Hello everybody! My name is Ryan Sabelhaus and I have been playing the Pokémon Trading Card Game for over a decade now. I am currently sitting at 635 Championship Points and have just earned my 5th invitation to play in the World Championships! This season has been very kind to me and I’ve actually managed to have a consistent track record of making top cut or earning Championship Points from 18 out of the 19 tournaments I’ve gone to (including making Top 8 at 7 out of 7 Georgia Marathon City Championships).
Writing to the Pokémon community is what I’ve been trying to do for a very long time and I’m grateful that Adam gave me this opportunity to speak my mind! The format has been called dull and filled with luck by many players, but I’m here to show everyone that the format is so much better in comparison to the “Big Basics” days we are coming out of. Any format can be made fun with a little bit of imagination and creative playtesting ideas.
Table of Contents
- SabelCenter Top 8
- Delving into the Mind of a “Metagamer”
- Week 1: Fairies in Virginia
- Week 3: Virizion in North Carolina
- Week 2: Greninja in Tennessee
SabelCenter Top 8
One of the main problems that I have with how information is communicated over the internet is the handling of praise for creativity and consistency. It seems like most players that have incredible runs and steady results aren’t getting the praise they deserve unless there’s a “1st place” trophy in the picture. This is why I’ve decided to dedicate an entire section in my articles to give credit where credit is certainly due.
Similar to the “SportsCenter Top 10” plays that are routinely shown on ESPN, I’m going to highlight the top eight performances and accomplishments as of late that you may not have heard about. To give this concept more of a vibe for the Pokémon community, it will be called the “SabelCenter Top 8” (since all tournaments are now cut to a Top 8).
As Erik Nance alluded to in his article, creativity and accomplishments deserve to be recognized by everyone in the Pokémon community, regardless of whether a tournament is won.
Let’s start off the countdown at number 8:
8. Colin Moll is in a “Dark Trans”
Colin has been known to play unconventional decks, as was spotlighted from his 2008 destruction of US Nationals with Torterra/Sceptile that earned him 3rd place. The man likes to play whatever he likes to play, regardless of popular opinion. He piloted his Darkrai/Hydreigon deck to two consecutive Top 8s, even placing 2nd at Kansas States! Colin is definitely showing that Aromatisse isn’t the only option for moving Energy around in this format.
7. Yehoshua Tate’s Crazy Concoction
Yoshi’s always been known to play decks that are a little bit crazy, but the deck that he won Minnesota States with is just nuts! The man basically dropped a binder of cards and picked out his favorites from the ground, which is a good strategy based on the results. His Ninetales DRX/Raichu XY/Reshiram LTR/Kyurem-EX/Mewtwo-EX deck is definitely something to be marveled at for consistently setting up so many times.
Congratulations Yoshi and thank you for proving that the meta definitely isn’t dull if you’re playing a deck that confuses the entire community!
6. The “States of Brotherly Love”
I felt like this was an interesting feat that may never have happened before: At two State Championships this year, we saw showdowns between brothers in the finals! The first matchup was between Kyle Sabelhaus and myself at the North Carolina State Championship, with my brother winning the tournament using Emboar against my Virizion/Genesect deck.
The second tournament was the Alberta Provincial Championship in which Michael Martindale came out on top against his brother Ryan Martindale in a battle of Blastoise versus Aromatisse/Big Basics. I guess the Ryans in the family just weren’t meant to carry the torch on these occasions!
5. Russell LaParre’s Bringin’ the Sandstorm!
Russell had something to prove through the State Championship tournaments. He not only played the same deck throughout the events, but he landed himself in consecutive Top 8s with his Flygon BCR/Dusknoir BCR/Accelgor DEX/Mewtwo-EX deck! The man clearly knows what he’s doing with the deck based on his consistent results, even landing himself as the 1st seed after Swiss in Virginia.
Another creative deck, another amazing accomplishment for this fairly new player. I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear of LaParre’s Flygons!
4. Pybas Strikes Gold
Although you may know him as “that guy who made Top 8 at Regionals with Willgen,” Brit Pybas is a very talented and skilled player from Missouri that always finishes well at tournaments. Although Brit always has a consistent finish near the top of the leaderboards, he has never been able to seize the gold and come out as champion. Pybas finally struck gold at the Kansas State Championships when he piloted his Blastoise deck to a 1st place finish over Colin Moll’s Hydreigon deck. Congratulations Brit, you definitely earned that trophy!
3. Long Bui’s Playin’ the Field
Long Bui was certainly not on anyone’s radar throughout State Championships and this first week of Spring Regional Championships, which was apparently a dire mistake. Bui piloted his Virizion/Genesect/Raichu deck to a 1st place finish at Mississippi States, but decided that wasn’t enough and played the same deck at Kansas Regionals to a similar victorious result. What can he say; the man’s just more comfortable with an electric mouse at his side!
Although you may have already heard about this based on Bui’s 1st place finishes, his accomplishment definitely deserves recognition, as taking down two very difficult tournaments with an interesting deck isn’t easy.
All of these players have one thing in common, and it’s not just that they all play Pokémon. All three of these fairly younger players managed to take down two State Championships each! That’s an incredible feat to come out as State Champion twice in one year. Dean Nezam and Chris Murray seemed to be on the same page, as they both took down one State Championship with Virizion/Genesect (with Dean using Drifblim as well), while switching to Yveltal/Garbodor for their next States win!
It seems as though Henry Prior might have gotten all of his cards stolen aside from his Blastoise deck, but he is making due just fine by piloting it to both of his State Championship wins! Huge congratulations are in order for these consistent finishes. Hard work definitely paid off for these three players.
I’m not sure if anything can really beat these results… oh wait… that Sosa guy won another Regionals?!
1. Israel Sosa Has Gone to the Dark Side… Again!
There’s literally no choice but to have this as the number one accomplishment in Pokémon for recent history. Sosa is proving unstoppable at Regional Championships by winning his third of this season with another Darkrai variant! The kid must literally live inside his nightmares because he and Darkrai are the best of friends when it comes to large-scale tournaments.
He piloted his Darkrai/Yveltal/Bouffalant deck to a huge win at the Washington Regional Championship, edging out a win against Michael Chin’s Virizion/Genesect deck; an incredible feat for Israel, who is having the season of his life this year. Congratulations on the invite and another Regionals win, Israel!
And that will end this edition of “SabelCenter Top 8.” Be sure to tune in for my next article and see the next top eight recent accomplishments that deserve some credit! If anyone recognizes any achievements that deserve to be on #SCtop8, be sure to let me know so I can add them to the list. Everybody should get some credit for their accomplishments in this game, regardless of their placement in tournaments.
Delving into the Mind of a “Metagamer”
To get these high placements in tournaments, every player must be able to predict which decks they will face at any given tournament and prepare for those matchups. The concept of basing card choices to beat predicted decks is what we call “metagaming.” Sometimes your predictions will be off, and other times they’ll be spot-on but you won’t hit the matchups that you want to hit; it’s just nature of the game. But if you consistently do your homework, eventually you’ll have days that play out as expected.
An issue that most people encounter when trying to predict the metagame is they have no clue where to start basing their projections. Public information has done wonders in alleviating this problem.
At first, I honestly didn’t want to divulge how I form my predictions on what decks I will see in certain areas. It makes me feel a little bit strange and like I’m far too dedicated with this game than a normal person should be. Regardless of how this may be viewed, let’s go into detail about how I make my predictions and allow my deck to be well prepared for larger tournaments. I will give real-life examples from Florida Regionals, which I won in January.
Protip: It’s always important to organize the results that you’ve found. Recording the decks with the most success can be as easy as writing everything down in a notebook. I actually use a whiteboard to figure out the percentages of decks performing well.
Step 1: Study the immediate area’s tournament results.
To perform well in a big tournament, it’s always helpful to know what decks are doing well in the immediate area. This helps to show what players in that area are most comfortable with, along with showing what decks people are beginning to fear. Noticing a trend of consecutive 1st place finishes with Team Plasma variants will definitely prove helpful during preparation.
This does not just mean to study what is winning the bigger tournaments, but also to look at what decks are winning the League Challenges that are in the vicinity of the tournament.
For the Florida Winter Regional Championship, I looked at what almost every League Challenge winner was playing, along with the decks that were consistently finishing in the top cut in Florida. The most skilled players in that area were very well known for playing Team Plasma decks. Coming into that tournament with a deck that had a shaky Plasma matchup was not an option.
Other decks that had done well in the area were Blastoise, Emboar, and Virizion/Genesect (based on tournament results I found online).
Step 2: Look up recent results of the skilled players from surrounding states that may be making the trip to the event.
State Championships usually have a range of a one to two state borders for most players. After observing which State Championships are on different weekends, it’s fairly obvious which tournaments are going to be attended by players from each states. For instance, players in northern Indiana would have the easiest time attending the State Championships in Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan.
This same concept can be applied with Regional Championships, except with a larger spectrum of travel. Players don’t really have a choice but to travel farther to play in the very limited amount of Regional Championships, but it should still be fairly obvious which players are attending which tournaments.
Preparing for Florida Regionals involved analyzing the veteran players in the entire Southeast United States, as it was the only Regional Championship in the area for that weekend. It is always assumed that more decks will be involved while preparing for bigger tournaments. Skilled players in the Southeast United States were performing very well with Team Plasma variants, Blastoise, Emboar, and Virizion/Genesect.
Step 3: Look at what the veteran players across the globe are playing.
This step is mainly concerned with testing out new deck ideas that have been proven through tournament results all over the world (not just the region).
My deck decision for the Florida Regional Championship was greatly influenced by Dylan Bryan. After his Top 4 performance at the Virginia Regional Championship with Dragonite/Garbodor/Reuniclus/Virizion, I began to test multiple Dragonite variants. The most consistent build was the one I took to Regionals.
Step 4: Understand which matchups you should be prepared for.
Now that we have an idea of which decks are being played, let’s figure out what to do with our gathered information. It’s time to tally up the performances and determine which decks are the biggest threats. In my opinion, it is most effective to narrow down to the four best performing decks, as these usually represent an accurate prediction of what will be seen in that area.
The most popular decks in the area surrounding Florida Regionals were Plasma, Blastoise, Emboar, and Virizion/Genesect. Thankfully there were plenty of options to help combat these decks (like Silver Mirror, Item-blocking, and Ability-locking).
Step 5: Choose a deck based off of positive matchups and confidence from testing.
The deck that you choose must have positive or even matchups against all of the popular decks (or a good majority of them).
Also, I always make sure to choose a deck that can consistently set up and perform the same outcome over and over again. If your Virizion/Genesect deck can’t consistently use Emerald Slash on turn 2, you probably aren’t going to come home with a good performance. The same applies to setup decks as well. If a Blastoise or Emboar isn’t normally hitting the field on turn 2 or turn 3, top cut probably isn’t in the future for that deck.
What does well against all four of the decks that were mentioned being popular in Florida? I decided that Dragonite/Garbodor would be the best choice, and then equipped my deck to deal with Virizion/Genesect by adding in a Victini-EX and Victory Piece.
An example of this in the current format would be to figure out what deck would work best in a metagame filled with Virizion/Genesect, Blastoise, and Darkrai/Yveltal/Garbodor. In my opinion, I would build an Emboar deck with at least 2 Tool Scrapper and 1 Rayquaza LTR to assure the matchups are in my favor, while also allowing myself to play a deck that I feel comfortable with.
Step 6: Practice matchups and draw test hands as much as possible.
I can’t stress this point enough when it comes to this format. Ties are inevitable in some cases, but can be avoided by knowing your deck inside and out. Know the percentages of drawing into Rare Candy and Blastoise off of a Professor Juniper. Know whether or not it is worth it to Dowsing Machine away a Superior Energy Retrieval during the middle of a game if a sacrifice is needed.
If you take the time to understand your deck completely, less time will be needed to make decisions and games will go by a little faster. This will not guarantee a tie from happening, but it will help make them less common.
I personally have only tied a total of 5 times throughout the entire season (not including intentional draws) thanks in part to having an extensive knowledge of my own decks. Even playing a deck as slow as Dragonite/Garbodor/Victini, I only tied once in 14 rounds.
Hopefully I’ve helped you understand how intensive playtesting can be for these large-scale tournaments, but do note that it’s not mandatory to do all of this. This is just how my mind works when it comes to preparing for a large tournament and is what I have grown accustomed to doing.
Now that I’ve gone into detail about making metagame choices, let’s talk about some recent tournaments I’ve played in and show some of my decklists for the occasions!
Week 1: Fairies in Virginia
For the first State Championship, I decided to go with a deck that had a lot of room for creativity in the list. The Plasma/Big Basics deck was getting a lot of hype from performing so well in Singapore, so I decided to give the deck a shot in playtesting and I really enjoyed how much freedom the list could have.
When I looked to see which decks were doing well in the Virginia area, it seemed very clear that Darkrai/Yveltal and Plasma decks were running rampant through the League Challenges. Some of the more skilled players like Johnny Rabus were part of the Darkrai/Yveltal and Plasma rampage, which is why I decided to play this version of Fairies to give myself what I felt were good matchups.
Here’s my 3rd place Fairies/Big Basics list:
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 32
Energy – 12
I decided to go with a 3rd Spritzee because Plasma and Darkrai/Yveltal are so quick and can cripple a Fairy deck if one of your Spritzee is prized. Making it easier for Energy to start moving on turn 2 is also very helpful in every matchup.
15 Supporters, 1 Jirachi-EX
One of the main problems that most players go through is that their deck has consistency issues. This deck is suited to make sure that you almost never draw dead, while also having some tech cards to surprise some matchups. During the ending turns where most opposition would hope to N you out of the game, Supporters are always nearby to help this Fairy list to end the game on a good note.
Genesect is an extremely strong attacker, and is lethal when there are two colored Energies on the board. At that point, a Plasma Energy can be attached to activate Red Signal and any target of your choice will be getting hit by a 200 damage G Booster attack.
-1 Yveltal-EX, +1 Thundurus-EX
If I were to make any changes to this list, I probably would add in another Thundurus-EX and cut an Yveltal-EX. Although Yveltal-EX is a strong attacker, it never really seemed to be the strong finisher that I figured it might be. Thundurus-EX is definitely more helpful against any Lugia-EX or other Yveltal-EX that we may run up against.
Week 3: Virizion in North Carolina
Fast-forward to the 3rd week of State Championships. Blastoise has been having a huge impact on the entire United States, along with Plasma and Darkrai/Yveltal being a big influence as always. While playtesting for this tournament, the deck with the best matchups for my predictions seemed to be Virizion/Genesect. As long as the deck could consistently set up and get off a turn 2 Emerald Slash, I felt very confident against Plasma, Darkrai/Yveltal, and Blastoise.
Since this deck has been having so much success recently with many different forms, I will just be providing a skeleton for this deck so that everyone can aim to fill the remaining spots as they feel necessary.
Here is a skeleton of my 2nd place Virizion/Genesect list:
Pokémon – 7
Trainers – 27
Energy – 13
Open Spots: 13
There are plenty of options to fill in the remaining spots, so let’s go over some of these options.
The Raichu variant has a very strong matchup against Plasma and Darkrai/Yveltal because of Yveltal’s Weakness to Lightning-type attackers. The deck plays plenty of Ultra Ball and Level Ball to make sure that there are plenty of ways to search out Pokémon, along with 2 Double Colorless Energy for Raichu to attack with.
Although this isn’t an exact list of what Long Bui has been playing, he has shown amazing results with this variant of Virizion/Genesect and has proven that Raichu can hang around with the big boys.
The Roserade version of this deck makes sure to help with the setup process. It is nearly impossible to not hit the turn 2 Emerald Slash with Roserade being an option. Not only does this deck have Roserade to search out specific cards for setting up and getting the G Booster into play, but this version also plays an Electrode line to keep consistency at the rooftop.
Squeaky Marking piloted a deck similar to this into a Top 4 at Georgia Regionals, only losing to my brother’s Emboar deck. If you are looking for a consistent version of Virizion/Genesect, look no further than this list.
Drifblim has proven to be a very strong contender alongside Virizion-EX and Genesect-EX. Almost sealing the Plasma matchup is the best upside to this version, while also providing a free-retreating Pokémon in Drifblim. The Dragons Exalted Drifblim also makes sure to keep decks with Special Energy cards in check.
Dean Nezam (and Sydney Morisoli) piloted a decklist similar to this to a States win, so this version is definitely worth consideration.
Week 2: Greninja in Tennessee
This seems to be the section that almost everyone is wanting to read, so I decided to put it at the bottom of the article so I can go into more depth without losing you. While getting ready for Week 2-of State Championships in Tennessee, I noticed that Dustin Zimmerman had posted an article about Kingdra/Greninja, which was a deck that I had been testing with.
While reading his very well-written article, I noticed that our versions of the deck were extremely different and I wanted to see how his version would run. Like I said earlier, if a named player like Dustin Zimmerman is playing Kingdra/Greninja, it is probably worth testing with the deck. Upon drawing hands with his build, I noticed how extremely consistent the deck was running.
After hundreds of test hands and practice games, I decided to pull the trigger and play Kingdra/Greninja at the Tennessee State Championship. I expected to see many Plasma, Blastoise, and Darkrai/Yveltal in Tennessee, which is exactly what I saw.
My matchups for the day went as follows:
R1: Plasma – W
R2: Zak Krekeler with TDK – T
R3: Donphan PLS/Safeguarders/Latias-EX – W
R4: Plasma? – W
R5: Joshua Harvely with Geomancy Fairies – W
R6: Stephen Clark with TDK – W
R7: James Hart with Darkrai/Garbodor – ID
My memory of the tournament is a little bit hazy from being on medication throughout the weekend so I apologize for not remembering my round 4 opponent or deck choice. I think it may have been Plasma, but I can’t really remember.
Protip: To anyone that is ever planning on playing in a Pokémon tournament after getting their wisdom teeth removed days earlier… don’t do it! It was a terrible idea, but the weekend was still a blast and the judges were terrific in Tennessee!
Here’s the decklist that I piloted to a 2nd place finish at Tennessee:
Pokémon – 21
Trainers – 29
Energy – 10
You want to start off most games by hiding behind a Sigilyph, giving you enough time to set up your Stage 2s. You want to begin most matchups going for a Greninja first so that you can start getting Water Energies in the discard pile for a future Dragon Vortex from Kingdra. Making sure to Water Shuriken the correct targets is key for this deck, as one wrong Water Shuriken can lose you a match.
There is no need to focus on immediately getting out an Electrode because your main focus should be on setting up as many Stage 2s as possible.
I felt like the deck had overall great matchups. Kingdra/Greninja is a very special deck that can adjust to almost anything you see at a tournament. One of the best advantages to playing rogue decks is also the element of surprise. It forces an opponent to think of a gameplan on the spot, which can then be countered by another gameplan of your own. Although the deck is very hard to play, I felt like I had the best chance of winning the tournament with this deck.
Ideally, you will start with a Sigilyph or retreat into one as soon as possible to prevent early knockouts. You will want to set up a Greninja quickly and start using Water Shuriken damage on whatever attacker they are setting up (whether it be Lugia-EX, Kyurem PLF, etc.). It is usually a good idea to Water Shuriken the 180 HP EXs two times so that a 6-Energy Dragon Vortex will be able to Knock Out the attacker.
For example, let’s say your opponent is setting up a Lugia-EX and we have Water Shuriken’d it twice. From this point, the next couple of Water Shurikens should be aimed at a Thundurus-EX, as that is going to be their next attacker. After a big Dragon Vortex knockout on Lugia, the next turn will usually be spent using Kingdra’s Tri Bullet attack to set up some Water Shuriken knockouts later in the game.
This matchup is usually a very good matchup from this point on and is a solid overall match for the deck.
Vs. Blastoise and Emboar
Once again, go for the initial setup of getting out as many Basics as possible behind a Sigilyph wall. Every Water Shuriken in this matchup should be aimed at the Blastoise or Emboar to make sure that they can’t keep dropping as many Energy as possible. Kingdra is a very good attacker in this matchup, as both of their strong attackers (Black Kyurem-EX PLS and Rayquaza-EX) are weak to Dragon and can be Knocked Out very easily.
In this matchup, most players underestimate just how quickly their Energy accelerator can be wiped out. Water Shuriken damage piles up very quickly and the matchup becomes a lot easier as soon as the Blastoise/Emboar are gone. While playing against Blastoise, it is very crucial to save a big Dragon Vortex from Kingdra to Knock Out any Keldeo-EX with large amounts of Energy.
Since this deck has 2 Sigilyph, it is usually very hard for Darkrai/Yveltal to get around this to put on early pressure. This usually allows you to have time to set up and to start using Water Shuriken on whatever attacker they are using. Kingdra only uses one Energy to attack, which also makes it very hard for Yveltal-EX to have any strong impact on the game.
Since they have to take 1 Prize at a time and they usually can’t take a knockout every turn, this matchup allows for you to have plenty of time to set up each EX knockout and come out on top.
Although this matchup may seem bad on paper because of Greninja’s Weakness to Grass, it is actually a deck that you would want to see. Hiding behind a Sigilyph immediately is a necessity to block the Emerald Slash damage. Kingdra is once again a very difficult Pokémon for Virizion/Genesect players to deal with because of its 140 HP and Dragon Weakness.
Make sure to Water Shuriken whatever Pokémon they are setting up and do not discard the Super Rod because it is very crucial for this match. After a big Dragon Vortex, make sure to Tri Bullet and set up EX knockouts for later in the game.
I choose my decks based on intensive playtesting with some of my friends, which include Tyler Morris, Joshua Harvely, and obviously my brother Kyle. They have grown very accustomed to me suggesting strange ideas, but also realize to take everything as a serious deck option. Some of the decks I play may seem crazy, but I would play anything with solid matchups and built-in consistency. If you have any strange ideas that you think may turn into a good deck, don’t be afraid to build on your ideas and test them extensively!
I hope that this article was a fun read and can help everyone for upcoming Regional Championships. This is only my first article, and I can guarantee that my writing will only get better from here. I’m so glad that I was given the opportunity to write for everybody in this Pokémon community.
If anyone has any questions for me about the article or anything Pokémon-related, feel free to message me and ask. Good luck at future tournaments!
– Ryan Sabelhaus
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