Underground Spotlight: Sabermetrics Applied to Pokemon

In May of 2012, Kent Shen wrote an article for Sixprizes Underground called Getting that Extra Edge: Sabermetrics Applied to PokémonToday, I would like to respond to that article. I read its introduction in 2012 upon its release. However, since I was not an Underground subscriber, I was not able to read the full content and the introduction left me curious and wanting to read more. I have been without WiFi for much of the past week, and I have taken the time to read over a lot of the 6P: UG archive, so five years later I was finally able to read Kent Shen's thoughts on sabermetrics applied to Pokemon. This article originally did require a Sixprizes subscription to access, but since the piece is over five years old, it has long been made available for free to the public.

The article starts by describing the "Moneyball" premise and how managers overvalued and undervalued certain statistics when choosing and paying professional baseball players. Shen connects this to Pokemon, using for example that he believes Pokemon Collector is overvalued in its inclusion in decks. Then, the biggest chunk of this section of the article specifically focuses on singleton cards that players choose to include in their deck that are poor choices. I think that Shen's comparisons are loose at best. The "Moneyball" idea is an excellent hook, especially for a free portion of the article meant to draw readers in and make them buy a subscription to Sixprizes. However, the concept can be more simply boiled down to the following: some cards are worse than the general player base thinks they are. In addition, some players play cards in amounts that are too small to be effective and should use that space differently. There is no reason to draw analogies to sabermetrics or baseball salaries, except to provide a cool hook for the article.

Shen's specific analysis over which single cards are useful or useless in decks is not quite as applicable now due to rotations and format shifts, and the second half of the article describing optimal lists for the HS-DEX format is even less applicable. But I like the concept that players are slow to change their decks optimally, and the discussion on the utility of Pokemon Collector is perfectly relevant and remarkably similar to a discussion on the play of Brigette since the release of Guardians Rising.

Shen argues that Pokemon Collector is an inferior card to Dual Ball in the HS-NXD format. He accepts that one can flip two tails on Dual Ball to lose a game and remember that negative experience strongly. However, he proposes that an equal or greater amount of games are lost less memorably because one player played Collector and was behind a turn to a player who played a more aggressive Supporter for the turn and was able to draw into their basics manually. Using this favorable tempo, the more aggressive player could have the advantage over the player who used Pokemon Collector as their Supporter for the turn.

Pokemon Collector rotated out when we moved to BLW-on, and we as players were "forced" to play an engine in which we used aggressive draw supporters (in addition to Skyla in some formats) along with Ultra Ball. Flashfire saw Pokemon Fan Club released, but that only saw fringe play as it was seen as too slow and not powerful enough to warrant inclusion in most decks. In the BREAKthrough set, Brigette was printed. Brigette is a much weaker card than Pokemon Collector, as it has a large restriction in searching out EX Pokemon. The card saw only fringe play in Gallade/Octillery builds, and not much outside of that. This means that until about May of 2017, most decks used draw supporters and a ball engine to load up their bench with Pokemon.

In May of 2016, XY: Guardians Rising became legal. Tapu Lele GX's release meant that Brigette was good again. By the beginning of this season, Brigette became a one-of, or even a two-of in every deck. An ideal start for most decks includes a Brigette, sometimes found by Tapu Lele GX, to search out three basic Pokemon. Brigette became stronger when EXes stopped getting printed. It's also worth noting that this coincided with Garbodor GRI's release, which had players scrambling to cut Items from their decks.

We have come full circle, moving from Collector, to draw plus ball, back to a Collector-style Supporter. This brings us back to Kent Shen's piece. The strongest turns in the current format happen when you get lucky enough to draw into multiple basics in your opening hand and you can use a different draw supporter to draw more cards and establish your board past getting basics down.

Some great analysis by Cory Koehler
I'd like to make the case for returning to what Shen advocated for in his article: stronger Supporters with Items that search. Between eleven basics, four Ultra Ball, and four Nest Ball, is there really so much risk in playing a Professor Sycamore over a Brigette? A Professor Sycamore or Cynthia where you draw into your basics is much stronger than a Brigette, although it's an inherently risky move. Whether or not that's the optimal play now, it's
probable that we'll be stuck with Cynthia plus Nest Ball come September.

In his article, Shen also discusses that some players are simply behind the curve and slow to adapt their deck-building. This discussion is fascinating, especially given how much has changed. I would say that players being behind the curve in building decks simply no longer happens. Such a big part of constructing a deck involves going to Pokemon.com and seeing the exact list that made Top Eight and starting there. In the current era, if someone creates a new innovation and succeeds with it, that innovation can very easily become the norm going forward.

Gone are the days of secrets staying secrets. This also changes the model of Sixprizes Underground. As one of the first subscription-model websites, the deep archive shows the gradual, seven year-long shift from a service that lets you see the top players decklists to one that lets you see the top players top deck choices along with a valuable analysis.

I swear they used this picture in every other article
Reading through the Sixprizes Underground archive has been a pleasure. It has especially made me appreciate the current editing on the site, both in fixing typos and making editorial decisions. Mainly, writers used to write so much fluff. In going through old articles, there were so many times where I had to skim due to boring repetitive paragraphs. This nearly never happens to me when I read articles from the modern era. Also, articles were very long. The new leadership at Sixprizes has the authors write shorter, but more frequent pieces, which are very much appreciated.

One thing that I miss is long tournament reports! There are plenty of these to read through in the older days of 6P, but they become less and less as I get closer to the present day. These types of reports may be impossible due to the sheer number of rounds a Regionals winner has to play, but I don't like simply listing opponent, deck and whether you won or lost. I miss the story telling, the play by play, and the suspense. But maybe that's just me!

I'm not done reading through the whole archive yet, but it's been a great ride. From the infamous Dakota Streck to the goofy J-Wittz, the history of game captured in these articles is very rich. I personally suggest that you take the time to use this free resource to not only feel nostalgia from formats of old but also to apply old lessons to new formats.


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