Step by Step

Henry’s Guide for Big Tournaments, Origins Results Discussion, and the New Meta

travel agent clipartclipartheaven.comHey readers! I’m thrilled to share with you another article and hope that you all will acquire some valuable information from it. Most of us are gearing up for the largest tournament of the year, the US National Championships. This past weekend, the Win-a-Trip-to-San Francisco tournament occurred at the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio. Due to the lucrative grand prize and State Championship-level Championship Points being awarded, a decent amount of players attended the event. Not only did the players at Origins benefit (in terms of prizes), but also the community as a whole due to the fact that we now have a better understanding of what decks are currently at the top of the charts.

Whether it’s the multiple 12-hour days at Nationals, the long testing sessions with friends, or the last-minute changes the night before the tournament, Pokémon can be very stressful. I feel that it is important for a player to understand how to prepare correctly for a big tournament such as US Nationals just as it is important to understand what “the play” is. When I use the term “prepare,” I am referring to creating the best testing environment, understanding the meta, and assisting your body mentally and physically at the tournament. Last but not least, I want to address the current state of the meta after this past weekend’s tournament.

Henry’s Guide for Big Tournaments

research record art
Get your paper and pencil ready.

Even though I feel as if I could write a book on the proper ways to test and fuel your body on tournament day, I want to make it as simple as possible and break the process down into somewhat of a timeline. Though the timeline has been altered a little bit due to the Origins tournament, I still believe there to be five different phases. These phases are: “Research & Record,” “Test, Test, Ten,” “The Final Four,” “Selection Eve,” and “Gameday Diligence.” I want to give you all a schedule as to when I think each of these phases should take place along with what makes up each one.

For you US Nationals players out there, it’s not too late to start testing. We have about a week and a half left till the big day so don’t get discouraged by the timeline I have given since it goes two months out. I still believe using these steps can be exceedingly helpful even if they are not on the same schedule that I provided. With a good amount of dedicated time to testing there is no question you will be prepared going into Nationals.

Phase 1: Research & Record

Timeframe: 1-2 months before tournament
Objective: Research and write down all possible deck options, then narrow the list in half

This is where it all begins. We all have to start somewhere when preparing for large tournaments. I call this phase Research & Record because this is where I believe you should have every previous tournament/format deck taken apart with only a piece of paper and pencil in front of you. This phase is definitely one of the most important especially for newer players as it sets a basis for what decks are going to show up at the tournament.

Write Down Every Deck

The first step in this phase is to take a notepad and start jotting down every legal deck you can think of. Fun decks, bad decks, high-tier decks; anything and everything you can possibly think of. This method makes the process of testing much easier as it helps determine what decks need to be tested and tested against. A tip for making this list is to start by writing all of the archetypes down and creating sub-categories with the decks that make up that specific archetype.

For example:

Dark Variants

  • Yveltal/Zoroark/Gallade
  • Darkrai-EX/Garbodor
  • Darkrai-EX/Giratina-EX

Usually, I aim to get the list to about 30-40 decks depending on how diverse the format is. In no way do I expect a single player to create a list like this off of the top of their head (props to those who can). I recommend doing a little digging through various types of media, tournament results, articles, etc. As your middle school science teacher always said, “Research should always be the first and most important step.” Believe it or not, your teacher was right! The goal here is to have to largest inventory of lists going into testing.

Identify Techs

Another thing I would recommend is writing down certain cards that could see potential play as a tech or counter. While searching through content you could come across a card that you believe to have potential that does not fit in a deck at the moment. Keeping track of these cards is important as they could be major factors in determining tech options as the meta naturally shifts when getting closer to the tournament.

Eliminate Bad Decks

Next up in the first phase is where testing can get a little hectic and very stressful. You want to start narrowing down your list simply by asking yourself “Can this deck contend on a large-scale tournament level?” You have to be able to differentiate the good decks from the obviously bad ones. Putting a simple “X” next to the rotten eggs is all that is needed. I usually aim to cross out about half of my original list. I suggest determining whether a deck is good or bad by thinking about its matchups against the popular decks and its overall consistency. Since the meta always changes when tournaments are approaching, keeping the list of all decks is important as some of the “bad” decks could become viable choices.

Phase 2: Test, Test, Ten

Timeframe: 2-3 weeks before tournament
Objective: Start testing, narrow down to at most 10 decks

This next bit in the testing process involves narrowing our deck choices down even more. I would recommend cutting down to at most 10 decks going into the second week away from the tournament. The reasoning behind this is so that choosing a preferred deck will become much easier. Out of these decks I would recommend dedicating about half of the spots to popular decks that are obviously great contenders for the tournament. The rest of the decks should be a mix of personal favorites/creations that need kinks worked out along with middle- to low-tier decks that have the potential to stir up the meta.

ash ketchum pikachu
Aim to be developing command of the decks at this point.

The most important part of this phase is to start becoming comfortable with decks. You should be constantly playing games when you have the time. Having an understanding of how the top decks operate is going to give you an unmatched advantage over other players when the tournament comes around. This advantage makes predicting plays and overall understanding of deck mechanics almost effortless.

Something else I would like to add on top of this is to switch up what decks you are playing every so often. Periodically switch who is piloting the decks in games among your testing group. This will help you comprehend the way certain decks work. Having a hands-on experience with a deck will teach you 10 times more than what reading something will do.

Phase 3: The Final Four

Timeframe: 1-2 weeks before tournament
Objective: Narrow down to four decks (two popular, one counter, and one “secret”)

It’s crunch time. You’re about week away from a weekend full of fun times with friends and the butterflies are starting to show up in your stomach. On top of all of this excitement, you’re still trying to figure out what “the play” is.

I find this part of the testing process to be the trickiest. Whether it’s figuring out travel plans, traveling to the event, or cranking out the last bit of testing, these two weeks are going to be the most stressful. The biggest tip I can give you at this point in time is to not second-guess yourself and trust the testing you have done. Many people travel to big tournaments and meet up with their friends who will potentially have different opinions on what is “the play.” This can lead to a player abandoning their initial deck choice. Most of the time making a decision like this will end in a poor tournament result due to inexperience with the new deck. I suggest sticking with the decks that you have been playing the past couple of weeks and months. This will reduce the chance of misplays which come with an unfamiliar deck.

As for the steps involved with this phase, I would narrow your deck choices down to four decks. I would advise to have two spots devoted to the most popular decks amongst the community. The third choice should be a deck that counters the metagame that you feel very comfortable playing. The last deck choice should be every testing group’s “secret deck.” This deck should be something that is not popular and will catch many people by surprise. A great example of this would be the Wailord-EX deck that had a huge impact on US Nationals. Nobody was prepared for the deck and Wailord managed to make its way up to second place in the hands of Enrique Avila.

I don’t think a “secret deck” should have to be one of every testing group’s options. Your fourth option should always be a deck that you are the most comfortable with more than anything. The reason I recommend having one is so that some time is devoted to thinking outside the box. Creativity is a quality that I think Pokémon players tend to forget especially when a meta is very defined. Seeing people take abnormal decks far in tournaments really shows the time devoted into the creation and that they have reached the highest level of deck building.

The last tip I want to give you before we head on to the next phase is to not overdo it. What I mean by that is to not test so much that it doesn’t become enjoyable. Surround yourself with a testing group of friends who all want to win big tournaments but want to have fun while doing it. Use these two weeks before the tournament to finish up testing and have a great time with friends that you might not be able to see much.

Phase 4: Selection Eve

Timeframe: The night before the tournament
Objective: Finalize deck and be rational about surrounding hype

The big day is approaching and everyone is scrambling to figure out what the big decks are going to be. Last-minute changes to decks are in the works. It is a make-or-break moment. You know that you should get some sleep but at the same time you are not 100% confident in your deck. Trust me, you’re not the only one.

I believe that there are two different types of people in this scenario: the ones that write their list before bed and get some good sleep, and the ones that stay up till the middle of the night making last-minute changes to their deck. Personally, I don’t think there is any right or wrong in this scenario. It all comes down to what kind of person you are, how you like to operate things, if the meta changed drastically, and how confident you feel in your deck choice. I have had success both ways. I’m not saying that it is the smartest to only have 4-5 hours of sleep going into the tournament, but “you got to do what you got to do.”

comfort zone
Now is not the time to do this …

Many different types of things can happen on the day before the tournament, especially at tournaments such as US Nationals. For instance, a new deck could pop up out of nowhere that beats every single one of the current popular decks. The word spreads around the community and now either everyone is playing the deck or teching their own decks to beat it. This can be a dangerous situation that will end up backfiring for some players, especially for very large tournaments. I say this because the new deck getting hyped up may make it seem as if everyone in the entire tournament knows about it, which is most of the time not true. Then the players who modify their decks to compensate for new appearance end up playing against the decks that they original were expecting and not this new one. It is a very tricky situation that can result in many players going right back to the drawing board.

I advise all of you that are preparing for big tournaments (especially you US Nationals players) to not blow small situations out of proportion. I’ve seen numerous players, including me, completely change their deck the night before due to a small hype of a new deck and then never play against the new deck that they were expecting to play against. Stick with your gut and never play a deck that you are even the slightest skeptical about.

Phase 5: Gameday Diligence

Timeframe: During the tournament!
Objective: Stay mentally focused (by taking care of physical needs)

The big day is here and all of the hours of testing you put in are either going to pay off or not. Hopefully the deck choice you made is one that you feel comfortable with and know the ins and outs of. I could go on and on about playing correctly and not misplaying etc., but I think that is determined by your experience and level of competitiveness in the game. Instead I want to give you some pointers outside the games that you will play.

Big tournaments such as US Nationals are going to be very long days of Pokémon. Most people don’t take to account the toll that these tournaments have on our bodies. At the end of the day, we’re all still human and we need to fuel ourselves. The brain is just like a muscle and it needs the right amount of nutrition so that you aren’t sluggish for the entire day.

Getting a good breakfast is very important as it will help concentration during your games. One thing that I always do before tournaments is bring a couple of snacks with me to munch on between rounds. Being hungry is one thing that I have found that leads to dumb mistakes and misplays. Another item I would always recommend bringing is a water bottle. Over the years I have noticed that intense decision-making and a lot of standing around can lead to dehydration. Usually there is a water fountain nearby so that you don’t have to spend a bunch of money on water.

One other thing that I would advise doing is getting some fresh air in between rounds. You’re usually cramped up in a room full of people and getting outside and clearing your head will help you focus in your following matches. Especially after a hard loss that could cause tilt, having some time to yourself to recuperate can be helpful.

If you make Day Two (if there is one) of the tournament, getting a good amount of sleep is very important. The stakes get higher and the competition gets harder on the second day. Having a rested body and mind will give you the upper hand over the players that choose to get 4-5 hours of sleep.

Well, there’s my Pokémon tournament version of the scientific method for you. Now I want to finish this section of the article by giving you guys a few pointers.

Quick Pointers

  • Have an enjoyable testing group
  • Time your testing games
  • Always cut and take mulligans in testing games
  • Consistency is always the priority in deck building
  • Make sure you’re eating/drinking/sleeping enough
  • Have fun!

Origins Results

“All we are is Darkrai in the wind.”

Two days ago we witnessed the first US tournament before US Nationals that was in the same format. Not only did this tournament give us some valuable information on what the popular decks are, but it also switched up the metagame a little bit.

Due to the late announcement by Pokémon about the addition of Championship Points to the tournament, only 64 Masters attended, but the competition level was high. The Masters cut to a Top 8 after 6 Swiss rounds. The Top 8 players were all of high stature and certainly knew what they were doing throughout this tournament. The standings after Swiss looked like this (courtesy of Andrew Wamboldt):

  1. Christopher SchemanskeDarkrai-EX BKP/Giratina-EX AOR/Latios-EX ROS/Garbodor BKP
  2. Aaron TarbellTrevenant BREAK
  3. Alex Croxton … Genesect-EX FCO/Aegislash-EX/Zoroark BKT/Bronzong PHF
  4. Alex HillDarkrai-EX BKP/Giratina-EX AOR/Latios-EX ROS/Garbodor BKP
  5. Sean Foisy … Darkrai-EX BKP/Giratina-EX AOR/Latios-EX ROS/Garbodor BKP
  6. Russell LaParre … Water Toolbox
  7. Andrew Wamboldt … Night March/Vespiquen AOR 10
  8. Jimmy McClure … Darkrai-EX BKP/Garbodor BKP

From this, we can see that there were four Dark/Garb variants, three of which played the two Dragons: Giratina-EX and Latios-EX. The other four decks were pretty standard high-tier decks.

Aaron Tarbell’s Trevenant BREAK deck clinching the second spot goes to show that just because Trevenant has a Dark Weakness it does not necessarily mean Dark is a bad matchup. With a few Bursting Balloons and an early Item lock, the game can easily be won by Trevenant. Another thing to note is the addition of Vespiquen in Andrew Wamboldt’s Night March deck. The Vespiquen is in the deck to help with the Water Toolbox and Greninja matchups along with providing a higher-HP alternative to the Night Marchers.

Something else that is noticeable in this Top 8 is the addition of Zoroark BKT in Alex Croxton’s Metal list. Since the release of the most recent set, Genesect-EX and Bronzong BREAK have been the standouts for the Metal decks and many lists have been based around them. Alex decided to take these new powerful cards and add Zoroark BKT in his list to provide a switching mechanic into the deck while also being a great attacker. Zoroark BKT was almost a staple in every Metal deck during the Cities format so it’s great to see its resurgence in the Metal decks of today.

The last card choice I wanted to point out before we move onto the final standing is the addition of Latios-EX in Alex Hill, Christopher Schemanske, and Sean Foisy’s decks. Latios-EX’s Fast Raid attack basically gives the deck an entirely new win condition: “donking.” With a Muscle Band, Fast Raid can Knock Out a lot of the popular non-EX Basics such as Bronzor FCO, Froakie BKP, Mew FCO, and the Night Marchers. Since the deck seems to have a stronger middle game than early game, the Latios-EX also could help develop some much needed tempo at the start of the game. You can read more about the deck from Christopher here.

Top 8 to Finals looked like this (winners in bold):

Top 8

  • Jimmy McClure (Dark/Garb) vs. Christopher Schemanske (Dark/Garb/Dragons)
  • Aaron Tarbell (Trevenant) vs. Andrew Wamboldt (Night March/Vespiquen)
  • Alex Croxton (Metal) vs. Russell LaParre (Water Box)
  • Alex Hill (Dark/Garb/Dragons) vs. Sean Foisy (Dark/Garb/Dragons)

Top 4

  • Alex Hill (Dark/Garb/Dragons) vs. Jimmy McClure (Dark/Garb)
  • Russell LaParre (Water Box) vs. Aaron Tarbell (Trevenant)


  • Jimmy McClure (Dark/Garb) vs. Aaron Tarbell (Trevenant)

After three high-level matches of Pokémon, my good friend Jimmy McClure was able to get the grand prize paid trip to San Francisco. Here is what the final standings were:

  1. Jimmy McClure … Darkrai-EX BKP/Garbodor BKP
  2. Aaron Tarbell … Trevenant BREAK
  3. Alex Hill … Darkrai-EX BKP/Giratina-EX AOR/Latios-EX ROS/Garbodor BKP
  4. Russell LaParre … Water Toolbox
  5. Christopher Schemanske … Darkrai-EX BKP/Giratina-EX AOR/Latios-EX ROS/Garbodor BKP
  6. Alex Croxton … Genesect-EX FCO/Aegislash-EX/Zoroark BKT/Bronzong PHF
  7. Sean Foisy … Darkrai-EX BKP/Giratina-EX AOR/Latios-EX ROS/Garbodor BKP
  8. Andrew Wamboldt … Night March/Vespiquen AOR 10

It is crazy to think that around two years ago Darkrai-EX/Garbodor was one of the biggest decks and that it is still today, yet the two Darkrai-EX that were used are totally different cards. The result that stands out the most to me is the Top 4 match between Russell’s Water Toolbox and Aaron Tarbell’s Trevenant. On paper, Water Toolbox definitely seems to have the upper hand because of Manaphy-EX’s Ability and Mineral Pump attack that heals Benched Pokémon along with Rough Seas. Again, this goes to show how easily Trevenant can win by a turn 1 Item lock combined with a couple of turns of dead-draws. These two decks are going to be huge contenders going into US Nationals.

Now that I’ve talked about the results of this past weekend’s Origins tournament I want to address how it affects the meta going into US Nationals and how you should adjust.

The Meta

wide open tauros nidorina field
Anything goes. The meta is pretty open right now.

Before I talk about this, I want to point out that the meta we have now can very well change by the time we get around to US Nationals. I would make sure that you are staying up to date in the community to see if any new decks make an appearance.

Early Risers

Ever since the release of Fates Collide, we’ve seen a gradual increase in decks like Trevenant BREAK, Greninja, and Metal decks utilizing Genesect-EX and Bronzong BREAK. After its recent success at German Nationals, Water Toolbox worked its way up to a top tier spot and proved its strength by making Top 4 at Origins. Night March has lost a little bit of momentum after its unmatched success during the States format, yet it still manages to be one of the top contenders at the moment.

Due to the popularity of these five decks, an older archetype was brought back to life at the Origins tournament: Darkrai/Garbodor. As I showed earlier, there were two variants of this deck that were successful: one using Giratina-EX and Latios-EX, and one without the Dragons (a more straightforward list). The deck has great matchups against most Ability-reliant decks such as Greninja, Metal, and Trevenant with or without the Dragons. With the Dragons, the deck has a much better matchup against Vespiquen decks and Night March but at the cost of some consistency.

There is one thing about this format that stands out from a lot of the previous Nationals’ formats which is that there is a massive amount of viable decks. I listed about seven different decks above that I believe all to have equal chance at winning the US National Championship. I don’t believe that a single deck rules the format at the moment which I believe to be very healthy for the game. The craziest thing is that the seven decks that I brought up are not even half of the total amount of the viable options for Nationals. This is the perfect time for an unsuspecting deck to make a big impact.

Current Outlook

garbodor-breakpoint-bkp-57From its most recent success, I think that biggest deck to look out for going into Canada this weekend is going to be Darkrai/Garbodor. Its overall consistency paired with disruption makes taking control over games very easy. I would be careful if you are planning on playing this deck though as many players are aware of it and are going to add more Tool removal into their decks. Fighting-based decks also might pop up more.

The second largest deck at the moment is easily Trevenant. In a format where most decks get most of their consistency from Items, Item lock reins supreme. The reason that it is not the most popular deck right now is due to its not-so-good matchup against Darkrai/Garbodor. But still, it is not easy for any deck to come back from a T1 Item lock. No matter what happens to the meta in the next few days days leading up to the tournament, Trevenant is going to be a huge contender.

With these two decks gaining the most popularity I would expect to see more Water Toolbox variants make an appearance along with Greninja. Both of these Water decks have good matchups against Darkrai/Garbodor and Trevenant with the addition of some Tool-removing measures.

As of now, I am expecting to see Darkrai/Garbodor, Trevenant, Water Toolbox, and Greninja be the biggest decks at the US National Championships.


We’re only 10 days away from US Nationals and I personally cannot wait. It is the biggest tournament of the year and has also proved to be one of the most fun.

I hope all of you benefitted from the tips I gave and can apply some of them into your preparation for Nationals and possibly the World Championships coming up in August. Have an open mind going into these tournaments and most importantly have fun.

Good luck to all of you attending US Nationals and I can’t wait to see everyone. If you see me there, make sure to say hi. I won’t bite.

Thanks for reading!


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