Discussion What is a "healthy meta"?

Yaginku

Aspiring Trainer
Member
I want to prefix this by saying, that I have started playing in S&M, so I have not experienced older metas.

I understand that a definition of a "healthy meta" is down to personal preference but, on the other side of the spectrum, if a game can be decided on the first turn, regularly, then I assume anyone would say that's "not healthy". I do not imply that this is the meta we have currently, but it lacks something I haven't experienced yet - typing advantages. Yes, typing does matter, but mostly in the bad/good matchup way. With most decks being single-type and many Trainers outright forcing single-type decks, it's hard to find decks with multiple types, that adapt to enemies and rotate Pokemon. Currently that role is more played by Tag Teams, scaling non-GXs and regular non-GXs.

My questions are - was there ever a meta where multiple types in a deck were common and how was it? And also, how do you define a good meta, with an example?
 

Duo

Nessa/Milotic Dream Team
Member
I'm personally also primarily a Sun & Moon generation player. I came back into the game when Alolan Ninetales GX took some clutch wins and Greninja BREAK and Gardevoir GX were at their prime. Personally I didn't like that meta at all because things like Garbotoxin Garbodor and Trevenant BREAK should just never exist.

For the most part, I think Pokemon TCG metas have been generally pretty healthy in this era. I determine the quality of a meta by looking up meta reports and seeing how many unique decks placed in top 16 (if decks only differ by 1-3 cards I don't consider that a unique deck, i.e. someone playing one less Lele or one more Cynthia). I like to see around 6 to 8 unique decks in a top 16.

I don't actually think that having a ton of viable decks is healthy. To me that means a meta is simply undecided, not that it's healthy and that any deck can win. 3 or less archetypes taking up a majority of the meta is also unhealthy to me, since that means the game is approaching Tier 0 where the only decks that matter are the one that always wins and the one that can counter the one that wins with maybe a rogue deck thrown in.

But primarily for me, I relate the health of a meta to the amount of discussion people are having about figuring things out and experimenting. People need to be talking about possibilities and options and doing extensive playtesting instead of assuming they've locked into a BDIF on the first day a new set is announced. If no one is talking and the only thing people say is "if you want to win play X, Y, and Z" I see that as an unhealthy meta. That means the game is static and no one is experimenting or at least encouraging it.

Honestly right now I feel like the meta is in an okay spot. You have non-GX decks like Zapdos and maybe Alolan Exeggutor doing fine, and you have Ultra Beasts in the form of Blacephalon GX. Some Tag Team decks are doing well like PikaRom and Reshizard, and I believe Malamar variants are doing pretty good at the moment too. So you have Psychic, Electric, Dragon, Fire, and assuming Unified Minds works the way we think it will, Grass, Water, and Darkness will become pretty good too. We also see people utilize cards of all kinds - GX, Tag Team, Ultra Beast, non-GX, and some Prism Star (they were niche to begin with). I think the current meta, at least at the surface, looks fine. Weak Guard Energy coming out in Unified Minds should help with prevent types from getting locked out in Unified Minds on the grounds of weakness alone. That, and Mewtwo & Mew GX with Jirachi GX on the bench preventing all Psychic weakness. Promo Solgaleo GX that removes all weaknesses is still in the format for another year too, even if no one plays that card currently.
 

imashbuttons

Aspiring Trainer
Member
My ideals are a little different I guess since I come from fighting games, but if there are multiple decks that can win or even hang at the high/T1 level then I'd personally say that that's a healthy meta.

I started competing in the Stormfront era so I saw a lot of crazy good decks see use (Gyarados, Gengar, Speedrill, Luxray GL Lv. X etc) and honestly it feels pretty close to that looking at how NAIC turned out.
 

Otaku

The wise fool?
Member
My ideals are a little different I guess since I come from fighting games, but if there are multiple decks that can win or even hang at the high/T1 level then I'd personally say that that's a healthy meta.

I don't have an entirely dissimilar background, so I wanted to ask... are you maybe forgetting something? ;)

Imagine how boring Street Fighter gets if, out of a 30+ character roster, the only ones worth using competitively are Ryu, Ken, and a few other Shoto-clones. Or when there are many diverse characters that are competitive but matches designed to last a good 30 seconds are over in three.

When I think of a balanced metagame, I ask myself questions like
  • Why do people play the game?
  • What do they enjoy about it?
  • What don't they enjoy about it?
  • How does the game operate in terms of fundamental mechanics?
  • How does the game work in terms of the top cards and decks?
The short version is after running through these, I realized that, while competitive (and I use that term loosely) players are the smallest part of the customer base, doing what we want isn't likely to affect the collectors and casuals (the other parts of the customer base). I realized every Pokémon has fans, so it isn't good if a particular fundamental mechanic, like Pokémon Type or Stage, isn't worth using. My opinion is that TCG's are more fun when they're interactive, so you turns actually have you doing something, and when you aren't forced into the same strategy all the time. Put it all together - and again, I'm simplifying stuff I could write paragraphs about - and a healthy metagame with a cardpool the size of the current Standard Format should have dozens of competitively viable decks, and gameplay that is neither too fast nor too slow.
 

Wechselbalg

brb
Member
Making it difficult for any archetype to just snowball its way to victory and (especially when going first) and having enough counters against lock decks that turn the game into 1P solitaire.
 

Otaku

The wise fool?
Member
Making it difficult for any archetype to just snowball its way to victory and (especially when going first) and having enough counters against lock decks that turn the game into 1P solitaire.

Yeah, there isn't much difference when you're on the receiving end of a too-fast lock deck of something vital (like Items, at least in most recent Formats) or being steamrolled by an beatdown deck or a tank (offensive wall) deck; is it better to draw/pass because you cannot actually use your cards, or draw/pass because the cards you can play won't make a difference? Either way, y0u're praying for your opponent to make a mistake, and/or to draw into your counter for the situation.
 

DATfairy

Aspiring Trainer
Member
A healthy meta for me means there is not really a single deck that outshines everything else, but rather you have like 3-5 absolute top-decks that if played intelligently have good odds of defeating the others. I am not sure if such a meta has ever existed in the TCG. I started playing at the end of the BW era but did not look at what was meta until well into XY.

Currently I feel the meta not being that great ( at least in standard, expanded has always been the PTCG wild west). More and more you see how a single deck or archetype becomes so powerful it simply demolishes everything else.
I am not a pro player, but this is how I experienced it:
Gardevoir GX destroyed everything in its path, nothing competed with it back in the day.
Same goes for Buzzwole GX, close to nothing could stand against the archetype of GX+baby buzz+ beast rings.
Blacephalon was another deck where you KO one, and proceed to get wrecked by the energy accel of 4 beast rings.
I do not think I have to remind anyone about the mess that was Zoroark GX..
PikaRom came along with so much damage that even if you ran a fighting deck it would just instagib its counters.
And right now ReshiZard is the ( in my opinion) close to undisputed king that can go 200+ damage turn in if it wants and has enough HP and power to simply blast through any possible counter or tech.

I understand that just playing a top deck does not win you a tournament, you need to think about every move, but does there really need to be such a massive difference in power that you find yourself in a situation where 1 deck is clearly miles better than anything else?
I know I know, powercreep happens and all that but still..

Personally I would just like to see a meta with at least 3 to 5 decks that are top 1 with matchup advantages relying on good plays and/or techs.
Sorry if this is not what you really meant, but since I have not played this game when the TCG started out ( and thus not knowing of my idea of a good meta every occured) I figured I'd describe what I feel would be a good meta.
 

rewster1

Aspiring Trainer
Member
What's the point of having a decided, aka solved meta? Whether it's one bdif or 5 top decks, there's no room for creativity. The best part about this game is coming up with new archetypes, new counters, new techs, etc. If 5 decks rule, despite the best efforts of creative deck builders, time for a new expansion/rotation.
 

RisingRaichuu

Aspiring Trainer
Advanced Member
Member
A healthy meta is a meta where you can take virtually anything and make a semi-competitive deck around it without using the same card in every deck, ie. not just adding Zoroark to it.
 

snoopy369

Aspiring Trainer
Advanced Member
Member
A healthy meta is a meta where you can take virtually anything and make a semi-competitive deck around it without using the same card in every deck, ie. not just adding Zoroark to it.

I can't agree with that at all. Unless you qualify it sufficiently that "virtually anything" no longer has no meaning, anyway. There's never going to be a meta where more than 30ish cards from a set are able to be useful; maybe 40 for these bigger ones, but seriously - the sets juts aren't built that way. They have a ton of filler with a few particularly good Pokémon and trainers.

Moreover, there's nothing wrong with some ideas just not working in a meta. Honestly, that's how meta evolution works; the decks go in and out fairly quickly, where (say) Buzz/Shrine comes in and dominates briefly because it fills a niche that nobody else filled, and then almost right away something comes up and makes it unplayable (malamar).

A healthy meta generally should have a lot of that movement, frankly; that's what makes it healthy. Not that you can make up any random deck and it works, but that there's plenty of movement around what's good at any one time.
 

rewster1

Aspiring Trainer
Member
A healthy meta generally should have a lot of that movement, frankly; that's what makes it healthy. Not that you can make up any random deck and it works, but that there's plenty of movement around what's good at any one time.
Well said. It's ok to have top decks of the moment, as long as the next moment we could be seeing something else show up or move up in the ranks.
 

Otaku

The wise fool?
Member
I can't agree with that at all. Unless you qualify it sufficiently that "virtually anything" no longer has no meaning, anyway. There's never going to be a meta where more than 30ish cards from a set are able to be useful; maybe 40 for these bigger ones, but seriously - the sets juts aren't built that way. They have a ton of filler with a few particularly good Pokémon and trainers.

While I agree that such a metagame will never exist, that is because the customers settle for less, hypothetically it is possible for there to be a metagame where every card is viable. How do I know? Take the most robust metagame we've ever had, and conduct this thought experiment; instead of the actual history of the game, pretend all those cards were released as the "base set" of the Pokémon TCG. The thing is, this is probably quite expensive and demanding from game creation standpoint. When so many sales are to folks who don't really play, let alone play competitively... why bother? =/

Moreover, there's nothing wrong with some ideas just not working in a meta. Honestly, that's how meta evolution works; the decks go in and out fairly quickly, where (say) Buzz/Shrine comes in and dominates briefly because it fills a niche that nobody else filled, and then almost right away something comes up and makes it unplayable (malamar).

Is that what @RisingRaichuu really meant though?

A healthy meta is a meta where you can take virtually anything and make a semi-competitive deck around it without using the same card in every deck, ie. not just adding Zoroark to it.

Maybe I'm being too generous, but I'm used to folks not being good at framing their thoughts online. XD Still, "virtually anything" is not anything, and "semi-competitive" isn't an overly lofty goal. The part about not using the same card in every deck is a bit of concern because - like it or not - "staples" are a thing. The clarifier after that bit makes it sound like RisingRaichuu is more concerned about something like Zoroark-GX than Cynthia.

A healthy meta generally should have a lot of that movement, frankly; that's what makes it healthy. Not that you can make up any random deck and it works, but that there's plenty of movement around what's good at any one time.

Nope. If I'm taking what Rising Raichuu said in its best light, I think you're taking it in its worst light.

There are really two subtopics to broach:

1) Should the-powers-that-be intentionally create cards that have no use for competitive play?

2) If everything has a competitive use, doesn't that mean it is a metagame in (to use your terminology) "perfect movement"?

To clarify a bit, "No use" means "no use", as I do not consider obfuscating the metagame to be a use e.g. "We have to release bad cards so you have to work to find the good cards!" Beginner friendly alternatives, complicated strategies that take a while to work out, etc. may be niche uses, but they're still uses. Neither RisingRaichuu nor I said that "any random deck" should work, but that if you take most cards, you should be able to design a functional deck with at least a small chance of actually winning a tournament all other factors (like player skill, appropriateness to the metagame, etc.) being equal. Being useful is not the same as being the deck focus, either. ;)

I will, however, conclude this post by pointing out I know this ain't happening.
 

snoopy369

Aspiring Trainer
Advanced Member
Member
I think the way I'd frame the difference between what RisingRaichu said and I said, is that I believe *at one point in time* it's okay for only a few decks to be top tier competitive in the meta, so long as what those decks are *changes* fairly frequently, while RR seemed to me to imply that the importance was how many decks could be competitive in a more static sense (i.e., many decks at one point). I think that is a reasonable viewpoint, but it's not one I agree with; I'd rather have decks go in and out of style more than I'd rather have a lot of possible decks to play.

That's mostly because I see the metagame as a game itself - a strategic contest where you figure out what decks will be there and find the one that fits best. It is something that advantages the very serious players the most, which is unfortunate (they don't need the help!), but it's also interesting just in general, and something I see myself getting better at. If you had a metagame where lots of decks are equally viable, you'll have an interesting game - probably a better one honestly, as people can find the deck that meshes with their playstyle more and just play that, not worrying about what everyone else plays. But you'd lose the strategy of the meta-game, where you guess what people will play based on what you read and what else is there, and Rock-Paper-Scissors style find the deck that beats the most common decks.

I think both ways of seeing it are reaasonable, for sure. I think both metas can be fun. I just find the narrower but changing meta more fun, and more "healthy" for the game I in particular like to play, than the constant but wide meta.

---
As for the first paragraph of your post, I think that you're not really giving Pokémon the credit it deserves for the balance it strikes, honestly. Pokémon has to balance three large and very *different* groups of people when it publishes a set:

1. Serious players whose focus is on the card game itself
2. Collectors, whose focus is on the quality of the art, the rarity of the cards, and "collecting them all"
3. Fans of Pokémon from the VGs, the Anime, and the Manga, whose focus is on the cards that represent the interesting Pokémon, trainers, and locations that are relevant to them

These are very diverse - (3) fans want *huge* sets with tons of cards in them, because they want cards to represent all of their favorites. (2) want smaller sets (to make it possible to collect them all) with lots of nice art. (1) want even smaller sets, honestly, to have a decent shot to get those useful cards. Each has different preferred balance of Pokémon to trainers and GX to regular. Most of the cards in a set are there to satisfy (3) for the most part, and (2) to a lesser part; only a few dozen cards are truly there to satisfy (1), the group I belong to (and I guess you do too?). (Obviously all of us might belong to all 3 groups to some degree, but we presumably identify with one group more than the others.)

It's not possible to make a TCG that fits all three groups perfectly, but I think Pokémon does a good job of balancing it. But it does mean that there's a ton of chaff from a serious player's point of view.
 

Otaku

The wise fool?
Member
You bring up good points, @snoopy369 Besides being in a bit of a rush myself, I largely agree with your first section, with an obvious exception being personal preference. So... no sense quoting it in this response. I would like to try and quickly bring up what you mentioned in the second section.

As for the first paragraph of your post, I think that you're not really giving Pokémon the credit it deserves for the balance it strikes, honestly. Pokémon has to balance three large and very *different* groups of people when it publishes a set:

1. Serious players whose focus is on the card game itself
2. Collectors, whose focus is on the quality of the art, the rarity of the cards, and "collecting them all"
3. Fans of Pokémon from the VGs, the Anime, and the Manga, whose focus is on the cards that represent the interesting Pokémon, trainers, and locations that are relevant to them

These are very diverse - (3) fans want *huge* sets with tons of cards in them, because they want cards to represent all of their favorites. (2) want smaller sets (to make it possible to collect them all) with lots of nice art. (1) want even smaller sets, honestly, to have a decent shot to get those useful cards. Each has different preferred balance of Pokémon to trainers and GX to regular. Most of the cards in a set are there to satisfy (3) for the most part, and (2) to a lesser part; only a few dozen cards are truly there to satisfy (1), the group I belong to (and I guess you do too?). (Obviously all of us might belong to all 3 groups to some degree, but we presumably identify with one group more than the others.)

It's not possible to make a TCG that fits all three groups perfectly, but I think Pokémon does a good job of balancing it. But it does mean that there's a ton of chaff from a serious player's point of view.

I've been thinking and (on and off) trying to write an article explaining this since... the BW-era? Early XY-era for sure. Let me start off by saying no, I do not believe I'm failing to give the powers-that-be credit for what they've accomplished. I'm just not overly enthusiastic about it because we're specifically discussing an area where they seem to struggle... or else, I need to accept that TCGs are stupidly hard to balance properly and give up on such a thing. And maybe I do.

Still, let me plead my case. For now, let us focus up on the three major markets for the Pokémon TCG:

1) Those focused on it as a card game
2) Those focused on it as trading cards
3) Those focused upon it as neither

These are roughly analogous to what you said. Now, those who neither play nor collect, and indeed, may only purchase a little every now and then are nonetheless the primary source of revenue for this TCG. While those focused on "seriously" playing and/or collecting may buy more product, and yes buying from resellers counts because the supply chain still begins with the powers-that-be , we're so heavily outnumbers by extreme casuals, who buy a single pack once ever now and then, we can't compete. So, these folks should dictate how the game is designed, right?

Nope. Here's the thing: casuals don't care. I mean, they do, but out of the stuff that affects players and collectors, not much of it will "harm" the casual market. If the powers-that-be really tried they could, but it isn't realistic enough that I think we need to worry about it beyond recognizing it is technically possible. The same goes with Collectors Versus Players; unless we do some radical shifting with how the Pokémon TCG works, changes which could greatly benefit the players aren't going to cause issues for the collectors. The reverse is not true; catering to casuals and/or collectors can really wreck things for players.

Right now, Pokémon is mostly following a standard business model for TCG's. Well, perhaps not the most standard model; dump a game with a license on the market, profit, and when it stops selling, wait for a bit and relaunch. They could do this and still make a profit. Fortunately, they want an ongoing TCG, and that is where organized play comes in; it helps promote the game, and acts as something of a "rewards program" for the consumers. Where I take issue is how it seems like Pokémon is still flirting with the YGO model; release new (including recycled) gimmick, perform damage control, repeat. There are some fundamental issues with core game balance and mechanics that they just haven't fixed... and it has been 20 years. =/

Ugh. Sorry; this was supposed to be the short version.
 

RisingRaichuu

Aspiring Trainer
Advanced Member
Member
Yes, I know it's impossible to make anything playable, but what I mean is that the support cards exist to make all kinds of strategies viable. For example, in my personal favourite ever format, the PRC-GRI format (yes, the one straight after Garb and Lele came out!), we had Brigette to make Stage 2 decks like Decidueye and VikaBulu viable, we had powerful enough Stage 1 decks like Baby Zoroark and Water A9tales to be viable and we also had enough aggression to make Basic decks viable too. Oppressive strategies like Drampa/Garb were also made powerful enough, but not too powerful. That's the thing about what I said. There has to be enough for all kinds of strategies to work and be competitive with each other rather than the current format where you have to be a Tag Team or Malamar to be played. The cards that make those kinds of strategies work can also then make other rogue decks work as well, so technically you can pick something crazy up and be able to build a well-functioning deck based around it, not something that will win worlds but something that's at least Tier 3 or whatever. If something's unplayable before you even start then it's probably not a healthy meta.
 

Otaku

The wise fool?
Member
If something's unplayable before you even start then it's probably not a healthy meta.

Yup. I'll add that this is why it is best if no Stage or Type or even specific Pokémon dominates to the exclusion of others. Please note the emphasis; it isn't that something can't win or even be clearly dominant, it is just that, when [insert thing] has to be either broken or binder fodder, some players are going to be disappointed because every Pokémon has a decent fan following. That is on top of the segment of the players who just think "the more the merrier".
 

crystal_pidgeot

Bird Trainer *Vaporeon on PokeGym*
Member
Yup. I'll add that this is why it is best if no Stage or Type or even specific Pokémon dominates to the exclusion of others. Please note the emphasis; it isn't that something can't win or even be clearly dominant, it is just that, when [insert thing] has to be either broken or binder fodder, some players are going to be disappointed because every Pokémon has a decent fan following. That is on top of the segment of the players who just think "the more the merrier".


Pidgeot-EX was a good time to be a Pidgeot fan. One thing I can cross off my bucket list. I do agree, every Pokemon has a fan and TPC hasn't been good to those fan. Every Pokemon should have at least one ultra rare, whether or not its good. I'm grateful I got my Pidgeot-EX and it was competitive for about a minute. I want other fans to feel the way I did that day. Here's to hoping for Goomy-GX!
 

Sabaku

Aspiring Trainer
Member
I can't even begin to pin down what the "perfect meta" would be like, but I could think of a few general rules to follow for a balanced game.

1.) Benchmarks for damage should be set in advance in preparation for new sets. Right now, the damage benchmarks are 70, 130, and 240, and future attacks for Pokemon should be designed with those benchmarks in mind.

2.) Every type should have some form of reliable Pokemon search. Universal search options like Ultra Ball are nice as well, but leave themselves wide open to abuse if left in the game for too long. Universal search like that should only be included when type-specific search options are too slow or too weak at the time. Pokemon Communication would be an example for balanced universal search and Electromagnetic Radar and Net Ball are examples of balanced type-specific search.

3.) When making new Pokemon with abilities from the old days, it should be kept in mind what made the old Pokemon popular in the first place in order to avoid similar mistakes. Weavile-GX going into the new rotation is a sign that this message was taken to heart with Max Potion and Acerola leaving.
 
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