Following a month-long dive into the world of post-rotation Control for my previous article, I decided that I needed to take a break. The game was at an excruciatingly loathsome state and I was no longer having fun. Additionally, I had just started university and I felt that I should be focusing on having a strong start to my college education instead of erupting with rage after my Opponent topdecked out of a Persian lock three turns in a row. For my own sanity and well-being, I didn’t touch the game for a few weeks.
If I’m being honest, I loved my time away from the game. My stress levels were at an all-time low, I had a lot more free time, and I didn’t get constantly sacked on a daily basis. My life, to say the least, was easier. I love this game and I won’t be leaving it any time soon, but it can be overwhelming at times. I planned to relax a little, skip my article for this month and take it easy.
Unfortunately, my plans were quickly uprooted by a sudden announcement to the SixPrizes writing staff: most of our writers were leaving at the end of September to write for a new website. With a sudden shortage of writers, I felt compelled to provide at least my monthly article, though I had absolutely no clue what to write about. I had exhausted my supply of alt-win-con (AWC) concepts and I was not in the mindset to go searching for new ones. I also was fairly keen on continuing my break, so I was trying to generate an idea for a more abstract article, which wouldn’t require me to put in the hard testing I usually dedicate to my writing.
My initial thought was a “how to grow as a player” article, which I felt, with some of my experiences in the game and its community, I was decently prepared to write. However, I realized that genre of articles has been done many-a-time and I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about providing an article based around a somewhat jaded concept. I’m not saying these articles aren’t good, I think they’re a valuable resource to those who want to improve their skills at the game, but there are simply too many of these articles written by people who are far more qualified to speak on the matter to warrant another one from me. That being said, I had to find another idea.
amazon.comAfter a day or two of pondering possible article concepts, I finally procured an idea while reading one of my textbooks1 for one of my college courses (my writing course, ironically). The book was going over academic writing and the learning process associated with it and it struck a chord with my experiences learning Control. From there, I considered the notion of writing a guide to learning Control. I’ve always encouraged my readers to learn AWC decks, but I’ve yet to give a thorough explanation on how to do so. Learning Control isn’t exactly a textbook process—it’s going to vary slightly in methodology and difficulty from person to person—but I think there are quite a few consistent themes when learning Control and being aware of them can assist in the learning process.
1 “Often without consciously realizing it, accomplished writers routinely rely on a stock of established moves that are crucial for communicating sophisticated ideas. What makes writers masters of their trade is not only their ability to express interesting thoughts but their mastery of an inventory of basic moves that they probably picked up by reading a wide range of other accomplished writers.” —Graff, G., & Birkenstein, C. (2018). “They say / I say”: The moves that matter in academic writing with readings.
Common Misconceptions Regarding Control
One of the primary reasons I decided to write on this topic, and a major motivation I have for advocating for trying control in general, is that Control and other AWC decks get an undeserved bad rep within the community. People with minimal exposure to the archetype immediately label it problem rather than putting in the effort to understand it. More than anything else, I want to change this. By providing an easily-accessible, basic understanding of the archetype, I hope to shed light on the benefits of AWCs and shift the community’s opinion away from this constant distaste toward the playstyle.
The most common stigmatism associated with Control is the idea that it’s “degenerate.” People tend to think that it’s unfair and toxic for the game and that it shouldn’t be permitted. However, with a little exposure, you’ll come to find that AWC decks are often healthy for the game. AWC decks often keep overly aggressive and linear archetypes in check. A prime example of this would be the interaction between Cinccino Mill and Blacephalon UNB (Baby Blowns) in the UPR–SSH meta. Baby Blowns was an inherently powerful deck, having the capability to reach massive 1HKOs on big, 3-Prize Pokémon. However, in order to efficiently and consistently pull off those massive KOs, the deck needed to be built around that strategy completely. As a result, it couldn’t do much else. This is what is referred to as a “linear deck”; it does what it wants to do, but it often can’t adapt its strategy substantially. In Blacephalon’s case, it was going to blow up the Active and not much else. If left unchecked, the game could devolve to success being determined by who high-rolled with Blacephalon more. AWC decks, such as Mill, prevented this devolution of the format to an extent. AWC decks, while often being skill intensive themselves, typically promote a format in which skill is often rewarded over luck. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to label AWC decks as unfair, as they are unable to beat them. However, this sense of vulnerability people have toward AWC decks often stems from a lack of knowledge on their part.
Let’s continue with the Baby Blowns example. I cannot express how many times I’d hit Baby Blowns and they did not play to their win condition whatsoever. For Baby Blowns, the slim opportunity of victory against Mill lied in Cramorant V. The Baby Blown player had to continuously target Minccinos while the Mill player tries to set up. Without Cinccinos, the Mill player had little to no immediate access to new resources. They had Zacian to draw, but those cards wouldn’t be able to be used until the following turn, allowing the Baby Blown player to take an increasingly large lead. Did this work consistently? No, Mill usually got a few Minccinos down in one turn and could quickly find Mew. However, I personally rarely encountered that situation, as most of my opponents decided to just invest in Blacephalon and hope it works out (spoiler: it never did). In that sense, the lack of understanding of their win-con led them to not even have a win-con in the first place.
That being said, it’s not the Mill player’s fault that their opponent couldn’t adapt their strategy to better counter an atypical strategy. Unfortunately for Mill and its AWC friends, the blame is often immediately shifted toward them, rather than the player who didn’t play optimally. As a result, many people neglect to give AWC decks credit for the benefits they provide to a meta and the environment of the game itself, opting to scorn the use of it instead of attempting to understand it.
Another concern surrounding Control and other AWC decks is that the decks aren’t fun and that they just get easy wins. Control is easily the most interactive and thought-provoking archetype in the game. Winning, especially in matchups that aren’t explicitly in your favor, often comes down to outsmarting the opponent. Winning in such a manner is such a gratifying feeling. Often, within the Pokémon TCG, games come down to “my opponent drew ‘X’ card(s) and I lost because of it” which leads the loser to feel slightly cheated, as luck just wasn’t on their side. Additionally, the win might not be as gratifying for the victor, as it was a result of better luck instead of skill. Naturally, the better draws may have been as a result of skillful processes such as thinning, but thinning only goes so far. That feeling of powerlessness in regard to the draws is substantially reduced with AWC decks. You are often given the opportunity to outplay and outsmart the opponent, leading to your success. This is one of the reasons many people opt to exclusively play AWCs, as they are less vulnerable to the inherent luck factor within the game.
One of the most disappointing notions people hold to AWC decks is that they require immense skill to play. I personally hold this belief to be false. AWC decks are more difficult to learn. I’m not going to deny that. The playstyle is keyed toward a completely different win condition and learning to play to that foreign win-con optimally takes time and effort. However, that doesn’t mean that people should be discouraged from trying to learn. Consider the process of learning a new language: regardless of your literacy within your native language, there will be a learning curve to understanding another language. Yes, some people will naturally catch onto a new language faster, but, with enough dedication, anyone can become fluent. Additionally, some languages are easier to learn than others and, once your brain has adapted to perceiving language in a different manner, it will be easier to pick up another, more difficult language.
Benefits of Learning Control
In addition to gratifying victories, learning Control confers quite a few benefits. These benefits are often overlooked due to the attitude the community has toward AWC decks, but the incentives to learn Control aren’t any less substantial. Control hones your ability to play the game optimally and often leads you to grow as a player in the long term.
Growing as a player within this game is somewhat of a fickle thing. Especially within our current format, where suboptimal lists and misplays can be covered up by a deck’s inherent power, success in the game is not necessarily a result of skill. Consequently, the ability to grow in this format is somewhat limited. If someone doesn’t get punished for a suboptimal choice, they won’t recognize the error in their ways and won’t learn to be better. AWCs, especially Control, on the other hand, drastically reward optimal play and severely punish suboptimal plays. In that way, it may seem more difficult to learn, as you must play the deck near-perfectly to succeed. However, you could argue that AWCs merely inform the pilot of misplays more consistently and, in turn, provide a more explicit guide on how to play optimally. As a result, improving as a player with AWC decks is a faster and more noticeable process and leads to players thinking more intensively on a regular basis.
One of the most important skills required for optimal Control piloting is a proper game sense. By this, I mean a more thorough understanding of (A) the immediate state of the game, (B) how the opponent will likely play off this state of the game, and (C) recognizing what you, as the AWC pilot, must prepare for in order to overcome any obstacles the opponent might throw your way. This, like all other things, takes time. However, after acquiring a proper game sense, you can apply that skill to every game you play with whatever deck you decide to play. That, in itself, will improve your ability as a player.
Additionally, learning AWCs allows you to properly utilize an arcane archetype. A vast majority of players do not understand how to tackle an AWC matchup. On its own, that’s a major advantage. Entering each matchup with a pretty substantial chance that your opponent doesn’t know how to beat your deck while you know how to beat theirs is a massive edge to have. Hopefully, by writing this article, I’ll minimize this factor. However, as of right now, AWCs have that advantage pretty consistently.
How to Learn Control
In my experience, there are two major facets to successfully learning Control: (1) developing a complete and thorough understanding of your decklist and (2) the actual piloting itself. Knowing your decklist and the reasoning behind each card count means understanding your win-con/strategy against any relevant archetype, while piloting the deck and making optimal calls will lead that strategy to success.
Control decklists are some of the most labyrinthian decklists within the game. Often, each card choice comes down to specific reasoning behind it with extensive testing put behind each card count. Understanding these microdecisions behind the list and its finer details leads to a more complete understanding of how the deck should react to whatever situation it may encounter. Deciphering the purpose behind a Control list’s card counts/choices can be extremely difficult. Understanding a Control list becomes far easier with practice, but the first few times will take some patience. In order to demonstrate the extent of thought put into a Control list, I’d like to take an archetype I recently innovated, Starly Control, as an example.
Starly Control is a deck that is designed to aggressively and consistently pull off the Boss’s Orders + Galar Mine combo, which, ideally, leaves an opponent’s support Pokémon stuck in the Active. From there, the Control pilot typically uses Persian’s Make ‘Em Pay attack to discard the opponent’s vital resources, namely switching options. The deck is built to outlast any switch options the opponent may be able to utilize and eventually establish a permanent gust-trap. Despite the seemingly straightforward strategy of the deck, the list is far from linear.
Side Note: I intend for this article to be a resource for people who are just starting Control as well as those who might have some experience, so part of it might seem extremely obvious to some, but I want to make this guide as holistic as possible.
Learning the Decklist
****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******
##Pokémon - 16
* 3 Meowth UNB 147
* 2 Persian TEU 126
* 4 Starly DAA 145
* 2 Jirachi TEU 99
* 2 Munchlax UNM 173
* 1 Absol TEU 88
* 1 Bunnelby RCL 146
* 1 Mew UNB 76
##Trainer Cards - 39
* 2 Cynthia & Caitlin CEC 228
* 4 Quick Ball SSH 179
* 2 Yell Horn DAA 173
* 4 Bird Keeper DAA 159
* 2 Lt. Surge’s Strategy UNB 178
* 3 Boss’s Orders RCL 154
* 1 Tool Scrapper RCL 168
* 1 Wondrous Labyrinth p TEU 158
* 3 Galar Mine RCL 160
* 2 Pokégear 3.0 SSH 174
* 4 Lillie’s Poké Doll CEC 267
* 1 Pal Pad SSH 172
* 2 Professor’s Research SSH 201
* 4 Crushing Hammer KSS 34
* 2 Pokémon Communication TEU 152
* 1 Air Balloon SSH 213
* 1 Ordinary Rod SSH 215
##Energy - 5
* 1 Recycle Energy UNM 257
* 4 Twin Energy RCL 174
Total Cards - 60
****** via SixPrizes: https://sixprizes.com/?p=82746 ******
Let’s start with the easy decisions here:
4 Starly DAA, 4 Quick Ball, 4 Bird Keeper, 4 Twin Energy
These were fairly given for this concept. Maximizing the consistency behind Starly’s Keen Eye was vital to the deck’s strategy. If we can’t pull off Starly when we need it, what’s the point?
Less Obvious Cards
From there, we can move onto some of the cards/counts that weren’t blatantly obvious for the archetype initially, but were added/modified soon after, as they were fairly obvious solutions to key issues the deck needed to face:
3 Meowth UNB, 2 Persian TEU
Initially a 2-2 line, it quickly became obvious that the 3rd Meowth was necessary. Persian is the deck’s primary method of removing the opponent’s answers to a gust trap and getting a Meowth or two down early game could be the difference of being able to win certain matchups. Additionally, when running a 2-2 line, if one of the Meowths was prized, an untimely knockout on your only option to disrupt/lock your opponent during your next turn would leave you vulnerable to the opponent taking an unrecoverable lead. You need to use Persian when you want to and the 3rd Meowth made the difference.
3 Galar Mine
Although it’s a major component to the deck’s win condition, I initially had it at 2 copies. Having access to 2 copies was often enough, but, if one were to be prized, it would be impossible to re-establish a Galar Mine in play within one turn if the first was disposed of. For that reason, I decided 3 was necessary.
3 Boss’s Orders
My first rendition of Starly Control played 4 Boss, as I thought I needed as many opportunities to use Boss as possible. However, the preliminary list felt inconsistent and I realized that 4 Boss was excessive, especially with the later inclusions of Munchlax UNM, Pal Pad, and Cynthia & Caitlin.
4 Lillie’s Poké Doll
Dolls accomplish two things: (1) they allow you to slow down or stall the opponent’s win condition and (2) they provide a method of preventing deck-out. The latter of which is important, as it provides you with a solidified win condition. Once the opponent is out of answers to the gust trap, you can recycle Lillie’s Poké Doll back into the deck every turn by drawing it, retreating into it, and putting it back on the bottom of the deck. As a result, you’re essentially guaranteed that Starly will win if the opponent is no longer able to switch their Active.
2 Munchlax UNM
Starly Control needed some form of resource recovery, but the options for that role were limited. However, Munchlax provided a surprisingly perfect option for the deck. Munchlax provides three major benefits to the deck: (1) a low-maintenance resource recovery option, (2) the ability to recover resources while maintaining a Lillie’s Poké Doll in the Active, and (3) an outstanding pivot option. Considering Starly Control, in-between Make ‘Em Pays, you want to maximize the number of cards your opponent has to hit in order to take another Prize. A common method of doing so is to gust-trap them and then hide behind a Poké Doll, as they would need both a Switch and a Boss’s Orders in order to take a Prize. Munchlax magnifies the strength of this strategy, because it allows you to passively recover resources while doing so in order to prepare for any situation that may arise later in the game. Having a reliable pivot allows for some flexibility in regard to Bird Keepers and boosts the inherent consistency of the Starly engine.
1 Air Balloon
The Air Balloon allows for pivots under Galar Mine. Usually attached to Munchlax, it allows for Munchlax to maintain its value as a pivot while still locking the opponent. However, it can be coupled with Recycle Energy in order to make anything else a pseudo-pivot in the case that the Balloon had to be suboptimally attached. It’s a small addition, but it makes a world of difference.
2 Jirachi TEU
Jirachi added a considerable boost to consistency. Since we run Bird Keeper as our primary Supporter, having access to an extra resource via Stellar Wish when you want to Bird Keeper into Starly anyhow allowed for a boost in Bird Keeper consistency in addition to reducing the deck’s reliance on Keen Eye. Example: If you need three pieces by next turn, Jirachi can hopefully find one of the three pieces from the top five cards and then allow you to use Keen Eye for the other two.
1 Bunnelby RCL
Bunnelby allows the Starly Control pilot to accelerate their win condition once they’ve established a gust-trap. Initially, I had a second copy. However, the Bunnelby often didn’t seem strictly necessary, as it frequently felt more optimal to hide behind a Doll to increase how many cards the opponent needed to advance their win condition. That being said, it’s nice to have an option to discard from the deck, especially if the opponent has a lot of answers to gust-trap left in their deck.
1 Mew UNB
Mew prevents the opponent from hitting your Bench, which, in the context of Lillie’s Poké Doll, essentially states that the opponent needs a gusting option if they want to take a Prize with a Doll in the Active. This magnifies the strength of your Dolls and also prevents your opponent from taking a multi-prize turn with Pikachu & Zekrom-GX’s Tag Bolt-GX attack.
4 Crushing Hammer
Despite my hate for the card, I deemed Crushing Hammers to be a necessary inclusion. With the current meta, Hammers can stall the opponent by a turn whenever they may choose to land. In that sense, it allows you to slow your opponent’s momentum opportunistically, which, for this deck, can be the difference between a win and a loss. However, it also provides reinforcement to your current win condition, while also providing a very small alternative win condition.
When considering possible answers to your gust-trap, the exceedingly obvious one is Switch. From there, you might think about Bird Keepers, Mallow & Lanas, or counter-Stadiums. However, it’s important to recognize that Energy is also an answer to consider. Although it will rarely happen, your opponent can start building up Energy on the trapped Active Pokémon, which could lead them to having an extra answer. Although it won’t matter a lot of the time, as they only have so many Energy and you can just gust another trap-able Pokémon, there are going to be situations where that isn’t a viable strategy. In those situations, Crushing Hammer can prevent that retreat, but also give you the opportunity to punish that line of play. If you recognize that your opponent must be low on Energy, you can remove Energy from the attacker itself, which would render their strategy useless.
In addition, if your opponent is struggling to find Energy each turn, you can play to an Energy denial win-con. It won’t be a viable strategy in most matchups, but it does keep that opportunity open if/when the opportunity may present itself.
2 Lt. Surge’s Strategy
This post first appeared on Sixprizes.com - Pokemon Cards Explained By The Mas, please read the originial post: here