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Pram’s Guide to Optimizing Decklists

One of the toughest things to do in the Pokemon TCG is to build a functioning deck. It involves coming up with an idea, envisioning how that idea would be played, and then proving it works. It is such a difficult thing to do well that it is a major part of what make a player great. In order to make a great deck, a wealth of experience is needed. You need to be able to understand why things are the way they are and identify places that are falling behind. However, once you understand why cards should be in there, you can start to ask the question “Is this correct?” Once you have the main core of the deck, the next part is the hardest part in deck building, the finishing touches. Figuring out the last few spots of a deck can make or break a deck on how it interacts with other decks. Building a deck is hard and finishing it is even harder.

Everyone has things they are good at and things that they are bad at. Fortunately for me, figuring out the last spots in a deck list is something I am great at. Once I have a deck, I am able to fine tune it to a whole new level. One of the reasons I am able to do this is because of how much experience I bring to the table. I am able to see if a deck is too redundant of if it too inconsistent. I can tell if a strategy is risky or if it needs to lean even harder into it. I am going to explain my process on how I finish the last few cards of a deck so you can incorporate it into your skill set.

The Process

The first thing I do when deciding what to do is to just get a few games in with the deck. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the list is I just play games with it. By getting games in, I identify where the deck’s strengths and weaknesses are. After getting a good feel for the deck it becomes time to start asking questions. What cards does the deck need? How consistent is the deck? Does the deck have bad matchups? Is there anything the deck needs that it doesn’t have? These are the questions that will help discover what the deck needs. Let’s answer these questions one by one.

What cards does the deck need? This is an overall analysis of a deck to figure out what exactly makes the deck tick and why. Let’s use ADPZ as an example to see what makes this deck tick. The cards every ADPZ deck needs is ADP, Zacian V, and Boss’s Orders. Every other card in the deck is there to make these cards work together. If you think about what cards this deck uses every game, it is these cards. The core strategy is to use Altered Creation GX into Ultimate Ray or Brave Blade with Boss’s Orders, thus those are the core cards in the deck. The next set of cards to keep in the deck are the ones that enable these cards to work. I am talking about Energy Switch, Metal Saucer, Switch, Cherish Ball, Quick Ball, etc. These are the cards that help the deck be consistent. Which leads to the next question.

Arceus & Dialga & Palkia GXZacian VBoss's Orders

How consistent is the deck? This could mean many things, but I think it mainly boils down to two main questions. How often does this deck win a game? + How often this deck delivers on its predetermined strategy? These are the two main questions one must answer to give an evaluation on how consistent a deck is. The first question is a check to see if the deck is good. The second question is to check the why the game played out the way it did. It is more of an explanation to the first question. These numbers can be hard to figure out, but I believe the best way to do it is by playing games and keeping track of the stats. Doing this will give insight on how to approach future changes to the deck to increase its success rate.

Figuring out the bad matchups is very important when trying to finish off a deck list. The reason why this is so important is because you need to know why you are losing if you want any chance to fix this. If the deck also has a bad matchup vs a deck that is the most played, then counters will be needed. An example of this is almost every deck running Crushing Hammer in the Standard metagame. This is because ADP is so powerful that the only chance people have is to counter the deck by making it weaker. An acceptable win rate vs the most popular deck is around 50% This is because even the most popular deck will rarely take up more than 30% of a metagame.

What are the cards this deck is not playing that it needs? There are many examples of decks not running cards that could have resulted winning a tournament. Expanded Night March has the constant struggle with this question over Pokemon Ranger. If you can get away with not running Pokemon Ranger, then that is for the best. Most of the time however, it is not like that because it involves asking the above question of what bad matchups do I have if I run this deck? If one deck slot can be converted into a large percentage increase on a win then it should be ran if the deck it counters is popular enough. Another example of this is Tool Scrapper. Tool Scrapper is consistently fluctuating in and out of deck lists. People are weighing the options if they need the card or not and coming to different conclusions. This is where asking the above questions can swing you in the direction you want to go.

Noivern GXSeismitoad EXPokemon Ranger

Cutting Cards

Consistency is the most important part of deck building. It is very important to make sure the deck runs how it is supposed to. However, there is a point where there can be too many consistency cards which makes the deck redundant. When a deck is too redundant then it limits the amount of different plays that can be done with it. It is why consistency cards are usually the first to go when it comes to cutting cards for the final additions into a deck. It is a fine line to walk between consistency and options, but I will say why you should or should not put cards into the deck.

Decks that are redundant are not by nature bad. There are plenty of examples of decks having great success for having one linear strategy that is so powerful that other decks could not compete. An example of this is Drampa / Garbodor that Tord Reklev played to win NAIC in 2017. This deck had one strategy and play a never before seen four Tapu Lele-GX. This deck had maxed out its ability to use Wonder Tag to set up wins extremely quickly. However, the downside to this type of deck is that it’s gameplay is very linear.

Tord 2017 NA Internationals

PTCGO Code

##Pokémon - 15
4 Trubbish BKP 56
3 Garbodor GRI 51
1 Garbodor BKP 57
4 Tapu Lele-GX GRI 60
3 Drampa-GX GRI 115
##Trainer Cards - 32
4 Professor Sycamore STS 114
4 N FCO 105
2 Lysandre FLF 90
1 Teammates PRC 160
1 Brigette BKT 134
4 VS Seeker PHF 109
4 Ultra Ball SUM 135
4 Float Stone PLF 99
4 Choice Band GRI 121
2 Field Blower GRI 125
1 Super Rod BKT 149
1 Rescue Stretcher GRI 130
##Energy - 13
5 Psychic Energy Energy 5
4 Rainbow Energy BKT 152
4 Double Colorless Energy SUM 136

Sometimes decks need to have more options, control decks are a prime example of this. Control decks are decks that are constantly switching in and out cards. By grinding down the consistency cards down to the absolute minimum, it creates enough space fit in options to handle almost any situation. I played Pidgeotto Control last season in Expanded and it shows the extreme version of balancing options with consistency. This deck has over 20 single copies of cards. These two decks are the extremes of both ideologies, but somewhere in the middle is usually where the sweet spot is for most decks.

Pram 2019 OR Regionals

PTCGO Code

##Pokémon - 14
3 Pidgey TEU 122
1 Pidgey TEU 121
4 Pidgeotto TEU 123
3 Oranguru UPR 114
1 Mimikyu-GX LOT 149
1 Girafarig LOT 94
1 Ditto {*} LOT 154
##Trainer Cards - 42
4 Winona ROS 108
2 Professor Elm's Lecture LOT 188
2 Mars UPR 128
2 Lt. Surge's Strategy HIF 60
1 Team Rocket's Handiwork FCO 112
1 Team Flare Grunt GEN 73
1 Professor Juniper PLB 84
1 Plumeria BUS 120
1 Guzma BUS 115
1 Gladion CIN 95
1 Faba LOT 173
1 Colress PLS 118
4 VS Seeker PHF 109
4 Trainers' Mail ROS 92
4 Battle Compressor Team Flare Gear PHF 92
2 Reset Stamp UNM 206
1 Trick Shovel FLF 98
1 Rescue Stretcher GRI 130
1 Float Stone PLF 99
1 Field Blower GRI 125
1 Dowsing Machine PLS 128
1 Counter Catcher CIN 91
1 Chip-Chip Ice Axe UNB 165
1 Captivating Poké Puff STS 99
1 Silent Lab PRC 140
1 Power Plant UNB 183
##Energy - 4
3 Fairy Energy Energy 9
1 Recycle Energy UNM 212

Worth It?

At the end of all of this is, it comes down to weighing the pros and cons of what cards to swap in and out. Many times, it is best to make the deck as consistent as possible, but at what cost? Does making the deck consistent mean taking auto-losses to matchups that are potentially winnable with one additional card? It is a judgement call based on experience and a metagame read. Personally, I am usually in favor of putting in the silver bullet, unless it puts consistency past a breaking point.

Yveltal / Garbodor from 2016 EUIC is an example on how I fit in a last card to increase my chances of winning the event. At the time, this deck was by far and away the best deck in the format. I also ended up playing it but realized that it would be the most played deck in the room. With that knowledge in mind I cut Trainers’ Mail, which is a consistency card, for Delinquent. Delinquent was very good in the mirror match as it allowed you to discard your opponent’s Parallel City and then play your own. It also had the added benefit of making your opponent play around having a low hand size because of the discard effect. This one card swung a normally 50/50 mirror match into my favor because I could manipulate more effects in my favor than my opponent. I had judged that the small percentage addition to consistency was not worth the increase on win chance in the mirror and it ended up with me winning the tournament.

Sometimes the final addition does not work as intended. This results in a dead card in the deck which is actually worse than having a 59-card deck. It is a blank and if it also happens to be a Basic Pokemon, then it can potentially start with it and cause all kinds of problems. One example of this is Mimikyu-GX in my Pidgeotto Control deck from the Portland Regionals above. The deck itself was fantastic, but I never used Mimikyu-GX the entire event. I made it all the way to the finals and did not use it once. That means for over 30 games, I had not used Mimikyu-GX other than perhaps starting with it and causing me to lose two Prizes. In this case, Mimikyu-GX would be served better as another consistency card to help boost the deck’s natural strengths.

Mimikyu GXParallel CityDelinquent

Final Thoughts

The main debate on the final cards of a deck is between cards that bring you options or consistency. I think that if you do not know which way to go, you should go with consistency. Consistency will always useful but has diminishing returns. If you go with a non-consistency card, then it has the potential for greatness or doing nothing. if you can make an informed decision about which card to add, then you can reduce the amount of risk you take when playing a non-conventional card. Playing games will always be most effective way to see if a card is worth it or not.

Figuring out what cards to add is influenced by experience. Try to take note of what worked and what did not regardless of deck. Use other decks as reference and see if it can be applied to what you are trying to do. Experiences from other decks can transfer from one another and help you make informed decisions. When analyzing a deck list, remember to ask the questions to help figure out what is important. If you do all these things, then the next time you are struggling to figure out that sixtieth card slot, it will be much easier.

Pram

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