A Practical Guide to Intentional Draws at Pokemon City Championships

Timmy Toad is on his way to becoming a champion through the power of intentional draws.

Timmy Toad is on his way to becoming a champion through the power of intentional draws.

Let’s start with a story that may seem all too familiar to anyone that has attended a Pokemon City Championship in the past two seasons.  Little Timmy Toad goes to his first Pokemon tournament playing his trusted Seismitoad EX/Garbodor DRX deck, and starts off the tournament winning his first four games. Pairings go up for round 5, and Timmy Toad is paired against Taylor Toad (unrelated), a grizzled veteran of Play Pokemon, who is also 4-0.

When they sit down together at the tournament to face off, Taylor Toad casually sits down and asks Timmy Toad if he would like to ID. Confused as to what Taylor Toad is asking him, Timmy Toad asks Taylor Toad what an ID is. Taylor Toad explains that an ID is an intentional draw. Timmy Toad is unsure why he would ever want to intentionally draw one of his matches, and doesn’t know what’s going on, is this something that is mutually beneficial to both of them, or is she trying to screw him over?

Intentional draws have been confusing for most players, with a lot of players, especially newer players, not understanding how intentional draws can both help and hurt you in the later Swiss rounds of a tournament. After reading this article, you should be better prepared on how to utilize intentional draws for City Championship success.

What are Intentional Draws?

kirby_quickdrawAt the beginning of the 2013-2014 Pokemon season, Pokemon re-introduced ties into their tournament structures. Previously, a winner was decided for every match by using prize count to determine the winner. Starting with the 2013-14 season, Pokemon decided that wins should not be awarded for incomplete games, a decision I support, as in a format with EX’s and N, prize count isn’t a reliable gauge of who is actually winning a match.

As Pokemon has no way to prevent two players from purposefully manipulating a match into a tie, as well as there being a precedent with scoops for deciding match outcomes without playing, Pokemon has allowed players to decide to intentionally draw without playing the match out.

Playing to Win the Tournament

playing_to_winIf you are a competitive player, then your goals at most tournaments will be to win the tournament. In some instances, your goal might just be to top cut to get Championship Points to finish off an invite, but decisions of playing to win the tournament versus having a higher probability of top cut are only concerned with deck choice and construction.

For most City Championships, winning the entire tournament should be the goal for most competitive players. One attitude that a player can take is that if they just worry about winning all of their games, then the winning the tournament part of the equation will take care of itself. While this is a good and noble attitude to have, it’s important to note that going into a tournament with such a strategy is not the strategy that will give you the highest probability of winning the tournament.

The reason that using intentional draws in later rounds gives you a higher probability of winning tournament is that it adds certainty to making Top 8.

Below is a quick mathematical explanation of why using intentional draws in these later rounds gives players a greater probability of winning a tournament than choosing to try to win their games.


seismitoad_animeLets take our example of Timmy Toad versus Taylor Toad. At 4-0, with two rounds remaining in their tournament, just one more match point, which could be gotten with a tie, would put both of them into top cut. By choosing to intentionally draw, both Timmy Toad and Taylor Toad reach 13 match points and are guaranteed to make Top 8.

However, here is how things shake out if they try to play out their match. Taylor Toad, the more experienced player, is the favorite to win the match. In the match, Taylor Toad has a 70% probability of winning , while Timmy Toad has a 25% probability of winning, and they have a 5% probability of ending in a natural draw. Whoever wins this matchup goes onto make Top 8, while the other would have to win or tie their last round in order to make Top 8.

Just based on this one matchup, we can see that both players have 100% probabilities of making Top 8 if they intentionally draw this match, while if they play it out Taylor Toad has a 75% probability and Timmy Toad has a 30% probability of being guaranteed Top 8 after the conclusion of round 5.

Now there is also a sixth round after this which would also play into the probability. Let’s say Taylor Toad would once again have a 75% probability of winning/drawing her match, while Timmy Toad would have a 50% probability of winning/drawing his match. Taking this into account, if both players chose to play out their last two rounds, Taylor Toad would have a 93.75% probability of making Top 8, while Timmy Toad would have a 65% probability.

In both cases, both players lessen their probability of making it into the Top 8 by choosing to play out there games. As intentional draws guarantee them into the Top 8, it’s the correct decision for the player whose goal is to win the tournament to choose to intentional draw, as you can’t win a tournament if you don’t make the Top 8.

When to Intentional Draw

now-is-not-the-time-to-use-that_o_1479673At City Championships, most tournaments are generally five, six, or seven rounds. The same general guidelines for when to use intentional draws apply for all three of these round numbers. For purposes of this article, I just want to look at tournaments with enough players for a Top 8 cut, as down pairing will be rampant at tournaments with only enough players for a Top 4, often resulting in players needing to play their game as they get down paired against a player who is not in a position to ID.

If you go X-0-2 at these tournaments, you should never miss cut. I have never seen a tournament where an X-0-2 has missed cut. This means that records of 3-0-2, 4-0-2, and 5-0-2 at these tournaments will get you into cut. That means at any of these tournaments, if you start the tournament by winning 3, 4, or 5 matches, you can intentionally draw your last two rounds and make it into the Top 8. If you pick up a natural tie somewhere along the way, you would be able to intentionally draw your last round and make cut if you win the rest of your matches.

The next number, that is generally safe to intentionally draw into cut is X-1-1, so records of 3-1-1, 4-1-1, and 5-1-1 should get you into cut. In all of these scenarios, you would only be intentionally drawing your last match of the tournament. This is the intentional draw scenario for players who go into the last round at X-1.

While X-0-2 records are always safe for making Top 8, going X-1-1 will sometimes leave you on the bubble. Therefore, if you have a loss going into the last round, you aren’t necessarily guaranteed to make it into the Top 8 with an intentional draw. When you have one loss in a tournament, it’s important to take note of how many players are still capable of reaching X-1-1 or better. If the number is not greater than 8, you’re safe to intentionally draw.

However, if this number if greater than 8, then you are at risk of missing the cut if you intentionally draw your last round. If you’re certain you have good resistance, then you can probably intentionally draw into Top 8. If your resistance is questionable, then you should play out your last round to try to guarantee yourself a place in cut with a win.

Variables That Impact X-1-1 Bubbles

13516257901962882762Fraction with Variables.svg.medThere are three main variables that come into play in deciding in if there will be X-1-1 players who bubble out of the cut or not, and these are event size, the outcomes of a special set of individual matches, and natural ties.

The size of the event will impact the numbers of X-1-1 players who bubble. The way Pokemon tournaments work, is that when the tournament hits a certain number of players, an extra round is added to the Swiss portion of the tournament. If you have just barely gone over one of these cutoffs, then no X-1-1’s should bubble, but if you are closing in on the next cutoff, but don’t quite hit it, then X-1-1’s are likely to bubble.

For tournaments that have Top 8’s, here are the cutoffs for extra rounds.

5 rounds – 21 players
6 rounds – 33 players
7 rounds – 65 players
8 rounds – 129 players

As you can see, the cutoff for 8 rounds is 129 players, which is why we focus primarily on the 5-7 round range for tournaments in this discussion as almost all City Championships won’t have 129+ players.

So a tournament with 33 players, just enough to get a 6 round tournament, is unlikely to have any X-1-1 players bubble. However, a 62 player tournament, just below the cutoff for 7 rounds, will probably have X-1-1 bubbles.

The next thing that will impact how many players bubble is the outcomes of games where a player was down paired, that is paired against someone with a lesser record than themselves. If players who are down paired lose their games, then the number of bubbles will go down, if they win, the number of bubbles goes up. When we are tying to make Top 8, our goal is to have one of the Top 8 records, so we want other players to lose and be mathematically unable to have better records than ourselves.

For example, in a lot of City Championships, there are three 4-0’s after the fourth round of a six round tournament. If a 4-0 gets down paired against a 3-1, they will be unable to intentionally draw as the 3-1 still needs one more win to get into cut, so they still want to play out the match. Additionally a 3-1 is down paired against a 2-2 player. In this scenario, after the round anywhere from 0 to 2 players can be eliminated from contention of a 4-1-1 record from this round.

If the 4-0 beats the 3-1, and the 2-2 beats the 3-1, then we end up with players of records of 5-0, 3-2, 3-2, and 3-2 after the round. Only one of those players can get to a record of a 4-1-1 or better in Swiss. However, if the 3-1 beats the 4-0, and the 3-1 beats the 2-2, then we have players with records of 4-1, 4-1, 4-1, and 2-3. That creates more players that can be 4-1-1, which would increase the likelihood of a player bubbling at that record.

These down pairing scenarios can run across multiple rounds, so the number of X-1-1’s possible can sway quite a bit just based on the outcome of these matches. This is why it’s important to figure out the number of people who could possibly get to X-1-1 or better headed into the final round as the number of players that can hit this record can vary quite a bit based on the outcome of individual matches.

Lastly, natural draws also impact the number of X-1-1 players who would bubble. As far as I can tell, they decrease the number of players that can bubble. The reason for this, is if there is a winner from a match, then 3 match points are generated from that match. When a draw occurs, only 2 match points are generated from that match, decreasing the total number of match points awarded in the tournament.

How Does This Play Out In the Real World?

So the next thing to do is to look at real life tournament results, and see how Top 8’s are playing out at these tournaments. For this example, I will be using the first 30 tournament standing images I can find on Virbank City as my sample. From here, we can look at real life data on how many players at X-1-1 bubble tournaments.

Here is what the data looks like from my 30 tournament sample, first looking at the number of tournaments with X-1-1 bubbles.

# X-1-1 Bubbles Tournaments Percent
0 23 76.67%
1 6 20.00%
2 1 3.33%

We can see that in 76.7% of tournaments, no X-1-1’s miss the cuts. In 23.3% of tournaments, X-1-1’s bubble. Outside of one outlier tournament, in the case of X-1-1’s bubbling, usually it is only one unfortunate soul that has to suffer that fate.

Additionally, when no X-1-1’s bubble, some X-2’s can also sometimes make it into the cut. Here are the number of X-2’s that made cut in the sample.

# X-2’s In Tournaments Percent
0 13 43.33%
1 10 33.33%
2 6 20.00%
3 0 0.00%
4 1 3.33%

In 56.7% of the tournaments, at least one lucky person managed to make it into the cut with an X-2 or equivalent record.

Next, I want to look at individual tournaments that produced some of the less common results to see how they got to so many X-2’s making cut, or what happened to get X-1-1’s to bubble.

While I can’t access exact attendance numbers for the Utah City Championship that had four 3-2’s make it into Top 8, based on the picture of the entire standings there were 21 players. If no one drops, then that is probably the number of players that there was, and based on their tournament the next day having 22 players, it’s reasonable to assume that it is probably the accurate number. Here we see a tournament that just reached the cutoff for a Top 8 having lots of X-2’s get into the Top 8.

Attendance data hasn’t been uploaded for most of these, but of the tournaments in which two X-2’s made it into the Top 8 that there was data for, there were attendances of 24 for the five round tournament and of  35 and 33 for the six round tournaments. The five round tournament is just 3 players over the cutoff for a Top 8, and the six round tournaments are 0 and 2 players above the cutoff for six rounds.

The Mays Landing, NJ City Championship that had two players bubble at X-1-1 had 54 players. This is 22 players above the cutoff for a six round tournament.

The tournaments in which just one X-1-1 bubbled, they had attendances of 29 players for the five round tournament, and 57, 59, 57, 58, and 55 for the six round tournaments. Those six round tournaments were all pretty close in attendance, and had an average attendance of ~57 players, which is 25 players above the cutoff for a six round tournament, and just 8 below the cutoff for a seven round tournament.

These examples support the assertion made earlier that the closer you are to the most recent cutoff, the less X-1-1’s there are that bubble, and the closer you are to the next cutoff, the more X-1-1’s that bubble.

Playing From a Position of Power

With intentional draws, you can sometimes find yourself in a power position, where you are guaranteed a place in the Top 8 headed into the last round, but your opponent is not. When you find yourself in such a situation, you can actually manipulate the Top 8.

For example, if in the last round, you are down paired into a bad matchup, you could potentially knock your bad matchup out of the Top 8 if you were to choose to play the game out and pick off a lucky win.

florges-ex-phantom-forces-phf-67-312x441Sometimes, it can make sense to lose for better positioning in Top 8. For example, at the City Championship I played Florges EX at, either one or two X-2 players would make it into the top cut depending on how one of the down pair matchups played out. Having started 4-0, I did an intentional draw in round 5. I then again took an intentional draw in the last round as well. However, this intentional draw was a misplay, and I should have scooped my last round.

By taking the intentional draw, I guaranteed myself a top 2 seed. If I scooped, I would have been somewhere in the 3-7th seed range (would have been 3rd on resistance). Why this is important, was because the X-2 players that appeared to have the highest resistance were players playing Pyroar (a bad matchup as I didn’t tech for it) and Bronzong (an autoloss). Both of those players won their last round, and finished the tournament at 4-2. I finished the tournament as the #1 seed, and as a result got paired against Pyroar, which I was lucky enough to beat. However, if the X-1 that got down paired had lost, the Bronzong player would have been the 8th seed instead of missing at 9th, and I would have had a quick exit from Top 8.

I could have avoided having a terrible matchup in my Top 8 match if I had been more cognizant of what the position of certain players were in the tournament. If I had taken the time to look at the standings and see that one or two X-2’s could make it into the top cut, I would have scooped my last round, knowing that the Pyroar and Bronzong players were the most likely players to occupy that last spot in cut.

This isn’t something to worry about too much, but it’s important to know that just because you take the first intentional draw, doesn’t mean you have to take another if the first one guaranteed you into Top 8. Sometimes winning the last round, or purposefully losing can increase your probability of winning the tournament.

Early Intentional Draws

Sometimes players will offer you an intentional draw before the round where it’s safe to do so. If you take the intentional draw here, you can still make cut, you just have to win your next game, or your next two for example. I’m not really sure why these early intentional draw offers happen outside of players not understanding when you can start to intentional draw safely in a tournament, but they do happen.

My general rule is to decline these offers most of the time. I’ve declined every such offer that I have received. However, I say most of the time, because if I get paired against a terrible matchup, and they make the offer, then I’m going to take it, as a tie is better than a loss. However, outside of terrible matchups, I’d never accept such an offer, and I don’t offer intentional draws until I reach a safe point for doing so.

A Caution on Intentional Draws

One last thing to note, is that coercion is against the rules. If you are caught coercing a player into intentionally drawing with you, then you could be penalized with a disqualification from the tournament. You are allowed to ask your opponent to intentionally draw once, and that’s it. Even saying things like, “We both make cut if we ID” can be considered coercion.

If your opponent denies your request for an intentional draw, respect their decision, and just play the game. If you’re good enough to make cut, then you should be able to do it by winning matches and not always relying on intentional draws. The reason we intentional draw is because it’s the intelligent thing to do, as it increases our probability of making Top 8’s and winning tournaments, not because we need them to do well.


Regardless of your opinion on intentional draws impact on the game, they are allowed by the rules, and if used properly, they can be used to increase the likelihood that you make it into cut and then have a chance to win the tournament. Hopefully this article has helped to demystify intentional draws for newer players and those that haven’t fully grasped the concept yet.

In addition to help you win tournaments, intentional draws also have other benefits, most notably giving you some breaks from the action which can give you extra time to rest or get some food before cut.

Update: As pointed out by a reader, in the win/draw scenario, Taylor Toad and Timmy Toad would have a shared probability of tying. Example has been updated to take this into account.

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