been all around the United States and think I have a great system for planning and actually taking trips. I use Kayak and trivago, mainly, to search for cheap hotels, and choose one based on proximately to the venue, but also take cost into account as well. Flights can be found easily on Skiplagged, a site that compares all applicable flights together and sorts them to your wishes. This season I started logging all my costs on a spreadsheet so that I knew how much the season costs me out of pocket. This tool has been pretty awesome and keeps me on my toes because I know how much I am willing to spend in a season before reconsidering my ventures. This has been my favorite new tracking measure this season and I look forward to its continued use for years to come.
Sharing expenses makes trips all the more affordable, and with the right group of people, travel can be super fun. If you have not coordinated bigger trips with a variety of individuals, I would highly recommend it, as a trip gains another valuable friendship aspect, and it will save you some big money in the long haul.
Now that there have been numerous events conducted in this format, there are no more surprises to be had. Some of the rogue decks that have come out of the woodwork like Pidgeot-EX are no longer surprises. Yveltal decks have dominated and proven time and time again that they are the deck to beat. There is an incredibly important trend, however, that I have come to notice.
Yveltal is clearly the best deck in the format. It has the most balanced rapport of any deck, and can beat just about anything out there. It is the deck that everyone has to keep in mind when preparing for a tournament, and it's the most popular deck to build counters for. Now, here is where the trend that I mentioned comes in. The counters that are made to beat Yveltal all seem to have a glaring weakness of their own; that weakness comes from the existence of Volcanion decks.
Basically, in an Yveltal based format, the Yveltal decks will actually do the best out of any other deck. Now in a Yveltal counter based format, Volcanion decks will succeed the most, beating the counters for Yveltal and Yveltal will obviously struggle itself, unless it miraculously avoids its counters.
Now I must mention Rainbow Road, as well. My last article was completely dedicated to it, and while others love Yveltal, I love me some Xerneas. I think that Rainbow Road, like Yveltal, can beat any deck, and while it is not as popular as a deck, it assuredly can do the same damage in a tournament as any other deck. Not only do I like its matchup with Volcanion and Yveltal, I think that it has great matchups against the Yveltal counter decks, too.
With all of this in mind, we come to a weird trifecta of decks in the Standard format, where Volcanion beats Yveltal’s counters, Yveltal beats Volcanion itself, and Rainbow Road is the wildcard which can win any event with proper luck being in place. Personally, I love the current Standard format and feel there is still room for creativity and strategic, skill based matches.
As you may know, I covered this deck extensively in my last article, and I do not have much else left to say on the deck. Basically, to sum up my views on this deck, I would like to say that I think it is the one build that can beat anything. Rainbow Road is sometimes seen as a more “inconsistent” deck that has problems, but in reality, on the right day with the right draws, this deck can beat absolutely anything. It is always my top pick in the Standard format and I do not see anything changing that anytime soon. No matter which way the format turns, to counters of Yveltal, or Yveltal itself, Rainbow Road is always there at the door knocking. While it is still waiting to have a breakthrough performance stateside, in Europe it has claimed a first place finish at a Regional Championship and truly proved its worth.
Here we have the deck that has shot off to a dominant start in League Cup events in the United States. As made apparent by many of the results, counters to Yveltal have been extremely prominent and the counters are more than likely to blame for Volcanion’s continued success at these events.
Volcanion decks aim to start by filling the field with as many Volcanion-EX as possible, and then use its Steam Up Ability as many times as possible to increase the regular Volcanion’s damage output with Power Heater. Power Heater, along with Max Elixir and manual hand attachments for the turn keep Volcanion-EXs online and swinging every turn.
This deck fairs well against pretty much anything, aside from Garbodor decks, like M Mewtwo-EX (64) and Yveltal variants. With Mewtwo being more obsolete than ever, the counter decks to Yveltal have risen up. These decks include things like Vespiquen with Zebstrika, M Pokemon-EX decks (normally unplayable cards such as M Altaria-EX, and even Pidgeot-EX), alongside Jolteon-EX, for instance.
All of the aforementioned decks either have a hard time with Volcanion, or they downright lose to it. The quick onslaught of the baby Volcanion’s Power Heater along with the powerful Volcanic Heat attacks that follow are generally too much for those types of decks to even handle.
The synergy is there, the good matchups are there, everything is clicking on all cylinders for this Steam Siege inspired deck. Some lists have even moved to begin trying to counter Yveltal decks with the likes of things like Enhanced Hammer. The inclusion of Enhanced softens the blow of Evil Ball, or Y Cyclone, and leaves a player with more opportunity to attack. Since Garbodor basically stops the one-hit knockout potential of any Volcanion player, having more time to function is absolutely necessary to the deck’s survival in a match against Yveltal.
We have all heard about the black birds by now, yes the deck has won both Standard format Regional Championships in the United States, yes it has won the only International Championship over in London, yeah, yeah. Yveltal is undisputedly the best deck out there in Standard. Many players' mindsets have become: test the deck profusely in the mirror match, and just ride the matchups they are handed in a tournament. I do not personally think this is the best strategy out there anymore, with the plethora of counters a player is sure to be facing.
Fright Night on the baby Yveltals is a fantastic Ability that can stop M Pokemon-EX decks right in their tracks, and even cause tons of problems for just about every other deck. Not only that, but dropping 60 damage on two Pokemon-EX usually means that those Pokemon are going to be an Evil Ball away from a knockout, and the math works out well. Use the baby Yveltals to set up knockouts, and then abuse the Pokemon-EX Yveltal to get the rest of the job done.
Yveltal has been around forever, and is not going anywhere. It has the potential to win any tournament, but comes with the downside of a huge target on its head. This being said, it is more of a boom or bust candidate in the current format where players are trying their very hardest to make solid decks that can fare well against the rest of the predicted metagame, all the while beating the Yveltal decks out there.
I am a firm believer in Rainbow Road and want to recommend it to all of you brave enough to pilot it. It has the potential to take home any event and can go toe-to-toe with Yveltal decks. With this in mind, I hope you give it another look before making final decisions on a deck before an event.
I hope you learned some interesting things about my background and hopefully it will help you out in your own right as a player. There is always more to learn from others, and my wish is that you can take something away from this article today. Additionally, I am optimistic that you were able to take something away from my Standard format overlook and opinions. Good luck at your next event, thanks for reading!
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