For the first time this season, I was able to voyage out of the United States and attend my first international event since Worlds in Vancouver — almost four years ago. Being in Mexico City for the first time was quite the experience for me, and ultimately one that I enjoyed more than I thought I would. In general, I found that the city itself was somewhat difficult to navigate with my rusty Spanish, but as with most things, it tended to work out well despite varying difficulties. I have minimal experience with the Latin American Pokémon Community but I was pleased with everything about this event. Most of my players seemed both friendly and honest and the event was (mostly) well run, which is essentially a must when it comes to these longer Regionals.
Though I initially had plans and a booked AirBNB for Madison Regionals, I had some family issues and illnesses come up at the very last minute, and unfortunately had to cancel that trip. If you’ll recall from my last piece, I had become largely enamored with Tapu Bulu-GX/Lurantis-GX and am confident that is what I would have ended up playing. My teammate Mees Brenninkmeijer would play the list we made together to a top 32 finish at the Birmingham Regionals in Europe. Here’s what we would end up settling upon after testing multiple iterations of the concept:
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 33
Energy – 12
Compared to this lists I offered up in my last article, the focus of this final one is considerably different from what I was initially working. At the core of it all, the concept still remains mostly the same, but through testing, we found that focusing exclusively on Lurantis-GX’s Flower Supply was a little slow at times and relied heavily on putting energy in the discard. Without cards like Battle Compressor, there was not a reliable means to achieve this end.
Max Elixir allowed the deck to have more explosive starts at the cost of being weaker against Garbodor decks. However, the assumption leading into the second weekend of competitive play with Guardians Rising was that Garbodor would be on the decline, and that counter decks would be on the rise. After analyzing the results from both Madison and Mexico City, I feel justified in concluding the rightness of this assumption.
While this deck is strong against certain things, I think that it is simply not good enough to consider now that the format is starting to be figured. The rise of Zoroark was something that I absolutely did not foresee, and it is mostly enough to keep the deck from rising to the top. Zoroark BREAK’s Foul Play creates an incredibly disadvantaged scenario that basically prevents you from playing your own game. Tapu Bulu-GX shifts from being your biggest threat to your biggest liability, and the deck struggles to be carried on the back of Lurantis-GX.
Additionally, the rise of Volcanion was not terribly surprising, but it being unpopular factored into to the legitimacy of this deck as a strong choice leading into the following Regionals. I would still argue that this deck is favorable against both Espeon and Drampa Garbodor decks, Decidueye and even Metagross so perhaps in the right meta-game (a small League Cup, for instance) it would be a legitimate choice but for the time being, I think that I have shelved the concept in the mid tier 2 echelon of decks.
After Danny Altavilla’s top 4 performance at Madison Regionals, my focus quickly shifted from Lurantis to the new deck. I watched the official stream for most of the event, and Daniel’s list seemed to have minimal difficulty against everything except for the other new contender, Metagross-GX. This problem, I thought, could be easily remedied by adding in Flareon AOR into the deck. Theoretically, this would give the deck a stronger matchup against Metagross, and any Decidueye-GX deck that might still be lingering around. For reference, here is the list that Danny played in Madison (and would go on to win with in Mexico City):
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 32
Energy – 10
It would not be towards the end of the week leading into Mexico City that I would see Danny’s actual list, so the first couple iterations that I came up with were considerably different. I got lucky and got most of the counts correct, but there were several important things that I missed. Additionally, my base assumption was that the Drampa-GX and Magma Base package were ultimately unnecessary, and it was there that I would free up space in my own list to try and add things like Eeveelutions and various other pairings.
Throughout the week, I tested almost five or six completely different lists that tried pairing Zoroark with things like Lycanroc-GX and Alolan Ninetales-GX. The former being somewhat of a disaster while I found my testing with the latter to be mostly successful but in the end, I decided that a more streamlined approach would solve most of my problems.
Upon arriving in Mexico City, I settled on a list with no attackers outside of Zoroark, and a lone addition of Umbreon-GX. Umbreon itself seemed good in theory, and ought to have been worth including since I was already setting on playing Eevees, Flareon and potentially Vaporeon. I recall reading an article in the airport on my way to the final destination about Daniel (Phinnegan) Lynch’s own Zoroark/Umbreon list that accidentally was almost the exact same as mine.
The only major difference in his is that he still included one copy of Drampa-GX in his deck even without the Magma Base. He had some sound logic surrounding its merit within the deck, and it was one of the final changes I ended up making — and I am very happy that I did. The final decision I had to make with my list was to decide between Oranguru or Teammates, as I did not have the space to include both.
Upon the advice of Azul Griego, I decided to include Oranguru and it was perhaps the best addition to this list. Many of your matchups come down to multiple turns of playing N — and being N’d — and any opportunity you have to draw out of it cannot be overstated. I am fully confident that I easily could have lost several games without this card. Without further ado, here is the final list that I ended up playing for the Mexico City Regional Championships:
Pokémon – 21
Trainers – 29
Energy – 10
Round 1: Drampa-GX/Garbodor GRI (2-0)
Round 2: Greninja BREAK (0-2)
Round 3: Zygarde-EX/Carbink BREAK/Healing (1-2)
Round 4: Drampa-GX/Garbodor GRI (2-0)
Round 5: Vikavolt-GX/Tapu Bulu-GX (2-0)
Round 6: Espeon-GX/Garbodor GRI (1-1)
Round 7: M Rayquaza-EX ROS 105 (2-1)
Round 8: Drampa-GX/Garbodor GRI (1-1)
Round 9: Decidueye-GX/Vileplume AOR/Alolan Ninetales-GX (2-0)
5-2-2 // Top 64
Unfortunately, my performance at this tournament left quite a bit to be desired. I felt confident in my deck choice, and for the most part, my play was exceptional. I ran into a string of bad matchups early on with Greninja (after experience, this is likely the deck’s worst matchup) and then a strange fighting deck that I lost a close series too. Outside of this, my deck and list performed well against everything else in the meta. Both of my ties were those wretched unfinished games where I had an exactly 0% chance of losing and would have won the whole set with a couple more turns, but, alas.
Acquiring 44 points sets my overall total to 391, which allows me to get first or second at my final finish for League Cups this quarter and then end the invite at the North American International Championship with a finish in the top 256 or higher. This is somewhat of a leap, I will admit, but I think it ought to be a realistic goal with another preparation and practice.
The question that remains regarding Zoroark is whether Danny’s list, or that which I played, is ideal. Of course, I think that results speak louder than almost everything else, and it is hard to deny Danny’s 3rd and 1st finishes over back-to-back weekends compared to my own meager, 46th place finish. I think that my list was overteched, and looking towards the future, I think that some combination between both of our decks is likely to be the best answer. Umbreon-GX was largely underwhelming (or even frustratingly bad at times) over the course of the first nine rounds, but I think that my list accidentally gave myself a much better matchup against Decidueye, as I used Umbreon heavily in both of these games.
Flareon is likely unneeded in a much larger meta-game like the one we will experience at the International Championships, so I think I would consider just taking the loss to Metagross (and more difficult matcup to Decidueye) in favor of cards like Teammates, another Drampa, and so on. To conclude this section, I would like to note that my 0 copies of Field Blower seemed to be a mistake. Danny, Phinnegan, and myself have all opted not to play the card whatsoever, but I think it is an easy inclusion and can solve some troublesome scenarios.
For instance, in one of my matchups, I was limited to three Benched Pokémon early via Parallel City, and had nothing I could do about it. Against M Rayquaza and any other deck that relies largely on a certain Stadium in play, you have absolutely no way to hinder said Stadium, and that has the potential to make things unnecessarily difficult for Zoroark.
Over the past three weekends, we have had three Regional Championships in the Guardians Rising format, and across these three large events, we have somewhat different results. Week 1 saw Garbodor come and go as the boogeyman of the format, keeping everything in check and dominating the entirety of Day 1 and Day 2. However, by the very next week, people had begun adjusting the way their decks were built, and many counters arose to combat this new menace.
Week 3 more or less saw the exact same thing as Week 2, which I would argue is not indicative of the format being figured out. Rather, I think it simply shows that the Latin American community was relatively behind the curve. I mean no offense in issuing such a statement, but based on all their results in the past, I made this very assumption going into the tournament (voicing that I expected the community to be largely playing the decks that did well Week 1 and not Week 2 to many of my friends I coordinated travel plans with) and was not surprised that my intuition was correct.
Looking at the results, most of the Mexican players who made it into the top 32 were mostly playing Vespiquen and Drampa/Garbodor and only two would make it all the way to the Top 8, while Americans (with notably more diverse deck choices) took up the remaining six spots. Scouting the room before play began on day 1 was also incredibly difficult as well, because it seemed like almost everything was being played. My friend and legend of the game Michael Pramawat described the meta as “the wild west,” as we saw everything from multiple groups playing Sylveon-GX to some players trying to make Fighting types work, as I experienced in Round 3.
For now, I think it remains to be seen how the format will hash itself out by the International Championships. We still have Origins to consider, and if I were a gambling man, I would be willing to wager that Zoroark will be the most popular deck at the higher tables, with a little bit of everything else rounding out the back. In the right metagame, I think that Danny’s Zoroark list is close to unbeatable, with slightly unfavorable matchups against Metagross and Decidueye, and one heavily unfavored matchup against Greninja.
Both of those decks have been proved to struggle depending on the popularity of decks like Vespiquen, Vikavolt, and so on, so it remains to be seen if there will be yet another deck to make a statement in these remaining weeks before Indianapolis. I asked many players last evening what they would play if they had to fill out a decklist if registration for the International Championship ended in 15 minutes, and the overwhelming answer seemed to be Vespiquen, with players like Rahul Reddy, Ryan Sablehaus and Michael Pramawat all giving such an answer.
However, I believe that I would play Decidueye/Vileplume. The deck’s largest struggle is against Espeon/Garbodor, which I believe will continue to decline in popularity in the coming weeks. Outside of that and Drampa/Garbodor, I believe you are favored to even against everything else. Azul Griego and Brad Curcio both played an interesting list this weekend, and I was confident moving into Day 2 that one of them would win the event. Azul would end Swiss as the first seed going into top 8, but lost a tragic series to Greninja. For those curious, I believe the list looked something like this:
Pokémon – 24
Trainers – 27
Energy – 8
Note: 59 cards.
I have refrained from finishing this list for multiple reasons. The first being that when I was initially composing this article, I was fatigued from my weekend in Mexico and could not remember the final card. However, some time has passed and upon recuperation, I was able to remember that the final card was a Field Blower. So, you could complete the list with that card but I have always been skeptical of its merit in Decidueye/Vileplume. It is a better card than Beedrill EX and serves essentially the same purpose but it is hard to time correctly and will often end being dead weight under Vileplume. As such, I cannot help but wonder if another consitentency card would simply be a better inclusion. I know that Aaron Tarbell (who has had a considerable amount of success with the deck) swears by 4 N, 4 Professor Sycamore and 2 Lysandre. You could also consider another Level Ball as well but the final card that could complete this list is one copy of Mallow. This may sound somewhat unorthodox to many but John Kettler (the original architect of the deck) used one copy of the Oracle reprint in his list in Mexico City and ended up placing somewhere in the Top 32.
The past two seasons have been the least active I have been within the game in my eight-ish years of playing. and I cannot help but wonder if I am at a crossroads in my career. At times, I am filled with a fire inside me that wants to compete to my utmost potential, and at others, I consist entirely of ennui and am confident that I will not try to grind out the following season. There is something about seeing my friends succeed while I continue to fall somewhat short that acts as my primary motivation, but to this day, I am not sure if this is just a fleeting psychological response or something deeper.
I am, however, looking forward to finishing this season out as strongly as possible and I hope to meet many of you at this year in Indianapolis.
Until next time!
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