Meta is a prefix that means to view the subject from a higher point and/or to theoretically consider all of the subject’s properties. What I will be discussing in this article is Metagaming and how to apply it within the Pokémon TCG.
Metagaming can be thought about as the game within the game. The reason to metagame is because in a game like the Pokémon TCG in which each player creates their own deck, there is more to the game than the game itself. In a game like chess where each player has all of the same pieces that do the same things, skill is the only factor in determining the winner of the match. In Pokémon TCG however, each player can enter a tournament with 60 cards made up of any legal cards in that given format. Thus, playing with more skill than your opponent can not single-handedly guarantee victory. Which cards and decks you will be playing against in the tournament is a very important factor to consider when choosing your deck. If you can predict what the most played decks will be, then you can go on to find a deck that fairs well against those decks.
Let’s say that you are going to a league cup of 50 people and you know for a fact that 40 of those 50 players are playing deck A. If deck B has a favorable matchup to deck A, then it would be a good call to build a good list for deck B, practice with it, and use it for that tournament. In reality, you don’t know exactly what people are going to play. But, you can make inferences and educational predictions on what archetypes will be present at your tournament.
Predicting what the meta will be is not something every individual that’s good at the Pokémon TCG is amazing at. Many players have teams or groups that combine individual knowledge and ideas to formulate a predicted meta. Some players rely on reading articles, watching videos, and listening to podcasts to take in what other players think the meta for a large tournament will look like. I think that a combination of your own predictions, your team’s, and knowledge from content creators has great potential to produce an accurate meta-prediction.
Here is an example of making metagame predictions and choosing a deck based on your predictions. I will be using data and information that I put together leading up to the 2017-2018 Hartford, CT Regionals.
This is a chart depicting my meta predictions for the Standard Format Regionals in Hartford, CT on 9/30/17. I analyzed the decks that were being played at League Cups and also what decks other players were discussing, suggesting to tech for, and considering playing at the event. After sharing this chart with other players, I came to the conclusion that this was likely an educated and accurate prediction. So I then began basing my deck choice off of this.
A great place to start is to try to decide what you believe the 3 most played decks will be and prepare a deck that can fair well against them. Usually having an approximate matchup spread like 60/40, 50/50, and 40/60 against the top 3 decks is good, but obviously, if you can get your deck to be 50/50 or better against several popular decks that would be ideal. I thought that a Fire variant like Ho-Oh or Volcanion would be great because of my predicted high showing of Golisopod/Garb and Metagross, but the problem would be that fire variants had poor matchups to Gardevoir-GX. Here I believe that the matchup spread against the top 3 decks for fire would be 70/30 in fire’s favor against Metagross, 60/40-55/45 in fire’s favor against Golisopod Garb, and 40/60 against Gardevoir-GX in Gardevoir’s favor. Ho-Oh-GX /Turtonator-GX /Salazzle-GX ended up taking a top 8 spot while Volcanion/ Volcanion-EX won the whole tournament, so this logic was confirmed to be accurate.
I decided to stick with Gardevoir-GX/Sylveon-GX for the tournament since I felt it had a comfortable matchup spread to the entire Standard Format tier list, ranging from itself being the most popular deck down to lesser played decks like Alolan Ninetales-GX and Xerneas Break. My two tech options for the deck were a single Turtonator-GX for the Golisopod/Garb matchup (and slightly for the Metagross-GX matchup) and a single Mr. Mime (BKT) to prevent damage spread abilities to capitalize on my weak basic Pokemon. I ended up placing just under the top 128 due to a couple of close mirror matches and tying a match that I would have won if I had played optimally. Regardless of my record, Gardevoir-GX was a great play for the tournament and I felt confident in my decision based on the analysis and theorizing that went into predicting the meta.
This is more or less the format I follow when creating predictions for a large scale event such as a regional for the archetypes we will see and in what quantities they will show up:
- Browse the internet for recent league cup results that are in the same format as your upcoming event. I suggest finding this data on http://www.ptcgstats.com/, a great resource for tournament results. Keep track of what archetypes you see consistently doing well and for the most part, eradicate any obvious outliers as they are usually due to smaller league cups.
- If there has been a recent large-scale tournament in the format, this should be a great resource of archetypes to expect and a good baseline for your meta predictions. I suggest using http://Limitlesstcg.com and once again, http://www.ptcgstats.com/ for this data.
- List out all of the archetypes that are worth being mentioned.
- I usually use a Google Sheets document for this, as it is free and easy to use and you can manifest charts and graphs to depict your predictions.
- As I mentioned earlier, I always run my predictions by fellow players of equal or greater knowledge and skill. Make sure that you aren’t missing any archetypes that should be present in your meta-prediction.
- From here, I like to move around percentages of each archetype, keeping the total at 100%, until it looks like a very possible reality of the upcoming metagame. Depending on how far away the tournament is, these predictions may change as more hype is created around certain decks or techs, more events are played, and as more people make their own predictions. As a rule of thumb, I like to allocate 10% of the meta to “other”. “Other” being rogue decks, archetypes unlisted, or objectively bad decks.
Here is data that I collected and analyzed from an open poll in the Facebook Group “Heyfonte”, which is a moderated Facebook Group dedicated to competitive Pokemon TCG content and discussion. I asked that anyone who would like to participate vote for the 5 archetypes on the list that they expected to see the most play at Hartford, CT regionals. Now, keep in mind that is availability sampling and is not generalizable to any population outside of the specific sample of people who chose to participate, but it is worth noting that the poll resulted in a meta-prediction very much similar to my own predictions, others predictions, and the at-a-glance makeup of the actual tournament meta.
As I said, this wasn’t in anyway a key factor in my final meta predictions, but it was reassuring to see how closely myself and others were shaping up the meta. This is also a great example of how I present my data.
There are three golden rules that I have made for myself when selecting and building a deck based off of metagaming that I would like to share with you:
- Don’t tech for every deck. In a metagame where there is reasonably a dozen or so different archetypes that you might see at a competitive tournament. Do not sacrifice the consistency and core strategy of your deck to tech for every archetype that you can think of. If you are playing something like a Zoroark-GX (SGL)/Counter Energytoolbox that uses the strategy of having a tech for most matchups and hitting several different weaknesses, this does not apply since the core strategy is to be a counter deck.
- Keep in mind the lower end of the metagame (archetypes that are predicted to take up 5%~ or less of the meta and the “other” decks. Like I said, don’t tech for every one of these archetypes, but consider how well your deck competes against random archetypes and lesser seen archetypes.
- Counter to the Counter to the Counter to the… please stop there. A great idea is to play deck B if it beats the popular and strong deck A. If many people are adopting this idea, then it might be fruitful to find a deck C that is favored against both deck B and deck A. I usually draw the line there. You don’t want to find yourself playing deck E because it beats deck C and D (both counters to the counter), but has unfavored matchups against decks A and B, the initial two decks you were worried about.
My last piece of information will be on local metagaming, namely for League Cups. League Cups are geared towards your local competitive scene, and if you play in your region enough or keep tracks of what good players around you often play, you can formulate what the local meta might look like. For example, I am going to a League Cup 2 hours away from me this weekend. I know many of the people that will be going to this league cup and 2 hours is almost always my limit for travel time for a League Cup. I know that my area has a lot of players that have been doing well with Buzzwole/Lycanroc and that they continue to like the deck. From this, I can infer that players will also bring Necrozma/Malamar decks since Necrozma-GX / Malamar has a positive matchup against Buzzwole, along with Garbotoxin Garbodor decks to counter all of the abilities that are very strong right now like Zoroark-GX’s Trade and Malamar’s Psychic Recharge. I will keep in mind that Buzzroc and Necrozma/Malamar will probably be the two most popular decks, while also noting that there are groups of players that will sporadically all come with Vikavolt /Tapu Bulu-GX and Greninja/Greninja BREAK. My top consideration at the moment is Zoroark/Lycanroc with 2 tech spots for Buzzwole, to have a favored matchup against Necrozma/Malamar and close to a 50/50 against Buzzwole/Lycanroc. I am expecting Vikabulu and Greninja to be close to nonexistent due to it being our area’s first Standard cup with Forbidden Light legal and I assume that most people will be focused on the newer cards.
This is a topic that I love to talk about and that I frequently cover on my Youtube channel, Celio’s Network. I am ecstatic to finally have content in article form on Metagaming in the Pokemon TCG as this medium is much better for the topic than videos are, in my opinion. If any sections of the article were hard to digest or if something isn’t clear, feedback is well-received and appreciated. I attempted to write this in language and context that would be helpful and benevolent for players of all levels. Thank you!