Interest in the Japanese meta and tournament structure has been building, especially now that the 2012 Pokémon World Championships is fast approaching. There have been a few articles here and there, but real hands-on information about Japan has been scarce. As someone who has lived in Japan for over 3 years now, I hope to finally bridge the information gap and give you direct reports from Japan.
Who am I? I’m some guy who lives in Japan and plays Pokémon among other card games. Unfortunately, my tournament experience with Pokémon has been limited various to local league tournaments. Until now, I never attended big tournaments either here or in the US. I played a little over two years ago in Japan, but after the multiple rotations and rule changes I quit playing completely to focus on other games.
When the Pokémon-EX were first announced I started getting hype for Pokémon again and after a bit of coaxing from friends I decided to get back into the game last month. I have always kept myself up to date with what’s going on in the US meta using sites like this one and great video series by a couple members of the community, but BW-on is completely different from the DP-Legends format I used to play in.
Trying to adapt to this new BW-on format has been an incredible challenge. With only approximately 5 sets to work with I wasn’t sure where to begin. Where are Pokémon Collector, Roseanne’s Research, Cosmic Power Claydol GE, and Set Up Uxie LA? The consistency cards I had become so accustomed to were all but gone and replaced with only a handful of Stadiums, Trainers, and Supporters, less than half of which are playable in the majority of decks.
However, the release of Dragon Blade and Dragon Blast in March gave a lot more to work with than I expected. The overall lack of support currently has been swapped by many different and amazing Pokémon cards to base decks around. I spent all my free time this past month researching the Japanese meta and learning every card in the format. As I attempted to build decks I expected to see in preparation for this event one thing became abundantly clear…
Many of you have probably now seen various posts and articles detailing the results from “Japanese Nationals,” however these are not technically Japan’s Nationals. They are a series of separate events run in conjunction with the Pokémon Centers (they did a lot of cross-promoting and a Pokémon Center mini-store was present there). The cities where each Spring Battle Carnival is held are also specifically cities that have their own Pokémon Centers.
These tournaments should not be confused with the “Garchomp and Hydreigon Cup” tournaments which seem to have had qualifiers at specific Gym Challenges all over the country. I unfortunately am not 100% clear on the details for those events; however one difference regarding the Spring Battle Carnivals is that they open to the public. If you just bought a starter deck for the first time that day and decide to enter with it you can.
Winners of the tournament receive free expense-paid round trips to the 2012 Pokémon World Championships in Hawaii and therefore the tournament is obviously the focus of the event. However, they also have multiple side events going on to generate interest and educate people about Pokémon. They have people cosplay as some of the BW gym leaders where you can challenge them and get prizes if you win, staff walkthroughs on basic play and deck building, a store with exclusive merchandise, etc.
But you’re not reading this article for any of that. You want to know about the main tournament. The level of play is anywhere from zero to world champion (of which there were a few former champs present). There is an A league and a B league which is separated by age. Generally speaking, A League includes children up through the 6th grade and B League includes anyone after 6th grade.
Each league is conducted with the same rules and the same format much like Juniors or Masters are in the US. Players compete in various “stages” that include the Challenge Stage, Premier Stage, and the Climax Stage (top cut). You start off by waiting in a line until you are randomly selected an opponent in the Challenge Stage area. If you win you continue playing against random opponents from the line and if you lose you must line up from the start again.
Because players in B League range from 6th graders to grandfathers there is some strategy in lining up to ensure you don’t wind up playing against a serious player right away. Winning 3 times in a row allows you to move onto the Premier Stage to play against others who also have won 3 matches in a row. There is no limit to the amount of victories in a row you can get there. The Climax Stage is seeded based on players’ performances in the Premier stage.
The Climax Stage or top 16 is best of 1 match, single elimination. Top 16 is determined by how many wins in a row in the Premier Stage a player has before time is called. The time limit at each tournament thus far has been around 4 hours (9 AM until 1 PM). In order to top cut, people I talked to were guessing that you needed at least 3 wins in the Challenge Stage and 4 wins at the Premier Stage to break into top 16 (mind you, all of these must be consecutive).
The only issue is if you lose in the Premier Stage, you must go all the way back to the beginning, and that means fighting your way back through the line and winning 3 in a row at the Challenge Stage again in order to reenter the Premier Stage. This means a single loss can end your chances of top cutting because it’s possible that there just isn’t time to line up again, play 7 matches and hope to top cut.
Players with the same amount of consecutive wins will play mass Rock-Paper-Scissors to see who makes top cut. Getting good at RPS is extremely crucial in Pokémon now due to the fact that going first has such a huge advantage in the game itself. Your RPS skills can sometimes be the single difference between you top cutting and going home empty-handed.
Needless to say, if you want that free trip to Hawaii, you’ll basically have to win out. I’m sure this finally explains how many Japanese pro players have gone to Worlds and won the entire tournament without recording a single loss. Their system (at the Spring Battle Carnivals, I’m unsure how it runs at the Dragon Cups) is set up in such a way that any loss to any single player at these tournaments can mean you don’t make it to Worlds that year.
A Long Wait
I felt the biggest problem at the tournament in Nagoya was its organization. Close to 1,000 people lined up to battle, but there were only around 100 set ups in the Challenge Stage area to accommodate everyone. Because each winner stays on until they are promoted to the Premier Stage and each match can be anywhere from 30 seconds (donk) to 30 minutes or more, this means that the line took absolutely forever to go through.
I was waiting from around 8:30 AM in a line before I even got inside the building at around 9 AM. After going through a very thorough security check point I looked around a bit, not realizing how long it would actually take to get a match. I lined up for the B League at 9:15~9:20 and it was just after 10:30 by the time I could even get into my first match.
The deck I used ran Empoleon DEX, Terrakion NVI, and Mew EX (BW5) along with various other consistency techs like Emolga (BW5). I changed my mind at least 100 times in the month leading up to the tournament and decided at the last minute to play this deck because I was winning most of my matchups my testing the night before. I feel this deck not only has a ton of built-in consistency but also has serious counters to all threats in the meta.
The key piece this deck really needed was given to it in BW5 in the form of Mex EX. Mew-EX’s ability “Almighty” (or “Versatile” as it has been translated) allows him to “use the attacks of all Pokémon in play as its own,” with the only restriction being he must have attached the energy required to use that move. With only 120 HP for 2 Prizes and a psychic weakness this Pokémon seems difficult to use however, in this deck he’s your instant Mewtwo EX counter.
In one turn you can place a Mew-EX down on the bench, retreat your active for Mew-EX, attach a W Energy and use a benched Empoleon’s Attack Command for the 1HKO on Mewtwo EX (assuming there are enough Pokémon in play to do base 90 damage). When played properly, this card is crucial in certain matchups. I think it turns a bad match up into an incredibly favorable one against ZekEels. Terrakion NVI and Mew-EX together perfectly counter the deck.
In my first Challenge Stage match I played a girl running Kyogre EX/Beartic/Starmie/???. To be honest I don’t even remember which version of each Pokémon she ran. Needless to say I had never seen this stuff in play before and things were getting kind of scary in the beginning after Kyogre EX was constantly sniping my benched basics for 50 damage with Dual Splash. However, after I was fully set up there was nothing she could do.
My next match was against a 6th grader who just happened to have an early birthday so he was forced into B League. He was very nervous and couldn’t really speak the entire time. He never made eye contact, never said a word and was just constantly shaking. I felt really bad for the kid. He ran a bunch of random basic Pokémon and couldn’t really get anything going. I took 6 extremely fast prizes.
My third and last match of the day was a total heart-breaker against Darkrai EX/Shaymin EX. This deck is extremely popular and has endless customization options. It’s popularly referred to as Darkrai EX “Good Stuff.” That “good stuff” can be other EXs who help him out, Sableye DEX and/or Dark Tools along with your standard Trainers skeleton. Darkrai EX + Shaymin EX, Darkrai EX + Mewtwo EX, Darkrai EX + Tornadus EX, Darkrai EX + Mewtwo EX + Tornadus EX… you get the idea.
Darkrai EX is a monster and his only real counter is Terrakion NVI, and I simply could not set one up fast enough. I fell victim to multiple Dark Claw Night Spears and was behind in prizes early. I was able to make a few moves and eventually take out 2-of his Darkrai EXs, but that’s exactly what he wanted because it freed up his side of the field limiting Attack Command’s power, and taking 4 Prizes from the Darkrai EXs meant his Shaymin EXs could sweep my board for his last few prizes.
After waiting in line for over an hour and playing 3 matches the time was already at approximately 11:40 AM. I realized then that by the time I waited in line again I would have enough time to realistically play only one more match before time was called. My first World’s qualifier had opened and closed in just over an hour of total playtime.
A Challenger Appears
knowyourmeme.comI was about to pack up and call it a day when a famous Tokyo player just lost in the Premier Stage after winning 2 in a row there and realized that his fate was also sealed. We both happened to exit the battle area at the same time and kind of just struck up a conversation. “Hey! What’s up! I saw you in the line earlier!” he called to me, “Wanna play some casuals?”
From him I learned a great deal about the metagame, what cards were good and why and I also got a great confidence booster when I beat his ZekEels tournament deck. Having a Terrakion NVI out meant he couldn’t risk putting out Raikou or any other Fighting weak Pokémon-EX. I got early KOs by Catchering up his Eels, but the real key to victory as I hinted at earlier was a crucial Mew-EX play.
I KO’d a Mewtwo EX with Terrakion after he KO’d an Empoleon, and he returned with another Mewtwo EX to KO my Terrakion leaving prizes at 2-1 in his favor. I quickly searched out my Mew-EX, attached an energy and put down a Basic to my bench to do exactly 90 HP base damage with Attack Command to 1HKO Mewtwo. That win made my loss to Darkrai EX “good stuff” hurt a lot less.
From then on he “took me under his wing” by introducing me to players in my local area, gave me a bunch of free cards and taught me all about the second tournament of the day which is a DP-On format with very specific restrictions that I did not even know was scheduled. Here is the translated the banned/restricted card list for the event (thanks to community member RestlessBob for the translation):
pokemon-card.comAny deck using cards from DP-on is legal as long as you keep your deck’s “points” to 4 points or lower. That means you can have 1 Uxie LA and 1 Pokémon Collector in your deck and that would be it. You couldn’t have any more of the restricted cards because that would total more than 4 points. Any other cards are completely legal with no restrictions.
I saw a lot of really vicious decks. Garchomp (BW5) + Broken Time-Space is just plain silly. Durant NVI with access to Azelf LA and Snowpoint Temple (Snowpoint Temple + Special M Energy + Eviolite = one tough ant). Various speed donk decks based around Celebi Prime and Tornadus EX were there as well as absolute lock: Vileplume UD, Dusknoir DP, Gardevoir SW, Spiritomb AR, Garbodor BW5, etc. Really fun and creative stuff.
This tournament has no age restrictions and is mostly for fun. I say “mostly” because there is actually something really worthwhile on the line, the Palace Belt. As of right now the Spring Battle Carnivals are the only way of getting your hands on one and there’s no word on whether or not the card will be reprinted for us in BW6 or any other set yet. The Palace Belt reads, “If the Pokémon this card is attached to is your Active Pokémon, you draw 2 cards at the beginning of your turn instead of 1.”
BulbapediaThe pro from Tokyo told me about a couple decks that are starting to take advantage of this card, mostly Mew-EX lock. Mew-EX lock runs Mew-EX (BW5), Accelgor DEX, Darkrai EX, and Gothitelle EPO 47, plus various consistency cards like Musharna DEX or Venusaur DEX.
The idea is to have Mew-EX use Accelgor’s Deck and Cover, promote Gothitelle to Item lock with the Palace Belt attached so you can draw 2 cards at the start of your next turn. In order to more consistently keep the lock going you run Darkrai EX for free retreat and the consistency cards to keep Mew-EXs in play with Double Colorless Energy. With Item lock you also won’t have to worry about Tool Scrapper (BW5) to remove the Palace Belt or being able to switch out of the lock. Nasty stuff.
I decided to enter with my BW-on deck for fun and nearly beat a deck which was around 50% energy, Mew Prime + Rhyperior LV.X + Azelf MT/Uxie MT/Mesprit MT, but alas, before he decked himself out he got a Palmer’s Contribution to return 5 energy back and won.
After that I was exhausted. No more lines for me. I decided I’d attempt to make a Garchomp + Broken Time-Space deck or Super Durant or something in order to better compete next time for a Palace Belt when I go to the next Spring Battle Carnival in Osaka. Until then, here is a list of the top 5 decks in the format according to the various people I spoke to:
- Hydreigon (BW5) + Darkrai EX (This deck is widely accepted as BDIF; I’m personally not convinced.)
- ZekEels (Tied for most overused deck.)
- Garchomp (BW5) + Altaria (BW5) (Tied for most overused deck.)
- Empoleon DEX + Techs
- Darkrai EX + “Good Stuff”
All I can say is, you guys have a lot to look forward to. BW5 is an excellent set and I can’t wait for you guys to get into the BW-on format and get some dragon Pokémon in your hands. That and take my advice, get Darkrai EX now and get a set of 3 or 4. I guarantee you he’ll be a force in the meta for quite a while.
I wanted to finally note that everyone at the tournament was extremely friendly and awesome. I was kind of nervous about what kind of reaction people would have to a random white guy showing up to their World qualifier, but everyone was super excited to have me around and introduced me to person after person, each of them asking if I would please visit their local tournaments.
They even told me that Japanese people have qualified in the US for Worlds (usually from their parents’ work sending them overseas) and it would be awesome if I ended up as a representative of Japan and that I should try hard to qualify in Osaka. I’ve never had quite as warm of a welcome in any card game I’ve played in Japan. I really can’t wait to embrace the Japanese Pokémon community and give it much more of a serious shot this time.
What was really outstanding was the sheer amount of entire families entering these tournaments together. One of the many people I met there was a father in a family of four. He told me that at a previous Battle Carnival his son, daughter (both A League), and even his wife all made it to the Premier Stage while he did not. He was happy to let me know that this time he was able to “regain his honor” and finally make it into the Premier Stage.
I don’t know how common this is in the US or otherwise, but seeing parent and child talk Pokémon strategy with each other was just simply amazing. I will never forget this experience and am eagerly awaiting my second shot in Osaka in two weeks.
I know this was a long read, but I would like to thank you all for your tips and advice along the way and for somehow getting through this mammoth tournament report all the way to the end. Stay tuned for deck analysis, card analysis and more tournament report articles coming soon!