My girlfriend always asks me, “If you hate the game so much, why do you keep playing?”
My response is usually to see and hang out with all the friends I’ve made over the years. But this year at Nationals, I finally remembered the other reason why: winning games.
No, wait, scratch that.
I’ll be the first to admit that my heart hasn’t been in the game since Rocket’s Admin was rotated out, along with other personal favorites like Ludicolo DX, Muk LM and Electrode EX. And this year was no different. I played Sablelock the entirety of the season, Autumn Battle Roads up through States. I didn’t make it to Regionals, and I knew I’d probably have to start from scratch if I were to play at Nats.
So I did as little preparation as possible, and as I skimmed through every card in HS-on, nothing really popped out at me. The obvious cards like Magnezone Prime, Yanmega Prime, Donphan Prime and Emboar just didn’t do it for me. I didn’t want to drop $50+ on a deck I wouldn’t enjoy playing. I’ve always been one to champion that diamond in the rough that may not be Tier One, but might be the perfect counter to what everyone else is playing.
Here, I must pause to mention: I am a gambling addict.
Finally I happened upon a card that seemed to fit my niche perfectly. Sharpedo Triumphant. How can you not love a card that has an attack called “Strip Bare?” Now I know what you’re probably thinking. “But Justin, you have to flip TWO heads for his attack to be worth it!”
I thought I told you, I’m a gambling addict.
In case you missed it, nearly every deck in the format is running Cleffa. Lots of Cleffa. Sharpedo is the perfect counter to this card. For one special dark, Sharpedo does 30 damage – enough to KO a Cleffa that loses its sleep flip. That double-flip for the attack? Just try and picture Cyrus’s Initiative. I cannot count how many times I nailed that card turn one this season, only to see the smug grin of an opponent who opened with Pokémon Collector turn into a face of bitter disgust, having been robbed of their only outs.
Sure, you might whiff. Maybe you only flip one heads. But if you’re up against that Cleffa, and it’s still sleeping, you might get to flip a few more times. You’re bound to get lucky at least once. That 25% chance looks pretty beefy in this format, and if you can KO the Cleffa in the process, you’ve effectively removed their only viable draw in the game.
Topdecks? Yeah, those can be an issue. I went back into my binder and I looked through the few cards that I owned that were still legit. I remembered buying a few Slowking HS when the set rolled out. It finally struck me – I can Sablelock people even worse than I did before. “Second Sight” is essentially a Chatot G that I get to use every turn – without the need for PokéTurns.
Here I had the skeleton for the deck, based around two cards I thought had incredible potential. How would I tie it all together?
I thought back to a good friend of mine named Paris Garavaglia. He used to play this game way back when, and was the sole inventor of a very successful rogue deck called “Voodoo.” It focused on speedy Stage Ones (Dark Slowking, Dark Marowak, Dark Hypno) but also featured a disruptive element in the form of Pow! Hand Extension, ATM Rock and Rocket’s Admin.
The deck I had in my head wasn’t too far off from this concept. In this format, Stage Ones are so strong. The reason Yanmega is successful isn’t because its damage output is ridiculously high – it’s because Stage Twos are so awfully slow.
The nerf to Rare Candy didn’t seem like a big deal to the masses, but in essence, I think it ruins their viability. Not being able to immediately drop a Vileplume or an Emboar or a Magnezone out of nowhere handicaps the Stage Two player immensely.
When I heard that the majority of players were running 3-1-3 Magnezones in their Magneboar decks, I was incredibly confused. That Stage One is so much more important now! Despite the strength of Revive or Seeker, it just seems ridiculous to rely on a card that has become much less useful like Rare Candy has.
So when thinking about what cards I could use to overpower opponents, there were only a handful of viable Stage Ones. I didn’t have the money for Donphans or Yanmegas; instead I looked at Zoroark, Cinccino, Weavile, and Mandibuzz.
Zoroark provided the most retaliatory KOs, but didn’t really fit the bill for the strategy of my deck. I should be ahead from the start, and if I’m staring down a Rayquaza/Deoxys Legend, I’ve probably done something wrong.
Cinccino definitely looked solid – the damage output was there, and it’s quick and swarmy. I knew this would be my main attacker after a successful lock.
Weavile felt like a bit of an afterthought. The power was nice, but not entirely necessary if I pulled off what I intended to do. However, the free retreat for both it and Sneasel led me to include it in the deck.
PokeBeachMandibuzz felt like a necessary counter to Donphan, a card that would utterly wreck me if I didn’t have a way around it. I kept the line slim, because it didn’t feel like it would have a lot of uses outside of that matchup.
With an idea of what I’d need, I took my list to Collector’s Cache the night before the tournament, sold off the remainder of my rotated cards, and paid the difference of $18 to buy the components for my Nationals deck. I threw together most of it within 45 minutes, took a 30 minute power nap, woke up and sleeved the remainder. While my friends were busy testing Magneboar vs. Reshiphlosion, I decided instead I would sleep. No testing, no nothing.
I like to gamble.
I wake up the next morning, not expecting much, just looking to have a good time. Maybe go 0-2 drunk as I have in previous years, and go for a leisurely swim at our hotel’s rooftop pool. So really, what have I got to lose?
Round one, I’m paired against a Tyranitar Prime/Yanmega/Umbreon deck. I’m going second, so I immediately know there is no Tyrogue donk for me to lay down against this player. Turn one I manage to get a Carvanha and a Slowpoke benched. He examines the Carvanha curiously as if to wonder, “What’s about to happen to me?” Sure enough, by turn two I’ve got the Sharpedo, and I nail double heads on Strip Bare.
“It does WHAT?”
PokeBeachBy turn four, I’ve got him locked with Slowking as well. I hit another Strip Bare for good measure, and proceeded to sweep with some Rage KOs.
Round two, I’m paired against Emmanuel Divens, a player I’m familiar with. I know he’s good, and that he’s probably got some sort of trick up his sleeve. I notice early he’s running Vileplume/Yanmega, but my lack of preparation doesn’t alert me to what the heck Spinarak does. Unfortunately, I walked into a lock.
My hand was garbage and decided it would be a good idea to Cleffa for some different cards. Emmanuel took full advantage of this and essentially “Chatter-locked” me the entire game. I played it out, being that it was Nats, hoping somehow he’d lose his train of thought and call out Spinarak’s other attack. It didn’t work, and he Yanmega’d my Cleffa for game after time was called.
Round three, all I see is a lone Larvitar. Strange that I run up against a couple of oddball decks within the first few rounds. Unfortunately for him, Sneasel is an incredibly powerful basic. Maybe not as good as the original Neo print, but still, really, really good. I flip three heads for a OHKO.
Round four, I’m expecting to fall off the rails. I just usually run out of steam just as I’m gaining confidence. However, a turn two Cinccino has me taking prizes left and right against MewLostGar. I suppose it didn’t help that he opened Spiritomb/Spiritomb, but that just seems like poor deck construction to me in the first place. He eventually manages a single Hurl Into Darkness, but by then it’s far too late.
PokeBeachRound five, yet another lone Pokémon I see. This time it’s a Cyndaquil. I forget how I took it out, but I suppose that’s irrelevant. Should I be this lucky?
Round six. The day is coming to a close, and I’m sure I’ll fizzle out here. I’m paired against Tad Wheeler, a skilled player I’ve come up against at a few tournaments over the course of the past few years in Chicago. He’s running Megazone, so if he gets any sort of start I’m probably in bad shape. However, Sharpedo AND Slowking on turn two have something to say about that. He immediately realizes he’s locked out of his deck and instantly scoops up his cards.
Day two, round seven. Can this improbable run continue? I’m up against Donphan/Yanmega/Zoroark. The deck is legit, and if I don’t get the lock I could be in trouble. Sure enough, the first few flips I whiff, but after my first drought of heads (I was three for three on locks before this!) I manage to rip one, and he’s forced to Collector for a Cleffa. Unfortunately, he misplays and retreats before he lays it, and opts to bench it and pass. I Reversal it up, KO it and Slowking lock him, and it isn’t much of a game after that.
Round eight, I’m up against a Magneboar deck. He opens with Magnemite and Tepig benched, I open Sneasel and hit first for 20. He doesn’t get any draw on his turn, opts to attack and send his Magnemite to bench. I evolve to Weavile on my turn, discard the Emboar in his hand after seeing two Rare Candies he has, and then topdeck lock him with Slowking. I pick off the Magnemite with Weavile. He evolves the Tepig to Pignite, but within two turns it’s bacon.
PokeBeachThe best I’ve ever done before at Nationals was a 7-2 finish with Empoleon/Bronzong. If I wanted to outdo that, I had to win this next one. Round nine, I’m paired against Cameron Hilliard’s Zoroark/Yanmega. To be honest, I don’t remember the details of this one – I just remember trading prizes left and right and locking him into nothing but one Zoroark with a DCE. I took it out with a Cinccino, and it was lights out after that.
8-1. 6th seed, blue flight. 11th seed overall.
I wish I could write this report deeper than Top 128. My success to this point was a huge monkey off of my back. Top cut has always been the bane of my existence though, and I’m not sure I’ll ever overcome that stigma.
In Top 128, I’m up against Yanmega/Kingdra. Rather than go into detail about what happened (because I’m drawing a blank), I’ll mention that I took it to game three in sudden death, but unfortunately my Cleffa decided to take a nap. A disheartening way to lose for sure, especially given that my deck was so flip dependent.
I’m confident had things not ended that way, I could’ve probably won a trip to Worlds, or at the very least earned a ratings invite. Sharpedo was the perfect counter to a format gone baby-crazy, and flipping coins is all that currently matters in this game. Sure, an opponent will misplay every now and then to hand you the game, but since when have you ever prayed for tails?
Strip Bare and get back to me.