Justin Williams’ 2011 Nationals Tournament Report (How I Broke the Format)

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.

Dominating games.

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 10, 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.

Nobody is expecting a shark attack in Indianapolis.

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.

Mandibuzz 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?”

By 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 1HKO.


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.


Round 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.


The 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.

Reader Interactions

30 replies

  1. Anonymous

    I really liked the article! I liked how you dove head first and embraced the “flippiness” of the format.

  2. Anonymous

    I remember seeing “Justin Williams” in the scheduled articles to be released, and I had high expectations. 

    Expectations met! It was funny throughout, and only you could have the balls to pilot the ultimate troll deck. See you around IL with sharpedo in the future! I bet when this card is released it’ll only be even better:

    Victini – Fire – HP60
    Basic PokemonAbility: Victory StarYou can use this when your Pokemon flip coins as part of an attack. Ignore all results of those coin flips and reflip from the beginning. You can’t use Victory Star more than 1 time during your turn even if you have multiple Victini in play.

    • Anonymous  → Anonymous

      Ah, yes, the Fliptini. I remember some discussion in the forums about it and Sharpedo, but we somewhat dismissed Sharpedo. However, I still love the card and I’m starting to think a fun, cheap disruption deck would be the one for me.

  3. Anonymous

    Awesome article; I really enjoyed reading this one. It’s a shame there wasn’t a list, but I can understand that :p

  4. Erick Adi Saputra

    It’s a great article, a very bold and impressive performance at nats!

    Stop asking the decklist, he mention most of the essential cards anyway.

  5. Anthony Smith

    Fun read. Sharpedo will just get better with the next set.

  6. chris frontiero

    Great report, I love seeing my favorite card being used to success. Is there any chance you can send me a decklist so I can compare it to my own? I never thought of the Cinccino, so my deck relies on rage and blindside/ punishment to do big damage.

    Once again, great article.

  7. Jak Stewart-Armstead

    People should be able to put together a decklist themselves out of what was written here.

    Nice report and congrats on doing so well with such an unusual deck.

    • Garrett Williamson  → Curtis

      I knew I had seen your name somewhere before haha Im garrett, the kid who you played during the mutant draft.

  8. Ross Gilbert

    good job man. Love seeing people doing well with an unexpected deck! Also, i am fully on your side for not releasing a list. You’ve told us about the deck and how to run it, if anybody wants to use it (and, not gonna lie, i’m tempted) there’s enough here to make a list.

    Do you think you might’ve gotten further had you tested and make it up earlier?

    • skuntank G  → Ross

      Actually I’m fairly positive I’d have gone deeper had I put in more effort. There were probably 2-3 cards in my list that I really didn’t even use/need, and had I utilized them for better consistency I think things would’ve gone better overall.

      But of course, I had the added benefit through NOT testing of not caring at all. So if I had lost all but one of my games and still pulled off the grinch Strip Bare against one person, it would’ve all been worth it in my mind. 

  9. Franco L III

    I would have loved to have seen your opponent’s face R1 when he said “It does WHAT???” xD

  10. Egbert Levenstone

    Nice article. But I’m pretty sure after US nationals, people are definitely gonna use less babies. That doesn’t mean Sharpedo’s utility will decrease, though.

  11. Taylor Pagani

    Played you in round one. Awesome time talking to you, I rooted for you, but one thing;

    I know what Sharpedo does, I’ve ran it numerous times, I never said “IT DOES WHAT?!”

    Probably got me mistaken for someone else, but I love me some Sharpedo, props for going 8-1 :v

  12. Taylor Pagani

    Also, you didn’t sweep with Rage. You got the second strip bare, and I scooped after you reversaled up my Pupitar on the bench (5 heads in a row, damn).

    Props, man. I love seeing random stuff do awesome, but don’t make me sound more “noob” then I really am (Albeit, is a good bit) 

    • skuntank G  → Taylor

      Yeah I might’ve gotten some of the details confused – I just know that I bugged a lot of people those two days so it all sort of blurred together. And I didn’t mean for you to come off as a noob! There isn’t much even the best player can do after having their entire hand discarded, haha.

      • Taylor Pagani  → skuntank

        It’s all good. I’m sure you had quite a few people freaking out :v Sharpedo was a smart play, I’m mad at myself and schocked no one else ran with it

  13. skuntank G

    For those disappointed at the lack of a decklist – it’s understandable.
    I’d want to know the ins and outs of something that did so well at such a
    high profile event, too. But in this day in age when you can easily
    find popular deck skeletons and can get access to secret forums that
    provide valuable information, you have to respect a player’s right to
    his or her own rogue creation.

    I’m really not known for my accomplishments – but if I can be remembered
    for my creativity and originality, I’d be just as happy. If I can get
    players back into their own heads to try and replicate the success I
    had, then I think that’s the best thing I could possibly do for this
    game. So re-read and try and figure out just what I did! Go test it!
    Improve upon it! Sharpedo can and will win Worlds!

  14. AndrewV

    Fliptini is gonna make an already flippy format even MORE flippy. Just saying. Cards such as sharpedo, grumpig, illumise, exeggutor, etc. that saw virtually no play before will actually be able to be played now because of re-flips. Moral of the story? If you’re unlucky don’t play pokemon.

  15. Sebastian Hunter

    Awesome deck, and great job.

    I love(d) Sablelock as well :D

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