A New Theory of Evolution — Memphis, Meta, and Metal

Wisdom has it that evolution is the solution if you’re gonna win. Anyone who played the Pokemon TCG between 2012 and 2017 would have doubts about that, though, as Big Basics decks in this era were too powerful for slower decks that wanted to evolve their Pokemon. Even though I would argue that, since Guardians Rising, evolution is indeed the solution once again (even aggressive superstars like Buzzwole-GX and Rayquaza-GX are partnered with evolved Pokemon now), it’s not actually my topic today. I don’t want to talk about the evolution of Pokemon (in the game), but about the evolution of decks (in the metagame). If you want to have continued success in the Pokemon TCG, it is a necessity that you evolve both your game and your decks to keep up with changes in the metagame.

Let’s start with a simple example: if everyone plays Paper, you should play Scissors. Unless you expect everyone to have the same reasoning, in which case you should play Rock. Of course, this idea is harder to put into practice; the Pokemon TCG has more than three playable decks, and each one comes with its own variants, its own tech options, and its own matchups — which tend to be less polarized than the ones in Rock-Paper-Scissors. Yet making a correct metacall is often the key to a successful tournament run. A deck that is strong one week can be a terrible play the next week, despite the format being the same. So how does it work? How does a metagame evolve? How do players adapt to it? That is the topic of this article. We will look at the results from Memphis as a way to illustrate this theme, and explore some ideas of where the metagame could go next — including a talk about the new promo Solgaleo-GX.

1. The Memphis Metagame

1.1. The Data

You have probably already seen the results of the most recent Regional Championship last weekend in Memphis. Daniel Altavilla beat Gustavo Wada in a Malamar mirror match in the finals. As I predicted last week, Buzzwole / Lycanroc-GX made its return, though it had more success than I thought: it comprised half of the Top 8! Finally, Zoroark-GX and Rayquaza-GX also made Top 8.

Thanks to RK9 Labs, we can study these results in more detail. For example, Rayquaza / Vikavolt was the most represented deck in Day 2, with 17 players playing the deck (21% of the field). Out of these 17, one made Top 8, an additional two made Top 16, and an additional five made Top 32. This is about what we could expect on average, if all players in Day 2 were ranked randomly. In other words, in Day 2, Rayquaza neither overperformed nor underperformed. This fits with how we perceive the deck: a solid choice that always performs well, but doesn’t take tournaments by storm. Note that I’m not looking at the performance of the deck in Day 1 here; that would require statistics that are not available. Regardless, the Day 2 performance is more significant when trying to determine whether a deck was a good play or not — Day 2 is when players are sure to face solid opponents with proven decks.

Looking at Malamar (excluding the Shrine of Punishment versions), there were 14 players using the deck in Day 2 (roughly 18% of the field). Among these players, eight were in Top 32 and five of those were in Top 16. If the results were random, you would expect 20% of each archetype to make it to the top 20% of the field, however 37% of the Malamar players made it. To put it another way, 31% of the Top 16 was comprised of Malamar decks, when they only made up 18% of the field in Day 2. This points to good performances by the Malamar players, and particularly by the popular list featuring Chimecho, which won the event and had two additional spots in Top 16.

Buzzwole / Lycanroc was the most successful deck in Day 2 by most metrics. Only nine players reached Day 2 with the deck — a fact which could point to it doing poorly in the Day 1 field or, more likely, that it was not played as much as other archetypes. Four of these players went on to make Top 8, and another one made Top 16. This means that another 31% of Top 16 was Buzzroc decks, when they made less than 12% of the field on Day 2.

On the other hand, two popular archetypes underperformed. Out of the 12 Zoroark decks that made Day 2, only three reached Top 32, and Buzzwole / Garbodor / Shrine only got one spot in Top 32 out of the already meager five spots it had in Day 2.

We could continue breaking down the numbers, but there is little point in writing down all the data. More interesting is finding out why the results turned out the way they did.


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