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Interview with 2014 Houston Regionals Champion Sam Chen

sam chen pokemonfacebook.com

Hello SixPrizes readers! Usually when I write, my articles are focused on the format and strategy. However, today I will be doing something different. I will be interviewing 2014 Houston Regionals Champion, Sam Chen. Sam has been doing well this season and he is currently the #1 ranked player in North America with 270 Championship Points (or 330 if you count his Points from Worlds).

I have had the pleasure of being friends with Sam since my first competitive year of playing Pokémon in 2012. We met in the top 4-of New Hampshire States where he defeated me and ended up winning the whole tournament. To this day, I still remember the games we played vividly because of how memorable they were. Not only were the games fun because of the conversations Sam and I had during the match, but because of what happened during the three games. The matchup was my Durant NVI deck vs. Sam’s Celebi Prime/Mewtwo-EX/Tornadus EPO deck.

Unfortunately, I started Rotom UD all three games we played. Rotom was the worst Pokémon to start with when playing Durant, but it was needed in the deck to get Durants out of the Prizes. Not only did I start Rotom in all three games, but Sam knew how to play the matchup correctly! Most of my CMT opponents that day didn’t know how to deal with Durant. The correct strategy was to make a Mewtwo-EX big enough to 1-shot a Durant and sweep. He was able to take the match by executing this strategy.

“First impressions are important.” You have surely heard this saying before, and it’s true. Sam’s first impression on me was that he was a strong player as well as a relatable and fun person. We stayed in touch after that States and Sam became, and still remains, one of the few people I playtest with. Now let’s get to the interview!

First of all, congratulations on winning Houston Regionals! I know many people already know who you are, but let’s start off with an introduction. Tell us about yourself.

Hi everyone! My name is Sam Chen, and I’m proud to call New York City my home. I graduated from Princeton University with a concentration in economics and math. Currently, my occupation is a full-time Pokémon trainer, training to be the very best that no one ever was… But seriously, I work as a senior consultant at one of the largest financial software companies in the U.S. The easiest way to explain what I do is that I build statistical models that get implemented into our software for banks to evaluate their risk. My job is basically a combination of econometrics and programming, but most importantly, it pays for my Pokémon cards!

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Sam at work!

That sounds complex, but very interesting! What do you do for fun besides Pokémon?

Pokémon is definitely my biggest hobby, but outside of Pokémon I enjoy playing the piano and violin, basketball, and cooking. If you’re ever in New York City and want some home-cooked Chinese food, hit me up. Also, if the rest of my TCG season goes well, I’m going to try to get into competitive Pokémon VGC. I used to be pretty good at it (I came in 2nd in the 2003 Kabuto Kup, which was sort of a precursor to the current Smogon Tour, and also won a Ruby/Sapphire challenge), and there are a couple local New York players that have been offering to teach me. If I’m able to get my TCG worlds invite earlier than previous years, I might try to play in some VGC tournaments. Speaking of tournaments, I also love to play other games between rounds, such as The Resistance, spy ball, and Mental Pokémon.

You are on your way to playing some VGC this year then! Some of the people reading this might not know what Mental Pokémon is, could you explain what it is? I know a lot of the games we play here on the east coast at tournaments are not universal like The Resistance.

Sure, Mental Pokémon is similar to Mental Magic. It is an alternate format that can be played by simply turning a deck of 60 cards upside down. Each card is blank and can be anything you want it to be, so whenever you play a blank card down, you declare what card you’re playing. It is a singleton format, meaning there can only ever be one of any card besides basic Energy. Once you play a card in the game, you can’t play that same card again. You have to remember everything that is played, what each card in play is, and you also need to have a good knowledge of the card pool. To a spectator your whole field is just a bunch of blank cards. To the people playing the game those blank cards are anything and everything. Recently, I had an epic game of Mental Pokémon with Michael Pramawat at Philadelphia Regionals where I ended up winning because I successfully set up a Stoutland BCR lock on the penultimate turn of the game.

mental magicarchive.wizards.com

Having played Magic before, I am familiar with Mental Magic. The concept is the same, as well as the rules: just substitute lands for basic Energy. Mental Pokémon can get a bit crazier since there are so many more draw effects in the game. Imagine playing Professor Juniper on turn one into exactly what you want all the time, and then having that be countered by your opponent playing Professor Oak into exactly what they need to counter whatever you just did. It is certainly an interesting format and can be very fun if you enjoy playing it. Anyway, I meant to ask you, how long have you been playing Pokémon?

I have been playing Pokémon ever since it came out in North America, so it has been almost exactly 15 years. In 5th grade, the cute girl in class I had a huge crush on invited me to go with her to the local Pokémon league, so I begged my parents to take me. While I haven’t talked to the girl in many years, I’ve fallen in love with the game ever since. I took a 6-year hiatus from 2005-2011 to go to college. As a broke college student with no money and no car, it was impossible to keep playing.

When and why did you decide to come back to the game?

I came back to the game a year after graduating. I always loved the game and the community, and my longtime friend Mike Fouchet convinced me to come back.

The community is truly the best part about our game. I’m sure we are all glad that you decided to come back! Now let’s get to talking about Houston Regionals for a bit. What did you end up playing day 1?

For day 1, I decided to play a bog standard Yveltal/Garbodor list, because I felt that it was the safest play. Because of work, I didn’t have time to test the week before Houston so I thought that making the conservative play would be my best option. The night before, I basically took my list and made a few changes based on the list Ryan Sabelhaus posted in his article and a list Jeremy Gibson had posted on Virbank City Gym. (Ryan and Jeremy both made top 8 at Philadelphia Regionals.)

I incorporated elements from both of their lists, but I think the most important takeaways I got were from Jeremy’s list. I changed my draw engine based on his list, with an emphasis on the 2 Shauna. I also cut my second Energy Switch because Jeremy proved that you can get away with running 1 if you have a Dowsing Machine. Here is the list I ended up using:

Pokémon – 13

3 Yveltal-EX

2 Yveltal XY
1 Darkrai-EX DEX

1 Seismitoad-EX
1 Mewtwo-EX NXD
3 Trubbish LTR
2 Garbodor LTR

Trainers – 35

4 Professor Juniper
4 N
2 Colress
2 Shauna
3 Lysandre

1 Bicycle


4 Muscle Band

3 Ultra Ball
2 Float Stone
1 Switch
1 Escape Rope
1 Energy Switch

1 Dowsing Machine


4 Hypnotoxic Laser
2 Virbank City Gym

Energy – 12

8 D
4 Double Colorless

Because of my lack of testing, I actually made a mistake with my list (in concept—not actually a decklist error). I should’ve played a Jirachi-EX, which would’ve helped on quite a few occasions.

What about day 2? I know you ended up playing a Virizion/Genesect variant for the Expanded format. What made you switch decks?

I knew that Yveltal/Garbodor would be a weaker play in the Expanded format because of the return of Enhanced Hammer. One of the main draws of Yveltal-EX as an attacker is the fact that it can conserve energy with Y Cyclone. With Enhanced Hammer targeting DCEs that were Y Cycloned to the Bench, the deck loses some of its strength, despite the ability to play Dark Patch again.

Given that I didn’t want to play Yveltal-EX again, I thought of other options and called some of my friends for help. One of the people I called was Dylan Bryan, who thought that the top two decks would be Virizion/Genesect and Donphan/Accelgor. I decided to focus on beating those two decks and Plasma, because I heard some chatter about Plasma after round 9. I honestly wanted to pull the trigger on Pyroar, but I didn’t have a list I was comfortable with as the skeleton to build off of. I ultimately decided to play some version of Virizion/Genesect since I can tech it out to beat mirror, Plasma, and Donphan/Accelgor, which I mistakenly thought was going to be bigger than it actually was.

So this is what I played for day 2:

Pokémon – 12

4 Virizion-EX
3 Genesect-EX
1 Deoxys-EX

1 Jynx FFI

1 Jirachi-EX
1 Drifloon DRX 50
1 Drifblim DRX

Trainers – 35

4 Professor Juniper
4 N
1 Colress
4 Skyla
1 Shadow Triad


4 Ultra Ball
3 Muscle Band
3 Energy Switch

2 Enhanced Hammer
1 Startling Megaphone
1 Tool Scrapper

1 Colress Machine
1 Professor’s Letter
1 Super Rod

1 G Booster


3 Skyarrow Bridge

Energy – 13

9 G
4 Plasma

I know the list is slightly unconventional, but I had a thought-out reason for playing each of the different tech cards. The primary purpose of Jynx is for math in the mirror match. Virizion’s Emerald Slash does 50, while Genesect’s Megalo Cannon does 100. A Muscle Band on either of those attacks allows my opponent to 2-shot my 170 HP Pokémon-EX. Being able to heal 10 damage off of my Pokémon-EX forces my opponent to either have two Muscle Bands or a G Booster to get the early game 2HKO on my Virizion-EX. Jynx also combos well with Skyarrow Bridge and 1-Energy retreating Basics, as I can bring up the Pokémon I want to heal after a knockout and immediately retreat into my attacker. The inclusion of Jynx straight-up won me games.

Deoxys-EX helps with math for 130 HP Pokémon and also 180 HP Pokémon, allowing you to do Emerald Slash, and then Megalo Cannon for the KO with a Muscle Band on either one of those attacks. Additionally, the Deoxys-EX also serves as a Jynx counter in mirror.

In addition to being a great attacker versus Plasma decks, Drifblim was included because I knew people would try to copy Ryan Sabelhaus’ winning Virizion/Genesect/Raichu list from Philadelphia. Virizion/Genesect/Raichu decks typically run 5 or 6 Special Energies. At any time, if there are 2 Special Energies in my opponent’s discard pile and 1 attached to a Pokémon, I can use Enhanced Hammer and then do 170 damage with Muscle Banded Drifblim for 1 Energy! Drifblim is also a non-EX attacker, so I can use it to force my opponent into “7-Prize game” situations.

Given my experience playing this deck, I would say that the 61st card in this list is a Town Map. There were a couple games where I had to play around prizing an important piece of my strategy (my G Booster, a part of the Drifblim line, or my Jynx). I actually lost Game 2 in my top 4 match because I prized Jynx.

jynx nodoutbreakblog.tumblr.com

Wow, that is a lot of information to take in. Thank you for the extensive description on your deck choices and techs. Now, I heard you played against what was considered your auto-loss in top 8. Is that correct? How did you feel going into that match?

Yes, I did play against Phillip Barta in top 8, and he ran a Pyroar deck. I wasn’t feeling confident whatsoever, but I didn’t think my tournament was over yet. I guess I’ll recount this match in detail because it was so exciting. I win the flip and go first, attach Plasma Energy and Muscle Band to Virizion, Juniper into a Genesect (bench it), and pass. He has a Litleo, Ultra Balls for another one, and passes. Turn 2 I get a Grass onto Virizion, Emerald Slash into Genesect for the KO. I didn’t play a Supporter because the only one I had was an N. Turn 2 he evolves into Pyroar, drops a Fire Energy, and passes. I have the Ultra Ball > Jirachi-EX > Skyla > G Booster combination with an Energy card in hand for the win.

Game 2 he goes first and gets 3 Litleos out turn 1, but he whiffs on Energy. I started Genesect, but topdeck a Virizion, attach a Grass to it, N into an Ultra Ball to find Drifloon, attach Muscle Bands to Drifloon and Virizion (I knew that Phillip didn’t run any cards that discarded my Tools), and pass with Juniper in hand. On turn two, he has 2 Pyroar and Junipers into a third one! He is able to finds his 4th Litleo, but has to Tropical Beach with still no attachment! Eventually, I’m able to Knock Out his remaining Litleo with a Muscle Banded Emerald Slash. I also get a G Booster knockout on his first Pyroar.

He has to attach a Double Colorless Energy to his second Pyroar to Knock Out my G Boostered Genesect, but I have an Enhanced Hammer and a Muscle Banded Drifblim to take care of his second Pyroar. On the turn that I Knock Out the second Pyroar, I am also able to N him to 1. His two cards off the N and draw-for-turn were Fire Energy and Pokémon Catcher. He hits the heads on Catcher, but I am able to retreat and Shadow Steal his third Pyroar and Bench him for the win!

That was an incredibly detailed description of your top 8 game, congratulations on winning it. That was exciting to read! The rest of the tournament went well from there, it seems. How did the rest of your matches go?

My top 4 match against Jimmy Pendarvis was a pretty typical series for the Virgen mirror match, but a key Victory Kiss in Game 3 won the game for me. In the finals against Brandon Cantu, my Drifblim line and 2 Enhanced Hammers, along with the fact that I could get the perfect 20 + 110 math on his Kyurems with my own Deoxys-EX, allowed me to win the game.


Congratulations again on a big RegionaIs win in Houston! It looks like that will just about wrap up this interview. Thank you for granting me this opportunity and answering all my questions in detail. I appreciate it a lot and I’m sure the readers will as well. Do you have anything else you want to say before we conclude?

Thanks to everyone that supported me and rooted for me at the events and on Facebook! Also thank you for having this interview with me. I really enjoyed chatting with you. I hope I was able to answer your questions thoroughly.

Yes, you were, don’t worry. Once again, congratulations on your big win as well as an incredible follow up performance in Vancouver (top 8). I’m sure we will be hearing your name a lot in the near future. Good luck on getting your invite!

That will do it for today. Thank you for reading my interview with Houston Regionals Champion Sam Chen. I hope you enjoyed it! If you did, or didn’t, be sure to comment with any feedback in the forums.

Peace out,
Raymond Cipoletti

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