Thunder Struck

Top 8 Phoenix Regionals 2016 Tournament Report with Raikou/Eels

Hey everyone! My name is Michael Slutsky, and I am a player from Minnesota. You may know me from playing in the Midwest, or perhaps from my … colorful online personality. Regardless, I’m here because I recently did pretty well at the Phoenix Regional Championships with a semi-unique Eels deck, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on my tournament experience, as well as some thoughts on the deck and the meta overall. This report/article may be a bit long, but I know I enjoy reading long articles, so I hope you do too!

A Brief History on How the Deck Came to Be

eelektrik nvi 16-9
“Eels begin life as flat and transparent larvae, called leptocephali …”

Last season, I was very disinterested in the game, and it’s no surprise that this was in large part due to the existence of a single card: Battle Compressor. I learned this past weekend that I’ve apparently developed somewhat of a reputation for my intense hatred of that card, and I won’t get into it here; most of that is online if you were really curious. As a result, I never really cared about taking the game seriously until Nationals, when it was revealed cash prizes were available. I began testing Greninja heavily, made it to Day 2, and went on to help out Cody Walinski and Enrique Avila craft the list that Cody would take to the finals (more on Greninja later). When the major boost in cash prizes was revealed for this season, I was ready to get back at the grind. Knowing I’d have to hit up Regionals in each format, I sought a deck I thought I would enjoy for Phoenix, the first Regional on the docket.

When Raikou/Eels was revealed to the world with its surprise Top 8 placing during Winter Regionals of last year, I immediately gained a liking for it. The deck seemed simple and efficient, though at the time I didn’t give it too much thought because I didn’t care to play. When I began looking into Expanded as preparation for Phoenix, I realized Eels seemed incredibly well placed to counter what the meta had been through Spring Regionals. Yveltal/Archeops and Turbo Dark had just come off a series of high placements and wins, and seemed to be the clear-cut best archetype (with the former edging out the latter as BDIF, it seemed). It goes without saying what Raikou will do to Yveltal, and doing 110 for the full cost of the attack meant that you could comfortably trade with a Belted Darkrai. What’s more, Fighting Fury Belt perfectly replaced Assault Vest to give you guaranteed health boosts in any matchup, and combined with Rough Seas created a very bulky non-EX attacker. In some early games on PTCGO, however, I found that the matchup with Dark was very close, even though the theory should put it more heavily into Raikou’s corner. I wasn’t comfortable with that, and knew that since Dark was going to be the deck to beat, I had to find a solution.

Then it hit me: the original Eels list played two Battle Compressor (surprise!), to help smooth it over and provide good synergy with Eelektrik. “If I’m already running Battle Compressor,” I thought, “why not just add Gallade and turn Dark into an auto-win?” I switched a few cards around in the list to fit in a Maxie/Gallade engine, and tested the matchup once more. This time, I won against Turbo Dark quite handily, and Yveltal/Archeops became favorable as well. With the incredible value that a Belted Raikou can provide, combined with the swift punishment Gallade brings, I knew I’d found the deck. I went over the other matchups in my head: Trevenant and Toad decks were winnable if you could keep Seas around and/or not draw dead, Night March seemed decent because you could take chump Prizes on their Shaymin while denying them the chance to do so, Rayquaza folded due to Weakness, and decks like Groudon or Rainbow Road seemed unwinnable, though both seemed like fringe decks — not bad, just not played too much. I tested a lot of games with it, sharing it with some friends from around the country to get different perspectives, and settled on this list the morning of:

Pokémon – 15

4 Tynamo NVI 38

4 Eelektrik NVI
4 Raikou BKT
1 Mewtwo-EX LTR
1 Shaymin-EX ROS
1 Gallade BKT

Trainers – 33

4 Professor Sycamore
2 N
1 Colress
1 Hex Maniac
1 Lysandre
1 Xerosic
1 Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick


4 Ultra Ball

4 VS Seeker

3 Battle Compressor
3 Fighting Fury Belt
2 Float Stone
1 Level Ball
1 Super Rod

1 Computer Search


3 Rough Seas

Energy – 12

10 L
2 Double Colorless

What Didn’t Make the Cut


The original Eels list ran a Keldeo, and I originally had it as well, but I cut it pretty early on in my testing. At the time of the deck’s inception, Night March didn’t have Puzzle of Time yet, so gimmick plays like Target Whistle/Lysandre/Puzzles/repeat didn’t exist yet, meaning Pokémon-EX were “safer” on the Bench; nowadays, unless there’s a specific purpose to each EX, any floaters are just dead weight and can quickly cost you a matchup. Keeping the Keldeo down was a huge liability, especially if I found myself starting with something like Mewtwo, or needing to use Shaymin to stay alive. Also, the inclusion of Bench space was an issue: my ideal board was Gallade, three Eelektrik, a Raikou/Shaymin/Mewtwo, and then a Raikou Active. The floater spot varied between those three cards, but a Keldeo doesn’t fit into that dynamic, because it a) isn’t a useful attacker, and b) wouldn’t have provided me a boost in consistency at the time. Most crucial, and as I mentioned above: I never really cared to load up a huge Raikou, and seldom did so. You’re totally content winning games just doing 110 repeatedly that there’s no reason to build something big, and the inclusion of DCE meant I had the option to hard retreat an Eel if the situation called for it. All in all, it was a nice effect to have, but not at all necessary.


Jirachi generally should be an automatic inclusion in decks that run the Archie/Maxie’s engine, and I definitely went back and forth on it for a while. Ultimately, I decided that because I was running a very slim 1/1 Gallade/Maxie’s line, it wasn’t a crucial part of my strategy, and that if I whiffed getting it out, then it wasn’t the end of the world. Gallade wasn’t there to swing a bad matchup, it was there to turn a neutral/good matchup into a great one. I also didn’t like the idea of more Pokémon-EX for Night March to prey on. There were a few times throughout the weekend where I could have gotten out the Gallade had I run Jirachi, but those were outweighed by the games where I got it anyway, or would have been unable to regardless.


I was actually planning on picking this up from a vendor the morning of, and was pretty set on it until I had actually arrived at the tournament. The purpose for it was simple: Belt it, Lysandre up Shaymin, KO it and a Benched Joltik/Mew for 3 Prizes. Doing so would mean you’d only need to trade with one Marcher, and then kill a second Shaymin for game. In addition, it could be useful against Toad/Bats, Vespiquen/Flareon, and Sammybox. Some of the guys from Wisconsin had tested it and noted that the theory didn’t really work out in practice. In line, Enrique Avila was telling me that Life Dew was becoming standard in Night March, and seeing as I had no way to deal with that, I opted to run a Xerosic instead.


Jolteon-EX didn’t make the cut simply because I think Jolteon-EX is a bad card. I’ve never thought the card was good and especially not in a format where Ranger exists. Also, I’d rather actively try and win games than stall them out with Jolteon. Nothing complex — I just think the card is bad and didn’t want to play it.

The Tournament

kenshin gallade psycho cut 16-9 2Bulbapedia
MVP of the weekend — besides Pizza Hut.

With the swap of Magnezone-EX for Xerosic, I finished the decklist, submitted it, and we were ready to play! As it turns out, we were ready to wait. Phoenix Regionals was one of the worst run events I’ve ever been to. The rather archaic system of requiring players to physically print out their confirmation email (you can scan a barcode on a smartphone!), combined with the extortion racket that was the pay-to-print option meant that there were literally hundreds of players stuck in thick congestion for no real reason other than the organizer’s stubbornness. What’s more is that the $5 that players had to fork over to print their confirmation emails seems to have vanished: one would think that setting up a safety net function like that would be used to simply funnel more money into the prizes, but it seems to have gone toward recouping some profit for the TO. After at least an hour, it seemed everyone was ready to play, but then we waited another hour or so, at least, before the ROSTER was posted (online pairings were not yet online), for the players meeting.

Maybe I’m spoiled by the fact that I have the privilege of attending scores of tournaments run by Jimmy Ballard, who I firmly believe is the best TO in the world (people who are not from the area that play in Jimmy’s tournaments agree with me, as do all locals), but it seems like there is very consistently delays and issues quite frequently at Regionals across the country, except at a Ballard tournament. Online pairings are not a new phenomenon, and I know that their creator has since upgraded the system numerous times to make them even more efficient. Phoenix was no exception. I don’t claim to know what happened behind the scenes that caused the delay, but I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that this Regionals was much larger than previous ones in Arizona, which isn’t that surprising, given that it’s the first of many in the “eSports era.” Printed confirmation emails also go a long way in making sure there’s as much inefficiency as possible. The now frequently-meme’d lights out incident that occurred much later in the day is a direct consequence of the 2+ hour delay the tournament began with, and the lack of lunch break — while not a deal-breaker — was sort of a bummer, given that everyone knew the tournament would be running very late. The players meeting is also a dumb practice that should be abolished, or at least done with Round 1 pairings, so everyone isn’t required to find their seats, sit, wait, then get up, find their new seats, sit, wait, and finally play. A lot of people have talked at length about it, so that’s all I’ll say, but it was a rather inglorious start to the season and doesn’t set a good example to players coming from other games.

Whatever. Round 1 pairings had finally gone up, and we were getting started. I was a bit nervous, but I was confident in my deck. I’d like to apologize in advance for any inaccuracies in my report. We arrived at the venue at about 7:30am, and didn’t leave until 12:45am, only for me to return the next day on about three hours of sleep and play a bunch more Pokémon. I tried to take notes, but again, sorry!

Round 1: Matt Rollins, Speed Lucio (Lugia) (WW. 1-0.)

He won the coin flip, and flips over Hoopa. I assume it’s Mega Ray, which is nice. He plays an Ultra Ball, discarding VS Seeker and … Plasma Energy?! He uses it to grab Hoopa, taking Lugia, Shaymin, Shaymin. I realize he’s playing Speed Lugia, and I started lone Mewtwo, with a dead hand. He plays Sky Field, filling the Bench with quite a few Pokémon that aren’t Deoxys, so I know he can’t 1-shot my Mewtwo. I replace the Sky Field with Seas, drop a Raikou, attach/pass. He swings into Mewtwo for 120, and I attach/pass again. He takes the Mewtwo, and I respond with a Raikou KO. At this point, it occurs to me that he doesn’t have any sort of damage boosting potential, either through a Tool or Deoxys. A Target Whistle and attempted Catcher the next turn confirm my suspicion that his strategy is to kill a Shaymin on the first turn, then win the game on the second turn. He reveals a sweet combo to me by using Special Charge to put back two Plasma Energy, then using Puzzles to grab double Colress Machine, charging up the Lugia immediately. This is noteworthy because one of Plasma’s biggest struggles back in the day was how to get Plasma Energy back to reuse. It was almost impossible to reuse a Plasma Energy through the effect of a Colress Machine, but the Expanded card pool actually allows for an efficient way to do so. I drop a Hex on the turn he’s about to KO my Mewtwo again, denying him his 6th Prize, and the next turn I respond with an N to 1 and a KO. I think he scoops shortly after.

Game 2 is more or less the same, with my setup being a little bit better (I had won the first game exclusively through two Raikou and a Mewtwo), and I get some Eels down. In hindsight, it may not have been that smart to do so because he’s able to prey on them, but I know that they’d allow me to get Raikou swinging much faster, so I do it anyway. I hit him with some low Ns and eventually he’s unable to hit a specific combo of cards (I don’t remember exactly what it was), and I reveal Lysandre next turn for game. The deck itself was a really neat idea, it just so happens that Raikou with a Lightning is pretty much its antithesis.

Round 2: Ernesto Ledesman, Turbo Dark (WW. 2-0.)

He flips over Darkrai-EX BKP, and I know immediately that I’ve won the round. Game 1 goes as you’d expect: I go first, get Gallade immediately, get some Eels down, and I just clean sweep my way through. Game 2 is effectively the same thing, though I 6-0 him this time. There really isn’t much to say about this matchup — it’s that favorable. If you don’t completely brick or whiff something major, you should win 100% of the time.

Round 3: Luke Gjerde, Night March (LL. 2-1.)

My confidence with regard to the Night March matchup had dropped pretty steadily over the course of the day leading up to this point, as the Wisconsin crew of guys (who’d all decided to play Greninja, to my dismay) told me that it was very difficult for Eels to win. Game 1, I don’t actually remember how the first few turns went, other than the usual back-and-forths. He KO’d a Shaymin, and I was having no trouble constantly filling my Bench to avoid the usual Whistle gimmicks. A crucial turn occurred where my hand was four cards: VS Seeker, Lysandre, Ultra Ball, another card. He had just used Teammates the turn before, and I had a feeling he had the combo, so I had to discard the Lysandre to get another Pokémon, using that VS Seeker, which was my third, to N him low. I had one VS Seeker left at this point, with a charged Gallade, to KO one of his Shaymin for game, but I was unable to hit it, and he hit the last DCE he needed for game.

Game 2 I prized: Shaymin, Mewtwo, Gallade, Hex. In Game 1, he had revealed that he also ran the Maxie engine, running a 1/1/1 Archeops/Gallade/Maxie, stating he was worried about the Sammybox matchup. As it turns out, prizing those exact cards against a Night March that gets Archeops out before you draw a card can be pretty bad, and I lost pretty convincingly, as I periodically discovered the next card in a long line of cards I prized. It left a fairly sour taste in my mouth at the time, but you gotta get over it quickly.

Side note: One thing that’s always defeated me as a player is losing like that, about the exact time I did. Generally speaking, it’s pretty easy to go 2-0; often, you can find yourself going up against weak opponents, or preying on some good matchups or something like that, which can create this false sense of security, where you play as if you’re a much higher undefeated record. The loss comes, shattering the illusion, and then the doubt starts to creep in. You lose that one, and then you can get tilted as a result, which can start a dangerous snowball. It sounds really cliché, but actually telling yourself that you’re still in the tournament and it doesn’t matter can actually go a long way to making you believe it. I tried to psych myself up after this round, and it ended up working out. Gotta be confident in yourself as a player!

Round 4: Matt Townend, Plumebox (WW. 3-1.)

Game 1, he flips over a Jolteon to my Raikou. I believe I went first, but was unable to get out the Gallade. This matchup is fairly lopsided if I go first and do in fact get Gallade, but without it, I was a little worried. He’s drawing a fair amount of cards in his first few turns while I get an okay setup, but the cards he’s getting are coming in the wrong order, and he’s got to discard some valuable resources along the way. He reveals that he prized 2/3 Plume, which makes targeting down the remaining one a priority. In one of his earlier Juniper, he’s forced to discard 2/1 Rainbow/Prism (I don’t remember if it’s the other way around), which means he starts to struggle with getting Energy onto Jolteon to attack, while simultaneously paying to retreat/cycle between big guys. The game concludes rather ingloriously with my big Mewtwo on his smaller Mewtwo. Funnily enough, this matchup played out almost identically to how it would have in 2012, in an Eels v. Mismagius/Plume game.

Game 2 he opts to go first, and my hand is absolutely incredible; of course, he gets T1 Plume and then Ns it away, so so much for turn 1 Gallade. In this match, I opt to go the more conservative route. I know I don’t need to win as much as I need to stop him from doing so. I KO a Shaymin early, and force a Darkrai at some point. He takes a KO with it, but I respond with an X Ball. If I remember correctly, he hits me for 100, I retaliate for KO, then Jolteon cleans up Mewtwo. At this point, my board is two Eelektrik, two Raikou, and a Rough Seas. I tag between the two of them indefinitely, until he effectively decks out, or I hit the last Lysandre I have for game, whichever came first (he was about 5 cards fewer than me in deck, so either win condition was going to happen).

This match actually validated my thoughts on Jolteon for me, as well. He played it well given the cards he had (moreso Game 1), and used Flash Ray about 20 times, but I still won. This could be chalked up to Raikou/Seas tag being just an extremely potent counter to Jolteon (which is true), but also the fact that Jolteon is just too defensive, to the point where you just let your opponent’s back into the game unintentionally. He’s also the first/only player I’ve ever met/heard of from Idaho, and was a super cool guy, which are both positives.

Round 5: Jimmy Ngac, Turbo Dark (WW. 4-1.)

Yes, another one. Game 1 he scoops on like the third turn after I have a fully set-up board with Gallade and he hadn’t even played a Supporter. Game 2 he gets a little more going, but it’s still so wildly unfavorable for him that I think I 6-0 him. Not very memorable, but we take those.

Round 6: Dennis Jasper Moore, Yveltal/Archeops (WW. 5-1.)

He wins the flip, flips over an FA Darkrai DEX, which is an immediate pick-me-up. I ask if his deck is all max rarity, to which he responds my playing a gold Ultra Ball. Even though he runs Archeops, he’s unable to get it Game 1; at one point, his board is a powered Fright Night, that powered Darkrai, a Keldeo, two Shaymin, and a Jirachi. As a result, I get out Gallade and pretty easily run him over.

Game 2 is more or less the same. He opts to go for big Yveltal this game, to try and get on top of my Raikou. This works in the early stages because I can’t seem to evolve my Tynamo and start charging more Raikou, but he also doesn’t get Archeops. On the first turn of this game, it seems like he played all the cards necessary to get the turn 1 Archeops, though he Junipers that turn (he played a Comp, a Compressor, some Energy, etc). I can’t say for certain whether he could have pulled off the combo because I only noticed all the cards played retroactively, but it’s something an Archeops player must prioritize in a matchup like this. Regardless, without Archeops, this is just a worse Turbo Dark, and the result is even more definitive, as I get a clean sweep on him.

Round 7: Nathian Beck, Groudon (WLW. 6-1.)

Before I get into the match, I wanna say that this set, specifically Game 3, was easily my favorite/best match of the entire tournament. There are moments you have in tournaments where you go up against a horrendous matchup, or somehow play yourself out of a seemingly insurmountable hole, and either case generally requires you to play near or exactly perfectly. This comes off as cocky, I know, but I also know that almost everyone has found themselves in such a situation. Coming through with the victory is such an exhilarating feeling, not only because you got the win, but also because it’s extremely validating to you as a player. The worst part about them is that unless it’s a streamed/recorded game, there’s really no way to recount exactly how it went down and why it’s instantly sentimental to you. This was one of those moments for me, and I’ll remember it for the rest of my playing career. I really don’t think I can do it justice, but I’ll try.

When the pairings go up, I see it’s Nathian Beck. The name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t figure out who it was. I ask some friends if they know him, and they confirm he’s a very good player (an accurate assessment!), and that they think he’s playing Dark. Awesome, I think. We sit down, he wins the flip. I turn over Mewtwo, he turns over … Wobb. I realize it isn’t Dark, but I can’t think of what it would be — my first thought is Vespiquen. Anyway, I think he just passes. On my turn, I attach a Lightning to Mewtwo, bench Raikou, pass. On his turn, he drops Mime, uses Escape Rope, uses Cassius on Mime, drops Beach, draws 3. I attach to Mewtwo, N him. “Thank god,” he laughs, because I guess his hand was still pretty bad after the Beach. He gets a Groudon on the next turn, and my heart sinks. Groudon is next to impossible for Eels to beat, in my experience. Not only is the bulkiness of Raikou entirely irrelevant, but the multitude of healing cards to negate efficient 2HKOs, combined with Wobb to stall my setup … man, it’s bad. Luckily for me, he’s drawing cards, but like Plumebox had in our first game, they’re definitely in the wrong order. He eventually brings up Groudon and sends Mewtwo back to the Stone Age. I hit him for 110, and on that same turn, I get out Gallade, which is a huge surprise for him. I believe he uses Center Lady, but I hit him for 130 with Gallade. He realizes his Groudon won’t be safe and given his extremely poor hand, he scoops. I kinda exhale audibly here, in what I realize now is a show of poor sportsmanship. I’m normally a little more composed, I think, but the excitement of stealing a game on one of my worst matchups has me very excited, because now I can tie it. On to Game 2.

He elects to start, flips over Wobb again. I think I actually start Mewtwo again. This game is rather uninteresting, with us just doing our normal set-up strategies. At one point, I hit his Groudon for some moderate amount of damage, and he plays Korrina, grabbing a Gold Potion. This is a huge surprise for me, for a number of reasons:

  • I forgot the card existed, and actually had to read it again, because I thought it healed 60, but it in fact heals 90.
  • To my knowledge, Groudon only runs Comp Search or Scramble Switch. What’s notable about Nathian’s Groudon is that it runs Hard Charm over Focus Sash, which meant that Gold Potion worked much better in that build, especially with Puzzles.

So after he used the Gold Potion, and then later Puzzle’d for it again, the game was effectively over. I tried to drag out what I could, to get me closer to a hopeful tie, but it he had an absolutely commanding board state that was insurmountable. I elect to go first for Game 3.

I start Mewtwo again, he starts double Groudon. I made sure to try and attack with Mewtwo every game, because the only way I had a shot to win is to N him low and hope he whiffs some healing stuff, and Mewtwo is great for picking off Wobbs. I have a poor hand, and can’t really do anything until he drops a Beach. I start to use it myself, before finally hitting a Wobb for 100 with Mewtwo. His Groudon is also a turn from getting KO’d. On the next turn, I KO the Wobb with a Thunder Wave Tynamo, drawing first blood. He responds by pulling up Mewtwo and blowing it up. I respond with a Raikou for 120, which is dropped down to 30 the next turn following a Gold Potion. I’m constantly hitting him with N as I’m trying to take down this Groudon, and eventually he is forced to hard retreat into the other Groudon, and he begins to use Rip Claw. I hit the Groudon with Raikou, and he responds with a KO. I use Super Rod to put back in a Mewtwo and two other cards. I get out Gallade at some point in the midgame as well, which would prove to be invaluable at the end. This sort of back-and-forth goes on for a while, with me building up a large Mewtwo on the Bench. He has one more Tropical Beach left, as the other three were discarded.

The game enters its climax as I N him down to two and myself to five, and then KO the non-Primal’d Groudon. His field is Wobb and the Primal, and he promotes Wobb. My field is three Eelektrik, two of which had Float Stones and one which had an Energy, a huge Mewtwo (I think it had like five Energy on it at the time, and a Fury Belt), Gallade, and a Raikou. There’s no Beach in play and I know he hasn’t used any Puzzles yet. He plays another Wobb, drops us with N, attaches, passes. I manage to hit a Xerosic, which I use to target the Strong on the Primal (for no effect, but to activate Gallade’s attack requirement) then KO the Wobb. He pushes up the second Wobb, draws, passes. I believe the Groudon still has 30 on it at this point, and I manage to get a Hex off the N, which I use as another dud Supporter to activate Gallade, killing the Wobb and putting the game at 1-2 Prizes in my favor. He pulls up the Eel with the single Energy attach to stall, but I have a single Energy left, attaching it to hard retreat, then double Dynamotor onto that same Eel to negate any further stalling plays. I calculate the math with my Mewtwo, which has six Energy and a Belt attached: in total, I’m 10 short of killing the Groudon, because of the Charm. I VS Seeker for Hex and hit him with Gallade. On the final turn of the game, he uses Sycamore and digs for Puzzles, needing to hit all four of them to use double Gold Potion. He fails to do so, and concedes.

Wow! I shake his hand numerous times, having just played one of the most exciting series in my entire career. He was a pleasure to play against and the match was a thriller. This is the match where I realized that Gallade was the MVP of my weekend, and I would not have won this match without him. I’ve said it before but it really is impossible for me to recreate the match through a simple report. My heart was pounding after this and I had to go out into the hall to try and collect myself (and charge my phone). Great games, Nathian!

Round 8: Joel Montemayor, Night March (WL. 6-1-1.)

Game 1 I believe I win the flip, and he’s got a very poor start, barely topping out of losing but still drawing into mostly garbage. I get out Gallade here and I’m already up 3 Prizes before he just scoops, going to Game 2.

Game 2 is virtually the opposite, and I get bodied pretty quickly, opting to scoop before outright losing to go to Game 3. I was a little discouraged at this point. I felt that I stole a Game 1 off him, and that if the two decks were running optimally, he should win. I wasn’t worried about going to time before both decks are pretty fast (even though it takes a while to sit through the first turn against Night March!), just that I’d probably lose in some really unfortunate way.

Game 3 starts, and we’re both actually drawing pretty optimally. Like my Round 3 opponent, he’s running Life Dew, and it’s become a pain. I’m finally all set up and ready to go, having taken a Prize, when … the lights turn off in the venue! Yep, they just … shut off. Someone on the microphone orders everyone’s hands up, which spawned some pretty good memes. As we’re sitting there, we discuss the merits of ID’ing with one another, and I opt to do so. We’d both be 7-1-1, with solid breakers in each other and the option to either ID or even lose the next one, with a good chance of making it. We decide to play it out, and it turns out that I beat him! I KO whatever he had Active, then KO back-to-back Shaymin for game. Oh well, it happens.

Round 9: Will Herbmann, Trev (ID. 6-1-2.)

Before the round starts, I debate whether or not it’s worth playing. I’ve never entered a Day 2 of a tournament before with 7 wins, and I feel like the matchup is decent enough for me, if I can draw alright. The problem is is that it’s already extremely late (close to 11:30pm, I think, but I can’t confirm the exact time) because the tournament has been running so poorly. Exhausted and quite hungry, I decide to ID with him. As we’ll find out later, choosing to ID was the best decision I could have made.

I finish Day 1 at 6-1-2, 19th seed. The plan was to Uber over to In-N-Out, which was open until 1:30am, but it was already like 12:45am and we were far too tired and hungry to make it. We call the Uber and the driver is nice enough to wait in the parking lot of a Pizza Hut for like 15 minutes while I wait inside for our carryout order. We get to the hotel, I wolf down pizza, then go to bed, knowing that I have the privilege of waking up in like five hours to go back and play more Pokémon. The temperature in the room seemed to cycle between too hot and too cold quite frequently, which made it very difficult to actually fall asleep. In total, I probably got about three hours of sleep. We make it back to the venue by 8am, and I believe there’s another delay, even though there’s less than 50 total competitors left in the tournament, across all three divisions — don’t quote me on this part, I just remember making some jokes about it, so it must be true. Pairings go up, and it’s time to play. I’ve never fought my way through a Day 2 into a Top 8 before (only making it when it was a natural top 8, or going through the old bracket system), and I was pretty nervous. When you’ve never done it, it seems quite daunting.

Round 10: Chris Collins, Toad/Manectric/Jolteon/Bats (WW. 7-1-2.)

Game 1 I win the flip, get Gallade out after he drops a Manectric, and am hitting his Toad for 80. He’s doing virtually nothing (I can’t even remember if he played a Supporter), basically just picking up Pokémon and dropping them back down in an attempt to buy time. He scoops relatively quickly.

Game 2 he starts Jolteon, which I hadn’t seen Game 1. He’s drawing a bit better this game, and gets a Flash Ray going pretty quick, but I am unable to find Gallade. He’s constantly using N to try and slow me down, but the match is fairly simple. I kill a Shaymin, two Zubat, and a Jirachi to close out the game, tagging between Raikou with Rough Seas to basically negate anything Jolteon does. This game further cements my belief that Jolteon just isn’t that good. The matchup is pretty favorable to begin with, especially if they aren’t using Toad to lock me.

Round 11: Ryan Grant, Accelgor/Wobb/Musharna (W. 8-1-2.)

Ryan’s a good friend of mine, and we’re both from basically the same area. We’ve played at a lot of tournaments before, and I seem to be a kryptonite of his; even though he often does much better than me over the course of seasons and big tournaments, I always seem to have the edge on him, either through matchups, luck, or just how the games play out. Despite this, I never consider it to be an easy match, because he’s a great player. I know he’s playing Accelgor/Wobb because we had briefly talked about it the day before, and I know that he runs three Virbank and a lone copy of Forest of Giant Plants. If I can get him to play down the first Stadium and have the misfortune of discarding a Stadium without using it, I should have a huge advantage here, because the combination of Seas/Shining Body goes a long way in buffing Accelgor, and also makes it difficult to manipulate the math on me. In addition, I feel like Accelgor/Wobb is a kind of deck that is fairly polarizing: you should beat bad/mediocre players almost always, but get beat by good players who understand how to play the matchup. The deck ensures that only one game will be played, so if you manage resources right and play it well, you’ve got a good chance of coming out on top.

Game 1 begins, with me going first. I start Mewtwo, he starts Wobb. I don’t start formulating a strategy on how to beat him just yet, with my main focus on just being able to establish Rough Seas on board. In the first act, I take control of the board, picking off a Wobb or two (or a Wobb and something else, probably Shelmet). He’s forced to discard both Munna in the early game so he can’t get Musharna’s draw online, and is also hitting cards in the wrong order off his Supporters, so he’s using Deck and Cover about every other turn, on average. No Stadiums have been played by this point, but on one of his earlier Junipers, he has to discard a Virbank, which immediately changes the game — it is very likely he’ll need to start the Stadium war at some point to try and accelerate the damage he can do, which means I can win it with my own Seas. He uses a Super Rod, gets a Munna down, and we’re starting to move into the second act. I had used Xerosic to great effect early game, using it to chip off one of his two Mystery Energy (I think he only played two, that’s all I saw), and a Float Stone, which are crucial to what happens later.

When Musharna hits the board is when he takes control, now having the consistency boost needed to repeatedly Deck and Cover. The only thing preventing him from totally overrunning me is the fact that my Seas are seriously stalling his damage output, so actually taking Prizes takes a while. He uses a Mew-EX to hit my Mewtwo for 110, and then Sky Returns it to put me at 160, so I’d die coming into his turn. I attach a Fury Belt to upset that math, but on his turn he responds with a Scrapper for KO; I put up a Tynamo to guarantee a lock break, and take a KO on a Wobb the next turn. One thing I’d learned from Goth mirrors long ago was that you were supposed to strategically evolve your Pokémon, if at all. Doing so would present targets that would immediately die to the Deck and Cover, which is a soft way to break the lock. Against Accelgor/Wobb, games come down mostly to a damage manipulation “dance” between both players, where the Accelgor player is trying to position out to favorably control the knockouts, and the opposing player is trying to disrupt the math and break the lock. This was much more difficult back when these kinds of decks played Dusknoir, but the game’s speed pushing Dusknoir out of the game has made a host of other matchups into more competitive games.

Anyway, the specifics of the game escape me at this point. He doesn’t whiff and Deck and Cover for like, 10 turns in a row, and we’re gradually replacing Stadiums with one another. I would say the third act begins when I Xerosic off his last Mystery Energy, and he’s forced to attach his 4th Float Stone to a Wobb. The following turn, I Lysandre up a Musharna, to prepare to break the lock the next turn. He drops a Munna down and attempts to Sleep me to buy time, but fails the Sleep attempt. I debate whether killing the Musharna is actually the correct play for a little while, and ultimately decide to do so, hitting it for 100 with a Raikou. Throughout the game, I’ve been making sure to use my VS Seekers as sparingly as possible, because one is prized. I’ve got a 50/50 shot at taking it off the Prizes, and I pull a Sycamore, which wasn’t too bad, because I would end up winning the game with it regardless. My field consisted of a Tynamo with a Float Stone, another Raikou, and maybe a Shaymin. I have a Super Rod in hand, as well as a DCE; my original plan was to put back a Mewtwo and attach the DCE to it, but I didn’t have the cards in the right order and was beginning to figure out the proper way to do that when I noticed he put up an Accelgor following a Deck and Cover knockout, killing my Active Raikou and putting us both at 1-1 Prizes.

When I see him put up the Accelgor, I realize I have game, but I quadruple check my discard to make sure, counting the VS Seekers there (three of them), and the Fury Belt there (two of them). I am 100% sure that VS Seeker is my last Prize, which means my last Belt is in deck. I send up Tynamo, evolve to my last Eelektrik, Dynamotor to my last Raikou, attach my last DCE, play Sycamore to draw the remaining three cards in my deck, attach my last Fury Belt, and Knock Out his Accelgor with Thunder Lance for game. He realized as soon as I evolved to Eelektrik the huge mistake he had made, of putting up the Accelgor instead of the Wobb, and we shake hands before packing up and shuffling for Game 2. Midway through shuffling for Game 2, he stops. “Thunder Lance does 80 damage, and Accelgor has 90 HP.” I stop as well, and we both realize what happened. In my excitement to get what I thought was the win, I assumed that Accelgor only had 80 HP; in his disappointment at his misplay of Pokémon promotion, he forgot Accelgor had 90 HP. We call a judge over, and after a moment, the judge confirms that the current game state stands, because it is impossible to rewind to that point and the outcome is an assumed one, as both players agreed to it. I can’t say I agree with it without sounding biased, which is true, but you literally can’t rewind a game state to a previous game when all the cards have been packed. I feel really bad, because Ryan is a friend and I’m only getting the win on a technicality for a mistake on both our parts, but that’s Pokémon sometimes. He’s understandably upset at this point and realizes the game is over, but he declares to go first and we begin Game 2.

Game 2 begins with him rushing as fast as he can to set up Deck and Cover to take Prizes and try and win. He’s forgoing a more definitive setup (with Musharna) to try and get as many Prizes as possible. Unfortunately, Game 1 took so much time that there’s no way Game 2 will finish, and I make sure to simply play as many bulky Pokémon as I can to run out the short clock. Time is called when he’s taken a single Prize, and that’s the game. One of the benefits to Accelgor/Wobb is that it grants the user the option to turn the match into a single game, because a full game generally takes ~30 minutes to complete. Winning that lone game all but guarantees the match in your favor, but the opposite is also true, which is what occurred in our case. I knew that going into the match, and was fortunate enough to not have to discard crucial resources (Stadiums and VS Seekers) unintentionally.

At this point, I took a glance around the top tables, and was a little nervous. All that remained were basically bad to awful matchups: Night March and Rainbow Road seemed bad, while Greninja and Groudon each required a miracle, and I had already used my 1-of miracle that tournament to beat Nathian Day 1. I think there was maybe a single Dark left, and few Item lock decks — the meta was unfortunately quite diverse (I’ll touch more on this at the end)! The pairings went up and I was paired with Kian Amini, who I’d never met but definitely knew was an extremely strong player.

Round 12: Kian Amini, Night March (WW. 9-1-2.)

I was 0-1-1 against Night March for the weekend, but I knew I was basically a win away from making cut, if I could win this match. Having unofficially won the set against Joel the day before, I was actually feeling a little more confident. I can’t remember who won the flip, but I do know that in the early parts of the game, Kian was either passing his turn or drawing into some pretty awful hands with his Shaymin and Sycamore. I start to get a jump on Prizes, and a crucial turn exists where he sends up Mew and copies his Pumpkaboo for a KO, but I point out that Rough Seas is in play (so he couldn’t use the attack), so he effectively passes his turn. Kian also runs Computer Search, which was different from the previous two March I played, and a pleasant relief. A funny instance happened in this game where I took Maxie off my first Prize, with my hand being Maxie + four Items. On the next turn, he uses Ghetsis, and puts my hand down to just lone Maxie, and quickly realizes I have Gallade in the discard. In a panic, he puts down Parallel with the blue side toward me, locking my Bench and hoping I couldn’t draw a Rough Seas. I topped a Raikou, and a Sycamore the turn after, but it was something we joked about. Regardless, he scoops after I’d taken a 3-6 lead on him, to conserve time for Game 2.

Game 2 he plays a might tighter game, and it’s much more difficult to get going. In Game 1, I had prized the Maxie, and in Game 2, I find my Gallade is prized. Many talk about how Night March can get dicey because they repeatedly Hex + KO you, preventing a retaliation, which is what occurred in this game. He used Hex probably … three times that match, pairing it with a KO twice, if I remember correctly. On the first turn, he Junipers away one Puzzle, and a turn or two later is forced to use double Puzzles for I believe an Ultra Ball and Battle Compressor, which meant he would only have access to the Target Whistle gimmick once. He pulls my Mewtwo out of my discard and Knocks it Out. This match is where the bulkiness of Raikou really shined, and he was discarding Marchers pretty frequently to build to the point of consistently Knocking them Out. He Knocks Out either a Mewtwo or a Raikou (I don’t remember which) to get down to 2 Prizes left, and I still had a few more to take, but I count that the Joltik and Pumkaboo on his field were the last, and that he was out of Puzzle. I have a Shaymin sitting on the bench, with a Mewtwo in discard. I use Super Rod to put the Mewtwo back into the deck, Dynamotor to the Shaymin, play the rest of my hand down and Maxie out the Gallade, then use Sky Return to KO the Joltik. He promotes Pumkaboo and comments that if I’ve got the ability to KO Pumkaboo that’s GG, while taking his 5th Prize. I reveal the DCE in my hand, and he scoops.

I breathe a huge sigh of relief. As I had said earlier, this would mark the first time I’ve ever made it to the second day of play and fought into Top 8. It was a really validating moment for me as a player, and I really felt like I had a shot to win the entire tournament.

Round 13: Drew Kennett, Greninja (ID. 9-1-3.)
Round 14: Stefan Tabaco, Groudon (ID. 9-1-4.)

I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I could simply ID my last two rounds, and happily did so. The last round finally completed, and with that, I made it into Top 8! This was the shakedown before matches began (thanks to The Charizard Lounge for quickly compiling all that info):

  1. Travis Nunlist (10-2-2) … Greninja BREAK/Talonflame STS
  2. Eric Gansman (10-2-2) … Seismitoad-EX/Crobat PHF
  3. William Herrmann (10-2-2) … Trevenant BREAK
  4. Drew Kennett (9-1-4) … Greninja BREAK/Talonflame STS
  5. Stefan Tabaco (9-1-4) … Primal Groudon-EX
  6. Michael Slutsky (9-1-4) … Raikou BKT/Eelektrik NVI/Gallade BKT
  7. Caleb Gedemer (9-1-4) … Greninja BREAK/Talonflame STS
  8. TJ Traquair (9-2-2) … Sableye DEX/Garbodor/Latias-EX

I would be going up against my friend Will Herbmann in Top 8. Numerous times throughout both days, we had discussed both of our decks, as well as matchups we’d faced. I knew he was running a lot of Energy hate, Bursting Balloons, as well as four Dimension Valley and a Delinquent. Truly, this would be an uphill battle, but I felt that if I could at least draw decently and/or get out Gallade in what would realistically be my only turn of Items, I had a shot. In retrospect, there are some things I could have done a little differently, but I’ll discuss why I made the choices I did after the fact.

Top 8: Will Herbmann, Trev (LL. 6th Place.)

Boy, it could not have gone worse! I’m pretty sure the entire set was over in 10 minutes. Game 1, he elects to go first, and flips over Wobb. On the first turn, I think he Ultra Balls for Phantump, naturally has Wally, attaches Float Stone to Wobb and retreats into Trev. On the next turn, he either uses Comp Search or discards it with Juniper, and comments how he also had Comp Search in his opening hand, just in case. I turn to look at the judge with a “can you believe this guy” look on my face, and the judge can’t help but acknowledge how good of a first turn Will had. There’s not really much to say here about this match. I may have powered up a Raikou or something, and even had Rough Seas down for maybe a turn, but it’s entirely irrelevant. Pretty sure I scooped early on after he’d already used Silent Fear a few times, because it was unwinnable.

Game 2 I go first, and in my opening hand see that I’m an Ultra Ball or Comp Search away from getting the turn 1 Gallade. He mulligans a few times, and I opt to take them, beginning my turn with three VS Seeker in my opening hand instead of just one. I play Compressor and discover the Gallade is prized, so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I N him, grab N with a VS Seeker, have maybe a Raikou and a Tynamo down, and pass. He gets the turn 1 Trev again (nothing like Item lock Rush to make for some interactive games!), and begins the agonizing process of wiping away my board. Again, I wish I could weave an exciting tale of an improbable comeback, but … I just kinda lost. In four or five turns, I think it was over.

. . .

With that, the dream was dead, and I had lost. Will went on to take 2nd, falling to Greninja in the finals. The matchup between Eels and Trev is much closer than you’d think, and I actually believe Will had the advantage with his list (effectively five Stadiums with the Delinquent to my three). After the match was over, I had wondered if dropping the Tynamo that I did was the right play, and given the makeup of my list (as well as being unable to get out Gallade both games), I think it was. Because I had fewer Stadiums, I was only going to get heals sparingly. Under ideal circumstances, I’d still be able to set up some kind of board, and I figured that it would be more important to just attack as much and as fast as I could in hopes of putting up some fight, using Seas to buy myself a bit of time, as opposed to their more punishing ability to negate entire turns of Trev attacks. While this made for easy pickings, In addition, I know Will’s high amount of Energy-disruption Supporters would make manually powering up a single Raikou a chore, so I thought Eelektrik could help negate that. Gallade also would have helped tremendously, had I been able to get it out. The ability to control my topdecks and make sure I don’t dead-draw is great, but also the fact that Gallade can actually KO one, or optimally two Trev before they start attacking is invaluable. Unfortunately, all of this is pure theory and it didn’t work out like this in practice. The choice to run only three Stadiums in my list made this an extremely difficult matchup to begin with, only compounded by poor draws on my part.

The choice to only run three Rough Seas was based off the logic that I thought this Expanded tournament would follow the same trend as the past year of Expanded: extremely degenerate decks, all centering around Battle Compressor. I’ve long held the belief that Expanded was merely a format of different colored Compressor decks alternating in power (Blue, Purple/Yellow, Black, Green/Red, etc), and I constructed my Eels deck with the intention of facing the rigidly defined Expanded meta. As it turns out … the meta was surprisingly quite diverse! If I had to pick, I’d say that the introduction of Sammybox into the format is a big cause of this: the return of Vileplume as an additional and powerful Item lock deck must have scared some people off of decks like Yveltal and Night March. Some of the best players with Dark continued to play Dark, because that is what they are best with and the deck has a high skill ceiling, but weaker players moved off of it, probably because they were unsure how to beat something like Sammybox. Decks that had been deemed unplayable, like Greninja, were the big surprise of the tournament. Throughout the early-mid rounds of the tournament, I saw a lot of Vileplume (with Zygarde and as the Box), Greninja, and Rainbow Road, as well as a Wailord that was close to making it and even a Mega Diancie, the People’s Champion, which made it into the second day. While I had the fortune of facing Dark four times Day 1, it became clear that my deck was ironically not that great against the field as it began to narrow down.

“I’m a Real Format!”

The Expanded meta is actually shaping up to be a real format of Pokémon (as opposed to degenerate.tournament), which has me a little excited. Archeops is a factor, but Phoenix was proof that it isn’t as oppressive as we may have thought. I also can’t see the amount of Archeops, at least with Dark, increasing in play. I believe the best players who’ve seen success with it will continue to do so, because they know the ins and outs of the list which will be crucial as the format continues to diversify and unknown decks enter the fold, but weaker players will again struggle with how to beat new matchups on the fly.

The fact that Drew played literally no counters to Archeops and still won the entire tournament is a clear sign that Greninja is here to stay. I actually think that Greninja may be up there with some of the most powerful decks ever printed (notably Gardevoir/Gallade in 2008, and Night March last year). If or as Archeops starts to see diminishing play (I may be totally wrong on this, and there may be a huge regression back into oppressive styles of decks built around something like Archeops), Greninja will only become more powerful, and there are few decks that can match it in terms of power (the only deck that comes to mind that is 100% equipped to beat Greninja is Mega Sceptile, which has its own host of problems). In Standard, the lack of Tool removal may actually be a blessing in disguise: if something like Startling Megaphone was reprinted, Greninja would unquestionably be the most powerful deck, by a wide margin. I am not necessarily opposed to this, because Greninja is one of my favorite decks in a long time and I believe it has a high skill ceiling to play (at least in the mirror), but I recognize that it is an absurdly powerful archetype that’s kind of just biding its time before it can completely take over the game. This may become the next problem in a long line of them that we’ve dealt with as Pokémon has continuously ramped up the power creep of the cards they print with no regard to how that will the past, present, and future of the game. It may not, of course, but there are some Rough Seas on the horizon.

Anyway, that’s all, folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my report and my ramblings on the game, I tried to make it as insightful and entertaining as I could. I’ve gained a reputation of sorts for complaining about pretty much anything, which is true, but I guess you complain about things you love, and at the end of the day, I just want the game to be fun for everyone. I do apologize again for any inaccuracies on how the day went, it was a long weekend. Thanks!

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