“Professor Lynch’s Observations:” Scientific Testing and Successful League Cup Play


A long-time request I have gotten is to write a piece about how to play small events; namely League Challenges and League Cups. For most of my competitive career I haven’t felt comfortable doing so, because I didn’t actually think I did that well at them. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you might have seen my rather annoying rants about the problem with Cities last year. I claimed that I had picked the best deck for a City Championship, but missed Top Cut, multiple times. I wholeheartedly believed that it was not my fault, and that the format was the reason for my failure at the time. This article is here to help others who may feel that they are in that position now, or anybody else who wants to improve their chances of doing well at League Cups.

League Cups make League Challenges close to obsolete. I’m going to focus on Cups, because for the vast majority of us, it is the event that matters more. You can take much of this to help with League Challenges as well, but points about Top Cut won’t be very relevant. However, the entire section discussing the testing cycle can apply to any event.

In this piece I will cover:

  • How to choose the correct deck (Specifically for League Cups)
  • The best testing cycle
  • How to build your list to ensure you make top cut
  • How to play in Swiss
  • How to go deeper in Top Cut

The Scientific Method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, and correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence, subject to specific principles of reasoning.

My belief is that all knowledge should be derived from the scientific method. Not only should you only accept scientific data, but you should entreat testing in the same manner.

Choosing A Deck

How does one choose a deck to play?

This is the most important question to ask yourself, and accurately answer. That’s not to say that you should always play what is objectively the best choice for a meta, but more to be able to accurately measure your experience with a deck, understand each choice’s consistency, and choose something that gives YOU the best chances of getting the outcome you want from an event (usually to get 1st Place!).

I encourage players to think less about what is the best play for a tournament, and instead think about what is the best play for you. You have to take into account factors like “How much time do I have to practice a deck that is foreign to me,” “Is the deck I have the most experience with the best choice for this event,” and, “Is my ‘comfort deck’ consistent?” I make the argument that the initial thinking that a player does to prepare for testing is actually more important than the testing itself.

The funny thing is that most people don’t think about what deck they’re going to play at all; they simply start testing and use what they end up considering to be the best based on their (most likely extremely) biased testing, OR base their choice off of theory and a lack of actual testing. Both scenarios are suboptimal, and completely avoidable. A more objective, planned route will lead to a better outcome, nine times out of ten.

The best way to prepare for an event is with the intention to do so. This might seem obvious, but it is not what most players do. Most players do not test with ever thinking to themselves “Is what I am testing actually relevant?” You might be surprised how many games a player or players will test, that do not better their chances of doing well at the Cup.

But I still haven’t answered the question – in fact, I’ve done quite the opposite. All I have explained is what one should not do. This is equally important, though, because if you know what to avoid, you won’t employ the wrong testing strategy, while thinking you are doing what I am suggesting. So now that you know what you might be doing wrong, I can explain the correct way to go about this whole Pokemon thing.

The starting point for deck choice is finding the most consistent potential options.  It is not to find the deck that is correct for the meta, nor is it to find the deck you are most comfortable with. These steps come later. The first step is just to figure out which of your options is consistent. This step is first, specifically because you are going to a League Cup. This is where the deck choice process may be different than when one prepares for a Regionals, or any other event.

You are forced to play in a Best-of-1 format. This means that you must make it through four to six rounds of a more luck-based format. Variance is going to prove to be more prevalent here than in any other event, not only because you are playing only one game where the coin flip can (at times) decides the winner, but because you will be facing more players that use off-the-wall decks. You cannot expect to play against the deck that you consider to be meta for every League Cup. In fact, I would go as far as to say that most players in a League Cup will not be playing decks that are considered meta and/or top tier.

Don’t believe me? Consider the amount of players that are not in HeyFonte or Virbank City on Facebook, and who don’t follow tournaments. Consider that these newer or less competitive players may still think that Mega Scizor is a top-tier deck that big players use. You cannot expect most players to be at tournaments with the same mentality that you have, because in reality, most players at a given tournament are not as competitive as you. You are paying 15 bucks per month to read content about the competitive scene, which indicates to me that you are at a certain level of competitive play. Maybe you are new. Maybe you don’t have a good idea of the competitive scene. In general, that is not the majority of you.

Knowing that most players are not of your mindset, you cannot expect them to use what you consider to be the best options for this format, or even the decks that you think are options for most players. You must accept that some players are going to use whatever they want. Once you understand that many players are going to use something that cannot be predicted, and you see that there is more variance in a one-game match, it becomes very clear that you need a deck that is more focused on being consistent than a deck that is concerned with countering the meta.

With a more unpredictable meta, you may find the need to use a deck that seems more well-rounded. Yveltal/Maxie’s is probably the best example of a well-rounded, versatile deck. I do think that this sort of deck is important for Cups, but also that a consistent deck is much more important. If you value options over consistency, you will find yourself dead-drawing, and losing theoretical good matchups more of the time. Yveltal/Maxie’s is so strong because it is not only well rounded, but also consistent.

It’s funny how a deck really does not need options to be strong. You might think that a deck like Darkrai is not a good choice for a meta full of different decks, because you will lose to something that plays Zygarde, or a local might be playing a Brilliant Arrow Mega Gardevoir deck. A high enough consistency level will make your deck well-rounded by default. This is exactly why you need to think consistency before options. Night March, Toad/Bats, and Virizion/Genesect are a few example of decks that have very few options. Night March literally says one attack name for the entirety of every game, yet it was the objective best deck of the 2016 season. Options do not create a great deck – consistency does. It has been proven over and over, and it will continue to do so. Look at Worlds-winning decks for examples.

Writing your options down is a great idea, bordering on crucial. I like to get a list of two to five decks as potential options. There rarely are more than this many consistent options for any format. If you are reading this before a Cup, go ahead – make a list. I’ll wait!

So what are the most consistent top tier options of Standard?

This is an example of what my own list would look like presently:

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