How To Improve Your Playtesting!
Hey there, ‘Beach goers! It’s been a few weeks since my last article, but a lot has happened in the Pokemon TCG. Personally, I went down to Athens, Georgia to play in a Regional Championship with cards from Roaring Skies. I was excited about this event, and wanted to see what decks would do well so I could predict what the popular decks for US Nationals would be. However, shortly after Regionals concluded, Pokemon announced that Lysandre's Trump Card would no longer be legal in tournament play after June 15th. This one card change to the format has pretty large implications for US Nationals and other major tournaments after June 15th because it resets everyone’s knowledge of the metagame.
More so than most years, the choice of what deck to play at Nationals will come down to playtesting, and identification of what decks are strong. Having a proper strategy for playtesting is crucial, which is why the focus of this article is going to be how to get the most out of your playtesting. Playtesting is what every player needs to do before going into a tournament, and knowing how to do it properly will really put you ahead of other players. In the first part of the article, we will talk about the huge benefits of playtesting and why it’s absolutely necessary. After that, I will go over my Georgia Regionals finish, where I sadly underperformed. One reason I want to go over this is to highlight some of my preparation going into this event, and how hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and do better yourself at future tournaments. Then finally I’ll tell you some of the dos and don’ts of playtesting that a lot of players don’t know about.
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Importance of Playtesting
Before going into a major event, playtesting with different decks and exploring different deck options is important. Playtesting can help you choose the right deck, help you know how to play it, help you optimize it, and help you learn tricks about it. However, there are good ways and bad ways to playtest, and the way you playtest can heavily skew your results if you are not doing it right.
It is critical that when you are playtesting to make sure you are always learning something when you play. It can be very easy to start playing games without thinking about the consequences and choosing the best play, however, the less thought you put into playtesting, the less you get out of it in the end.
Choosing the Right Deck
The most important reason to playtest properly is to pick the best deck you can for an event! As much as I love theory crafting matchups, without actually playing games, some matchups, which may in theory seem difficult, prove to be simple with just a little bit of testing. Even just playing a couple best-of-threes can reveal that a matchup is much closer than expected, and helps you consider a deck you previously ruled out. It is also important to test a deck to see how consistent the deck is. Sometimes you learn that you need to compensate for hands with unplayable Evolutions with more Supporter cards, and less Trainer cards which can end up being useless, such as Trainers' Mail. At large tournaments, consistency is one of the most important things you should consider because even if you are able to predict what popular decks will be played, you can wind up playing against almost anything in a tournament.
Learning How to Play the Deck
While most players may write this off, learning how to play a deck can be extremely important for some people. A lot of popular decks rely on cards like Battle Compressor and Ultra Ball, which require you to discard potentially useful cards. Depending on a lot of different factors, and what deck you are playing or are against, your choice of which cards to discard can change a game’s outcome on your first turn. A lot of decks can have hidden subtleties to them that you may not notice without playing some games with it first. One example from my Leafeon / Raichu deck is that Pikachu with a Silver Bangle has a 50/50 shot of Knocking Out a Shaymin-EX with Quick Attack! This may seem obvious, but if you don’t mess around with your deck, you may not think about a weird play like that, that is very simple, yet could easily win you a game on turn one.
Another facet of learning how to play a deck is how to play different matchups. It may only take a few games to learn how to play a matchup properly if it’s an easy one, but it’s better to learn how to win a matchup before a tournament than during it. An unfavorable matchup may even take more practice games to learn how to play, sometimes just being able to stall out the game for a tie can end up being a viable strategy in a tournament if you are able to steal a win in one game.
Optimizing the Deck
Finally, the biggest benefit of playtesting in my opinion is being able to optimize your deck. Two lists that are almost identical, but have two cards that are different can be the difference between making top 8 and being eliminated on the first day of an event. What I mean by this is that a deck with a one card tech could help you win a matchup, such as Mr. Mime against Landorus-EX. Adding consistency cards instead of techs can also be important in other matchups, so you have to decide what approach you want to take and what you want to focus on while building your deck. Pokemon being a card game, has an element of luck to it, so anything you can control to improve your chances of winning a game is something you should strive to do.
After having a mediocre performance at Boston Regionals, I started theory crafting a lot of decks for Georgia Regionals. Since this format was new, I expected a lot of players to play decks that were getting a lot of hype online, and seemed like solid decks. In my mind, the metagame in Georgia would be filled with Seismitoad-EX, Primal Groudon-EX, Trevenant / Shaymin-EX, Colorless M Rayquaza-EX, Dragon M Rayquaza-EX, and Raichu. Even though I expected all of these decks, I felt like Seismitoad-EX and Primal Groudon-EX would be the decks that most people would end up playing. I assumed that some of the other decks, such as M Rayquaza-EX, would not be as popular because everyone was trying to build decks to beat them, as this is usually the case for new decks that are being hyped up. Even though Seismitoad-EX was still a popular deck, I thought it would still see play because the card is so powerful and even decks meant to beat it may still only have a 50/50 matchup against it. For example, I found that Groudon-EX can usually beat Seismitoad-EX, but sometimes the matchup can go the other way if the Toad player runs Mewtwo-EX, and gets lucky. As for Groudon-EX, I feel it has positive matchups against Rayquaza-EX, Seismitoad-EX, and most other major decks in the format, and I believe the counters to Groudon were less known or not as reliable as the counters for M Rayquaza-EX.
After testing each of the main deck types for a week, I was not satisfied with any of them. I kept running into bad matchups with a lot of them, or thought that they had consistency issues. Eventually, I started testing a deck that I thought countered most of the top tier: Leafeon / Raichu. Below is the list that I used at Georgia Regionals, and below the deck I’ll explain the card that may seem very confusing, Banette (RSK #31).
4x Professor Juniper (PLF #116)
1x N (NVI #101)
1x Lysandre's Trump Card (PHF #118)
The theory behind this deck was to have favorable matchups against all of the major decks, and rely on Raichu‘s huge damage output that can deal with almost any non-standard deck. Against M Rayquaza-EX, it was able to rely on type advantage, and attacking with a non-EX attacker. Against Seismitoad-EX, it used Leafeon with Deoxys-EX to power through Toads, and if I was lucky enough to get a Silver Bangle out before Quaking Punch, I could one-shot Toad with Energy Crush. Against Primal Groudon-EX, you would lead off with Raichu to deal with Wobbuffet, then swap to a Leafeon with Deoxys-EX to finish off Groudon-EX. I also chose to include some pretty unconventional tech cards in the deck.
Banette is a great tech card for a lot of match ups. First, it slows down decks that used Mega Pokemon by disabling their Spirit Links. Second, decks that rely on Float Stone, such as Trevenant / Shaymin-EX, would lose their way to retreat for free, preventing them from streaming attacks. And third, it shuts off Focus Sash in Primal Groudon-EX decks, allowing me to one-shot their Groudon with Leafeon. All of these matchups could otherwise prove to be difficult, but a 1-1 Banette tipped them in my favor.
Another tech I ran was Glaceon to go with my Deoxys-EX. The idea behind Glaceon was to give all of my Plasma Pokemon free retreat, especially Deoxys, who is a prime target of Lysandre. Glaceon made it so every Pokemon in my deck besides Shaymin-EX and Banette had free retreat, allowing me to get away with zero Switch cards.
I also chose to run one copy of Flareon in this deck, to give me the potential to hit for damage that Raichu possibly could not near the end of the game. Flareon also allowed me to have an extra attacker, so if I had to discard one too many Raichu early, I would have something else to follow up with late game.
This deck was a lot of fun, but it ran into a few problems that I overlooked before the tournament, causing me to finish just outside of the top 32 (an unusually poor performance for me). As such, I’m going to go over my tournament matches and give you a lot of valuable insight into the mistakes I made and how you can avoid them yourself in the future. Then afterwards, I’m going to give you even more playtesting tips and secrets that can really improve your game. As I mentioned earlier, proper playtesting is every good player’s start to success. You’ll be able to choose much more effective decks and lists in the future if you’re doing more effective playtesting.
So are you ready to improve your game right here and right now?
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