Hey, everyone! Last weekend was arguably one of the best weekends of Pokémon I’ve had in my nine years of playing. Aside from the tournament, the venue was in a nice location with hotels and food nearby. It was a bit rainy on Saturday and Sunday, but otherwise temperate and not too cold compared to Chicago. I had the opportunity to eat at some local places: Bamboo Sushi and Blue Star Donuts, both of which I’d recommend. I wish I’d had more time to explore, perhaps visit the river, other restaurants, etc., though. Overall, I really enjoyed the city as a whole, and in seeing people I don’t normally have the opportunity to.
My journey began Friday morning at O’Hare, per usual. The best flight I found was an early morning one, meaning that I’d miss the entire day of school. This was a nice change because it’s exhausting to leave immediately after school, like I did for Charlotte or when driving to a Regional. Jon Eng was actually connecting in Chicago, so we managed to land on the same flight. We talked and played a couple games before we boarded; Espeon/Garbodor 2-0’d Greninja fairly easily. The only change him and Joe made between Charlotte and Portland was cutting the 3rd Field Blower for a Tapu Fini-GX, a change I benefited from indirectly.
This was the first time I’ve flown alone, and I have to admit that I enjoyed it. While it’s true that I feel safer traveling with a parent, I felt a newfound independence I’d been previously unable to attain. I could make my own decision on where to eat, where to sit, and most importantly, the tempo at which I’d walk. Walking quickly in school or the airport symbolizes a sense of direction and purpose. Being alone on the plane would also mean I’d have to manage myself. (I do anyway, but now there were no training wheels by my side.)
Upon arriving, I was met by my Mom who had flown out a few days earlier to visit Seattle. We took the train to our hotel before going out to lunch at Bamboo Sushi with Abe Morales, another player from the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Afterward, we bought Blue Star Donuts. From there, we parted ways as my mom returned to the hotel room and I met Colter Decker at Starbucks to hang out and play some Pokémon. Spoiler alert, he would take second place. Colter has been playing sporadically for the past few years, but is an incredibly good player. He took 2nd at Worlds in 2012 and Top 4 in 2015, both in the Senior Division.
We tested for about four hours, both of us playing a variety of decks: Buzzwole/Lycanroc, Zoroark/Golisopod, Lucario/Lycanroc, and of course, Espeon/Garbodor. After about an hour of testing, I decided I was set on Espeon/Garbodor because I’d prefer to roll with that than play anything else. My second choice was the same Lucario/Lycanroc list that was floated around the night before. About halfway through the session, I transitioned into playing anything Colter wanted me to and him on Espeon/Garbodor.
I’ve had plenty of experience playing it in the past, but he hasn’t, so giving him the opportunity to practice against anything was the best idea. Like other top players have mentioned, playing matchups from the other side was also helpful to me. By the end of the night, we collectively decided that Espeon/Garbodor was the best play if we were confident in our ability to play it. The list we settled on is the exact list I posted in my most recent article, which you can see below for convenience:
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 32
Energy – 11
The day began off well with a leftover donut from yesterday and some Starbucks on the way. My hotel was convenient because there was a Starbucks and Subway directly on the way to the convention center. For one of the first times ever, the Starbucks barista spelled my name as “Xander.” Also, I don’t know why, but the sandwich and coffee I ordered tasted exceptionally good. For whatever reason, I proclaimed to myself and to a group chat that it would be a great weekend, evidenced by the bizarre chain of events thus far. I arrived at the venue some 30 minutes before Round 1 went up and sat with friends.
R1 Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI/Lucario-GX (0-2)
R2 Gardevoir-GX/Sylveon-GX (2-0)
R3 Zoroark-GX/Gardevoir-GX (2-0)
R4 Buzzwole-GX/Garbodor (2-0)
R5 Attacking Hoopa (2-0)
R6 Vikavolt SUM/Tapu Bulu-GX (2-1)
R7 Sylveon-GX (1-0)
R8 Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI (2-1) (stream)
R9 Attacking Hoopa (2-1)
R10 Attacking Hoopa (1-1)
R11 Greninja BREAK (2-0)
R12 Attacking Hoopa (2-1)
R14 Scoop for seeding
Note: In some situations I’ll say “Garbotoxin” or “Trashalanche” to refer to either Garbodor, since it’s clearer to label them by their uses than by set.
To be honest, I was pretty sad when my first round opponent was Phinnegan Lynch. I heard a rumor he was playing a Lucario variant which made me excited, but I’d have preferred an easier opponent anyway.
It turns out Phinn was playing Zoroark/Lycanroc/Lucario, which isn’t a good matchup. Game 1 was pretty close, though, because I pulled off a T1 Horn Attack against a Rockruff. He grabbed 3 Zorua with Brigette on his first turn, which meant by Tauros was safe for at least one turn. Unfortunately, I was forced to grab Tauros with my Ultra Ball instead of Tapu Lele, which left me with no Supporter in hand. On his next turn he grabbed a Rockruff and attached an Energy to it and not much else.
In response, I was unable to KO it without discarding my entire hand in exchange for a Guzma. His Lycanroc had the opportunity to sweep me after KOing the Tauros, but I hit it for 100 with Energy Drive. On this turn he chose to Claw Slash instead of Dangerous Rogue GX for a KO, which was the right play. On the following turn, I would have N’d him to 2 cards under Garbotoxin with a Garbodor GRI ready to sweep. In the end, I was 20 damage away from KO’ing his Zoroark with Trashalanche and I lost.
The second game was much less eventful. I got a T2 Garbotoxin, but it was trapped Active. I also had no other Trubbish on board, meaning that if this was KO’d, I’d be out of the game forever. This happened, and I lost a few turns later. Starting off 0-1 was not what I was looking for and really put a hole in the stars aligning for a good weekend. For those who read my article after Collinsville, you’ll remember I lost Round 1 to Zoroark/Luxio/Garbodor GRI and finished 6-2-1, a result I didn’t want to repeat a second time.
The next eventful round was Round 7 against Igor Costa playing Sylveon. I knew going into this I’d have a pretty good shot of winning, but it’s not the match I’d have wanted to pair up against. There were many other favorable matchups at 5-1, none as tricky as this one. The Espeon/Garbodor vs. Sylveon matchup comes down to coin flips, many of them. Psybeam, Crushing Hammer, and Team Rocket’s Handiwork are the pivotal flips. If I remember correctly, I exhausted all 4 N in the first 6 turns. This means that Igor was able to flip plenty of Heads at the start of the game and left me unable to counter later on. In hindsight, I should have conserved my 4th N, maybe even my 3rd, for special turns where it was required. It was possible to let it go for one turn and allow him to Max Potion, so long as he stayed Confused.
After my N were gone, the game became much scarier. My resources counts were low and I wasn’t incredibly ahead on Prizes. I knew that the game would come down to Trashalanche and how much damage that would be doing. On my board was an Espeon, 2 Tapu Lele, and a Garbodor GRI, with not all having a Float Stone and no Energies. I remember I was running low on Energy but still had a Super Rod left. At one point, he had a lone Sylveon and 9 Items in the discard. I had a trapped Tapu Lele active and decided to use Professor Sycamore with 11 cards left in deck. Off of this I needed to hit my a Field Blower, Float Stone, Choice Band, and Psychic Energy in order to win. If I missed, it was very likely I would lose. Obviously, I missed it and was forced to pass.
In this situation, I had plenty of Energies left, but very little way to switch my Active Pokémon. I remember pondering whether to attach to the Tapu Lele and retreat or to the Garbodor GRI. Ultimately, I decided on attaching to Garbodor, which I believe to be the right play. To nullify the impact of my attachment, he’d need to hit heads on Crushing Hammer. If I had attached to the Tapu Lele, all he would need is a Guzma, something not reliant on a coin flip. In fact, he did hit Heads on that turn. On the following one, he flipped tails on Crushing Hammer and double tails on Team Rocket’s Handiwork! Any one of these would have lost me the game. To stay alive, he Plea GX’d my Garbodor back to my hand. At this point it became tense as I would win with a single Trashalanche, but I’d need to pull that off. I benched the Trubbish, attached to it, and put a Float Stone on everything on the board. I thinned my deck by Ultra Balling away two bad cards. He then N’d me to 2 with 7 cards in deck. I had two turns to draw the Garbodor, which I did on the final turn before he could play Guzma.
Vs. Attacking Hoopa
In total, I played against this deck 5 times in my 17 matches! I felt the matchup become progressively easier as I learned more about the list and how it operated. The matchup is very favored for Espeon/Garbodor, but of course I was destined to lose Game 1 multiple times against it. The same scenario happened in Dallas when I played against Mega Mewtwo. Fortunately, I didn’t lose the Best of 3 and didn’t take any losses to it.
The trick in this matchup is to get down multiple Trubbish and set up Garbotoxin ASAP. Drampa and Espeon are the best attackers because they 1HKO a Hoopa. Trashalanche can be good eventually, but don’t rush into using it or else they can Resource Management Items back into their deck and stall the Garbodor. Another important thing is to always keep an extra Trubbish on the Bench in case the opponent gets lucky and 1HKOs the Garbotoxin with Fighting Fury Belt and Reverse Valley. They also play Tapu Koko and can spread 20 to it to better set up math. This damage is also consequential on Espeon because Mewtwo EVO with a Fighting Fury Belt can deal 180.
In the matches played, I found that Oranguru UPR was one of the biggest threats unless there was a Hoopa attacking. I’d prioritize removing Energy off of the field because it’s possible that they could 2HKO enough Pokémon to take 6 Prizes quickly. The games I lost were those where I was unable to set up Garbotoxin quickly and they closed out the game with little I could do to fight back.
My matches against Joey weren’t very close, but it’s important that I cover the matchup because there are many people who seem to argue that it’s favored for Greninja. I can’t put a percentage to the matchup, but I’m comfortable whenever I have to play against it. The important cards are Parallel City, Tauros, Drampa, and Garbotoxin (obviously.)
Rules to live by:
- Save your GX attack and Parallel City until they’re absolutely necessary to be played. Reducing Opponent’s Bench on Turn 2 is a BAD PLAY.
- Always attach Basic Energy before Special Energy when possible.
- Exhaust N at the start of the game rather than Cynthia so that you have good draw Supporters to close out the game. Likewise, don’t play Supporters unless you have to. There’s no reason to Cynthia or Professor Sycamore with more Energy or Guzma in the hand.
- Target down the highest Evolution of frog you can KO unless you’re racing to take the final Prizes.
Lead off the game with either Tauros or Espeon. Once they’re loaded with Energy, begin attaching to a Drampa on Bench. You should have 2-3 Trubbish in play at this point as well. After using these attackers first, transition into Drampa to Berserk and 1HKO Greninja. Once Drampa takes damage, retreat it into the next attacker and use Parallel City to clean off your damaged Pokémon. The -20 damage is important as well. Afterward, you want to focus on shifting into Garbodor GRI to close out the game. Other attackers work fine too, but Trashalanche is usually the most efficient and should be trading one-for-one. As a last resort, you can always N Greninja with Garbotoxin up to stop them in their tracks.
My Top 4 match was definitely my closest and tensest match of the entire weekend. Unfortunately they chose to stream the other match, or else I could simply link the video for you to watch. Going into the match, I was a little worried because I felt like I had a better matchup against Buzzwole/Lycanroc. The Zoroark can be problematic, and if Lucario is used right it can KO the Tauros or Drampa at the right times.
Game 1 started off with me going second. He used Brigette to grab a Riolu and 2 Zorua before attaching a Strong Energy to Riolu. I started with a Drampa and played N. Off of it I drew 6 unplayable cards and announced Big Wheel GX, prepared to lose Game 1 on the second turn. Fortunately for me, he missed a Double Colorless or Float Stone off of the N, 3 Trades, and his own N. This missed opportunity gave me the chance to get back in the game. Fortunately, he evolved into Lucario before playing the N, meaning my Drampa was relatively safe for the time being. On my next turn I was able to put a Trubbish and other Pokémon into play.
At this point, he began to Trade excessively because I had failed to set up Garbotoxin. He correctly Guzma’d my Trubbish to KO it with a Zoroark. In response, all I could do was Bench another Trubbish and Righteous Edge. At this point, he made a crucial mistake which allowed me to come back. He chose to KO my Active Drampa with Lucario rather than continuing to pick off Trubbish. At this point, there’s very little I can do if he continues to take a Prize every turn with access to 3 Trades. His choice gave me an easy KO with Espeon and turn to set up Garbotoxin (which I actually missed), essentially coming back into the game.
He responds to my KO with Mewtwo EVO + Choice Band. I now have 2 Tapu Lele and a Garbotoxin without a Tool on board to his 3 Zoroark and loaded Mewtwo. I manage to get a tool on Garbotoxin, attach a Double Colorless to my Tapu Lele, Field Blower a few Tools, then N. I’m in an incredibly dangerous situation because I lose to Double Colorless + Guzma at any point moving forward. I hit the Mewtwo for 80, and he has nothing to do except swing back for 60. I retreat my Tapu Lele into another one and attach another Double Colorless to KO the Mewtwo, putting me at 3 Prizes. He draws, promotes a Zoroark, and swings for 80 on my Tapu Lele.
At this point, I’m pretty well backed into a corner. Even though I’ve managed to survive, I’ve had no opportunity to swing back. He has a fresh Zoroark swinging for 80 every turn to my nothing. I now have a Trubbish, Tapu Lele, 2 Psychic Energy, Ultra Ball, N, Choice Band, and another useless card or two in my hand. It’s at this point where I devise my counter strategy.
I decide that the only way I can win is by setting up a Trashalanche. I Bench a Trubbish and Tapu Lele, then free Retreat my Active Tapu Lele into my fresh, third one. I attach an Energy from my hand to it so I can retreat it next turn. After his uneventful swing for 80 again, I Ultra Ball for Trashalanche, attach an Energy and Choice Band, then play N. I KO his Zoroark because he has 11 Items in his Discard. After looking at his two cards, he concedes.
The second game is just as tense, but is foggier in my mind. I remember going with the same Righteous Edge strategy, but I never find a Tool on Garbotoxin and he KOs it and every other Trubbish eventually. On my side, I have nothing but Energy and useless Pokémon in my hand. At one point or another his Zoroark has 120 on it, then I KO it after attaching two Psychic Energy and a Choice Band to Tauros.
I don’t remember much at all, honestly. There are little facts I can re-piece though. Going into the final turns I had a Drampa and Tauros with 80-120 on them, within 1HKO range on the Bench. He has 1 Prize left (maybe?) and is struggling to find the final Guzma. I remember using Super Rod to shuffle in a copy of both Garbodor and a Trubbish in my deck, leaving myself with a 2-1-1 line. I played N on the same turn as KOing the Zoroark, maybe a turn later, and Benched both Trubbish. The important thing I remembered is that on the following turn, I missed drawing into Garbotoxin again! I N him to 1 and KO with Trashalanche, and off of his 2 Trades he doesn’t find what he needs.
The second game was frustrating enough that I struggle to remember exactly what happened. I think I drew a Tool at one point, but then he KO’d my Garbotoxin on that turn. Unlike the first game, he continued to go after Trubbish until he established a big enough lead. Righteous Edge was being annoying and actually caused him to miss an attack for a turn or two which bought me time to draw out of my dead hand. I have to admit I got lucky to win the games, but I also didn’t make a mistake in the match. Afterward, Jake was amazed at how I managed to come back, with both of us realizing the little errors he made throughout. He’s a good player, but made tiny errors that amassed into a loss instead of a potential win. I’d also like to think that unfamiliarity in the matchup caused the errors, because in other matchups there’s no punishment for liberal Item usage or discarding Supporters.
Espeon/Garbodor is a good deck on its own when the pilot knows how to execute the deck correctly. I think a fundamental error is in people’s lists and strategy in playing the deck. Garbodor decks in general are fairly complex and alters its strategy significantly depending on the matchup. In some, you should act as the aggressor, while in others you should try to defend and extend the game as long as possible.
This is the deck I plan on taking to League Cups in the following weeks leading up to Brazil. Lucario should stay popular, Zoroark in the gutter, and a plethora of other decks people take to League Cups. The one downfall to Espeon/Garbodor would be the return of Zoroark, but that honestly won’t kill the deck entirely. I doubt Zoroark will be as strong of a force as it was in the past because Lucario is a very bad matchup, meaning you should skate by through enough rounds of good matchups and going 40-60 against Zoroark to make Day 2 or get points. I reiterate it again: learn to play the deck correctly, and play the right list. There’s no reason to diverge from the winning list.
I guess one thing this means for me is that I’m back in the race for Top 16. This now puts me at 882 points and in 15th place. On one hand I’m happy, but on the other I’m sad because I have an obligation to play real decks at League Cups. Anyway, I’ll see you all at upcoming tournaments and feel free to say hi.