are you still playing Malamar?!

On Saturday morning we played a Challenge at Relentless Dragon in Londonderry. There were 4 Juniors, 1 Senior, and 24 Masters. I played Malamar—like I do—with my updated list featuring Ultra Necrozma, two metal energies, and no Espeon & Deoxys. At the last minute I cut the CEC Mimikyu to put Espurr back in.

Round one I faced Charlie playing Gardeon. She started Xerneas so straight away I felt I had a chance—then more so when I was able to bench snipe it with Espurr. Unfortunately my opponent dropped the Wonder Labyrinth on her turn following, which meant I missed the attack with Latios GX the next turn and she took a KO, bringing me down to two prizes remaining. I had Tag Purge the next two turns but she had two consecutive turns of Greens for double Custom Catcher. So sad.

After a round two bye I was matched against Victor, playing Green's Reshizard. In retrospect he sealed my doom as early as turn two when he Custom Catchered my Jirachi with an Escape Board, but there were good moments for me in between. The best was when I played myself down to a zero-card hand then used Mimikyu to copy Reshiram & Braixen's attack—something I've been waiting to do ever since that card came out! Then the next turn I was able to KO the Reshiram & Braixen on the bench with Espurr, knocking out a all but one of the energy my opponent had in play. Sadly, besides Espurr I didn't have any one-retreat Pokemon benched, so when Victor KOd it with a Volcanion I had to promote a Malamar. Worse, he played down an inexplicable Lysandre Labs! I had Recycle Energy to attach and three Psychic Recharges, but I needed Escape Board and a counter stadium to be able to retreat and take the KO for the win (we both had one prize remaining). I managed to Lillie for six and hit the Board, but no stadium. So sad again.

After two games following the same theme—big Espurr KO followed by stadium frustration—I was ready for something different. But not what I got, which was a game against Brian's Whimsicott deck. Before the tournament I had told him about cutting the Mimikyu— which he was glad to hear since Mimikyu would have made the MU a near auto-win for me—so he was feeling confident going in. I got set up well and, going second, started with two turns of attacking into his first Whimsicott with Mew. That set me up to take a KO with Giratina if Brian missed the flip... but he didn't. Never mind, I did manage to bump his Chaotic Swell that turn and on the following turn when he played a Guzma & Hala to search out another one he found his other two were prized. Without having to flip I KOed the Whimsicott the next turn. Brian had gotten a Swell off his prize and played it down the next turn, but it didn't matter: I was able to use Blacephalon to KO his Porygon Z on the three prize turn, and when Brian played down another Porygon and another Cottonee, along with the one Porygon already down, I was able to Sky Scorching Light GX for game the next turn. He knew I played the Ultra, I had told him that too! But he forgot about Sky Scorching Light.

Round five was my favorite thing, a Malamar mirror (against an opponent whose name I forget, sorry!). I lost the flip and, faced with going second, told my opponent I felt like the game was already over. When he got off to a better setup than me I kept up a frustrated pose, but secretly I was feeling pretty good about things! He missed an attack turn two so I was able to get in first with a Spell Tagged Mew and hit one of his Malamars, then I spread to the other two with the Tag. I just got out two Malamars myself, and my opponent concentrated his Spell Tag and Giratina damage on just one of them, clearly looking ahead to the Blacephalon turn. But I knew that I couldn't go to three prizes to give him that—instead, I had to let him take an extra prize to make it two to four in his favor, then win the game with a Sky Scorching Light for four prizes. My relatively poor board and depressed mein let that happen, since my opponent took his fourth KO without a bit of hesitation—probably he felt glad to be off my Blacephalon turn. But then the next turn I won with the Ultra Necrozma, which was actually able to take five prizes that turn. Sky Scorching Light too strong!

I finished up 3-2, which was good enough for 10th place. I was happy with that finish after my rough start, but was sorry to miss the top 8 points that were available from the 24-person field. Ian Robb finished second with Malamar, so I guess my comfort pick for the event was even a little bit meta! Still, I might be ready for a change soon. What to play next?

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in the judge trenches

On Sunday there was a Challenge at Omars in Lexington. Harvey played; I got to judge. It was an unusual scene for a Premier Event, with nine Juniors, one Senior, and no Masters. And only the Senior and two of the Juniors were even remotely competitive—by which I mean that they knew how to play Pokemon well and knew what they were getting into. Many of the rest were actually very excited to be competing for a chance to win some packs, but sadly didn't realize that they didn't have the skills to make that happen. Some of them didn't even have the cards! Luckily I had brought plenty, so when two kids arrived with decks that were at least a third non-standard cards I was able to loan them enough to make their decks legal to play.

That was pretty stressful, as was helping kids write decklists for their decks filled with 40+ unique cards—but it was nothing compared to my stress when the event actually began. There were potentially game-breaking misplays and borderline cheating everywhere! Most kids didn't know to decide to go first before they dealt their hand; they didn't know they needed a hand before they put out prize cards; some of them were far from clear on what shuffling means. Two of them had decks that were mostly unsleeved, except for their GXes, and one of those really resisted when I told him that wasn't allowed and kept resleeving those precious cards.

During the gameplay, kids forgot to take prize cards and took prize cards when they weren't supposed two. They double attached and double supportered. One accidentally shuffled his hand into his deck after playing a Pokemon Communication, but he realized right away and was appropriately apologetic. Another stacked his deck for three straight games to be sure to start his Trevenant & Dusknoir; I realized he was doing it the second game and caught him the third time. "That's not how we shuffle," I told him. "Plus you need to make sure to give your opponent a chance to cut your deck." I thought he was younger than he was, or I would have been considerably more emphatic!

The hardest thing was dealing with the disappointment from the losers of each match. They really wanted to win some packs! I tried to balance encouragement with realism. No, nobody is eliminated from contention after one or even two losses (there were four rounds). Yes, there's still a chance for you to place. But you probably won't. One kid asked me what the prizes were for 8th and 9th place. "No packs," I told him. "Your prize is getting the chance to play!" I meant it too. I didn't win a game at my first tournament either but I had a good time and learned something, and now look at me: now I win just over half the time I play!

Harvey won the event, going 4-0 with Gardeon. Nathan took second with Reshizard & Zekrom, and Christian, the one Senior, was third with the spicy Scizor-Rainbows-Island Challenge Amulet deck. Which meant that one of the other kids placed! I don't remember which one though. I hope all of them come to back to league so they can improve their decks and their play, so they give me less stress next time we have a tournament!

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how long can I keep playing Malamar?

Sunday afternoon we attended a challenge at MIT. I brought Malamar because I couldn't think of anything better, though I wasn't at all confident in the matchups I was expecting. Harvey was deciding between Pikarom and his new Gardeon deck; at the last minute he went with Gardeon. There was a fine crowd: 12 masters, one senior, and one junior.

Round one I was relieved to see my opponent, Nick, was playing Beheeyem. But despite it being a favorable matchup I had a rough go of it to begin with: I started Latios GX, missed Spell Tags before item lock kicked in, then missed an attack for the first three turns. On top of that my one Blacephalon was prized, and a bad decision to fill my bench meant that even when I got it off the prizes I couldn't get it down. It was an awkward game on both sides—Nick missed the attack for his last three turns—and we were both happy enough to have it finish in a tie.

Round two I was matched up against Chris, playing baby Blacephalon/Pigeotto. That's a fantastic matchup for Malamar, so I was almost disappointed that Chris struggled mightily to set up and didn't launch an attack til something like turn four. On my side of the board I had three Malamars, a Jirachi with an Escape Board, and a Spell Tagged Giratina turn two... all I was missing was energy! The energy came in before Chris was able to get established, and he scooped after I'd taken a couple of prizes.

The third round I was pitted against a terrible matchup: Harvey's Gardevoir & Sylveons. He was 2-0 at that point, so I don't think it's very sporting that I was "up-paired" against him! I set up pretty well, but with his Mallow & Lanas I couldn't keep any damage on the board and I scooped in frustration.

1-1-1 didn't feel too good, but all the matches had been fun to that point—it was a great relaxed atmosphere despite the classroom environment (desks and blackboards, yikes!). And looking ahead to Round 4 I was pretty much guaranteed to hit a Pikarom matchup, as indeed I did. My opponent, John, wasn't playing Lysander Labs but did have Custom Catchers. He got the turn one Full Blitz and accelerated to the active Pikarom, only to see me bench a Mew and do 150 in return with Mimikyu. He tried to disrupt by KOing Malamars but with Mimikyu only needing two energies I was able to keep attacking while rebuilding my board, and I easily finished things off with an Espurr KO on his benched Zeraora.

It turns out that Malamar was actually a pretty good call for the event. There were two or three Beheeyems, two Pikaroms, the baby Blacephalon/Pigeotto, and Pigeotto stall, all fine matchups—plus two other Malamars, much to my surprise. First place was Mew box (another Dan), which I wish I had played against, since I felt pretty well-teched for that matchup! Second was Sam's Malamar, and third Joshua with Pigeotto stall. My 2-1-1 was good enough for 4th place... I'll take it. Two prize packs netted me a Venusaur & Snivy Tag Team—anyone want to take a Forest Dump?

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best-of-three cups are long!

On Saturday Harvey and I headed out to Worcester for a Cup. They do best of three Swiss rounds at That's Entertainment and tend to draw a big crowd, so I expected we'd be in for a long day—but never mind, I was in it to win it! Often I'm ambivalent about continuing to play after the Juniors have finished up, but for whatever reason I felt like I wanted to really go all in on competing for this one.

Up until the last minute neither of us were sure what we'd be playing. We had two decks all set; we just didn't know which of us would play which one! In the end Harvey (who gets first choice, naturally!) wanted to go with Pikarom, which he felt more comfortable. Fine: I'm more comfortable with Malamar. The list was three cards off from the one I played last time: I cut one Recycle Energy, the baby Necrozma, and the Reset Stamp for a Jynx, Ultra Necrozma GX, and Metal Energy. At least, I wanted the Jynx; when I couldn't find one, I went with a second Espurr instead.

The event wasn't quite sold out: there were 22 Masters, 3 Seniors, and 8 Juniors. Seniors went with Masters for five rounds of Swiss, and Juniors got their own 3-round pod. My first round I was matched against a newish player playing Reshizard with baby Charizard. I was already off to a fairly shaky start when my opponent noticed I hadn't put out my prize cards—after a good two or three deck searches. Oops! I scooped immediately to give myself time to win two straight games for the comeback. Game two my opponent started off well and took a prize with a Volcanion before I could get set up. Once I had two Malamars I KOed the Volcanion, then hit into the Reshi he brought up to take his next KO. With 200 damage on the Reshi he retreated it into the less-damaged of his two baby Charizards (they were taking damage from the Roaring Resolve ability as well as Giratina pings) to take a KO and go to two prizes remaining. I took the return KO with Giratina, got KOed in return—making it four to one in prizes—then brought out Espeon Deoxys to get a double KO on the Reshizard and the other baby Charizard to take four prizes and the game.

I knew we didn't have much time for game three so I resigned myself to a tie, and it certainly looked like that's where we were headed when time was called and I still hadn't taken a prize. My opponent had taken two, so as he started his turn zero he actually had no way to win: I only had one-prizers down. But he had two Reshizards—the active with 140 damage and one on the bench with 50, so technically I had a chance. And I did it! On turn one of time I KOed the active; my opponent foolishly promoted a baby Charizard to KO my Spell Tagged Giratina. I put the 40 damage on the Reshi and, on turn three of time, knocked it out with Espurr for game. I hope and trust my opponent learned something and will never throw away a game like that again.

Round two I was matched up again a Mew & Mewtwo deck. My opponent didn't play a Welder in the first game and I set up fine, so I was able to two-shot his first MewMew and then play a Powerplant to turn off Jirachi and one-shot a second. In game two he found the Welder on turn one with an Espeon & Deoxys in the discard, and used Mind Report to put it back on top of his deck. He told me it was the first Welder he had played the whole day—he had won round one without hitting a single one! But it turns out he was doing better without them: seeing he had a three-card hand, I played a defensive Powerplant to bump his Giant Hearth and try and buy myself a turn, and as it happened I bought six! Before he found a counter stadium I was able to set up and then KO a MewMew and a Jirachi GX. Then with the Jirachi down it wasn't hard to KO the second MewMew.

Continuing a pattern from a couple other events, the third round brought me up against Darren O'Meara, who was also playing MewMew. The other two times were in best-of-ones; at least this time I managed to take a single game, the first, with a Powerplant KO on the first MewMew and a surprise Ultra Necrozma one-shot (with ten damage already there) on the second. Darren let me know after the game that he had double Custom Catcher and could have KOed a Malamar to keep me from taking that KO if he had known I played Ultra. Then he took the next two games pretty easily, leaning heavily on sweeps with Cross Division.

In round four I was matched against one of the three or four players who brought Pidgeotto control—a risk of playing in a best-of-three event! In the first game I was able to do everthing I needed, quickly spreading damage with Mew before my opponent could really set up until I was able to sweep his board with a three-energy Cross Division. That just took a couple minutes, so there was plenty of time to play for a tie, and he almost got it. I overbenched to try and get more cards off a Lillie, leaving me without space for Mimikyu, and my opponent was able to get his Hammers and Custom Catchers often enough to keep me from hitting consistently with Mew. I went for the six-energy Cross Division as soon as I had it, which was too early—or maybe too late, I'm not sure. I took four prizes but my opponent was able to Cold Crush the following turn, leaving my Espeon & Deoxys stuck in the active with no energy or Switch in deck. Luckily, he also played Reset Stamp the same turn to get rid of my nine-card hand... but that hand didn't have anything to help me, and the stamp meant he wasn't able to deck me out before time was called. I survived!

There were only four of us with three or more wins, so we IDed the fifth round. I sat with Harvey, who had already been sitting for quite some time. It's been quite some time since I last made cut and he had to wait; at least this time he was able to play three rounds of best-of-three first (last time he got the bye round two of three rounds of best-of-one).

My top eight match was another MewMew. Game one he got a great start and got the 200 damage Espeon & Deoxys attack turn two. He was pretty cheerful about that, so I was delighted to be able to cobble together a response and actually win the game. Unfortunately, I got picked apart in games two and three. And worst of all, despite the cut to top eight only top four got points, so my sixth-place finish didn't give me anything but a couple packs and the pride of what was only my second time ever making cut. Was that worth the hours and hours of play to get that point? Actually, it probably was!

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a brush with greatness

I squeezed in a couple games on PTCGO this afternoon, and was glad I stuck around for the second one, because I was matched against Azul GG. I was playing the Malamar deck against his Gengar & Mimikyu / Omastar list, which felt like a pretty good matchup if I could get set up. And I did! I got my Escape Board on a Jirachi and a Spell Tag down on a Giratina, with two Inkays benched before he GXed and got item lock, then after he used Peeking Red Card to shuffle away my hand of Malamar Cynthia Lillie Lillie the GX attack gave me two Malamars and a Cynthia. I put the Spell Tag damage on the Omastar, then Cynthia'd into a hand with just one trainer card with a setup to attack every turn. Azul missed drawing a healing card on the next turn and only did 50 damage to my Giratina, so I was able to bench and Espurr, attach energy to it, then KO the active Gengar & Mimikyu. When he saw the Espurr Azul scooped.

There was a lot of luck involved—good luck on my part, bad on his. But I'm proud of myself for knowing what I needed to do in the matchup and making all the moves I needed to to make it happen. And it was especially satisfying to go back and check out the replay on Azul's stream. If you want to experience the moment yourself you can see it on his Twitch page... skip ahead to the 59 minute mark.

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