"Decidedly Deciduous" – Volcanion, Groudon, and Night March for Portland plus an Honest Discussion on the State of the Game

This is the companion discussion topic for this article.

If we accepted that these cards should be banned, wouldn’t the meta shift so that other decks would dominate the format? In an holistic sense… isn’t that what players will always do - digest the available cards and distill all the possible combinations to build the combinations most likely to produce consistent wins against whatever is being played?

In this sense, the current meta (expanded or standard) is in keeping with what we’d expect to find regardless of the cards produced.

While stating that one deck comprises 28% of a top 32 of a tournament… also implies that there was 72% of the top 32 that were other decks. Meaning, it wasn’t a shut out by any means. Sun and Moon just released. It’s seeing a heyday (which we might expect). If the next release shifts that even a little… is the complaint still of a broken format?

And I guess this is my hesitation to fall into naming cards and declaring a format “broken”. It’s a slippery slope. If we accept the premise that the format is currently broken due to cards that make certain decks more popular than others… where does it stop? As cards are banned… the meta just reforms around other cards. Because the fact is that players will ALWAYS seek an edge. And it’s humanly impossible to maintain completely balanced deck builds of all the types with release after release of sets… and also introduce the new and interesting cards we all look forward. Should Pokemon (or any game) ever do that (and I hope they don’t), we’d hear complaints that the game had gone stale… that every deck was a copy of each other… and enjoyment would be lost.

The game (like so many other areas of life - like business) thrives on the fact that there are innovators - the thought leaders - who will take the risk of playing new ideas at the tournaments and prove that it can win. And then, in response to that win… hundreds of players will copy that deck… further spawning opportunity for the counterplays… and the counterplay to the counterplays. In other words, in the game… as in life… you have those who are always pushing the curve… and those following the curve… and those riding the edge of the curve looking to exploit any opportunity to jump ahead of the pack and overtake the curve pushers.

I disagree that banning cards will fix anything. It will simply shift the meta to other decks and other mechanics.

Find your comfortable place in the dynamic and thrive. Enjoyment… and a measure of success will follow. The world is comprised of Entrepreneurs (the curve pushers), Corporate businesses (the herd followers), and innovators/disrupters (the Steve Jobs types who change the curve… and set it going in new directions). And so too is the game. And from the standpoint of the game makers… that IS a desirable game state.

I think your reply is fair in theory. I actually agree with everything you say, and I personally love Expanded right now! Quite honestly, I disagree with some of the writer’s points as well. But the fact of the matter is that the game is played in real life. It’s INTENSELY frustrating to invest hundreds of dollars and lots of time in an event to hit an 0-2 drop purely because you lose two coin flips and go second game one in two consecutive matches. That is painful. And that’s Expanded right now for many players. Personally, I don’t mind it, but I’m not traveling all over the world this year to play. If I were, I might be just as sour as the writer.

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In a game like Pokemon where there are a plethora of playable and competitive decks, 28% of the meta being taken up by one deck is absurd. In a tournament the size of Melbourne I can only assume less then 28% of the day 1 field was on Vileplume (which is roughly 1 in 4 players), so a conversion rate that leads it to 28% is huge and very alarming. In moat TCGs, 28% of a day 2 field being one deck is enough to raise a red flag.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and some of the other comments have brought up points I was going to say as well.

For starters, the removal of cards like the ones I’ve mentioned (and Archeops, a card I should have but forgot to mention*) would go a very long way in diversifying the format. Sure, other cards may take their place, but they are nowhere near as oppressive or unhealthy. Garb is likely the most common one, but there are three different kinds of reliable tool removal in the format, with the 4th coming soon. Garbodor is not what ILR, Archeops, or Ghetsis is. It’s a more balanced lock. Pokemon has always had powerful locks, but today’s game has locks so powerful that it can be impossible to counter, because they occur before you even get to draw.

The idea of a slippery slope is a fallacy. Banning those five cards honestly would likely be enough, for the time being. No other card I can imagine in the card pool comes close to possessing the ability to oppress as these do. Just because we need to ban some cards doesn’t mean we need to ban cards repeatedly. I’m not begging to create a format only I enjoy, I’m begging to create a format that is simply enjoyable for both sides of the table.

As for your comment about finding what works and your anecdote about the three kinds of people: I do have a deck that works for me, of my own design. Raikou/Eels/Gallade was a deck I managed to take to Top 8 at the start of the season in Arizona, and one I decided to play again in St. Louis. I was locked out of playing the game five different times out of the course of my games, with four additional games finding my opponent getting a T1 Archeops. That’s nine total games split across nine rounds, which averages to once a round. That isn’t healthy, especially when I did not face nine explicitly disruptive decks.

I would agree that realistically the entire field of decks at Melbourne was less than 28% Vileplume. That just shows that Vileplume decks are effective and thus rose to the top.

The fact that roughly 1 in 4 of the tournament finalists had a vileplume deck simply implies that vileplume was a competitive choice for that tournament. You really can’t conclude more than that without introducing some outside assumptions (or some more data).

There will always be a “competitive choice” for any given tournament (even if no one imagines and thus plays that competitive choice). But by nature of the beast, the vast majority of players will play a few different hyped deck types, a smaller number will pick decks built to counter the most popular of those deck types, and an even fewer number of players will try to play decks that beat some of the popular decks and some of the counter decks.

I hear you say “In most TCGs, 28% of a day 2 field being one deck is enough to raise a red flag”. However, this is a claim - and one you’ve supported with no data. Neither do I really see any supporting data about why this a red flag in the main article - other than the claim (based on the author’s experience) that losing to a deck type that seeks early control is “not fun”.

I really don’t mean to difficult… but Vileplume isn’t an insta-win. Plenty of examples exist of Vileplume decks losing both to other decks and to the mirror. Just because it’s less fun to play against when it sets up properly AND you don’t play a deck that is built to counter it… I don’t believe it leads to a reasonable conclusion of a broken format. I think it simply mean that for a tournament or two, players need to choose decks that counter Vileplume… and thus the cycle will continue.

It seems to be self-evident that the format goes through cycles of diversification. At given times, a group of decks will appear… and then disappear … and then reappear. As a behavioral function, it is exactly the purpose that websites like Sixprizes and scores of other Pokémon-related sites foment and capitalize on… the consistently observable trend that the majority of tournament players follow the winning decks… and only a (brave) few invest the time and risk into piloting new decks to big wins (then spawning a herd of copycats at the next tournaments). And as further proof, I’ll even point to the fact that in almost every article I’ve read on this site since I joined, there is a caveat when the discussion is about tournament play and then a statement is made the effect that “what you may see at league may differ widely from tournament play”. Why is this? Well… because it’s widely recognized that one’s local meta may be widely different from a cities… regional… or worlds meta.

When you’re engaging in a discussion about the meta, you can’t disconnect the fact that it is people with behavioral patterns that are shaping the meta just as much as any card(s).

I would submit that if your favored deck type isn’t enjoyable to play - it’s not the fault of the meta. Its because you chose a deck not competitive for the meta of the environment you’re currently in. As shown above, the meta is a changeable, non-permanent thing influenced by random people’s choices, location, prior wins at all different levels of play, and new cards or new imaginative builds. In other words… correctly predicting the meta is an art form… one which gives a place like Sixprizes value and purpose, I might add.

I empathize on your tournament experience and believe me… as players we all understand the groan and frustration of sitting down to play and… not feeling like you even got a chance. That’s exactly how I felt the first time I played a Seismatoad deck… I watched the game unfold and felt like I simply sat and watched the other player’s game - not taking part in it. But, to be fair - and correct me if I’m wrong - but Arizona was at the beginning of the season with expanded and Sun and Moon hadn’t launched or become legal. St. Louis was the first expanded tournament where Sun and Moon was legal, is that correct? I’m not sure what expectation there was that the same deck would perform similarly in two vastly different metas?

My son (who is 11) also plays pokemon. Often, he runs up against a deck that beats the stuffing out of whatever deck he’s put together (as do I at times). And I constantly remind him that he can have a great deck - that isn’t right against the deck he was playing against. I remind him that every game is a learning opportunity - and sometimes the lesson is that you need a different deck to be competitive in the group of decks you’re currently playing against.

I feel this is the same conclusion I’m coming to after all this discussion. Making the right prediction of the meta for any tournament is HARD… and frankly… it’s the reason why so many websites like Sixprizes exists to talk about decks and tournaments and what works and what MAY work in a tournament ahead. Because… everyone is hoping to make the best guess they can and go “prepared”. But … sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you miss the wave. And you’ll get shut down once per round because the deck you chose just wasn’t a good call for the meta.

Again, I hesitate on banning cards for this reason. And… as someone who has worked in business for many years… I can absolutely believe that Pokeman playtests cards and concepts with the intent to create exactly this type of scenario. Which is why we’re going to get cards like Aqua Patch and Hala… among others in the new Guardians Rising set. It shifts the meta… making some mechanics stronger (and thus decks built around them) and others weaker.

And thus, we choose - hopefully wisely.

What ever happened to the good old days where you build up your Pokemon and then engage in a glorious blood bath???

Yeah haha, the golden age. If you’re not killing them immediately, you’re taking too long.

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