Let’s Talk About Worlds! Part I: The Grinder (Featuring Sam Liggett)

Hey everyone! Glad to be back and writing for you guys again this month. This time I’ve decided to cover everything you’ll need to know to have a great time in Canada this year.

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They call it the Grinder for a reason!

The Grinder. Anyone who’s ever had to compete in this monster of an event will tell you it’s one of the most stressful circumstances under which you can play this great card game. The Grinder is a tournament players loathe playing in but is also one that produces some of the most excited champions.

As someone who’s grinded into the Main Event twice I can tell you from experience that earning your invite through the grinder is one of the most satisfying accomplishments one can achieve playing Pokémon. What I’ve noticed in the past is that people don’t take the Grinder seriously enough though, and for this reason, they miss out on an invite which could have easily been theirs. Many people justify risky deck choice and inadequate preparation by claiming that winning the grinder is so improbable they don’t mind losing/expect to lose.

This, however, is not the mindset one should have while playing in the tournament or while testing decks at home before departing for Vancouver. While it is important to understand that grinding in is improbable and you should be prepared emotionally to lose, this is still a Worlds Qualifier and should be treated as such.

Essentially what I’m trying to convey is that you shouldn’t purchase a plane ticket to Canada if you’re relying on the Grinder to have a good time. You should realize that ultimately you’re going to be spending much of your time with your friends and if you’re not okay with that, maybe traveling to the Grinder isn’t for you.

As far as decks are concerned, I believe the best two decks for the Grinder differ entirely from the two decks most likely to win Worlds. In the first part of this two part article I’ll talk about each and every matchup you’ll need to know, inside and out, for the two best Grinder options, Gothitelle and Darkrai. I’ll also include some information as to why Plasma and Blastoise shouldn’t be your top choices for the Grinder.

I hope this information gives you guys some clarity as to which deck you’ll choose for the Grinder this year!

Table of Contents

  1. Gothitelle
    1. Vs. Blastoise
    2. Vs. Plasma
    3. Vs. Mirror (With Sam Liggett)
  2. Darkrai
    1. Vs. Plasma
    2. Vs. Blastoise
    3. Vs. Mirror
    4. Vs. Gothitelle
  3. Not Recommended
    1. Plasma
    2. Blastoise
  4. Conclusion


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Thrives in the best-of-three format.

Gothitelle is the deck that seems to be on everyone’s mind going into Worlds because of its outstanding performance at US Nationals. The nature of this deck is such that either you play it yourself, or you play a hard counter to its permanent Accelgor lock. Because this deck beats almost every deck that does not play a way to break the lock, it seems like a strong choice for Worlds, but more so, the Grinder.

The thing that makes this deck such a convincing play is that even against the decks prepared to handle its potent lock, it can still get an early Item lock down and steal the game. The reason Gothitelle is a particularly strong choice for the Grinder is that it can set up at the least, two of three games. In the Grinder, going 2-1 in every match gets you an invite to Worlds whereas going 2-1 on average over 8 rounds at Worlds means you’ll sneak into the bottom of the cut or get bubbled out. You’ll notice a similar idea with Darkrai but I’ll get into that later on.

The point of mentioning Gothitelle’s particular advantage in 2/3 is that it’s difficult for Gothitelle to lose 2-of 3 games against almost any of the big four, especially with the limited diversity there will likely be in the Grinder. Now, let’s look at the matchups you’ll likely see if you are to play this deck for the Grinder in Vancouver this year.

Vs. Blastoise

I’ll call this matchup as close to 50/50 as it gets. I’m sure there are people who could make the argument for either one of these decks in the matchup, but as per my own testing, games between these two decks could go either way just as easily. Something to note, however, is that while Blastoise can prepare for this matchup by playing additional Keldeos and W Energy, Gothitelle remains a slave to its own matter-of-fact turn-by-turn strategy, and therefore cannot tech effectively for this matchup.

A very important thing to note here is that this matchup is not always decided by who goes first or who gets the first Stage 2 onto the table.

In the event that Gothitelle gets the first Stage 2 down, the Blastoise player can stay in the game simply by putting four turns of W Energy down onto a Keldeo and 1HKOing one or two Gothitelles. All the while, if the Blastoise player can find a Wartortle, they can build a Blastoise mid game and hopefully find another Keldeo to swing with. While it does become an uphill battle, the Blastoise player has not lost the game by any means.

In the case that Blastoise gets the first Stage 2 out, the advantage it gains is less significant than that of a Gothitelle deck getting a Gothitelle out first. The reason for this is that Blastoise still needs to find both Keldeos and 4 Waters to do any real harm to Gothitelle’s setup. Blastoise usually won’t find 4 Waters and two Keldeos until at least the third turn, depending on the timing of their opponent’s first Gothitelle.

Games played in this matchup are usually very stale and consist of many autopilot plays, particularly on the part of the Blastoise player. Many turns will be spent just attaching Energy to Keldeo, making sure there’s another Energy for the next turn, and using Tropical Beach.

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More Water, more chance for a T4 Keldeo.

Two of the biggest factors that swing the matchup in either direction include a high W Energy count in Blastoise and a high Catcher count in Gothitelle. More W Energy means you’re more likely to have an Energy in every hand which practically ensures a T4 Keldeo KO on a Gothitelle in the event you cannot get Blastoise down. The extreme to this idea is playing 4 Keldeo whether they’re your only attackers (in which case you can play as many as 14 Water) or just as a way of making this matchup favorable.

Having the third or fourth Catchers, as Edmund had in his Nationals winning list, means that the Keldeo sitting on the bench collecting Waters in the early turns is more likely to be Knocked Out before it’s able to draw any Prizes. From there, the Blastoise player must then find another Keldeo onto which they can put another four energy, but by then the game is most likely over anyway.

As you guys should glean from this information, the matchup is even unless either one of the players decides to alter their deck to attempt to sway the matchup one way or the other. A caution however, is that even with these changes, with the explosive and somewhat risky nature of both of these decks, the game could be decided before any techs are even taken into account; it only takes one bad draw on either end of the table.

Vs. Plasma

This is the trickiest matchup to talk about because of the various ways Plasma can be played. It’s no secret that double Keldeo is the go-to idea to help swing the matchup Plasma’s way, but exactly how effective is it and what does that mean for the rest of your list?

The first thing I’ll discuss is the matchup between Gothitelle and a standard TDKA. Gothitelle has an incredible matchup against this version of the deck for many reasons as most people should realize, especially if you witnessed the finals of US Nationals this year. Even though Ryan Sabelhaus went first in the Finals, he still wasn’t able to steal two games from Gothitelle in a best of three.

I bring this situation up not only because it was a particularly memorable moment, but it played out as the matchup should. Ryan was able to steal a game in which he went first because Edmund’s deck had trouble setting up. This is typical for Gothitelle in a best of three, but because losing one game doesn’t matter in best of three, there’s virtually no downside to losing just one to an interrupted start.

The biggest reason TDKA takes such an unfavorable matchup to Gothitelle is its lack of a way to break the lock, unsurprisingly. Because there’s no easy way of incorporating a way of breaking the lock, most people who chose to play Plasma at Nationals accepted it as a bad matchup. Those who decided to not take that auto-loss most likely found themselves switching to Kyurem/Keldeo.

I believe that anyone who chooses to play a Plasma variant in the Grinder will most likely be playing this version of the deck. The good news for Gothitelle is that I still believe the matchup is a good one.

While they do have double Keldeo, they have no effective way of getting it back to the bench under an Item lock. Float Stone helps as a temporary solution, but usually will be Tool Scrappered away. Double Keldeo in Plasma seems like only a soft counter after realizing that Tool Scrapper makes it almost impossible to break the lock indefinitely.

The other glaring issue with Kyurem/Keldeo is that it sacrifices matchups to the other top decks. As far as Gothitelle is concerned, you likely won’t have to worry about dealing with this deck past the 2nd or 3rd round of the Grinder should you make it there. The idea that the decks heavily teched for Gothitelle will have worse matchups against decks other than Gothitelle, means that the fewer Gothitelles in the field, the better chance you have of hitting mainstream matchups like Blastoise and Plasma.

Because of Gothitelle’s likelihood to set up in a best-of-three format, its array of strong matchups, and its lack of auto-losses, Gothitelle should surely be a top deck choice for the Grinder this year.

Vs. Mirror

Because I’m not very well versed in the Gothitelle mirror, I’ve decided to reach out to US Nationals 3rd place finisher and good friend of mine, Sam Liggett, for some insight on this matchup. Here’s how our conversation about this tricky mirror match went!

Alright Sam, so how many Gothitelle mirrors did you play at Nationals, in Swiss and in cut?

I played a three game series against Frank Diaz the day before Nats, none in Swiss, and then I 2-0’d Jeremy Jallen in top 16, 2-1’d Sean Foisy in top 8, and then went 1-2 versus Edmund Kuras in top 4.

Which would you say was your most difficult mirror? Was it Edmund because his was the one you lost to or was it against someone else?

Sean Foisy was the most difficult.

I mean, Edmund just drew really well off of a four card N, and I prized all three Float Stones. Sean Foisy seemed to know the matchup really well, and the games just went back and forth the whole time.

How often would you say the player who gets the second Gothitelle out lose the game?

Umm I’m not sure how often really. Setting up Gothitelle first definitely gives you a huge advantage, but if your opponent can score a quick Knock Out on it with Mew, the game can easily swing back in their favor.

Would you say the game is a lost cause unless you get lucky or is it winnable if you get the second Gothitelle down?

It all depends on if they get Float Stone out before you get your Gothitelle out. If you set up Gothitelle before they get their Float Stone, then you’re pretty much at a standstill.
As far as percentages go, I would say about 75% of the time whoever gets out the first Gothitelle wins the game. I’m just estimating here, but it might even be as high as 80%.

You said 75 percent of the games in the mirror are decided by the first Gothitelle. Do you think the matchup is all luck based? When, if ever, does skill come into play?

Whoever sets up the first Gothitelle definitely has a huge advantage, but the matchup isn’t completely luck based. You have to be careful about when you evolve, when you take knock outs, and plan ahead for when your opponent does set up a Gothitelle. The mirror match is one of the most complex mirrors I have ever played. When and where you play your Float Stones is another big decision.

How do you decide whether or not you want to get the Accelgor out? If your opponent does it, do you put the effort into playing your own?

It all depends on if you want to attack first or not. Whoever sets up the first Accelgor is usually the player that wants to start attacking that turn. If you just leave Shelmets in play, then you’re ready to evolve and attack whenever you want, but your opponent can’t attack you until they set up their own Accelgor. By not evolving into Accelgor, you also won’t have him get locked Active.

What would you say are the most effective techs for the mirror?

Keldeo is looking really good to me right now.

Keldeo-EX, a third Catcher, Dusclops, a second Gothorita, and maybe a third Mew are the best techs if you ask me. Keldeo is definitely the top choice though.

If I had to order them, it would go Keldeo first, then Catcher, Dusclops, Mew, and finally Gothorita.

If you could go back, would you change any cards in your list?

Honestly, no. I felt like I had the best possible list for Nationals. I’m definitely working a Keldeo into my list for Worlds though.

Alright, thanks a lot Sam. Anything else you’d like to add before we conclude the interview?

I just want to say thank you for being my mentor all these years, you rock!

That concludes this interview with Sam Liggett, US Nationals Semi Finalist! Be sure to check out his Nationals Report for additional information; it’s a very well written and detailed piece. I’d like to add that I’m very happy for Sam’s success at Nationals and nothing’s cooler than being able to interview a good friend for an article like this.

Next up is my second favorite deck choice for the Grinder this year, Darkrai. I’ll give you guys all the matchups, why the deck is great specifically for the Grinder itself, and conclude with the matchup on everyone’s mind, Darkrai vs. Gothitelle.


Darkrai is another incredible choice for the Grinder alongside Gothitelle. With Blastoise underperforming at Nationals and Plasma and Gothitelle performing very well, Darkrai just makes more sense. While it bears a tough matchup or two, it also boasts a great matchup against what should be the most played deck of the Grinder: Gothitelle.

I’ll now go into some matchups and explain why Darkrai should be in your top two choices for the Grinder.

Vs. Plasma

Gives Darkrai a big edge here.

I’ve talked with a couple people who claim Plasma has a favorable matchup against Darkrai, but I’m of a different opinion. Even with only one Enhanced Hammer, I believe this matchup is 60-40 in favor of Darkrai. With 2 Enhanced Hammer and at least 1 Sableye, this matchup becomes all but an auto-win for Darkrai.

I’m sure there a lot of people who would take issue with this statement, but in reality, a seasoned Darkrai player should be able to win almost every game. From better resource management to fantastic numbers, to low bench size, Darkrai has everything going for it in this matchup.

The only real way for Plasma to take a commanding lead of this matchup is to take an early lead or get a T2 Blizzard Burn, but even in this case, a couple Enhanced Hammers or a T3 Night Spear with Laser/Claw/Bank can end the game before it even begins. I’m sure everyone planning their trips to Vancouver, even if only for the Grinder, have tested this matchup simply because they’re two of the big four, so I won’t belabor my point.

Unfortunately for those choosing Darkrai for the Grinder, don’t expect to see too much Plasma en route to your invite. I’ll go more into why Plasma is a weak choice for the Grinder later on in the article, but I think you guys can count on there being very few Plasmas in the Grinder this year.

Vs. Blastoise

The Darkrai and Blastoise matchup has been a difficult matchup for a long time for Darkrai and once Superior Energy Retrieval was released, the matchup moved decidedly in Blastoise’s direction.

The biggest perk to playing Darkrai is that you can tech for almost every matchup there is, with the exception of Blastoise. There really aren’t any cards you could potentially tech without significantly altering your deck to beat Blastoise. For this reason, the matchup will always be at least 40-60 in Blastoise’s favor.

Darkrai’s saving grace in the matchup has always been and will always be its late game N and potential to draw 4 Prizes in a single turn. With the addition of Absol, the matchup has been evened out slightly, as a Dark Clawed Absol can deal a game changing 1HKO, something Darkrai was previously incapable of doing.

Regardless, the reason I recommend Darkrai as a strong play in the Grinder even if I note how horrible it is to take an auto-loss is that I strongly believe there will be very little Blastoise in the Grinder. Later on, I suggest that you need to take a look at the format and decide for yourself which decks will see the most play and pick your own deck accordingly.

Personally, because I believe Blastoise will see such little play, it only seems obvious for me to include Darkrai as one of my top two picks for the Grinder. If anything, this should be a very high priority matchup for you to test if it is Darkrai that you decide on for the Grinder.

Unfortunately for this format, high level skill is something almost unique to Darkrai, and I believe with an apt amount of testing, you can swing this horrible matchup from a potential 35-65 up to anywhere as high as a 45-55, depending on your and your opponent’s list.

Vs. Mirror

Max Potion management takes skill.

Of all the matchups in the game, I believe the Darkrai mirror is the most skill intensive there is. Junk Hunts, Energy management, and decklists all play such crucial roles in how the game plays out that it’s very rare to see both players play flawlessly.

Understanding when you can afford to Junk Hunt, realizing when you NEED to Junk Hunt, and knowing which cards you should take with Junk Hunt can single handedly swing the game in one direction. Just from watching this mirror being played you can almost always pick out the winner by observing the fashion in which they play.

Energy management is another defining factor in the Darkrai mirror. This ranges from putting energy in the right places, to, using Energy Switch effectively, to knowing when it’s okay to attack with Absol, to being aggressive with Dark Patch. There are so many things that can go wrong while trying to manage Energy on the table, that one player is bound to make a mistake. This skill gap is what makes the Darkrai mirror one of the few mirrors that relies very little on who wins the flip at the start of the game.

The last thing this mirror depends on is how well the decks are built. A strong Darkrai list, one that’s prepared to handle the mirror or Plasma, should include at least one copy of Max Potion. In this specific matchup, a lot of games come down to who can manage their Max Potion(s) and therefore their Dowsing Machine. This goes hand in hand with Energy management, and if played poorly, whether it be too passively or too aggressively, can decide that match.

The fact that this deck has a seemingly good Gothitelle matchup and can be tailored to beat the mirror is the strongest argument for this deck being an ideal choice for the Grinder this year.

The last matchup I’ll discuss is obviously the Gothitelle Darkrai match. I left this one for last not only because it’s one of the simpler ones to explain, but also because it will be the defining matchup in the Grinder this year. The likelihood of you seeing this matchup if you are to pilot either of these decks is almost 100% certain and you can bet you’ll see it multiple times at that, so here it is.

Vs. Gothitelle

For the Grinder this is the matchup you’ll probably want to know the most about. I recommend either Darkrai or Gothitelle for the Grinder because I believe they are the two best decks for a 2/3 format. I also believe they’ll be the two most heavily played decks in the Grinder, so you need to be prepared for this matchup regardless of which side of the table you’re on.

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It’s all about the Keldeo count.

This matchup is pretty black and white dependent on the Darkrai list. Like I’ve said before, there are few things Gothitelle decks can do to tech against bad matchups. That being said, Darkrai is the most versatile deck in the game right now and can easily tech to gain advantage against any matchup.

It’s been talked about here and there, but the feeling I generally get when I discuss triple Keldeo in Darkrai is a hesitant one. If the Darkrai player only plays 2 Keldeo this can be a close matchup. The problems that arise with so few Keldeo are prizing one, not being able to find both at the same time through Item lock, and having one Knocked Out. A Gothitelle heavy on Catcher will be able to make at least one of these circumstances happen a pretty decent amount of the time.

I see no reason to risk a matchup that will be undoubtedly popular when you can secure it ESPECIALLY in a tournament where you can be Knocked Out by one unlucky match. From the Gothitelle player’s perspective, beating a Darkrai with 3 Keldeo is almost impossible, particularly in the event that Gothitelle is only playing 2 Catcher, which isn’t unlikely.

Unfortunately, there’s isn’t much else to say about this matchup because it really just comes down to how many Keldeos hit the table and how often the Gothitelle player can Catcher and lock them. I’d call this matchup 60-40 for Darkrai with 2 Keldeo and 70-30 for Darkrai with 3 Keldeo.


Plasma is one of my favorite decks to play and it isn’t without reason. The deck is fast, effective, and can deal big 1-shots; so why not play it for the Grinder? Well, the answer is plain and simple: Gothitelle.

Because Gothitelle won US Nationals, you can bet it’s going to see a lot more play than it did previously. Even if you believe the deck takes favorable matchups against almost any other deck in the game, like I do, there’s no denying that this deck’s largest impediment will be played heavily at the Grinder.

With having said that, the Grinder doesn’t offer any second chances. The round you play against your first Gothitelle is likely the round you leave the play area to start entering side events. The single elimination format is hardly accommodating for this powerhouse of a deck, and if you should risk playing it, you’d better hope to dodge all the Gothitelle, and trust me, you won’t.

If you’re just so in love with the deck you couldn’t bear the thought of passing up playing it in Vancouver, I’d strongly recommend changing gears and testing the all-Water version with at least two Keldeos. Exp. Share and Float Stone are in there to accommodate for all the other potency you’ve lost by switching from the more standard version of the deck.

While I’d argue that Float Stone and Keldeo isn’t enough to beat Gothitelle alone, playing heavy Water just might be able to do it. If you’re able to get 4 Water onto a Keldeo you can go about beating Gothitelle the same way Blastoise has to. Of course this is no easy task for either deck, but it gives you a way of beating Gothitelle, even if it’s not the best deck choice for the job.

My advice is put your Deoxys back into the binder and start testing your next favorite deck.


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Too many 50/50 autopilot matchups make Stoise a dicey play.

To me, Blastoise seems like a suboptimal play for a few reasons. While the decrease in Plasma should make this a much better play for the Grinder, in reality I don’t see this deck winning 5 consecutive best-of-threes in this format.

First, Blastoise’s matchup with Gothitelle is a 50/50 matchup where little to no skill is involved. As the Blastoise player, you’re on autopilot, playing down as many Keldeos as you can find and putting down one Water per turn, unless, of course, you got your Blastoise down before they got their Gothitelle. It’s not that the matchup is bad for Stoise, the issue is that in a 50/50 matchup absent of skill, you’re likely to get booted it you hit 2 or 3 Gothitelles throughout the 5 rounds, which isn’t unlikely.

The same goes for the mirror match. Because the deck requires such little skill, there’s nothing stopping the other 50 people playing Blastoise from beating you by drawing better or going first. This is the reason I’d pick a more skill intensive deck like Darkrai or even Gothitelle. You simply cannot rely on getting lucky 4-5 rounds of the event, nor should you want to.

I know you’re probably asking yourself, “Well if Darkrai is going to be so much more popular in the Grinder, why shouldn’t I play a deck that takes an almost auto-win against it?” While that does present a good point, this tournament isn’t about metagaming and having a solid record.

You literally have to have a perfect record to gain anything from the tournament. This means that sure, you might beat a Darkrai or even two, but on the off chance you hit only Goths and Blastoises throughout the event, are you really prepared to basically flip coins to decide whether or not you’ll snag an invite?

The case for Blastoise is a little different for Worlds, but I’ll get to that in the second part of this article on Thursday.


So, just to recap, here are the two decks I talked about playing for the Grinder, and their percentages against the rest of the format, as I perceive them.

Gothitelle vs. Blastoise: 50/50
Gothitelle vs. Darkrai: 35/65
Gothitelle vs. Plasma: 65/35
Gothitelle vs. Mirror: 50/50

Darkrai vs. Blastoise: 40/60
Darkrai vs. Gothitelle: 65/35
Darkrai vs. Plasma: 60/40
Darkrai vs. Mirror: 50/50

If you were to add up all the upside of each deck you’ll find that Gothitelle’s total number is 200 as compared to Darkrai’s 215. While Darkrai has a slightly higher figure, those numbers are so close it’s impossible to tell which one will get you farther for sure. You’ll have to decide for yourself which decks will see the most play, which matchups you’re the most comfortable taking losses to, and which deck you feel the most comfortable with.

I, personally, would have a terrible time deciding which deck to play for this tournament and I think the winners of this event will definitely prove their worth in the Main Event the following day. Good luck to those of you who will be playing in the tournament this year, and I hope this article helped you narrow down your potential deck choices for the event.

The second part of this article covering the Main Event will be up on Thursday, and hope you guys give it a look. Thanks for reading!


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