The King of Ties: A Discussion on Pokemon’s Match Play

After playing in three weekends of State Championships and two weekends of Regional Championships over the past two months, I must say, for the first time since I started playing this game, I am a bit deflated and my interest towards continuing to play is starting to wane. All five of these tournaments were played under Pokemon’s best of 3, 50 minute tournament structure, which is a structure for tournaments that I’ve grown to hate after getting an intensive run through it.

I think best of 3 match play has huge potential to do good for the game. Best of 3 match play can be used to reduce variance in the game by eliminating player losses as a result of not opening a Supporter, or just never drawing the right cards in one particular game to get anything going.

The issue with Pokemon is that 50 minutes isn’t enough time to consistently finish a 3 game series, often leaving matches to end in a tie, which is a very non-ideal outcome as ties have very little worth.

Over the past three weekends of tournaments, I’ve only lost 2 matches, but have little to show for that, as ties are way too damaging. My overall record the past three tournaments has been 12-2-9. I’ve tied 39% of my matches, which seems like far too high of a number to be allowable. I’ve taken a few different approaches to deck choices, most of which I don’t think should make for more ties than usual, but experienced ties no matter what direction I went with my deck choice.

The argument that ties are fine for the game is that if two opponents are equal, in that they each win a game in a series, than a tie is an appropriate result. The problem is that these 1 point outcome of matches tank in value the moment players start deciding winners for their matches that would otherwise end in ties. The artificial increase in matches with a determined winner serves to devalue ties, where ties would hold more value if all matches that resulted in a tie were recorded as such.

At every event I’ve attended in this tournament format, there have been multiple matches decided by a coin flip. I even heard one player mention during Winter Regional Championships that he made it into the Top 32 by winning coin flips to decide 4 of his matches.

While this is illegal per the tournament guidelines, it’s hard to stop, and the reality of the situation is that it happens, and it happens a lot. While deciding matches by something like prize count in the final game is legal, it is equally damaging as it serves to devalue ties just as much as the coin flips do, as those matches for all intents and purposes should have been recorded as a tie.

To highlight this, I want to go over each of my tournaments in the best of 3, 50 minute tournament format, and discuss how flipping a coin to determine my ties could have affected my final results.

Fall Regional Championships – Virizion EX/Genesect EX/Mewtwo EX

For the first set of Regional Championships, I decided to play my Virizion EX/Genesect EX. My testing had shown the deck to be a very strong archetype that was underrated. With Pokemon Catcher in the format still, there was a lot less potential for stalling than there is now, with Pokemon Catcher relegated to a coin flip. With Mewtwo EX, the deck had donk potential, and Genesect EX can end games very quickly when its using G-Booster.

I finished the first day of the tournament with a 6-1-2 record, for 20 points. My first tie was in a Virizion/Genesect EX mirror match, where I just needed a Pokemon Catcher to win, but couldn’t draw into it off a late game Professor Juniper after his late game N. My other tie was an ID to a friend in the last round, to assure both of us made Day 2. We played the match out at league the week before to a tie, so there’s a good chance this game would have ended in a tie.

So with that, by accepting my ties, I give myself a 100% probability of having 20 points and entering Day 2 at 15th place. However, what would have been the probabilities of different outcomes if I had decided my ties with coin flips instead?

0-2 – 25% Probability – I would have finished with 18 points, and would have made Top 32 at 30th place.
1-1 – 50% Probability – I would have finished with 21 points, and would have made Top 32 at 5th place.
2-0 – 25% Probability – I would have finished with 24 points, and would have made Top 32 at 2nd place.

Now, looking at this, it would have made economic sense for me to have decided my ties with coin flips. I had a 100% probability of making it into the Top 32, even if I lost both coin flips, and thus was guaranteed Top 32 and 30 Championship points even if I added 2 losses to my total. However, I had a 75% probability of improving my station in the tournament.

I had a very poor Day 2 for the tournament, going 1-3-1, to finish 7-4-3 overall for 24 points and 24th place.

If I had decided my day 2 tie with a coin flip, I had a 50% probability of finishing the tournament at 21 points, and a 50% probability of finishing the tournament at 27 points. So either way, with a loss or a tie, I would have finished in the Top 32 for 30 Championship Points. However, if I just went for the win with a coin flip, then I could have made it to 27 points and finished in 16th place, which means I would have gotten 45 Championship Points for Top 16.

So in this situation, there was no opportunity for loss, but a 50% probability that I could increase my Championship Points received from this event to +15. At 307 Championship Points, +15 points would put me up to 322 on the year.

However, what if we went back and determined all ties with coin flips during both Days 1 and Day 2.

0-3 – 12.5% – I would finish with 21 points, and finish in the Top 32 for 30 Championship Points.
1-2 – 37.5% – I would finish with 24 points, and finish in the Top 32 for 30 Championship Points.
2-1 – 37.5% – I would finish with 27 points, and finish in the Top 16 for 45 Championship Points.
3-0 – 12.5% – I would finish with 30 points, and make Top 8 for a minimum of 75 Championship Points, maximum of 150.

So determining all my ties with coin flips and losing 2 or 3 of the matches would occur at a 50% probability, and would have no impact on the Championship Points for the tournament. However, there was a 50% probability that I could increase my Championship payout…and it all would have been at no risk.

While 12.5% probability means going 3-0 on coin flips isn’t too likely, it still isn’t an insignificant number. There’s a very real chance by determining all my matches with coin flips, I could have made Top 8, and during a best case scenario, won the tournament, putting me at 427 Championship Points for the year. This is big, as Top 32 at Nationals then would secure a World Championship Invite for me, which isn’t possible without a Top 8 finish right now.

Winter Regional Championships – Virizion EX/Genesect EX/Shaymin EX/Mewtwo EX

For the second set of Regional Championships I played in, I decided to play Virizion EX/Genesect EX again. I had some success with it during City Championships, taking 1st and 3rd with it. Additionally, the deck was great for match play still. It wasn’t prone to stalling because Red Signal gave it a gust effect, and it was still good for all of the reasons mentioned before, so as a deck, not much changed for its status as a deck in match play.

For this tournament, I finished Swiss at 6-2-1 for 19 points, finishing in 20th place headed into Top 32. My one tie was an intentional draw against a Virizion/Genesect mirror match the final round. I had beaten this player in the Top 8 at a City Championship of the mirror match, but they only did 60 minute best of 3 for that top cut, so Game 3 became sudden death. There is a good chance this match would have resulted in a tie either way. The tie guaranteed me Top 32 and 30 Championship Points.

If I decided to do a coin flip for this match, I had the following probabilities:

0-1 – 50% Probability. I would have finished with 18 points, and finished at 35th place.
1-0 – 50% Probablity, I would have finished with 21 points and would have finished at 12th place.

In this situation the tie was my best decision, as it guaranteed me cut, while flipping for it would have given me a 50% probability of not making Top 32, and losing the 30 Championship Points I received from making Top 32.

I ended Day 2 going 2-2-1, finishing with 26 points for 22nd place and 30 Championship Points. If I decided my two ties with coin flips, I had the following probabilities:

0-2 – 25% probability, would have finished with 18 points and never would have made Top 32 to begin with.
1-1 (lose tie flip first) – 25% probability, would have finished with 18 points and never would have made Top 32.
1-1 (win first tie flip) – 25% probability, would have finished with 27 points for 17th place and 30 Championship Points.
2-0 – 25% probability, would have finished with 30 points for 6th place, would have made Top 8 for a possible 75-150 Championship Points.

So this one is really interesting to look at. I had a 50% probability of going -30 Championship Points by deciding my matches with ties and losing the first flip. I had a 50% probability, of at least maintaining my 30 Championship Points. While the potential for loss was half, I did have a 25% probability of hitting it big. Could have potentially added 45-120 Championship Points from the event by winning both tie flips.

Missouri States – Xerneas/Xerneas EX/Yveltal EX/Mewtwo EX/Bouffalant

This was a rogue deck I played for Missouri States. It was very aggressive, and just swung at the opponent with strong attackers, so matches would typically resolve with this deck. However, the deck wasn’t very good and I finished 3-3, and ties weren’t a factor for me at all.

Tennessee States – TDK

For this tournament, I played TDK. It is an archetype that won both the Master and Senior divisions at Missouri States, and it would ultimately go on to win Tennessee States piloted by another Missouri player. For this event, I went 3-2-2 for 11 points and believe I finished 27th place, for 0 Championship Points.

I had 2 potential matches that I could have decided by coin flip. Let’s look at how doing so would have changed my tournament.

0-2 – 25% Probability, I would finish with 9 points for 0 Championship Points.
1-1 – 50% Probability, I would finish with 12 points for 0 Championship Points.
2-0 – 25% Probability,  I would finish with 15 points for a Top 16 finish, and 30 Championship Points.

So with this data, it would have been to my benefit to decide my ties with coin flips. I would get 0 Championship Points with the ties, while I had a 25% probability of getting into the Top 16 for 30 Championship Points. As I ended up hitting my best finish limit for States/Regionals, this would have no impact on my world’s prospects in the long run.

Kansas States – TDK

For this tournament, I played TDK, making some adjustments to my list that I think made it almost unbeatable in match play. That turned out to be the case, as I finished 4-0-3, for 15 points and an 11th place finish for 30 Championship Points. I never lost a match, but failed to make it into the Top 8.

Now, if I decided my ties with coin flips….

0-3 – 12.5% probability, I would have finished with 12 points and failed to make the Top 16, and would have been -30 championship points.
1-2 – 37.5% probability, I would have finished with 15 points and finished in 11th place, same as with the ties.
2-1 – 37.5% probability, I would have finished with 18 points and finished 2nd, and would have gotten 50-100 championship points.
3-0 – 12.5% probability, I would have finished with 21 points and finished 1st, and would have gotten 50-100 championship points.

Now this one, again, going for the ties would have been to my advantage. I had an 87.5% probability of at least maintaining my 30 Championship Points for a Top 16 finish, however, I also had a 50% probability of making Top Cut for the event, which would have resulted in a potential 20-70 championship point increase for me. So in this case, the probability of decreasing my payout was very small, while the probability of increasing it was quite high.

Kansas City Regional Championship – Flygon

For this tournament, I decided to play Flygon/Accelgor/Dusknoir. I thought the deck was a good choice for best of 3 Swiss as it had pretty good matchups against the field, and if I could win game 1, there was a good chance game 2 wouldn’t finish, just giving me the win on a game 1 win. This didn’t work out quite as planned with losing some game 2’s to poor draws early game, which is always a problem with these types of decks. One of my ties, I was a turn away from winning, the other two, game 3 was just starting when time was called.

I finished 4-1-3 for 15 points 26th place, and 30 Championship points. If I decided my ties with coin flips….

0-3 – 12.5% Probability, would have finished with 12 points and would not have made Top 32 for -30 Championship Points.
1-2 – 37.5% Probability, would have finished with 15 points and would have finished 26th and maintained my station.
2-1 – 37.5% Probability, would have finished with 18 points for 8th place for 75-150 Championship Points.
3-0 – 12.5% Probability, would have finished with 21 points for 1st place for 75-150 Championship Points.

Once again, deciding my ties with coin flips would have been the best decision. I had an 87.5% probability of maintaining my 30 Championship Points, with a 50% probability of putting myself into the Top 8 and greatly increasing my Championship Point payout.

Wisconsin Regional Championships – Lugia EX

Annoyed with all the ties the previous few weekends, I took a different approach to my last Regional Championship of the season. I decided to play what could be referred to as a Turbo Lugia EX variant, as it played 3 Lugia EX, (the standard 4 Deoxys EX to power it up), and only 1 Thundurus EX and 1 Snorlax PLS as alternate attackers. I played Bicycles and Roller Skates to go through my deck fast. Unfortunately, this deck can tie as well, and I went 4-1-3 for 15 points and 39th place for 0 Championship Points.

I will cover how I managed to tie so much with this deck when I write my report for the deck later this week, but the short of it is, every round I played some type of counter to my deck. 2/8 rounds were against decks with Safeguard Pokemon, 5/8 rounds were against decks with Sableye/Enhanced Hammer, and the other round was against Raichu with Enhanced Hammer. All of these decks had things that slowed the game down, which forced me to go to my option for slowing the game down (Snorlax) which led to the tie outcomes. I didn’t play against any of the decks that would have been more determinate in having a winner (Blastoise, Emboar, Virizion, and Plasma mirror).

I knew for this tournament, after reading a lot of the comments in the Pokegym thread on the topic I would just let my ties stand as is, and not come to any determination. I think that’s the right thing to do, as it’s unfair to the players who aren’t tying who could be negatively impacted by determining wins and losses for the ties, even if I do think the fact that I can tie so often is stupid.

Regardless, here is how my tournament could have changed if I decided my ties with a coin flip…

0-3 – 12.5% probability, I would have finished with 12 points for 0 Championship Points.
1-2 – 37.5% probability, I would have finished with 15 points for 0 Championship Points.
2-1 – 37.5% probability, I would have finished with 18 points for Top 16 and 45 Championship Points.
3-0 – 12.5% probability, I would have finished with 21 points for 1st place, and 75-150 Championship Points.

So once again, flipping for my ties would have been advantageous, I could have only improved my station in the tournament while having no impact on the amount of Championship Points I received. I had a 50% probability of going from 0 Championship Points to at least 45 Championship Points for the event, and had the small probability of 12.5% of putting myself into the Top 8 if I won all 3 tie coin flips.

Recap

And let’s do a quick recap of how my season could have changed if I just decided to determine my ties with a coin flip.

Here are the championship points payouts I received for each of these tournaments in question:

Fort Wayne – 30 Championship Points
St. Louis – 30 Championship Points
Tennessee States – 0 Championship Points
Kansas States – 30 Championship Points
Kansas City – 30 Championship Points
Wisconsin – 0 Championship Points

Fort Wayne Regionals – 0% probability of decreasing my Championship Payout. 50% probability of increasing it by 15 points, and 12.5% probability of increasing it anywhere from 45-120 points.

St. Louis Regionals – 50% probability of decreasing my Championship Point payout by 30 points, 25% probability of maintaining it, and 25% probability of increasing it by 45-120 points.

Tennessee States – 0% probability of decreasing my Championship Point payout, 25% probability of increasing it by 30 points.

Kansas States – 12.5% probability of decreasing my Championship Point payout by 30 points, 37.5% probability of maintaining it, and a 50% probability of increasing it by 20-70 points.

Kansas Regionals – 12.5% probability of decreasing my Championship Point payout by 30 points, 37.5% probability of maintaining it, and 50% probability of increasing it by 75-120 points.

Wisconsin Regionals – 0% probability of decreasing my Championship Point payout, 50% probability of increasing it. Of that 50%, 37.5% probability of increasing it by 45 points, 12.5% probability of increasing it by 75-150 championship points.

Right now, I’m at 307 Championship Points. I could get up to 325 by replacing my 2nd and two 3rds at League Challenges with three more 1st places. So I would be 175 Championship Points more to get the invite. How easy would that have been to do by improving my finishing my finishes at States/Regionals via tie coin flips?

Assuming I would have lost all Top 8 matches, I would have needed to just do the following: Top 8 three of the Regional Championships, and Top 8 one of the State Championships. That would have given me over my current finishes 45 + 45 + 45 + 40 = 175. The tournaments that give me the best probability for this are St. Louis Regionals, Kansas City Regionals, Wisconsin Regionals and Fort Wayne Regionals. The probability of making Top 8 at these respective regionals from tie coin flips are 25%, 50%, 12.5%, and 12.5%. So the cumulative probability of that happening would be 0.2%. So based on that, the coin flip route would be unlikely to deal my worlds invite…assuming I just flamed out in Top 8.

I didn’t have the strongest City performances, and thus am still far off for an invite. For someone whose had a better season than me and who is closer to the invite, the impact of just deciding ties with coin flips would have a very strong probability of allowing them to finish the invite.

Conclusion

I don’t think a system of mass ties is good for Pokemon. Overall, I am unsatisfied with the tournament structure as I think it really limits the types of decks you can play at these tournaments. You have to limit yourself on deck choice more to decks that can better finish 3 games in 50 minutes, which might not be representative of the actual best decks of the format.

However, beyond that, I think there is a major flaw in the system when all too often flipping to decide of a winner of a match is all too often the most advantageous method a player can go about a tournament compared to just accepting their ties as is. Every best of 3 tournament I’ve been to so far has had a plethora of matches determined by coin flips, and I don’t think that is good for the game at all.

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