Hey everyone!

It’s now been three straight weeks of Expanded deck analyses and I think it’s time for something a little different. Today’s article is going to be a catch-all article on things you can do to win at tournaments of all kinds: local, regional, international, small, big, before, during and after playing. It’s meant to be a bit of a handbook on things a good player should do if they’re looking to maximize their % of W’s. We haven’t had one of these articles in a while so long-time readers might recognize some ideas of previous articles (since some things stay relevant at all times), but trust me that there’s going to be something new in this for everyone.

Some of these things might make you think: “Well, I can’t be bothered with that! That’s never going to matter.” A lot of the time, you’ll be right: it’s not going to matter. But you don’t know it until you try it, and if it doesn’t hurt you in any way, you might as well go for it. Not all of these tips are universally applicable, of course: sometimes there are drawbacks to these actions and it’s up to you to weigh them in every situation.

Also, I’m not going to lie to you: despite knowing all this there is no way I take advantage of these every time I can. Do as I say, not as I do.

To give what might seem like a bit of an unfocused structure, I’m going to split these tips according to what time period they’re meant for:

  • The days leading up to the tournament
  • The night before the tournament
  • During the tournament
  • After the tournament

After reading this article you’ll have the do’s and don’ts for every stage of every tournament. The advantage here is that these tips can probably be applied for the rest of your tournament career, whereas metagame-specific advice will eventually be outdated…

 

The days leading up to the tournament

 

When I’m talking about “the days leading up to”, what I’m really talking about is any time after the last tournament, before the next one. I’m going to talk about playtesting quite a bit but strictly speaking there is (or should be) a circle-shaped process that repeats itself between tournaments: play, reflect, adapt, play, rinse and repeat. So a few of the things mentioned here will also come up in the part about “after the tournament”.

 

Here’s some questions you have to answer for yourself during your preparations:

 

What did you play last tournament and how did it work out for you?

 

For example, if you’re preparing for Dallas, you might want to think back on your last Expanded event (can be local, might want to think of your last Expanded Regional too though). What’s different since then? How long has it been since you played this format? The core question (especially if you did badly) is: what factors that are under your control can you change to give yourself better odds next tournament?

A very simple example could be that you played a Zoroark deck without Alolan Muk and as a result you ended up getting Blockaded by opposing Sudowoodo all the time, limiting your damage output in the mirror and against anyone else teching in Sudowoodo. Or more obscurely perhaps you played Greninja BREAK and you ran into a Giratina Promo too often. How likely is it that this will be an issue again? Will other players at the tournament be tempted to cut the tech from their lists to fit in other techs?

 

Try and predict what other players will do

 

It’s a good idea to look around on the internet to see what people are talking about. Facebook groups like Virbank City Gym and HeyFonte give access to a large group of people: some would say quantity over quality, but that might just be what you’re up against in Day 1 of a large Regional, so it’s worth a look. Perhaps there’s a certain list being talked about a lot, it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with those since a lot of people nowadays tend to just copypaste deck lists. If you know about “KicaBulu”, “BrokenVoir” or “that list from Japanese Nationals”, you might recognize it when playing against it in Swiss and be able to roughly predict what they’re playing and what they’re not. For example, the Gardevoir list with 4 Max Potion was being talked about before it ended up being widely played and it had to cut out Sylveon to do so. The moment your opponent plays Bridgette for Ralts and Remoraid but no Eevee, you’ll want to play around the idea that they play 4 Max Potion until you’ve seen otherwise.

But you’ll also want to know what the good players are saying about the metagame, if they’re willing to disclose it. And this is not limited to premium websites: there’s a lot of good free content out there that’s literally just strong players talking about their thoughts on the current metagame.

Now do keep in mind, what they currently think is not always reflective of what they think of doing at a tournament. Just like you, they might change their mind on what’s good the very next day, the night before the tournament or the second before they turn in their deck list. Very rarely do tournaments turn out to happen exactly the way someone predicts far in advance, but it does help to follow the developments. If nothing else it can inspire you to try different lists and plays during testing.

 

Test, test, test

 

Speaking of which, let’s talk about testing! I think there’s two good ways to test: grinding out games on PTCGO and playtesting in real life. The former is an option for anyone who has access to an account with competitive cards in it. There is always someone on the ladder for you to test against, and contrary to during different times long ago the quality of opponents and their decks has gone up: at the very least you can expect to go up against a competitive deck every other game (but it’s about 80% competitive players for me personally, your milage may vary). While they’re usually not top tier players, player quality has gone up enough to where it’s a reasonable test of your skills and list to play online. Despite the long-winded animations of things like Exeggcute’s Propagation, PTCGO is still much quicker than real life since there’s no time spent shuffling.

But I also believe it’s important to get in at least a couple of real life games against a testing partner if you can. The most simple reason is this: the hand movements. You’ll want to be able to play your deck quickly and cleanly and if the first time you’re going through the motions of your deck is round 1, you’re going to be in for a lot of ties/losses on time. The most important aspect of this is identifying prizes: on PTCGO, your deck will usually be sorted and it’s very easy to tell what is and is not available to you, but in real life it’ll be all shuffled up. You’ll have to deal with counting your Night Marchers manually, for example.

It can also be simple things like being able to keep track how many Pokémon/Night Marchers are in your discard or even how you go about using Trade, playing a Battle Compressor, and so on. It sounds strange but it’s never comfortable to do something like this for the first time even if it seems simple.

If you’re able to you should also try playtesting with two people on the same side. It’s easiest on PTCGO because that way your opponent cannot hear you discussing plays. No matter who you’re playing with as long as they’re roughly at your level you are able to learn from one another: you might see plays they miss and vice versa, you can talk about the risk vs reward of certain plays, such as whether to N or Sycamore, discuss the odds of hitting certain outs, etc. Even if you’re above your buddy’s level, explaining why you’re making certain plays to someone else will actually force you to formulate a justification: they might challenge you on it and you can both learn from it, or if you have proper reasoning it’ll be ingrained into your head.

This is the phase where you should really give almost every deck in the format a spin, at least the ones you can see yourself playing. As the event draws nearer it’s nice to make a (mental) list of what decks you still like and which you don’t, so you can work towards making an order of your favourites. So many people, even good players, tend to make their decision on what to play right before the tournament, but the earlier you make your choice (or narrow it down to 3 decks) the more comfortable you can get with your best decks.

You should also try to arrange as much of your deck in advance as possible. If you are limited on cards because you’re on a budget, you should figure out your chances on being able to borrow the cards you need for the event. It makes no sense to heavily test a Zoroark-GX deck if you haven’t bought four copies, since most players will be using their Zoroarks in their own decks. Instead, consider practicing with Night March or Seismitoad/Giratina or whatever you have available.

I could write a whole article on what cards to purchase but that’s not really the point of this one, so suffice it to say your Pokémon TCG budget should depend on how competitive you are, how much money you’re willing to spend on a hobby and how likely you think you are to make money back. It goes without saying that you should never spend money you do not have.

 

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