TAKING YOUR DECK TO THE GYM – STRENGTHENING YOUR LIST TO PREP FOR A MAJOR TOURNEY

– BY ELIJAH DOURESSEAU

You have decided you’re going to regionals. Or that 1K you were tempted to play in is two weeks away, and you’ve decided – against your better judgement – that you want to compete. AND GO FOR THE GOLD!

But how do you prepare for a high-stakes tournament? How do you get your deck ready? You do have a Trainer buddy, or two, to bounce ideas off of and play test with. You feel good about most of your list. But there’s still some uncertainty as to how ready you are to play in matches all day, and remain careful and tactful enough to end up in top cut, where the prizing is.


I’ve played competitively as a casual player for five years now. I’m not trying to end up at Worlds, but I take the game seriously. And the occasional entry, into something a bit more high profile than a weekly league tourney, keeps me in good playing shape for the most competitive events.

The more aggressive side of organized play for any TCG can be a grueling circuit. Because practice for anything you feel is worth it, will likely become difficult. You’re trying to better yourself as a player and there will be many things to go against and learn from. Competition breeds excellence, and excellence breeds competition. With some innovation.

The biggest elements I’d like to explore for this post, in the realm of getting big-tournament ready, is your practicing opportunities and knowing your list – inside and out.

Let’s actually go backwards, because in my playing philosophy, even if I believe in playing rogue more than the established meta, a player of either deck must know the list they’re playing with.

Of course, I’m not speaking in the literal sense. You should know the deck you’re using, and at least have a proficient grasp of the strategy within those 60 cards. But what I’m encouraging here is to know the versatility of your deck, in accordance with the sequencing you use to play cards, and to be able to use your cards in a variety of scenarios to win the game. This, to me, is key. More than having the most impactful cards, more than having the staples just right: you have to know your deck, down to the number of every kind of card available during a match. This is what wins battles consistently over time.

Masterful piloting trumps good cards. A refined combination of the two gets you in the winners’ circle. Largely, this centers on a practical situation of play, of knowing what you’re dealing with at all times within your deck. ‘Piloting’ is actually an effective word here, because more experienced players are constantly thinking through several systems of operations during a match. They are playing for the current turn, and for three turns ahead.

For any of my sports folks, think of it as a coach reminding their players, for all time, to always be moving their feet, as opposed to standing in one spot for more than a few seconds. The movement keeps the athlete active and more physically able to respond to a lot of situations, to continue to disrupt or out maneuver the defense/offense.

As a metaphor, piloting almost feels like a player is up in the air, working through highly sophisticated systems equipment to keep the plane defying gravity and eventually landing the plane at a destination.

Translated to the TCG, Trainers who stay ahead are players who know the counts of the cards in their deck at all times; how many are present in the deck, how many are prized, what’s in both discard piles. This all turns into crucial information the closer a match gets to its conclusion, because as many of you know, the game-ending move can be dictated by that Last Boss’s Orders that was just picked up as a prize, or by that last energy card that was hiding in the deck for the game-winning punch.

Misplaying is the occurrence by which a player makes the wrong move, or plays the wrong card, intending to get ahead. In a lot of cases, playing scenarios have a few solutions – some more effective than others. On the subject of misplaying, most observers can see what the objective is to adequately stay on defense, or pivot to offense, but the methodology gets a little faulty.

Misplaying happens. To every player. No matter how professional. We’re human, so we’ll make mistakes. But the number one thing keeping misplaying to a minimum is knowing the quantity of the cards available to you, and knowing at least the important cards that are prized. Misplaying primarily occurs when most players make a move with the expectation of getting or using a card that isn’t actually available to them. Either it’s in the discard, and there’s no way to recover it, or it was prized and you just didn’t realize it.

Misplaying is also an element of a bigger component to the game: sequencing. Sequencing is the word we use for the order by which you play your cards every turn. Many Trainers will say this varies because you never know what hand you’ll have. But experienced players know too well that sequencing is a lot less circumstantial than it’s made out to be.

If you know your deck, you know what you’re constantly trying to do with the list’s overall strategy. You know what to set up, and how to setup your power engine, even if you’re missing some cards. Sequencing is merely the vehicle you use to impose your deck’s will. Between drawing for the turn, and ending the turn with an attack, seasoned players know the order by which they will play every card or use an ability. Because if there is a stronger grasp of the order of playing operations, you may protect yourself from frequent misplaying – since each turn, the active scenario on the board is being run through your sequencing checklist.

This is why you’ll see some players who are able to play at 80 miles per hour. They know their deck and they have been able to manifest their thinking in their playing speed.

Many decent players can get away with playing cards however they like each turn. Though the risk does increase, of playing a card you didn’t mean to play – because your lack of discipline compelled you to react to a new card, or a new win condition your opponent just resorted to.

But the number one thing? To rising your deck through the ranks and getting it to top cut at a special event? Practice.

This presupposes that you believe in a list, you believe it has potential to do great things, and its winning percentage is off to a mostly good start. This is where an objective mind towards the meta is important. If you’re serious and competitive, you have to know the various decks your opponents are playing, are likely to play and how your deck stacks up against them.

Once you’ve chosen your deck, and perhaps an alternate, then you have to stick with it, and get your playing time in.

Many champs in interviews will say the road to winning was long. They made a deck, after researching various lists, and kept playing with it. On good days and bad days. Some adjustments to cards in the list are expected. But the core of the deck likely went through rigorous testing and smaller events, to not only improve the deck’s efficiency, but to also know how to respond to a variety of scenarios that you’ll likely see again – if you’re playing meta decks on a regular basis.

This all amounts to quality time with your deck. People win events because they have spent time with their lists, and have minimized the element of surprise with what can happen in a majority of matches. Just because a deck didn’t do quite well at a local tourney, make it work, if you believe in it. Keep playing with it and making adjustments for a perpetually shifting meta.

I believe this to be an ideal week for testing a deck you want to make better…I actually tend to stick to this schedule with my playing as well: I choose one of my tournament-ready decks I want to improve upon, or one that I have my eye on to compete in a high-stakes tourney soon. And I play with that deck for the entire week.

I live in Southern California. Trainers here have plenty of options for playing at a local tourney. Heck, there’s a store event for just about every day of the week here. We live a privileged TCG life on the West Coast. But not to be taken lightly, this gives us great opportunities to put a deck through essential trials of combat, and make it something that stands a chance for a Cup down the line.

So in the ideal week, you have two to three events you can participate in. You are expected to make some adjustments to your list, between tourney 1 and tourney 2. But try to keep most of the same list for at least two consecutive events, to get good reps in. I was able to use my Stonjourner VMAX deck in three tournaments within one week. It’s a list I’ve used frequently, but have since tweaked some, to deal with various Pokémon having immunity to VMAX types.

I was able to place in top cut for two of the three events, winning one, and I contribute a large part of my success to my election of playing and practicing with the one deck I want to make better.

Again, nothing is ever promised in a game that – statistically – is largely based on chance. But combating probability is your knowledge of and extended experience with the deck and its list. If you are comfortable, your playing and your restraint to play the longer game will also improve – and so should the prizing.

Win or lose, may the shenanigans be ever in your favor.

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