Challenge: Initial Cards, Initial Deck

by Ed ~ November 28th, 2011.

I got an email today informing me that Pikkdogs sent in an envelope for the Challenge. It seems that he was waiting for me to announce the theme deck I’d be using as a base for the card pool. Well, in a way that’s why I waited to announce it. I wanted the donations to drive the deck instead of the donations being driven by the choice of theme deck.

I’ll take what I can get, though, and Pikkdogs has already informed me about what I’ll be getting. I figured that I’d take the opportunity to discuss what he sent, how it will help form the initial decklist, and maybe you’ll get a glimpse of my thought process that will go into these sessions. First of all, let’s look at the list of cards he sent. If you missed the last installment, you may also want to see the Ember Spark theme deck cardlist.

3-Raichu Prime
2-Black Belt
1-Victini (Fire Version)

Now, if I was just building a “nonconformist” (or maybe a “budget”) deck, my thoughts would be to find some lesser used Pokemon and build around them. I would probably try to use something unexpected that also exploits some popular deck’s weakness. Based on Battle Roads and Regionals, I think that Fighting and Water would be good choices.

Also, if I were to build this sort of deck and have my goal be the same as it is here (get at least 50% wins in a tourney), then my technique would be to build something with a very specific single-minded purpose. The deck would focus hard on one thing while ignoring most others. The thought here is that if you can focus the deck on doing that one thing well, (assuming that one thing helps get you to a win condition), then when you pull it off, you win. The problem here is that it will almost inevitably ignore weaknesses that certain decks can exploit (like resistance, weakness, the ability to function under trainer lock, etc.).

One deck that I think is a fairly good popular example of this strategy is ZPS. The base ZPS (without the addition of T) can be ultra-fast, because it’s main focus is to win as fast as possible. This alone gives it a chance to beat ANY deck. When you’re setting up a match against ZPS, you have to know that there’s always the possibility that you’ll be turning in your match slip minutes later. However, in some situations (like versus trainer-locking Reuniclus), the deck has no outs, and in others (like versus Donphan ‘n’ Dragons), it merely has a very difficult time. The addition of Tornadus (and in some cases Mew Prime) later gave the deck much more in the way of options both for offense and defense causing the deck to lose a bit of that raw speed focus but ultimately leading to a better all-around deck.

Well, that’s what I’d go for. I feel like I probably wouldn’t stumble upon the next big thing (while building under these limitations), so why not try to maximize the probability of beating many decks by sacrificing matchups against the rest. Then, you just go in hoping you don’t hit your bad matchups. The choice, however, is which matchups to build for. Do you try to design a deck that will beat the most popular deck, because that’s the highest probability of matchup? OR, do you build a deck that will surprise and confuse the lesser decks knowing that you’ll probably lose to the top deck anyway?

It’s a tough call, and you might have a completely different outlook on the process anyway. My thought though is that you pick one of those and run with it. If there were a clear favorite in your metagame with an exploitable weakness, then I think the play would be to go for a deck that could kill it. For a great example of this, see Austino’s Machampion article. However, I don’t think that’s the case right now, so I’d tend toward a “trick” deck that will surprise the unprepared while potentially folding to the top tier decks/players.

Examples of trick exploits might include disruption based on energy denial, heavy discard, and attack locking (or walling/tanking). If it were all up to me, I might go for a deck based around Pokemon like Durant, Beartic, Scizor Prime, Cobalion, Gyarados (Hyper Beam), and Sharpedo. Many of these names are unused trade-binder fodder at the moment. All of them exploit some weakness that, if allowed to succeed, can have devastating effect. For example, nobody plays Gyarados now, so a deck built around him, Crushing Hammer, and Lost Remover could overwhelm any deck that relies on energy (especially DCE-dependent decks).

Well, that’s just a bit of insight into how I look at this project. I hope to take the card pool and come up with something that could exploit a popular weakness or unexpected (and thus under-prepared for) strategy. As it is now, I’m very limited by what I have available. It’s possible that none of these strategies will be viable. That brings us back to the cards Pikkdogs’ has donated.

Based on the cards sent, it seems obvious that Pikkdogs’ angle is to combo Raichu Prime with Eelektrik and Engineer’s Adjustments. In theory, this gives you a sustainable 120 damage per turn. Let’s take a look at the rough list I think would come from the new card pool, and then discuss the positives/negatives of the deck.

22 Pokemon 8 Trainers 9 Supporters/Stadiums 21 Energy
2 Mareep HS 2 Moomoo Milk 1 Copycat 21 Lightning
2 Flaaffy HS 2 Poke Communication 2 Prof Oak New Theory    
1 Hoothoot HS 66 2 Pokemon Reversal 2 Black Belt    
1 Noctowl HS 8 2 Switch 4 Engineer’s Adjustments    
3 Tynamo            
3 Eelekrtik NVI 40            
3 Pikachu HS 78            
3 Raichu Prime            
3 Minun UL 34            
1 Manaphy UL 3            

Engineer’s Adjustments instantly becomes the main draw engine of the deck. It is indeed a good draw engine netting 4 new cards without the need to discard or reshuffle the rest of the hand (as compared to the popular PONT and Juniper), however it has 2 major weaknesses both stemming from its requirement of discarding an energy. First, in many instances, the energy discard requirement will be a gamble. Whenever you have 1 energy in hand, Engineer’s is risky. If you draw another in the 4, then it’s okay, and you won’t miss your attachment for the turn. If you whiff, then you just discarded your attachment for the turn.

The other drawback is that you now have energy in the discard instead of in your hand (where they are normally playable). This drawback, however, is mitigated by Eelektrik’s ability “Dynamotor” which allows you to pull a Lightning energy out of the discard pile and attach it to a benched Pokemon.

Ultimately, this leads to a sort of poor man’s TyRam deck. You discard Lightning to draw cards, pull them to your bench with Eelektrik, and then move them to your active Raichu Prime using his “Voltage Increase” poke-power. Compared to TyRam, this falls short in some major areas. First of all, Reshiram has more HP than Raichu and is a basic. Reshiram only discards 2 energy, whereas Raichu discards them all. Typhlosion is the counterpart to Eelektrik, but Typhlosion has a very useful attack that discards the opponent’s energy. Eelektrik has a weak attack and has only 90 HP. Another downside is that both Eelektrik and Raichu are 2X weak to the popular fighting type.

There are upsides, too. The bench sitter in this deck (Eelektrik) is only a Stage 1. That means Rare Candy isn’t required, and you could still set up multiple Eelektrik/Raichu on turn 2. There haven’t been many top-tier Pokemon lately that are weak to Fire, but there are some heavily-played Pokemon (like Yanmega and Tornadus) that are weak to Lightning.

So, the list is a bit rough (as I just threw it together without any testing whatsoever), but I think it’s playable. It has a tried-and-true core strategy (see TyRam/ReshiBoar), but it’s still lacking some important ingredients.

The main thing that almost every tourney deck should have (that I don’t expect to ever get in this challenge) would obviously be Catcher. As we discussed in an earlier installment, though, Pokemon Reversal will have to do. Maxing those out would probably help. As far as smoothing out the playability of the deck, there’s a huge lack of search here. Pokemon Catcher has become a staple in all tournament decks. Again, there’s a “poor man’s” version in Dual Ball, but there are no Dual Ball in the card pool.

Lacking those, I do have what I view as the “extremely poor man’s” version in Minun. His Call For Family attack will get a couple basics on the bench. The drawbacks are noticeable, though. For Minun to be effective, I need to draw into him, as I have no way to search for him. This means I need to run several Minun. Pokemon-based search take up valuable bench space and end up being easy targets in a Catcher-heavy environment. Minun is a 2-card combo (if you count that he needs energy to do his search). Finally, Minun puts the basics straight to the bench, so there’s no chance of them being used for Communication.

Speaking of Communication, this decklist runs 9 Stage 1 Pokemon. They can’t be searched with Collector/Dual Ball/Minun. Communication or Prof Elm are probably the choices for obtaining these evolutions. In this challenge, I’d probably lean toward a Dual Ball/Communication strategy leaving the supporters to do the refresh/draw. However, Professor Elm’s Training Method is an excellent way to get evolutions for a deck like this.

Another thing that this deck is lacking is energy. Well, yeah, it has 21 energy, but I’m afraid that won’t be enough. My main concern is that the core strategy will be reliant on discarding energy. If Eelektrik goes down, then all of the energy goes with it. There’s no other way of obtaining energy, whether that be from the discard pile or the deck.

A card like Interviewer’s Questions can combo well with Engineer’s Adjustments. Interviewer’s can thin the deck while providing the fuel for the draw engine. The Interviewer gives the Engineer energy while also making the Engineer’s draws less likely to include energy (which you should already have from the Interview). Other useful energy-grabbing cards would include Energy Retrieval and Fisherman. These also combo well with the Engineer by being able to give the energy double-duty. You can discard it, pick it back up, and either attach it or Engineer it again. Of these, I think Energy Retrieval actually has the most merit, because it doesn’t take up a supporter drop for the turn and it helps in the Eelektrik-less situations.

The last thing I’ll talk about here is defense. This can come in a variety of ways. The main defense in this current list is Moomoo Milk. It’s less than stellar, in my opinion. I’d prefer Potion, but what I’d prefer even more in this list is something like Max Potion or maybe even Super Scoop Up. If you get to the point of using the core strategy of attacking with Raichu, then you’re losing all his energy each turn anyway. Why not use that drawback as an advantage? Max Potion would normally discard all of the healed Pokemon’s energy, but when that’s 0, it’s not a problem. SSU could be viewed in the same way assuming you had another Pikachu or Raichu on the bench. Obviously SSU is a flippy alternative, but it covers other bases at the same time like being a retreat aid, opening a bench slot for someone more useful, or giving you someone to Communication.

So, there are my initial thoughts on the initial cards and the initial decklist. Please consider donating, and please let me know your thoughts on any piece of this whole thing.

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