Hi guys! This will be my first article for Team Complexity Card Gaming. I won’t be doing the usual and throwing out a decklist, telling you why it’s good or bad and its matchups, I want to do something a little different that I hope players out there can benefit from to help up their game to the next level.
So what will I go through in my articles if I’m not going to talk about decks and decklists?
This is something I’ve wanted to do for some time now and this is the perfect platform for me to do this I feel, I’ll be making a series of very general guides towards succeeding in the Pokémon TCG. I’m planning on covering a wide variety of topics, ranging from mindset to probability management all the way to meta-gaming your competition.
What is my target audience?
I want to help anybody and everybody, but my main focus will be the intermediate level player, aiming to push them towards contenders on a national/international scale. What I mean by intermediate is the bracket of people that are competing for that Day 1 worlds invite. Whether you achieved that or not, if that is your goal, you are who I am aiming my article towards. I think it would be fantastic to see more people pushing for a day 2 invite and increase the level of competition as a whole! However, that’s not to say that if you’re not around this level that you can’t benefit from these articles! I feel like there will be something for everybody here so please check it out!
So what is this article about?
There’s so many important topics to cover but I want to keep it as relevant as possible to what is coming up so my first article will be about the importance of meta-gaming in the Pokémon TCG. With the World Championships on the horizon, predicting the meta-game will be one of the most important factors towards success, but it is also relevant at every stage of competition from League Challenges to National Championships so this should be something everybody can benefit from.
What on earth is meta-gaming then?
To put it in its simplest terms, it’s playing the game outside of playing the game. What does that mean and how does it tie in with Pokémon? Well there are a lot of external factors that come into play when it comes to playing any game, but the number one external factor in Pokémon is definitely deck choice. Making the right deck choice has always been important, but how important it is fluctuates based on the meta-game, i.e. what is doing well and what you expect to do well. Well this has never been important than it has been now. There are so many viable decks but every viable deck has a weakness that is also prevalent in the game so there is almost no ‘safe’ choice but it is up to the player now to work out which will give them the best chance of succeeding. Succeeding is also different on a player by player basis, and that was especially visible during the European nationals where the ultimate aim for the top players was to get enough points for a Top 22 Worlds invitation. For some players that meant winning the whole tournament, and for other players that meant just making it safely into Top 8 and this would have drastically affected deck choice too and is another factor to consider whilst making your deck choice.
Ok, so how about an example?
So let’s go back to European Nationals as an example again, way back to the first European National Championship in the UK. This was the event I ended up winning and I put it down largely to the fact that I made a bold meta-game call going into the event. I needed to place top 2 in the event to secure my top 22 place within Europe, so decided that playing it safe was not an option. Playing it safe is a great tactic if you’re looking to end the day on a positive record with a chance of making cut, so the safe plays going into this tournament would have been Night March or Trevenant. Whilst these decks were great at making cut (4 out of top 8) and great at almost making cut (9th and 10th place was Night March and Trevenant), it was always going to be a struggle for something so ‘safe’ to play not to hit a bad matchup somewhere along the way, which we saw to be true with only one Trevenant making it through to top 4 until finally hitting their bad matchup there and falling out of the running too. Meanwhile, I played a deck with very polarising matchups in Vileplume Vespiquen. Sure I could have just lost if an opponent dropped an Aegislash EX or got an early Garbodor out. However I took my chances knowing that there was almost no coverage for the deck and no hype for it at all, meaning players wouldn’t consider running these counters in their deckbuilding. Whilst I did hit hard matchups along the way, the turn 1 lock is polarising enough to overcome these matchups, combined with player inexperience in the matchup which lead me to top cut in which my route to the final was paved for me thanks to some nice matchups. Then fast forward to a week later at Germany Nationals. The two ‘safe plays’ in Night March and Trevenant are doing well, and now there’s a new kid on the block in Vileplume Vespiquen, what is the play? Well this was for sure the tournament for Waterbox to shine, with an overwhelming matchup against Trevenant and a decent enough Night March matchup, teching in Aegislash EX was all you needed to do to make sure you had good enough matchups to do well in the event. And this was evident with 3 of these decks comprising the top 8 including fellow team member Marc Lutz, and Chriso A. went on to take down the tournament from there. This carried on through the whole series of European Nationals, we saw Greninja running Hard Charm being successful in Denmark to help overcome the bad Waterbox matchup and so on.
So how should you meta-game?
Unfortunately, there is a ridiculous number of layers that I couldn’t possibly give you a perfect flowchart of what your perfect deck choice would be. However, I can break it down into tournament size and the safe/risky play.
This can actually be the hardest tournament series to meta-game, with only playing a few rounds, there’s no guarantee that your predictions will play off. Having said that, you should scout out what decks the top players in the area play and simply pick the deck with the best chance against those decks, so I would fully condone a safe deck at these events. This means that you’ll have a deck that not only has good matchups against the better players, but also a safe deck that won’t be caught out by the newer players at the event too. There’s no real need to do anything too risky at this size event as the reward isn’t big enough to justify it.
This will largely be the same as League Challenges. You’ll generally be getting the same people from an area attending all the events in that area. For example, in the UK, you’ll get a group of people you can expect at most City Championships in the UK, so I would assume that the same holds true for other countries and US States. Scout what has been doing well and what the top players tend to play and make sure your deck choice is a safe deck that can at least compete with those decks. Again, typically the reward for going deep into the competition isn’t huge with small jumps of 10 championship points per position to separate places so playing it safe is a lot more rewarding than taking risks.
This is where you as a player have to start deciding what it means for you to succeed. Are you a win or bust player or are you just happy to be on the top tables competing for top cut? You also have to take your player experience into account when making these decisions, for example over the course of multiple Regionals, a top player can pick a safe deck and pick up multiple top cuts, maybe a win here and there too. Someone with less experience will make the same call, could play the exact same 60 card list and maybe only make cut once during that same period. You can mitigate this as a less experienced player by taking risks instead. Once you start playing decks that either win hard or lose hard, you may find that you go one or two tournaments where you bomb really hard and are out of the running of cut in the first few rounds, only to go on and win the next event and get top cuts later on. You also have to take trends into consideration when making your decision, and all this leads to Regionals being by far the most time consuming to pick the right deck for. Here’s a list of factors to think about when making your decision:
– Number of events – How many Regionals are you going to? If you’re going to many and you are confident in your ability, play a safe deck, if you’re not confident, by all means practice practice practice to try and build up your confidence but maybe going for a risky deck will be better. If you’re only going to one or two Regionals, then risky plays become more rewarding overall.
– Meaning of success – Is it win or nothing for you? Risky decks will be more rewarding for you in that case. Happy with making cut then just play it safe and hope the matchups go your way because your deck should run fine overall if it’s a safe deck.
– Meta-game – Is there a deck that is absolutely dominant in that area? Play either a safe deck that can compete with it or a risky deck that has an overwhelmingly good matchup against it. What if the meta-game is more spread out? This is where playing safe becomes more rewarding, having a deck that has decent coverage against a whole number of matchups or a deck that has tools to overcome and outplay harder matchups is the way to go.
I would largely treat Nationals the same as Regionals, except for US Nationals which is a totally different ball game. For something as long as enduring as US Nationals, make sure to bring a safe deck and plenty of luck to see you through the day!
The Counter- Counter
So up to now, I’ve been telling you to analyse trends and make safe and risky deck choices based on that. Now it’s time to take it one step further. Sometimes a deck is so successful that it can force all other decks in the format to change how the deck is built in order to compete. In some cases this can actually push this strong deck out of the running, paving way for previously weak choices to suddenly become viable again if it’s only bad matchup was the deck that got pushed out of the running. This was never more evident that in 2013, where Edmund Kuras took down US Nationals with a Gothitelle Accelgor deck that was overall a hugely successful deck at US nationals. This lead to anybody not playing Gothitelle Accelgor to thoroughly restructure their deck in order to beat it. In the end, what happened at Worlds was despite the format being exactly the same, almost nobody was playing the US Nationals winning deck. Everybody testing the deck was finding their win percentage with it going down, including me, so they shelved it for other options.
So what’s the play for the 2016 World Championships?
So you know how I said that decks that are really popular can fall out of favour as everyone will tech against it? Don’t expect that to happen with Night March this year. Night March does have its counters, but at the same time has the tools to overcome its counters too, this deck isn’t going anywhere until it finally rotates out so make sure you can at least compete with the deck. For Day 1 of Worlds, I would generally recommend playing it safe. You are looking at needing to get an X-2 record to go through to the next day which is actually quite forgiving so if you just make sure to know exactly what your game plan is in all the major matchups, and have a little luck on your side along the way you should be confident in getting that record for yourself. Whilst Night March is a ‘safe’ play, it will get targeted so be aware of that if you are planning on playing Night March for day 1. I found this out the hard way last year when I decided to play Night march for Day 1 thinking it would be a really safe play to ensure an X-2 record. My very first opponent was playing a Baby Yveltal/ Baby Terrakion deck which seemed like it was totally built to take wins off of Night March. I did manage to take a draw off of that game but it really set me back for the rest of the day as a draw is in general as good as a loss in that style of tournament. People will bring weird and wonderful things to Worlds and that’s part of the beauty of it. For what it’s worth, the decks that I consider relatively safe are Night March, Yveltal based decks and maybe Trevenant too.
As for how I would recommend approaching Day 2 of Worlds, I don’t think that’s something anybody can tell anyone. A lot will have to be based off of what is doing well in Day 1, I personally like the idea of taking a few risks for Day 2 as the reward if it pays off is massive. However, this is a year I can totally see a standard deck taking down the tournament so I guess we’ll wait to see what the 2016 World Championships has in store for us!
If you got this far, thanks a lot for reading my first article, I hope there was something useful in there for you, even if it won’t help you in the short term, something to bear in mind throughout the course of next season. Also please bear in mind that this is just my opinion and my take on how to effectively meta-game in the Pokémon TCG. If someone tells you something that differs from anything I mentioned, it doesn’t mean that they are wrong at all! They just may have a different approach to me, this is just what I personally stand by. Finally, if you’re competing at worlds this year, I wish you the best of luck and look forward to seeing you all there!