Each year, David and Niki Nelson, a husband and wife PTO team, host an event at their home in Auburn, WA called “The Water Gym.” In addition to a pool party and barbecue, The Water Gym is home to a TCG tournament with whacky rules based around Water Pokémon. Not only is The Water Gym an incredibly fun time for the entire Pacific Northwest community, but it also presents an interesting challenge to its players to come up with the powerful decks in a completely unknown format.
The rules, to fit the theme of the pool party, always involve some sort of Water Pokémon gimmick, usually stating that decks can only contain Water Pokémon, but sometimes restricting deck building to only Pokémon that are Weak to Water, or only allowing the use of W Energy. That’s not the end of rules variations, though. The decks are always 30 cards, meaning each deck can contain a maximum of two of any card, and games are played with only 3 Prizes. Past years of The Water Gym have featured rules such as “Each player stacks their deck at the beginning of each game, and does not shuffle after the use of search cards,” and “Both players shuffle their decks together at the beginning of the round,” as bonus restrictions to think about when constructing your deck.
This year, along with the normal 30-card decks, two of each card, and 3 Prizes, the rules were as follows:
- A deck can contain only Water-type Pokémon.
- Whenever you play a Pokémon-EX (whether in the Active Spot when setting up, or onto the Bench during the game) your opponent may take a Prize.
- Seismitoad-EX and N are banned.
- One surprise rule to be announced just before Round 1 of the tournament!
The “surprise rule” hasn’t ever happened during a Water Gym I’ve attended, so it was sure to add an interesting twist to the tournament. Still, players had to work with the information they had, and in a format like this, there are a ton of options.
I originally had thought about decks featuring Kyurem PLF and Kyurem NVI, as that was one of the top performing decks last year. (It would have won the entire tournament … had 2011 World Champion David Cohen not accidentally played three Kyurem and been disqualified in the finals. “They were all different art!”) Kyurem was one of the most aggressive attackers in the format, and in a completely unknown metagame, that would go a long way. Unfortunately, I couldn’t settle on a list that I liked, and I assumed there just had to be something better out there in this type of format.
I had also considered the combination of Archie’s Ace in the Hole and Blastoise BCR. We would probably have to play Keldeo-EX to take full advantage of Blastoise’s Deluge Ability, but giving up just a single Prize likely wouldn’t be too big of an issue. I probably would’ve ended up playing this deck, but I found it too hard to consistently get early Archie’s bringing back Blastoise without running through my entire deck.
I was at a pretty big loss for what to play … until US Nationals, when Wailord-EX hit the scene. This deck would be absolutely perfect for the event! Not only had it already proven itself in Standard, but with 30 fewer cards to work with, it meant that decking was a much more viable strategy. Additionally, the smaller deck size meant that your opponent would likely have fewer Energy in their deck, making your Energy removal cards all that much better.
Here’s the list I settled on which Matthew Oslakovic also ended up playing:
Pokémon – 2
Trainers – 28
Energy – 0
This list is basically just a condensed version of the US Nationals 2nd place list, with a few changes as concessions to the format. For instance, I didn’t want to run a Suicune PLB because I felt that the number of non-Pokémon-EX were going to be very high compared to a tournament like Nationals. Additionally, cards like Professor Birch’s Observations ensured that I would have a lower likelihood of decking out, and give me an edge should I play against the mirror.
Speaking of the mirror, it’s clear that I should’ve played at least one copy of Colress. In the mirror, Colress will reset your hand to zero and fill your deck with a bunch of cards. My rationale for not including any any was basically that I didn’t expect to see that many Wailord (what kind of sick person wants to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon drawing and passing??) and against any non-Wailord decks the card is almost assuredly dead. As it turns out, I was wrong, and a Colress would’ve benefited me throughout the tournament.
With my deck built — and my chips and dip packed — it was time to hit the road. After registering for the tournament (there is a suggested entry fee of a few dollars that goes to a scholarship found in memory of a local player that passed away before I was playing) and eating more than my fair share of hot dogs, it was time for Round 1 …
… but not before learning the secret rule!
Somehow, the new rule made Wailord-EX even stronger!
To clarify, you would begin your turn by attacking, and then you would have the chance to play cards, and then you would draw a card, signifying the end of your turn. It sounds complicated, but after the first few turns I think most everyone got the hang of it, and it made the tournament quite interesting!
Round 1: Bob Nolan w/ Wailord-EX
This is where I first realized how big of a mistake not playing Colress would be. Being a Wailord mirror match, there wasn’t much action to speak of, but I lost very easily.
Round 2: Ted Bradford w/ Politoed FFI
As soon as I realized that Ted was playing Politoed, I was worried. Reducing the attack costs of all of his Pokémon meant that my Crushing Hammers would be significantly worse, and I was sure I was on the path to 0-2.
Fortunately for me, Ted was focusing on an Archie’s Ace in the Hole build, meaning that he would be digging through his deck quite a bit. This, combined with a few lucky Crushing Hammers, allowed me to coast to an even record.
Round 3: Jonathan Paranada w/ Blastoise BCR
Jonathan (or JP, as he’s known) is a good friend of mine, and an even better player. This was a tough match, but ultimately his reliance on Archie’s Ace in the Hole would cost him, and he would deck out one turn before I did.
Round 4: Matthew Oslakovic w/ Wailord-EX
Matthew is my best friend, and we were playing the same decklist, except that he was playing 1 Professor Birch’s Observations and 1 Shauna because I only owned 3 Birch’s and my local store was out of stock.
Again, Wailord-EX mirrors aren’t exactly action packed, and I got lucky and had a few cards left in my deck at the end of the game.
Round 5: Matthew Holst w/ Swampert-EX
Matthew and I ran the numbers and decided to intentionally draw this round to lock our places in the Top 8.
The Top 8 ended up looking like this:
- Michael Chin w/ Swampert PRC 36
- Grant McClellan w/ Empoleon DEX
- Kabir Virji w/ Kyurem PLF
- Kyle Sucevich w/ Whiscash PRC 41
- Paul Johnston w/ Wailord-EX
- Kenny Wisdom w/ Wailord-EX
- Matthew Holst w/ Swampert-EX
- Sorina Radu w/ Tirtouga PLB
For those playing along at home, that is three Worlds invitees, four former Regional Champions, one TPCi employee, and two SixPrizes writers. Before the Top 8 began, the staff joked that this Top 8 was more stacked than the Top 8 of some States, and I can’t say I disagree.
Top 8: Kabir Virji w/ Kyurem PLF
The biggest advantage Kabir had in this match was his inclusion of Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym. While 30 damage a turn might not seem like much versus the 250 HP monster known as Wailord-EX, it added up and forced me to find a healing card every other turn. Additionally, Virbank City Gym was able to add insult to injury by discarding my Rough Seas.
In the end, I ended up winning the match 2-1 after getting very lucky off of a Professor Birch’s Observations for seven.
Top 4: Matthew Holst w/ Swampert-EX
Matthew never got anything going in either of our games. He opened Suicine in both, which meant that he was forced to find resources to retreat the Suicine with before he could start attacking with his Swampert. Additionally, Matthew didn’t play any Switch effects in his deck, which meant that he was particularly soft versus Lysandre.
Finals: Kyle Sucevich w/ Whiscash PRC 41
On paper, the Whiscash matchup is terrible for me. It’s an efficient attacker that can attach multiple Energy cards per turn, meaning that my Crushing and Enhanced Hammers were weaker than ever. Not to mention that Kyle came prepared for the metagame with both Colress and Shauna to reset his hand.
Game 1, Whiscash worked as it was intended to, and absolutely ran over me. All the Max Potions in the world couldn’t save me from multiple Energy attachments per turn.
Games 2 and 3, my deck functioned as it was supposed to, with a little bit of help from Trick Shovel, which hit Kyle’s Double Colorless Energy in each game. Combine that with a few lucky Crushing Hammer flips, and the trophy was mine!
I hope you all enjoyed this tournament report! I know that it isn’t particularly helpful for Worlds/Boston Open testing, but I felt the tournament was unique and interesting enough to warrant an article.
The biggest point I want to get across is how incredible the Water Gym is for our community. Ever since my first Water Gym back in 2009, it has been my favorite tournament of the year. The way that the community comes together and contributes to having a fun, relaxing day all in the name of Pokémon is amazing, and a testament to how deep the connections we’ve all made through Pokémon can truly be. Although the tournament is my favorite part of the event, Super Smash Bros. between rounds and Matt Chin’s Kalua pork are equally important in making the Water Gym one of the best weekends of the year, every single year.
Thank you to the Nelsons for hosting, and everyone in the Pacific Northwest for making our community what it is. See you next year (hopefully with another trophy in hand).