What's the Play? How to Pick Your Next Tournament Deck

Andrew Martin
January 29, 2021


Hello Flipside readers! Andrew here with a new article and this time we are going to answer one of the most common questions in trading card games, what’s the play? Sometimes it’s tricky to figure out what deck to play for a tournament, especially when you don't know where to start. Today I am going to cover the process I go through to pick out decks and how I was able to use this to win a regional championship. Use these steps as you will, I find it to be helpful but it might not work for everyone. With all that said, let’s start by asking ourselves a few questions to figure out what deck we should play for the next tournament.

What are my goals for the tournament? (AKA why did I sign up?)

Before you start thinking about what deck to play, it is best to figure out what you hope to achieve from the tournament you are about to play in. You probably already know this since it will be the reason you signed up for the tournament in the first place. Are you trying to win the tournament and play whatever the best deck will be? Is your goal to improve on your skills and pilot a deck that is challenging? Are you just trying to have fun at the event and are not worried about placement? These are just some examples, but there are infinitely more examples one could list. It all boils down to what experience you are looking for.

For all intent and purposes of this article, we are going to assume that the goal of most players who are reading want to perform well in the tournament. After you have figured out what you hope to achieve from the event, it's time to size up the tournament you're playing in. By this I mean to actually look at the tournament structure. What format is the tournament in? How many rounds will there be? Will games be best of 1 or best of 3? Etc. The first mistake players make is ignoring the details of the event they are about to play in. A high-roll deck, that being one that is less consistent than most decks but has a high payoff, will be better off in a best of 1 tournament because of the high variance in only needing to win one game as opposed to winning 2 games for each round. Tournament structure will influence the decks people play so understanding how decks perform under different circumstances will make your deck selection much easier and better.

So now we know the details about the event we are playing in and what our goal is, what's the play? We're getting there. Now we can start what I call "putting decks on the table". Essentially we are going to assemble a pool of deck options based on the two factors that we previously discussed, and then eliminate options until we have one left. You might be left with multiple decks by the end of this process and if that happens then I advise picking the one you are most comfortable with, or going through the steps outlined in this article more critically using the remaining decks. I'm getting ahead of myself though, so let me first explain how we get this initial pool of decks.

Let's establish some parameters first. Thinking about our goal, how serious are we taking this tournament? (Aka how important is winning?) It's okay to play in a tournament just for the fun, just as it's okay to want to win the event, but this will decide the floor of decks we have to pick from. When the goal is to play for fun, then all decks are on the table, per se. Conversely, if we are only concerned with winning the tournament then only a handful of decks will be possible options. In actuality we are deciding our threshold for variance.

The best illustration of this is to think about your deck options on a dartboard. The bullseye should represent the most proven and dominant decks in the format, either one or two decks should be in this category. For the sake of example we could put ADPZ and PikaRom in this category. Outside of the bullseye should be decks that are just outside of this BDIF (best deck in format) range, think Eternatus, Centiskorch VMAX, or LucMetal Zacian. Following this trend, the next portion of the dartboard would have decks like DeciGoons, Colossal VMAX or Mad Party that can do well, but are riskier picks. You probably get the idea by now. The decks that make up these sections are somewhat subjective but if it helps you can just use tier lists.

Once we have figured out how much variance we are willing to accept, we can add all the decks to our pool of options that fit and are available to us. We at least know our options and can begin the process of dialing in on which deck will be "the play" for the tournament. 

What decks am I the most confident with?

Looking at what decks are on the table, there will hopefully be some that you have experience with or have a good understanding of how the deck functions. If not then you've either got work to do or are going to need to broaden your range until you find something that you will feel confident in playing. Ideally we want to be very skilled in whatever deck we play to minimize misplays, but even understanding the core principles of an archetype can be enough. This will depend on the type of player you are and what experience you have had in the game. You might notice that some of the best players in the game can change decks between every tournament without impeding their ability to play optimally. A lot of this comes from having already played the game at a high level for many years and spending time sharpening their skills at certain archetypes. Getting to this point can take time and for most players, myself included, it is better to put yourself in a position where you are going to be confident and in control as opposed to relying on the “BDIF” to carry you through each round.

At this point I would look at the decks on the table and begin to take away the ones that you feel are outside of your wheelhouse. If you are unsure which ones to remove, I would start with identifying which decks you are the most confident with and then use that level of confidence as a benchmark for the others. The goal isn’t to necessarily weed out as many decks as possible, but to narrow down your range to decks that you will perform solidly throughout the tournament. I would expect maybe 2 -3 decks remain at this point, but that can vary since there is no right or wrong amount. From here we should have a pool of decks that are aligned with our goal and we feel comfortable playing. Now to choose the right deck for the tournament. 

What does the meta look like?

This last question is probably where most people start when figuring out what deck to play. This is where we start to see problems because chances are you might just pick a deck that looks good on paper but might be not the right fit for you. You could also land on a deck that is perhaps too high-roll that it ends up not complimenting your main goals for entering the tournament. However, after going through the previous steps, you should be able to pick a deck from the one that remains in your pool that will be appropriate for the tournament. But how do we figure out which one will work for whatever meta we are playing in?

At this point we should identify 2-3 decks that we believe are going to be popular at the tournament. You can figure this out pretty easily by just looking at previous tournament results and ideally you want to identify any decks that could be popular. You should have a rough idea which decks are going to be viable as we went through this process. In the beginning we talked about the dart board. Once you’ve identified what decks are on your radar, you should then look to ask yourself if you feel the meta is going to shift. This is not an exact science, but some pointers I would give is to look at how big the tournament is and how much time players have had to adjust between tournaments. If DeciGoons dominated this tournament previously, it’s reasonable to expect others to be more aware of that deck next time and potentially have counters teched in. Similarly, if PikaRom decks have been doing well in high volume, Fighting type decks like Colossal VMAX might be more popular. Neither of these examples are guaranteed to happen, but the point I want to make is to think ahead when looking at the meta because being able to correctly identify trends can give you a huge advantage when it comes time to selecting the right deck.

After spending some time looking at the meta, you should then be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses each deck still left in your pool could have going into the tournament. By this point you should feel comfortable playing any of the decks that remain in your pool. Now you just need to pick the one that you feel answers the meta the best. If you are still torn between several decks, I would go back through the motions and see if you cannot find a divisive reason to remove any deck from the pull. Moreover, as long as you are playing a deck that suits you and makes sense in the meta, you should be in good shape. 

Piecing it all together 


When I won the Greensboro Regional Championship in 2019 with Drampa Garbodor, my testing for that event was next to zero. In fact, I was not even planning on playing in the event until the car ride up. I had already gotten my Worlds invite so I had planned on just enjoying a trip to support my friends. After some convincing, I had to decide on a deck to play and went through the steps similar to the ones I outlined. I wanted to continue my streak of day 2 finishes so I wanted to play something that was going to be strong and able to play well in the meta. While I had the options to play both Archie's Blastoise & ZoroGarb, I chose to play the deck I had the most experience with because I knew I would make less mistakes. Matchup-wise I knew how to beat some of the most popular decks like Archies and ZoroGarb, with PikaRom being a largely unknown force with Team Up just realising. I figured my experience with the deck could be leveraged so as long as I could beat the other decks that I thought were going to be popular. Obviously I got rewarded greatly for this decision, but I went through all the same steps I just outlined to get there. While this process of elimination might not work for everyone, I think it can at least help focus your decision if you feel paralyzed by options. 


That is going to wrap up this article on finding the play. I hope I at least provided some insight on how to pick a deck if you find yourself stuck. Picking the right deck for a tournament is a skill all on its own so do not feel frustrated if you find yourself picking the wrong deck from time to time. If this ever happens, try to identify where you went wrong and see if maybe you’re approaching maybe some part of the meta wrong. Regardless, you can use the process I outlined to narrow down at least some viable options. If all else fails, just flip a coin. Seriously.

All in all thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it. If you want to keep up with me, follow me on twitter @TheSkyPillar. If you’re looking to get your hands on the new Shining Fates product, make sure to FlipsideGaming.com for all your sealed product needs. Until next time, stay safe and I’ll see you all in my next article. Thanks!