Table of Contents
II.Analyzing the Metagame
VII.Understanding the Clock
VIII.Challenge Yourself, Have a Rival
IX.Preparing for a Tournament
Alright guys, I am back and this article is going to be a little bit different than most articles that we have written. Instead of giving you deck lists and telling you the best way I believe to play them, I am going to try and give you some pointers about mindset, and how to prepare for tournaments in order to become a better player overall. I feel like both Standard and Expanded have been more or less figured out, and almost every deck has been talked about, including the new Wobbuffet decks that are popping up. So why not go a different route and try to help you improve, even slightly, as a player. There are two different things you have to focus on when preparing for, and during, a tournament: your deck and your attitude.
Analyzing the Metagame and Picking the Right Deck
The Metagame is very unforgiving with deck choices in Pokémon. Understanding that and understanding the need to adapt to different Metagames as they arise is important to becoming an excellent player. Let’s use our format before Sun and Moon as an example. London Intercontinental was a HEAVY HEAVY Yveltal/Garbodor Meta, which was expected because of how well it did at the two U.S. Regionals before it. People decided that even though the deck was clearly the best deck in the format, it had weaknesses that could be easily exploited. For the next tournament you were either playing Yveltal/Garb, or you were playing to beat it by playing Vespiquen/Zebstrika or Mega Mewtwo. Knowing that Karen was still in format and that Yveltal/Garb will not be as popular as it was in London, most top players decided that playing Mega Mewtwo was the right call for the regional in Dallas. This is why Xander Pero was able to win with his Mega Gardevoir deck, and the reason Mega Gardevoir dominated so hard in that tournament. Crazy enough, Greninja was barely played there because everyone knew that Mega Mewtwo was a very difficult match up and that many players would be playing that. Those playing Mega Gardevoir took the chance that the meta would fall exactly how they wanted it to and they would have free wins from all of the Mega Mewtwo in the tournament, while still having a decent match up against the rest of the field besides Greninja that had too many difficult match ups for the tournament. Now the meta started to get crazy because we had a very match up dependent format in the works. Greninja started to see a lot of play, because the rise of Mega Gardy scared away the Mega Mewtwo players for Athens Regionals. Greninja was hands down the most popular deck at Athens, which is why the decks like Mega Ray and Speed Darkrai were so dominant. They had decent match ups against the decks that were already popular and had excellent match ups against the decks that were on the rise because of the Meta shift. The people who top cut all of these tournaments understood how to play the Meta and they knew that they could either go with the shift in the Meta or they can go a step ahead and play exactly what they think the Meta was going to be. High risk and a high reward for taking the chance. This is a pattern that always comes up every time a new set comes out and we can already see it happening with the results from the Australian International. How can you get better at understanding the Meta though? It all comes down to paying attention. There are many resources out there about what the Meta is like. Reading articles, looking at the top 32 spread of decks and how popular each deck was, or even playing in your own locals every week, and going to league in order to know what everyone there is playing. If you take notes on all that stuff you can find the pattern of how the Meta is shifting and adapt to it because you will always have at least a week before the next tournament to prepare. This brings us up to our next tip: how to prepare for the Meta after you have identified it.
Testing is extremely important to becoming better as you may already know. Once you have the Meta figured out, it is time to build all of the decks you’re considering playing. If you do not have the cards to build all the decks you are expecting, there are online resources for either purchasing new cards or just printing out proxy cards to save yourself some money. The common mistake that comes up while testing is not testing a match up enough and assuming it is a favorable match up when it is much closer than you think, or not testing a match up because you think it is an auto win. During testing you should not exclusively play the deck that you want to play. We will use me as an example for this, I played Greninja for the entire first half of the season, but I did not test Greninja as much as I tested against Greninja. You need to understand how your opponent is going to try and beat you in order to stop them. This goes for any deck and any match ups, you should learn and understand both sides of the match up and you are already at an advantage against your opponent, even if it is an unfavorable match up. Once your gauntlet of decks is finally set up and you start to test, play every deck to understand which one is the one you like the most, and to understand the ins and outs and strategy of every deck that you may see at the tournament. You can be the master of your deck and never make a mistake, but if you do not understand how the other decks work and what their strategies might be to beat you, then you will not be able to beat the top players in the game. They innovate plays and do not typically do the things that you would expect them to do, which is the level you want to reach. Now you have played with multiple decks and you have figured out which one you think is the strongest deck for the tournament, this is where crunch time comes in. The deck may still not be perfect and you need to start your testing against the most popular deck based on your metagame breakdown sheet that you have access to. Make changes to the deck, even if they have never been done, and try to see if you can make certain match ups even better. Do not forget that you should avoid hurting other match ups too much when you are making changes to your list. Play game after game until you feel confident in your deck and know that you will always make the best choice when it comes to your game play. If you only play one match against a match up then you will not learn very much. I know a lot of people who feel like if they play one match and stop with a match up then they already know how to beat it and they will beat it every time. This is a terrible mentality when going into a testing session. I personally do not stop playing the match up until I know the ins and outs of every situation that might come up, this usually takes 15 plus games. I play until I keep winning and the other deck has nothing to do because I have figured out the match up, or until I find out what the specific cards that swing an extremely close matchup are and how I have to use them to get ahead ever so slightly. This goes with matchups that are bad too. Even though it is much less fun to play against a deck that you know you have a bad match up against, it can save your tournament life in the future. Let’s say you test against a very unfavorable match up 15 times and you lose 12 of them, but you figure out the slight chances you have and the plays you need to make in order to potentially win. It is worth it, because when you sit across from an opponent who did not test this matchup, because they assumed it was an auto win, and you pull out your cute tricks against them and win. They will have no idea what happened but you will be walking to match slip up.
The people you test against are critical to the success of your testing. You want people who will help and challenge you to make the right decisions, because in a tournament setting making a mistake will cost you the game. I personally have a testing partner who, even though he does not play the game a lot, he understands the strategies behind why a certain move might be a little bit better mathematically than another. Playing with players that are better than you helps to improve your game exponentially just by watching their moves and seeing how they conserve their resources, and seem to always have what they need. Playing with someone who might be a little worse than you is actually very beneficial also. They might have different ideas that, even though may not be the best they sometimes, will have a different way of looking at the game and might have a genius idea that will benefit you. If you do not have a large group of friends in your area that can test every day like you may want to, then PTCGO is the best bet. There have been many occasions where I have to test on PTCGO just because my normal testing group is not able to test at all. Even though this is not ideal it still helps with learning my deck and with testing different strategies in my deck. You can also test against yourself. I know this sounds weird at first but playing a perfect information game really helps, the key to this though is you have to remain unbiased, because obviously you know the best play to make based on both hands. Find people who are willing to talk about the plays they make and who will criticize you when you make an incorrect play because that is how you will get better. Playing game after game without any interaction will make you learn a lot slower than just talking about your moves and learning right then and there if you made the right decision.
This is a huge category that causes people to not get any better. They feel that just because a deck is built a certain way and it has been working for people that there is not a way to make it better. This is completely wrong you should never be scared to try out new strategies for decks that have already been established. Net decking is also great for testing, but it probably is not the best for wanting to go into a tournament. You need to change lists and make them your own so that you better understand it. What works for some people might not work for others. The other thing is innovating with new deck ideas. Just because there is a deck that is the best deck in format that does not mean it is the best choice for a tournament. Think outside the box and you could get rewarded. Much like how people thought Solgaleo was not a good deck until Ahmed decided to give it a chance, and then I was able to top 16 with it in Anaheim, and how Russell was able to play Zygarde and turn it into a real deck after three players using his exact list made day 2 at San Jose Regionals. There are hidden gems in every format that just need to be given a chance. Pedro never gave up on his Volcanion deck no matter how bad most people though Volcanion was and when it was finally time, he was able to win the International with it. If you are trying new things and it starts to work, then you will be able to catch a tournament by surprise and dominate everyone that is playing the net decks that you already knew about.
The other part of this is being able to adapt to different tournaments. Even though you love the deck you created and it has a positive match up against the majority of decks in the format you still need to make sure you do not play it if you know that the Meta is not going to be friendly to you. You have to be able to adapt to any format that comes towards you. Decks like Yveltal/Garb are a perfect example of this. That deck was dominating at the beginning of the season, but because the Meta keeps changing, and because we got a new set, the deck has been lack luster. Players have still been playing it but they have not been doing as well, thanks to the bad match ups, and we have stopped seeing Yveltal/Garb in day 2’s and top 8’s altogether. The format might be shifting back to where Yveltal/Garb is a good deck, but you needed to have another deck option and adapt to the ever changing metagame in order to be known as a top player.
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