Your Guide to the Players Cup & Team Challenge + the Best Two Decks

Hello CFB Pro readers! Hope you’re all well and staying safe. We are now almost a full month into the release of Battle Styles and I must say it’s been quite a refreshing set-in term of new mechanics, new archetypes and the variety it added to the Standard metagame.

March and April saw the first Team Challenge under way and I must be honest and say I was skeptical at first. The idea seemed weird and convoluted and not very well planned. With so many stores and the limit to only playing in one store’s tournament and being locked onto those, made it so that most tournaments were struggling to reach the minimum of four players to even make them happen.

However, the playoffs have been another story. The idea of pitching teams against each other has been fantastic and added a new level of strategizing that is a welcome addition to the game. Being able to submit four different decks, then look at the opposing stores lineup and pick your three representatives allows for some cool counter deck play that is reminiscent of Hearthstone’s Conquest format. It also encourages players of the same team to diversify their choices to cover each other’s weaknesses more and give more freedom and flexibility when choosing the best three decks to counter the opposing line up. At least that’s how my team and I approached the rounds we played – our Top 256 set was especially intense.

We were paired against a Brazilian team that featured Vitor Lugon, one of the players who has had one of the most prolific accomplishments in the online tournaments era we are currently in. Based on him being the star player of his tea, along with his continued success with Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, we made the prediction that no matter what, he would be part of the three players playing and he would be using this deck. Both were correct and this made it so that choosing a Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX deck was an easy choice for our lineup.

In the end, this is what the lineup for each team looked like:

My Team

Opposing Team

Our Pikachu & Zekrom-GX had unfavorable matchups against three of their four decks and a 50-50 against the mirror match. Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX had three favorable matchups and an even one against Lucario & Melmetal-GX, so it was a guaranteed pick from us. Decidueye had two auto-wins (Eternatus VMAX and Pikachu & Zekrom-GX) and two auto-losses (Lucario & Melmetal-GX and Spiritomb). Finally, Blacephalon had one good matchup against Lucario & Melmetal-GX and three even to favorable matchups against the other decks.

So, we chose our lineup of Rapid Strike Urshifu, Decidueye and Blacephalon, predicting they would bring Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, Lucario & Melmetal-GX and Spiritomb, as Eternatus VMAX struggled against both Urshifu VMAX and Decidueye.

With that, we predicted Urshifu VMAX to have a 2W-1L record, beating Spiritomb and Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, but losing to Lucario & Melmetal-GX. Decidueye, to have a 1W-2L record, beating Pikachu & Zekrom-GX and losing to the other two decks and Blacephalon to have a 2W-1L beating Lucario & Melmetal-GX and Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, taking a loss to Spiritomb.

On paper and based on matchup trends, we thought we would have a solid 5W-4L win on our hands. However, we all know in game decisions, draws, coin flips and many other things can affect the outcome of a Pokemon match, which led to the opposite of what we predicted:

  • Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX beat Lucario & Melmetal-GX and lost to Pikachu & Zekrom-GX and Spiritomb
  • Blacephalon / Cramorant V / Reshiram & Charizard-GX beat¬†Spiritomb and lost to Pikachu & Zekrom-GX and Lucario & Melmetal-GX
  • Decidueye performed as expected

A combination of luck and whiffing key cards at the right time left my team out of the Team Challenge in Top 256, but I felt very satisfied with the preparation that went down to decide our line up and how to counterplay. At the end of the day, no matchup will ever be 100-0 and you can only plan and predict so much, but the added strategical part to the game outside of the time spent playing the actual games was more enjoyable than I originally thought it would be and I enjoyed it just as much, if not more so, than the actual games.

The next Team Challenge is already underway, so if you’re on the fence, I’d recommend and encourage you to take part in a store’s qualifiers and try to make it to the playoff stages. Getting organized with your teammates and trying to coordinate deck choices/counterplay each round is very rewarding.

With the Team Challenge getting a second run and Players Cup IV about to start on the April 26, it seems like we are going to be able to take part in official tournaments more often now which is a bright change for the near future whilst we continue to wait for vaccines to get spread around and help get back the world to a more normal state. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who looked on with heart-shaped eyes at the recent 1,400+ player tournament held in Japan, wishing we can get back to that as soon as possible.

Players Cup IV continues to use the same qualifying method through PTCGO and the Tournament Keys and whilst I’m doing my own challenge of trying to qualify utilizing 50 different decks, one for each key, although it’s not something I would recommend doing. The variance of these tournaments is too high, with closed decklists, coin flips to decide who goes first having more weight than ever before in the game and Crushing Hammers everywhere, it will always be best to go in to these tournaments with a deck you know well and that you will make the least number of mistakes with.

Crushing Hammer (159/202)Crushing Hammer (League Promo)Crushing Hammer (166)

Most games in Pokemon are either won or lost by small edges throughout the course of a game. Either small sequencing decisions that you got right or wrong, along with your opponent and thinning decisions to maximize the late game possibilities of drawing the right two, three or four cards you need to close out a game. Hence, choosing to stick with one or two decks that you know well for all Keys is ideal, as it’s just impossible to predict what sort of good or bad matchups you’ll face up against. You’ll always have a higher chance of beating a bad matchup through making the best possible decisions and taking advantage of any of your opponent’s mistakes with a deck you know in and out, than navigating even matchups with a deck you’re unfamiliar with and where a suboptimal decision might be too costly to recover from.

What I just described is exactly why you shouldn’t attempt a challenge such as mine, of using a different deck for every key. I am confident in my own skill to know I will be making a lot of good decisions, but as the previous 50 Keys 50 Decks challenge showed, I somehow missed a one-Energy GX attack for game in one instance with Mewtwo & Mew-GX / Rillaboom then in another tournament the timer pressured me so much I had to completely improvise and hope with Excadrill Control (winning with less than 20 seconds left in the timer). My 20 years of Pokemon TCG experience helps a ton, but I (nor do I think anyone in the world) could play 50 different strategies optimally within a period of one month.

Why am I doing it though? For the fans and for the content and to add a little extra layer of difficulty to the game, whilst taking out the headache process of what deck to choose. I make a list of 50 decks, randomize it and then just follow it whilst recording to make the content. Last time around I would’ve been two Rep off from qualifying in the NA region, but the 90-Rep tally I finished up with was more than enough to qualify me in the LA region, around 100th place. I’m hoping to repeat the feat and maybe earn even more points this time around as I can phase out bad decks like Lickilicky and Seaking for Urshifu-based archetypes.

If I weren’t doing the 50 Keys 50 Decks Challenge though, I would be focusing on two decks that I am very familiar with and that have continued to show strength no matter what cards are released. Those decks are Eternatus VMAX and Pikarom.

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