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Rate Yourself as a Player — Knowing Strengths & Attacking Weaknesses

Hey guys! I’m back today with a different type of article. I saw the rate yourself as player thing going around on Twitter last week and I thought it was interesting. I believe it’s always good to look at your strengths and weaknesses and see where you can improve. In my article today, I wanted to address each of the aspects covered and what I did and still do to improve in each area. I’ll then round out the article with my top choice for the next phase of the Players Cup.

Let’s get into it.

Deck-Building

For any trading card game, deck-building is going to be one of the most important aspects. I personally think this is my biggest weakness. I’m confident in all other aspects of the game outside of this. I think deck-building is a separate skill from tweaking, which I will cover in the next section. When it comes to deck-building, I like to break it down into consistency, how it does in the meta, then techs. Let’s start with consistency.

I consider consistency one of the fundamental aspects of deck-building. How can your deck function if it doesn’t set up? The best way I try to approach finding the threshold for consistency for any deck is by maxing out the counts of cards to start. From there I start to cut down on cards that are least impactful through testing. You must be sure that you don’t cut down on too many cards though. One way I like to make sure my deck is still consistent after cutting cards is to take practice hands. I usually just draw eight to 10 solitaire hands to make sure my deck still functions.

I do want to stress that you should not tunnel vision on consistency. You can have too much consistency. What I mean by this is that I believe every deck only needs a baseline of consistency. Anything after that will only lead to diminishing returns in my opinion. I would rather have a tech card that could potentially help overall instead of unnecessary consistency.

An example of this can be found in the Trevnoir deck I played in Collinsville last year. Kenny, Will, Isaiah and I decided it would be better to not play Trainers’ Mail and to instead play an Exeggcute and Garbodor. While Trainers’ Mail would help the deck’s consistency, Egg and Garb had more value because they helped round out some bad matchups. The deck also still set up very well even without the addition of Trainers’ Mail. This also goes into how it does in the meta and adding techs.

Like I mentioned earlier, this is what I consider my biggest weakness. I’ve tried a few different things throughout my time playing and I’ve found this to be the most useful to me. When a new set comes out, I take what I consider the best card for the meta and I just try to build different versions of decks for that card. From there I can see how the card reacts to different combination of cards. This helps me identify different strategies and ways decks can be built.

Deck-Tweaking

I consider this to be a separate skill from deck-building. This is being able to take a 57 to 58 card deck and adding the last two cards to make it the perfect 60 for an event. For example, during the Atlantic City and Knoxville format last year I made a tweak to my Pikarom deck that I think made it the perfect 60 for both events. I had played Pikarom quite a bit and I started to realize that I didn’t need as many Jirachi as I was playing. I ended up dropping down to two Jirachi to fit in an extra Switch and never looked back. My logic behind this was that Pikarom didn’t need to open Jirachi. It was already consistent enough in the opening turns.

The purpose of Jirachi in the deck was to help set up combos in the mid- to late-game and to have insurance against Stamp. The extra Switch helped me use Jirachi more throughout the game, which I valued more than starting it. I ended up playing that list for both Knoxville and AC and ended up going 23W-4L-4T. I never had a problem with consistency. I think players tunnel vision-in too much on having to play three or four copies of a card because they think that’s consistent. You must ask yourself why that card is in your deck before determining that. For example, are you playing that card because you want to open it or find it as soon as possible? Then you should play a higher count. However, if the card isn’t in there for the early turns than look to drop the count and see how it goes.

One way to get better at this is trying out different counts at smaller tournaments. If you think you can cut something from a deck, drop the count at a League Challenge, Cup or an online event. This will build your confidence up with tweaking and then you can start doing it for bigger tournaments like Regionals.

Deck Selection

Deck selection is more a meta-predicting skill. In my opinion each tournament has a best play. Just because a deck might be the current best in format, that doesn’t mean it’s the best play for a specific event. This is a skill that develops over time, but you can expedite the process. One way I practiced this skill was by trying to predict what would show up at my locals. I remember I used to try and guess what people would play at the next City Championship. It was a little rough at the start but eventually I was able to get pretty good at it.

This is a lot easier to do for local and smaller tournaments because you’ll eventually get used to the local scene. To translate this to bigger tournaments, you’ll need to start to pay attention to the news of the community. Articles, podcasts, and streams can influence a tournament meta. I’ve found over time that the most played decks are usually the decks that are most talked about. This can help narrow down your deck choices. I also consider what decks beat the most talked about decks. Most of the time people want to counter that deck, so I want to know what decks do that. I then try to find a deck that can beat the most talked about decks and the counter decks.

One thing to keep in mind is that you most likely won’t be playing more than three of one deck day one. Even if it’s the most popular. This could help factor into deck selection. For example, when Will and I decided to play Trev in Toronto, you did that knowing you would take a loss to Pikarom. Even though Pikarom was the most talked about deck. Since Pikarom was the most talked about deck, you knew that people would play playing a lot of decks that counter it. your logic was that Trev beats all the counter decks. you only expected to play at most two Pikarom day one and you would beat everything else. This ended up working well for you in that tournament. Picking a deck like that might seem overwhelming at first but if you take an outside view and narrow it down from there, the best choices usually reveal themselves.

Hand Reading

This isn’t as impactful as some of the other things on this list but that doesn’t mean that it’s not important. When players are close in skill level, the game usually becomes more luck-based. I believe this skill could be the slight edge that could help a player win against another player of equal skill level.

Here is an example that comes up quite a bit when I’ve played Pikarom versus ADP. ADP would go first and have a Zacian active. They then would Intrepid and have a nine-card hand going into next turn. Sometimes I have the choice to Marnie and Research and most of the time I Research. My logic behind this is that they probably have a Supporter but most likely must get rid of a lot of resources. If they had an ADP or an attachment, they would have played it on their turn. So rather than letting them keep their resources, I would rather they discard them.

Here is another example involving the ADP mirror. I had gone first and got two mulligans. My opponent’s board was Zacian active with a Benched ADP with Water. I had seven cards in my hand, and I didn’t Intrepid Sword. My opponent did not Mawile on their turn because they believed I didn’t have a two-Prize Pokemon in hand. Their logic was why wouldn’t I Intrepid unless I didn’t want to draw a two-Prize Pokemon. However, I knew this as well.

I had a Crobat V in my hand, and I knew that my opponent would apply the logic I mentioned above. This is where things start to get a little mind gamey. If you understand when certain cards are played, then you can make unconventional plays to try and prevent that. Just like the Mawile example I mentioned. Mawile is usually played early or when hands are big. So, I decided to make my opponent question the Mawile decision, rather than make it an obvious slam. These are just some examples that come up during games.

It’s hard to quantify how to get better at this. One thing you can do, which I think has helped me quite a bit, is learn a little bit about body language and reading people. I’ve played quite a bit of poker growing up and poker is more about reading your opponent than the actual game. I think that skill has translated to Pokemon a little bit. There are a lot of videos out there explaining what type of body language someone gives off when they are representing a strong hand and when they have something weak. You can apply some of these same things to Pokemon to help with hand reading.

Gameplay Decision-Making

I consider this to be the most important aspect of the trading card game. I think a lot of people, including myself, overestimate how well they played each game. I hear all too often about how I lost because of luck. When you blind yourself to thinking everything was determined by luck, you miss out on the greatest chance for growth as a player. I believe decision-making and in-game skill are the only things players can control during matches. I’m going to go over the different ways in-game skill plays apart during games and how each contributes to winning.

Deck-Thinning

Deck-thinning wasn’t talked about much when I first started playing. Thinning is when you want to discard unnecessary cards to help draw something or protect yourself later in the game against Marnie or Stamp. Here’s an example of where you would want to thin:

You’re playing Pikarom and have used both Dedenne, Crobat and Eldegoss. The game is in the final turns. You have a hand with Cherish Ball and Quick Ball in it. You should burn both those cards because they can’t net you anything positive anymore. All your consistency Pokemon have already been played, so you don’t want to redraw those cards after a Stamp.

It’s easy to forget to do these things, especially if you have a lead but always remember the ways you can lose a game. If you hadn’t thinned these cards and your opponent Stamps you, you could potentially draw them again instead of the card you need to win the game.

One thing to keep in mind is that thinning is just not for the end of the game but throughout the game. You should always be managing your resources and determining what cards have lost their value and will not be needed for this game. It’s always a good feeling when you’ve thinned your deck and know that a late game Stamp or Marnie will have no effect.

Before moving onto the next skill, I do want to touch on the concept of over thinning. In the example I mentioned above, I would have kept the Quick Ball and Cherish Ball if I had a Dedenne in deck. Those cards are potential outs. There is more benefit of having the Quick Ball in my deck than using it to burn a useless card in my hand that turn.

Checking Prize Cards

Everyone knows that they probably should be doing this, but I don’t know how many people do it. There’s not much to say about this. This is more of a memorization skill. I personally don’t try to figure out all my Prizes on the first search. I just look for the most important cards for that matchup and my consistency cards. Let’s look at a scenario where knowing your Prize cards can be game-changing.

You have a hand of Radar, Quick Ball, Energy Switch, Energy and Hammer. You have a Mewtwo & Mew-GX on the Bench with one Energy. You need to set up that Mewtwo this turn to KO the Active to have a chance to win the game. You can do that with your current hand. You just need to Radar the Energy and Hammer for the Pikarom in deck. You already have ChuChu in discard. You also have used one Dedenne and the other one is prized. You then Quick Ball the Pikarom for Tapu Koko Prism Star. You then use the Tapu Koko and Energy Switch in hand to set up the Mewtwo. This will leave you with zero cards in your hand. However, you prized Dedenne, Crobat, Research, Marnie and Energy. So, if you checked your Prize cards, you would know that you would be getting a way to refresh your hand. So going down to zero would the correct play and give you chance to win that game.

When to Play/Hold Your Supporter

Just because you have a Supporter in your hand doesn’t mean you have to play it that turn. Sometimes playing that Supporter can hurt your chances of winning. Let’s look at this scenario:

Say you are playing Pikarom and playing against Lucmetal. They went first and your hand is three Energy, Research, Pikarom, Hammer and Switch. You started Boltund. Your Lucmetal opponent starts Zacian, attaches Energy and uses Intrepid for no Energy.

You topdeck an Air Balloon. Now you have the option to Research here to try and build your hand, but I would say that’s a mistake. You already have everything you need with Boltund and Pikarom. Your Boltund is most likely safe from being Knocked Out. If you Research, you would be losing two Energy in a matchup that energy is paramount.

You also don’t know your Prize cards. Say you prized three Energy. Believe me, that happens quite a bit. I know that pain. You would then be effectively down five energy until you take a Prize.

All you should do is attach to Boltund, play the Hammer and Electrify to Pikarom. I have seen people play Research in that situation often and will lose the game because they ran out of Energy. That is not to say that you hold that Research in every scenario. Situations like this are matchup-specific and that’s why it helps knowing your deck and its matchups.

Sacrificing Pokemon

I think this skill is underrated and is something I don’t see a lot of. There are some scenarios, especially in bad matchups, where you need to sacrifice Pokemon to make your Stamps more effective and set up an end game strategy. This might seem weird at first, but this will ultimately give you the best chance to win in the end. Think of it like sacrificing a pawn in chess. To illustrate this, I’ll be going over a strategy I used to success against Deci while playing Pikarom.

We all know that Deci is a bad matchup for Pikarom. However, I don’t think it’s as bad as everyone thinks. In this matchup you ideally want to go Boltund and set up a Pikarom. From there you want to take as many KOs as you can before they establish their Deci. Once they establish it, you want to sacrifice your Boltund. You then want to send up Pikarom and let it take hits. Right before it’s about to get Knocked Out is when you bench Koko Prism and Blitz to it. During all this time you also want to be holding your Hammers. Once you give up the Pikarom you want to execute your plan.

Stamp the Deci player to one. Ideally you would Yell Grunt before that, but you won’t always have that in your hand. After Stamping, you want to use the Hammers you were holding. Ideally you get one or two heads to leave the Deci unable to attack. You then hope the Stamp sticks while your Tapu Koko keeps attacking. It’s not a perfect strategy but it is effective. I beat two Deci players this way during the Players Cup. This is just one example of where sacrificing Pokemon can be an effective strategy to winning.

Going All-In

Sometimes games will not be going the way you planned it and your forced to deviate and go all-in on a new and untested strategy. Most of the time games will play out like testing but most tournaments there will be a game or round where you will have to pivot and go all-in on something else. This happened to me during my Top 8 match against Will last year in Collinsville.

I was playing Trevnoir. I had prized my second Milotic and Rescue Stretcher. My first Milotic had been Knocked Out a couple turns prior. I had an Active Trevnoir with three Energy attached. Will had three cards in his hand and an active Trevnoir. I could attack his Trevnoir with Night Watch and put Will at one card. However, if I did that, all Will would have to do is Pale Moon me and I would instantly lose. I realized the only way I could win was to take the riskier line and Pale Moon Will. I just had to hope he didn’t have a way to move the Trevnoir.

I had to make this play because of my Prize cards – which goes back to the knowing your Prizes. Will did not have a way of moving his Trevnoir and I ended up winning the match. This was not something that ever came up during testing, but I had to go all-in to have a chance of winning. For anyone who wants to see what happened, you can go to my Top 8 match versus Will and go to the 21:00 mark. These types of scenarios happen once or twice in every major tournament. You must be ready to deviate from the normal game plan or you might miss the chance to win.

These are the most impactful things when it comes to in-game skill in my opinion. In-game skill is always talked about but never truly examined. The best way to get better at this is through experience and reps in my opinion. However, I do think that you can do things to help speed up the process. These are things the three most helpful things I have done throughout my playing career.

  1. Play Different Decks
    • Playing different decks gives you a different perspective and shows you different lines to win. It also gets you accustomed to different playstyles and will allow you to react to them when facing them.
  1. Watch Stream Games
    • Watching stream games is helpful because you can see what lines top players take. You should watch to see how players decide to play certain turns and how the game plays out. Players on stream don’t always make the correct line. So, you should take notes and see if you would have done something differently. This is a great way to experience different scenarios and see how things react.
  1. Play Older Formats
    • This is something I started doing years ago and I think that is has been helpful. Older format decks help you learn the history of the game and different ways of playing. Different formats have different card pools which leads to different interactions. One thing I learned is that a lot of these interactions carry over and learning from the past helps carry over to the present.

Work Ethic

Hard work is staple in anything you want to do in life. If you want to succeed, you must put in the effort. I would say the best way to work for someone just starting out is to play games. Just play as many games as you can with a bunch of different decks. I would say this strategy gets less effective the more experienced you get. Once you reach a certain level, your testing needs to have more purpose. My testing at this point revolves around playing three or four games of certain matchups. I do this with the most popular decks of the current meta.  That way I know how the most popular decks interact. Also, during those games, I would play different lines to see if you can win a matchup in multiple ways.

Learning multiple ways to play a matchup can put you at an advantage over people who have only tested a certain way. You also might see different combos you might not have known existed. Testing this way also allows you to optimize your lists because you learn which cards become unnecessary.

Mental

I talked a lot about tilt and how the mental aspect is often overlooked in my article in December. I’ve seen so many matches lost because of tilt. It’s very easy to go on losing streak because you lost a tough match. I’ve been guilty of this in the past as well. The best way I try to combat this is by taking a step back. After losing a tough round or losing a match I thought I should have won, I go outside and just walk for a few minutes. This helps me clear my head and reset. It stops me from over analyzing and second guessing myself. This is something I still do even now. If you’d like to read more about tilt and all the ways it can affect your game, you should check that piece.

All About Tilt — Its Causes and Ways to Combat It

My Pick for the Players Cup

This covers everything in the player rating challenge. My goal was to give you an insight on each aspect and ways to improve on each. I hope this article gave you a way to look at the game a little differently. Before wrapping up I would like to add what I believe is the best play moving towards the next phase of the Players Cup:

PTCGO Code

##Pokémon - 14
4 Boltund V RCL 67
2 Pikachu & Zekrom-GX TEU 33
2 Mewtwo & Mew-GX UNM 71
2 Dedenne-GX UNB 57
1 Tapu Koko {*} TEU 51
1 Raichu & Alolan Raichu-GX UNM 54
1 Eldegoss V CPA 5
1 Crobat V SHF 44
##Trainer Cards - 33
4 Marnie SSH 169
3 Professor's Research SHF 60
3 Boss's Orders SHF 58
1 Team Yell Grunt SSH 184
4 Switch HS 102
4 Quick Ball SSH 179
4 Crushing Hammer SSH 159
2 Reset Stamp UNM 206
2 Cherish Ball UNM 191
2 Big Charm SSH 158
2 Air Balloon SSH 156
2 Chaotic Swell CEC 187
##Energy - 13
10 Lightning Energy 4
3 Speed Lightning Energy RCL 173

This list hasn’t deviated much from the past few months, but I want to highlight the couple differences. I went with two Swell due to the rise in popularity of Welder and Plant decks. The Big Charm replaced the Hoods because I haven’t seen much Urshi, and the Big Charms help against ADP and Eternatus. I think this list gives you the best shot against the current meta. You can also potentially afford to take one more loss because of the format change. So, taking the loss to Urshi right now is not terrible in my opinion. If Urshi rises back up in popularity, then I would have to look back into adding the Hoods.


Well, that’s going to do it for me guys. I hope you enjoyed this type of article. I hoped to give you a little more insight into the different aspects of the game. Good luck to everyone playing in the next phase of the Players Cup. Until next time!

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