Set after set, and time after time, players do the same old thing: They notice a few particularly flashy cards, test the ever-living Arceus out of those cards, and go worse than a 50% win record at a Regional Championships.
How does this happen? Researching cards can never hurt you, and testing is almost always a good use of your time when preparing for a big tournament; so why is it that some of the most studious players in the game have the most consistently awful performances? Nine times out of ten, it’s because they have the wrong method!
In today’s article, we seek to put you on the right track to set analysis, testing, implementing, and even dumping your pet decks from new sets. To do this, we will be using the latest release, Forbidden Light, as our primary example; however, the lessons in today’s article should apply to any new set, and the examples included won’t be exclusively limited to Forbidden Light.
The Method to New Set Playtesting
Here is how I think players would be best served in approaching any new set. It’s a fairly straightforward five-step plan, but it encompasses everything you should be doing when it comes to testing new cards:
- Step 1: Review the Entire Set (know what the cards do!)
- Step 2: Separate Enhancers from Cores (know which cards are helpful additions and which are the centerpieces of new archetypes)
- Step 3: Playtest (theorymon and practice)
- Step 4: Evaluate (consider the results of your theorymon and practice)
- Step 5: Commit (actually make your selections for your big tournament)
Before we get too deep into explanations for each step, I should clarify some important things to keep in mind when reading them:
- Overall, this method is designed to help you test many new ideas at once. Practically speaking, all but the worst sets should make you curious about multiple possibilities, which means you could easily be testing a new deck.
- This method is designed to be followed chronologically. However, once a step has been completed, you do not need to start working on the following step immediately. In fact, in some cases you would be best served by ignoring new ideas entirely, especially if your most immediate major tournament does not allow the recent release. Playtesting immediately is just as valid an approach as waiting to playtest.
- The last two steps are specifically focused on evaluating and choosing between your competing choices. Visually you can think of this whole process the same way you would a water filter: take out the nastiness so that all you’re left with is pure, clean water!
Step 1: Review the Entire Set
Our first step in the method is not actually formal testing so much as it is thorough review of the new set’s card pool. I very deliberately include “entire” as part of this point because it is easy to miss several good cards while obsessing over the hot staples and hype cards.
Returning to Forbidden Light, several cards jump out to us as being obviously strong and powerful. These include Zygarde-GX, Ultra Necrozma-GX, Lysandre Prism Star, Diancie Prism Star, and Malamar. Similarly, other cards should appear abundantly awful to the average competitive player, such as Clawitzer. Yet somewhere between the obviously good and recognizably bad cards are several others that require a bit more metagame knowledge or imagination to be good. One such card that instantly jumps out to me is Zygarde. 60 damage for a single Fighting Energy against Ultra Beasts will not break the metagame and its Earth Aura Ability makes it only worse. If you pair this card with Mew as well as Choice Band, you can copy Zygarde’s Peacemaker attack to deal a whopping 180 to opposing Buzzwole-GX! While I’m not saying this will end up being the optimal Buzzwole-GX mirror counter, I do think this is a possibility several players would overlook simply because they are obsessed with making a Malamar / Ultra Necrozma-GX deck. In summary, avoid the tunnel vision and learn to expand your vision.
Speaking of tunnel vision, reading scans of the latest Japanese set can be helpful, but they can also really mess with your proper understanding of new cards as they fit into a format. Oftentimes when a new set comes out in Japan, our international metagame has not yet fully developed, meaning that your eye is not yet trained to be looking for the cards most relevant to the context of the next post-release tournament. Additionally, we sometimes see important cards held back for a set or two, such as Alolan Ninetales (originally released just weeks after Japan’s Guardians Rising set and not part of their version of Burning Shadows). Luckily, whether you heed my warning to digest new cards in the proper context, or still want to test new ideas as early as possible, PokeBeach’s scans are a great resource to do both.
Step 2: Separate Enhancers from Cores
So, you’ve looked through a set and have a feel for every card. Now what? In the second step of our method to testing new sets, we separate the cards that improve pre-existing decks from the ones that are central to new concepts. We will call these cards ‘deck enhancers’ and ‘deck cores’. Both types of cards are essential to growing a format, but for your purposes, they will have two very different endgames in advancing your strategic advantage over your opponents.
- Enhancers can influence as many as all decks — or as few as one! Forbidden Light is full of Ultra Beast-themed enhancers. Lysandre Prism Star is a strong card in Fire decks, so you can be reasonably sure that this set will heavily improve a few concepts. However, because there are zero useful new-draw Supporter cards featured in Forbidden Light, there won’t be many universal enhancements made to decks (the way Tapu Lele-GX made everything better a year ago.)
- Cores are the foundational cards for new decks, and they require you to look back at other sets in order to think of good combinations for them. However, cores are just as often immediately paired with other cards in the set, such as Malamar being paired with Ultra Necrozma-GX. Since Ultra Necrozma-GX can deal massive amounts of damage at the price of constantly discarding Psychic Energy, you naturally want to run it with Malamar which, through it’s ability, will maximize your long-term damage output. Not all core combos are this obvious, but in recent history the obvious decks have mostly been very strong, so keep your eyes on them!
Why is it necessary to separate these two kinds of cards from each other? For starters, the way we test and evaluate the two types is different. Furthermore, as testing new ideas is usually a multi-person activity, the more knowledgable you are about the function of the cards, the easier it will be to communicate with and understand your fellow players.
This concludes the public portion of this article.
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