I Will Survive

Kyle Sabelhaus’ 2014 US Nationals Report and Nine Top Plays for the Grinder

Hello, SixPrizes readers! Much has happened in the short time since my last article. With US Nationals and two Championship Point Challenges in the books, most invites have already been locked up. Did you reach 500 Championship Points? Did you qualify for the most prestigious tournament of the year? If so, congratulations! If not, don’t fret, as we have one final opportunity: “The Grinder.”

The Grinder is another name for the Last Chance Qualifier held at Worlds each year. This tournament is the last opportunity to obtain a seat in the World Championships, usually only offering 4-16 spots depending on the official check-in numbers for the main event. Although a majority of great players have qualified for the World Championships and don’t participate in this event, it is still known as being one of the most difficult events to survive.

I will be discussing my top 9 plays for the Grinder in this article, but first…

My Nationals Report

kyle sabelhaus round 9 us nationals 2014

I’d like to start with a short recap of my Nationals experience before we look ahead to the World Championships. I came into the weekend with 360 Championship Points and two byes for the main event. After countless hours of testing every deck imaginable, I found myself stuck on Charizard/Raichu. It had everything I wanted for the main event: consistency, power, a counter, and a good Yveltal matchup. Most players paired Charizard with Pyroar and/or Mewtwo-EX, but I felt any matchup where Pyroar would seal my opponent’s fate was a positive matchup anyway. Raichu (and his friends) gave me answers to the unknown and unexpected; you never know what you’ll see at US Nationals!

Pokémon – 15

4 Pikachu XY
3 Raichu XY
1 Vulpix DRX
1 Ninetales DRX

3 Charizard-EX FLF 12
2 Jirachi-EX
1 Reshiram LTR

Trainers – 33

3 Professor Juniper
3 N
3 Colress

1 Skyla
3 Blacksmith
2 Lysandre

 

4 Level Ball
3 Ultra Ball
3 Professor’s Letter
3 Muscle Band
2 Hypnotoxic Laser
2 Switch
1 Dowsing Machine

Energy – 12

8 Fire
4 Double Colorless

With two byes I felt pretty confident I would be playing against a lot of Virizion/Genesect and Yveltal/ decks. I expected Plasma to be an X-1 sort of deck with the last-minute surge of Pyroar hype, and if Pyroar was X-0 I didn’t mind that matchup at all. Here is how day 1 went for me:

Round 1 vs. Bye – W
Round 2 vs. Bye – W
Round 3 vs. Emboar – WLW
Round 4 vs. Virizion/Genesect – WW
Round 5 vs. Darkrai/Hammers – LL
Round 6 vs. Virizion/Genesect – WW
Round 7 vs. Yveltal/Darkrai – LWL
Round 8 vs. Virizion/Genesect – WW
Round 9 vs. Landorus/Dusknoir – WLL

Unfortunately, a 6-3 record landed me at 42nd seed in my pod. Going into the final round I assumed I might play against my first Plasma/ or Yveltal/Garbodor of the day, but my opponent flipped over a Landorus-EX, which rendered half my deck (Raichu) basically useless. This finish left me at 410 Championship Points. The dream was still alive.

There were two last-chance Regionals at US Nationals, and finishing in the top 4 would seal my invitation. I missed registration for Saturday (apparently by a couple of minutes), so my hopes would ride on Sunday. For this event, I chose to play a near-identical Pyroar list to my friend, Michael Pramawat, who went on to finish 2nd in the main event. This event had 30-minute best-of-one rounds with +3 turns.

Pokémon – 10

4 Litleo FLF 18
4 Pyroar FLF
1 Mewtwo-EX
1 Charizard-EX FLF 12

Trainers – 38

4 Professor Juniper
2 N
3 Blacksmith
2 Lysandre

4 Roller Skates
3 Bicycle

 

4 Ultra Ball
2 Level Ball

4 Pokémon Catcher
3 Switch
3 Muscle Band
1 Super Rod
1 Computer Search

 

2 Tropical Beach

Energy – 12

8 Fire
4 Double Colorless

The addition of the Super Rod made me more confident in the Pyroar mirror match, which I expected a ton of as it had reached peak popularity by Sunday. Max counts of Roller Skates and Pokémon Catcher meant my deck came with high variance, but I did need a somewhat lofty top 4 finish. High-risk, high-reward.

Round 1 vs. Yveltal/Darkrai – W
Round 2 vs. Yveltal/Darkrai/Dusknoir – L
Round 3 vs. /Dusknoir – W
Round 4 vs. Pyroar/Charizard – L

With two losses I was not going to reach top 4, so I called it a day. I can’t complain about how the tournament went; I chose to leave much of my fate to luck and the ploy didn’t pay off. These are important lessons to learn or, in my case, relearn over and over again.

With Nationals at a close, champions crowned, and everyone’s focus set on Washington, DC, let us use this opportunity to prepare for the monster known as “the Grinder.”

Nine Top Plays for the Grinder

landorus-ex bcr 89 artwork

In just a few weeks, hundreds of Pokémon players will wake up to the same thought: “One good run and I win an invitation to the World Championships.” With only 4 invites available in the Masters Division, these players will be tested to an extent worthy of continuing to play in the main event.

These are decks I would want to be familiar with when going into an event like the Grinder. Some of these are fairly obvious, others not so much. I’ll list these decks in order of expected popularity, starting with the least popular and ending with the most.

9. Landorus/Mewtwo/Raichu/Garbodor

If you told me Big Basics with Raichu and Garbodor was going to win US Nationals, I probably would’ve laughed in your face. Brandon Salazar was confident in his deck and piloted it further than I ever expected. Looking at this deck post-Nationals, it’s starting to make sense why he got so far. I question some of his card choices, but he was comfortable with his list, so you can’t fault him there. I made a little different list to start testing, and I’ll share it with you here:

Pokémon – 15

2 Pikachu XY
2 Raichu XY
2 Trubbish LTR
2 Garbodor LTR

3 Landorus-EX
2 Mewtwo-EX

1 Druddigon FLF
1 Jirachi-EX

Trainers – 34

4 Professor Juniper
3 N

2 Colress
2 Skyla
2 Lysandre

2 Bicycle

 

3 Ultra Ball
2 Level Ball
2 Switch
2 Float Stone
3 Muscle Band
1 Enhanced Hammer
1 Dowsing Machine

 

4 Hypnotoxic Laser
1 Virbank City Gym

Energy – 11

7 Fighting
4 Double Colorless

This list is able to cause early pressure with Landorus-EX while it sets up a counter, depending on the matchup. Against Speed Lugia-EX, it’s best to have a Raichu ready to go, with a close second being Garbodor to shut down Lugia-EX’s Ability along with Deoxys-EX. When playing against Pyroar, its seems best to get an early Garbodor to allow your Basic Pokémon some attacks in the early game, then have Raichu for support or cleanup on a fresh Pyroar. When playing against Virizion/Genesect, try for an early Garbodor as well. This allows Hypnotoxic Laser damage to add up along with Landorus-EX’s Hammerhead, eventually leading to Mewtwo-EX, Druddigon, and Raichu cleaning up damaged Genesect-EXs.

I’m still not very confident in this deck at the moment, but it shows glimpses of hope and is worth trying if you are ready to mix it up a little.

8. Fairies

This cluster consists of all the Fairy decks, including the Plasma variant, Kangaskhan focus, and toolbox build. Yveltal/Garbodor looks to be on the decline, and if Pyroar keeps Virizion/Genesect in check, that leaves an opening for Fairy decks to bloom. Don’t be surprised if see this deck around you in the first few rounds!

Pokémon – 16

3 Spritzee FLF

2 Aromatisse XY

2 Landorus-EX

1 Yveltal-EX

1 Darkrai-EX

1 Kangaskhan-EX

1 M Kangaskhan-EX

1 Xerneas-EX

1 Virizion-EX

1 Xerneas XY

1 Sigilyph LTR

1 Druddigon FLF

 

Trainers – 32

3 Professor Juniper

4 N

3 Colress

3 Skyla
2 Lysandre

 

4 Ultra Ball

2 Level Ball

3 Max Potion

3 Muscle Band

1 Super Rod

1 Dowsing Machine

 

3 Fairy Garden

Energy – 12

4 Fairy

4 Rainbow

4 Prism

7. Yveltal/Raichu

In a Yveltal-heavy metagame, this is a great call. Unfortunately for Yveltal/Raichu fans, Pyroar is king of the jungle. Even 3-3 lines of Raichu can prove not to be enough when facing a 4-4 Pyroar line, which is what most Pyroar decks will have.

This deck has many built-in counters along with the speed of Yveltal, but with all the other options we have in this format, I don’t believe this is a terrific choice. The list that I current use does not obsess over Pyroar, as it can be a slippery slope and end up leaving the deck inconsistent:

Pokémon – 13

2 Pikachu XY

2 Raichu XY

3 Yveltal-EX

1 Darkrai-EX

1 Druddigon FLF

1 Sableye DEX

1 Jirachi-EX
1 Yveltal XY
1 Absol PLF

Trainers – 36

4 Professor Juniper
4 N
2 Colress
1 Lysandre

2 Bicycle

1 Random Receiver

 

4 Ultra Ball

1 Level Ball

3 Dark Patch
3 Muscle Band

2 Switch

1 Enhanced Hammer

1 Pokémon Catcher

1 Dowsing Machine

 

4 Hypnotoxic Laser
2 Virbank City Gym

Energy – 11

7 Darkness

4 Double Colorless

6. Virizion/Genesect/Raichu

virizion mystery dungeonrazorthecurse.tumblr.com

This deck was a very popular choice at Nationals that many good players felt comfortable with it. Although Pyroar is a threat, Raichu serves as a respectable answer with a Muscle Band or Hypnotoxic Laser. Plasma is a winnable matchup with G Booster or Raichu, and a single Pikachu on the Bench can strike fear into your opponent, which is always helpful when a deck is so destructively fast. An overstep in aggressiveness could lead to a Double Colorless Energy, Raichu, and an N to 3 or less against a Lugia-less Plasma board.

Decks with Dusknoir tend to give this deck trouble if you cannot remove Duskulls off the board as soon as possible. Flygon and Empoleon don’t mind trading shots with a Genesect-EX so long as their buddy Dusknoir can clean up. Overall, I like this deck, but don’t think I personally could pull the trigger on this play. Anyway, This is a strong list if this is your style of deck:

Pokémon – 13

4 Virizion-EX

3 Genesect-EX

2 Pikachu XY

2 Raichu XY

1 Roselia DRX 12

1 Roserade DRX 15

Trainers – 33

4 Professor Juniper
4 N

2 Colress

4 Skyla

2 Shadow Triad

 

3 Ultra Ball

1 Level Ball

3 Muscle Band

3 Energy Switch

1 Tool Scrapper

1 Enhanced Hammer

1 Super Rod

1 G Booster

 

3 Skyarrow Bridge

Energy – 14

9 Grass

4 Plasma

1 Double Colorless

5. Empoleon/Dusknoir

Miltank changed the way Empoleon runs, and now this deck is ready for some real play. If Plasma doesn’t show up in full force, expect Empoleon to run a couple of the top tables. The ability to do at least 80 damage every turn starting turn 2 in a Stage 2-focused build without risking either Stage 2 Pokémon as well is phenomenal. I’m very curious and excited to see how Empoleon/Dusknoir ends up placing.

Ishaan Jagiasi won US Nationals in the Seniors Division with this deck, and for good reason. Taking 6 Prizes in this format can be a difficult task when a deck focuses on non-EX attackers. Collin Coyle also did very well with this deck in the Masters Division, only missing top 16 after some terrible Prizes versus Pyroar and playing against my brother‘s Plasma day 1 AND day 2. Empoleon was not represented in large numbers at Nationals, but I expect this to change after its moment in the spotlight.

Pokémon – 19

4 Piplup DEX
1 Prinplup DEX
4 Empoleon DEX
2 Duskull FLF
1 Dusclops FLF
2 Dusknoir BCR
3 Miltank FLF
1 Exeggcute PLF
1 Jirachi-EX

Trainers – 34

1 Professor Juniper

4 N
3 Colress

4 Skyla
1 Lysandre

 

4 Ultra Ball
3 Level Ball
4 Rare Candy

3 Muscle Band
2 Switch
2 Startling Megaphone
1 Super Rod
1 Dowsing Machine

 

1 Tropical Beach

Energy – 7

7 Water

miltank-flashfire-flf-83-ptcgo-1
Good damage for minimal investment.

The strategy for this deck is very similar to Flygon/Dusknoir, with the except that the damage is placed more directly in this approach. Using Empoleon’s Ability to set up and early Miltank to put your opponent on the defensive can be one of the most terrifying scenarios in the current format. The problem with the early attempts of playing Empoleon (pre-Flashfire) was that you put yourself at risk in the early game if you wanted to put damage on the board while setting up, as Empoleon was both your attacker and draw engine. With Miltank, you have the luxury of consistent 80 damage for 1 Energy while Empoleon sets up more Empoleon and the eventually Dusknoir to seal the game.

Empoleon eats Pyroar hype for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nothing is more tempting in this format right now than to play Water Pokémon and watch Pyroar frantically search for his floaties. That being said, Plasma will still see a good amount of play and is a really difficult matchup, so slow down and consider all the decks you think you’ll face in these events.

4. Yveltal/Garbodor

Another deck that was fairly popular at Nationals that is slowly leaving the spotlight. The power of this deck in past months was shutting down Emboar and , which are basically non-existent now. Of course there are still plenty of great Abilities in the current metagame to shut down, like Flygon’s Sand Slammer, Dusknoir’s Sinister Hand, and Genesect-EX’s Red Signal to name a few, but should this trump other potential partners? Raichu, Dusknoir, and both Crushing and Enhanced Hammer all pair well with Yveltal-EX too, so it may be time to turn in your garbage can.

Regardless of how I feel about this deck, you should still expect to see it in decent numbers. Darrell Moreno led this deck to 34 points and a 1st overall seed at US Nationals after 14 long Swiss rounds. Here is a list I playtested against to prepare myself:

Pokémon – 13

2 Trubbish LTR

2 Garbodor LTR

3 Yveltal-EX

2 Darkrai-EX

2 Sableye DEX
1 Yveltal XY
1 Absol PLF

Trainers – 36

4 Professor Juniper
4 N
2 Colress
1 Lysandre

2 Bicycle

1 Random Receiver

 

4 Ultra Ball

3 Dark Patch
3 Muscle Band

2 Float Stone

1 Enhanced Hammer

1 Pokémon Catcher

1 Switch

1 Dowsing Machine

 

4 Hypnotoxic Laser
2 Virbank City Gym

Energy – 11

7 Darkness

4 Double Colorless

3. Flygon/Dusknoir

I fully expect this deck to surge in popularity over the next couple of weeks. The strength of this duo at a full board setup is a powerful feeling, not to mention the consistency coming with the heavy Tropical Beach count and using it basically every turn of the game. I feel this deck can give every deck a solid matchup besides Plasma, but the Flygon player must be well versed in the handling of their board state.

This is easily my favorite deck post-Nationals. Henry Prior and Frank Diaz understood the strength of this deck in the current metagame, and finished US Nationals with a top 8 and top 16 placement, respectively. This deck takes patience and an ability to read the right time for aggressiveness. Henry showed this skill during his top 16 match against Darrell Moreno when he sacrificed his Mewtwo-EX in the opening turns to take advantage of his Tropical Beach, and eventually reach an overwhelming board position. Here is a list I’ve been using and seen much success with in the first week of Grinder testing:

Pokémon – 19

4 Trapinch BCR
1 Vibrava BCR
3 Flygon BCR
3 Duskull FLF
1 Dusclops FLF
2 Dusknoir BCR
2 Shelmet PLB
2 Accelgor DEX
1 Mewtwo-EX

Trainers – 37

1 Professor Juniper

4 N

3 Colress
4 Skyla

 

3 Ultra Ball
3 Level Ball
4 Rare Candy
3 Float Stone
2 Max Potion
2 Startling Megaphone
1 Enhanced Hammer
1 Switch
1 Sacred Ash
1 Dowsing Machine

 

4 Tropical Beach

Energy – 4

4 Double Colorless

startling-megaphone-flashfire-flf-97-ptcgo-1
HEY GARBODOR!!!

This seems to be a relatively standard version of the deck with Enhanced Hammer starting to find more play, as Plasma is probably the most difficult matchup Flygon has. The strategy of the deck is simple. Spread damage on your opponent’s field with Flygon’s Ability and move the damage with Dusknoir’s Ability to Knock Out the main threats on your opponent’s side of the board. Mewtwo-EX helps deal with Pokémon with Energy stacked on, like Yveltal-EX and Charizard-EX, and Accelgor can Deck and Cover to leave your opponent’s Active Paralyzed while Flygon’s damage starts to add up.

With the surplus of Pyroar, Flygon/Dusknoir has less Virizion-EX to worry about, giving Accelgor’s Deck and Cover a better chance to leave the opponent Paralyzed and miss a full turn of attacking. Plasma has also started to diminish in numbers due to Pyroar, and at the least some Plasma players will focus on Pyroar techs and leave themselves less consistent. In the past, Flygon would be terrified of playing against Garbodor decks, but this isn’t the case anymore. The typical Yveltal/Garbodor deck plays one or no Switch, so Accelgor and some well-timed Startling Megaphones can do some real damage.

2. Plasma

Speed Lugia-EX and Kyurem-focused Plasma are both decks to keep an eye out for. Those Plasma players that avoid the grasp of Pyroar are likely to find success against the rest of the field. Although I believe Speed Lugia will be represented in greater numbers, don’t think for a moment that Kyurem builds are any less dangerous.

The fastest deck out right now is Plasma focused around Lugia-EX. With the addition of Roller Skates in the Flashfire set, this deck is closing in on mach speeds. It isn’t uncommon to watch an Yveltal-EX or larger fall on the first or second turn. The obvious issue is Pyroar, but think about this: my brother Ryan played no counter to Pyroar and finished 2nd seed in his pod.

His answer was simple, in that sometimes you just ignore the hype and accept your losses when you have such dominating matchups against the rest of the field. He used this approach last year at US Nationals and ended up playing that deck he feared in the finals (Plasma vs. Gothitelle/Accelgor), but who could be upset about second place at Nationals!

Pokémon – 11

4 Deoxys-EX

3 Thundurus-EX PLF

3 Lugia-EX
1 Absol PLF

Trainers – 35

4 Professor Juniper

1 N
3 Colress

3 Shauna
2 Lysandre

4 Roller Skates

 

3 Team Plasma Ball
2 Ultra Ball

4 Colress Machine

4 Switch
3 Muscle Band
1 Startling Megaphone
1 Dowsing Machine

Energy – 14

4 Plasma
4 Double Colorless
4 Prism
2 Rainbow

Now, I absolutely loathe Shauna. I don’t think I ever draw anything I want when I use this card (okay, I’m exaggerating), but I would rather see Shauna than N in the majority of scenarios after the first turn when I’m using speed Plasma. It flows with the main strategy of the deck, which is to allow Lugia’s Ability to end the game at record pace. Resources are expendable with this deck, so long as you get that intimidating Lugia with Double Colorless Energy and a couple Colress Machines in the process.

I’ll also include a breakdown for Plasma/Kyurem, as it was a contender in last year’s World Championships and still is as strong as ever. This style of Plasma made top 4 at US Nationals this year, first Knocking Out Ryan Sabelhaus in top 16 and Henry Prior in top 8. Ignoring the obvious Pyroar issue, the matchups for this deck seem the same as last year: 50/50 tossups or better. Here is a list:

Pokémon – 13

4 Deoxys-EX

3 Thundurus-EX PLF
3 Kyurem PLF
1 Genesect-EX
1 Virizion-EX
1 Absol PLF

Trainers – 34

4 Professor Juniper
4 N
3 Colress
1 Shauna
1 Lysandre

 

3 Team Plasma Ball
2 Ultra Ball

3 Colress Machine
3 Switch
3 Muscle Band

1 Startling Megaphone
1 Dowsing Machine

 

4 Hypnotoxic Laser
1 Virbank City Gym

Energy – 13

4 Plasma
4 Prism
3 Rainbow
2 Blend WLFM

With solid matchups, spread options, Genesect-EX’s Red Signal, Energy acceleration from Colress Machine and Thundurus-EX, and everything else that has made Plasma a staple, you will be in just about every game you play. Kyurem’s early Frost Spears on Pokémon-EX or Basics to start the Evolution clock is still one of the more dangerous openings in the game. With 1 Absol and 3 Kyurem, you as a player have a good grip on how many Prize cards you can force your opponent to take. Making your opponent work through 3 non-EX Pokémon, also known as the 7-Prize game, is a proven recipe for success. Plasma/Kyurem is a battle-tested veteran looking for one final great run.

1. Pyroar

pyroar flf artwork

The hype is real. Pyroar came to play and brought his flying fire friend with him. The top tables of Nationals main event weren’t enough – this deck was also all over the two Championship Point Challenges on Saturday and Sunday. There is nothing like sitting down at the table, watching your opponent flip over their Active Pokémon, and breathing that huge sigh of relief when you see a Lugia-EX or Virizion-EX. Heavily-favored matchups and quick victories can do wonders in a stressful tournament structure such as the Grinder. Everyone would love to be the player who just had to show up as the pairings guide him or her to the final four.

Everyone is well aware by now about Michael Pramawat’s 2nd place finish, but two other friends of mine in Brad Curcio and Jon Bristow made the top 16 at Nationals with their variants of the deck as well. With Pyroar’s stranglehold on the dominating Basics in the format paired with the power of Charizard, this deck is tailor-made to go deep in a large event. I’d like to take a look at a list similar to Brad Curcio’s list, as I’ve been testing this with solid results so far:

Pokémon – 13

4 Litleo FLF 18
4 Pyroar FLF
2 Charizard-EX FLF 12
1 Voltorb XY
1 Electrode PLF
1 Jirachi-EX

Trainers – 35

4 Professor Juniper
2 N
3 Blacksmith
2 Lysandre

3 Fiery Torch
3 Bicycle

 

4 Ultra Ball
2 Level Ball

4 Pokémon Catcher
3 Switch
3 Muscle Band
1 Super Rod
1 Computer Search

Energy – 12

8 Fire
4 Double Colorless

A major strength in this list is the ability to pull of a turn 1 attacking Charizard-EX when going second. Charizard can run rampant and lead to an insurmountable Prize deficit if not dealt with quickly. Of course, let’s not forget the main piece of this deck is Pyroar, which will lead to some free wins if you manage your Bench properly. Along with this sentiment, this deck also plays 6 ways to bring up a Benched Pokémon, so some early Pikachu or Trubbish knockouts can tally even more easy victories.

In this particular build, Electrode is here to allow some draw power when your Supporter for the turn is not a draw Supporter. In those odd situations where you need to Blacksmith, but a Pokémon Catcher as well could win the game, you have possibilities previously unavailable. This deck also can have issues with late-game Ns, and unless Garbodor managed to survive that long in the game, Electrode will save the day.

This deck certainly has favorable numbers across the board when looking at the majority of decks played at Nationals this year. Plasma, Virizion/Genesect, and Yveltal variants are no match for Pyroar. However, this doesn’t make this deck a no-brainer for the Grinder. Metagames are always shifting, so the field we saw at Nationals most likely won’t look the same numbers-wise. Flygon and Empoleon give this deck a hard time (and Landorus/Mewtwo/Raichu/Garbodor apparently), so keep that in mind when honing in on a deck choice.

Closing Thoughts

Qualifying for the World Championships can be one of the best feelings in this game. If you have yet to qualify and have the opportunity to test yourself against the field at the Grinder, I say give it all you’ve got. This tournament has proven to weed out the pretenders and let some true talents shine. Michael Diaz showcased his skill in 2012, when not only did he survive the Grinder, but he also ended up making top 4 at the main event. Let’s also not forget that just last year Jason Klaczynski qualified through the LCQ and was eventually crowned World Champion two days later.

Remember that in the end we all play this game because of the community of players around us. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to succeed and remember to have . The weekend of the World Championships is a celebration. It’s a reunion of friends across the globe. You may not know it then, but you’re making memories you’ll have for a lifetime!

That’s all I have for you today guys and gals. Good luck in your playtesting for August, and as always if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me!

Kyle Sabelhaus


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