Hey everyone! I think I’ll get right down to it in this month’s article; I have plenty to talk about and I’m very excited to write it all down.
This year’s US National Championships gave us some pretty refreshing surprises at the top tables. For starters, Pyroar was a huge presence; everyone and their dad played it. Some paired it with the usual suspects, Charizard and Blacksmith, while others chose to pair it with some unlikely friends like Ninetales and Mewtwo. At any rate, Pyroar stomped out the dreams of more than a few unsuspecting opponents at this past weekend.
Another unforeseen deck was the Landorus/Garbodor/Raichu/Mewtwo deck that stole the show. This, of course, has to be the deck on everyone’s mind looking ahead. I saw a few permutations of this deck during the Swiss rounds of the main event and even had the chance to play against one — the deck is no joke. I was fortunate enough to get an interview with our new Masters National Champion, Brandon Salazar, about his unique deck. Get to know our young champion later on in this article!
Apart from all the decks, there were a couple other interesting dynamics present at this year’s National Championships. There was definitely ample chatter about the game clocks located in the center of the hall for all players to see during matches. I’ll give you guys my perspective on these clocks, what I think was good about them and what I think could be improved upon.
Finally, the two last-chance Regionals (Championship Point Challenges) this weekend pushed a good number of people into 500 Championship Point territory, myself included. I’ll talk about the do-or-die mindset that I and so many people had to endure over the course of the weekend. I’ll also discuss the player cap and the problem with distributing tournament-exclusive mats for entering.
Table of Contents
- Interview with Brandon Salazar
- The Clock
- Last-Chance Regionals
First things first: Pyroar.
Michael Pramawat has been a force in the game for as long as I can remember and he proved his mettle again this past weekend. Pram piloted his straight Pyroar list all the way to the finals. His list, posted on the Pokémon website along with the other semifinalists’, can be found below:
Pokémon – 10
Trainers – 38
Energy – 12
It’s not difficult to understand why this deck works. Set up Pyroar, eliminate anything that can damage it, and then coast to victory. I won’t elaborate too much on why Pyroar’s a good card in general or why Pram saw so much success with it — at face value, those are very easy things to understand. I will, however, explain why he played some of the cards he did and why his Pyroar list deserved to be the highest placing Pyroar list in the 900-person tournament.
The list is short and sweet; Pram kept only the essentials in this list. 4-4 Pyroar means that he’ll have the greatest chance of making his opponent go through the maximum number of Pyroars before winning the game. Knocking one Pyroar out by Poison or with the aid of Garbotoxin isn’t terribly difficult. Knocking four Out is. Especially when Pram plays…
As someone who played Yveltal/Garbodor at Nationals this year I can tell you that I’d have been terrified to play against Pram’s Pyroar list. With 4 Switches, Pram ensures that Sableye with Laser can only deal 30 damage before the Special Condition is removed. That’s definitely not enough damage when Sableyes drop like flies.
With the Laser threat removed, Pram only has to worry about the Garbodor problem in that matchup. So what does Pram do? He plays 6 cards to drag Garbodor Active. With a maxed out Pyroar line and all these answers to Poison and Garbotoxin, Pram practically had an auto-win against Yveltal/Garbodor, the deck a lot of people considered the BDIF going into the event.
Another softer counter to the Laser problem is Tropical Beach. While Tropical Beach gave Pram the obvious advantage of draw, it also gave him a card to bump Virbank out of play. This means that even if he were to run out of Switches, he could tune Poison damage down from 30 to 10, which is virtually nothing to a 110 HP Pyroar taking no damage otherwise.
The last card I’ll talk about in Pram’s list is Roller Skates; I think this was one of the deck’s greatest attributes. Pram realized that his deck featured some less-than-ideal Supporters for setting up. Blacksmith and Lysandre are both incredible cards, but they simply don’t get things off the ground; the deck needs draw power. So what did Pram do? He installed a draw engine that didn’t include Supporters.
While many of his Supporter drops late game would be eaten up by Lysandre or Blacksmith, he kept his hand fresh with the occasional Roller Skates heads. He also had three copies of Bicycle to supplement his Supporter-less draw engine. I think it was a very nice little idea and it seems to have paid off in a big way for our runner-up.
While some people chose to pair Pyroar with few other partners, others went a different route. Justin Sanchez, Sam Liggett, and Dave Richard among others decided to play a Pyroar deck featuring Ninetales DRX in addition to Charizard and Mewtwo. Ninetales gives many of the same opportunities Lysandre and Catcher do for Pram’s version of the deck, but Ninetales can also act as an attacker. It’s cheap, it attacks whatever it wants, and it can get up to some ridiculous numbers with a Virbank, a Muscle Band, and a Laser.
I experienced a 2-0 loss to Dave Richard in two of the few games I played the day before Nationals. In my opinion, either way of playing the deck is strong; be on the lookout for any version of this deck at Worlds, it’ll give you a run for your money.
Here’s Ryan Sabelhaus‘ list for you to look at. He did a lot of testing with the Richard family and his lovely brother, Kyle, of course. With impetus from 2011 National Champion, Justin Sanchez, this is what they ultimately came up with although only Dave played it in the main event.
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 33
Energy – 11
Interview with Brandon Salazar
Up next I’ll show you guys my interview with Brandon Salazar, our 2014 Masters United States National Champion. In my opinion, this was one of the most informative and insightful interviews I’ve ever gotten for SixPrizes, so I’m very excited to share it. Brandon shows incredible understanding of his deck and the game at just fifteen years old and he has an unprecedented amount of promise for the future. Get to know him. First, the winning list:
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 35
Energy – 11
Now, the interview!
So first, how old are you and how long have you been playing? Who are your testing partners and what did they play at Nationals this year?
I am 15 years old and I have been playing since 2010. My testing partners are Justin Kulas, Justin Boughter, Luke Kirkham (who has a blog at http://victory-road.co/), and just basically anybody from Florida that I can test with. I didn’t have a lot of testing partners at the time though. My friend Justin Kulas (Senior) played Pyroar, but ended up 4-4-1, and my other friend Justin Boughter (Senior), playing TDK, actually did really well going 9-3-2. Luke is actually from the UK and played the same deck as me and made top 16.
Did it concern you that not many other people were playing your deck? What made you decide to even build such an unconventional, daring deck in the first place?
It didn’t concern me at all. The people that played a variant of my deck probably ended up dropping. I was actually pretty happy to do well with an underplayed deck. I decided to play my Landorus deck in the first place mainly because I was just going to have fun with it. The deck can put on pressure even when drawing dead. Also, when everyone is hyping Pyroar, you feel like the odds of winning are in your favor. I really like Landorus as a card because its Hammerhead almost reminds me of Darkrai’s Night Spear, and I wanted to tell the world that Landorus is still a playable card.
The Fighting type also counters pesky Pokémon like Miltank, Raichu, Absol, and Zoroark.
How long did you test your Nationals deck? Did you test any other decks during that time? If so, what made you decide on Landorus over your other options?
I tested my Nationals list for about a month and a half, mainly against Yveltal and Virizion/Genesect variants. Other decks I thought about playing were Virizion/Genesect and TDK, but I found those decks having a tough matchup against Pyroar. I decided on my Landorus deck over the other two because I knew how popular Pyroar was going to be and the deck has a good matchup against it. I hoped the Pyroar would care of the TDK and Virizion/Genesect decks so I could face my favorable matchups, Yveltal variants and Pyroar, which are what I mainly faced day 2.
Would you say that your deck has a difficult matchup against TDK and Genesect/Virizion? You said Pyroar was your best matchup, so what was your worst matchup?
Yes, the TDK matchup is almost unwinnable. Any Water deck spells doom for Landorus, which is the deck’s main attacker. I was lucky to beat a TDK in Swiss, but that was because he whiffed Colress Machines and drew dead. The Virizion/Genesect matchup can be rough if they Red Signal your Trubbishes, which means you can’t use Lasers. To beat Virizion/Genesect you have to go first and get the turn two Garbodor. My only loss day 1 was to a Virizion/Genesect deck round 1.
Water decks like Empoleon, TDK, and Blastoise were the decks toughest matchups and Accelgor with Flygon was also challenging.
Were there any cards you wished you’d played during the tournament? What would have been your 61st card?
My 61st card would’ve been a either a 3rd Switch or a 2nd Enhanced Hammer because Laser and Accelgor were so popular that Switch was great, and I would have been able to disrupt Yveltal’s and Pyroar’s DCEs and all of Plasma’s Special Energy with Enhanced Hammer.
Another 61st card that I wish I had sometimes was a Max Potion to heal off damage.
What was the biggest change you made to your deck in the 2 or 3 weeks leading up to Nationals? Did the deck undergo a lot of changes while you tested it in general?
Yeah. I first started the deck with three Mewtwo and Dowsing Machine, but I found that two Mewtwo were fine and Computer Search allowed me to get any card I needed, such as a Supporter turn 1. I also bumped my Lysandre count to two because a Catcher effect is really huge in the way it can change the course of a game.
Enhanced Hammer was also a card I debated cutting, but I found it really useful when facing Yveltal, Plasma, and Pyroar so much.
Looking toward Worlds, do you think the metagame will allow your deck to do well again or do you think too much will change between now and then? Do you think you’ll stick with Landorus?
I think the World Championship metagame would stay the same as before with Pyroar in the scene and with the usual Yveltal variants, Plasma Variants, and VirGen variants. I will most likely play the same deck for the World Championships and try to win that as well.
How’d you celebrate your big win and is there anyone you want to give a shoutout to?
I celebrated with a lot of people from Florida and it was a good experience. I want to give a shout out to Luke Kirkham for the deck idea, Justin Kulas and Boughter for being my testing partners, everyone from Florida for being so supportive, and The Pokémon Company for running a wonderful US National Championship.
Thank you so much for the interview, Brandon, and congratulations on becoming the 2014 Pokémon TCG Masters US National Champion!
Next I’ll discuss the clock at US Nationals. It was absolutely a point of conversation in a lot of groups at Nationals, so I’ll try to explain what I thought about it and what I think can change.
I usually don’t involve myself very much with things outside of gameplay in my articles, but this is something I feel strongly about and suspect the entire community would benefit from hearing. There was a lot of talk about the clock in the center of the room that provided time down to the second of every Swiss and top cut game played at Nationals.
I like it.
I think the clock is a great idea and I think it helps mitigate the 50+3 problem; only having 50 minutes for three games is the real devil.
One of the arguments I heard against the public clock was that people used it to manipulate on whose turn time would end. That’s a big problem. But is it a problem worth having if it gives both players an equal opportunity to know how much time is left and agree peaceably to play at an acceptable pace? I think so.
I played Yveltal/Garbodor at Nationals and I knew going into the tournament that there was a good chance many of my games would go to time. Never, however, did I find myself in a position where I or my opponent counted seconds until time expired; never did either of us try to end the game on our each other’s turn to get the advantage of having the last turn of the game. Some of my opponents and I, however, openly discussed the time left on the clock and we used it to finish games in a more timely fashion; it dispelled a lot of the pressure associated with not knowing when the game was going to end.
So, do I think knowing exactly how much time is left on the clock is a bigger nuisance than it is a help? Not at all. More often than not, it promotes collectively quicker play and results in fewer ties in the tournament in general.
I’m sure there are people on each side of this argument, but I think there’s a compromise that could be reached. Ideally, like I said before, the time limit on games would be longer and we wouldn’t need to worry about knowing exactly how much time was left because fewer games would go to time. That’s not how things are though.
I think the next best thing would be to have game clocks that didn’t entirely expire, but stopped at 2 minutes remaining instead. I remember playing in tournaments in 2005 or 2006 when it was acceptable to ask judges about remaining time until as little as 5 minutes. I think if the clock stopped when time got near the end, it would have all the positive effects of encouraging lively play, relieving stress, etc… and it would greatly reduce people’s ability to force games to end on their opponents’ turns. It seems like the best of both worlds to me.
As an additional point, I think that if they do keep the clock around for future events, they need to have more of them. Each round I was quick to get to my table so I could sit on the side facing the clock just in case. It does cause problems when only one player can see the clock, but that is a very easily fixable problem moving forward.
The last topic I’ll tackle is the last-chance tournaments. A lot of people were excited over these tournaments, but there were a couple who didn’t care too much for them. I might have a bias because I qualified for Worlds at the second tournament, but I think these tournaments were a huge success. They gave 256 people something to do while the main event concluded and they even gave a couple people the chance to clean up their last couple Points, myself included.
Before the event I heard a couple people debating whether or not the last chance Regionals were a good idea. Most who opposed the tournament were people with their invites, people who felt that these extra two tournaments gave extra opportunities to people who didn’t deserve invites. A couple people with invites even played in the tournament and prevented others from qualifying. I was fortunate enough only to have needed a top 32 for my invite, so my 6-3 record sufficed. Had I played against players with invites each round I may not have been so lucky.
I think it’s mean-spirited or inconsiderate that people with invites played in these tournaments for no reason other than to limit the number of participants at Worlds or because they didn’t believe any of the players in these events deserved invites. I pick the terms mean-spirited and inconsiderate because other words don’t express what I mean to convey. It’s not unreasonable that qualified players participated, it’s not unfair, and it’s not even necessarily selfish. Before I continue I’ll even add that if these players really wanted to participate for the prizes at the end it’s their prerogative. If I’d had an invite, however, I wouldn’t have stepped foot near those tournaments. Mean-spirited implies that it’s intended to cause harm. In this case, people with invites who didn’t care about the prizes at the end intended only to keep others away from the invite, they acted mean-spiritedly.
The other side of the argument is that preventing other people from qualifying benefits those who’ve already qualified; this changes the “harmful” nature of the action to one of reasonable competitive strategy — and that’s fine. My argument is that it’s not enough of an advantage to warrant causing that much harm to someone. For example, I was 15 Points shy of my invite going into the second day of Regionals, so I thought I only needed to top 64 because of the kicker. I clarified with a judge, but I was told that because not everyone arrived for round one that the kicker no longer applied and that I’d need to top 32 for my invite instead; this made my path to the invite a little bit more difficult. Had I lost a fourth game to someone with 500+ CPs I would have felt devastated.
Invites to Worlds are hard to come by; when someone qualifies it’s a big deal. So to prevent someone the pleasure of reaching a Worlds invite for the sake of eliminating one potential opponent in the main event of what looks like will be a 200+ player tournament seems somewhat harsh. For this reason I want to thank all those with their invites who kept from playing in the last-chance events; it made a substantial difference to a couple players and it’s likely you won’t even have to worry about us in the main event in DC.
The Playmat Problem
Last, I’ll address the mats that Pokémon distributed to each of the competitors in the last chance tournaments. For the most part, Nationals seemed a great success this year. I thought everything ran smoothly and it looked like everyone had a great time. The one thing I’ll disagree with, however, is that the mats were exclusively distributed to participants in these hard-capped 256-person tournaments. The problem with this form of distribution is that people dropped after receiving their mats.
While these people do not account for all the drops throughout the tournament, they account for a sizable amount. (Only 77 players finished the first tournament). I even saw one player doodle on his decklist because he knew he wouldn’t finish. The bottom line is that people played only for that mat and denied entry to people who needed the space for points.
Now, with this form of distribution in place, I see no reason for people to not sign up for the event, it’s a nice mat! I don’t blame anyone who did that — they’ll probably make plenty of profit selling that mat. A few of us felt a little slighted by the fact that the mat was only available to people in the tournament. Tyler Morris, Kyle Sabelhaus, and I missed registration by five minutes and were denied entry to the tournament. Each of us was well over 400 Points and each of us had offers from friends to forfeit their spots in the tournament for us. The only reason a lot of those friends were in the tournament: the mat.
I think it would have been far more accommodating had Pokémon sold the mat independently of the tournament. It would have opened up spots in the tournament for the people for whom the tournament was intended and it would have created a bunch of profit for Pokémon because plenty of people would have paid the same twenty dollars even without the mat (packs to compensate would work here too). A lot of us agreed and unfortunately, not all of us qualified without having two chances at the invite.
It seems that the mats not only created an unnecessary incentive to register for the tournament, but also limited the number of seats they could give to the event. Assuming they only ordered enough mats to distribute to 256 players per division per day, there’s no way they could have broken the cap, but had they sold the mats independently, they could have had a much softer cap and made plenty more people happy — which, along with profiting, should be their goal.
I’d like to conclude this month’s article with a hearty congratulation to Brandon Salazar for becoming the youngest Masters US National Champion ever and for doing it with a unique deck. He gave a great interview and I feel that I understand his deck and specific card choices a little better and I hope you all do too. I also want to wish everyone luck in August, be it at the grinder or the main event. Make sure to look out for all the Pyroar that will inevitably be present — and in many forms. Also, I definitely recommend finding some cards for a Landorus deck and getting some testing done because the deck isn’t something to scoff at.
Finally, I want to thank The Pokémon Company for running a particularly good National Championships and for adding the additional two last-chance Regionals. I think the main event ran smoothly and the two extra events made a lot of people very happy; I know it really improved my weekend.
I’ll also add that I hope the clock situation improves, but that I think Pokémon is finally doing something to soften the severe time restrictions in place; I think it’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully I’ll be back next month and I hope you enjoyed my article!
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