Thoughts on Ghazgate

Wow, first off let me say thank you so much to all the blog’s fans who appreciated what I was doing by posting the Seena Ghaziaskar tournament report. I made it clear in the original post that the views expressed were from a tournament report written by Seena, and are his views only. However, now I’d like to take a chance to express my own views: first, on the purpose this site serves; and second, offering a bit of perspective on the judges’ side of this controversy.

Purpose of HeyTrainer, and How /blog Content is Chosen

Free Pokemon; free speech; free dumb

With very limited exception and deviation, those have always been the goals of this niche within a niche we call HeyTrainer.org. A key element to that is the free exchange of ideas: Even if the ideas themselves are offensive, or the people sharing them are, we rarely shy away from topics that are of substantive value to the competitive community. In the few short months we’ve been back, we’ve covered everything from a major archetype’s birth to why women won’t touch competitive TCG.

When guest columnists post blogs, I rarely exercise creative control over what they choose or don’t choose to say. The main editorial control I exercise is in presentation, scheduling, and maybe a few recommendations. I certainly exercise ultimate authority over what gets posted or removed, and have a strict set of rules I follow for what guest columns stay up.

However, a player being DQ’d is not one of those rules. In fact, a DQ’d player offers unique perspective into the competitive experience because they somehow reached the most egregious violation of the rules. Players rarely get DQ’d, but considering it’s the ultimate death-knell in one’s tournament aspirations, learning from the mistakes of DQ’d players is actually helpful.

No matter how you feel about whether Seena intentionally did anything wrong, or even if a DQ was the optimal penalty, pretty much everyone agrees a penalty was appropriate. Some big takeaways therefore are as follows:

A) You can lose a tournament over marked cards, so take your choice of sleeves seriously; and

B) Don’t use clear sleeves (unless they’re just double-sleeved)

Thoughts about the NAIC Judging

While I love sharing all sorts of different perspectives, I personally am not in the business of second-guessing the judges’ decision, or any decisions TPCi may make based off of those judging calls. In fact, I have a ton of respect for the judges who made this particular call. DQ’ing a player is rarely done lightly, and with so many checks and balances at the NAIC, any claim of bias is pure and utter nonsense.

Furthermore, most if not all of the judges directly involved in this situation can’t share their story. While judges are rarely paid and almost always volunteers, they still have a level of elevated professional expectations that normal Play! Pokemon members don’t. In the case of a DQ, keeping the drama to a minimum is actually an explicit requirement laid out in the penalty guidelines, so I doubt you’ll be hearing from those specific judges any time soon.

However, an anonymous source with some personal knowledge of the situation reached out to me. In Seena’s case, they claimed the way the issue began was with several players raising serious concerns about the clear sleeves. This “sketchiness” prompted the decision to deck check multiple times. Why the first deck check did not result in a DQ remains a mystery to me, but the source mentioned serious issues with the Double Colorless Energy and the Shaymin EX. The Double Colorless Energies’ condition were determined to be “most likely from play,” but still created an egregious marked card situation regardless of intent. That, combined with the Shaymin EX, resulted in the DQ.

I get the impression that penalties across the board were elevated at the NAIC. Between warnings for not having decks aligned North-South, match losses for writing on hands, and a game loss for a single tall sleeve, the NAIC judging staff were not playing around. However, I’m also 100% sure that the judging staff thought very carefully before deciding to DQ a player. Having judged several tournaments in the past, I can tell you: the hardest part about judging, and the reason why we have judges in the first place, is so that someone is there to make tough decisions.

Luis Baez: “Better Luck Next Year: 10 Things I Learned in My First (Half) Season Playing the Pokémon TCG”

In one of the very first episodes of the Pokémon anime, “Showdown in Pewter City,” Ash challenges Brock, the first Kanto Gym Leader, to battle with his inexperienced (and untrained) Pikachu despite multiple warnings from Misty that he wasn’t ready for it and needed more practice. Of course, Ash ignores her, and Brock’s Onix easily defeats Ash and his Pikachu in their first battle. It wasn’t pretty.

To be fair though, that thing’s huge.

Fast forward to the end of the episode: lessons are learned, Pikachu is trained up through some weird type of electroshock therapy, Ash gets a little lucky when sprinklers go off and wins his battle thanks to a timely Thundershock, and Brock gets leave his gym and join Ash and Misty on their adventures thanks to the return of his father.

It’s a good episode from the early Pokémon seasons, and it popped into my mind on my drive back home from the North American International Championships held last weekend in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Going into the tournament, I had 198 championship points. I started playing Pokémon in late-November after I serendipitously found myself at a great local shop in the Houston, Texas area called “Card Shack” for an Evolutions Pre-Release. The store owner was cool, the judge was friendly, and everyone else there participating was friendly and welcoming. Before this event, I tried to get back into the Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic scenes, but they weren’t welcoming when I left about ten years ago, and that was still the case last fall. As a kid, I collected Pokémon cards from Base Set through Neo Discovery, but never played competitively.

After competing in many league challenges, league cups, an ARG event, and three regionals (Dallas, Athens, and Roanoke) as a new player, I had to count on a top 4 finish at Indianapolis for a worlds invite. As you can already tell from the title of this post, it didn’t happen. I went 3-3-3 with an Espeon/Garbodor build on Day One. The only other deck I had a decent level of success with at locals prior to the International was Mega Rayquaza, but I didn’t feel like it was a good choice for last weekend given the popularity of Zorark, Drampa, and other decks that were either built around or had some element of one-prize attackers. I knew the turnout was going to be huge, and went with what I thought was a good play.

On the drive back to Texas, I started to think about what to take away from the season, and what I need to do differently this year to up my level of play for a worlds 2018 invite, and thought that I should write them up in case there are any new players reading this looking for advice on getting started, or other new-ish players who might’ve had a season similar to mine.

That’s when the “Showdown in Pewter City” episode came to mind. If Ash and Pikachu could mount a solid comeback, I could figure out a way to do the same. What follows are bits of advice that experienced players gave me along the way, and some things I figured out on my own. Everyone is different, and there is more than one way to skin a cat, so take all of this with a grain of salt. You have to find a routine that works for you, and hopefully these help you get there.

  1. Don’t Spend Money on Packs

Pretty early on, a lot of experienced players in the Houston area gave me this piece of advice: If you are a competitive player and want to travel from regional to regional, it is important to be smart with your money. Buy a playset of the major archetypes, or archetypes you are interested in, and use them when you need to. Contrast this to buying a case of Guardians Rising booster boxes for $575 – you most likely won’t even pull a playset of each major GX cards in the set.

Don’t get me wrong, opening packs with your friends is super fun. If you can afford it, go for it, but otherwise I’d stick to buying what you need and keeping it all in one binder.

For example, I purchased playsets of every GX Pokemon (including Tapu Lele GX) in Guardians rising and trainer cards for around $170.00. $120.00 of that cost were Tapu Leles, but it was definitely worth it. I keep all of these playsets sleeved in a 4X4 Dex Protection binder ready to go in case I want to play a certain deck on a given tournament day.

I also know for a fact that I do not have the “magic touch.” There is a well-known father and son team in the area who literally pull gold from each pack they pick up. I’ve even seen other players buy a back from the shelf, take it to their son to bless, and watch them open full art supporters and rainbow rare cards. My brother also has the magic touch, and got most of his Leles from Walgreens, but I get nothing but bulk each time I buy a pack, so I decided it was not for me.

Notable father-son duo, ca. 1999
  1. Hold On to Tournament Legal Cards

One thing I’ve noticed above newer players and less experienced players is that they trade legal cards or decks thinking that they are useless or dead, only to learn that a card in a newer set will bring it back to life. For example, many people I know gave up on Darkrai once Field Blower was tournament legal, only to have to buy or trade for the cards again after Guardians Rising because of the Altar of the Moone builds that were getting popular thanks to players in Europe.

The same was true when I watched people trade in their baby Vikavolts with the strong charge ability as bulk in the early days of Sun and Moon thinking it wasn’t going to be good for anything, only to see those cards shoot up in value and demand when a few of Pokemon’s top players placed in the Top 8 of Madison regionals with Metagross GX.

Not to mention poor Araqruanid and Wobbuffet, who (at least from my perspective) nobody cared about until Grant Mantley incorporated the card into his second-place Roanoke deck. Actually, now that I think about it, the same was true for the Steven supporter card in James Arnold’s first-place Roanoke deck.

The point is, hold on to your stuff (especially trainer cards), because you never know what will be incorporated into a good deck, or what future cards will make old ones competitive.

  1. Practice in Person

    Major League BASEBA– Errrr, Play Pokemon

When I first got back into the game, I played online a lot. I then went to play at local tournaments and would make small, dumb mistakes like trying to play two supporters, sometimes forgetting to lay out six prizes, and losing track of the board state. Grinding games in person at your local league or informal tournaments is incredibly helpful in terms of training yourself to get used to the competitive environment.

When you are at home playing the online version in comfy clothes and a quiet environment, you are forgetting that your local League Cups will have 30+ players in a loud, cramped environment, and that your Regionals have 500+ people playing right next to you. Focus is key at these events; you have to get used to playing in that environment, and I think playing in person goes a long way. Playing online just makes it seem way too easy.

I also think that playing in person gives you a much better feel for your ability to keep track of things in the discard and your deck without the ease of how the online version keeps everything organized for you. There were also games I played where people forget Garbotoxin is in effect, try to use abilities after Hex Maniac was played, or I forget that I played an energy for the turn (or forgetting the same about my opponents).

Again, you may be the exception to this rule (or I might be the exception if you turn the tables) and find the online practice just as helpful as in-person practice, which is totally cool. These are just some things that I personally am taking away from the season. A popular counter I’ve heard to this point is that there are plenty of top-level players who play online and succeed, but my hunch is that they grind in person much more than they play online.

It’s also important to play in person because of the networking and friend-making aspect of the game. For the first few months of playing, I attended two separate leagues in the Houston area religiously: one at Card Shack on Thursdays, and another Sunday afternoons at Asgard Games.

I liked the Card Shack league because every week was a small, four-round, standard format tournament, and the shop owners gave out cool prizes without asking for entry fees. Most of the people who attended were either just like me, or were experienced and were testing different builds of their decks. It was a good taste of what a more serious league cup would be like. There was also a top-tier, worlds qualifying player named Jason who would attend, and was happy to answer questions about the game and point people in the right direction (myself included). On Sundays at Asgard, the league was a little more relaxed where people played friendly pickup games and traded. At this point, I’ve made good friends with players from both leagues, and have gotten a good feel for the local scene.

For this upcoming season, I’ll get back into the swing of leagues, and most likely won’t play as much online.

  1. Net-deck (At the Beginning at Least)
Pokemon.com publishes top-finishing decks from Regionals and Internationals all the time.

For most of the season, I net-decked my lists for locals and league challenges and cups. I’d add or subtract a few cards based on personal preferences or the local meta. I feel like there are a lot of new players who try to go with their builds and ideas before they have mastered the fundamentals of the game.

I’d pick a build that a popular player has posted to learn the game. When you start to get good, you can experience with builds. If you are a player with less than three months of experience, I’d pick a deck you like that placed in the top 32 of last weekend’s internationals, and practice with it until rotation to get a good feel for what consistent decks are made of. From there, you can start to experiment with card changes.

  1. Don’t Forget About Real Life

This should go without saying, but like any other hobby, make sure your work, school, and family come first. As an attorney, I was hard-pressed for free time even before Pokémon, and I can definitely recall a two to three week stretch in early January where I spent a little too much time on the game.

Israel Sosa recently posted an article over at Some1’s PC here and talked about how much a short break in between Regionals helped him out. I think the same idea can be helpful on a more micro level from week to week or month to month. I think new players will learn that once they get a good feel for the game, they won’t need weekly or even bi-weekly practice like they did before.

Again, if you are a self-made millionaire and don’t have to work anymore, then I envy your ability to play Pokémon 24/7, but my hunch is that most of us have responsibilities outside of the game, and it’s important to not lose sight of that in favor of a card game.

  1. Get Used to Losing 

    Pikachu constantly scrubs out of tournaments.

            In the leagues I talked about above, I lost a lot at first. At League Challenges and Cups, I lost even more. It wasn’t until April (about four months in) that I won my first League Cup.

If your opponent is friendly, ask them questions about misplays they saw, or why they went for plays you didn’t understand. I’ve also found that people watching you play in a match will be sure to tell you as soon as the game is over how you misplayed. That was something that frustrated me at first, but I had a change of heart about it once I realized how incredibly helpful it is.

Don’t get frustrated over losses. Use them as learning experiences, and take notes to see what you can do to correct the mistake next time around.

One thing I want to do this next coming season is keep a notebook with my matches, and jot down my thoughts on how it went.

  1. Practice Early and Often Before Big Tournaments

This is probably a no-brainer, but practice, practice, practice before big tournaments. For Roanoke Regionals, I didn’t practice the week or night before the event. I thought I’d be okay just picking up Mega Rayquaza after having not played it for about ten days. I was wrong.

There is a lot to be said about keeping your hands warm before a big tournament, and practicing early and often before a big event helps you get a sixth sense for the intricacies of your deck.

  1. Sleeves

Opinions will vary on this issue, but I think the best sleeves are Dragon Shield matte. They have a good feel and shuffle well. KMCs seem to have lost their quality from 2005-2009 when I played Yu-Gi-Oh, and I can’t keep track of how many times Ultra Pro sleeves split on me (yes, including the Eclipse sleeves). You can also buy inner sleeves to go inside the matte sleeves for extra protection. Some people have told me Dragon Shield sleeves with an inner sleeve makes the cards “waterproof,” but I am not going to be the person who tests that theory.

The only alternative to Dragon Shield matte I’d go with are Pokémon Center Sleeves with oversleeves. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about (and yes, I know these are Ultra Pro sleeves – just an example!):

The oversleeve on the bottom goes over your standard Pokémon Center sleeves (including the sleeves in the elite trainer boxes). It increases the size of each card and your deck, but it makes shuffling so much more easy and smooth.

  1. Resources

The HeyTrainer blog and its Facebook companion group are great places to start. When I discovered it, I went back to posts at the beginning of the season and read from there. I did the same for other websites like sixprizes.com, thecharizardlounge.com, some1spc.com, and Pokebeach.com. There’s also a great site called 60cards.net. There are also great YouTubers out there like Tablemon and Trainer Chip who do a good job of explaining their decision making as they play with top tier decks on stream.

I’ve heard a lot of complaints from other players about paywalls on some of these websites, but if you are a new player I’d say a sub is definitely worth it to one or two premium sites.

I’m also a big fan of The Super-Rod Cast. For most of this season, it was probably the most consistent product out there that had the some of the best players as guests each week. Six Prizes has recently started a podcast, but I haven’t gotten a chance to listen to it yet. Ptcgradio is also good if you are a complete newcomer to the scene, but I’d look to the first two podcasts for more intermediate to advanced level content.

  1. Train On

            One thing I’ve noticed is that even the top players lose now and then. It is easy to get discouraged, but if you are really passionate about the game, the awesome community, and another outlet to set and accomplish goals for yourself, I think the Pokémon TCG community is the perfect place to do it.

There is something about the competitive scenes that takes me back to my high school and college days of traveling and competing in debate and mock trial tournaments with my friends and teammates, and if you’ve ever been part of a competitive community before Pokémon will suck you right in.

I emailed this video to myself to keep at the top of my “TCG” folder in my email as a reminder for the 2017-2018 season:

When the going gets tough, the tough get going! Good luck in the 2017-2018 season! I hope this article helps.

Seena Ghaziaskar NAIC Tournament Report

Seena Ghaziaskar is the 2005 United States National Champion and 2017 Origins Special Event winner.

Hey everyone. Today I’d like to share my tournament report from the Internationals.

Testing for the NAIC

In the weeks prior, I had been testing a multitude of decks but ultimately decided on Zoroark. I was worried that many people would try to counter it, but I ultimately decided it’s not worth fretting about too much with such a large player pool. The deck is very strong, probably one of the 2-3 best decks in the format, and I felt comfortable playing it.

List Analysis: Zoroark/Umbreon

Here is the list I used, followed by breakdowns on Pokemon and Trainer choices.

Pokemon: 21
4 Zoroark
4 Zorua
3 Zoroark BREAK
2 Tapu Lele GX
1 Drampa GX
1 Oranguru
1 Shaymin EX
2 Eevee
1 Umbreon GX
1 Flareon
1 Vaporeon

The addition of the Eevees adds another element to the deck. A fast Umbreon can put on early pressure and the snipe damage can set up easier eventual KOs with Zoroark, and Flareon and Vaporeon are a boost in the Vespiquen, Decidueye, Metagross, Lurantis, and Volcanion matchups. Even then, you still have one Drampa because it needs a heavy hitter.

I had flirted with 3-2 Umbreon, but immediately found that too clunky given that some matchups you don’t even use Umbreon at all. 2-1 felt sufficient, because since Umbreon is more of a secondary attacker than primary, you can afford it being prized.

Trainers: 29
4 Professor Sycamore
4 N
2 Lysandre
1 Teammates
1 Brigette
1 Hex Maniac
1 Professor Kukui
4 Ultra Ball
4 VS Seeker
3 Choice Band
2 Float Stone
1 Super Rod
1 Reverse Valley

Pretty standard. Most people play 2 Rescue Stretcher but I always felt 2 recovery cards was 1 too many, + I’m running a 3rd BREAK whereas most people run 2. Also, I like the option of putting Darks back in the deck given the most important attack is Foul Play, and sometimes you have to discard energies from bad Sycamores and using attacks like Bulu. Special Charge didn’t feel needed, because this isn’t a deck that chains DCE attackers like Bees and Gyarados. 4 Choice Band was flirted with at times but felt clunky in MUs where the card isn’t needed.

Energy: 10
5 Dark
4 Double Colorless
1 Rainbow

General Thoughts on the Deck

If I had to change the deck, I may consider cutting the lone Reverse Valley for a 4th Choice Band, and the 4th N for a 6th Dark Energy. Missing energy drops was a frustrating aspect of this deck. But overall, I was very happy with how the deck flowed throughout the day, although maybe in part it was because I wasn’t running into bad matchups like Greninja and Darkrai

As for the matchup breakdown, I feel like we’re favored against Espeon/Garbodor, slightly favored in mirror, favored v Metagross, even v Decidueye variants (perhaps a slight underdog), lose pretty solidly to Darkrai and Greninja, beat Lurantis and Volcanion. Next set will change everything though, so I’m not sure it’s playable.

Onto the Games

Round 1 v Vespiquen

He flips over a Zorua, so I expect I’m playing a Zoroark deck, but as soon as he benches Unown I know it’s Bees. Annoying, because right before the tournament, I cut Karen. His 1st turn results in attaching a DCE to Lele and Energy Driving my Drampa, and I’m able to pull off a 2 DCE/Lele/Band/Float Stone/Kukui play to OHKO the Lele. I take a 3-0 lead and trade from there. Time is called in Game 2, and there was a crucial turn where he was only able to Bee Revenge for 80, and I think I would’ve won this game because of this.

Round 2 v Volcanion

Vaporeon shined in this matchup. He ran Fighting Fury Belt and this is where Vaporeon became important. He takes a 1-0 or 2-0 lead but is unable to keep up in trades from there as Volcanions get OHKO’d by single prize attacking Zoroarks. He dead draws in Game 2 despite KO’ing a Drampa for the first 2 prizes, and a combination of Umbreon and Vaporeon finish off his weak board state.

Round 3 v Sylveon GX

This matchup seems pretty bad, but I do pull off the T1 Hex Maniac. Unfortunately I made a gross misplay where I habitually discarded a Kukui with my Ultra Ball. Having done this, I was unable to Strafe for 60 (Kukui/Reverse Valley) to KO his lone Eevee on the 2nd turn (worst misplay of the tournament). And then Sycamored for 7 and Shaymin’d for 5 and could not find the game winning DCE. The game drags on and I’m sitting there doing 70-100 with Umbreon, and eventually have a turn where I take 3 prizes by KO’ing an Eevee and Sylveon with Shadow Bullet and win. Game 2 I get out 2 Zoroark BREAK and he has to waste a turn to use Plea GX, but since his deck is putting on no offensive pressure I eventually reset them and win anyway. As is expected with Sylveon, time is called and he is nowhere near winning the game or decking me out. I believe he misplayed some Magical Ribbons in Game 1 because he had an eventual awkward mid game sequence where he was passing after a Max Potion.

Round 4 v Zoroark/Drampa

His first mistake was dropping a Magma Base when I had a Drampa with Energy on bench, and I proceed to take a 5-0 lead with that Drampa alone. I was unable to find Oranguru so some late game Ns kind of hurt, but I was eventually able to find what I needed for that last prize. Game 2 I don’t recall much, but I did have an important turn where Kukui allowed me to one shot a Tapu Koko with Umbreon. I think i got a fast Umbreon in this game and it put in a lot of work before it went down.

Round 5 v Volcanion

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jQ7Xae1YHY

This matchup was on stream. In Game 1 Vaporeon steals the show, as KO’ing back to back Volcanion EXs destroys his board and he concedes shortly after when I have 1 prize. Game 2 I realize my Vaporeon is prized, but I decide to bench 2 Eevee to bluff the threat and he does Lysandre KO one of the Eevees. I have a pretty slow start, and even have a awkward turn where I attach a Rainbow to KO my active Zorua falling behind 2-0 in prizes, just to Big Wheel out of a dead hand. I’m behind 4-1 or 4-2 when I have a sequence where I Hex back to back turns, and he is unable to take a prize on Zoroark BREAKS… eventually I dig through nearly my entire deck when I have 2 prizes left, and the Drampa that was sitting on the bench with 70HP gets to take the last 2 prizes with a Berserk on a Volcanion. I got lucky here, as he did have 2-3 turns where a Lysandre would’ve won him the game outright.

Round 6 v Zoroark/Drampa

The first game starts slow as I attach DCE to benched Zorua and he Lysandre kills it with Energy Drive. I repeat the same the next turn and he once again Lysandre KOs it with Energy Drive. I’m down 2 Zorua and 2 DCE at this point, but eventually I find a way to win this game through the power of Foul Playing Berserk and limiting my bench. Umbreon put a lot of work in the mid game sequence as well, with the 30 snipe damage being very relevant and being able to one shot Zoroarks thanks to Reverse Valley.

The DQ

At this point I get my 2nd deck check and the judges tell me that a few cards are marked, and that I am DQ’d. I’m pretty disappointed, because I worked SO damn hard this year to try and get an invite. I don’t think I played more Pokemon at any point from 2001-2009, and I don’t think I traveled and spent as much money as I have the past 3-4 months. But I guess mistakes happen, and I don’t feel any guilt because I did not deliberately mark cards, and never did I have an unfair advantage over any of my opponents.

Thoughts on the Season/Conclusion

I’m very satisfied with my year regardless of the bitter and unfair ending. I had 27 championship points heading into March, but went on a tear with 1st/2nd/2nd at League Cups (145 points), T8 at Virginia (100), and the win at Origins SPE (145). At 6-0, I had basically guaranteed the final points I needed to get over 500. I played well this season, practiced a LOT as you can see on the PTCGO leaderbards, and hope to play in the next big tournament I can.

(7/16 update: the staff have since offered additional commentary on the issues raised by this report. To read it, click here.)

John Kettler NAIC Finalist Report, Part Two

(Continued from part one)

-Table of Contents-
1. Pre-Tournament Choices
2. Link to List Analysis
3. Tournament Report, Rounds 1-9
4.1 Tournament Report, Rounds 10-12
4.2 Tournament Report, Rounds 13-15
5. Tournament Report, Top Cu6
6. Further Thoughts on Decidueye’s Future
7. Conclusion and Gratitude Section

4.2 Tournament Report, Rounds 13-15

Round 13: VS Mega Rayquaza

Game one: I draw an insane early setup and blow the game out.

Game two: Reno draws an equally strong early set up to my weak opening. However, I appear to have a window open to mount a comeback! I Shaymin EX, draw into the pieces I need for Vileplume, play those pieces to set up the Vileplume, N Reno, and my hope for a comeback is looking pretty good. He then starts playing his turn, but then we’re alerted to one tiny problem…

I couldn’t put the Vileplume in play because he had Sudowoodo’s Road Block active.

Photo credit: Doug Morisoli

At this point, the judges pause the game and confer on the best ruling. They eventually decide on a prize penalty against me, and since all Reno had left was a single prize, he won the game. This was the right call, and while Reno consoled me a bit by reminding me we both forgot about it, I still felt pretty bad because I’ve been playing for forever and should have caught it. Nevertheless, I felt a little better knowing that he was the overwhelming favorite to win that game anyways, and immediately did my best to relax and play the third game to the best of my ability.

Game three: Chilling out and not letting the previous game error paid off big-time, as this match turned out to be a repeat of game one. While he had significantly more outs and put up a good fight, he had too many low-HP Pokémon targets, which led to me winning on the +3 turns. (9-1-3)

Phew! This was definitely not how I hoped or saw my day two going, but I was finally up to 30 match points, meaning all I needed were two points for top 16 or four points for top eight.

Round 14: VS Decidueye/Ninetales (Igor Costa)

Game One: I’m honestly not sure how I won this one, since he got out an impressive two Decidueye to my garbage with him going first. However, I find that in these situations I benefit greatly by targeting down the low-hanging fruit: Shaymin EXs, any little Basics I happen to Knock Out, etc. I do this while eventually setting up two Decidueye of my own and a Vileplume, taking advantage of the improbability of him knowing about my Olympia. Generally putting the Vileplume in play in mirror matches is a tricky proposition, but when you miss Float Stone, Olympia actually becomes a valuable asset, permitting much more imposing lock-oriented boards. That’s exactly what happened here and so thanks to Olympia and Vileplume I came back and won.

Game Two: Again Igor goes first with two Decidueye turn one, but this time I don’t have much of a prayer of staying in this game.

Game Three: These two games took nearly all of the 50 minutes, so just like my series vs Juan Pablo Salas, I spend the last few moments assuring the tie, and from then on just goofing off with inconsequential plays. (9-1-4)

Round 15: VS Drampa/Garbodor (Benjamin Behrens)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESQ2SC_H-uw

Game One: I have three Grass Energy prized, but get out a fast Vileplume and never look back. I also do it with relatively few Items, meaning he never had much of a chance to wiggle back out, especially since his and Tord’s list runs zero Olympia or Hex Maniac – cards I didn’t know were missing until only after the games!

Game Two: I start even stronger this game, being able to get turn one Vileplume “and” Decidueye, but Benjamin is able to play around it a lot more than last time. He actually Knocks Out my Vileplume and gets a turn of Items, making a comeback. Fortunately I keep Garbotoxin from being a factor thanks to Field Blower, and get Vileplume back into play. Ben hits a very helpful Acid Spray to attempt to prevent me from KO’ing him, but I also have an Olympia to Switch out of it. So in so many words, I had what I needed, and closed out the match. (10-1-4)

5. The Top Eight

Top Eight: VS Greninja (Alex Krekeler)

Game One: I get destroyed. Thanks to a slow start and him being able to Talonflame BREAK me for both search and insane Damage, I didn’t even have a chance to make a comeback.

Game Two: Again a get a very slow Vileplume, but this time it’s balanced out by the sheer number of attackers and Feather Arrows I get into play. I don’t think I got out Vileplume until turn four or five, but by then the matchup was playing out a lot more “normally” in my mind.

Game Three: I get a fast Vileplume this time, and between Feather Arrows and brute force I choke any options there may’ve been. Eventually I kill the last Greninja, and advance to the semi-finals.

Top Four: VS Decidueye/Ninetales (Igor Costa)

Photo credit: Doug Morisoli

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVd87VK6ZcQ .

Game one: Much to the audience’s displeasure, I prized two Oddish. However, not having Vileplume is only a nuisance in the mirror – not a deal-breaker. I quickly figure this out, but have no idea when I’ll draw into them, so I just focus on my Decidueyes.

This game deals out somewhat like our swiss games, but not nearly as explosively for Igor as he’s unable to get out more than a single Decidueye. Meanwhile my brute force strategy works fairly well, and forces him into an awkward spot where he plays super-conservatively to protect his Decidueye. It’s at this point where I feel he began suffering fancy play syndrome: A condition where you make a misplay due to being focused on the flashier, more attractive play rather than the simpler, but duller choice. As you can see in the video, he’s forced to bench an Espeon EX, which I immediately dis-incentivize him from promoting by Feather Arrowing. He commits to the Miraculous Shine for a single prize, which at least in hindsight did nothing to slow down my momentum, and only gave me easy prizes without using a Lysandre. This continues later when he left a Shaymin EX up after N’ing me to two, despite a Decidueye GX making a much safer wall. At any rate, his N to two does nothing and I KO the Shaymin for game.

Game two: Now, here’s my chance to overthink a little! As we discussed, you have to be careful about when evolving to Vileplume in the mirror match. However, I think I definitely worried myself too much about this, and so I chose not to Evolve or even maintain Vileplume when I could have. I make a lot of other strong plays like forcing Igor’s field to stay clogged with useless things like Vulpix, but for the first time in our two series, his Choice Bands actually overwhelmed me. I don’t think this is any more apparent than on the last turn of the game, when Igor attached Double to Tapu Koko, attaches Choice Band, and then Lysandre/Feather Arrows/deals 100 for game.

Game three: In what was certainly an anticlimactic finish to a great rivalry that popped up over the course of the day, Igor dead-draws in game three, not even having Energy to attack with Koko. Meanwhile, I get out a decisive early setup with a lock to boot, and win from there.

Wow, finals of the NAIC! I get some food, choose to rest as well as I can, and from there plan to do my best in the finals. Since I had already played against Tord’s list, I didn’t feel the need to test further. While this was probably correct, my games against Tord would deal out much differently than the ones against Benjamin…

Finals: VS Drampa/Garbodor (Tord Reklev)


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SF0gPGWg97Q

Like my other streamed matches, I think the games speak for themselves. I’ve seen this match at least twice and have nothing in game two I feel is worth expanding on, but let’s dive into that first game a bit, perhaps explaining what I consider to be suspect moves of mine:

Discarding the N: Early game I choose to discard an N for a Shaymin Set Up, risking dead draw. That is exactly what happened, but I’m convinced it was a worthwhile risk due to how many Energy I would have lost otherwise. Keep in mind I also had a fourth of all my Energy prized, so the risk was definitely worth not having to play the game without Energy.

Endgame of Game one: Actually, nobody’s mentioned to me a lick of this, but in hindsight I could have read deeper into his not using a GX Attack. At the very end of the game, Tord opts to just hit me for 20 as opposed to Big Wheel GX. This should have been my clue that he had Lysandre in hand for game, yet for some reason I thought he just wanted to save his GX attack until he really needed it (remember that Tord can use Tapu Cure GX to heal and prevent a comeback). Ultimately, though, the Lysandre was the immediate out to win, and so it would’ve been superior for me to N his two card hand. I almost certainly would’ve lost still, but I’m always looking for ways to improve, and so I think reading GX Attacks will definitely be relevant moving forward.

Game Two I….just didn’t hit what I needed, and he pretty much always had the right outs. That’s the heart of consistency.

All in all an incredible run. Even though I didn’t get that juicy title, I’m still very happy with my performance, and am EXTREMELY eager to take names at the World Championship next month!
6. Reflections

So there you have it: runner-up in the game’s biggest tournament of all time…WOW! I mostly felt like I played my best in the finals, and with limited exception capitalized on my good fortune as much as possible all weekend. That said, there are a few things both before the finals match and throughout the whole weekend I might have done differently. Regardless whether any of these changes would’ve made a difference, they at least would have been optimal things to do…

#1: Memorize Tord’s list by heart. I pretty much knew what to expect because A) I played against Tord’s teammate Benjamin beforehand; and B) saw Tord’s list posted on Pokemon.com. However, I could’ve spent a good 15 minutes just staring at the list, even if I knew it already. I also might’ve been able to take this to the next level by writing down Tord’s entire list in my notes when the game started and then cross off cards as he played them. But the rules seem unclear on if that’s even allowed. From General Event Rules Part 8, “Note Taking”:

“Players are allowed to take written notes during a game in respect to actions that have happened during the game…”

This clearly permits notes related to prizes, but I’m not sure it permits you to info dump your opponent’s entire list at the start of a game. Unlike crying happy faces, which are only nominal violations of the rules and otherwise totally compliant with Spirit of the Game, writing an opponent’s entire list is simply uncharted territory. I plan to pose this question to the Professor Forum soon, but I’m thinking you can’t unless there is some action that reveals your opponent’s list to you.

#2: Do a better job scoping out the nearest eating locations. I’ve been to Indy so many times I take it for granted, but I shouldn’t have found out from my friend Alex Fields about the great coffee shop across the street; rather, I should’ve known it was there from the start so I’d be more efficient in managing my time between rounds.

Interested in sponsoring me, Bee’s? 😉

#3: For goodness sake, don’t forget about Road Block Sudowoodo.

6. Further Thoughts on Decidueye’s Future

Several months ago, I made a forecast about Decidueye’s future in my St. Louis tournament report. You can read it here::: http://www.heytrainer.org/blog/2017/03/10/all-eyes-on-the-owl-guy-part-two/ , but my main predictions between that post and a later one were as follows:
-That Decidueye would be king for a long time and devastate the format (check)
-That there would be something to come along and balance out Decidueye (check, although those decks in turn warped the format before GRI came out)
-That Decidueye would stay good for the rest of the season (almost check…it largely survived GRI but let’s see if it survives Burning Shadows!)

So now let’s get a bit deeper and consider Decidueye both for Worlds and beyond!

Worlds:

-Surprise surprise, but I think Decidueye is still a good play. I’ve dealt with Mega Mewtwo and Garbodor as very tough matchups these past few months, yet I consider Gardevoir GX to be a much easier hurdle to overcome. Given that Gardevoir GX should put up an incredible showing vs the vast majority of the format, I have high hopes for my beloved ghost owl.

Beyond:

-The lists you’ve been seeing for Decidueye/Ninetales will become this deck’s future in Standard. It may not be the explosive Forest build you’re so fond of, but it will remain a respectable option.
-In Expanded, something will come along to make Vileplume/Forest so broken Play! Pokémon will just go ahead and ban it. Outside of that, there’s a slightly less likely yet still possible situation in which Play! Pokémon bans some card integral to Yveltal, making life for Decidueye much easier.

  1. Conclusion and Gratitude Section

    After surviving a long, grueling tournament, I’ve needed more time to think about this section than just about any other. While every International or Worlds winner might scoff at this, a top four at a massive event like this is really the one thing I’ve always wanted since I started playing competitively. It’s no exaggeration to say this: My runner-up finish at the North American International Championship fulfilled a longtime playing dream of mine.I’m nowhere near finished, though, because there is a Worlds title I’m ready to claim…

    “I’m only getting started!”

    So let’s hit it up – as comprehensive a gratitude section as I can think of! Despite the lofty talk I was getting into earlier, I’ll try to keep this limited to this specific event:

    –Alex Fields and Chase Moloney for being excellent roommates, support, and hype men
    –“Team Rowlet” for helping me out Sunday
    –Tord Reklev and Benjamin Behrens for being an exceptionally chill pair of opponents, especially prior to the grand finale. Double props to Tord for doing the interview with me last week!
    –Kevin Cranberry Murphy for being there with that clutch Lugia EX. I still owe you the autograph you requested, lol.
    –Really all of my opponents, in particular Reno for being such a good sport. Can’t say I dealt with a single unpleasant incident.
    –My friends at HT, especially those of you who kept the HT dinner alive when I couldn’t carry through with it
    –…Apparently I have fans. That feels and still sounds really weird, especially after having been such a nonfactor for the past few years. That’s honestly really cool though, and the fact I’ve got so many people watching my games and following results gives me an incredible amount of incentive not only to play my best, but to be the best “me” I can.
    –Matt Shepherd, for naming the deck “VD.” Because “Deciduplume” or “Deciplume” sound lame.

‘Til next time,

-John

John Kettler NAIC Finalist Report, Part One

-Table of Contents-
1. Pre-Tournament Choices
2. Link to List Analysis
3. Tournament Report, Rounds 1-9
4.1 Tournament Report, Rounds 10-12
4.2 Tournament Report, Rounds 13-15
5. Tournament Report, Top Cut
6. Further Thoughts on Decidueye’s Future
7. Conclusion and Gratitude Section

1. Pre-Tournament Choices

Some choices ain’t easy…

I was fresh off of a decent yet ho-hum Mexico City Regionals performance, and looking towards two decks: Zoroark or Decidueye. My unconvincing 2-1-3 record against Garbodor variants left me very concerned for the future of my beloved Decidueye, and so I was hungry for a change. Zoroark was a card I had been naturally inclined to playing in the past, having obtained my invite to Worlds last season thanks almost exclusively to Yveltal/Zoroark/Gallade. However, I still wasn’t a big fan of making Drampa the star, and so I went to work with some others on Zoroark/Umbreon. The deck did a respectable job against much of the metagame, including the format’s most popular deck (Garbodor). However, it had an irredeemably weak matchup against several of the insurgent decks I knew would be big, including Decidueye and Greninja.

Hence, I returned to Decidueye. Despite having honestly been a little sick of the deck, I knew it remained a reliable, powerful choice in a field of 1,350 people. Furthermore, I was confident I could play the deck well, and so eventually ended up on what was the best “fallback” option a Trainer could ask for.

2. List Analysis

I’ve already posted the list analysis! Check it out here, but I would like to note a few of the different variations I went through prior to settling on my final list:

A. No Trainers’ Mail; bunch of tech attackers; Rainbow Energy. This was a neat combination that gave me a lot of options against the various matchups in the format, including Jolteon EX, Magearna EX, and more. Although the list was certainly fun to play, and would have been a great relief to have over what I did use in the finals of the NAIC, it was also clunky and I would go several games with several dead spots.

B. 2-1 Alolan Ninetales. Everyone knows Beacon is a great attack to dig out of bad hands, and Ninetales is likewise a great secondary attacker in tons of matchups. However, this line is also vulnerable to general clunkiness, and I find Ninetales to be somewhat easy to play around versus brute force attackers like Lele and Lugia. Ninetales is most helpful as a wall you’re afraid of attacking into, and in a list where you lock your own Pokémon search cards, that’s easier said than done.

2. Tournament Report, Day One (Rounds 1-9)

Round 1: VS Decidueye/Ninetales

I start round one and it’s none other than the Decidueye mirror! This variant had been picking up steam leading into the NAIC, but I knew well its differences between Vileplume and what weaknesses I could exploit.

Game One: Was a rough-and-tumble match, but every last choice made a big difference in gaining leverage. Perhaps the most decisive difference was when I had forced an Ice Path GX out of him in order to preserve his Alolan Ninetales GX against my Lugia EX, setting up the Knock Out but limiting his future resources in turn. I then gained a strong position from there, and began to overrun him with the rest of my big attackers. Olympia didn’t have a chance to factor, but then…

Game Two: I get off to an incredible start, with multiple Stage Two Grass Pokémon down by the second turn including Vileplume. Although he attempts to Lysandre stall my Vileplume with no Float Stone, I have Olympia sitting in hand, and then quickly close out the game from there. (1-0)

Round 2: VS Volcanion

Game One: This is a close one where he gets off to a strong start against my ho-hum opening. However, there comes a critical turn where he benches a no-Energy Volcanion EX to attempt to grab a Knock Out, which he whiffs. I then exploit the Benched Volcanion EX, lock it under Item lock, and then slowly whittle away his board.

Game Two: He draws a lone Tapu Lele + garbage as I set up and dominate. (2-0)

Round 3: VS Espeon GX/Garbodor (Juan Pablo Salas)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0QAU-BA1Yw

I fortunately had lots of opportunities to be streamed this tournament, so for every match where the video footage is online, I’ll just link you to it and offer any additional commentary I have. I think the three games as shown speak for themselves.

Overall: This match is the best reflection of how swiss rounds against Espeon/Garbodor should normally play out, with a close game one, a close game two, and either a fast or incomplete game three. I jokingly Sharp Blade Quilled for zero on the third turn of time! (2-0-1)

Round 4: VS Zoroark/Drampa

Game One: I donked a lone Zorua with one Energy via Aero Ball for 60!

Game Two: Quite unlike the first game, this one was very close. I took a decent amount of time to set up, and to make matters worse got hit by a Tapu Koko for 100 damage to my Lugia EX! When I did finally set up, I was punished severely for having such a large Bench via Mind Jack. However, when I finally got Vileplume into play, the game came to a grinding halt, and I was able to slowly soften up his field with a single Decidueye GX. His Oricorio made a valuable late-game entrance, Knocking Out a Tapu Lele GX, but it was not enough to steal the game for him, and so I slowly but surely clawed my way into the last two prizes. (3-0-1)

Round 5: VS Decidueye/Ninetales

Both games: Unfortunately a week’s time has worn out all the details of this match, but I remembered both being decisive wins. He ran a unique list dependent on Unowns for deck thin and I think a Mallow (my jam!). However, I got out a better set up quicker both games, in large part thanks to my higher Shaymin EX and draw count. (4-0-1)

Round 6: VS Espeon/Garb

Game One: Despite all the details being fuzzy, this was perhaps my best game vs Espeon/Garb all weekend. He gets out to an incredibly strong early start, and is putting tons of early game pressure on me. However, Decidueye does what it does, and so I slowly crept back into the fight. I then near the end found a good combination of cards to lure up a Garbotoxin Garbodor, remove its Tool via Field Blower, and then seal the game with a lot of careful Feather Arrows.

Game Two: With only 14 minutes left and great hands for both of us, this wasn’t going to finish. His board was looking to be a bit stronger than mine when time was called, but he had barely drawn three prizes by the time the +3 turns were applied. This felt like it had a good chance of going like game one, but that’s just speculation. (5-0-1)

Round 7: VS Espeon/Garbodor/Tauros (Michael Pramawat)

Six rounds and we’re already on two International Champions. Who said the Blue Pod was easier?!

Game One: I draw a hot start; he draws poorly. Pram’s able to vie for some nominal board control with his Tauros GX start, but it’s not enough.

Game Two: I draw a hot start; he draws poorly. He gets benched by about turn four. Happens sometimes! (6-0-1)

Round 8: VS Espeon/Garbodor

I’m playing Christopher Collins, and we have an interesting pre-game interaction: Since I’m tempted to hedge my bets and guarantee the whole trip as free, since top 64 got $500, I offer Christopher the intentional draw. I know he’s playing Espeon/Garb, so I also considered this to be a good idea because in my assessment of the matchup, Espeon/Garb should normally end up in a game three tie. He declines, which I don’t mind because if you’re playing strictly to win the tournament and not pay off your trip, an ID at this point is the sub-optimal move.

Game One: Neither of us gets off to an insane start, but I do recall getting out a quick Vileplume, which is essential to sealing this matchup. His tech Pokémon Center Lady did a great job at messing with my math, and almost helped him forge a comeback, but my setup stayed strong and so despite a tight prize situation by the end of the game, I never really lost board control.

Game Two: Yet again I’m the beneficiary of a bad draw from a Garbodor list. I spent a surprising amount of time struggling to finish off a lone Trubbish thanks again to his Pokémon Center Lady, but by about turn three benched him. (7-0-1)

Here we are at a super-safe 7-0-1 record, including 3-0-1 against the dreaded Espeon/Garb! This is a good point in the report to address how insanely lucky I got against Espeon/Garbodor. Tiny choices in everyone’s lists except for my round five opponent’s made it so that I had an overall better matchup against this deck than I normally should, and I was especially fortunate to skirt past two rounds of dead draw. I think if this tournament were run again with all the same matchups, I would likely have fared no better than a 2-1-1 record against these players. Luck was seriously on my side though, and so here we were, fighting for first seed in the blue pod.

Round 9: VS Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu GX (John Roberts II)

His list was one of many interesting contraptions at this event with a low (read: zero) VS Seeker count. In John’s case, he opted to run three Skyla and I believe maximum N/Professor Sycamore. Against me that’s actually a huge plus, but my Vileplume can still shut off his Rare Candies and Choice Bands…

Game One: Despite both having access to early draw power, both of us hit a bizarre rut in where we can’t get out Stage Two Pokémon for the first five turns of the game. Eventually I top deck a Decidueye GX, followed by more draw into a Vileplume and more Decidueye, pulling further and further away.

Game Two: Unlike the last game, I get a quick early setup and a Vileplume to follow it up. I don’t remember if I got this all set up before he found a Vikavolt, but it was a dominant showing for the Owl. (8-0-1)

First seed in the blue pod? WOW!!! In a sea of Espeon Garb and other Decidueye, I not only made day two in a very tough field, but entered with a significant advantage to make top eight. I had to get exactly nine more match points in order to assure I made top eight; however, I’d soon find doing that much to be easier said than done.

4.1 Tournament Report, Rounds 10-15

Round 10: VS Volcanion (Ryan Sabelhaus)

Since the only form I can find this match is the saved video on twitch starting at 29 minutes (00:29:00), I’ll go ahead and recap it for you.

Game one: I get a strong early start, but miss the turn one Vileplume. His hand isn’t that good though, and so I can follow up with the turn two Vileplume and a convincing board lead.

Game two: While I don’t dead draw at all, my start against Ryan was slow as he capitalized with some early Knock Outs via baby Volcanion. When I do set up, he has the Knock Out on Vileplume, and I have no follow-up to put it back into play. The rest of the game is me struggling to get set back up, he never looks back.

Game three: Despite a strong opening, I again miss the turn one Vileplume in the most important spot of the match! I also drew into an extremely awkward mix of Decidueye evolutions and subsequently missed anything beyond the turn one Decidueye. Time is called though, and we’re forced into a chess match of “time +3.” Wanting to avoid getting N’d and benched for game, I bench two Rowlet on turn 0, evolve one of them to a Dartrix, and then Shaymin Sky Return to force either a Lysandre or Steam Up for KO. He has the Lysandre for the Benched Rowlet, and is up one prize to my five. On the second turn of time, I Shaymin Set Up, draw into a Tapu Lele, use Wonder Tag for N, promote the Tapu Lele and then N us. At this point there is only a single card combination that can beat me: Fire Energy and Lysandre.

Well, spoiler alert but…he hits it! And so the tie became a loss. (8-1-1)

Round 11: VS Drampa/Garbodor/techs (Sam Chen)

The details of the match are fuzzy, but I may try to corroborate them with Sam to post an update later.

Game One: I developed a strong early lead with a fast Vileplume, and continued carrying the momentum by trying to keep the prize count even and avoid any of the tricks from his list allowing him to break out of the lock. Although he is able to Knock Out a couple of my EXs and GXs, and even mount something of a comeback, I top deck the game-winning Double Colorless after a low-card N.

Game Two: This is the match that evades me the most. I just remember that while there wasn’t a whole lot of time left in the match thanks to the back-and-forth game one, he was able to capitalize on my relatively weaker start Game Two, and won on the third turn of time +3, which sealed the tie. (8-1-2)

Round 12: VS Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu

Game One: It’s a blur, but I had a super slow set up and he destroyed me.

Game Two: It’s a blur, but I had a super strong set up and destroyed him.

Game Three: This was the interesting one. While both of us were slow to set up, we played this one very aggressively, me Knocking Out two Charjabug in the same turn and him responding with a Knock Out on my Decidueye (it previously had Damage thanks to Horn Attack). Unfortunately I have little immediate follow-up after this…but on the other hand, he has nothing past his immediate Bulu! I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but in the process of attempting to hit something with Sycamore, I lost several valuable resources along the way, never quite drawing into any halfway decent combo.

With barely any deck left, time is called, and after a few turns of super-conservative play on both of our ends, we encountered an awkward yet lucky thing for me: After the +3, I would have decked out; however, because the win condition triggers only after the turns are over, the game ended before I would be unable to draw zero cards, and so we ended up with a tie. (8-1-3)

Despite an insanely good start to day one, I’m now seriously on the ropes, with an 0-1-2 start to day two! I need exactly seven more match points, and anything less means my hopes for top eight are dashed. No matter what though, I knew it was important to play my best to at least guarantee a top 16 finish. Little did I know, I would do that and then some…

“OH NO!!!”

(To see part two, click here!)

Player Interview: Tord Reklev

Today we continue our interview series, this time focusing on TORD “THE VIKING” REKLEV, your 2017 North American International Champion! I go deep into the things that have made him a successful player, including playtesting habits, deck choices, and metagame calls. We also talk a bit about our finals match.

Introduction + History

KETTLER: Would you mind telling everyone a bit about your player profile – when you started playing competitively, some of your past major accomplishments before this season, and so on?

TORD: I have always been a very completive person, so ever since I started playing I have played competitively when I found out people did that (my mom taught me the game when I was 6) started playing in 2006.

I did a full accomplishment thing for Ross Gilbert right before US Nats, so I will just copy that one now:

11 World invites 2007-2017
Norway national champ 3 times (2012, 14 and 16, every even number)
Winning 4/4 regionals in a row 2015 in Norway, Sweden and Denmark

Top 4 at:
ECC 2012 and 2014
London internationals 2017
Sheffield Regionals 2017
Top 32 Australia internationals 2017
Top 8 SPE Lyon 2017

Top 16 worlds 2008
Top 32 worlds 2009
Top 32 Worlds 2012
Day 2 worlds 2015, 2016 and 2017 ( Top 22 2 times)

KETTLER: So it’s clear you have a pretty lengthy history with the game — you even started the same year my older brother did! How do you think this format compares to previous eras?

TORD REKLEV:  Haha, yeah.  This format is truly unique compared to the formats of recent years. I believe that the more turns a game takes, the more skill can affect the outcome of the game, because each player is presented with more options. With the print of Trashalanche Garbodor the format slowed down considerably once again, presenting more turns each game to each player. And the ones who didn’t want to adjust lost to Garbodor. Vileplume also helps slow down the format, making people steer away from crazy turbo item engines.

I’m sure that view is nicer now that he has two new International Championship trophies on his windowsill!

KETTLER: Does your mom still play?

TORD: She does not play anymore in tournaments, but she is happy to play with me just for the fun of it occasionally. 🙂

KETTLER: I’ve never been to the EU outside London and Paris, and I’m sure a lot of my American readers have never set foot there let alone Norway. What’s it like playing in so many different countries each season?

TORD: It is truly an amazing experience, I feel so blessed being able to travel the world while playing the game I love. Just check out my home city from my window:

PREPARATION + THE LIST

Much like Drampa, Tord gains his unfathomable strength by avenging his friends.

KETTLER: You have a pretty solid track record but it looks like this season in particular has been huge for you. Top four at two of the most important tournaments of the season, and first at the biggest championship in history. Have you done anything differently this season as opposed to past cycles?

TORD: This season I have been really systematic about my testing. I choose a deck early who doesn’t fold to anything, play the deck as much as possible before big events, and never change deck the night before or make huge adjustments that are untested.

KETTLER: And that’s why Jwittz said your list looked so orderly and neat! How did you settle on Garbodor/Drampa as the best choice for this tournament, and did you have any tough calls in choosing the exact 60 you played?

TORD: Choosing the archetype was pretty easy, no other decks in format needs as few cards in combination to dish out as much damage as garb/Drampa does. It is also a deck with DCE and Band, which makes it easy to justify 4 Lele. I actually changed one card the day before (I did test it!:p) and it was one Psychic for the teammates. Just being able to grab anything without praying with sycamore is a big deal. So playing the most well rounded deck matchup-wise and the most consistent version of the most consistent deck ended up paying off!

KETTLER: What made you favor Drampa GX over the equally popular Espeon GX variant?

TORD: Space and consistency issues, and because Drampa lets you refill your hand. But most important, Drampa is a Basic, which means that playing 3 Drampa over 3-3 Espeon opens up 3 spots more for supporters. There are also cases where you have to attach DCE to Eevee, praying you won’t get Knocked Out. With Garb you could draw your Energy in any order, as long as you get one you could set up and be fine

OUR FINALS MATCH

KETTLER: Generally speaking, what do you like to do to prepare yourself before an incredibly important match such as the one we had?

TORD: I usually just lose the big matches; I’m not used to actually winning anything like this, haha. I tried to get a good night of sleep, eat a good breakfast, and check out your list posted by pokemon.com. I tried to just get as much rest as possible – these big tournaments are brutal both mentally and physically.

KETTLER: Speaking of breakfast, it was a funny coincidence I ran into you and Benjamin Behrens at Starbuck’s right before the match – what’d you think about that?

TORD: It was really cool, actually made me stress down a lot, seeing you there being so casual and chill.

KETTLER: We also had a lot of waiting and build-up for the finals. What did you feel about all the presentation involved with our match?

TORD: It made it pretty epic, especially with me being an European, there has been a lot of nonsense around the NA>EU thing.

I want to say that I felt the Pressure, but honestly I didn’t, because I could still not believe that I was in the finals. It was just unreal, so I felt very calm when we sat down.

KETTLER: During the actual match, did anything happen that surprised you? I know you had a basis for how our specific lists would interact thanks to my games with Benjamin Behrens earlier in the weekend.

TORD: I knew that the game would probably come down to the timing of the Field Blower and the strength of your setup. I was kinda surprised how many turns I did get to play item cards, and how Item-heavy your deck was. But I mean, in that level of play it mostly come down to draws.

(And seeing that you destroyed Benjamin I was of course pretty scared, haha.)

MISCELLANEOUS + WRAP-UP

KETTLER: Anything else you’d like to plug or mention before we close out?

TORD: Pokemonmentor is a channel started up by my friend Benjamin, so go check it out. And once again, it was an honor meeting and playing against you John, let’s get a beer at worlds!

The finals were a “hoot,” but in the end, “trash” won.

Red Hoot and Blue: Analyzing My Second Place Decidueye/Vileplume List

Happy Fourth of July! Before my full-blown tournament report later this week, I’d like to share with you an analysis of the list I used to place second in the Masters (adult) division of the 2017 North American International Championship. Since I know a lot of you are either grilling barbecue or blowing up a small part of the country, I’m gonna keep this short and sweet, so enjoy!


1 Lugia EX: As was the case in St. Louis, deciding to run a higher than average count of Lugia EX paid off big-time. Although you take a consistency hit by not investing this spot in another Item or third Tapu Lele GX, the benefit of Deep Hurricane more than outweighs it. Lugia’s presence on top of two Tapu Lele GX resulted in my list being extremely aggressive, and might have been a key factor for why my only loss to a Garbodor variant all weekend was in the finals.

(As a side note, Lightning Weakness is devastating when relevant.)

4-4-4 Decidueye GX: This thick line of the deck’s main Pokemon hasn’t changed, but I did want to point out that in some stranger lists, you might consider a 3-3-3 line if there’s a Stage One attacker you want to pay attention to in the future, such as Golisopod/Golisopod GX.

2-2-2 Vileplume: Unlike the Decidueye line, I feel this is the maximum you may ever want of Vileplume at this point. Anything less and you may as well just play the Ninetales variant; anything more and you’ll be drawing into useless Vileplume pieces all game.

2 Shaymin EX/2 Tapu Lele GX: Although I love three Shaymin EX to let me dig through half my deck every game, 2 Shaymin/2 Tapu Lele may be the perfect split between draw power and Supporter Search. The Guardians Rising list  now has more consistency Pokemon for the same amount of spots.

4 Sycamore, 4 N, 3 Trainers’ Mail: In between February and now, I adapted two slight modifications made by other people. The first is the simple switch in count Aaron Tarbell made between N and Trainers’ Mail. The effect of this is that while you have a marginally slower, less probable “God” start, 4 N means you have more draw throughout a game. This is especially helpful in assisting the deck’s late game flow, because 4 N means you’re more likely to have it as a target for Wonder Tag, and you’re less likely to need to search for it via Hollow Hunt GX.

2 Lysandre: I love having three, but it’s just so much work to fit. The list was obviously tight with choices, so I decided the best route was to make the most out of my plays and try my hardest to conserve these each game.

1 Olympia: In addition to Lugia, this is the other major inclusion to the usual Decidueye/Vileplume formula I made, and arguably the most influential. It made a massive difference in several of my games, either as a tricky way to conserve Energy or to evacuate an active Vileplume. This is arguably the biggest difference a single copy of Olympia has made in a deck since Brad and Azul first used it in Florida.

2 Level Ball: The second modification is actually a dial-back to normal Vileplume lists from last year, encouraged in large part by when Azul Griego and Brad Curcio used the deck in Mexico City. This is purely a space-cutting measure, and it makes sense if you have a tight balance to make between other resources.

2 Float Stone: Because of Olympia, I actually came close a couple times to cutting a Float for something else, such as second Field Blower. However, Float Stone is simply too powerful and important in this list not to run at least two.

2 Revitalizer: I’ve messed around with smaller counts and splits with Rescue Stretcher, but c’mon folks…we’re trying to set up TWO Stage Two Pokemon here. That’s really hard, so we want the ability to grab multiple Grass pieces multiple times in a game, so two is still a good count.

1 Field Blower: This is the final piece to the anti-Garb trifecta which includes Lugia and Olympia. Field Blower is not only a card that shields you from Garbotoxin; it’s a useful little Item to shake off your opponents’ pesky Float Stones, allowing you to lock and drop…those Feather Arrows, that is.

4 Ultra Ball: No analysis necessary.

4 Forest of Giant Plants: No analysis necessary. Although a cute idea you may want to mess with is 3 Forest/1 Mallow.

4 Grass/4 Double: Oftentimes people will go one direction or the other with three Grass Energy against four. Since my list complements three very aggressive attackers in the form of Tapu Lele + Lugia, eight is clearly the correct call. It also seems like I have a bad habit of prizing three Grass Energy on stream, so it’s lucky I run the fourth. 😉

That’s all I got for today. Tune in soon for my feature-length Internationals report later this week!

-John

Final Reflections Before Indy

We’re a mere day away from the North American International Championships, and even now I’m not entirely sure on what I want to play. Worse yet, of the decks I’m considering playing, I’m unsure what kind of a list I’d use for either! This is a lot like how I felt before St. Louis, however, which is probably not a bad sign.

Listed below are my brief impressions of every major deck headed into the big dance…

Zoroark variants: This is the deck that’s been getting all the results, but even more importantly all of the hype. In a Standard format where Garbodor is a constant threat, it’s awfully reassuring to have a deck that not only beats Garbodor, but holds up well against the rest of the format. It has its bad matchups for sure, but there is a very high “floor” to how a reasonably good player would do with this deck. By that I mean it seems highly unlikely for a player using this deck to go less than a positive record, similar to Night March last season. It also punishes misplays severely, which is probably related to the fact you’ll never go worse than 5-4 with this thing.

Garbodor variants: Like Zoroark, Garbodor is a highly cushioned deck thanks to the sheer number of players who will misplay their Items and Energy. However, at least some of the people who may’ve been surprised by its dominance in Seattle are now more than ready to handle Trashalanche now. Many people have even resorted to flat-out awful list calls, solely in an effort to run fewer Items…I being one of those people. While Garbodor has its current reputation for good reason, it just doesn’t beat Zoroark, and is getting hit by progressively worse matchups as time goes on. Among the “big three,” which include Garbodor, Zoroark, and Vespiquen, I see Garbodor headed in the least favorable metagame direction. That said, a great list with a great player behind it is probably going to go far, especially if any would-be counters to Zoroark prove successful.
Vespiquen: While Zoroark inherits Night March’s high floor and high ceiling for results, Vespiquen inherits the general flow and core mechanics of Night March. As I predicted in my chat with Kirk Dube and Christopher Schemanske, this deck would be a big deal, so much so that Oricorio is still struggling to make enough of a difference to tilt the matchup for decks that need help against it.

Greninja: This probably has the most low-key hype going into Internationals, and is probably your best bet if you desperately need a deep run. Of every deck featured here, it has precious few poor matchups, and they all have to do with Weakness. The entirety of “tier one” (according to the public) is even or positive matchups for Greninja, and a lot of the lower tiers are easy pickings, too. However, competitive players have been the spent year theorizing about Greninja’s erratic results, with the reasoned conclusion that it can easily crash and burn. The best 2/3 match play structure cushions Greninja from this variance, but I think you’ll need insane variance on your side if you want to win with this deck. Nevertheless, it’s a great choice as long as you dodge Decidueye.

Gyarados: Gyarados doesn’t seem to boast enough strong matchups to justify running it over my favored Water deck (Greninja). This is especially apparent when stacked up to the big three of the format. It also suffers just as badly from awkward hands, which will surely compound as the long day goes on.

Metagross: If you’re looking for a swarm deck that’s more consistent but with a tighter window for probable success, then Metagross is an excellent call. Of all the decks you may use, this is probably best suited for people more concerned with getting those last few points for a Worlds invite; a surefire top 256, but may struggle to make Day Two.

Volcanion: While you can build Volcanion to beat practically anything in the current format, the probable techs and choices people will lean towards at the last second all seem to disfavor Volcanion. It also doesn’t help that of those three decks at the top, all of them can run Vaporeon alongside an Eeveelutions line – a more-often-than-not death sentence to Volcanion. Add on several of the other weak matchups it has, as well as the fact that the metagame is no longer centralized around a Fire-Weak Decidueye, and Volcanion just doesn’t look like an attractive play at all.

Decidueye: This is my baby and it’s hard to let go. It also doesn’t help that the deck’s basically attached to my name, starving the sort of unpredictability that made it such a good call at the beginning of the year. Garbodor matchups are still its white whale, and I’ve struggled a lot to find a good formula to handle them, but it puts up incredible numbers against all other relevant decks.

Darkrai: Deck’s dead. Hope I’m proven wrong but it’ll need a big boost from Darkrai GX in time for Worlds.

Vikavolt: Deck ain’t dead and it’s probably at the peak of its hype, but considering how much it struggles vs Zoroark, I would feel hard-pressed to justify using it. Fighting Fury Belts can also exploit the vulnerability in most Zoroark lists (no Fury Belt), and it seems to match up decently against anything that might see a surprise resurgence (Greninja, Zygarde rogue, Decidueye). However, it only hard-wins against one of these decks, and its so-called counter to Zoroark can itself be countered by a Reverse Valley/Choice Band combo from Zoroark adding up to huge Damage totals.

Decks that would be generally good plays: Zoroark, Garbodor, Greninja, Metagross

Decks that can do very well if you avoid bad matchups: Decidueye, Vikavolt

Decks I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole: Gyarados, DarkraiVolcanion

Community Action against Cheating, by BobbyHill666

“That’s my Pokémon! I DON’T KNOW YOU!!!”

Hey there, HeyTrainer. I want to thank John for asking me to write an article about cheating for his ongoing series; I really appreciate him giving me an outlet to express my thoughts. In this article, I’m not really going to talk about in-game cheating at all, as I feel that topic has already been discussed plenty. Instead, I want to focus on how we, the community, can police ourselves in regards to cheating and cheaters, malicious intent, and game state errors.

Setting the Scene

N doesn’t like being used as bait.

Ever since the infamous Florida Regionals of January 2016, where we saw N-baiting and flagrant stalling, cheating has been a pretty hot topic in the community. It seems like every few weeks, new video evidence of someone cheating gets exposed. Even as I write this today, Azul Griego, the best player in the world currently, was caught drawing an extra card on stream. Did he cheat or make an honest mistake? I don’t know, but based on the reactions and blind defense, I know this much:

While the community has consistently been talking about cheating, we haven’t really done very much else in regards to deterring cheating in the future.

Currently, there are absolutely no ramifications for cheating imposed by the community. It seems as if the ramifications for cheating doled out by TPCi aren’t uniform either, and sometimes cheaters can go completely unpunished or severely under-punished compared to other bans, but that’s something totally out of the control of the player base.

Community Action

As a player base, we need to impose severe penalties on our peers who cheat; otherwise it will continue to be rampant in the community. Personally, these are the two things we as a community can do to deter cheating:

1. Online group stigmatization. Ban every person who cheats in the future (it’s way too difficult to back log this) from every online Pokémon group (Virbank, Heyfonte, etc.), as well as not interacting with them on Twitter. This might seem radical, but I think it’s the most effective deterrent we as a community have. Pokémon is an incredibly social game; top players have well-known presences on social media and most usually have a large following. This can all be taken away from them if we as a community decide that we don’t want to associate with cheaters. I guarantee that if someone knew they’d lose their main outlets to the player base, they lose the ability to network and promote their brand.

  1. Make a public list of cheaters. Surprisingly, this doesn’t currently exist, but I believe this is something we really need to do. Pokémon is growing incredibly quickly, which means many new players will never know about players who have cheated in the past, or made serious mistakes. Many people probably don’t remember when Jason Klaczynski double Attached two Energy in the top 16 of Worlds 2013 (happy mistake; no ban), or that Rahul Reddy was caught, disqualified, and then later admitted to palming cards from his discard at the “Last Chance for Championship Points” tournament at US Nats 2013 (reformed cheating; temporarily banned). Yet despite these serious issues, there is no public document that tracks these penalties, meaning that players who do cheat can let a long time pass before cheating again. Creating and maintaining a list of players and their errors is something we as a community can do if we want to take punishing cheaters into our own hands.

Conclusion

I think that if we as a community incorporated these two ideas, we could really deter the number of cheaters in the community. With more money and prizes than ever before, being vigilant about eradicating cheating from the Pokémon community should be even more pertinent. I want to thank John again for letting me write for this series, and I want to thank you all for taking the time to read this. Let’s do our best as a community to completely eradicate cheaters and cheating and keep Pokémon the fun, clean game it’s supposed to be.

This is part of a series on cheating awareness in the Pokémon TCG.

Part One, by Anonymous Author Charizard666
Part Two, by John Kettler