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.
Now that you have put all this time into your deck and learning the meta it is time to finally get to the tournament and put it into practice. Everyone wants to be the person that goes 9-0 day one at a Regionals, but let’s be honest, it does not usually happen and understanding this is very important for your mentality going into a large tournament. Chances are you will lose a few times throughout the day, but it is how you handle these losses that will make you a better player. We get a best two out of three format, which is amazing for people who put in the time to learn from their mistakes. If you barely lose game one thanks to one slight mistake or because one thing went wrong for you then that is where you learn from it and win the next game. You need to be able to adapt to your opponent’s playstyle and take advantages of their linear strategy. Round one just ended and you watch your opponent take the match slip up after dominating you 2-0 in a match up that you believed was favorable, how you handle this situation will decide if you win out and make day two or if you will keep losing and have a terrible day. Will you be the type of person that goes to your group of friends and tell them about how unlucky you got from coin flips or about how your prized everything you needed, or will you be the type of person to go to your group and say “he beat me, I made a couple mistakes, but I know I will be able to beat him if we play again.” Taking the second approach helps to avoid tilting in the tournament. There are a lot of mental games that you have to play when you are going into a tournament. Tilting is the most common reason that people continue to lose and cannot seem to get better. Playing while tilting causes you to forget everything you know about your deck, and you go back to the linear strategies that you already know do not work for you. This happens to the best of us sometimes, but minimizing how often it happens increases your chances of winning tournaments. Other situations might come up where you put so much time into picking your deck and then your opponent flips over the deck that is your auto loss, even though it has terrible match ups against everyone but you. This will happen every once in a while, because that’s just how variance works. If you try your best to win and still lose, you have to take it with a grain of salt and just move on. You did get unlucky with the match up but that does NOT mean your data was incorrect, or useless. The other common thing that happens to players that are new or are not a top level player is that they get fatigued from playing. There is a lot of thought every round during a tournament and with lunch breaks not happening very often they start to get tired and do not care anymore even though they are still live for a day 2 run. This is something that you have to try and avoid. The best way to avoid it though is to test, test, and test if you test a lot you begin to want to test more even after the tournament is over. You begin to not feel any fatigue while playing and make less mistakes during the game.
Understanding the Clock
This is a very controversial topic when it comes to the game right now, but it is something that is very important nonetheless. Everyone has had some heart break losses or ties thanks to the new time rule of 50 minutes plus three turns, but how can you avoid those situations as much as possible is the question that I am going to answer. The first example and the most obvious one is to wear a watch during the tournament. It is not against the rules and many people do it so why only let them have an unfair advantage when you can even it out and play with a watch also. I personally do not wear a watch, because I would rather focus on my games instead of worrying about the clock on my wrist, however I am a very fast player and do not tie very often. If you do not have any concerns about keeping track of time while playing then this is a solid option for you. The next thing you need to focus on is the very crucial game one. This is usually the game that decides if it will be a tie or if there will be a winner. If the game goes for what seems like awhile and you know that your path to victory is so slim that it isn’t worth the time, then you need to be able to scoop. Losing one game does not mean you lose the match and you need to give yourself as much time as possible in order to win. Losing out on precious time just because you are playing towards a 5% victory does not seem like the correct play, but you definitely do not want to scoop if you see a path to victory because winning a long game one is the best thing to do. The average game takes anywhere from 15-20 minutes from my experience and using your surroundings is a very good way to indicate how much time is left if you do not where a watch. Let’s say you are shuffling up for game three and you look around and over half of the room is still playing, it’s a safe bet that you have over 20 minutes left. This is something that I do every tournament. If I feel like there are not very many people left around me then that is when it is time to either accept the fact that we will tie or to play extremely fast hoping to get a quick win. The playing extremely fast play typically doesn’t work because they will match your speed by playing extremely slow and it will be a long game regardless. The best way to avoid this situation is to play at a quick pace during the beginning of the match and getting to game three with over 20 minutes left. Sometimes you do get those opponents that are just naturally slow players and when you lose a game one against them it feels like the end of the world to have to go through that again. Those people are the outliers, and the bad match ups that you need to win the first game in order to avoid a tie. Do not forget that you can call over a judge to watch for slow play if you feel like your opponent is trying to slow play you in order to win. When a judge comes around most players will start to panic and increase their pace of play, making it so you stand a better chance at getting the victory. The clock is a factor though and it is not going away, you just have to accept that it is a 50 minutes +3 best of three match and that is all you get. Complaining about it will not make it go away, all it will do is put you on tilt. Accepting that you lost or tied thanks to the clock is really the only option when it comes to playing Pokémon competitively. Combating it by using a watch or being aware of your surroundings is the best thing we can do to not have a terrible time.
Challenge Yourself, Have a Rival
Ash and Gary, Yugi and Kaiba, Goku and Vegeta. These are all rivals that cause the other person to get better, get stronger, and strive to be the better opponent. Finding that person is very important when it comes to getting better at the game. Just because you look at them as a rival does not mean that this is not a friend that you enjoy hanging out with, all it means is that you two force each other to get better and can both start to win tournaments. If you notice that someone you feel like is a good player is always doing better than you and you do not want that to keep happening to you it forces you to become a better player. I personally have some rivals in the game that push me to get better in order to not only play against them at top tables but to also beat them in tournaments. This is also because it forces you to put blame on yourself instead of outside factors when it comes to why you lose. If you want to be as good as someone who constantly does well at tournaments then you can no longer blame prizing things or dead drawing on not being as good as them. You have to realize that they must be doing something that you aren’t. Usually the best thing to do is watch that person, ask to play games online against that person if you do not live near them, and even study how that person plays. You will learn something from watching excellent players, especially ones that you eventually want to beat. After you have done this then when you next sit across from your opponents you will be able to challenge them the same way that they have challenged you, even if they never knew it.
Preparing for a Tournament
This section will have nothing to do with your deck choice or anything related to Pokémon, but it will help you to become a better player and perform better at tournaments. There are some specific things you should do before every tournament. Getting plenty of sleep the night before is crucial to doing well. There are people who are able to do well even though they do not get much sleep and those people are the exception, but the majority of people play better when they get a long night’s rest and are functioning at a high level the next morning. Take a nice hot shower either the night before or the morning of a tournament. If you go to a tournament and are not feeling clean you will not be at your peak performance, it is much like a job interview, and you need to dress for success if you want to do well. Wake up with enough time to grab something for breakfast and not rush to the tournament. Also if you know that the tournament will not be having a lunch break or even if you suspect it, then bringing some extra food or a packed lunch will be extremely important for you so that you can keep your energy up all day. These are little things that people forget about when they are preparing for the tournament, but even if you have the best deck ever if the player piloting that deck is not at their best it will result in a poor performance at the tournament.
I know this is a cliché tip for being a better player, but the players that constantly do well are the ones who still love playing the game and they play a deck that they enjoy playing. If I pick a deck that I do not like for a tournament and do not have fun playing with it then I always do worst in a tournament. That is where all of your testing comes in handy, especially in a format that any deck has the potential to be viable. You get to figure out which deck is the deck that gives you the most pleasure to play and also is a deck that can compete with the top tier decks of the format. I played Greninja because I loved playing it and I was able to change my lists in order to stay competitive in the Meta shift. I also played Solgaleo/Lurantis in Anaheim, because even though I have an auto loss to Volcanion, the enjoyment I had from playing the deck was worth the risk. I did, however, play Decidueye/Vileplume for Australia and I did not have fun all day. It was not my playstyle and because of that I would not make the correct plays and my tournament was overall not enjoyable. If I would have played a deck that I enjoyed, even if I lost, I would still have been happy just because I had fun with the deck.
There are many factors that go into a tournament that help people win other than just your deck choice. You have to pay attention to how much you tested that deck and how comfortable you are with it. You need to make sure you understand the clock and how it works and you also need to make sure you are always challenging yourself in order to get better and achieve whatever your goal with Pokémon is. Go into a tournament with the correct mindset, and prepared for the worst. Remember that luck will always be a factor for everything you do but it is how you handle it, and the position you give yourself, that will cause you to win the game and the tournament. There are a lot of different tips and tricks in here and I think that if you focused on a couple of them at a time and took them to heart you will see yourself winning a few extra games here and there. You’ll eventually just start seeing success and improvements at every tournament you go to.