Hello! As I’m sure you’re all aware, there are several Regional and International Championships which are scheduled to start occurring regularly in less than two months! Since it has been over two years since an event of that level was held and many players reading this may not have played in one before, I thought I would write a guide on tournament preparation and choosing a deck for a major event such as a Regional or International championship.
Preparing for a large tournament happens in several stages. First, there’s finding a deck to play and picking it for the right reasons, the deck is strong, and it’s something you’re comfortable playing. Second, there’s practicing your deck. Practicing and choosing a deck tend to happen at the same time, which helps you become familiar with multiple decks in the metagame. Finally, there’s the tournament itself, getting there, being well rested, and eventually playing the nine Swiss rounds on the first day.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy formula to choose a deck for any given tournament. It’s often preached that “you should just play a deck you’re comfortable with.” However, this often oversimplifies how complicated the decision of which deck to play can be. There definitely is merit to playing a deck you’re comfortable with. Something I like doing prior to a tournament is just playing at least 10 games with every top tier deck in the format, whether that be through practice games with a friend or on PTCGO. I find that playing games of every deck helps me in understanding how to attack the deck’s weak points, whether that be a lack of switching cards or being crippled easily by a card such as Marnie.
Another way playing a little bit of every deck helps is in being flexible. While this isn’t common, it has happened before where a new tech card or line of play is discovered right before the start of a tournament which completely changes the view you have of the metagame. In a case like this, the practice you’ve done with every deck in the format becomes invaluable as it allows you to easily change your deck last minute without being completely unprepared.
An aspect of choosing a deck which I feel is somewhat underexplored is the inherent power level of that deck. To use an example of the current standard format, Mew VMAX / Genesect V is an inherently very powerful deck and that’s why it sees heavy play while the Galarian Weezing / Sableye V decks have an inherently weak game plan but it’s good matchup against Mew VMAX / Genesect V brings its relative strength in the metagame up.
Having a deck with an inherently strong game plan gives you distinct advantages, most notably in being able to tackle unknown decks well. Making a meta call can seem really appealing, a lot of good matchups among the top decks is desirable in any deck choice. However, a deck being able to hold its own against anything can be extremely important in tournaments with uncertain metagames, such as the first Regional or International Championship after a new set releases. While a megagame specific deck can fall apart if you play against the wrong matchups or the lists of the top decks look slightly different than what was expected. Obviously, you still must practice with the deck you’re considering choosing for a big tournament so I will touch on that for a bit.
While practicing might seem simple on the surface – it’s just playing games after all – there are a lot of things which can be done to help fully optimize the way you play practice games of Pokemon. Something I would highly recommend while practicing is taking time to discuss the different decision points in each game after its conclusion. Doing this will help both your and your opponent’s understanding of how the game played out and at which point it was won or lost and how. Thinking about each card choice, especially tech cards, will also help your deckbuilding immensely.
I have seen countless instances of people including tech cards for certain matchups without practicing them then losing those matchups after discovering that the tech card didn’t work as intended. I’ve also seen tech cards included for matchups which were even favored already but weren’t practiced enough to realize this. Cards like this tend to be known as “win more cards” because they don’t impact who is winning that game, they only work if that player is already winning. While practicing, try and see if the tech cards you’ve included help the matchups you’ve intended them to help and if they are, whether the game was winnable without them. If a card is only helpful to you while you are already drawing well or while you’re already winning the game, it’s often redundant to your deck’s overall strategy.
When I find myself at difficult decision points during a practice game, I often show my opponent my hand and we discuss what the correct line of play is. I find that verbalizing through my thought process helps me gain a greater understanding of the game state and where to progress from there. It also is helpful to discuss your ideas on where to go with your hand with another person. This helps you with developing a familiarity with making critical decisions in Pokemon and having the experience to decide what the correct line of play is.
Preparing for a tournament isn’t just about perfecting your deck choice and your practice, it also helps a lot to treat yourself properly. Getting a good amount of sleep the night before a big tournament is essential, I know what it’s like to play under a lack of sleep, no matter how much preparation you have done it is still a struggle to focus! Getting a healthy amount of sleep the night before a tournament is crucial and often more influential to doing well than getting those extra few practice games in.
Keeping calm during the tournament itself is incredibly important and even though it sounds simple to do, it can be very challenging in practice. I find that this can be exacerbated when things don’t start off according to plan and I’ve taken several losses in the early rounds of the tournament. It’s a daunting feeling to be start off with a 1-2 record at a large tournament and needing to win the last five rounds to make Day 2.
Something which I learned while just starting out playing competitively was “it doesn’t matter who your opponent is or what record you have; all you can do is play the current round to the best of your ability.” Thinking about this phrase has helped me immensely with my mindset for tournaments, you cannot change how many losses you’ve taken or who your opponent is, but what you can do is try and play the current game well. Thinking this way helps me with calming nerves during high pressure games and is the biggest piece of advice I would give to someone who is about to play in their first major tournament.
Thank you for reading! I hope that some of the advice given here will be applicable to players just starting out playing large in-person tournaments. If anyone reading this sees me at a Regional or International Championship this year, don’t be afraid to come and say hi or ask questions, I’m always happy to chat about Pokemon!