Winners and Losers: 2014-15 City Championship First Half
We’re now over halfway done with City Championships, with just more three weekends left until we will be looking back at this tournament series in our rearview mirrors and looking towards Winter Regional Championships down the road ahead of us.
City Championships have always been one of my favorite event series, as there are tournaments every weekend, a mass of tournament results coming in which catalyzes a rapidly changing meta game. When this happens, there is a lot of information to reflect on, and as the series has progressed, some winner and losers have begun to emerge. As a result, as we start the new year, I want to look back at the winners and losers of the 2014 portion of City Championships.
Winner: Dark Pokemon
This is a Pokemon type that could be classified in this category ever since the release of Dark Explorers, where the Pokemon type made a prominent return to the top of the meta game. That set gave us Darkrai EX, Sableye DEX, and Dark Patch, giving the key components to the most successful archetypes of decks in the years since its release. Dark would win big again with the release of Yveltal EX in XY Base Set, one of the strongest attackers in the game, along with Yveltal XY, which would give it the support it needed after the rotation of Sableye this past summer. Darkrai EX, who is nearing retirement age was able to stay along for another successful ride thanks to a reprint in Legendary Treasures.
Without a doubt, Dark Pokemon have continued their winning ways during City Championships this year, becoming the most dominant set of decks in the format. The standard bearer Yveltal EX/Garbodor DRX deck with damage boosts through Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym has continued to see a lot of success at tournaments. However, there is a new, defensive version of Yveltal that has emerged during City Championships and has become one of the hottest decks during the tournament series.
From the information I’ve seen presented, the deck appeared to be the brainchild of Chris Collins, and then the master of Dark, Israel Sosa, who won three Regional Championships with Dark decks last year, made a great list for the deck that many players, himself included, used to City Championship success.
The new version of Yveltal EX uses Hard Charm and Jamming Nets to limit the amount of damage the opponent does, while taking consistent 2HKO’s with Y-Cyclone and Evil Ball. The basic strategy of the deck is to take 2HKO’s while forcing your opponent into 3 and 4HKO’s, creating a positive prize exchange for yourself.
I haven’t used the deck in a tournament myself, but here’s the list that I have been testing for the deck:
Pokemon – 8
3 Yveltal EX
Trainers – 41
4 Professor Juniper
3 Ultra Ball
3 Hard Charm
3 Shadow Circle
Energy – 11
In addition to these two Dark decks, Mia Violet’s favorite Dark and Dusknoir deck has continued to see some Top 4’s at City Championships, many of them by Mia herself. It’s definitely a good time to be a Dark Pokemon.
This is a deck that would easily have been listed in the Winners column a couple weeks ago, but with its performance the past couple weeks, this is the place where it belongs. I still almost am tempted to list it as a winner, as the deck, to me at least, was a clear second rate deck that managed to masquerade as the BDIF for the first half of the series, but those days seem to be gone.
Donphan was a deck that was primed to do well early, as Dylan Bryan gave away the basis of the deck in an Underground article which was surely passed around to just about everyone in the community, and the change to include Robo Substitute from Phantom Forces was an obvious one. However, two new cards from Phantom Forces have come to hurt the deck and knock it on a downward spiral.
The first of these cards is VS Seeker, which has upped the number of Lysandre that a player can play in a game, which has counteracted the effectiveness of Robo Substitute. Any time the number of gust options is increased, hit and run decks will be negatively impacted. The other card which has negatively hurt Donphan is the return of Enhanced Hammer, which has made it very difficult for Donphan to be able to use Wreck in this format, forcing it to 2HKO to get it prizes, which creates an opportunity for the opponent to heal the damage off and prevent the 2HKO.
I think this is a deck that was always fated to a fall from grace, as it has a very straightforward strategy, and doesn’t have too many options in how it can adapt to deal with the current format behind trading some walls for different walls to impact some matchups. The space needed for a full Stage 1 line, Robo Substitutes, and Fighting Stadiums really sucks up the space for teching Donphan.
Whenever I play against Donphan, I feel like I am just playing a game of Solitaire, where my success in the matchup is based on how well I prepared my deck to face Donphan, as well as to my own ability to avoid misplays. I’ve built my decks conciously to beat Donphan, thinking out the matchup ahead of time for each deck I’ve played, and unspurprisingly I’ve only managed to pick up two losses to Donphan during City Championships, all of which were by the slimmest of margins with me just whiffing a card, in most instances for multiple turns, that would have given me the win. As more players begin to build decks to properly combat Donphan, as well as gain more understanding of the matchup, Donphan’s fall from grace was always inevitable.
Still, something that saw that much success for four weeks surely has some positive aspects going for it, so I wouldn’t be shocked if some creative players think up new ways to utilize Donphan for success in this format.
Winner: Manectric EX and M Manectric EX
This is a pair of cards that hasn’t been given their due credit for how well they’ve done throughout City Championships. The most successful Manectric EX variant, M Manectric EX/Yveltal EX, only has 5 first places and 18 top 4’s, placing it 7th and 8th in those categories, but something to note is that M Manectric EX is a card that spawns creativity as it can serve as a form of Energy acceleration for all Pokemon types while only needing one [L] to fulfill its attack cost.
The number of different Manectric EX/M Manectric EX decks is astounding. The cards have seen play with Yveltal EX, Fighting Pokemon, Fairies, Water Pokemon, Black Kyurem EX, Seismitoad EX, Genesect EX, and Zapdos NXD. If we take all of the Manectric categories and combine them together, they combine for 14 first places, which ties them for 3rd, and 63 top 4 finishes, which would put them in 3rd for those.
Perhaps equally important, Yveltal EX has been the most successful deck at City Championships thus far, and Manectric EX provides a strong type counter to the deck. It should be no shock that Manectric EX decks are poised to be major players in the last few weeks of City Championships in a Yveltal dominated world.
This deck started off City Championships better than expected, often being paired with Seismitoad EX, picking up some first places and a slew of top 4 finishes during the early week of City Championships, however the decks success has started to dwindle.
The reason for this isn’t hard to find out, there are just too many counters to the card in the format for it to be anything more than a good call in the right meta. Here is a list of current strategies that are making life difficult for Pyroar.
- Seismitoad EX is still seeing lots of play. When paired with Garbodor DRX, the Seismitoad EX player can just attack into Pyroar with Quaking Punch. Even without it, being able to loop Hypnotoxic Laser infinitely with Lysandre’s Trump Card allows Seismitoad decks to get through Pyroar with ease.
- Donphan has been one of the most played decks at City Championships, and Donphan is a Stage 1, so it hits into Pyroar and can send up Robo Substitutes for Pyroar not to take prizes against. While the Seimitoad EX pairing certainly helps the matchup, as well as the new inclusion of Pyroar PHF giving the deck an extra set of gust effects, Donphan decks still should have an advantage as an early Float Stone to a Sigilyph can give Seismitoad a lot of trouble, and when attacking with Pyroar they can send up Robo Substitutes which will eventually force Pyroar to miss turns of attacking. Additionally, Hawlucha FFI is a popular inclusion in Donphan decks, and it’s solid against Seismitoad EX.
- The emergence of M Manectric EX in the meta game provides a tough counter to Pyroar, as M Manectric EX easily OHKO’s Pyroar, and the Manectric EX cards are actually pretty solid against Toad as well.
In addition to these counters, Virizion EX/Genesect EX is no longer being played in large numbers, and Bronzong decks haven’t been very popular in a lot of areas, creating less meta games where Pyroar is effective simply as a type counter. This is an archetype I wouldn’t expect to make a comeback moving forward.
Winner: Fairy Pokemon
The release of Florges EX has allowed for a straight Fairies deck to be effective for the first time. The card gives consistency to Fairy decks with its Lead attack, which lets you search out a Supporter, and Bright Garden does a nifty 120 damage for just two Energy, which is very strong. This is a strong deck in its own right, and can do well in most meta games.
However, the Florges EX version of Fairies is just a bonus for the archetype, the most dominant Fairy deck is still the Toolbox version, which has gained some new toys from Phantom Forces with M Manectric EX, Malamar EX, and Aegislash EX for new tech Pokemon, and cards like AZ, VS Seeker, and Lysandres Trump Card add some strength to the deck.
It’s really hard to say why Aromatisse decks have taken this long to really catch on as something that more than just Poke-Parents play, but it has finally happened. Pooka sharing his very successful list from Fall Regional Championships might have been the thing to finally push Fairies into the mainstream.
The deck has seen the bulk of its success in the California meta game, but the deck is certainly more than just a specific meta game oddity, seeing success in decent numbers in other places as well. One thing that we should have learned by now is that the California meta game should not be ignored, three years ago the very intimidating Troll deck was birthed in that meta game during City Championships.
This is something that I’m not sure many people saw coming, but Virgen is certainly a deck that can now be labeled as in decline. Such falls from the top do happen, but I didn’t expect it to happen as a result of anything that came out in Phantom Forces, especially after how dominant the deck was at Fall Regional Championships.
It’s hard to quite point a finger on anything in specific that has caused the decline of Virgen, but I think it’s a combination of new cards hurting the deck, and players actively choosing to include old cards as techs for the sole purpose of beating the deck, something that for whatever reason, just wasn’t happening in the past.
At City Championships so far, I’ve seen Charizard EX being played in Yveltal EX/Garbodor DRX decks (this actually was happening during the Nationals/Worlds format), Victini EX and Victory Piece being played in Seismitoad EX and Big Basic decks, and Spiritomb LTR being played in almost all non-Garbodor Dark decks for the first time since it was released. It seems more so than ever, players are choosing to be pro-active in how they deal with the deck.
Additionally, Fighting is pretty strong against Virgen because of how much cheap damage it does with Fighting Stadium and Strong Energy. Night March also provides a horrendous matchup for Virgen, although that hasn’t seen a lot of play in most areas I’ve played at.
Additionally, I think Jamming Net and Head Ringer have negatively impacted the deck, as Head Ringer ups the cost of entry for getting an Emerald Slash off, and Jamming Net can turn Virizion EX into a 6HKO attacker, and Genesect EX into a 3HKO attacker. While these can be counteracted with Tool Retriever, pre-emptive Tool play, and Energy Switch, you won’t always hit those at the right time and falling behind just a turn or two could be a difference in a game.
I think Virgen’s decline is the result of a bunch of little things adding up into a big problem for the deck. All of these little things have combined to tighten up Virgen’s matchups, and make the margin of error needed to succeed with the deck much smaller than it was in the past. This means that now, only players who can get by with minimal misplaying will likely do well with Virgen in the current format.
But as I said in my article a few days ago, I still believe Virgen is a strong deck because of its inherent traits of having Energy Acceleration, lots of gust effects, status condition nullification, and access to a OHKO attack. I think the skill level needed to do well with the deck has been raised, which is a good thing, and perhaps the mindset players use when building the deck needs to be changed to make it more optimal against the current meta.
Winner: Mega Pokemon
While Mega Pokemon have seen some play in previous formats in the form of M Kangaskhan EX for the most part, and some crazy people with their crazy M Heracross EX decks, for the most part, M Pokemon EX have been a neglected part of the meta game.
However, with M Manectric EX, a Mega Pokemon is finally a dominating figure in the meta game. While M Manectric EX is strong in its own right because of how good of an attack Turbo Bolt is, I think one thing all M Manectric players know by now is how great Manectric Spirit Link has been in letting us actually play effective Mega decks.
The Spirit Link mechanic is just what Mega Pokemon needed to become relevant in the meta game. It’s consistent enough to work well most of the time, while still leaving a cost to Mega Evolving. I for one am happy for my turn to no longer end when I choose to mega evolve a Pokemon!
Loser: Mega Pokemon
Unfortunately, only M Manectric EX and M Gengar EX received Spirit Links. This leaves previous Mega Pokemon: Blastoise, Venusaur, Kangaskhan, Charizard, Heracross, and Lucario out of the fun. While M Kangaskhan EX has still seen some play during City Championships, the rest have been left to serve as binder fodder.
While some of these Pokemon would be unlikely to see play, some, such as Blastoise, Venusaur, and Heracross are all interesting enough that they might see legitimate play if the barrier to entry with them wasn’t so great.
Hopefully one day these long neglected Mega Pokemon will receive the support they deserve.
Winner: The Seismitoad Haters
Something that a lot of players worried about after the release of the Phantom Forces scans, showing the release of Head Ringer and Enhanced Hammers return to the format, was that Seismitoad EX would be too dominant of a force. Seismitoad has certainly done well during City Championships, being paired with Garbodor DRX, Slurpuff PHF, and Crobat PHF, chalking up the 4th most first place finishes and 4th most top 4 finishes. However, it’s success hasn’t been the dominant force in the meta game by any stretch of the imagination, although its detractors would like you to believe it to be so.
In truth, Seismitoad EX decks have accounted for just 7.8% of first place finishes and 7.4% of top 4 finishes, a far cry from the most dominant deck in the format. In comparison, Yveltal EX decks have accounted for 27% of first place finishes and 20.6% of top 4 finishes, while Donphan accounts for 25.5% of first place finishes and 19.5% of top 4 finishes. Seismitoad’s stats pale in comparison.
I personally do believe that the Seismitoad EX/Garbodor DRX variant is the BDIF in terms of strength. However, the results show otherwise, so how do I reconcile my personal testing results with the reality of the tournament results? I think the reason why Seismitoad decks haven’t had more success is because it takes a lot of skill to just put together a good list for the deck, and it also takes a lot of skill to successfully pilot the deck.
A lot of the decks detractors say that its a skill-less deck based on how well you flip a coin for a day. I think this is an inaccurate way to look at the deck, there are a lot of small decisions that can impact the outcome of a match that the less skilled players might not see when playing this deck. While a poor player may luck into success with lucky hammer flips and a string of good matchups, I think these types of days are a rarity, although I won’t deny in one particular match a Seismitoad player could get lucky, leaving a sour taste for their opponent to deal with later. The way I look at the deck, a bad player can do well with it when they’re hitting nearly all their hammer flips and hitting good matchups, while a good player can do well with the deck when they hit 1/4 of their hammer flips and play some of the more difficult matchups for the deck.
Overall, while there are a lot of things to dislike about Seismitoad EX, what it has done to the skill of the game isn’t one of those things. I think the fact that some players have found it unbearable to deal with Toad decks, while other players have been able to successfully navigate a Toad meta game seamlessly goes to show that Seismitoad EX is a card that is adding skill to the game.
Loser: Stage 2 Pokemon
They had already started looking lost in the Fall, but the Winter format has ruled them unfit to compete. The reason for their decline in relevance is clear, Pokemon released Seismitoad EX, a Basic Pokemon that Item locks for a Double Colorless Energy.
Most Stage 2 decks in the past few years have heavily relied on Rare Candy to get their Stage 2 Pokemon into play. This made a lot of sense, as the format had shifted to faster Basic Pokemon, and skipping a step in the evolution process was necessary to keep pace with the new EX Pokemon. However, with Seismitoad EX in format, there is a big block of decks that Stage 2 decks are unable to play their Rare Candy against because they are being Item locked from the first turn of the game. As Seismitoad EX attacks for a Colorless requirement with Quaking Punch, it can be fit in a lot of decks, even if it isn’t a key feature.
This is a shift we could have seen coming based on previous set releases. With the release of XY in particular, we saw Aromatisse and Trevenant gain powerful Abilities as Stage 1 Pokemon that had previously been reserved for Stage 2 Pokemon. Pokemon wanted a faster format, and in such a format, important Abilities needed to go onto the Stage 1’s so they could be playable, and Seismitoad EX was put in place to confirm the fast format.
There are of course exceptions to the rule. Crobat PHF has seen a lot of play, but it’s a card that gives incentive for evolving through the entire line. There are other cards, those that just provide added support to what are otherwise Big Basic decks. We have seen this with Dusknoir BCR with Fighting and Dark Pokemon, Delphox XY with Seismitoad EX, and Machamp FFI with Fighting Basics. These ones all share a common theme of just being Big Basic decks using the Stage 2 for added support.
For example, this past weekend I played Fighting with Dusknoir, and won a game against Aromatisse without ever having a Dusknoir in play, as none of my attacking was reliant on the Stage 2, it was just an added benefit that makes the Basics stronger, but isn’t necessary for putting damage on the board.
The days of Stage 2’s being a needed part of a strategy seem to be gone for now. I think what illustrates this best is Blastoise BCR/Black Kyurem EX not making a Top 4 at a single City Championship. This is a deck that can theoretically do 200 damage every turn from turn 2 on, but the deck has seen ZERO success. If that deck can’t show up even once, it’s safe to say that traditional Stage 2 decks are dead.
Winner: Crobat PHF
This is one of the pleasant surprises of the current format, and that is the success of Crobat PHF. What this card and it’s pre-evolutions do is provide extra damage beyond the attack. Golbat PHF allows you to place 20 damage on one of your opponent’s Pokemon when you evolve into it, and then Crobat PHF ups that to 30 when you evolve into it. Additionally, all Pokemon in the line have free retreat if you pick up the Zubat from Plasma Storm, and Crobat has a nifty attack that snipes 30 for a Colorless. The Colorless attack cost lets it be more than just a bench sitter for any deck that would choose to include it, which makes it much more valuable than it would be otherwise.
One interesting thing to note is how this compares to other previous damage modifiers. If you successfully evolve into three full Crobat lines in a game, that adds 150 damage onto the field. Comparatively, if you have two Greninja XY on a field, you can get to that damage number in just 2 1/2 turns worth of Water Shuriken. It’s amazing how bad Rare Candy has gotten to make a card, such as Crobat better than a card like Greninja.
The card first saw success with Seismitoad EX in California. I know my friend Zach has had a good string of top cuts with that version of the deck here in St. Louis. Additionally, my friend Alex came up with a crazy Landorus EX/Crobat PHF deck which is a lot of fun to play. Other variants I have seen include pairing the card with Wobuffet PHF and/or Mewtwo EX.
I think damage modifiers are always good, so it’s not too shocking to see Crobat doing well. It’s a really well designed card. Giving it an incentive to evolve through the entire line, the entire line having free retreat, and Crobat having a colorless attack have all combined to give Crobat some nice success in a format otherwise unfriendly to Stage 2 Pokemon.
Loser: Gengar EX
A common theme I have seen in my own testing, as well as hearing other people’s opinions is that they really like Gengar EX as a deck, there is just one glaring problem, it has an awful Yveltal EX matchup.
It’s such a shame, as Gengar EX seems like it could be a more versatile version of the Donphan deck, as Dimensional Valley allows it to support a myriad of backup attackers, and the M Evolution also adds another layer of depth to the deck.
Unfortunately, it sucks being an EX with a Dark weakness in this format, so it sucks to be Gengar EX. I really like the card, but haven’t found a way yet to deal with the Dark weakness without hurting my other matchups.
Winner: Organized Play
One thing that I started to notice at League Challenges this Fall, and which has carried on into City Championships has been a large increase in attendance for the Masters Division. As a result, the health of organized play appears to be very good moving forward.
I think a large part of increase in attendance is a result of the Virbank City Pokemon group on Facebook. In the group, competitive players would share tournament results and their lists that they did well with at tournaments. However, the group itself began to attract players who had no connection with organized play. The glitz and internet fame that came with the organized play program was shared with those who were not yet part, and after hearing about it from the competitive community they wanted to become a part of it and make a name for themselves in the competitive community.
While other factors could also play into the increase, from the new players I’ve talked to at tournaments, it seems like most of them heard about organized play because of Virbank City.
Loser: Master’s Division Prize Support
Unfortunately, with the increase in attendance for the Masters division, an increase in prize support hasn’t also come with it. The prizes remain the same as last year, although they did do a better job in the swag department, making some neat Gengar EX sleeves for City Championships compared to the generic organized play sleeves from last season.
I wonder if the reason Pokemon hasn’t increased prize support on their end is because they expect a sort of trickle down economics thing to take place, as TO’s are allowed to increase the prize support beyond that required by Pokemon. However, as we know about trickle down economics, a lot of people will just pocket the extra money, with only a portion re-investing that money to trickle down.
The argument isn’t that all extra revenue brought in by the increased attendance should go to increased prize support, just that some of the money should go back to the players. For example, when a tournament has 25 players greater than expected, if just $2 of the $10 entry goes back into prize support, that opens up $50 for additional prize support, while the TO still makes an additional $200 beyond what they were expecting.
There was a medium sized City Championship here in St. Louis where $50 was added to the prize support for 1st place, that was great. However, the biggest two City Championships I attended added nothing to the prize support, even though attendance was massive for such an event.
I think it would be most fair to the players if Pokemon Organized Play established guidelines for how prize support should be increased for events based on attendance. This isn’t just an issue at City Championships, but can also be an issue at State Championships and Regional Championships as well.
Winner: Player Skill
A trend I have seen in the City Championship results is that the same players are doing well over, and over again. While the same players aren’t necessarily winning every event as they may have in the past, there is a group of players that are consistently showing up in the Top 4 of tournament results.
When we start seeing more consistent tournament results from players, that’s a sign that skill is becoming a much more important part of the game than it had been in the past few formats.
Loser: My Tier List
Here is how the Tier List is decided. I have a spreadsheet that I track all of the City Championship results in. The workbook is up to something like 12 different pages. I have a very simple formula that gives me a number taking into account the number of 1st, 2nd, and Top 4’s a deck has, giving weight to the results based on recency, and number of decks reported in that week. I put approximately the top 18 decks that I can discern through the formula.
I then take that, and order it based on highest to lowest number. I take the Top 10, and put them in order for my Power Rankings.
I then look at those numbers, and look for groupings. If there is a large gap, that is a sign that decks should be in separate tiers. If the numbers are close, then I group the decks into the same tier.
That is what my Tier Rankings are. What they boil down to is an approximation of the format based on the tournament results. I can say definitively that my Tier Rankings based on my perception of the strength of each deck would be vastly different than the tier rankings that come from the tournament results.
Winner: Taylor Swift
It has been an amazing year for Taylor Swift, and perhaps just an amazing life as well. She has graced us with the beautiful album known as 1989, emerged as the biggest star in all of music, and appears to be a great person and amazing role model for all people.
Most importantly, in all of this other success, Taylor has found the time to win some City Championships in Pokemon as well. It shouldn’t be surprising that someone who has succeeded in seemingly everything else in life (sans romance) would succeed at our small little game.
I think a lot of her success is a result of her ability to just Shake It Off whenever she gets a bad hand, or loses a game because of bad luck. Being able to just shake off the bad beats lets her keep her cool and do well even when things don’t break her way.
I think we can all learn from her, and decide to just shake it off when we get bad draws or our opponents top deck the Professor Juniper after we N them to one. By just shaking these things off, we can avoid going on tilt, and avoid making mistakes born out of frustration. Additionally, we can all be served well to just shake it off when we encounter haters at tournaments and via Pokemon social media outlets, cause the players gonna play, play, play and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, no matter what we do.
So Happy New Year to all of the Charizard Lounge readership, and just remember, when in doubt, just Quake It Off!
The amazing monopoly guy with a Pikachu hat on is from FrostyTwat on DeviantArt! Check out their stuff, possibly NSFW.