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Xander’s Mailbag — Limited Opportunities, Innovation & Intro to Cubing

I’ve covered Standard decks in my last few articles, so I thought I’d give it a break by returning to some untraditional content! In this article, I’ll go over some identifiable components of my experience in the Pokemon TCG, namely in limited tournament opportunities, innovation and an introduction to cubing.

I have a fair share of experience with each of these. Since the 2018-2019 season, I’ve taken a step back from my frequency of tournament play – what can I say, school keeps me busy! During those times, I was still able to earn my Worlds invite and was within shouting distance of a day two invite for 2019 Worlds. Innovation has been one of my strong suits since then; the tournaments I’ve done well at since then are those in which I’ve played an innovative deck. Lastly, cubing has continued to gain hype since the beginning of quarantine. And with it now appearing on a TPCi survey, there’s no better time to cover the basics.

Limited Opportunities

How can you make the most out of your limited tournament opportunities? That’s exactly the question I’ll answer. As with any process, it’s best to construct a plan of attack. This plan also applies to the general premise of achieving an invite – the main difference is that with limited opportunities, the constraints are binding. Here are the cookie-cutter steps to any optimization problem.

  1. Identify your goal
  2. Determine logistical constraints
  3. Minimize cost

First, you must identify your goal: do you want a Worlds invite or do you just want to play for fun? If you’re looking for the invitation, you’ll likely choose maximizing the number of tournaments you can attend, whereas for enjoyment you might choose tournament locations you want to visit, like a coastal paradise. There’s a middle ground too! Be sure to set a reasonable goal – a Worlds invitation with only a few tournaments is likely infeasible.

The logistical constraints come in the form of money, time off work and any other conflicts with tournament dates. As one example, Dallas Regionals from 2016-2017 fell over New Year’s Eve, so that might be one conflict with predetermined plans. On the other hand, you might have off work that day, making it both a cheap and convenient option. Determine your maximum travel budget, which will then come in handy in the third and final step.

Minimizing cost is the objective for most goals. The way to go about this is to calculate the cost for each potential tournament. If tournament X costs $100 less than tournament Y, you would choose to attend X over Y. Remember to consider your constraints, as some tournament might be cheaper than others but be infeasible for a non-monetary reason.

If your goal is to have fun, “maximizing fun” would be that objective. It’s up to you to determine whether your fun is maximized with more tournaments, cooler tournament locations, seeing friends or any combination.

As one last anecdote, I highly recommend against planning NAIC points into your structure. If the points structure will stay the same, a make-or-break 70+ points is too much stress to handle on one weekend. If it isn’t too costly, front-loading your season makes sense so that there’s more knowledge going into the final months.

After Budget Planning

After the planning is done, the next step is to prepare for those tournaments! When you have fewer tournaments to attend, it’s much more important to prepare for them. Here’s a brief overview of how I prepare for tournaments, especially in the weeks leading up to it.

I first familiarize myself with the meta, looking at what decks have been performing well in recent tournaments and those hyped going into a specific weekend. Past results and content creation will shift the meta slightly, if not more. Making a good metal call is the first step to success. In that regard, I like to have some understanding of every viable deck. It isn’t necessary to play games with all of them, simply to acknowledge its modus operandi.

When it comes to deck preparation, there are two routes: established trust and innovation. Established trust would be taking a deck that did well, making small changes based on playtesting/meta and then rolling with it. On the other hand, innovation is making a drastic change to an existing archetype (or creating a non-existent one). Innovation requires at least three times the effort in theorizing, practicing and tweaking. And even with all that work, the idea can fail and then you play an established trust. More on innovation in that section below.

The one piece of advice that I cannot overstate is that familiarity with your deck is the most important component, even above a perfect list or meta call. Many times, I have done poorly with the perfect meta call due to my inexperience with it. Moreover, I’ve done well with familiar decks considered horrible meta calls! Don’t underestimate your success with an already familiar deck solely due to its familiarity.

Personally, during the 2018-2019 season I didn’t have much time to practice with decks myself and therefore relied on others for ideas and lists. All my finishes were with Rahul Reddy and crew’s decks. Another word of advice – communicating with friends more active than you is a great way to stay up to date and make good decisions. 80% of my tournament preparation is discussion and consultation of others and 20% is hands-on practice.

In this next section, I’ll go over my rationale for innovation and how to identify potential places for it. I’ll also contrast it with invention, which has a greater degree of change and therefore risk.

Innovation

My personal definition of innovation is changing something enough that it can be called different, yet like something already established. Vague, I know, but it gets my point across. Tord and crew’s Mew3 / Lightning deck is a good example of innovation. Pikarom and Mew3 / Welder were already established archetypes and combining them led to a fruitful discovery. My philosophy when finding places to innovate is to start with ideas other people have discredited.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

By starting with discredited ideas, I’ll know that there’s some room of innovation to work with. Decks that have gotten lots of attention, say ADPZ, have undergone heavy experimentation. That’s not to say there isn’t room for innovation there; it’s simply less likely than with other decks.

The main consideration to keep in mind is the purpose for innovation. It’s possible to change up a few cards in a deck list but doing them without purpose is meaningless. The 100% most important part is to keep track of what your changes hope to accomplish. Then with card count experimentation and matchups, you’re able to see if it’s possible. Here are some examples of innovation that I find instructive.

Let’s return to Mew3 / Lightning for a moment. The main issue with Mew3 / Welder is its high degree of variance that all Welder decks have. By switching the Energy engine to Lightning Energy, you remove that variance at the price of losing Fire-type attackers. In that regard, Mew3 / Lightning functions very similarly to Pikarom but with the added capabilities of Aurora Energy attackers.

Mewtwo & Mew GXTapu Koko Prism StarWelder

 

Now, moving on to an innovation with the purpose of specific matchups: ADP / Rosa. For those unfamiliar, the first versions of ADP / Keldeo-GX from LAIC 2019-2020 included accessory cards like Zebstrika, Great Catcher and N’s Resolve. All of these make sense in that they’re strong cards and it’s possible to give reasoning for why each one of them are in the deck. However, I sat down and pondered why ADP lists played these cards when they didn’t contribute towards its Keldeo-GX win condition. Older lists were at a weird point where Keldeo-GX was the best secondary attacker, but the deck didn’t have any means of winning with it.

This led me to try Custom Catchers, as they allowed the possibility to hunt the opponent’s outs to Keldeo-GX: their non-GX Pokemon. The other issue I wanted to combat was the deck’s inability to find key cards when it wanted. The only options were to play the draw Supporter and pray. Rosa was the perfect card because it helps in finding the specific cards needed to counter the opponent after they’ve knocked out ADP-GX. One other key card that I included was Counter Gain, which meant Keldeo-GX only needed two attachments to attack after ADP-GX was KOed after Altered Creation GX. Thus ADP / Rosa was born. ADP / Keldeo-GX went from a deck without a clear vision of its win condition to one that has a plan for all matchups.

Invention

Invention, unlike innovation, is the creation of something entirely new. Examples of this are John Kettler’s Decidueye-GX / Vileplume from Anaheim Regionals 2017, Zach Bokhari’s Alolan Ninetales-GX from Worlds 2017 and Limitless’s Abilityzard from Worlds 2019. All of these were relatively unknown heading into the tournament, as they had never been seen before in a competitive standpoint.

Invention is harder to do and requires a wider time frame for concept and list refinement. Moreover, that doesn’t include the time checking card scans and theorizing. Intuition can give an insight into an idea’s success, but the only true way is to test each idea.

I have fewer tips for invention, but the main thing to remember is that different isn’t always better. In other words, don’t exaggerate your invention’s success because it’s yours. If you want to do well and make the most out of your opportunities, know when to stand by your creations and when to move past them. The final piece I’ll say is don’t be afraid to cast a wide net when scanning legal cards. You’ll end up with a longer list, but you’re less likely to overlook ideas.

Intro to Cubing

We’ve now reached the final point of the article: an intro to cubing! I’m only going to focus on the most basic aspects of cubing, as there’ll be a longer article dedicated to cubing soon.

So, what exactly is cubing? Cubing is a draft-style mini-tournament of a variable player count. The most beautiful part of a cube and the principles of cubing is that each cube is unique. The rules of each cube are malleable – you can choose them to be whatever you want! Traditional rules are one route, but there’s nothing stopping you from creating a cube with wacky effects or crazy drafting rules.

Typically, cubes have a theme that their rules, card choices and other interactions center around. Examples of these can be certain types, a certain era or singleton. Then for any given theme, it’s the creator’s job to make it come alive. For example, a 2010-era cube might feature cards from around the time when it was legal and include cards from outside of that era that compliment others with a certain power level. That way, the card pool is wide enough to be interesting.

Protection Cube

The two steps in playing a cube are drafting the cards and playing the decks. Cube size is another thing to consider: how many players is it for and how many cards will each player end with? With more cards per player, decks will be stronger because of more options. However, a benefit to a low number of cards per player would be the advanced incentive on good deck-building and draft choices, especially in a mutant draft.

The draft typical operates with everyone opening a pack of some predetermined number of cards, choosing one card, then passing it around the table clockwise or counterclockwise. Then, everyone picks another card from the pack that was handed to them and the cards are passed around again. This is repeated until everyone runs out of cards to pass. Then, a new pack is born and cards are passed around in the opposite direction so that there’s variation in who passes cards to who. Cube packs are usually eight to 12 cards, with anywhere from 60-120 cards drafted per player for varying size final deck.

Now, playing is done in whatever way you like. Beginning to sense a theme here? Most cubes that I’ve played were best of one with two to three rounds, lazily determined. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do best of three or only play once. For my friends and I, the drafting process is equally as much fun as the playing process and so them both taking equal or so amounts of time improves enjoyment.

Over the summer, I decided to challenge myself into making my own cube. It took a long time designing, tweaking and most of all playing, but here’s where the latest version ended up. I can’t say that it’s perfect, but it does bring back 2017 nostalgia. Rules specific to the cube are explained on my sheet, but the short version is its four players, 10-card packs and 2017 Standard first turn rules. Use it as an example for building your own cube or if you want to try it out!

Conclusion

That’s all I have to say! Having a different perspective as a player during the last two seasons has allowed me to see the importance of tournament preparation and develop good practice habits. Because my main factor is my schoolwork, my objective is to attend as many events as possible without sacrificing school. This led to playing in most tournaments over the summer, winter or on some non-busy weekends. Always think back to your goal.

Innovation has not only helped me build better deck lists in those specific times. At the end of the day, I’ve become a better overall deck-builder. It’s certainly rewarding to do some work on your own and see what ideas you can come up with rather than only using other people’s lists. In fact, the wins with my own lists are much sweeter because I did the deckbuilding and the playing – two successes rather than one.

I hope I piqued your interest with cubing enough that you check out some more resources for it. Any search on the Pokemon Facebook groups will surface cubing-specific groups and communities, so I highly recommend checking those out. Many cubes are publicly available if you look in the right place. Simply grab a few friends, try them out and see how it goes. Have a happy holiday and enjoy cubing!

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