My Prep Process

Welcome, folks, to a special article here on Crit the Books. I’ll be discussing my normal prep process for Pokemon Draft League games. This article assumes that you and your opponent already have your rosters drafted, so if you’re not there yet, take a break real quick!

We’ll be looking at my prep for the SV Darmanitan 98 from the IPL vs. FPL War offseason as an example for my techniques, mostly because that is a game that I won. You can look at the replay here, and you can see my preparation spreadsheet here. The final build for my team is also located here.

With every matchup, my first step is to put the rosters that my opponent and I are bringing into a copy of my Prep Spreadsheet, located here. This spreadsheet has a number of tools that I’ve put together to help make my prep happen quicker and easier.

Once the rosters are put in, the first tab I look at is the “Their Type Chart” tab. This lets me look over their team and see if there are any types that the opponent’s team is especially weak to. For this matchup, I saw that my opponent’s mons tended to be weak to Fire, Fairy, Fighting, Flying, and Ice. Because of this, I knew I was very likely going to be bringing Incineroar – it gets powerful Flying and Fighting coverage, and I can supplement that with good utility moves like Knock off and U-turn. I write down a basic planned moveset in the Teambuilding Tab.

I’ll then proceed in a similar fashion to build a basic 4-6 mon core. How exactly I do this varies – in a more resilient or stall based roster like I had in this matchup, I’ll try to make sure I have good swap-ins for most of my opponent’s threats or STAB attacks. In a more offensive roster, I’ll try to make sure that I have super effective coverage against most of my opponent’s mons.

As I add mons to the team, I’ll note down mons that they have at least one super effective move in the table higher in the teambuilding section. This is flexible; I also put here specific ways to deal with problem mons. For example, while Ditto does not have any moves inherent to it, I might note it down as a way to deal with a powerful setup mega because I know it will always outspeed thanks to its Choice Scarf.

While teambuilding, I try to make sure that for every pokemon that my opponent could bring, that I have at least 2 pokemon that are advantaged against it. This isn’t always possible, but I’ve found that it generally helps me from getting caught off-guard. I try not to build around a predicted team for my opponent, since it is easy to get caught with your pants down against a mon you didn’t bring a single answer for.

Once I have a basic core of 3-5 mons that handle the majority of my opponent’s possibilities, I’ll start to dig into more specific interactions. This is where the Move Table of my sheet comes in. Does my opponent have a lot of hazard options? If so, then I need to bring something to deal with those. Does my opponent have a powerful cleric that can heal their mons and/or remove conditions? I need to bring something that can deal at least 60% to that mon. This is where the fine-tuning of movesets comes in, or where I will bring in a specific tech pokemon.

During this step I’ll also double check my Teambuilding Type Table, and make sure that the team I’ve put together doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. You’ll notice that in the SV Darmanitan 98 matchup, my team was quite weak to both Water and Fighting. However, I made sure to have a good swap-in against moves of these types.

Item wise, most mons naturally end up with one or two items naturally chosen for them. A bulky mon who primarily wants to be resilient? Leftovers. A mon with a ton of coverage and a bit of natural bulk? Assault Vest. I find that if an item doesn’t immediately stand out to me, my default choice tends to be leftovers or a choice item, based on whether the mon wants to be setting up and/or dealing damage as a primary option.

Once I have my basic teambuilding done, I’ll put all of the mons into Showdown and double check that the movesets are valid. Most times they are, but every now and then you’ll have an oddity that needs to be addressed. (Unaware Clefairy being unable to learn Soft-Boiled is one that caught me many times before).

If my movesets are valid, I’ll move on to EV selection. This is very much more an art than a science, and is one of the most subtle skill-testing parts of pokemon prep. The first stat I tend to worry about is speed. I’ll use my Speed Table on my prep sheet to speed creep my opponent. This isn’t perfect, but is a good way to make sure you don’t overinvest on speed when you don’t have to. If you look at my final set for the the SV Darmanitan 98, you’ll notice that very few of my mons are heavily speed invested. This is because I was planning on playing a slow, stally game, and wasn’t as concerned with outspeeding my opponent.

A few creeps that I think could have been important, however, are those on Lycanroc and Incineroar. Lycanrock was teched to outspeed a max speed neutral nature Cryogonal or Mienshao, both pokemon that were either weak to it or that it was weak to. Accelerock made the speed not a huge concern – hence the lack of a speed boosting nature – but I wanted to be able to handle them just in case. Incineroar is another interesting call – at 252 EVs and a neutral nature, it outspeeds both Tangrowth and Registeel at max speed positive nature. This isn’t very likely, but I didn’t want to be caught off guard by my opponent.

When putting in EVs, I’ll often follow a few basic pointers as well – EV for odd health so that Stealth Rock and other percentage based damage moves don’t deal extra damage, since those moves round down. Spare EVs almost always go into HP if they are not already there, since it is one of the most relevant stats.

Once I’ve put all of my EVs into place, I’ll often to a final sanity check of my mons. Did I accidentally put a physical move onto a specially-statted mon? Does my opponent have an especially threatening pokemon that I don’t have a good answer to? This is where calcs and making sure you can answer very specific threats comes into play. I’ll also try to make sure I have a relatively even mix of physical and special offensive and defensive mons, and adjust my team to make sure that is the case.

Once I’ve got all of that done, I’ll import my team into and store it for later. I personally organize my league prep into a Trello board, which lets me take notes on what to improve for later games as well as serves as a handy archive for previous preps and a way to have my preps on hand for if I want to ask other players to sanity check them.

Speaking of other players, don’t be afraid to ask for prep help! Pokemon is a complicated game and has a number of huge interactions, and it is easy to be caught unaware by trying to be cute or bringing something unexpected that is more bad than surprise factor. While many leagues have a competitive atmosphere, many players will also be glad to help you out or get better. They are an indispensable resource, and I’ve made some great friends as a part of the community.

An Update on Crit the Books

Hey folks, been thinking about things for a while.

Recently, those of you at the Quick Learner level have noticed that my articles have been pretty consistently coming pretty slowly. That’s due to a combination of a busy work schedule on my end, a lack of subject matter, and some frustration on my part regarding the lack of engagement with my material.

As such, I’m currently planning on ending with Crit the Books as a weekly article, at least as it exists currently. I might retool it at some point into a more personal writing blog, or do something else similar. I’ll be finishing out my articles through the end of February since my patrons deserve that much. At the end of February, I’ll be changing my patreon page away from a creator page, so memberships will be effectively canceled.

Thank you all for staying with me on my journey thus far; I think I have learned a lot in the process. I’ll be keeping this server around, but probably not staying too active. Thank you all, and happy gaming.

Lesson 23: Why I love Guild Ball

Welcome back, readers, to Crit the Books! This week, we’ll be taking a departure from our strategy articles, and look into the design decisions between one of my favorite games, Guild Ball. Guild ball is a game with a ton of deep strategy and is most definitely one of those games that is easy to learn but hard to master. It’s a super deep game of tempo, resource management, and planning ahead. It rewards familiarity with the game to a deep level. Honestly, Guild Ball is a game that I constantly adore from nearly every aspect; in today’s article, however, I’m going to focus on specifically the design aspects.

When Guild Ball is boiled down to the base parts, there are 3 things about the game that really draw me in. The resource system is Guild Ball is very deep and interactive, with multiple uses for the two main resources of the game. The complexity of the game is something that contributes to how easy the game is to learn and is a huge positive point for the game. Finally, Guild Ball brings to it a huge depth and that depth makes it an interesting game to play even after you have played hundreds of games.

First off, let’s talk about Guild Ball’s resource system. Guild Ball has 2 main resources: influence and momentum. Influence is given to you based on the models that you take in your team, and can be used to move further, make attacks, and use special moves on the character’s card called character plays. Influence essentially tells how much a model can do in a given turn. The other main resource is momentum, which is produced by characters selecting certain results from their attacks or succeeding on passes with the ball. It can then be used to remove negative conditions on models, move a model after one of the passes, make a shot on the goal, or heal the wounds off of a model.

Guild Ball, like many other games, is a game about resource manipulation and control. The fact that it has two main resources, unlike many games which only have one, adds a huge amount of depth to the game. In addition, those two resources play completely different. Neither one can substitute for the other, except in very specific circumstances. This, of course, does not touch on the numerous other resources in the game – wounds on models, activations of models, movement… Guild ball is rife with resources and engines to turn those resources into each other. The web of interactions that those multiple resources creates is core to Guild Ball, and I love that!

While Guild Ball has those multiple resources, learning the game is actually quite easy. All a player will need to memorize are the core rules to the game – which can be condensed into a roughly 20 page rulebook – and a few symbols on the cards. Those symbols are all reasonably self descriptive, and every model’s rules are on the card. Unlike games such as Warmachine/Hordes – with 12+ symbols to learn – or Warhammer 40K – with rules kept in a book that require multiple flips through the index to find – Guild Ball keeps its base rules simple and puts the majority of the rules on a model’s card.

In addition to this, Guild Ball is very accessible to new players, both on a rules side and a price point side. I have taught a number of players Guild Ball within 20 minutes, mostly because of the ease of describing what a model can do. They can move – either a jog or a sprint – and use their influence to make attacks, kicks, or plays. The win conditions in this game are easy as well. If you score a goal, you get 4 points, while each player dealt enough damage to be removed from the field will give you two points. 12 points is all you need to win! The basics of Guild Ball are super easy to understand.

The price point of Guild Ball is also very affordable. The game’s starter box, Kick Off, only costs $75, and contains literally everything you will need for a game – 2 teams, dice, a board, widgets, the whole nine yards. In addition, each team of 6 players costs between $60 to $80, making it very affordable for a player interested in a new team to pick them up. These low costs make the game very attractive for a player who is not previously invested in miniatures games, making it an excellent entry choice for a player new to the genre.

Do not fool yourself, however. Guild Ball is an intensely deep game that takes huge amounts of effort to master. As I mentioned earlier, the multiple resources at play in a Guild Ball game make every decision matter. Multiple games I have played have come down to the difference between a single result of an attack or a single misposition. The web of possibilities that happen as a result of the interplay of those resources and the different engines they power make the game incredibly deep. Even if both teams take the same models, the game can turn into an entirely different one because of one or two scatter rolls.

The other thing that makes Guild Ball difficult to master is how unpracticable the majority of the game is. While the first turn can be practiced due to the lack of interaction from your opponent, the ability of your opponent to make choices that directly impact your models – both their positioning and their ability to make certain moves – makes the game extremely interactive. There is not a single strategy in the game that does not have any kind of counterplay, and the different plays, traits, and playbooks on each character make the game incredibly deep and interesting.

When it comes down to it, Guild Ball is one of my favorite games because it obeys the classic adage of a good tabletop game – it is easy to learn, and hard to master. While the game’s base rules are not incredibly complex, they do create a deep well of possible interactions and engines. Mark Rosewater, of Magic: the Gathering fame, called the ability to create complexity out of simple pieces “elegance”. I cannot think of another miniatures game as elegant as Guild Ball, and that elegance is what keeps me coming back to the game and supporting it as much as I do. If you’re interested in small army skirmish games, or even miniatures games at all, I cannot recommend Guild Ball more.

A big thank you to my Patrons for this month: Alex, TicTac, and anonymous patrons. If there are specific subjects or concepts you’d like an article written on, I suggest you look at my patreon! For just $7 a month, you’ll be able to suggest article topics for me to write on.

As always, remember that it’s not enough to just hit the books if you want to win. You’ve got to Crit the Books!


Lesson 22: Bluffing

Readers! Welcome back to another weekly article at Crit the Books. This week, we’ll be going into depth on lying to your opponents. That’s right! It’s bluffing week. We’ll be talking about what makes an effective bluff, when to use those bluffs, and most importantly, when it’s worth it to go entirely off the rails and shock your opponent into handing you the win.

Bluffing is something that is core to any strategy game. Even in games where you cannot directly communicate to your opponent – games like hearthstone with limited emotes, for example – you can still maintain bluffing even with such simple things as gameplay or strategy construction. Bluffing is the art of making your opponent think that you are going to, or are able to, take actions that you are not planning on taking.

The actual mechanics of bluffing are very simple when it comes down to it – in heavy communication games, simply speak to your opponents about what you are going to do. A bluff can be as simple as telling your opponent, “Hey, if you move there, I’ll take your piece. Do you really want to do that?” or it can be as subtle as not playing a card that you could, to fool your opponent into thinking that you don’t have access to that card.

Presenting the potential of moves is a powerful tactic and is one that you can often use in limited communication games. As an extreme example, I would suggest watching a video by Disguised Toast, of hearthstone fame. In this video, Toast plays a deck where he removes a key combo piece from his deck, instead replacing it with more cards that generate him value throughout the game. However, and this is very important, he keeps in most of the combo pieces. By doing so, he fools his opponent into thinking that he has a potential instant win, and you will see in the video that many people will concede once part of the combo starts to occur. This demonstrates the power of potential moves.

The most important part of bluffing is to make sure that you can actually take the action that you are pretending you can. Nobody is going to fall for something like “If you take my piece, I’ll just immediately win.” It’s not possible, and your opponent is not going to play around that possibility. Sure, this kind of tactic might work on newer players or players that far overestimate your abilities, but that is more a failure on their part for being able to accurately estimate your potential actions than any great act of bluffing on your part. It is important to remember, however, that your opponent does not need to see you take the action. They just need to see the possibility of doing so! In the example above, Toast cannot actually play the game winning combo, but his opponent believes he could given the information that they have. This is very important!

There are times to break this rule, and those times are mostly when you have nothing to lose. Maybe you’re going to lose anyway, but that bluff will put you into a situation where you have a 2% chance of winning. Maybe your opponent falling for the bluff will give you another turn with which you can plan and try to stabilize the game – maybe get yourself back into the game! At these times are when you can afford to make those ridiculous buffs that are almost outside the realm of believability, but not quite.

Another trick to effective bluffing is to keep the risk/reward ratio in mind when you make moves. If the move that you are bluffing is potentially risky to you, or doesn’t stand to gain you much, your opponent might not worry about it, letting the action that you were bluffing happen since they don’t really care. This is a bad situation for you – you haven’t made the opponent waste any resources, and you likely haven’t gained much from the bluff either. However, if you can make a play that the opponent knows has the possibility of winning the game – attacking with a creature and bluffing the pump spell that would give them the loss, for example – they will often be forced to play as if the bluff was true, since the risk to them is too great!

There are a number of articles and opinion pieces on the power of bluffing out there, and I encourage you as readers to seek them out if it is something you are interested in. Bluffing is a very, very deep topic, and it is one that I do not think I can even begin to adequately cover in my weekly articles. However, it is a skill that is very important to learn and can guide you to victory even when you are far behind. It’s not all mind games – it is about knowing what expectations your opponent can have of you and playing on those to get you the win.

A big thank you to my Patrons for this month: Alex, TicTac, and anonymous patrons. If there are specific subjects or concepts you’d like an article written on, I suggest you look at my patreon! For just $7 a month, you’ll be able to suggest article topics for me to write on.

As always, remember that it’s not enough to just hit the books if you want to win. You’ve got to Crit the Books!



Lesson 21: Venues of Interaction

Another week is upon us, and that means another article here at Crit the Books! This week, we’ll look at a game design concept that I have found is core to knowing how to approach different matchups to your strategy. We’ll be talking about venues of interaction! Knowing how to interact with your opponent effectively is one of the most important things when you are playing games competitively and interacting with your opponent in ways that are inefficient or not helpful is the cause of many a loss. With that, let’s dive in!

While many games have interaction as a core part of their mechanics, not all strategies care about these methods of interaction in the same way. For an example of this, let’s look at Magic: the Gathering. The strategy we’ll be looking at is one that is popular in modern and legacy, and has left a mark on Magic’s future regardless of the fact that the core mechanic hasn’t been printed in a number of years. That’s right, folks. We’re talking about Storm.

For those of you who are not familiar, a Storm deck is a deck that plays a number of spells in a single turn, eventually able to turn those spells into a game-winning combo by dealing their opponent upwards of 20 damage on turn 3 or 4. Storm is one of the most polarizing strategies in the game, since it can often take a new player by surprise. In addition, there are very few ways to interact with the deck. Many colors do not have strong answers to storm, and perhaps have one or two soft answers. Storm, therefore, does not have many significant venues of interaction.

A strategy’s methods of reducing venues of interaction can vary heavily. We’ll continue to look at decks from Magic: the Gathering to discuss these different methods. Storm is special in that it takes advantage of two of the main ways to reduce the venues. First, it plays with a set of cards that have a limited amount of answers within the game. This is called answer limitation – it limits your interaction by using game components that you simply cannot interact with in some cases. Storm also limits venues of interaction by attempting to win the game as early as possible, ideally before the opponent has time to amass the resources and cards to interact with it effectively. This is timing limitation – it limits your interaction by reducing the amount of time that your opponent has to interact.

When playing your game, try your best to reduce the venues of interaction that your opponent has. If you have a plan that relies on your opponent not interacting with a specific piece that you will be using, wait as long as you safely can to implement that plan. By giving your opponent as little time to react as possible, you can increase the odds that your plan will go off. Similarly, it can be to your advantage to figure out what pieces of your strategy are the most difficult for your opponent to interact with and focus on using those to their best ability.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are playing a game of Magic: the Gathering draft. You are playing a Blue/White deck that has a number of fliers, and one or two hexproof creatures. You also have a few spells that can make your creatures larger or counter your opponent’s spells. If you are playing against an aggressive red/black deck that you notice has a lot of targeted removal, it can often be beneficial to use your flying creatures to block your opponent’s early aggression. The field will then be clear for you to play your hexproof creature and use that to win the game, since your opponent will not be able to remove it easily. You’ve limited your opponent’s ability to react to your plays by emphasizing threats that your opponent can’t answer. You’ve used answer limitation.

On the other hand, perhaps you will play against a green deck that has a number of large creatures that can profitably block your hexproof creatures but have a high mana cost. Here, you probably want to drop your fliers as fast as possible and swing in, keeping your opponent on the back foot and ideally defeating them before they have the time to play their large creatures. In this case, you’ve used timing limitation – you’ve done your best to make sure your opponent didn’t have the time to respond to you.

These are only basic examples, but you start to see the idea. If you can limit your opponent’s ways to interact with you, you will naturally find yourself in advantageous positions. Similarly, identifying the ways that you can interact with your opponent, and taking advantage of them, is key to finding yourself in a strong position in games. Interactivity is key and learning how to manipulate it in your favor is one of the best ways to put yourself at an advantage.

A big thank you to my Patrons for this month: Alex, TicTac, and anonymous patrons. If there are specific subjects or concepts you’d like an article written on, I suggest you look at my patreon! For just $7 a month, you’ll be able to suggest article topics for me to write on.

As always, remember that it’s not enough to just hit the books if you want to win. You’ve got to Crit the Books!