ZOG’S EARLY SEASON REVIEW (COOL HAT EDITION)

2016 IS GONE, and, like Mary Kate and Ashley’s Sweet 16 before it, it will not be remembered favourably. A 49 on Metacritic, best left forgotten in a dusty, stray pube-covered box under your sister’s bed. Forgotten and lain to waste, like Pogs and Harambe. Aside from the inevitably-mentioned rise of Brexit, Trump and John Oliver’s awful gurning mush, more importantly we were faced with the least interesting, most luck-influenced ruleset in the history of the game. With my crew from Walsall, a sheep and a beautiful, portly youth of Iranian heritage (who incidentally provided the original form of the eventual champion’s team on condition of receiving credit for it, which of course did not happen) I braved arson, bullets and an afro-hair-poo-and-allegedly-semen-clogged toilet (NOTHING TO DO WITH ME) in the Oakland “killzone” to make it to Worlds, only to go out on some Peruvian guy triple protecting me and consequently spend most of the remaining week dossing about the Marriott pretending I wasn’t deathly ill  (being heavy with glandular fever in the first place), made worse by getting soaked in San Francisco Bay whilst having Jake take a ridiculous photo of me on a dirty rock.

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A dose of murky Pacific ocean increased my already high salt concentration from yet again bringing the correct meta call for the top table, but getting matched exclusively with lower record people who happened to have brought my team’s previously-unpopular counters, which is basically story of my VGC life these days. I walked into Day 1 saying “I just need to not play M-Mawile Rayogre or Enosh’s team” and… guess what most of my matchups were. So 5-3 on an impeccably played counterteam, a literal play-by-play mirror except his Xerneas crit mine and then a game 3 triple protect (his only out) against such a horrible schedule is still a performance I’m happy with. Alas, I didn’t get make Day 2 and had to watch a thrown semifinal (second time this has happened!) and a controversial live-on-air fingerblast, then in true contradictory spirit, skipped the final to play Pokémon Go outside, a decision I don’t regret. Though it was pretty much a gigantic waste of time and money and superficially as disappointing as a vegan Christmas, I did have a good time in San Francisco. Maybe I’m a masochist, but it’s probably because the people are genuinely that pleasant to be around. Oh well. At least the game didn’t take long to improve.

GAMEFREAK PULL A SUN AND MOONY

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I don’t know about you but when I was in school pulling a moony meant getting your bum out. I only ever mooned once, myself, aged 11, out of a hotel window in a game of truth or dare. In the same game one lad dared himself to stick a Haribo footballer up his bum and then eat it, which he then did. Then he did it again. And again. Before long he was full up and decided to simply credit card the rest of them through his buttcrack and put them back under the bed, like a Haribo Barry Bennell. In the morning we came back to our room to find another boy poking out arse-first from under the bed, stuffing his face with the tainted treats. “NO!! MITCHELL!!! STOP!!!” we shouted, attracting the headmaster’s attention. He confiscated the footballers, and I watched, horrified, as the teachers proceeded to eat the rest on the bus home. Tragic.

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On a less tangential note, 2016’s rules improved dramatically upon the release of Sun and Moon. The game became more balanced, and the matchup gimps were sleeping.

Generation 7 eventually hit UK shores on the 23rd of November, giving me an easy idea for my brother’s birthday present and 2 weeks to prepare for the only European tournament worth entering in the entire season. Yeah, great idea, having the 2017 season’s only high CP event happen before it’s even 2017.

So I rushed through Sun in the week after it came out, giving me 7 days to settle down with a cup of tea and a Marks and Spencer’s Triple Chocolate Cookie or 20 and practise on the Battle Spot, which I shambled to the top of like a fat man up a spiral staircase. Sweat dripping, arse chafing, Big Dog jumbo Hawaiian shirt clinging to my back I made it to #1 for an amount of time I can’t actually remember. In around 200 games it felt like I’d seen everything I was likely to see in London and packed up my smalls. The only time I’d lost in the days preceding London was to some idiot with an Aerodactyl who’d decided to repeatedly risk the speed tie with my Tapu Koko and happened to win all 4 of them in a row, Sky Drop picking me up first and dropping me last twice consecutively, when him losing any of those 50/50s resulted in a win for me. “That’s a 1/16 fluke”, I thought. “Hardly going to happen again tomorrow”.

LONDON BAWLING

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So I settled on using my own variants of Tapu Koko, Groundium Garchomp, Figy Muk, Celesteela, Ninetales and my intended Double Duck counter, Specs Raichu. I put Specs on because I wanted to be sure I’d OHKO Golduck with Discharge, from behind Lightningrod, a situation that I hadn’t actually ever come up against. I don’t really know why I prepared so hard for this matchup but it just goes to show what I know about most people: I played 3 Double Duck teams with Togedemaru in them. What.

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Eventually I made it to the Excel and after getting over my flashbacks of Baron Samedi and the obese naked man with socks in his mouth, breakfasted on a Poundland flapjack with a suspicious, slightly salty off-white crusty topping, in preparation for round 1. I played a Double Duck/Togedemaru dude named Decidueye, according to my notes. That’s all it says as his name. “Decidueye”. But he was very nice, and Italian, and I won 2-0 thanks to my stupid Specs Raichu actually coming in useful. A double order of Peking duck, please. My next game I don’t really remember but it was a Spanish guy and I overkill haxed the life out of him. I think I discharge double crit and then para full para’d his Celesteela, which Vs. Tapu Koko Raichu does nothing anyway. My only good luck of the tournament, there, and it was completely unnecessary. Round 3 is Blurrier than a very big house in the country, but I won 2-0.

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My first loss was completely unavoidable. Up until this point (200+ games on Battle Spot, >1900 rating and #1 spot) I hadn’t played a single Pheromosa, let alone with Tapu Lele next to it. Sounds silly now, but I genuinely hadn’t. I’d only been playing on the Battle Spot since Showdown was bugged and didn’t let you target with Tectonic Rage, which given my Garchomp set was obviously a problem. But I’d seen the synergy between them before and led Muk/Garchomp to force the Pheromosa into picking a target and dying to the other. Straight away Pheromosa Hi Jump Kicks and I find out the hard way that apparently, LO HJK KOs Muk in one hit, and to top it off his Lele has a scarf and KOs my Garchomp. Brilliant, but at least now I know. So Game 2 I decide to lead Tapu Koko Raichu to get the jump on his Pheromosa and win the game from there. An idea that would’ve been great had this guy not been using SLOW SCARF LELE deliberately EVed to underspeed Tapu Koko, a decision that most of the time is stupid and makes you lose but in this situation meant I’d managed to get best-of-1ed twice in the same set. So I ended up being 3-1 and determined not to lose again.

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Next round I played a strong Japanese player with a very questionable team. Aerodactyl Garchomp I can agree with, Wacan Berry Wide Guard Celesteela, not so much. Game 1 was very close, and ended Koko vs Koko, speedtie to win. Obviously, I lost the speedtie. Before I begin describing game 2, I will make a point that I’ve noticed a pattern when I play Pokémon. I know the odds on everything, so like to say them out loud. Apparently I jinx myself. As a typical example, I went out of a tournament last year to a certain loveable but badly-hatted sheep person when I was vs his red-HP Whimsicott and Mega Gengar. All I had to do was hit at least one of my icy winds, and I won. I said to Luke, “OK, you have a 1/400 chance to win otherwise it’s mine, good luck”, and now I really wish I hadn’t, because what did my icy wind do but go ahead and miss both Pokémon, a 1/400 probability, making me lose. Remember what I said about the guy deliberately speed tying my Tapu Koko the night before, and happening to win 4 speed ties in a row, all of which he needed? And me saying it wouldn’t happen again? What do you think happened here in game 2? Except this time Aerodactyl won a fifth speed tie to set up Tailwind, and I’m pretty sure the game ended on him winning a Garchomp speed tie. The moral of the story is I shouldn’t run max speed on anything and should just accept that I’m going to lose every speed tie, because apparently this game hates me. At risk of sounding like a salty killjoy, nothing irritates me more than unnecessary low-gain high risk that goes unpunished, and this was no exception. You might win the odd game like that but it doesn’t hold up over a whole tournament: that kind of play doesn’t keep winning. All you’ll do is go x-4 and spoil the chances of anyone you get lucky against. To be quite frank, deliberately and repeatedly going for low-odds plays devalues the game for everybody and makes you a loser, and I’m sick of playing people who belong in the Battle Tower.

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Anyway, round 5 started badly. 3-2 already, he’s Spanish and promptly informs me that until today he’s not even played the game yet, he’s only used Showdown. So I have no idea what this guy’ll be using: he’s on a broken simulator. Expletives. Which, incidentally were heard nearby when this Italian guy went absolutely ham and thumped the table so hard my bottle of Pepsi flew in the air and flopped over like one of them fainting goats. I couldn’t tell exactly what he was saying but my rudimentary Italian made out “cancer”, “die”, “your mother” and a general sense of “I need a therapist”. Apparently it was all over a single Waterfall flinch, but I digress. This set I had my win condition set up nicely, with my fast Muk at full health with Figy berry under Aurora Veil and ready to KO his Marowak and half-health Porygon 2. His only out is if he happens to have fast Marowak, he uses Flare Blitz, and he critical hits me. So I say “Well, it’s a 1/16, let’s roll the dice”. Predictably, it’s max speed Marowak, it uses Flare Blitz, it critical hits me. Now I’m 3-3 and out of cut and my only fiscally responsible shot at a Worlds invite. I’m left wondering why I even bother playing this stupid game. I’m good; I know I’m good. To be playing for this long and not be good would be an absolute joke. I have a positive record vs most of the last Worlds top cut, have trained and built with most of them. I have a shelf of 1st place trophies. I do great anytime other than the important tournaments, where every time I go out to something totally stupid that couldn’t reasonably have been helped. The odds are always so low, yet it always happens when it matters. Why do I even bother? I’m Pokémon Les Dennis, I’m finished.

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Fortunately, that question was answered very quickly by an overwhelmingly pleasant set with Stephen Tan, so relaxed we both forgot who’d won. Genuinely, game 3 finished and we couldn’t actually remember. But I knew my tiebreaker was absolutely horrible and I wasn’t getting any CP even with a 6-3 finish, so for that and being a lovely opponent I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I have about as much knowledge of the final rounds as I do of the whereabouts of Madeleine McCann, but ended up with 5-4, the worst I’ve ever done in a major tournament. I rode out this nadir in the most appropriate way possible: entering the next day’s side tournament and between rounds loitering against a wall in my Supreme trenchcoat and prescription aviators, toting a bag of Haribos and a cocked can of Monster: a card shop Withnail; someone you’d expect to see hiding outside a school playground with an unmarked van and a packet of Smarties.

WHAT A PIECE OF WORK IS A MON

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Nobody’s had more Pokémon-related screwups than I have. I’ve lost paid Worlds to a misclick on a sealed game (the guy who won the trip even KNEW HE COULDN’T GO and I had to pay for mine), I’ve lost nationals top cut because I was sexting, because I forgot to put my moves in, and I’ve tripped over and unplugged the TO’s laptop at a PC, losing the tournament bracket. I’ve even been temporarily banned after a poorly-worded Smogon post about my friend taking the UK Nationals toilet sign made it look like it was me, leading to, ironically, only me and my other friend (the two who actually care about Pokémon) getting banned and me having to go to Italy only able to spectate. Obviously, those were all my fault and you can put them down to youth and poor discipline. I’ve learned from those occasions and done my best to improve. Which is why it sucks that excluding 2014, which was entirely my own horndog fault, and 2016, incidentally the format I hated, I haven’t had a single Nationals run since my 2011 Worlds top cut where the planets haven’t aligned and something stupid happened. 2012 I got Sand Veiled 4 times in the same game on 4 ice/dragon attacks, 2013 I got frozen on the first turn of the tournament and then lost when I missed Rock Slide on Kyriakou’s Volcarona twice in a row, 2015 UK I got fully paralysed 8 times out of 8 and then, thanks to my loveable idiot schoolfriend who hacked a level 50 Hydreigon, with 4/6 of my mons weak to rock got repaired against a mono-rock team that’d somehow made 4-2. 2015 Italy I walked in saying “All I need to do is not play Gardevoir-Amoonguss”. Who do I get round 1 but Lajos Woltersdorf, the world’s best Gardevoir-Amoonguss player and only non-Japanese person to cut Worlds that year, still only losing after my Salamence failed to roll the 90% KO on Gardevoir: goodbye Mence and Scrafty. x-2 was when my Kangaskhan lost the tie to a max speed Charizard which proceeded to crit out my specially defensive Shuca Heatran with Focus Blast. Typically unlucky. My third loss? Oh, that was to the tournament staff recording my match result incorrectly and a bug in the software meaning it took 2 rounds for it to show, so it couldn’t be changed. The only thing that went right that day was how after mistaking some cheese for my phone and putting it in my pocket instead (easy done right?), someone was good enough to hand it in and I managed to get it back safe.

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So that’s the story of why I keep playing, really. I want to beat my record, and win the World Championship. I know and love the game and I know I’m capable, but I’ve worse luck at Pokémon than Michael Barrymore has at pool parties. Resigned, I settled down to watch some top cut, wincing at the amount of people I’d beaten recently and what could’ve been (much like Worlds 2016) and generally pretending I’m not a bitter old crone.

I’m kidding (no I’m not), but I had a great time.

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WHAT WE GOT FROM THE EARLY SEASON

  • Maybe the most important lesson was that some top players can’t read or write properly. Yes, removing Pokémon from people’s teams for slightly incorrect teamsheets was a Draconian punishment but come on, it’s not hard. Markus I can understand; you just used the wrong Gastrodon. Edu and Jon, that was dumb. Pyjama Boy putting his timid Marowak in correctly and his timid Salamence as naive, that’s something else. But let’s put it this way: guys, never get a chequebook unless you’re writing them to me.
  • Spell things wrong, get a sanction. Screenpeek repeatedly and get caught, go for it and enjoy the sweet $5k. It’s a little bit ridiculous that this happened, but in my opinion if somebody is a known high-profile screenpeeker the judges should be keeping an eye on them at all times and actually handing out a punishment when they get caught. Nobody’s expecting a Spanish inquisition, but please, do something.
  • Most of us got a Cool Hat™ and a really sweet Raichu pin. I, unfortunately, had my Raichu pin stolen on the tube before I’d even got home, and am genuinely heartbroken about it. I’d still have a complete set of pins from 2013-on but no, somebody nicked it. If anybody knows how I can get another that would be greatly appreciated.
  • People will pay £40 entry fee even when it flagrantly isn’t worth it.
  • On a related note, this year’s tournament structure is a load of bollocks. I will write about this in more depth but as of this year tournaments are the hardest they’ve ever been, reward the lowest amount of points and invites they ever have done, and are the most expensive they have ever been. Whilst monetary prizing has increased by a huge amount- and that’s great- it doesn’t account for the entry cost, and it’s highly unlikely that another Internationals, excluding maybe North America, will hit the Prize kicker of 512. That means the prize payout is nowhere near what’s going in for entry fees. Additionally, and this is the biggest problem: a 500CP bar for Day 1 Worlds is crazy high. Let me illustrate: Last year you could earn a Worlds invite with CP to spare by making top 16 at any Nationals, of which Europe had 3. This year only the winner of Internationals gets enough CP for Day 1. The fact that European Internationals has been and gone within 3 weeks of the game coming out means that it’s now practically impossible to even reach day 1 if you didn’t get CP at London- and that’s a lot of people, since even some 6-3s didn’t get CP. After Leipzig this weekend, there are only 3 remaining European Regionals, and even if one person were to win all three that wouldn’t be enough CP for Day 1. Barring the “wallet warriors” who will pay the ~£1000 necessary to attend another Internationals (which is not even 10 people), few in Europe have a shot a Worlds now and therefore lack any real motive to play the rest of the season, so the circuit is essentially over already. That is a huge mistake.

AND MY NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION

My biggest problem with Pokémon is that I know it so inside-out that I don’t have a clue how newer players think about the game. I have such a bad habit of doing my best to break the metagame and come up with the most logically-perfect most-unlikely-to-lose plays and combinations that I’ve lost touch with how to look at the game in a fresh way, and as a result have ended up losing to “stupid” options like a lucky Focus Blast Charizard that I didn’t even consider the possibility of, because it’s entirely mathematically inferior to Hidden Power Ground.

So I thought – (actually it was Lin’s idea), I should get back into coaching newer players. I decided the best way to do it would be to set up a Patreon through which, if you’d be so kind, I can provide you with unparalleled one-to-one VGC coaching and training, as well as commissioned writing on anything Pokémon you want me to cover.

If you’re interested, here’s the link: https://www.patreon.com/Zoggykins

With luck I’ll be able to save up and afford to stay in the season!

Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you soon! Shoutout to anyone I met at London- you all made it worth doing. Trista, I hope you enjoyed that pee.

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Author: Zog

Pokémon author, player, visionary: the original VGC vagabond. https://www.patreon.com/Zoggykins

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