What a weekend. After an absolutely amazing experience in London, I’m back in the United States with lots of stories, pictures, and a bit of cash as well. I’ve gotten a lot of requests for this article and a lot of questions that I wanted to answer all in one place. I’ll try to keep this brief as to not detract from the events ahead but this will be a great way to get a glimpse into my mind as a competitor making a last-minute deck change. Many of you have asked for articles with advice and reasoning that you can apply to your own future tournaments, so I hope you enjoy!
The Fall of Greninja
As many of you saw from my last article, I was very heavily favoring Greninja before London. I put countless hours into perfecting the deck, almost only playing the deck against Yveltal/Garbodor. Christopher Schemanske and Connor Finton have my utmost gratitude for playing the matchup over and over with me; I surely played it over 50 times in 10 days. Unfortunately, I slowly found the matchup to favor Yveltal, especially as the Yveltal player grew more and more experienced with the subtleties of Greninja’s play. I tried every tech I mentioned in my last article, and they all seemed to have a slight impact on the matchup but not enough.
More than anything, I found Greninja to dead-draw or effectively dead-draw (I could set up a Water Duplicates and attack once or twice but never hit a Supporter) in around 1/4 of all games, making my tech cards pretty much worthless. If you ignore these games where Greninja “bricks,” the matchup was only slightly in Yveltal’s favor. But, in a tournament setting, I felt sure that I would lose almost every Greninja vs Yveltal set to a smart Yveltal player.
One tech card that I did not consider was Max Potion. I was too focused on aggressive tech cards rather than the passive/reactive option that Max Potion provided. Drew “Bennettkennett” Kennett, reigning Phoenix Regional Champion, was staying in the same room as me and he pulled out a very good Greninja list that played both Max Potion and Talonflame to help the Yveltal matchup and provide some much needed early-game consistency. He piloted it to a top 16 finish and Grafton Roll played a nearly identical list to a top 8 placement. If I was steadfast on Greninja, I probably would have settled on a list very close to the one they played.
Staging a Coup
My last 20 games of the Greninja vs Yveltal matchup favored Yveltal with a record of 15-5, prompting me to drop the deck entirely. I also saw almost every practice game in the open gaming areas of the convention center featuring either a Greninja or a Yveltal deck, meaning many of my opponents for the next day would probably be playing one of those two decks. As much as I thought the Greninja mirror could be won by smart play, it also came down to draws off of N or Ace Trainer to a significant amount.
I quickly thought through the list of top tier decks and crossed almost all of them off as potential plays because they typically lost to Yveltal. I also had little experience playing Yveltal and thought that my lack of experience would hurt me in the mirror match, both in terms of my deck list and in-game skill. I knew that I would be able to hold my own against most players but against someone like Azul Garcia Griego or Frank Diaz who has played the deck extensively, I felt less confident.
. . .
So there I was Thursday night, with no deck and not even a clue as to what I wanted to play. But in my last few hours of desperation, my friend Michael Slutsky spoke up about a Vespiquen/Zebstrika deck that Mike Fouchet had pitched to him. I took a look at the list, thought about it for a bit, and realized it could be a really strong play. The original incarnation featured no Garbodor but I knew it was an unfortunate necessity to beat Greninja decks.
I started my own list from scratch, with ideal counts of every card like 4 Unown, 4 Klefki, 3-3 Zebstrika, and 2 Special Charge. However, this left me with only 1 spot for Double Colorless Energy when I got to the end, so I ended up dropping a Special Charge and a 1-1 Zebstrika line. After just 2 games, I was back up to a 3-3 Zebstrika line and 2 Special Charge. Without those additions, the Yveltal matchup actually trends towards 50/50 even though it probably makes some of your other matchups more favorable because your Vespiquen gets a small but noticeable damage boost in the early games.
I considered some other cards like Zoroark, Octillery, and Vaporeon throughout my quick deck construction session. However, these all detracted from the main idea of the deck. While they would give me some stronger attackers or slightly increase my consistency, the entire point of this deck was to beat Greninja and Yveltal. I figured that I would face 5 in combination of Greninja and Yveltal on Day 1, and the sheer power of Vespiquen would hopefully carry me to 1 or 2 more wins to take home some cash and CP.
That was my entire thought process behind playing this deck: Take 5 relatively free wins, scrap together another win or two, and we’ll be in business.
Courageous Bees and Crashing Bolts
Here’s the list I ended up playing:
Pokémon – 27
Trainers – 29
Energy – 4
The entire deck was focused solely on consistency. Greninja and Yveltal were such great matchups and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t get in my own way to turn those matchups into losses. Only 2 cards detract from this idea: Pokémon Ranger and Forest of Giant Plants. Pokémon Ranger was an unbelievably bad card in this deck. The idea was to have an option against a Glaceon-EX or a Giratina-EX. However, Glaceon can be attacked with both Zebstrika and Shaymin-EX, and between those and Lysandre I should be able to actually win against a deck that plays Glaceon.
Giratina’s Chaos Wheel is probably just too difficult to overcome even with Pokémon Ranger, as it puts you on a 3–4 turn clock to take a KO anyways. They’ll likely have 210 HP due to Fighting Fury Belt and force you to have 21 Pokémon in your discard pile unless you can also bounce their Parallel City. Had I tested more, Pokémon Ranger would have been cut for either Teammates, Psychic’s Third Eye, a 2nd Forest of Giant Plants, a Parallel City, or a Delinquent.
Forest of Giant Plants was actually a great counter Stadium, winning me several games in conjunction with Revitalizer. It gave me a way out of Parallel City locks at some opportune moments as well. Both sides of Parallel City hurt Vespiquen immensely. A limit of 3 on your Bench limits the amount of Pokémon you can run through in the first few turns, clogging up your deck later in the game. When flipped the other way, it allows your opponent to discard their Shaymin which are easy Prizes to close the game out with, and also limits your damage output. Since Battle Compressor no longer allows you to quickly increase the number of Pokémon in your discard, you have to work extra hard to power up a Bee Revenge. Those extra 2 Pokémon that Parallel City forces you to have to get a KO can be the difference between winning and losing a game.
Although this deck has incredibly favorable matchups against Greninja and Yveltal, it is far from autopilot and the matchups are far from autowin. A lot of thought goes into every game, especially as you plan out the late game and make deliberate actions to thin your deck out in anticipation of an N to 2 or 4.
The biggest problem with this deck is that almost 50% of your deck is Pokémon and none of them can help you to draw cards under Ability lock. Thus, you want to get rid of almost all of them as quickly as possible in the Yveltal and Greninja matchups. Yveltal players want to get Garbodor out ASAP against you to prevent you from doing this, and you want to get your Garbodor out by T3 against Greninja to stop them from using Giant Water Shuriken. If you don’t use your Shaymin, Unown, and Klefki early, and you can’t discard them with Professor Sycamore, they’ll just be clogging up your deck later in the game. Most of the time, your opponents are trying to N you down to a low hand size, hoping that you won’t draw the DCE or Supporter card that you need to close out the game. Between discarding your Pokémon, conserving your Professor Sycamore/VS Seeker/Acro Bike, and using Special Charge to fill your deck with DCE, you should be able to draw out of almost any N.
Let me know if you have any questions about the deck or the list; I’d be happy to explain things more.
Day 1: Crashing the Party
London Internationals // Day 1 // 493 Masters
R1 M Scizor (LWW)
R2 Volcanion (WW)
R3 Yveltal/Garbodor (WW)
R4 Yveltal/Garbodor (WW)
R5 Yveltal/Garbodor (WW)
R6 Yveltal/Garbodor (LWW)
R7 Yveltal/Garbodor (WLW)
R8 Yveltal/Garbodor (LWW)
R9 Volcanion (LL)
Final: 8-1 // 2nd Seed
The first day of competition was unbelievably great. I never imagined the metagame to be this highly saturated with Yveltal. Most of the other US players that I talked to only played against 3–4 in their tournament runs so either I got incredibly lucky or my undefeated record kept me in the perfect bracket to hit the best matchup.
I lost the first game of the day due to whiffing DCE for several turns but cleaned up the other games in the set fairly easily. The second set was pretty difficult. I took the first game due to my opponent benching 2 Shaymin-EX which my Zebstrika knocked out, and after he whiffed his 6th Lysandre out, I took an OHKO with Vespiquen to win. He dead-drew during the 2nd game to give me the win.
From here, I went on an insane tear, hitting 6 Yveltal decks in a row. For the most part, these sets played out just as expected and described above. Round 6 was especially difficult as I played against Azul Garcia Griego, one of the best Yveltal players in the game. He was able to force me to take an odd Prize in all 3 games, discard his Shaymin with Parallel City, and keep me locked down with Garbodor. I actually only won this set because I hit Lysandre + DCE off of N to 1 in Games 2 and 3. Sometimes you need a lot of luck to do well in a major tournament.
The last round of the day was pretty unfortunate because there were 6 opponents at 7-1 in my bracket, and although I had already played 2 of them, that left me with 3 Yveltal/Garbodor decks and 1 Volcanion deck that I could potentially play. I hit the Volcanion and lost in 2 quick games.
Although I was disappointed to barely miss out on going 9-0 in the first International event ever, I was elated with my performance and incredibly excited for the next day’s competition. Even though the time in London was 5 hours earlier than in the East Coast where I live, I turned in around midnight local time and got some sleep for the next day.
Day 2: A Shroud of Darkness
London Internationals // Day 2 // 32 Masters
R10 Volcanion (WLL)
R11 Yveltal/Garbodor (WW)
R12 Yveltal/Garbodor (LWL)
R13 Yveltal/Garbodor (LWW)
R14 Yveltal/Garbodor (ID)
Final: 10-3-1 // 9th Place
Unfortunately, I hit the same Volcanion in Round 10 that I did in Round 9. Once again, I had a better chance to hit Yveltal this round than Volcanion (2:1 odds) but it wasn’t to be so. This match was streamed and I actually took a game this time, but my bad hands in Games 2 and 3 gave me a loss. My opponent also hit Parallel City by T3 in all 5 games we played, depriving me of easy Prizes on his Shaymin-EX, another nail in the coffin.
Round 11 was harmless, 2 very quick wins. I played Philip Schultz in Round 12 where I took my first and only loss to Yveltal of the tournament. It all came down to a pivotal moment in the 3rd game where he took Ace Trainer off of his Prizes, which I knew because he used Town Map to flip them. I N’d him to stop him from using it on me during his next turn, but he drew it back. I hit a relatively useless hand while he found his last Ultra Ball to put a Garbodor in play and lock me out of most of my draw options. I drew a Supporter one turn too late and lost a very close game. Philip is one of the best players I’ve played in a long time and I was happy to see him make Top 4 at this tournament.
I almost lost the next round to knock me out of contention, as I hit a dead hand in the first game and didn’t draw out in time. I made an egregious misplay in the 2nd game, choosing to attach a Klefki instead of leaving it on my Bench. My opponent played a Parallel to limit my Bench space so I didn’t have room for the Shaymin I wanted to play during the next turn. Had I left the Klefki I would have been able to discard a different Pokémon, then use the Klefki’s Ability to free up a Bench space. By the time my opponent knocked out one of my Pokémon, he also had a Garbodor in play to prevent me from using Set Up. Fortunately, I drew a VS Seeker just one turn later and was able to stay in the game. I won this set pretty easily from there.
. . .
Now, going into the last round, I thought I was all but guaranteed Top 8. I didn’t even realize that a player with 31 match points could bubble out for a few minutes, and I thought my resistance was good enough that it wouldn’t even matter. After looking at the players in the tournament and those who would be in top 8, I knew that I would hit a Yveltal or a Greninja in top 8 if I made it at 7th or 8th seed. If I won, I could be unlucky enough to hit a Volcanion and I really didn’t want to make top 8 just to lose to a bad matchup.
So, I went for the greedy play. I took an ID in the last round against a deck that I could have probably fairly easily beaten. From here, the perfect storm of bad luck happened. The first streamed match was seconds from a tie, and still could have been with some different decision-making in Game 3. Michael Pramawat just barely squeaked out a win in another match when a tie or a loss would have guaranteed me a spot in top 8. My R11 and R13 opponents took a tie and a loss respectively in the last round which damaged my resistance just far enough to tie me for 8th place, but my opponents’ opponents’ resistances betrayed me in the end.
Looking back on this decision, I obviously should have played the final match out in most scenarios. I thought I had better resistance than I did, and should have just guaranteed top 8 and worked from there.
However, I put myself in the best spot to win the tournament with the ID as I would have played Yveltal, Yveltal, Yveltal in top cut had I been 8th seed and won every match.
With the same match results in R14, I would have indeed played the same Volcanion player in top 8 that I had lost to in R9 and R10 anyways. Maybe I made the right decision after all.
London was an astonishing experience. The tournament was run incredibly smoothly, there was a huge amount of USA pride, and I got to see a ton of great sights with some new and old friends. I wouldn’t trade my adventures this weekend for the world. The Pokémon community is absolutely amazing.
After going to London, I’m more excited to compete in future tournaments than I have been in years. My competitive drive has always been strong but it’s at a fever pitch right now. I’m looking forward to a big year in 2017 and I have my sights set on a Top 16 spot.
I hope to see you all in Dallas!