TCG – Beyond Night March: APAC’s first impressions of the 2017 Format

Ash Pokedex
 

League Challenges are underway, the first International Championship is fast approaching, and the period usually dedicated to city championships is looming. So, if you’re one of the 1587 people (perhaps a slight exaggeration) that I contacted, who replied with “I haven’t played since Nationals, I don’t even know what is going on with the meta,” it is probably time to stop celebrating the rotation of night march and start considering the current Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) format. That’s right, the format has changed and the meta has shifted. Again.

The more successful players will be those who are able to predict and adapt to the meta, and who constantly re-evaluate their own ideas and the ideas of others. This article aims to get the Klings, Klangs, and Klinklangs in your brain, turning. Hopefully you’ll realise that you can’t just play Manectric/ Bats all season and expect to earn a Worlds invite.

But even if you think you have a good understanding of the current meta, format and championship event structure of this season, I encourage you to continue reading. A different perspective can give your ideas new life.* Do you think Ross Cawthon surrounded himself with the same old linear thinkers when he developed the Truth? Look, I don’t know. I haven’t actually asked him.

What I HAVE done, is asked eight of Asia Pacific’s finest players- Louis Chi (New Zealand), Kylie Chua (Malaysia), Bodhi Cutler (Queensland), Shaun Murphy (Queensland), Jordan Palmer (South Australia), Shane Quinn (New South Wales), Sameer Sangwan (Victoria), and Brent Tonnison (New South Wales)- to share their thoughts on the current meta, format and championship event structure.

*Ok, so I stole that lyric from Illy’s “Heard It all”. You know what, Australian hiphop cops almost as much slack as the Queensland Pokémon TCG community, but I don’t think Illy ever asked for scoops so he could get an ARIA nomination.

The Questions

How do you feel about the changes to the Championship Circuit this year?

When responses from all players were considered, three themes emerged. Players discussed the effect of the changes to to the Championship Circuit on: quality of competition, participation rates, and the distribution of events. 

Bodhi:In Australia, we are so different to the rest of the world in terms of Championship structure, that it is often hard to find the ideal strategy to make the points required for Worlds! This season brings the first major change to the format of events since 2012, so it’ll take a year to adjust to the new changes. I’m confident in Pokémon’s ability to retroactively change their format and their points if it proves ineffective, but the thought of more international events & prize pools is a great start!

The Quality of Competition 

International Championships have been introduced to the Competitive Circuit. They are large events that take place around the globe and are open to all players worldwide. International Championships give players the opportunity to compete against top players from other regions for big prizes.  

Shane: Having large-scale tournaments on offer multiple times per year is something I feel the competitive scene has needed for a very long time. There are many players who are virtually guaranteed to get their invite every year and these players are basically just going through the motions for an entire season, just so that they can see how they can do at worlds each year; only to repeat the same process for the next twelve months. These International Championships give players the opportunity to play against the typical caliber of player you would expect at a world championships, multiple times per season, and that can only be a good thing for the top end of the players in the game.

Louis: I think the changes are great as it tests the skills of a player, not only nationally, but internationally as well. With the Asia Pacific championships, it allows Australians and New Zealander’s to compete against the South East Asian player base which has been renowned to produce top quality players.

National Championships are no longer a guaranteed event- though they may be held under the title “special event” at the discretion of Pokémon in that region. The loss of Nationals as a guaranteed event, may mean that it is more difficult to qualify for the World Championships, thereby making the World Championships a more prestigious event. 

Jordan: The Day 2 Worlds invite structure is designed to reward the players who do well consistently all season, however with such a high amount of nationals in most regions which all award an insane amount of points for top finishers, it means that the Day 2 Worlds spots will mostly be taken only by those who place well at Nationals rather than those who perform consistently well. Im not saying that placing well at Nationals doesn’t deserve a spot in Day 2 of Worlds because it absolutely does, but they shouldn’t be the only players getting a day 2 invite. Replacing Nationals with just 1 Internationals will still allow players to win that big event and earn a high amount of points and likely earn a day 2 invite, but it will also allow other more consistent players to as well, rather than 90% of day 2 invitees having to be nationals finalists in regions such as APAC.

Kylie: For the players that continue in the competitive scene, it will ensure a much more competitive and deserving pool of qualifiers for World Championship 2017 thereby making World Championship a much more respected and exclusive event.

Participation Rates

Players expressed some concerns about the cost of International Championships, in terms of the financial burden and the time required for travel. 

Brent: I feel like the changes heavily reward players who are better and more willing to spend.

Kylie: Although International Challenges have been added to supplement the loss of Nationals, there is still the cost of travelling, time to take off and not to mention the burden on parents (for seniors and junior players) if international championships are out of their own region/country.

In countries with a smaller, dispersed player base, Nationals act as a way for players to connect. Usually held in conjunction with the Pokémon Video Game Nationals, the event also strengthens the bonds between the Video Game and Trading Card arms of the competitive Pokémon circuit. For countries that host few sanctioned events, the loss of Nationals could cripple the competitive scene.

Kylie: Nationals is predominately the event which all players wants to win and are inspired to win. Cutting nationals from the premiership circuit, demotivates people who cannot afford to travel and may adversely affect the number of active competitive players.

Louis: However, the increase in local level events should allow players more opportunities to test their skills, which is a great way to build the competitive player base.

Distribution of Events

More League Challenges/ League Cups could keep the player base involved and compensate for the increase in championship points required to qualify for Worlds, but there is uncertainty about whether this will be well executed. 

Jordan: League Challenges and League Cups (City Championships) will now share the same best finish limit (BFL), which will have a quarterly cap instead of an annual one. This is good overall as it stops people from easily getting their invite off of mainly League Challenges with a few decent cities finishes. It also encourages events to be spread out throughout the year, rather than all being in just 1-2 quarters like has been in the past in Australia. This change is good overall but will only work well if we receive more regular and well spaced out events. Otherwise, this could be a very negative change, potentially reducing our BFL for both League Challenges and Cups to just 2 for an entire season.

Sameer: My main issue with the League Challenges is the disparity between states with regards to how many events are being run. So far in Victoria, we have only had 2 LCs, but New South Wales keeps getting them every month. I hope this situation will improve in the future.

What are the top three decks of this format?

Players found it difficult to narrow their selection to three decks, citing the large number of decks with strength and synergy, as a complicating factor.

Sameer: The current format is quite healthy, with a diverse meta that rewards creative deckbuilding and little decisions during gameplay. Although it is a bit matchup-dependant (most decks have 1 unfavourable matchup and 1-2 almost autowins), there is far more skill than people give it credit for. I also like how there are checks for every top tier deck to prevent it from over-saturating the metagame (such as Night March last year or Seismitoad the year before).

Bodhi: There are a variety of strong decks at the moment. Since the release of evolutions, we’ve seen the resurgence of many decks that used to be hanging around the lower end of the tier list.

Jordan: Picking just 3 decks is very difficult at the moment, as the format is so wide open, with many different decks doing well. A deck which is a very strong play for one tournament may do very poorly in another due a different meta.

Shaun: A player with innovation and good meta gaming will win, unless someone gets lucky and just dodges all their bad match-ups.

Despite this, three decks dominated selection- Yveltal (and other dark variants), Mega Mewtwo/ Garbodor, and Gardevoir (STS).

Top decks TCG

Brent: I believe that Yveltal, Mega Gardevoir STS and Mega Mewtwo are all very strong- if not the top 3 decks. They are very hard to counter and have answers to almost everything.

Louis: If it weren’t for Garbodor and the lack of tool removers, I think Greninja would easily be the best deck in format.

Looking back at results from standard tournaments this season, have there been any successful decks that have surprised you?

Players identified four decks that have been surprisingly successful so far this season- Gyarados, Vileplume, Volcanion, and Yveltal.

Gyarados

GyaradosJordan: The success of Gyarados at Orlando and Liverpool Regionals was a big shock to me. It seems like a gimmick deck. But thinking about how the deck works, and what it has to offer, it does make quite a lot of sense.

Bodhi: Gyarados was a surprise for most people. Before the big regional events in America, the deck was relatively unheard of. Thanks to non-ex attackers, fast set up and powerful damage output, the deck just works in the current format because it is hard to keep up with and not easy to counter unless your deck has specifically accounted for it.

Louis: The biggest surprise for me was Gyarados. I didn’t think it would be competitive, but it is actually quite a fun deck to play.

Vileplume

Louis: Decks such as Jolteon/Glaceon/Vileplume were expected for me, as I played it at our Nationals last season. But I think it may have been a surprising deck to some.

Kylie: Definitely Vileplume Toolbox. After playing it for nationals last year and getting lucked out at Top 8, some people sarcastically commented that Vileplume is not a good card and that the trainer lock days are ‘finally over’. The vileplume deck has great potential when played correctly! Despite losing speed this season with the loss of battle compressor, the deck is still strong. I’m glad that it has survived the season rotation and has continued to impress at bigger tournaments.

Volcanion EXVolcanion

Shane: I’m surprised by Volcanion doing well after the rotation of blacksmith. With the way the meta has been shaped by the currently popular decks, it does appear to occupy a particular niche that I didn’t expect.

Jordan: The overwhelming presence of Volcanion at Liverpool Regionals was pretty shocking. If memory serves me, about 20% of the decks that top 32’d were Volcanion. That’s huge! I believe Gardevoir was not far behind. While these are both decks I credit for being very good at this time, seeing them represented at a rate that high was a big surprise to me. I suppose that Volcanion didn’t end up making any spots in the top 8, so overall it wasn’t that dominant.

Sameer: Volcanion’s popularity and success surprised me, as based on my testing it really struggled against Garbodor; specifically Mewtwo/Garbodor and Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor. As these 2 decks were clearly tier 1 at the start of the season, things looked grim for Volcanion. However, the deck evolved to include max elixirs to increase its speed and lower reliance on baby Volcanion for energy acceleration. It also allowed the deck to quickly Lysandre KO a Garbodor without risking all energy being lost if the Volcanion EX was return KO’d.

Yveltal

Bodhi: I was also surprised by the resurgence of Yveltal, although after 3 years of the card being popular in standard play, I probably should not have been. The cards continues to find new partnerships and winning strategies in any scenario! The lack of strong electric Pokémon in the format, like Manectric EX of old, have allowed the card to flourish.

If you were to build a deck for a Championship event tomorrow, would you build if for consistency or to beat the top decks in the format?

All players decided that they would opt for consistency. This decision was made mainly due to the wide variety of competitive decks being played, and the largely unknown direction of the format.

Jordan: Typically I would focus on consistency rather than trying to beat specific decks. There are way too many decks being played right now to safely play a counter deck. However, it does depend on the event. For example, I would be more likely to make a less consistent deck for something like a small League Challenge because there are less points up for grabs and less rounds of play. In a tournament with 6+ rounds, drawing well with an inconsistent list is a big ask, but in a small tournament, making a more risky deck choice can often pay off since you only need your deck to set up consistently for a few games overall.

Shane: “Consistency is king” has always been a mainstay phrase with regards to how this game tends to pan out. A list always needs to be as consistent as possible and then a few non-critical cards get removed for tech choices that will depend on the meta without hurting the overall strategy of a deck in all other match-ups. Silver bullet answers to other decks are typically rare and so a tech choice that gives you a higher chance of winning a poorer match-up is not worth the expense of consistency that may cause you to be unable to play in other stronger match-ups throughout the course of an event.

A couple of players pointed towards a 59/1 consistency/tech approach.

Bodhi: This question comes at a perfect time because I just won a league challenge yesterday (19/11/16) with a pretty situational card in Spinda from Primal Clash. The only reason I included the card was for Gyarados, a deck that is not generally very popular in my area but presents a very weak match-up for my deck. I am always the kind of person to build a deck of 59 of the highest quality cards, then attempt to play one whacky or counter card in order to sure up a negative match-up!

Kylie: For League Challenges, I often opt for a speed deck over consistency. Alternatively, I will go out of the box if I have already maxed out for points. For other tournaments, it’s always the 59/1 rule- 59 for consistency 1 for tech.

What are your thoughts on Karen, Pokémon Ranger, and Olympia?

Shane: I like the idea of cards like these in general but they often pale in comparison to the raw power of the draw supporters we find ourselves with such as Professor Sycamore and N.

KarenKaren

Shane: I like the idea of Karen more with how it theoretically alters the meta based on people shying away from certain decks like vespiquen due to the fact that the card exists, not that it is necessarily being played. There aren’t a large number of decks that really want or need Karen and it will often help your opponent in match-ups such as Mega Rayquaza, Mega Gardevoir and to an extent Rainbow Road, so there aren’t many lists that I would be putting it in at the moment.

Jordan: I have no doubt that some people will try to use this card as a recovery card but overall this card should only realistically be used as a tech for Vespiquen or any similar strategies in the future. There are very very few circumstances in which you want every Pokémon back in your deck, especially at the cost of your supporter for turn. Cards like Super Rod and Brocks Grit serve this purpose much better.

Pokémon Ranger

Pokemon RangerShane: I use this card in decks where Chaos Wheel poses a problem but outside of that and some potential use with Volcanion it doesn’t feature in my deck lists.

Brent: Although it may have been a tech against Toad for Night March before rotation, the card is almost useless in the current standard format. The only relevant meta card that it may affect is Giratina EX.

Louis: I don’t personally play ranger, as the only deck you need it against, you’ll hardly ever draw it at the right time (i.e. against jolteon/vileplume).

Bodhi: Against specific strategies the card is amazing, but with the format so varied you will find it useless almost half of a tournament. A card that is only good 50% of the time doesn’t quite make the cut in a lot of decks. With a new card pool or a shift in popular decks, that could change.

Jordan: Many decks have no easy answer to deal with attacks such as Flash Ray, Crystal Ray or Chaos Wheel, and Pokémon Ranger can serve as a tech option to deal with some of your decks weaknesses. The biggest problem with this card is that its uses are very very specific. Unless you are playing against a certain deck, which uses one of a very few attacks that Ranger can shut off, this card is useless. Its not even an easy card to burn if you don’t need it since you can only play it under those circumstances, making your deck slightly less consistent against 90% of decks. Ranger does have some other uses such as shutting off negative attacks on your own Pokémon such as Volcanion EX or Magearna EX, but these attacks are used in very few decks. Overall Ranger is a very good card but is only realistically good if your going into a meta where Ranger will be very important or if your deck has negative attacks that you want to ignore.

OlympiaOlympia

Shane: I like the option of a supporter based switch, but it really only comes into play with a heavy retreat Pokémon such as Vileplume and even then you can’t VS Seeker for it, so I don’t find myself having Olympia as a go-to option very often.

Brent: This card is just used because of the lack of switching tools available. If you need to play another tool on Garbodor, this is going to help. Vileplume Toolbox also uses this because of the inability to use better cards such as Escape Rope. This card only has a place in the meta because of the lack of AZ, so I feel like it is not that strong of a card.

Louis: Olympia seems like a staple now that AZ is out of format. A card that switches and can be searched via vs seeker is clutch.

Bodhi: Olympia is my favorite supporter in the game, a balanced, powerful effect that positively impacts your board state without negatively effecting your opponents. A great card that will only see more and more play in the future!

Jordan: Olympia is my favourite card out of these 3 supporters and I believe is a card many decks should be playing. Despite having a very simple effect- switching your active Pokémon and healing 30 from it, Olympia is a very powerful effect when there are many popular Pokémon that have ways to stop you from retreating such as Fright Night Yveltal or Gabite. Olympia acts as a near unlimited switch resource thanks to VS seeker and it is a very convenient way to move around under Vileplume lock. The 30 heal is a very under rated aspect of this card, while its not as good as its predecessor AZ, healing 30 can offset a lot of math depending on what deck it is in, especially when you can reuse it with VS Seeker. I often find myself using this card just for the 30 heal when I have a turn where no other supporter is required. A very under rated card for now but people will quickly realise this will almost replace AZ in many decks- although it will never reach the popularity that AZ had towards the end of its competitive life.

What is “the card” that you wish you could fit into a competitive deck?

You know “the card” I am talking about. It’s the one card that is sleeved in your folder in between playable cards and trade fodder. It’s the one card that has a cool mechanic that you desperately want to fit into a deck. It’s the one card that your friends question why you have four of. For me, that card is Barbaracle. Fear not, Barbaracle, your time will come. 

Shane: Magnezone BKT. I love my Rain Dance and if the un-counterable Garbodor were not present in the metagame, I’d be playing this thing at every event just because I like the archetype so much. It also seems to me that it could sit in the meta quite well when paired with Raikou as a single prize attacker; with the potential for Pikachu EX as well as the new Zapdos to be thrown into the mix for burst damage where necessary.

Brent: I like the concept of Porygon-Z and the ability to constantly devolve your Pokémon. The problem with this kind of strategy is the lack of constant draw effects and consistency engines required to support such a Pokémon line up with multiple stage 1 lines and a stage 2 line.Greedy Dice

Kylie: Greedy Dice! When I first saw this card through the promotional video on Youtube I was immediately hyped. But it’s sad that this card has yet to make it to any competitive
deck. Definitely a card which I can considered as my 60th card in any deck if I feel lucky.

Louis: Durant, the grass one. I keep trying to build a competitive Durant mill deck to reminisce about the old HGSS – Next Destinies format days. Durant was the first deck that gave me a regionals/states top 2 placing and got me into the game more seriously.

Bodhi: Since returning to the game a few months ago, I have attempted to run Zygarde (Rumble) at tournament level. The card is a really good choice in a format where switching is dictated by tools and not supports or item cards, providing you with multiple free prizes in a game if played correctly. I will keep testing to try to fit it into my decks in the future, I hope for the resurgence of fighting decks as an archetype!

AmpharosJordan: Ampharos from Steam Siege. It has an ability similar to Crobat from Phantom Forces, which was one of my favourite cards to play. Ampharos has the potential to offer so much more than Crobat ever could, with 30 damage snipe on a once per turn ability (but only to EXs), Ampharos will likely do much more damage overall throughout the course of a game. It is also stackable, meaning if 4 Ampharos were in play you could deal 120 damage per turn for free just with the abilities, that could KO a Shaymin EX at any time you like.  The problem with this card is that it is very slow, unlike bats no added damage comes until you reach stage 2. Also I cannot think of a partner good enough for it to work in standard, not to mention that Garbodor is everywhere.

Sameer: I really like the Banette that blocks all effects of tools. I think it has potential in Darkrai/Giratina instead of the Garbodor line, as it can have a lot more impact in certain matchups (like against Gardevoir). People throw down tools with reckless abandon this format as there is no tool removal; Banette can punish this freedom and give you an edge in a match.

Garbodor – healthy or unhealthy for the game?

Where Garbodor is concerned, there seem to be two types of players- the ones who believe that Garbodor stifles creativity and refuse to play the card on moral grounds; and those who embrace the ability lock, combining it with trainer lock and energy denial then fly halfway across the country at the last minute to win Perth Regionals. Regardless, both players understand that the card needs to be respected.

GarbodorKylie: Garbodor is just another card with a specific mechanic, either you play with it or play around it!

Bodhi: Garbodor is exceedingly healthy for the game, provided it has decent counterplay! During the previous seasons of Garbodor, decks could play several different removal options for tools that balanced out the powerful effect of removing abilities from the game! In a format with no tool removal such as this one (excluding Ratatta), the card is much stronger and much more difficult to deal with. I consider it a wonderful addition to the card pool, provided it has a reasonable counter, so that decks who rely on abilities do not have ‘auto losses’ to the psychic trash bag!

Brent: Post-rotation, Garbodor definitely feels like a stronger card and I think it is good for the game. Before, ability lock didn’t mean much because of all the ways to remove the tools. Now, you must use Lysandre to kill the Garbodor so it has really made Garbodor decks a lot stronger. I actually feel that it is worth ruining your deck’s consistency by adding Garbodor because of how difficult it is to stop Garbotoxin once it is online.

Shane: At present, I believe Garbodor is incredibly unhealthy for the game. There are multiple decks that I would like to be playing at the moment but am unable to do so simply due to the fact that Garbodor exists. Hitting one or two Garbodor decks in a tournament of any size can end your day and there is nothing you can do about it. The meta has shaped itself around Garbodor and seems to be healthy enough as far as the number of viable decks are concerned but it definitely hampers any attempts at creativity before they can happen.

Which cards from Evolutions would you consider to be playable?

Generally, Evolutions is not considered to be a strong set in terms of the number of viable cards for competitive play. 

Brent: A large portion of the cards aren’t up to recent power level because of the attempt to recreate old cards.

Bodhi: I have a great deal of nostalgia when looking at evolutions. Unfortunately, nostalgia is not a tournament winning ideal!

However, players consistently identified Dragonite EX and Brock’s Grit as two cards that will find their way into competitive decks.Dragonite and Brock's Grit

 

Brent: Dragonite EX and Brock’s Grit provide Mega Gardevoir STS with the tools it needs to become a top tier deck.

Bodhi: Brock’s Grit is a supporter that gains more value as less value is placed on draw supporters!

Louis: Brock’s Grit is a better flower shop lady and can be a super rod replacement.

Several other cards were noted for their ability to be techs or their potential to be used for clutch plays. These include Rattata, Farfetch’d (Brent: It looks like a promising card with it’s ability to do 50 damage for 1 energy with hardly a drawback), Electrode (Bodhi: It can make a whole type of Pokémon powerful with its ability), and Venasaur Spirit Link (Louis: Venasaur EX may be playable now. Accelgor type attacks are always really good).

—-That’s a wrap! Thank you to the players who generously gave up their time to answer these questions.

P.S Much love to the Queensland Pokémon TCG community.

About Ellis Longhurst

Competitive Pokemon Trading Card game player since 2006. Competed for Australia at the 2015 World Championships, & the 2017 European International Championships. On-stream commentator and post-match interviewer at the 2016 Australian National Championships. Currently invested in supporting the growth of the Australian Pokemon TCG community. Current Video Game journalist for GameCloud Australia.
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