Decidueye at the 2021 POG Champions
Hey everyone! It’s been a little over a month since my last article here, where I discussed Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX/Inteleon in depth. Since then, we’ve seen the release of a new expansion, Evolving Skies, and players are working to incorporate these new cards into their Standard format decks as well as prepare for the upcoming rotation to the Sun & Moon-on format.
Evolving Skies is actually a hugely impactful set in terms of the number of new decks it has brought into Standard. While the obvious “central” deck in the set is Rayquaza VMAX/Flaaffy, the set introduced a plethora of other VMAX Pokemon that can form powerful decks in their own right, as well as a number of support Pokemon that add a new dimension to previously existing decks or help form the backbone of new archetypes.
Although many players have already been extensively testing the post-rotation format, there is still one significant pre-rotation event to prepare for: the 2021 Pokemon Online Global Championships, aka the POG Championships. With the vast card pool offered by the TEU-EVS format, there are a huge number of decks to choose from if you are intending to play in POG. In this article I want to provide a list for a deck I think could be well-positioned in the format— Decidueye— and some broader insights into how to prepare for POG.
Before we get into all that, though, I wanted to offer a few thoughts about a topic in Pokemon TCG close to my mind: coaching and practicing methodologies.
Smart coaching and proper practice in Pokemon TCG
For-profit coaching is not something I can remember existing nearly at all in this game when I started playing in mid-2016, at least certainly not to the extent it is available today. At that time, the community was just barely dipping its toes into the “modern era” of Pokemon TCG, with sites like Limitless and my own PokeStats coming into existence at the end of that year, and current top content creators such as Azul Garcia Griego just beginning to start up their Twitch streams. The community was still fairly small and self-contained, and it was much more difficult for any new players to find resources on how to deckbuild, sequence, and gameplan at a competitive level.
That has all changed in the past two to three years due to trends such as Pokemon Go, the card collecting craze, the growth of PTCG content creators across YouTube and Twitch, and some effort by The Pokemon Company International to turn PTCG into more of an “esport.” I can remember top North American players such as Hunter Butler and Phinn Lynch beginning to offer coaching a few years ago, with names such as Azul and Pedro Eugenio Torres following suit not long after. With the game reaching a critical mass of new growth such that new and inexperienced players were demanding easier entry into the ranks of competitive play, I realized there was a niche for my own services on the coaching market, and began offering coaching in late 2019.
The majority of my coaching clients have been players who are either transitioning from another TCG such as Magic; people who have been interested in other Pokemon content (VGC, TCG collecting, Pokemon Go) but have never tried the TCG; and players who have played casually for some time but are new to the competitive side of things. While a coach of my caliber does not have the world-class results of someone like Azul or Pedro, the vast majority of my clients have said that my coaching has had a genuine effect on their understanding of the game and their improvement, even as early as the first session. Most of these players have a strong competitive drive and want to win, but simply lack the experience to recognize some of the mistakes they are making that are holding back improvement--this is why I often say that just a single session with a more experienced coach can work magic for a new player.
Yet even now as coaching has become normalized, a large number of newer or more casual members in forums such as Virbank City seem to scoff at the concept of coaching. A common refrain is that Pokemon is a simple game and all it takes to reach the top levels is practice, practice, practice. I do not deny that practice is incredibly important to success in any competitive endeavor--but practice needs to be done in the right way. If you are unaware of misplays you may be repeatedly making, practicing hundreds of games without being cognizant of these mistakes is just reinforcing bad habits--you are actively preventing the advancement of your own skill, and no doubt becoming frustrated at a perceived lack of improvement. (This is why I say that just a single coaching session can lead to a dramatic improvement for struggling players. For a simple example, many of my clients have never had the concept of “sequencing”--playing cards in a particular order to maximize certain probabilities--made clear to them. Once I explain this and demonstrate with some in-game examples, players are often amazed how much more fluid it feels to draw through their deck, and how many of their losses to “poor draws” could in fact have been mitigated.)
In recent years I have questioned the narrative that hours and hours of practice every day is the best way to succeed at competitive Pokemon TCG. It’s widely known that Tord Reklev, generally considered the best active player, spends hundreds of hours before each tournament testing the most infinitesimal of card changes and matchup intricacies, but few of us have work schedules or school schedules that allow for this kind of dedication. 2019 World Champion Henry Brand and his Australian compatriot Brent Tonisson (who, for those newer to the scene, is an incredibly talented in-game player) have told me that outside of direct preparation for tournaments, they actually play very little PTCG. What matters is not so much the overall time put in as the ability to make the best possible use of your time. In a group chat with Henry, Brent, and several other players, we agreed that “try-harding” almost every single game you play, even on ladder, is probably the best way to genuinely and quickly improve at PTCG. No distractions, no silly errors such as forgetting to check Prizes— think critically about every decision you make.
This circles back to a recent conversation I had with a coaching client of mine who’d said he wanted to practice “more intentionally.” I asked: “What do you mean by that? Just to play every game mindfully?” He replied, “Yeah, I’m not entirely sure why I said that [in that way],” but I understood him perfectly: many players expect that they will steadily improve, like a steady 1:1 linear crawl up the X-Y axis, just by logging a requisite number of ladder games each night while they warm up dinner. There’s nothing wrong with doing this--this is a game (as much as the community likes to forget it sometimes) and it’s supposed to be played for fun. But a frequent adage of mine is that I have the most fun when I’m winning, and to win you need to think critically about every decision you make when you practice. A fun night of meme decks for my stream? I’ll throw on some music and crack jokes with my chat. Serious testing of a new “secret deck” for a Regional with my teammates? No background music (some players enjoy this, but my brain gets distracted even by classical or “chill” music); no friends over; no YouTube videos in another tab. While I have enough experience to “autopilot” certain decisions like simple hand sequencing and deck thinning, any distractions I introduce to my testing time will inevitably cause me to mess up at least one of the trickier things. If I don’t actively seek to limit, recognize, and rebound from mistakes in my practice time, I’m not going to recognize and prevent them when I sit down at that Regional, and if I’m not performing to the best of my ability at those big events, I might as well not be there.
A pocket pick for POG: Decidueye/Inteleon
With that interlude on coaching and practicing out of the way, let’s move on to the POG decklists and preparation I promised.
I mentioned that TEU-EVS is a very diverse format because of the large card pool and the fact that a large percentage of the new VMAX Pokemon form viable decks, but at its core this is still a Weakness-based “triangle meta”: Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX (theoretically) beats Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX, which beats Eternatus VMAX, which itself (theoretically) beats Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX. Isaiah Bradner suggests Rayquaza VMAX/Flaaffy should be recognized as a fourth tier-one deck, since Pokemon Card Labs’ decision to remove Weakness from the new Dragon Pokemon positions it outside the rock-paper-scissors triangle, and the deck is fundamentally extremely strong.
Towards the end of the previous format, I recognized that the meta was in a particularly strong place for Decidueye to make a strong showing. This led to a 10th-place finish at the 394-player Chill Series #43 with a Decidueye/Inteleon list I borrowed from Luke Morsa— our metagame prediction proved to be correct, and I found a huge amount of “free” matchups throughout the tournament. There was one glaring problem: Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX. In the tournament, I went 10-0-0 against all other decks and 0-3-1 against Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX, ultimately causing me to fall just short of Top 8.
Luke and I had expected Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX to be popular and thought including a copy of Mew would be enough to squeak out the matchup. This proved to be wrong: Mew only delays the loss, since it can easily be taken out by a few Quick Shooting pings from Inteleon CRE, and it does not buy you enough time to overpower your opponent’s board of Inteleon. Crucially, your attackers require two Energy attachments to attack, while Inteleon on your opponent’s side can attack for just one attachment thanks to Rapid Strike Energy. Between the slower time to build up attack costs, the sniping from Inteleon, and the constant threat of G-Max Rapid Flow, you are in a very disadvantaged position as the Decidueye player.
Decidueye, like many “stall” or “wall” archetypes or control decks before it, is only good when the rest of the meta is unprepared for it, and after that strong performance in Chill it was time to shelve the deck again. However, preparing for POG has got me thinking about the leafy owl once again. Going back to that concept of the “rock-paper-scissors” meta plus Rayquaza VMAX rounding out the top tier of decks, Decidueye would appear to be extremely strong into this field if A) it could somehow beat Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX or B) Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX was expected to be less popular than the other top decks.
Two of the decks I’ve seen considerable hype for going into POG are Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX and LucMetal/Zacian V. Both of these matchups are rough for Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX, so if these decks see continued hype, it’s possible Urshifu might take a decreased slice of the POG meta. Shadow Rider is a strong matchup for Decidueye, and LucMetal can generally be beaten by teching a Tool Jammer or perhaps Phione, so this theoretical metagame development would favor Decidueye— especially if a perceived decrease in Urshifu causes Eternatus VMAX to rise in popularity.
It is difficult to predict the meta for these large events in a brand-new format, especially when there are so many viable new decks outside of tier one— Sylveon VMAX, Leafeon VMAX, Umbreon VMAX, Suicune V, Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX, and others all have the possibility to go toe-to-toe with the rest. However, most readings of the meta as I currently perceive it have Decidueye positioned as a strong play for POG.
Back to the other side of solving the Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX problem: do any new cards from Evolving Skies give Decidueye a better chance of beating this unfavorable matchup? Two that I’ve been messing around with in my current list are Raihan and Rescue Carrier.
A much-hyped new Supporter, Raihan has mostly been seen as a way to enable combos with Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX by enabling G-Max Rapid Flow in successive turns or making it easier to use Medicham V’s Yoga Loop attack. However, I think it has potential in Decidueye because of the issue I mentioned about attack costs. Against Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX, you are disadvantaged because Rapid Strike Energy allows your opponent to set up attacks faster. Raihan would offset this once a game by allowing you to build up a Decidueye or Inteleon to attack in one turn— sometimes this could be just enough to give you the upper hand in the Prize trade. Although it is a one-of, Raihan is easily searchable via Drizzile or Inteleon SSH, and its bonus effect of searching for any card lets you find that second Energy if you didn’t already have it in hand.
Previously, Decidueye lists played Ordinary Rod to recover Pokemon in case they had a rough start and the opponent was able to run through much of their setup before a Decidueye hit the field. I am not completely sure Rescue Carrier is strictly the better card, since Ordinary Rod can recover your Evolution pieces plus basic Energy (often needed in single-Prize matchups), but it does offer a more expeditious solution against Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX. If Mew is Knocked Out, you can immediately bring Mew back to your hand to Bench it again, along with another Basic Pokemon as a plus. Or, if your opponent is able to pull off a G-Max Rapid Flow before you even got Mew into play, Rescue Carrier offers a more efficient response to replenishing your board.
I do not think these two cards are a panacea to completely solving the Urshifu matchup, but they do help some, and if you can even beat one Urshifu during your POG run, that may be enough to sneak into Day 2, Top Cut, or whatever your goal is. I would not recommend completely giving up on the Urshifu matchup and cutting Mew altogether. Mew is still a valuable card against Caturday, Rayquaza VMAX lists that play Scroll of the Flying Dragon, and Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX decks that play Inteleon SSH.
Here is my current draft for a Decidueye/Inteleon list for the 2021 POG Championships:
Decidueye is generally pretty self-explanatory to pilot but there are some card choices here or specific matchups which may need illumination— if you’re interested in how I reached some decisions on card counts or how I pilot certain matchups, feel free to reach out on Twitter @twhitesell42. Since I mentioned LucMetal might be a strong play for Day 1 of POG, I’m currently looking for a potential cut to add a Tool Jammer to win that matchup.
That’s all I’ve got for this article, but again, my DMs are always open, as are those of my teammates @UNDNTD. I’m hoping to put together a solid performance in the POG Championships before diving into the post-rotation format, but no matter which road you’re taking, I wish you good luck and success in your testing and tournaments. See you back here soon!
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