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)

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!)

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