Writing articles about events that are in the past is always easier when the event went well, rather than when one has to explain away a weekend of unfortunate circumstances. It’s also a less useful read, to be honest: I feel most of the useful things I’ve written in post-event pieces come from weekends where things went terribly wrong, rather than the best of times. I’m not sure I have a great justification for that other than “here’s what not to do” being an easier template to follow than “here’s what to do,” in my mind, but it’s a belief I’ve picked up after editing numerous articles of the type.
In that vein, and because I’m not scheduled to write again until next week, this won’t be a typical Underground-esque piece, but instead will probably be quite literally whatever I decide to write about over the next 8 hours in the air on the flight home. The European International Championships, 2017 edition, was a great event—and not just from a personal success standpoint; it truly was one of the best tournaments I’ve attended from an operational perspective, too. There’s plenty to talk about, and I hope everyone finds something to fit their overall interests in the weekend.
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We’ve been in a bit of a lull since Vancouver provided us the last Regional Championship over a month ago. In fact, in something of a rarity these days, before London players were coming off two full weekends where the most competitive event anyone on earth could play was a League Challenge. Shining Legends never really got a good introduction to competitive play; League Cups and ARG inherently aren’t the same as regional-scale events. Coupling that with the fact that Crimson Invasion became legal only on the first day of play, the stage was set for something crazy to go down in London.
And, in reality, that’s more or less what happened: any poll of competitive players probably wouldn’t have named a final table of Golisopod (or Zoroark, whichever you prefer to use in reference) and Silvally. I do think many players probably would’ve said both those cards had competitive potential and would be unsurprised to see them do well, but the combination is something I’m not sure many of us saw coming.
On the other hand, in an actual poll of competitive players, Gardevoir was the hands-down top choice. Whether that meant “my top play” or “the deck I expected to see the most of” probably would’ve varied depending which member of that panel you asked, but community-wide, acknowledgement of Gardevoir’s presence was broad.
And why not? It just got done running through Vancouver, and Shining Legends/Crimson Invasion only made a marginal alteration to its overall playability. If anything, Drampa-GX/Garbodor being outed as its biggest foe was useful to the archetype because players got to figure out how to beat it (well, in fairness, the better wording might be: “those of us that didn’t beat it originally, like me, got the chance”).
Drampa, you’ll notice, essentially no showed the EUIC—Ian Robb’s T32 the only notable exception. I don’t believe that to be coincidence, but a matter of Gardevoir having this time to figure out the matchup in a rock-solid manner. Drampa did get some new tools, like Shining Jirachi, but I don’t believe they’re enough to turn that matchup especially well. It should, though, be noted that the deck was played in decent numbers: it just didn’t perform.
Back to Gardy, though: as is a running meme at this point, Seena Ghaziaskar spent the weeks before the event messaging an untold numbers of players with missives about “broken deck.” This, of course, was in reference to Gardevoir with 4 Max Potion. While it may not have been on every player’s mind, there’s no doubt that it was, as a concept, on many of the traveling Americans’ as we crossed the pond.
We saw two schools of Gardevoir pop up: Sylveon and “Broken Deck.” In my personal opinion, both of the variants definitely fit the idea of “broken.” As I observed Friday night, there’s a lot of things Gardevoir can do:
Things Gardy does (as a deck):
-attaches extra energy
-stacks your deck
-draws extra cards
-shuffles your discard into your deck
Basically, everything every cheater ever wants to do…except it's legal.
— Christopher Schemanske (@cschemanske) November 17, 2017
Adding Sylveon simply adds “puts cards from your deck into your hand” to the list. As it turns out, stacking your deck and drawing extra cards, with the addition of “make your opponent’s attack as if it never happened” is enough to supplement the loss of that power. More or less, you bend the rules of the game at your will and do insane damage. There’s only so much more you can ask for in a deck.
And, in fact, every deck that does well at tournaments generally tends to manipulate the foundations of the game in some way: we’re not all sitting around playing theme decks! Most often, in my view, this involves energy acceleration. Looking at Top 8, everything aside from Golisopod used it in some way, and almost every other deck in Top 32 did as well (of course, Raichu/Heatmor is, of course, another type of beast). Golisopod/Zoroark gets in a bit on the party, though, using Acerola to mitigate opposing attacks and Trade to draw extra cards.
What makes Gardevoir different right now, in my mind, is the sheer number of ways it does so. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the only game I “dead drew” in traditional fashion was Game 2 of the semifinals. I had a rough Game 1 against Brad Curcio in Round 2, and another in Round 10 against the later-first-seed Buzzwole, but honestly, both of those were merely mediocre starts exacerbated by the immense pressure each of their decks exerted on mine. Otherwise, I have to somewhat disagree with the commentary’s post-op of my semifinal: there’s nothing anymore inherently inconsistent about playing Gardevoir/Gallade than there is any big-basic concoction in the current format. Once you set up, you go to town, and given the tools to aid setup the format offers, you set up almost without fail.
For once in my life—that’s only a slight exaggeration—I was pretty sure of my deck choice well ahead of the event. And, by “well ahead,” I mean that last Sunday consisted of me building a Gardevoir list for the trio of my family before heading back to school, intending to only bring that 60+about 25 tech slot options to London—by some of your standards, I know that’s still last minute! All of my testing for the tournament occurred last weekend, with only a precious few TCGO games before that. The consensus in our testing was pretty clear: Gardevoir was getting it done. I didn’t have the time to cook up any sort of crazy counter-deck, as the Some1sPC guys did, so I was set on my deck pretty solidly.
Even so (and we’ll talk about this more in a second), I did end up packing cards for a Garbodor GRI concept and sent Alex Hill a fairly desperate missive seeking Gourgeist CIN after my brother reported TCGO being fairly kind to it. I wouldn’t say I ever seriously considered the other decks, but they were definitely my backups despite only scant idea idea what that Garbodor list would’ve looked like and having played zero games of Gourgeist.
Once in London Thursday morning, I was far more functional than I expected, but still pretty unmotivated to do any testing. I had one day (at least, the goal was that I was occupied the next 3 with the tournament) to see London. While the Harry Potter studio was regrettably occupied with a seasonal changeover until Saturday, I did spend much of Thursday at the Tower of London and surrounding area touring what I could. When we got back from that, my brother and I did bother playing a few games of Gardevoir mirror, trying to work out the final kinks in the list.
To this point, we had been playing a 1-1 Sylveon, essentially playing the hybrid idea that Mike Fouchet mentioned last week—and made a point of saying he believed was inferior. I asked said author about his thoughts on whether Sylveon or 4 Max Potion was looking to be better, and he resoundingly endorsed the Max Potion approach. At this time, Alex was probably testing Omastar BREAK or something, but was also in favor of an idea to Gardevoir like what Mike was pushing.
In our testing, the Sylveon list went 4-0 over the Max Potion list by some oddity. Admittedly, in my case, the 5:00 hour did bring about some of the jet lag that seemed to be threatening for most of the day if my brother’s condition was any clue. So, who knows what happened. We went to check-in, came back, and went through a bit of a debate. For reference, here’s the list we had built at that point in time:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 28
Energy – 12
In hindsight, this list was trying to do too much—jamming Sylveon, Max Potion, multiple Parallel, and more all into the same space. Definitely not ideal, and I’m glad that we decided to shift the focus. With that said, it actually didn’t quite come about in the way you might imagine. Ironically, my brother and I had flopped positions from earlier in the day: he was now defending Sylveon, where he’d wanted to cut it, while I changed from a fan to a detractor. Funny how these things happen. Cards pretty much changed one-by-one in the following manner:
Premise #1: 2 Gallade is really good.
This wasn’t conventional, but it was extremely strong for this tournament. Throughout the day I was grateful for this inclusion. I can’t overemphasize how well Gallade/Octillery makes the whole thing flow, and I was very grateful for the second copy. It was also strong in a number of attacking situations, and is probably why I was able to go as far as I was. But, what’s the cut?
Premise #2: Playing 6 Stage 2s probably isn’t as good.
Especially with only 2 Kirlia, this seemed bad. Even with the eventual 3, there really are only so many slots you can dedicate to each niche in each list, and I think 5 attacking Stage 2s was a strong number in Gardevoir. So, -1 Gardevoir, +1 Gallade.
Premise #3: 4 Max Potion will really matter in mirror.
Premise #4: With 4 Max Potion, we’ll need more Energy.
Now, we had to get creative with space. This is going to seem a little backwards: to add more Energy, we cut Energy! (We went -1 Fairy, +1 Super Rod.) The 2nd Super Rod was all-around better, and I would guess that I generally got back no less than 2-3 Energy per game between my pair. Was a fantastic choice.
Premise #5: Down to 1 Parallel & 7 Energy, and we have another non-Gardy attacker now… what about Sylveon?
Plea is best used with Parallel City; that’s not rocket science. In addition to the fact that we dropped an Energy, this led me to really question Sylveon’s wisdom. It’d be even harder to get into play, and use effectively. In addition, one of the reasons I liked Sylveon was that Fairy Wind was a non-Gardy option to chip through some of an opponent’s board. With the 2nd Gallade, this became less needed. We made the call to move on without the Sylveon.
Okay, so, the starter is gone… what now? One slot was easily -1 Eevee, +1 Alolan Vulpix GRI. I’m not a fan of Vulpix, and probably simply declined to search for it about half the time I went first, but the deck does need some kind of starter in order to stem some pressure from some of the faster decks in format. Vulpix is definitely Sylveon-lite, but it was nonetheless useful and a good call.
Now, we have an “extra” slot. What to do with it?
Premise #6: Without Sylveon, drawing Kirlia is way more important.
Since we no longer had a way to search out Rare Candy+Stage 2, Kirlia getting down early and often would be critical. In addition, it was an important to have many valid targets for Alolan Vulpix. As such, the final swap in the list was -1 Sylveon-GX, +1 Kirlia BUS.
With that, we were here:
One final detail had to be worked out: Ralts and Kirlia. I had the full suite of BUS and both BKT, but was pretty split on what to do. In the end, we went with 1 Psychic/3 BUS. The theory was that you would Brigette Turn 1 for the 2/1 split, your Metal opponent would knock one out, and you’d evolve the remaining Fairy one to Gardy, Gallade, or Kirlia BKT—Metal Weakness gone.
I was hesitant to go all in on anything Psychic because of Drampa’s prevalence in Vancouver (and honestly, on a historical level, Europe too), and I do think this was a theoretically good call. As we’ll see, in practice, I probably would’ve been better off with the full Psychic suite, but it did work out pretty well in the end. I do like Kirlia BKT: while I didn’t take any Espeon-EX KOs here with it, I did pull two off in Vancouver. Hey, prizes are prizes!
Briefly, I want to talk a bit about something that’s recently been a hot topic of discussion in the community: premium articles and paywalls that come with them. Many players I know are opposed on principle to the idea of them, and that’s fine—I don’t have anything against someone who principally wishes to rely on whatever else they can find. However, I do want to look at the impact our content had on my own prep this weekend and how some of our operations worked.
Once in awhile, when somebody asks me my thoughts on a card or deck, my answer will be a simple: “I don’t know. That’s what I pay writers for.”
I want to call back to something I said a bit earlier about my personal decision timeline. Even when I “decided” to play Gardy, I did spook a bit when Xander dropped his piece on Drampa and Gourgeist last week. I have to admit the early release of the article (by about 20 hours; I think it was about an hour after Xander got it to me) was partially an editorial decision based on my impression of the content: it was interesting and convincing enough to shake my conviction toward Gardevoir, which had run through the testing gauntlet we’d been running.
If it was enough to start changing my mind from that state, I felt it was important enough to possibly change others’, and with many leaving for London it short order, it was time sensitive. We’re always trying to stay context aware here, and I hope that article maybe helped someone in that regard. It did affect my prep, though, and is why Garb and Gourgiest cards were suddenly on my London packing list.
In addition, last week’s article from Mike Fouchet on Gardevoir definitely impacted my own thought process, and it had the tools to lead anyone to the exact list I played this weekend. By my tally, these 60 cards were good for 640 Masters CP between my family and Michael Slutsky, a Junior division win, a Junior T16, and a Senior T16. When players ask whether there’s impactful content available before major tournaments, this is now my go-to citation.
Really, at this point, I’m hesitant to ever get involved with this topic on social media at this point because some folks are simply entrenched in the ground. I hope that this maybe sheds a bit of light into the value the articles can offer, and if you’re interested on further reading on my thoughts on the paywall as an institution as well, I’ve logged some of my personal thoughts for posterity as well.
Personally, it’s been years since I took much pleasure in reading or writing round-by-round breakdowns of the whole tournament. Given that sounds like a nightmare, I’m just going to lay out my entire tournament for anyone who’s curious and hit on the high (and low) points below.
European International Championship, 2017
R1 Buzzwole-GX/Garbodor BKP/Garbodor GRI [US] (2-0)
R2 Scizor-EX/Dhelmise GRI/Celesteela-GX [US] (1-2)
R3 Gardevoir-GX [US] (1-0)
R4 Greninja BREAK [CZ] (1-1)
R5 Volcanion-EX [DE] (2-1)
R6 Gardevoir-GX [UK] (2-1)
R7 Drampa-GX/Garbodor [UAE] (1-0)
R8 Volcanion-EX [PL] (2-1)
R9 Gardevoir-GX [DK] (2-0)
R10 Buzzwole-GX/Regirock-EX [NO] (1-2)
R11 Golisopod-GX/Zoroark-GX [NL] (2-1)
R12 Gardevoir-GX [US, and my brother] (2-1)
R13 Greninja BREAK [CA] (1-1)
R14 Silvally-GX/Celesteela-GX/Registeel CIN [UK] (2-0)
When I implied that semifinals Game 2 was a systemic breakdown of the deck, I meant it. It was the only match I lost 2-0 the entire weekend, which is something I believe is a real testament to the deck’s strengths.
From the top, my first loss was very early, which isn’t anything too new for me—I tend to end up with my back against the wall as a rule of tournaments. Brad Curcio’s iteration of the Some1sPC Scizor madness made pretty good work of me in Game 1, but I was able to pull out Game 2 and thought Game 3 was at least mildly interesting. I’m told multiple of their players lost series to Gardevoir over the weekend, so I’m not sure it was the 100% counter I initially feared. Perhaps that, coupled with a metagame that had more Volcanion than I think anyone stateside had predicted, is why the Scizor concept ultimately fell pretty flat.
In fact, I was 2-1-1—and on the brink of elimination—by 1:30pm! I was fortunate in both of my Greninja series on the weekend to win a game, and given the nature of the matchup, Game 3 isn’t something that finishes very often. I don’t think the matchup is that terrible. Without Giratina, you’re probably looking at a 40/60 or 35/65 proposition in each game—not great, but not the worst thing imaginable either, and often enough to grab a tie.
The next 5 rounds were a mix of crazy and all the highs and lows the game has to offer. Round 7 was down to the wire on time, and for that matter, in Game 2 altogether. I would put my odds on Game 2 at that point around 35%, but on the final two turns, I was fortunately able to find an N and pair of Max Potions to eliminate his win conditions, holding on.
I thought I’d blown my tournament in Round 9 when I played Game 2 far too sloppily—at some point, I just casually Ultra Ball’d for a Gardevoir instead of the intended Gallade. I’m still not entirely sure at what point between picking the card in my deck and putting it in my hand I made the gaffe, but it certainly happened! I was pretty much on autopilot and had started shuffling before I even realized the color of the card on the board in front of me, but that’s life. Game 3 was incredibly close and came down to me needing some key resources to finish it out before he could knock out my last Gardevoir.
Instead, I went through 10 cards to miss an Energy for a KO, then at a later point Abysal Hand’d into a trio of Rare Candy and a Kirlia I couldn’t play. The Prizes I took that turn were equally unplayable, so I was in top deck mode for the last two turns. Fortunately, on the last turn before things would’ve probably gotten ugly, I found one of the ~9 outs in my 14 card deck and had the DCE for a KO.
Day 2 didn’t get off to an ideal start. He absolutely stomped me in Game 1, but I did get a whiff of an idea that my deck can make a comeback in the matchup. In Game 2, I did just that. Game 3 saw me benching 2 Lele, Alolan Vulpix, and Octillery in order to stay in the game, limiting my Ralts on board to 2. So, when he managed the early Dangerous Rogue on my Gardevoir before it could do anything meaningful, things quickly got out of hand. I believe I almost brought it back, but it wasn’t to be. Alas, no big deal—just another back-against-the-wall mess to work out of.
Unfortunately, TOM had a few tricks to throw my way first…
Sadly, these things do happen, but it was just something we had to deal with. Alex started off the first overall seed at 8-0-1, but suffered a disaster on Day 2, going 0-5 to miss Top 16. Definitely not a good situation for us, but I was able to win Games 1 and 3 both pretty comfortably—for that matter, Game 2 was going all my way until the very end and a few strange draws.
My Round 14, Top 8, and Top 4, are all archived on the official stream, and I’ll get links to them in here when that’s viable. But, as a highlight, I want to discuss Game 2 of Top 8. I know there’s been a lot of online discussion about everything, but I want to hit a few points. For one thing, I know there are questions about some sequence with a Zoroark-GX and my Guzma. I know for sure that I was trying to draw out a DCE or Acerola, but don’t especially remember the circumstances. At the end of the game, I Ultra Ball away a Fairy Energy that many thought I should’ve used to retreat to Gardevoir to have more HP on my active.
That did not happen because I knew he was out of Choice Band, and therefore, it was irrelevant what Pokémon I had active. Hence, I wanted to minimize the cards in my deck by 3 in case he had an N in his hand to reset his prizes. That’d hopefully lead into some resources I could work with, but otherwise, I was just hoping the N was prized—lo and behold, it was.
There’s also an argument that I should’ve scooped the game, and it’s not a bad one. I knew time was running thin, although I hadn’t yet bothered asking just how thin because I didn’t want to tip Magnus off to my thinking on it. I wasn’t really worried about playing a ~15 minute Game 3 and thought my odds were too good to risk some sort of bad opening hand ruining the tournament, and decided to forge ahead. Fortunately, that worked out.
As for the semifinals…well, there isn’t much to say. In Game 1, I was unfortunately down 2 DCE by Prizes, so I didn’t feel comfortable trying to Max Potion and dig for the remaining copy after he Energy Drive’d for 80. I had to gamble that he somehow didn’t have the return Celesteela KO after I went for that, but it was a pretty menial hope at best.
And, of course, Game 2. As I saw the first couple of cards, my heart started to sink, and by the end it was definitely sunk. I knew my odds weren’t exactly awful off the top of the deck, but they weren’t great either. As we saw, that didn’t go very well, Zak was onto finals, and my tournament was over.
Considering the dreadful history I have at US Nationals—a 2012 Senior Top 64, back in the days when that was single elimination, is my highlight if memory serves—and so far, its successor event in the NAIC—T256 last season—it’s pretty exciting to finally have a solid finish at an event of its type.
Of course, it couldn’t be done without the support of those around me, and I appreciate that forever. Moreover, thank you to everyone that supported online throughout the weekend, it was certainly appreciated. From here out, I have some travel decisions to make given the newfound standing in a tie for 5th place in US/CA CP. With the Australia cutoff a week and a half away, I’m confident in my standing for the 1k stipend, but it’d be pretty decent to get up to that trip range too. Memphis is off the table, but I’m liable to be anywhere else between now and then, so perhaps I’ll see you around. I’ll be back on stipend deadline day, most likely with a look at how San Jose went.
Finally, I want to give a special thanks to the staff in London this weekend. Nearly everything was executed to perfection. From the front line judge staff to the gentleman in charge of the stream—or, as I began to affectionally refer to him in my head, my smile coach (for the number of times he had to prod me to do so)—everyone, and everything, was great.
As always, all the best in all of your endeavors.