Hi SixPrizes readers! In the wake of US Nationals, I wanted to share some decks I got excited about and tested for the event at the last minute, how I made my final choice, and a tournament report on my results.
Before I dive into the nitty-gritty of decks and details, it’s important to talk about the SPECTACLE of this year’s US National Championships. The production quality of the stream was the best in the tabletop gaming industry. The scale of the event was bigger than ever — it’s so cool that more people are showing up to appreciate Pokémon. Many of them are enjoying it in ways different than I, but that may only make the atmosphere even better. It’s kind of tough to focus on the moving parts of Pokémon gameplay when I’m reminiscing of the fun at Nationals but looking forward to Worlds as well.
Influences on Deck Selection
This is the order in which I came to know about decks that did well in other countries that were using the same Standard format as US Nationals. I knew that I needed to sit down and pilot these decks to understand their weaknesses, and perhaps in the process I’d be swayed enough to actually play them. Some players are overly dismissive of the results of foreign countries’ Nationals, but overconfidence is a far worse point of origin than championship decklists.
Starting Point: Greninja
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 33
Energy – 8
Pablo Meza Alonso won Mexican Nationals with this list. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Pablo for years due to his success in Pokémon, perhaps most notably his 2005 World Championships Top 4 finish. My assumptions were positive about the deck as a result: I assumed that Pablo had assembled a finely-tuned version of the deck, the deck had been a good choice for his meta, and that Mexico’s metagame would resemble that of the US.
I found, unsurprisingly, that the deck would perform well against Night March and Vespiquen, but struggled against other relevant decks including Dark, Giratina/Max Elixir, and the repopularized Mega Rayquaza. Part of the reason I was bumping into so many Mega Rayquaza decks was that it had won Canadian Nationals in the Masters Division. That would be the next deck that I’d end up testing, even though I didn’t use Simon Luong’s exact list. The list I began with (below) shaped my overall impressions even though I expected to either make refinements or move on to Simon’s list if I liked how this played. As a note, I do not believe Simon’s list is public (unless you watch the videos of his games and compile it yourself).
Northern Impact: Mega Rayquaza
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 36
Energy – 7
One of the things I really liked about the deck was that it had access to such a high volume of cards on the first turn. It would allow me to effectively get out ahead of my opponent and make them catch up. There were some critical situations that I was concerned about running into against popular decks however.
Early-Game Chaos Wheel: Even though Mega Rayquaza technically has the ability to take down a Giratina-EX with a Fighting Fury Belt on it, you’re likely to lose those games. If they set it up on the Bench, you won’t be able to Hex Maniac and Lysandre it in the same turn. In a format without Pokémon Ranger, Mega Ray doesn’t have a way to punch through this lock.
Dark Using Single-Prize Attackers: The tempo of the matchup against decks featuring Yveltal/Zoroark didn’t feel like it was falling in my favor. Oblivion Wing would hit for 40 or 50, usually placing Energy onto what would become their third attacker. Their second attacker would often be a Zoroark, beginning as a Zorua on the Bench. As soon as people were using this play on me, the genius was obvious. There is nearly NO advantage for the Rayquaza player to try and KO a Benched Zorua (especially one of two) here. Oblivion Wing will continue to help the Dark player build momentum, and Mind Jack might happen anyway. Even if you trade a KO with the Zoroark, often a second Oblivion Wing Yveltal or a Pitch-Black Spear Yveltal will follow up. If the game goes well for both players, the Dark player will have two meaningful ways to close out the game: N’ing the Mega Rayquaza player to a few cards and KOing a Mega Ray, or scoring an “easy” KO on a Benched EX using Mind Jack.
Despite winning plenty of games with what I knew to be a janky list, I couldn’t get on board the Mega Rayquaza hype train. Even though I believed some weaknesses of the deck might be solved at a deck-list level, the above situations felt like they would permeate the matchups. I preferred to spend my testing efforts and deck-list refinement on decks I was more likely to actually use.
Quick things that I would have changed before going further with this list:
- Drop Jolteon and Seismitoad. Despite being situationally good, they didn’t pay off.
- Experiment with Hydreigon-EX or Jirachi Promo in the open spots.
- Go to 4 VS Seeker: the idea that I’d dive straight through the deck was overzealous.
Some Seniority: Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor
It was at about this point that Sydney Morisoli tried to talk me into the Darkrai/Giratina deck that she was liking. Her friend Josh F. had used it to win Canadian Nationals in Seniors. Both from watching and experiencing the deck, many games felt like blowouts. Here is the list I got in some games with:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 34
Energy – 13
Part of my initial resistance to the list was Enhanced Hammer. As we’d come to see in the Masters Division Finals, Enhanced Hammer was an incredibly potent choice for this format — even against this deck. Why wasn’t I liking Enhanced Hammer? As a card, the utility of Enhanced Hammer diminishes across a best-of-three, and it often isn’t playable for any effect.
Even though I played a completely different deck for Nationals, not grasping the effectiveness of Enhanced Hammer on paper caught me off guard. I often found myself in games against Night March where they’d only ever have 1 DCE in play as their Energy. In those games (which seemed more than 50% of Cities and States), Enhanced Hammer was only effective when paired with Lysandre as my Supporter for the turn, to score a KO on a Benched Shaymin-EX. It proved too situational. In this deck however, Enhanced Hammer worked as an answer to Night March’s counterplay. If the Night March player tried to attach Energy to the Bench, you could eliminate multiple Energies of theirs in a single turn between Enhanced Hammer, Xerosic, and a KO with Chaos Wheel. Even if you don’t choose to play Giratina, there are about to be a large number of decks using Double Dragon, Double Colorless, Strong Energy, and perhaps Rainbow post-rotation, so understanding this snapshot is important.
Before I go too far into another point, when I say Enhanced Hammer diminishes across a best-of-three, I say that in part because the surprise factor can be enormous. A seasoned player may predict you’ll use Enhanced Hammer and avoid benching extra Special Energies (like described above). However, Chaos Wheel incapacitates that strategy.
Mirror Mirror: Night March
Before circling back around to playing a Vespiquen deck, I wound up ruling out Night March by playing it against the above decks as well as a handful of near mirror matches.
Pokémon – 18
1 Mew FCO
Trainers – 38
Energy – 4
I really liked a lot of tricks the deck had, and how reliably I felt able to access them. There were however some concerns I was unwilling to deal with:
- Greninja would be able to easily prey on my DCEs, put damage on board, and have a defensive wall; beating them would mean jumping through lots of hoops or getting very lucky.
- Giratina using Chaos Wheel on the first turn seemed insurmountable, but not totally out of the question. If players were doing it reliably, especially with a Fighting Fury Belt, even with a game plan or extra tech cards, it was tough to imagine beating it.
- Playing a ton of Night March mirrors didn’t seem appealing. Sure, someone will come out on top, but I preferred to take a different path that would have less hate in the metagame.
The Final Choice: Vespiquen/Zoroark
Without further ado, here is a Vespiquen list that probably looks familiar:
Pokémon – 28
Trainers – 25
Energy – 7
I realized something really important across my practice games with Vespiquen/Zoroark: many of my games at State Championships against Night March were lost because I was unable to have the cards that would allow me to play an optimal game in the matchup. Unlocking this realization was absolutely critical to positive feelings about my deck choice in the metagame I expected for US Nationals.
Most of what I have to say about the deck that I haven’t said yet is best woven into what I have to say about my rounds. I won a Regionals last October so I got two free wins to begin the event with.
R3: Calvin Nordberg w/ Vespiquen/Vileplume/Jolteon/Bunnelby (WW)
Calvin was my first real opponent of the event, and I knew I recognized his name. He humbly reminded me it was from his Top 4 finish at US Nationals in 2014. As it would happen, Calvin would get incredibly unlucky in both of our games. The result in one case was that he didn’t have the ability to get out a Vileplume, and in our second game he didn’t have KO power after getting his Vileplume going. When the cards didn’t come through for Calvin, he did the most important thing: be a good sport.
Sidenote: I felt that Pablo’s Greninja list would’ve lost against Calvin’s deck in most situations based on my own testing of Vespiplume, and I immediately felt good about not selecting Greninja for this event. Losing here would’ve placed me on a different trajectory, one that would’ve required more wins after this result than I would end up earning.
R4: Eduardo Gonzalez w/ Mega Manectric/Raikou/Garbodor (WLT)
I knew from my experience at Regionals this past autumn that this matchup was positive for me. However, while Vespiquen no longer had access to Flareon for consistency, Mega Manectric now had single-Prize attackers in Raikous. This ended up dragging out the overall time of our series. I won the first game, but before I could win the second game, Eduardo made a comeback via N. As we began our third game, Eduardo seemed to be slightly behind, but time was called.
This game is probably the epitome of the problem with the current format combined with the current time limits. Both of our decks get KOs nearly every turn, but due to the length that turns take, even at a brisk pace, sometimes a full best-of-three can’t be completed. One of the important things in timed play is knowing when to concede. However, with a card like N, conceding to move on to Game 3 wasn’t rational for me to do until about 30 seconds before Game 2 ended (no matter who the winner would be). This might come up again, but I don’t plan to dive into the detail repeatedly.
R5: Matthew Brower w/ Night March (WLT)
Of my 28 Pokémon, 14 are Basic Pokémon that my opponent will only claim a single Prize for KOing. My plan against Night March was to fill up my Bench to prevent Target Whistle options and dump extra attackers or EXs (Zoroark, Zoroark BREAK, Shaymin-EX, Yveltal-EX). This game plan allowed me to claim Game 1, and put me into a position to lose Game 2 to N instead of Target Whistle + Lysandre. Game 3 did not complete.
R6: Taylor Duffin w/ Greninja (LWT)
This game was one of the backup games in the streaming area. I wasn’t able to find a link to it, but if that changes I’ll update here.
Short of getting lucky, I felt that my matchup against Greninja, especially with 2 Jirachi, was suspect. This series would turn out to be pretty unusual. In the first game, I wasn’t really able to hit the right beats. As I was cutting my opponent’s deck and searching his discard I noticed that some of his foil cards were exceptionally warped. Both of us would get a deck check as a result.
My opponent would receive a penalty for marked cards: Major. Based on the version of the penalty guidelines, at a Tier 2 event (like Nationals) the recommended starting penalty is a Game Loss. This doesn’t speak to my opponent’s intent: his Ns, his Ace Trainer, and his Level Ball were the foil cards most obviously warped. There was an opportunity for advantage there. The judges selected to de-escalate his penalty, making it a Multi-Prize card penalty (allowing me to draw up to three of my Prize cards). After Game 1 I knew my opponent’s deck contained 4 N, 4 VS Seeker, and an Ace Trainer. I decided to take the full 3 Prizes anyway because I knew that with 4 Vespiquen and 4 DCEs, in almost every game I can take 3 Prizes from Greninja to seal a win. During what felt like an average length game, I was able to do that and take the series to Game 3.
In Game 3, between AZ, retreating, Lysandre’ing, and promoting Yveltal-EX, I was able to make the game into a draw during the final turns. Ironically, my opponent’s de-escalated penalty turned our game from possibly a loss for me into a draw for the both of us. On the flip side, the judges might’ve chosen to have the opinion that the cards were marked as an intent to cheat and applied a disqualification. The moral of the story here is that at high-level events, you should take the condition of your physical cards very seriously. Avoid using warped cards whenever possible. If you only own severely warped copies of cards, ask the Head Judge if you can play with a judge-approved proxy to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
R7: Carrington Huffman w/ Max Elixir Giratina (WW)
I knew that I would need to win the remainder of my games to make the second day — ties were now the same as losses for me and my opponents. I felt good in my understanding of the matchup I was about to play against Carrington because I had so much practice against Sydney, and I very nearly played the deck myself.
On one hand, across our games it felt like Carrington was able to hit the right timing with Enhanced Hammer and Chaos Wheel. On the other hand, I was usually able to have basic D Energy at the right time with Carrington seeming to frequently dead-draw.
R8: Peter “Panajot” Kica w/ Night March (WW)
I know Peter because he’s local to me, and I suspected he’d be playing Night March. His friends have had a lot of success with the deck over the course of the season. They’ve played compelling tech cards and abandoned them once they were expected (like Red Card). I was hoping that my series against him would go as favorably as my series against Matthew did earlier, except that we could squeeze in a full three games (or if only two, that they’d be in my favor!).
One of the tricks I had hoped to take advantage of was using Sky Return with Fright Night to score a KO on a Joltik with Fighting Fury Belt. While this is a very specific snapshot, it allows me to do a lot:
- Use Shaymin-EX’s Set Up against Night March
- Get Shaymin-EX off my Bench
- Score a KO on Night March’s easiest-to-build attacker
- Allow a meaningless Pokémon to be KO’d
- Eventually get Shaymin-EX into the discard
Peter would play around this with the use of a well-timed Hex Maniac or two, but eventually the cards would fall in my favor and I took the series.
The games went quickly enough that I didn’t actually write down if it went 2-0 or 2-1 in my favor, but I think it was 2-0. Apologies to Peter if I am wrong.
R9: Elijah Covitz w/ Medicham (LWL)
I won an Expanded City Championships earlier in the season because I played a Tool Scrapper in the finals against Donphan. Against Elijah’s Medicham I had no such resource. I hadn’t played against Medicham since it was first printed, so this matchup was a big surprise to me. My hopeful plan was to try (at some point) and take advantage of Regirock-EX’s massive Retreat Cost, possibly in conjunction with Fright Night. I was never able to do that, in part because of Elijah’s use of Escape Rope (and the way in which he mercilessly beat down my Pokémon). His deck had many Focus Sashes in it, as well as AZ, making it nearly impossible for me get the momentum in place I would need.
I was however, somehow able to win the second game in our series to give myself a glimmer of hope. I did it by using Yveltal-EX to score KOs on Meditites and Medichams as Elijah tried to set up. He wasn’t drawing well, and in nearly any other situation the same would’ve been said of me. Probably not a surprise to veteran players, Yveltal-EX, Energies, and Lysandres are very strong against dead-draws.
5-1-3, Top 128
I’ve earned my invite this year, and I plan to play a lot of games in the format with Steam Siege. I’m trying to answer two questions for myself by playing lots of games:
(Let me know what you’re trying to discover about Steam Siege in the comments.)
Overall, I had a great time with my friends at US Nationals. I sifted through a bunch of decks leading up to US Nationals that felt like they would’ve given me a worse result. On one hand, I was hoping for a finish better than T128, on the other hand, I recognize that three match points translates to a huge dropoff in the rankings at an enormous event like this. Even if I didn’t have the deck that would win the event, it felt good to know I had some of the same concepts.
US Nationals was a huge reassurance to me that the methods I’ve been using (and discussing in my earlier SixPrizes articles) work. It probably delivered a better result than just copying a deck from the internet and playing it flawlessly.
…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.
After 45 days, we unlock each Underground (UG/★) article for public viewing. New articles are reserved for Underground members.
Underground Members: Thank you for making this article possible!
Other Readers: Check out the FAQ if you are interested in joining Underground and gaining full access to our latest content.