It’s been awhile since I’ve last written an article and in that time, quite a lot has happened in the Pokémon Community. We’ve seen a lot of online tournament series pop up over the past few months and now you can play in a competitive Pokémon tournament online pretty much every day of the week.
In addition to these grassroots tournaments we are in the middle of the Players Cup 2 Qualifiers, Pokémon’s official online tournament and the second in the event series. In this article I cover the best practices for future Players Cup tournaments, go over my tournament run and explain the ADPZ list that I used for the bulk of my points, and then dive into the ADP ban debate.
Strategies for Players Cup 2 Qualifiers
While I assume most reading this article will be familiar with the Players Cup 2 format, for those not yet familiar with the format of the event here it is: The tournament is broken down into three stages. First, there are qualifier tournaments played through the Events Page on PTCGO. Each Masters Division player in an included region with a PTCGO account connected to Pokémon.com was given 50 tournament keys which are used for entry into 8-person single elimination events. Each tournament costs 1 key to enter. You receive 5 tournament rep for winning a tournament, 3 points for second, and 1 point for finishing in the Top 4.
At the end of the qualifier period, the Top 256 players from North America, Latin America, and Europe, and the Top 128 players from Oceania move onto a set of double elimination Regional Qualifier tournaments. The Top 4 from each Regional Qualifier moves onto the Players Cup Championship, a 16-person Double Elimination tournament in which the Top 4 win travel awards to future International Championships.
With this framework in mind, here are my tips on how to approach this Players Cup format strategically, as it likely will be used again in future Players Cups.
Treat it as a Tournament
This is a tournament and if you wish to do well in it then you should prepare for it and play in it with the same level of respect as you would for other tournaments. This means playing decks that you have properly tested and practiced with so that you know the strategies needed to play them well.
From my experience, almost all the players you will play in these tournaments are playing the game at a competitively competent level so there are very few easy wins to be had from players using competitively non-viable decks or random mashups of cards like you might see in the normal PTCGO ticket events.
One thing I’ve noticed is a lot of old faces in the game that don’t play much in person any more are participating in Players Cup 2. These people would be considered nobodies or randoms by a lot of the community, but who are familiar names to people that have been playing for a long time. These are former World Championship invitees, and just because you haven’t heard of them before doesn’t mean they aren’t good at the game.
With competition this tough, if you bring untested or undertested decks into the tournament, you will probably perform poorly.
Play all of your tournaments in a short time period.
Headed into the tournament, I knew that I wanted to get all of my tournaments out of the way in a one-week period. The reason for this was to not have to deal with a shifting meta throughout my tournament run. Before I started playing, I wanted to be confident that I understood the current meta, and then I wanted to get my qualifiers completed within a meta that I understood rather than having to adjust to potential meta shifts as the tournament unfolded.
I ended up using all of my tournament keys across a five-day period, averaging 10 tournaments per day.
If you don’t have time to play all of your tournaments in such a short time period and need to spread them out across the month, that’s fine, just be aware that you will have to adjust for more meta shifts by doing so.
Be Data Driven
With the Players Cup being played on the computer, you should take advantage of being on a computer and write down information that can help you make better decisions throughout your tournament run. The spreadsheet I created to keep track of my tournament tracked what deck I was playing, my finish, my points/key average, my projected overall point count at the end of the tournament, and the matchups I played.
Having this data available allowed me to make better decisions as I progressed throughout the tournament. If a deck was performing poorly, I cut it out (looking at you Eternatus), and if it was performing well (like the almighty ADPZ), then it gave me reason to play it in more and more tournaments as I progressed through the qualifiers.
By writing down your matchups you also are able to get a sense of what the meta is. For example, some players may choose to include a Duraludon in ADPZ to counter Decidueye, but if you never play Decidueye then that’s a wasted card slot. Having that information written down helps you have a realistic grasp on the meta, while if you don’t have the data you may imagine a meta that doesn’t exist and build for decks that are barely being played.
In addition to this information, something I am going to add for Players Cup 3 is a spreadsheet of PTCGO usernames and which decks they used. This information can be used to determine whether you want to go first or second in a matchup. For example, Centiskorch VMAX aren’t able to accelerate three Energy with Volcanion’s Flare Starter attack if they go first, so if you have info saying that the person you’re playing next in a tournament is a Centiskorch player then you would want to choose to go second to give them a worse start.
The username/deck information is more valuable if you have a little team together all compiling data together as you will be able to create a bigger stockpile of player information with more people to contribute data.
Don’t use the Energy-Type deck boxes…or do?
This is a pretty funny aspect of Players Cup 2, but some players will project which deck they’re playing based on the deck box that they’re using and from their card sleeves. A deck decked out in Zacian sleeves? You’re probably playing against ADPZ or LucMetal. A Fire deckbox? You’re probably playing against Centiskorch.
While this has held accurate from my observations of Players Cup 2, things could get strange once it becomes widely accepted that it’s not a good idea to project information to your opponent.
For example, if you’re a Centiskorch player, instead of putting your deck in a Fire deck box you could put your deck in a Metal deck box with Zacian sleeves and that might influence your opponent to let you go second.
When playing a deck, I would use a deck box that does not convey information to my opponent or conveys false information. With this counter strategy in mind, when choosing to go first or second, I would recognize that in the short term you may be able to take advantage of the deck box conveying deck information, but in the long term people will become more aware of this and stop conveying deck information through their deck box and sleeves and therefore long term the better strategy will be to pick your own deck’s preferred start rather than letting anything about your opponent influence that choice.
Control your Tilt
During the qualifiers you will probably hit some type of poor variance where you have multiple poor results in a row. When this happens, you will likely become frustrated and if you’re frustrated or angry, you will be at risk of going on tilt.
Going on tilt isn’t exactly the same thing as being frustrated or angry, but they go hand in hand. Going on tilt is when you let this anger and frustration affect your play. In Pokémon tilt can come from bad luck, but it can also come from poor play that a player doesn’t recognize and misattributes to bad luck.
Going on tilt will generally send a player into a downward spiral where their play becomes worse and worse. What happens is that once a player becomes angry or frustrated, they are no longer thinking clearly which makes them susceptible to making more misplays. The more misplays they do, the more likely they become to lose. The more they lose, they become even more angry and frustrated which makes them think even less clearly, which makes them misplay even more than they were before, making it even more likely they lose, and then when they lose they get more angry and more frustrated, and so on, with the anger, misplays, and losing all feeding on each other in a negative feedback loop.
If you notice yourself going on tilt, step away from the game and clear your mind. You may only need a 10-minute break and then you’re good, or you might need a few hours, or need to play another day, but if you’re getting angry and not in a good state of mind, step away from the game and come back later with a clearer mind and you will have better results.
Don’t hit the concede button
When playing in these tournaments, do not hit the concede button. Let your opponent beat you instead of assuming that they will make the correct play or that they have all the resources they need to beat you. In streams I’ve watched, I’ve seen far too often people conceding games when they still have win outs that they can play to.
Even if you only have a 10% probability of winning these games, over the course of 50 tournaments and more than 100 games you will likely have some amount of these 10% probabilities convert in your favor.
In the course of my run, I know that I had at least one tournament extended from an opponent not realizing that they had a way to win the game on their current turn. I’ve also seen from my own side games slip away that were near certain victories as a result of whiffing the last card I needed to win the game. I’ve also seen opponents concede games to me that I didn’t have everything I needed to win the game yet.
Beware of players hitting the “Well Played” button. This is not a reason to concede. While most players send it over as an equivalent to saying “Good Game” before ending things, there are a lot of players on PTCGO that use the “Well Played” button to fish for concessions when they whiffed or prized the final resources they need to close out a game.
With each tournament key being so valuable, you do not want to waste tournament keys on your internet getting disconnected.
With Pokémon tournaments moving entirely online, I’ve purchased an ethernet cable and play all tournaments on computers connected via ethernet instead of Wifi to avoid losing games when the Wifi cuts out from interference.
However, this isn’t a perfect solution, as consumer internet, at least in some countries (like the United States), can still be unreliable and your internet may cutout even if you’re connected to ethernet. Therefore, you should also have a backup plan in case your internet cuts out if you’re able to.
My backup plan is to tether my laptop to my iPhone and use my cellphone’s internet to complete a tournament when my internet cuts out. You don’t get booted from a PTCGO tournament immediately when you disconnect, so if you’re able to login again quickly that individual tournament can still be salvaged. In total, I needed to salvage two of my fifty tournaments with my cell phone’s internet.
My Players Cup 2 Run
I ended up finishing all of my tournament keys in about the span of a week. I had a few days off of work at the beginning of October and that gave me the time to sit down and play through my tournaments in a short amount of time.
I ended up finishing with 103 points, which should safely put me into the North American Regional Qualifiers. I played ADPZ for the majority of my tournament keys but did regrettably play some other decks along the way.
During my tournament run, I compiled all of my game data into a spread sheet, so here are the statistics behind my Players Cup 2 qualifiers run.
In total I finished with
- 10 firsts
- 13 seconds
- 14 Top 4’s
- 13 Top 8’s.
My longest win streak was only 5 games, a streak that happened three times over the course of my run. I never ended up winning back to back tournaments. All of these longest win streaks happened with ADPZ.
My longest losing streak was 4 games, a stretch that involved a Top 4 loss with Eternatus VMAX, two Top 8 losses with Eternatus VMAX, and then a Top 8 loss with ADP-Clay.
In total, here is my deck breakdown:
- 37 tournaments – ADPZ (2.32 pts/key) – 86 points. (9x 1st, 10x 2nd, 11x Top 4, 7x Top 8)
- 5 tournaments – Eternatus VMAX (0.40 pts/key) – 2 points (2x Top 4, 3x Top 8)
- 3 tournaments – Psychic Mewtwo (2.00 pts/key) – 6 points (1x 1st, 1x Top 4, 1x Top 8)
- 3 tournaments – ADP Clay (1.00 pts/key) – 3 points (1x 2nd, 2x Top 8)
- 1 tournament – Blacephalon – (3.00 pts/key) – 3 points (1x 2nd)
- 1 tournament – Mad Party – (3.00 pts/key) – 3 points (1x 2nd)
In retrospect, I should have stuck with my well refined ADPZ list the entirety of the tournament. I was on track points wise in the early tournaments I played with it and attempts to play a deck more favored against the perceived meta, such as Eternatus VMAX, didn’t pan out. For the next Players Cup, I am definitely going to work on being more disciplined in sticking to what I figure to be the best deck at the time.
Using ADPZ in Players Cup 2
Headed into the post rotation format after the Atlas POG Championship I have spent most of my time in Standard playing ADPZ. I haven’t really enjoyed the Standard Format that much (the four turn games aren’t super enjoyable to me) and spent most of my summer actually playing Old Format tournaments in which the game was a lot slower, but the times I have played Standard it has been almost exclusively ADPZ as the other two decks that I really liked from the Rebel Clash format, Spiritomb and Blacephalon, became much worse from the rotation.
An idea I came up with over the past couple of years was that if I don’t find a format enjoyable then I should learn how to play the BDIF well because then I will win more, which will be a better experience than not enjoying a format and also losing.
ADPZ seemed like an obvious choice for BDIF as it was right up near the top during the Rebel Clash and pre-rotation Darkness Ablaze formats and it lost almost nothing from rotation. Losing Order Pad did decrease the probability of getting turn 1 Altered Creation GX off going second considerably, but other than that, the deck wasn’t losing anything.
Over the course of the format I’ve tried out so many different cards in the deck. I’ve tested Turbo Patch, Pokémon Catcher, Milotic V, Zamazenta V, Duraludon, Lucario & Melmetal GX, Clay, Energy Retrieval, and plenty of other cards that didn’t end up making the final cut. Ultimately, I settled on a very vanilla list for the deck that is straightforward, but which gets the job done.
2 Arceus & Dialgia & Palkia GX
Playing two copies of ADP makes losing games to prizing ADP a non-issue. In most games you will only want to use one copy to force your opponent to win by knocking out three Pokémon, but in some matchups, such as the ADP mirror match, there are some board states in which playing and setting up the second copy as an attacker is the right move.
4 Zacian V
I play four copies of Zacian V as it increased my number of good starters and helps me get off to a better start. With ADP mirror matches being a large part of the Players Cup meta, this also lessens the probability of starting a two-prize support Pokémon that can be knocked out with Ultimate Ray. Not starting your support Pokémon is of course good in other matchups as you can then use them for their Abilities.
As far as attacking goes, you really only need three Zacian V in the deck, as that should make sure you have at least two to attack with in most games. The fourth one is just in there to improve starter probabilities and improve the starts of games by making it more probable to get into Intrepid Sword turn 1 going first.
1 Mawile GX
This has become a staple in ADPZ in the Darkness Ablaze Standard Format and it’s a card that needs to be included in the deck as it improves a lot of matchups. In general, it’s good for forcing down GX and V Pokémon such as Dedenne GX and Crobat V giving you targets to take three prizes on to setup the board for you to win with two knockouts. Not only does this give you targets for these three prize knockouts, but it also can cause your opponent to dead draw if those support Pokémon were their only draw outs, or if they needed those extra cards of draw to hit all the resources they need.
If your opponent has a full bench, Wily Bite hits for 190 damage after Altered Creation, which will OHKO Pokémon like Eldegoss V, Crobat V, and Dedenne GX.
The card is also immensely important against Eternatus VMAX and Decidueye/Obstagoon.
Against Eternatus VMAX it can easily force them into a dead draw, not only from putting Crobat V onto their bench, but also from clogging their bench up. If they don’t have Eternatus VMAX in play yet, and don’t have it in hand, they may not have the bench room to play down any more Crobat V to draw more cards. Equally important is its use as an attacker. As Eternatus VMAX has to fill up their bench fully to OHKO ADP, Mawile GX will hit for a lot of damage with Wily Bite. While you can’t OHKO an Eternatus VMAX with it, you will be able to OHKO Crobat V with it. This allows you to win with Zacian V and Mawile GX as your attackers, a pair that only requires you to use three Metal Saucer to power them up, making it easier to power up attackers in this matchup that almost always ends in four turns or less.
Against Decidueye/Obstagoon it can force down Basic Pokémon giving you targets to knockout. Timing when to Mawile GX is tricky and is somewhat random on whether you hit or not. I’d say pay attention to when your opponent uses Scoop Up Net as you will then know that they have at least one Pokémon in their hand.
Tip: Against Decidueye/Obstagoon do not put Viridian Forest in play as it will give them an easy way to not only search for Energy but also an easy way for them to discard their Basic Pokémon taking away your targets for Mawile GX’s Captivating Wink Ability.
3 Dedenne GX
When I first started playing the deck, I started with a two Dedenne GX and two Crobat V, but after I first saw a list playing three Dedenne GX and only one Crobat V, I knew that was the way to go. You typically won’t have the bench space to play both Dedenne GX and Crobat V in the same turn more than one time in a game, so with that in mind, I don’t think it makes sense to build the deck attempting to do that. Therefore, a 3/1 split of the two cards becomes desirable, and I’ve found Dedenne GX to be a strictly better card so that is the one that I play three copies of.
With Dedenne GX you will always draw at least the same amount as you will with Crobat V (you would need to play down your entire hand to draw six cards with Crobat V), so it makes it easier to find all the resources you need in a turn as you get to draw and see more cards.
Dedenne GX is also searchable with Cherish Ball while Crobat V isn’t, so having more copies of this helps keep your Cherish Balls as draw outs longer into a game.
1 Crobat V
While I think Dedenne GX is better, Crobat V is still very good. By playing a copy of Crobat V you are able to have a very big draw turn in which you are able to play both Dedenne GX and Crobat V in the same turn. There are also turns where you may want to try to combo something with what’s already in your hand, and in these situations Crobat V could be the superior draw option. The other situation where Crobat V can be better than Dedenne GX is when Power Plant is in play, as that shuts off Dedenne GX’s Ability, but not Crobat V’s.
1 Eldegoss V
This card is primarily in the deck as a fifth Boss’s Order. It essentially turns any Quick Ball in the mid and late game into a Boss’s Order if you need it, making it easier to find the final Boss’s Order you need to close out a game. The card can also be turned into a draw out with Professor’s Research, and if you need to disrupt your opponent’s hand, it can also get Marnie back.
1 Oranguru SSH
Oranguru plays a huge role in managing your resources and helping you get the most out of your cards. With Primate Wisdom, you can save cards from being discarded with Professor’s Research or Dedenne GX, allowing you to be able to maximize a card’s use. Some of the most common cases of resource conservation I use this for are saving Metal Saucer and Boss’s Order. Another common one is saving an Energy Switch that you have in hand to try to combo with a Metal Saucer.
Primate Wisdom is also great for taking away Marnie as a disruption option for your opponent. If Marnie is your opponent’s only hand disruption option then you can use Primate Wisdom to put cards on top of your deck to play around your opponent’s Marnie.
Oranguru also gives you an attacker that is able to knockout Safeguard Pokémon such as Decidueye or Altaria. After using Altered Creation GX, you can OHKO an Altaria with a Vitality Band attached. Against Decidueye, you will need to knock it out in two hits. Against Decidueye don’t play Oranguru down pre-emptively as you want it to have enough HP when you attack Decidueye with it to survive for two turns of attacks so you can get your two prize cards out of Oranguru.
Tip: Do not use Primate Wisdom to put a card you want for your next turn on top of your deck the turn you are going to attack with Ultimate Ray. The deck search effect of Ultimate Ray is mandatory, and that card will end up shuffled back into your deck and most likely not end up as your top deck for the next turn.
4 Professor’s Research
With this deck, there is a lot of debate about what the best primary Supporter card is, with players choosing between Professor’s Research and Clay. My initial thinking was that the Clay variant should be better, as it lets you build up your hand and makes it easier to hit combos as a result, but in testing the Clay version has never performed well for me so I stopped trying to win with that and committed fully to the Professor Research’s version.
Both variants of the deck have done well, so you probably can’t go wrong either way, so I would recommend players try out both versions and stick with what works best for them.
Adding Marnie into the deck gives you an additional Supporter card making the deck more consistent while also giving the deck a soft disruption option and a Supporter that can be used to draw cards while conserving important resources for later in the game.
4 Boss’s Order
The deck wins a lot of games by using Boss’s Order two times to bring up two prize Pokémon such as Crobat V and Dedenne GX for three prize knockouts so the maximum count of Boss’s Order is the correct amount to ensure you see it often enough to win the game with the vaunted “Altered Creation GX, Gust, Gust, Win” Strategy.
1 Great Catcher
Great Catcher gives you an Item based gust option that allows you to play Professor’s Research while still being able to have a gust on a two prize Pokémon. In most instances that Pokémon is a Dedenne GX. Most decks play Dedenne GX, so in most of your matchups this will be a live card.
Tip: If your opponent has a Crobat V and Dedenne GX in play and you have Boss’s Order for the gust and knockout, go after the Crobat V first as this will keep the Dedenne GX on the field to be targeted later in the game with Great Catcher.
4 Quick Ball
This searches all of the Pokémon in your deck, as it is an all Basic Pokémon deck, and can be useful for discarding Metal Energy to be accelerated with Metal Saucer and also to discard Pokémon in the mirror match to prevent them from being put into play from your opponent’s Mawile GX.
4 Cherish Ball
This is more limited than Quick Ball, only being able to get ADP and Dedenne GX, but these are two of the biggest Pokémon to get. Your ideal turn one involves getting ADP into play and attaching an Energy, so having eight search cards to find it helps your consistency in doing that. Dedenne GX is a draw card for you, so with 4 Cherish Ball and 4 Quick Ball you have eight Item cards that can be converted into a draw card.
2 Viridian Forest
This is the primary way to search out one of your two Water Energy that are needed to attack with ADP. I prefer the Viridian Forest over a higher Energy Spinner count as Viridian Forest can be used to discard Metal Energy for Metal Saucer, making it more probable to be able to pull off the turn 1 Altered Creation GX when going second.
1 Energy Spinner
In addition to Viridian Forest, I also play one copy of Energy Spinner to give another search card for the Water Energy. This could just be a third Water Energy, but the two are enough and I think the versatility of being able to turn this into a Metal Energy in the later stages of the game provides more value than this slot just being another Water Energy.
4 Metal Saucer
In most games, four Metal Saucer are all the Energy acceleration you will need. If you are able to get an Ultimate Ray off to accelerate Energy, then you barely even need the Metal Saucers, but in games when your ADP gets knocked out before you can Ultimate Ray, then Metal Saucer can still power up two attackers for you, which is all you will need to win a game (and if both of those get knocked out, in addition to your ADP, you lose anyways).
I have played lists with 3-4 Turbo Patch in addition to Metal Saucer, but the Turbo Patch never felt super impactful in the deck and after playing the Players Cup entirely without them, they’re obviously not needed in the deck.
4 Energy Switch
I like a full count of Energy Switch as it makes it easier to hit the combo for a turn 1 Altered Creation GX, while also being useful for moving Energy around in later stages a game. Sometimes you will move the Metal Energy off of ADP immediately after using Altered Creation GX to a Zacian V if there is a board state where an aggressive knockout is advantageous (such as knocking out a Mewtwo & Mew GX in the Psychic Mewtwo matchup to knock all of your opponent’s Energy off their field). In other games you will have excess Energy from Ultimate Ray or Metal Saucer on the field, and you use Energy Switch to move those Energy to a more impactful attacker.
This wouldn’t be bad as a four count, as having access to Switch is good in a lot of situations for the deck, but the three count has felt like the sweet spot in playing the deck, usually being just the right amount to do all the switching you will need. The card is great for getting ADP into the active position in the early game and then in the later stages of the game it can be used to reset the effect from Brave Blade, allowing a Zacian V to attack on back to back turns.
2 Air Balloon
In addition to Switch, I like two Air Balloon as it’s a switching option that you can put into play and use later on. This is solid as you do a lot of discarding with Dedenne GX and Professor’s Research, so this makes it easier to get into your ADP in the early game, even if it’s not in your opening hand.
1 Tool Scrapper
This is necessary for the current meta. Against some Mewtwo & Mew GX decks and Pikarom decks you will find situations where getting rid of a Big Charm allows you to take a knockout. Against Lucario & Melmetal GX/Zacian V it’s needed for removing Metal Goggles from your opponent’s Pokémon. With the single copy of Tool Scrapper, I’ve found that matchup very winnable, but a second copy of Tool Scrapper would make this matchup very easy as it would be very difficult for your opponent to be able to get Metal Goggles to stick on their Zacian V.
1 Vitality Band
This is needed in the current meta to be able to OHKO Mewtwo & Mew GX as well as some other 270 HP Tag Team Pokémon. I prefer this over Galarian Zigzagoon as I’ve found bench space to be very tight in this deck. The one big advantage that Galarian Zigzagoon has over Vitality Band is that it is searchable from Quick Ball, whereas Vitality Band comes with a chance that you don’t draw into it when you need it. This deck can see so many cards in a turn though that you typically find it when you need it.
2 Water Energy
These are needed to attack with ADP. With two copies, you almost never prize them. With only two copies, you need to play these carefully. On turn one, if you have the option, attach a Metal Energy instead of a Water Energy to avoid the Water Energy potentially being removed with Crushing Hammer. (If the matchup obviously doesn’t play Crushing Hammer, such as Blacephalon, then playing the Water Energy down on turn one is fine). Additionally, be aware of if you prized any copies of it. If you did, and you are going to need to Professor Research but you don’t have ADP in play, try to conserve the Energy with Oranguru, otherwise you will need to attach it to whatever you have in play and then Energy Switch it to ADP later.
9 Metal Energy
The initial lists I played for this deck only had 8 Metal Energy, but I really like the ninth copy. All too often I was finding myself using Ultimate Ray and not having three Energy left in deck, so adding another Metal Energy helped make my Ultimate Rays more impactful.
Here is my matchup spread from my Players Cup 2 run.
|Lucario & Melmetal GX||5||3||62.50%|
|Pikachu & Zekrom GX||2||2||50.00%|
The deck was great against Non-ADPZ decks, winning 71% of the time against non-mirror matches. A joking thought I’ve often had throughout this format has been, “If everyone else would stop playing ADPZ, then I’d never lose.” That’s not quite the case, but the deck does perform amazingly well against the field. A random Scizor VMAX deck that I drew poorly against was the only negative matchup I had throughout the tournament.
I chose to go first the entirety of my players cup run, except for one game against a Fire deck box and Fire sleeves, so going 9-4 against Centiskorch VMAX is very good. Most of these games were against the Ability variants of the deck, but a few were against the Green’s/Magneton version. In an open decklist format I would choose to go second against Centiskorch decks to prevent Volcanion from accelerating three Energy on my opponent’s first turn and also to prevent a lone Zacian V start being turned into a donk. Milotic V is probably helpful against the Green’s Magneton version, but the traditional version with Dedenne GX and Crobat V seems to have maintained itself as the most popular build, and I don’t think Milotic V is needed to win against that variant.
I was pleased with the positive record against the mirror match. I didn’t tech for the mirror match at all and this is a mirror match that can be highly volatile. I didn’t track down variant specifics of the mirror match, but I don’t think Crushing Hammer or Clay have a significant impact on the mirror match.
I think any Mewtwo matchup is fine if you include Vitality Band to be able to do 270 damage into a Mewtwo & Mew GX. Being able to win through gust or through knocking out the active makes it way easier to piece together a win in what’s a very quick matchup.
Headed into the Regional Qualifiers, the three matchups that would scare me the most are Blacephalon with Beast Bringer, LucMetal/Zacian V, and Pikarom.
I think Blacephalon is slightly favored if they don’t play Beast Bringer, but if they do play Beast Bringer, they have a little extra time to setup and are able to win the game in only two knockouts.
I’m not sure what to make of the LucMetal/Zacian V matchup. It seems like it’s close to 50/50, and that seems to be the matchup ratio I hear from players on both sides of the matchup. The tough thing about this matchup is that the matchup rarely plays out to be very close when you lose, and still feels like a tough fight when you win. The degree to which you lose your losses probably makes ADPZ players think of the matchup worse than it actually is because when you lose, you lose badly, but in terms of games won or loss, it seems that the matchup tends to be around 50/50.
The Pikarom matchup goes the other way, where you can win in blowouts, but your losses are all very close games. In most games you establish the lead in the prize trade and are able to win the game if you can chain your knockouts together, but Pikarom is very good at disruption, being able to set you back Energy attachments as well as constantly disrupt your hand with Marnie in the early game and then the more powerful Reset Stamp later in the game. It also has Crushing Hammer to set ADPZ back on Energy attachments, sometimes buying the Pikarom player extra turns to take their knockouts.
The other thing Pikarom does well is make it hard for ADPZ to take knockouts. Pikarom and Boltund V cannot be knocked out with Ultimate Ray, so you will need a gust to knock anything out with Ultimate Ray in one hit. Then in the late game, Raichu & Alolan Raichu GX has enough HP to survive a Brave Blade because of its Metal resistance, making it so you need to gust around it to take your final prizes, which can be hard to get all the cards you need to do that when you’re getting hit with Crushing Hammer and Reset Stamp.
ADPZ will have a big target on its back headed into the Regional Qualifiers, but even with that it could still be a good play, as even its bad matchups are pretty even, and against most other decks you will see you have favorable matchups.
Should ADP be banned?
One of the major water cooler discussions in the Pokémon TCG over the past couple of months has been whether or not Arceus & Dialga & Palkia GX should be banned from the Standard Format. Pokémon rarely bans cards from Standard, so it’s unlikely that a ban occurs, but that hasn’t stopped a small movement from growing that hopes to see the card get banned.
In this section I go over some of the common arguments that get thrown around as reasons for why ADP should be banned.
1. ADP isn’t a balanced card
First, we must look at whether ADP has created an unbalanced format where other decks are unable to compete with it. This isn’t the same thing as one prize or two prize decks being viable, as there will always be a competitive filter created by the best cards in the game that prevents weaker cards from being played. Instead, this looks at whether or not there is anything that can actually compete with it.
For example, Night March in the 2015-2016 season during State Championships is a deck I would say unbalanced the format. The 2016 State Championship meta basically became 30% Night March decks, 50% decks to counter Night March, and 20% decks that were choosing to donate wins to Night March.
Has ADP unbalanced the game? Well, to figure that out, I am going to look at a few different metrics, ADPZ’s win percentage in tournaments played and then the number of online tournaments won in this format.
Using the Standard Format tournaments held on the Play.LimitlessTCG site from October 3rd to October 18th, we can see that ADPZ had a total record of 364-372 in these tournaments, which is actually a losing record.
The deck is very popular though, so there may be a lot of less skilled players flocking to the deck, so we can also look at the top-level results by looking at what tournaments ADPZ has won in this format. To do this, I am taking tournament results from PokeStats’s Online Tournament page. In total there are 58 tournaments to take data from and here are the results:
|Pikachu & Zekrom GX||9||15.52%|
|Lucario & Melmetal GX/Zacian||6||10.34%|
|Welder Mewtwo & Mew GX||4||6.90%|
|Charizard & Braixen GX||1||1.72%|
While we can see that ADPZ is up there as a BDIF for this format, it’s in a 4-way tie for first place. Overall, 13 different decks have won tournaments and 8 different decks have been able to win multiple tournaments.
Based on this data, we can say that the current format is well balanced and there is a diversity of decks that can compete for tournament wins. Therefore, balance issues are not a reason for ADP to be banned.
2. ADP breaks the fundamental rules of the game.
This argument says that ADP should never have been printed because it has an effect that allows you to take extra prize cards which breaks the fundamental rules of the game. I don’t think this argument makes sense at all as attack effects are part of the game, as are Abilities which let you do things that you’re normally not able to do. For example, you’re only supposed to attach one Energy per a turn, but with Frosmoth in play you can attach as many Water Energy to your benched Water Pokémon as you like.
The more bizarre part of this argument to me is that cards that take extra prize cards have a tradition of being part of the game and are in two of the most beloved decks of all time.
Lugia EX from Plasma Storm is able to take an extra prize card with its Overflow Ability and was part of the Team Plasma and Plasma Lugia decks from the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Articuno from Roaring Skies was able to take an extra prize thanks to its Delta Plus Ancient Trait and it was part of the famous Archie’s Blastoise deck that won the 2015 World Championship and was part of the Expanded meta for a few years after that.
The big difference I see with these cards and ADP are that they had better counters at the time. Lugia EX could be stripped of all its Energy with Enhanced Hammer and then be knocked out by Drifblim DRX or later on be fried by Lightning Pokémon like Raichu XY. Articuno ROS had a max damage output of 140 damage and an average damage output of 80 making it ineffective at knocking out Pokémon-EX, Mega Pokémon-EX, and even big Basic Pokémon that weren’t EX’s, limiting its range of use.
ADP on the other hand doesn’t have any great counters in the Standard Format. With the release of Sword and Shield, Pokémon discontinued the Fairy type. This ensured that no type counter would ever be printed again for ADP. Additionally, Sword and Shield gave ADP its partner in crime, Zacian V, and Metal Saucer to power that up, making any current Fairy decks, such as Whimsicott GX or Gardevoir & Sylveon GX a favorable matchup for ADP.
In Expanded we can see ADP is much less of a problem when counters exist. Pokémon Ranger gives an easy way to undo the effect of Altered Creation GX and there are even Fairy Pokémon like Clefairy from Evolutions that can easily OHKO an ADP.
In regard to this argument, I would say the argument is nonsense, but we can also look to the past with similar cards and realize that ADP could better fit into the format if there were better counter cards against it.
3. It speeds up the game too much.
ADPZ generally plays the game on a four or five turn clock. Most games involve an attachment to ADP on turn 1, using Altered Creation GX on turn 2, taking a knockout for three prizes on turn 3, and a second knockout for three prizes on turn 4. Against a one prize deck, if multiple two prize support Pokémon don’t come into play, this turn clock gets extended to five turns.
Sometimes this game clock can be moved up a turn if you draw incredibly well to get a turn 1 Altered Creation GX, but these games are not super common and the game clock above describes most games for the deck, at least from an idealistic viewpoint – the deck of course also has games where it misses the resources it needs to follow this ideal game clock, but for arguments sake we will use the game clock in the first paragraph as our reference clock for ADPZ.
Does this actually speed up the game clock relative to other decks? To figure this out, I will compare it to some of the other decks in the format.
One argument is that ADP makes one prize decks unplayable. ADPZ’s turn clock against these decks is five turns as long as they don’t play more than one two-prize Pokémon down. Against ADP, one prize decks can always play down one two-prize Pokémon, and have it end up having no impact on the number of knockouts it takes to win the game. If the first knockout is on a one-prize Pokémon, then the one prize deck can play as many two-prize Pokémon as they want from that point on and still have the game end in the same number of knockouts. Sometimes the one prize deck gets multiple two-prize Pokémon into the game early (Mawile GX can cause this) and in those games the game clock can go down to four turns.
Comparatively, Eternatus VMAX and Centiskorch VMAX decks start taking knockouts on turn 2. If they take a knockout every turn from then on, they will take 7 turns to win the game. If one of those knockouts is on a two prize Pokémon, then it could be a 6-turn win, and in games where two knockouts can be had from two-prize Pokémon, then it could be a 5-turn win.
Decks that can attack on the first turn, such as Welder Mewtwo can speed this up further, taking a knockout on the first turn of the game. Against a field of all one prize Pokémon, they can take a 6-turn win, taking out one two-prize support Pokémon can turn it into a 5-turn win, and taking out multiple two-prize Pokémon can bring it down to a 4-turn win.
While ADPZ has a speedy game against one prize decks, so do most of the other top meta decks. Because these one-prize decks need to play two-prize support Pokémon to setup consistently anyways, the game clocks against other top meta decks can end up finishing in a similar amount of turns as they do for ADPZ.
This may make a good case for the printing of some support Pokémon aimed at aiding one prize strategies that doesn’t give up multiple prizes. Something like reprinting Crobat V’s Ability on a one prize Pokémon with the added text, “This Ability cannot be used if you have a Pokémon-GX or Pokémon-V in play” would give one-prize decks an extra boost to keep up with the speed of the format caused by Tag Team and VMAX decks.
Things are even more bleak for two-prize decks. Against these decks, ADPZ wins with a four-turn clock of turn 1 attach, turn 2 Altered Creation GX, turn 3 knockout for three prizes, and turn 4 knockout for three prizes. This is a similar or slower game clock than other decks can take.
If Eternatus VMAX and Centiskorch VMAX decks setup on turn 2 and take a knockout on every turn of the game from that point forward, then they will beat a dedicated two-prize deck in four turns, the same exact game clock as ADPZ.
A deck like Blacephalon is able to finish these decks off with a 3-turn win if it can take the turn 1 attack for knockout and then string consecutive knockouts after that. Otherwise, if it needs to take a turn to gather resources it can still win in a 4-turn game.
While ADPZ does contribute to a very fast format, it’s not alone in doing so. It appears to be an intentional part of the game design for games to end very quickly as a result of very powerful attacks being super easy to power up. Further contributing to the problem is all of the best support Pokémon being two-prize Pokémon that further accelerates the speed at which a game can be won.
4. It gatekeeps the format.
Every format will have their tier 1 decks that prevent other decks from being a good play, this is nothing new. As we previously saw, ADPZ is a balanced deck, there is plenty of other decks that can compete, but as one of the tier 1 decks in the format it is one of those big decks that the meta is being built around.
In the Limitless Online Series, ADPZ’s meta share has been floating around 20%, which means in an 8-round tournament like the Limitless Online Series you would expect to play it on average 1.6 times in a tournament. Here are the probabilities of playing ADPZ “x” number of times in an 8-round tournament when it has a 20% meta share.
|8||Less than 0.01%|
Even at a 20 percent meta share, half the time you will only play ADPZ one or less times in an 8-round tournament.
ADPZ just isn’t being played at high enough numbers to be gatekeeping decks out of the format. If these decks are failing to have good results, they either aren’t being played in high enough numbers by enough skilled players, or more likely, they have other poor matchups that are preventing them from being competitive in addition to ADPZ, but people just want to lay all the blame on ADPZ for those deck’s non-viability.
There are online tournaments where ADPZ has been banned that included wins for decks like Coalossal and Mad Party, but these results have a self-selection bias associated with them so we can’t take them as good proof that decks like Coalossal or Mad Party would be competitively viable decks in the actual Standard format if ADP was banned.
I don’t think ADPZ deserves to be banned. The format is competitively balanced with plenty of decks that can compete with it, its game clock is fast, but nothing out of the ordinary for the format, and it’s not being played in high enough numbers to gatekeep decks from the format.
I do think it’s in a problematic design space with Fairy Pokémon being discontinued and Zacian V pairing with it to counter any existing Fairy Pokémon. With that in mind, while I don’t think the card should be banned, my recommendation would be for Pokémon to immediately print a counter or set of counter cards for ADP in Standard.
When I say immediately, I do not mean in the February set, but I mean as soon as they can get a new promo card greenlit. As far as competitive play goes, we are a virtual card game right now, so we have a unique situation where we can have Pokémon create a card, make it available on PTCGO, and then worry about where the card will show up physically later on.
The easiest counter that Pokémon could make is a reprint of Pokémon Ranger. The card already exists, and we know from Expanded that it works well to counter Altered Creation GX. This may not work as well in Standard as we do not have Tapu Lele GX to search it out or the Battle Compressor/VS Seeker combo to easily find it. Additionally, there would be blowback against the rest of the format with this as the counter, as it could be used to shutoff effects of other attacks. While Pokémon may want to re-balance Altered Creation GX, they may not be interested in re-balancing Full Metal Wall GX or Galarian Obstagoon’s Obstruct attack.
Taking into account blowback against the rest of the format, I would go for a more targeted counter in the form of an Ability that messes with the prize gaining of ADP. Here is my favorite design for an Ability I could come up with:
Ability – If this Pokémon is in play, when your active Pokémon is knocked out from damage from an opponent’s Pokémon-GX or Pokémon-V, your opponent cannot take additional prize cards.
Some key points to this Ability. I think it would fit best on a Basic Pokémon that is also a one-prize Pokémon. This presents a counter to ADP while not impacting other cards in the format like Pokémon Ranger would. I put “in play” on the card instead of “on your bench” to prevent the Pokémon from being gusted up itself to be knocked out for additional prizes.
By only targeting Pokémon-GX or Pokémon-V, it targets the ADPZ deck specifically. Other concepts using one prize attackers, like the ADP/Spiritomb deck we saw last season would still be able to prize gain. Not including Pokémon-EX on the card fits with the current design trend to not include them on card text and lets Lugia EX live in peace in Expanded if for whatever reason Plasma gets good again.
With the League Battle deck featuring ADP and Zacian V coming out in November, the chances of the card being banned are almost zero anyways, so a counter card is the way out.
While I don’t think ADP requires a ban, it is worth noting that there is a general feeling of discontent around the current Standard format that we don’t see too often. Even during the 2016 State Championship format it didn’t feel like people were as down on the format as they are now.
I think the most important thing for Pokémon to learn from this period of the game is to open themselves up to supporting other competitive formats outside of Standard. As it is right now, when Standard feels bad, playing the Pokémon TCG feels bad, but if they took the time to develop other competitive formats then we could end up with a bad Standard format, but still have people enjoying the game overall.
Deciding to not update the ban list for Expanded with the last two main set releases was a major mistake. With Standard not being the most enjoyable format, if the ban list for Expanded had been updated, players may just be happily playing a bunch of Expanded right now. There are some people playing in Expanded tournaments right now, but the majority of the community isn’t touching it right now because the ban list hasn’t been updated. When Pokémon said they weren’t updating the ban list for Expanded what most of the community reads when they see that is, “You don’t care about this format right now, so we shouldn’t care about it either.”
Beyond Expanded, with PTCGO there are a lot of other ways to play that aren’t being properly capitalized on. We have Retro Formats, which aren’t currently supported on the program as there is no way to change the game’s rulesets. There are more than 40 Standard Retro Formats available to be played on PTCGO with the sets that are on the program and additional Expanded Formats, but none of this can be properly tapped into right now because changing the ruleset is not currently supported. There are some annoying workarounds that can be used, but there is no reason that they should have to be used, and ultimately, they limit the number of people wanting to participate in Retro events.
Additionally, in the same vein, we have block formats that have the same issue of not being able to change the game’s ruleset. Stephane Ivanoff has popularized the Alolan Format (Sun and Moon through Cosmic Eclipse) with tournaments he’s hosted, but there are also other possibilities, such as Johto Format (Heart Gold Soul Silver through Call of Legends), Unova Format (Black and White through Legendary Treasures), Kalos format (XY through Evolutions), and the Galar Format (Sword and Shield through Darkness Ablaze).
Another format idea I have is what I call Evolution Format, and which would be the equivalent to Magic’s Pauper Format. In Magic’s Pauper Format all cards have to be of common rarity. This doesn’t work in Pokémon as evolution cards will typically be uncommon or rare, and key consistency cards are going to be uncommon or in recent sets, rare. Instead, what I propose with Pokémon Evolution Format is a format in which all multi-prize Pokémon are banned, making it a one prize format similar to the early days of the game. There could be both Standard Evolution and Expanded Evolution variants of this format idea, but my initial focus would be on using the Standard legal sets as the card pool for this.
I think this would accomplish a few things for the game:
- Provide players a format to play a traditional Pokémon TCG one prize format.
- Provide a format with an environment suitable for decks that evolve, hence the format name – Evolution Format.
- Add more value to sets as cards that wouldn’t be viable in Standard or Expanded would be viable in Evolution Format, making more cards in a set competitively viable.
- Provide a format that allows players to make an easier transition from theme deck to constructed play, as it would be cheaper to get cards for this format than Pokémon V and Pokémon VMAX.
This format would likely need a small ban list as the cards weren’t designed with this in mind. Not too much stood out to me as ban worthy, but there are a few cards that could be problematic. Bellelba & Brycen-Man is the only card I would definitely ban to start, as that level of mill effect, especially in combo with Lt. Surge, is unhealthy for a slower format. There are also a lot of cards that don’t necessarily need a ban, but who lose their purpose from Pokémon-GX and Pokémon-V being removed from the game (like Cherish Ball). The only other card I would have my eye on for an initial ban would be Gyarados TEU as that probably hits too hard, for too little Energy, with too much HP to be balanced in this format.
While finding ways to improve Standard is important, I think investing in other formats is important for the game as well. If we had more other ways to enjoy the game, then it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if Standard isn’t that great right now because there would be other formats to enjoy the game in and most likely they all can’t be bad at the same time.
That’s all I have for today. While I don’t love the current Standard Format, I still have had a lot of fun playing in the Players Cup 2 and the online tournament scene that has popped up over the last few months. I am looking forward to playing in the North American Regional Qualifier in November. The high point cutoff in North America is going to make this a very tough tournament. With only 256 players making the cutoff, that’s pretty comparable to the number of North American qualifiers to the World Championships in recent years, so I expect the player caliber level to be similar to Day 1 of the World Championships (with Day 2 auto invites mixed in), but I don’t expect most players to put in comparable amounts of testing as they would before a World Championship.