Wow, writing a title like that can leave a Pokédad breathless. I have to be honest: a lot of Pokédads saw me start writing this report while my son was playing in Top 8 because I was cooling my heels and trying to distract myself. I honestly didn’t imagine that I would be writing an article about winning the National Championship. I have so many props to distribute that they could fill a whole ‘nother article, but the story of this National Championship goes back two months to Massachusetts Regionals, and that’s where I began this writing — four hours before the National Championship was determined.
Time Hop: Massachusetts Regionals
So, I didn’t write a trip report about Massachusetts Regionals and I want to start this off by talking about why. I have a new job and it is super high travel. More accurately, it is based in New York and I live in DC. Plus in the first two months I spent a week in Orlando, a week in Atlanta, and a week in Barcelona. This travel has really impacted my Poké-thinking and my family’s Poké-testing. Plus, my job is just intense. This felt like an opportunity I needed to take even though the travel was a bear because it was a great gig, but to deliver on the promise, I have had to dial it to 11.
This change was apparent in our results at Massachusetts Regionals. My oldest decided to play Yveltal because it seemed like the BDIF based on previous Regionals results. Unfortunately, what we got was that EVERY OTHER PERSON WAS ALSO PLAYING YVELTAL. Roan Godfrey-Robbins won the tournament running away with Rainbow Road, a deck we had tested the prior day, but only played a few games with because we felt like it lost to Trevenant so badly. But there were no kids playing Trev there. There were only kids playing Yveltal. So we played the mirror for days and whiffed cut. Liam had two losses — one was to a Speed Darkrai list and the other was a game he could have tied but scooped to the kid instead when the kid was in a winning position two minutes before time was called.
The result was his worst finish at a Regionals this year.
So we had misplays, we poorly thought about our deck choice, and it all went off the rails, more or less.
Presently: United States Nationals
For Nationals, I was able to arrange to work from home the prior week because my wife was traveling for work and I wanted to dial it up a little bit. Interestingly, the decks we initially wanted to play ended up being the decks we played, even though we tried to find “the new hot thing” as late as 9pm the night before the tournament. The result was that I have pretty nuanced opinions about our lists, having messed around with quite a few combinations.
Top 32 with Water Toolbox
My youngest played Water Toolbox. Here was our list:
Pokémon – 9
Trainers – 40
Energy – 11
I don’t claim this is the best list, but it was the best list for my Junior and it performed well with some interesting secondary attributes. The thing my 8-year-old hates the most when playing is drawing dead. When he loses in a non-interactive fashion, he gets salty about the game. The result is that our current approach is to take a good list that we like, then cut the 59th and 60th cards and add more Supporters. Because if he draws dead and loses, he blames the list. If he just loses, he blames his playing skills. I prefer the latter. So we ruin the perfect list to cause him to not blame the list. Interesting.
Articuno ROS 17: Articuno is a really good card that my youngest son likes to Tri Edge YOLO with far too often. He likes that card in the deck, but I took it out because he uses it with no judicious thought. He thinks he will flip 3 heads every time.
Aurorus-EX: If my oldest was playing this deck, Aurorus would be included. This is a strong card that can one-shot 170-HP Pokémon. My youngest never attacked with it in 10 test games in a row. We took it out.
Glaceon-EX: In our testing we found that the only situations where it was useful, it turned out that Grenade Hammer was equally good. For example, the limited damage output, combined with Rough Seas, made it just OK against Greninja, which is an obvious use case.
Trainers’ Mail: Obviously, Trainers’ Mail synergizes wonderfully with Max Elixir to enable T1 Grenade Hammers. But we got the idea from our friend Chris Taporco to cut the 4 Trainers’ Mail and add in 2 Flare Grunt, a Xerosic, and a Hammer. My youngest loves Energy suppression and we were adding bulky Supporters anyway. It turns out this was a brilliant decision for this tournament because against Item lock, dumping all your Trainers’ Mails to add Supporters works amazingly well.
And then one notable inclusion:
2 Escape Rope: We predicted lots of Jolteon, so we tried to tech a bit for it. Of course, it would be a struggle to one-shot without Aurorus, but there you go.
Here is our tournament outcome for my youngest. There were more than 160+ Juniors competing in the US National Championship. The plan was to play 8 rounds on Friday, cut to a Top 32, then play 5 more rounds the next day before cutting to a Top 8 elimination.
R1: Josh M (Waterbox) – WW
R2: Nathan F (Trevenant) – WW
R3: Alex H (Night March) – WLW
R4: Gabriel R (Trevenant) – WW
R5: James K (Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor) – WW
Walker told me he hit heads on four straight Ice Beams. Yes, at this point my youngest is 5-0 and at Table 2 of the US National Championship.
Rd 6 — Vince O (Night March) — LL
Walker told me he played two straight Sycamore that yielded 4 Energies each. Vince also played a 2-2 Marowak line. That’s terrible.
Rd 7 — Lucas M (Night March) — LWW
Rd 8 — Nikhail R (Night March) — LL
2-2 vs. Night March, 2-0 vs. Trev. So I guess that defined the meta for Juniors at Nationals. Interestingly, our decision to drop Trainers’ Mail for Energy suppression Supporters and the decision to buff out our Supporter-based draw engine served us amazingly well in crushing Trev decks. Night March demonstrates its power by winning in the face of a stream of Quaking Punches.
For the first time, Nationals had a Day 2 (Top 32) for Juniors and, at 6-2, my youngest made cut. First, let me say that I am a huge advocate of Day 2. I complained about the lack of Day 2 last year, and Pokémon heard and delivered. Cutting straight from more than 180 Juniors to a Top 8, and further, having all those Juniors be done playing for the weekend by Friday at 5pm seemed counter to the objective of having an awesome Nationals, so I would have let everybody play even more on Day 2 if they wanted. More Pokémon, more better for Juniors. Their appetite for playing is relentless.
Despite this, organizing a Day 2 was very hard on the staff and Pokémon leadership because it was not clear if records would carry over due to limitations in the TOM software. The result was there was no way to know if people should just ID in at a point. It would have been nice if Walker could have gone to bed a bit earlier, although the tournament was run in a very organized and timely fashion. (8 rounds on Friday and we were done by 9pm with a lunch break.)
It turns out, lo and behold, that the records did not carry over. They just built a new tournament with 32 kids in it the next day. I have to say, I understand technology limitations but hopefully TPCi recognizes that this was the wrong thing to do: the goal of playing more rounds is to decrease variance. Having a new 5-round tournament seems like a recipe for higher variance. So I wish that would go a bit differently next time. I did speak with TPCi people afterwards and they seemed acutely aware of this misstep.
Here were Day 2 results for my youngest:
Rd 1 — Travis B (Metals) — LL
Bronzong one-shots Regice. Travis had explosive starts both games and took 2nd at the National Championship, so this is hard to complain about.
Rd 2 — Vince O (NM) — LL
You may remember Vince from earlier. He runs a 2-2 Marowak and slaps Toads all day for sport. Who does that!
Rd 3 — Nikhail R (NM) — WW
Nikhail beat him last night, so he was happy to get the win. Quakes for days.
Rd 4 — Aiden Y (Metals) — LWL
Aiden beats Landon Frank, the top Junior in the country, the next round to prevent Landon from advancing to the Top 8. While Aiden finished out of the Top 8, he is an incredible player from Oregon and one of the most feared opponents in Juniors. He is only 8 years old so he has a bright future ahead.
Rd 5 — Night March — WW
Walker finished up the tournament in 24th, going 8-5 with every single one of his losses coming to people that finished in the top 32. I could not be prouder of my little guy! I have spoken often about his avowed lack of interest in Pokémon in the face of the sibling rivalry with his brother. This tournament, both starting strong and finishing with a nice win, renewed his excitement and interest in the game and he is looking forward to the World Championships! His losses were to great players and he felt great about his tournament, which could have been hard given the story I am about to tell …
1st Place with Darkrai/Dragons/Garb
My oldest saw Darkrai/Giratina/Garb do well at Origins and immediately targeted that. The synergy of DDEs with Dark Pulse was undeniable.
Here is the deck my oldest played:
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 34
Energy – 12
Because we played this a lot over two weeks, we were able to develop some nuanced opinions about the deck. Here were a few things:
1 Yveltal-EX: We felt like there were a lot of Fighting decks in play the day prior to Nationals, and our Fighting matchup was poor. We cut a Malamar at the last minute to add an Yveltal-EX. We also felt like this improved the mirror match a bit because Evil Balls are tough on Giratina, although it is much less amazing versus Darkrai if you are spreading Energy around, but this mirror tends to have Benched Dragon attackers to get the benefit of the DDE for the Dark Pulse.
No Malamar-EX: We did a lot of testing with Malamar-EX. The argument in favor of Malamar is really good. It is an out to Jolteon 50% of the time. Every Energy you put on Malamar makes Darkrai better and gives you the soft lock. If you flip heads a lot, it can be a late-game finisher. Also, theoretically it created opportunities to hit with Dark Head, but that required more attachments to the Darkrai plus attaching to the Malamar. In practice, however, you don’t get a lot of turns where you are not attaching Dark Energy to attackers. Most turns you are attaching DDEs, and then you have to power up Darkrai, so opportunities to attach to Malamar are rare. Once we added Tyrantrum to the deck and we felt better about Jolteon matchup, the Malamar felt a bit redundant. Finally, the Malamar had no synergy with the Max Elixir. We cut it for the 4th Sycamore.
4th Sycamore: Liam felt like he had a few too many games in testing where he drew through the deck too slowly. We had tested with just 3 Sycamore quite a bit, but at the last minute we tossed the Max Elixir and threw in the 4th Sycamore. This turned out to be invaluable against Trev decks. Extra Supporters help that matchup immensely.
No Hydreigon-EX: People were teching this for Carbink and Jolteon but we felt like Tyrantrum gave us the same thing but not having to two-hit stuff. Easier retreats are nice, but it wasn’t worth it. After the tournament, having never played Jolteon, my son felt like he might have played the Hydreigon if he could do it all over again because the situations he encountered most frequently were things like Seismitoad or Darkrai with a FFB attached and Tyrantrum could not one-hit those Pokémon.
9th Dark Energy: We would have liked to play this. 61st card.
Super Rod: We would have liked to play this too. 62nd card.
2nd Parallel City: We started testing with one, but found that a second was important. It helps vs. Greninja, it helps vs. Water Toolbox, it helps vs. Mega Ray, it helps vs. Trev. But when you need it, you need it, so having more than one seemed good.
No Hoopa-EX: We tested Hoopa but found it lacking. Once you bench it, it is a target all game long. We rarely really needed it and had better things to do with the deck.
1 Latios-EX: We loved the Latios-EX. We found in testing that with 4 Trainers’ Mail, 3 Float Stone, and an Escape Rope, we were able to consistently hit the combo to donk people. And we felt like with the amount of Night March, Greninja, and Trev in the meta, we would get repeated chances to steal cheap games. Hoopa might help with something like that, but there was only one game in testing where we had the donk opportunity and missed it, even without the Hoopa. It’s not science, but we seemed happy. This also made us think it was definitely not worth playing 2 Latios-EX.
1 Cassius: It’s a Supporter that gets vulnerable Pokémon off the board while also conserving Energy + Tools. The theorymon is that this very effective in conserving DDEs with Giratina. Obviously, AZ is similar and uniquely useful because it allows you to replay a Shaymin immediately, and in retrospect, given that you still have to draw into the Energy and Tools to re-attach them, my son wishes he played AZ instead.
4 Trainers’ Mail, 3 Float Stone, 2 Muscle Band, 2 Fighting Fury Belt, 1 Escape Rope: The Escape Rope provides another out to Jolteon, which we felt would be popular at the tournament. The 2nd Muscle Band was really to give us more outs for the Latios donk on Froakies and Pumpkaboos. The Float Stones and Escape Rope synergized well with hitting donks because you frequently need them to retreat the Active into Latios and you also need the Float Stones for Garbodor. Trainers’ Mail helped you reach for these cards when you need them.
I will skip to the end in one regard for my story and tell you that we had three chances to donk people during tournaments and hit every single one. So this engine proved very effective for us in achieving that goal. Three stolen games were definitely worth teching the Latios and a 2nd Muscle Band.
The result of all this work was a deck that had a lot of synergistic components that came together effectively. I kind of wish we had left the Malamar in, but you can’t argue with results.
Sidebar comment: I wrote every word of this from the start of the Massachusetts Regionals section to here prior to Top 8 ending. When Kenny Wisdom said during the pre-game chat before the final round of the National Championship as my son was about to start the game that this was “a pretty standard list,” I thought about all of the things that I had written mere hours earlier, about the painstaking decisions to cut key cards and put other cards in and it reminded me how hard building great lists is. I don’t know if our list is great or not, but we could have easily had 8 or 9 cards different in the list and he probably would still have called it “a standard list,” but it would have played pretty differently and we knew that because we had put in the work.
I have previously said that we, and Juniors in general, can’t really invent new decks because optimizing is painstaking work and we just don’t have the bandwidth to both invent a deck and optimize it, but that is really important. I just walked you through an army of cards that could be in or out, but making the right choices impacted our end results.
Here is the tournament report:
Rd 1 — Bye! (Thanks VA State Championship!)
Rd 2 — Josslyn C (Fairies) — WW
Josslyn was playing a deck that could theoretically cause a lot of trouble, resisting Dark damage and hitting Dragons for Weakness, but she needed a faster build (she played no Shaymin) and did not get off a Geomancy until T3 in Game 1. Garb was out before Aromatisse hit the field.
Rd 3 — Ethan M (Waterbox) — WLT
Ethan needed one more turn to win. This is not the last you have heard of him. If you remember previous reports, he is a skilled competitor that we have battled with previously with mixed outcomes.
Rd 4 — Rousseau G (Greninja) — LWW
Donked a Froakie in Game 2!
Rd 5 — Ben B (NM) — WW
We got up-paired for Round 5. Ben chose to go second both games. Draws dead Game 1, my son is down to 2 Prizes before he gets his first Shaymin out. Gets donked by Latios Game 2.
Rd 6 — Nathan F (Trev) — WW
Got down-paired for Round 6. Funny. Same kid Walker beat in Round 2. Garb came out quickly in Game 2 to wrap up the series quickly. Nathan is a good friend. My son remembers playing him to a tie at his first Nationals ever in 2014.
Rd 7 — Xavier N (Waterbox) — LL
This Waterbox played a heavy Energy suppression line (3 Enhanced Hammer, 2 Flare Grunt, 2 Xerosic). My son kept attaching DDEs and they kept getting hammered off. At one point, after hammering off 2 straight DDEs, my son exclaimed “how many hammers do you have!?!” Xavier then showed him a hand with yet another Hammer and Xerosic in it.
Rd 8 — Vince O (Night March) — WLW
T2 Chaos Wheel Game 1, donk Game 3. Nice to get a win after his brother loses to Vince in Round 6.
That put my oldest in 8th and my youngest in 10th as they advanced to Top 32 the next day. Of his seven opponents, four would make Day 2. A challenging draw. Sadly, they reset everything as we started with a clean slate in Saturday and my son ended up playing every kid that he tied or lost against on Day 1 again on Day 2.
Rd 1 — Xavier N (Waterbox) — WT
My son was very down on this matchup given the brutal loss he got handed yesterday at Xavier’s hands. T3 of Game 1, Xavier Lysandre’d a Darkrai and Grenade Hammered it instead of killing the Active Baby Yveltal, helping preserve Energy. Liam responded with a Dark Pulse for 220 by attaching a DDE on the Bench to overcome a Toad with an FFB and swing the game irrevocably. This is an interesting moment because Xavier was stuck with a brutal choice of playing the 7-Prize game or hitting the Darkrai and not taking the Energy off the board. Hard to say how that works out.
Rd 2 — Georgia H (Metals) — WW
Georgia is a familiar face in our articles as one of the most skilled Juniors in the game. Game 1 was going badly as my son couldn’t hit the Float Stone even though the Garb was set up for a long time. He finally hits the Float, she Xerosics it. He Floats again, she Xerosics again. He Floats again and she has no answer. That begins a slow comeback that starts with 3× Dark Pulse to KO a FFB Genesect. She tried to sacrifice a Zoroark but he Lysandre’d all the Bronzongs to wrap up the game.
Game 2, Georgia got a slow start and when she finally got out a Bronzong and Metal Linked to a Genesect, my son was able to Lysandre the Bronzong and kill it, leaving her with a 1-Energy Genesect on the board and no cards in hand.
Rd 3 — Ryland W (Mirror) — WW
You may remember Ryland from our Lancaster trip report. A skilled competitor, he greeted my son with a cheer, “SO WE MEET AGAIN!” Both sides drew dead Game 1, but we drew out first. The second game was back and forth. Ryland had the game next turn, N’d Liam to 2, Liam drew the Seeker off the N to Lysandre Shaymin for the winning FFB’d Chaos Wheel.
Rd 4 — ID
Rd 5 — ID
I don’t love the general idea of not rolling over their records, but I can’t complain about the results, clearly. With Round 3 finishing blazing fast, we were the first people to lock up our Top 8 slot. As I told people afterwards, this was very exciting for me personally because I had spent all of my time the last two days preparing to comfort my son if he did not do as well as his finish last year. There is enormous variance at work here, lots of random numbers, and we were very fortunate to have things break our way.
Top 8 — Ethan M (Waterbox) — WW
I told you that he would be back! Given that he was one turn from beating my son in Swiss (which we drew into a tie), my son was super pessimistic about this matchup with the extra time. He thought his run was over. Late in the game, Liam plays Parallel City to prevent Ethan from benching attackers and Manaphy and Chaos Wheeled to prevent FFBs and Rough Seas, allowing him to 2HKO a Toad then Lysandre Shaymins without FFBs to win.
My son told me after the round that he felt “hot” and I told him to try and ride that luck all the way through.
Top 4 — Christian M (Mirror) — WLW
Once again, my son thought his run was over. Christian won Houston Regionals, placed 2nd at numerous other Regionals, had given Landon Frank one of his two losses in Swiss, and was the #2-ranked NA Junior pre-Nationals (#1 now?). Christian is an amazing player. I didn’t get any commentary from my son as Pokémon promptly hustled us to the stage for the Finals, but he told me that the Yveltal-EX demonstrated its power to swing the mirror in this matchup. The Yveltal-EX on the Bench discouraged Christian from powering up a Giratina because the threat of a massive Evil Ball was intimidating.
A favorable matchup against a tough opponent. Travis got to Top 4 at Nationals last year so both boys were super excited to be there. My son went first Game 1, Garb hit the field T2 in Game 1 and my son ran through his Pokémon. Travis hits the Lysandre on the Garb to kill it late game, accidentally takes 2 Prizes and receives a 1-Prize penalty. My son has the Lysandre in hand to go down to 1 Prize immediately after, putting Travis in an untenable game state. Conversely, in Game 2, Travis had an explosive start. My son had to Ultra Ball 2 Max Elixirs early. When Travis hit his Lysandre off a Trainers’ Mail and my son missed a Float Stone for the Garb and missed the N to get the Lysandre out of Travis’ hand, he scooped super quickly knowing his last Garb would be KO’d and he had no Energy on the board.
Game 3 for all the marbles starts and my son starts Giratina, benches a Trubbish/Float Stone and Darkrai, Sycamores away a Garb, attaches to Darkrai and passes. Travis plays Sky Field, attaches FFB to Active (lone) Genesect, attaches, plays N and passes. My son attaches DDE and Float Stone to Active Giratina and plays N himself then Travis benches Jirachi and Bronzor. My son Ultra Balls, declares he is getting the Garb out and the look on stream on Travis’ face is one of resignation. Like an awesome Junior, my boy gets a Trubbish out of his deck and puts it on top of the Trubbish on the Bench. Travis immediately says “He played it, he can’t take it back!” The judge immediately rules, “He hasn’t shuffled and he declared a different Pokémon,” and allowed my son to get the Garb (which was immediately adjacent in the deck) into play. I asked my son about it after the fact and he told me about his moment of EXTREME PANIC: “I just kept thinking, ‘I didn’t want to lose that way.’ If he beats me and I get second, fine, but I didn’t want to lose like that.”
He passes and Travis attaches Metal to the Active and passes it back. Travis is drawing dead at this point, and my son hits the Active for 120. Travis benches another Genesect and evolves Bronzor and is forced to pass. We take 2 Prizes. Travis puts up a Genesect that is promptly one-shot. Then is stuck with a dead hand and is forced to comically attach to Jirachi and Stardust for 10 against a Darkrai with no Special Energy on it. Liam kills the Jirachi, Travis draw-passes, and the National Championship is secure.
As an aside, I wish that the commentators had taken a few moments, given that it took almost an hour for the stream to start, to chat up the kids. The numerous disclaimers on stream about how they had no idea about the Juniors, who they were, or what the deal was with this tournament was a bit unfortunate.
A Few Props
When I started writing this occasional series a year and half ago, I never dreamed I would be writing an article about what it is like to Pokédad a kid to the National Championship. I feel like I should take a moment to thank the academy so let me just throw out a brief list. Forgive the wave of people I am omitting, but I have to thank the Evans family, Scott and Colby, first and foremost. They supported us and helped us learn the game. Colby is one of the best Pokémon players in the world and a great, great friend. The Chins, JP & Hayden (top 64 finish) and their Pokédad Paul — my best friend and someone who helped hold it down during the stress and excitement of the top cut, Ken and Alex Yung, Russell LaParre, Chris Taporco, Dylan Bryan and the Some1s PC crew. Joe Grubb, Alex Croxton, Dylan Dreyer, Dean Nezam, Jimmy McClure, Jonathan Scott, Brit Pybas, Brandon Smiley, Michael Canaves, the Inmans, the Hurleys, the Franks, the Godfrey-Robbins crew, the delightful parents of all the other Poké-players, all of the incredibly nice people that have come up to me and told me they liked the articles, the supportive community that has always been ready to help out my Juniors, lend us cards, give us advice on decks, test with a 10-year-old, and be helpful in every way.
Travis’ parents were delightful people.
As always, I appreciate the SixPrizes people giving me the chance to write it all down. I doubt Adam realized that I would get to write an article like this when I first sent him an article about math and deck-building strategies a year and a half ago. Further, having access to SixPrizes has made us better.
Columbus was great.
Pokémon has given a lot to my family. I really appreciate the kind energy and thoughts we have received over the weekend and over the last 30 months.
You may ask, what does a National Champion do to celebrate? Even after 18 grueling 50-minute rounds (with some 75-minute rounds thrown in) over two days and winning ~170(?) packs, my boys started grinding packs in the free Junior pods like there was no tomorrow. One funny sidebar highlight on Saturday night that I will never forget was walking over to see my buddy Paul Chin’s 6-year-old nephew playing in a 4-player side event pod at 10pm after everything was over. He had never played Pokémon before in his life and he was having a great time at the National Championship in this 4-player pod. And I look at the rest of the pod and it was Roan G, Landon F, and Christian M, the three top players in North America. That kid was in for a bad time! But they were all having so much fun. Amazing stuff. It’s great that Juniors all like and play together and it is such an accepting group. For Juniors, that is the equivalent of Jason K, Jacob Van Wagner, and Israel Sosa all saying, “Let’s spend two hours playing Pokémon for fun against each other and the winner gets a pack.”
The free Junior 4-man pods on Sunday may have had the fiercest Pokémon at the tournament as the winners wanted to keep playing with their friends.
I sit here typing on a Sunday morning and Liam is in a pod with Roan, Kyle I (Top 8 finisher), and Colby … and Walker, Christian M, and Landon are all sitting in a pod as well. Junior life is pretty good. I now know the secret to success in Pokémon is to get lucky. I am a lucky guy, indeed.
See you in San Francisco.