Checkmate, Check-Pokémon

An NAIC Recap, What Made 1st–3rd Unique, My Own Tournament Report, and Reflections on Losing Your Head
“Pop!” goes the balloon (and my hopes for a deep NAIC run…).

Welcome back SixPrizes readers! It’s great to be home again and writing this article. The North American International Championships have come and gone and we’ve seen some of the best players in the world bring innovative new ideas to tackle the tournament head-on (or head-off, if playing Blacephalon), with Stéphane Ivanoff taking home the gold for the second year in a row! There were some crazy decks that made their way to the forefront and even decks that I had previously discounted as ever being good, like Baby Blacephalon, take a share of the limelight. Spoiler Alert: For those who don’t follow me on Twitter or Facebook: I played Baby Blacephalon.

Let’s break down the madness of the weekend and discuss why I decided to “clown around,” shall we?

Origins SPE and Week-Long Lead-Up


At the Origins Special Event I chose to try and refine an idea that seemed particularly good at the time, Zoroark-GX paired with Silvally-GX and Persian-GX. I had done minimal testing with the deck besides the Thursday night before the event and I tweaked a few card counts to my liking, such as 2 Judge in the list. The event concluded with my final record being 4-2-1 after losing two sets to unfortunate prizing, but I still netted a Top 32 finish. I decided that the Silvally-GX build of Zoroark-GX might not be the best one over the course of a long tournament because you would be prone to prizing combo pieces once or twice, and that would spell disaster. I threw the deck on the back-burner and PikaRom became my top choice once again for NAIC.


The next two days of Origins I spent playing games that weren’t Pokémon to enjoy the gaming fair culture, but I kept a close eye on the League Cups and Challenges to see what was surfacing as a sleeper pick for the main event:

  1. My friend Nathanial Kaplan had created a following of players who saw the potential in Baby Blacephalon after he took it to a Top 8 finish at the Origins Special Event and then others took his list to top cut at the Cups and Challenges.
  2. Zapdos made a comeback as well after Danny Altavilla won the SPE with it and then Magnus Pedersen won Jönköping.

I began believing that Baby Blacephalon might be a good deck for NAIC after seeing games where it was convincingly setting up checkmate early in the game. Sunday night went quietly, and myself and the gang moved to our Airbnb to spend our days in Columbus, Ohio.


Monday was a day of goofing around, escape rooms, and minimal testing, but when Bert Wolters and Stéphane Ivanoff got the the Airbnb, the atmosphere changed. Tuesday we began grinding games like there was no tomorrow. Stéphane was confident in his Zoroark-GX/Dewgong deck—that it could beat anything in the room—but I was taking games off of him convincingly with PikaRom. Henry Brand showed up with an idea I deemed to be crazy: adding a Naganadel-GX to Zoroark to be able to play from behind. Zoroark’s biggest weakness is that once it falls behind it can’t catch back up unless you have a strong Judge turn that sticks. With Naganadel-GX, the 3 Prize cards you need to take after Stinger-GX can be set up all in one turn without fail. I sat down with PikaRom and was testing once again with Stéphane and the games became much more even because of Stinger-GX + Mew. The inevitable Guzma onto my already-damaged PikaRom was too much of a threat and I truly felt like I was checkmated.

This was when I began to consider the idea of a Max Potion in PikaRom once again. Having a heal card like Max Potion can swing the game back into your favor after a cheeky play like Stinger-GX or just negate the work that your opponent has been doing to set up 2-shots on your big boy.


Wednesday and Thursday consisted of a lot more testing, but I began to lose confidence in my ability as a player after losing a lot of games in practice. Michael Bergerac proposed the idea of Super Scoop Up in PikaRom to me on Thursday night and I was intrigued. I didn’t commit to Super Scoop Ups, but I pulled them out of my binder and went to bed waiting to see what would happen in the morning.

In the morning, I woke up and switched to Baby Blacephalon because it felt good in testing, and the games where you didn’t get Let Loosed and benched, it felt like you couldn’t lose the game.

Friday/NAIC: The Locked-In List

Here is the list that I locked in for the main event alongside Joey R., Jon Eng, Kian Amini, Xander Pero, Adler Pierce, and a few others.

Pokémon – 4

4 Blacephalon UNB

Trainers – 43

4 Green’s Exploration
4 Welder
2 Erika’s Hospitality
2 Lt. Surge’s Strategy
1 Guzma

1 Lusamine p


4 Pokégear 3.0

4 Fiery Flint
4 Fire Crystal
4 Nest Ball

2 Beast Ring

2 Energy Retrieval
2 Rescue Stretcher

1 Counter Catcher
1 Energy Recycle System
1 Escape Rope

3 Wishful Baton


1 Heat Factory p

Energy – 13

13 R

Key Cards and Techs

4 Blacephalon UNB, No Other Pokémon

The idea was to make sure that you always opened a Baby Blacephalon, and with only four of these bad boys it would be tough to deviate from that strategy. Another Basic Pokémon would have helped in hindsight because the games lost came from being benched.

2 Lt. Surge’s Strategy

Most players use their only Let Loose early in the game, so I can freely build my hand as the game goes along and have a huge swing turn paired with Lusamine p.

1 Lusamine p

This card is crucial for playing against other 1-Prize decks because you get two free turns to control the game and build your board without them being able to do anything. I played against many 1-Prize decks, so the card pulled its weight.

Match Recaps and Afterthoughts

R1 vs. Zoroark-GX/Persian-GXLL (0-1-0)
R2 vs. Zoroark-GX/Slowking/Persian-GXWLW (1-1-0)
R3 vs. Jirachi/ReshiZard…WW (2-1-0)
R4 vs. Quagsire/Naganadel…WLT (2-1-1)
R5 vs. Weezing…WLW (3-1-1)
R6 vs. Big Boy Stall/BronzongLWL (3-2-1)
R7 vs. Ultra Necrozma/Malamar…WLT (3-2-2)
R8 vs. Gardevoir & Sylveon-GXWLW (4-2-2)
R9 vs. Psychic Malamar…WW (5-2-2)

Final Record: 5-2-2, Top 256

What did I think about the deck? I was full of regrets a few rounds in because I felt like the games I lost were out of my control. The games I won felt good, but the games I lost were primarily from being benched or Let Loosed until I couldn’t play the game. I dubbed the deck “Fire Greninja” because it felt similar in how the old Greninja deck would set up and win…or not set up and lose.

My R7 tie came at the hands of a less experienced player who played me to an almost 45-minute Game 1, and then I was benched Game 2, so the series would never end. This was my fault; I should have asked my opponent to pick up their pace of play or called a judge earlier because my opponent did receive a warning toward the end of the round, as we were one of the last tables still playing.

The Stall player I hit in R6 was our own Peter Kica who was sporting a Bronzong build, which effectively gave me two turns to do something about it or lose. I played no hand disruption, so I could never do anything to him once he used a Steven’s Resolve.

I should have stuck to my guns and played PikaRom as I knew it like the back of my hand, but we live and learn. The lesson here is to be confident in yourself, and, as I tell anyone who asks me for advice, play what you know best because your knowledge of your deck and matchups will carry you through a long tournament.

Looking at NAIC Top 8

As the dust finally settled, we had our Top 8 from NAIC:

1st: Stéphane Ivanoff—Zoroark-GX/Persian-GX/Dewgong/Naganadel-GX
2nd: Emery Taylor—PikaRom
3rd: Nathanial Kaplan—Baby Blacephalon
4th: Diego Cassiraga—Jirachi/Zapdos/PikaRom
5th: Martin Janous—Ultra Necrozma/Malamar
6th: Magnus Pedersen—ZapBeasts
7th: Preston Ellis—Vileplume/Stall
8th: Hunter ButlerStunfisk/Spiritomb

Top 8 had seven different archetypes, and the two similar decks were built with extremely different engines. It was super cool to see so much diversity and so many different ideas pull through. Let’s look at some of the lists that performed well and discuss why they did so well.

1st: Stéphane Ivanoff—Zoroark-GX/Dewgong

Pokémon (24)

4 Zorua SLG

4 Zoroark-GX

2 Seel UNB

2 Dewgong UNB

1 Meowth TEU

1 Persian-GX

1 Poipole LOT

1 Naganadel-GX FLI

1 Alolan Muk SUM

1 Ditto p

2 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Dedenne-GX

1 Mew UNB

1 Marshadow UNB

1 Giratina LOT

Trainer (28)

4 Lillie

3 Guzma

2 Judge

1 Acerola

1 Tate & Liza


4 Nest Ball

4 Pokémon Communication

3 Ultra Ball

2 Rescue Stretcher

1 Field Blower

1 Pal Pad


2 Choice Band

Energy (8)

4 Double Colorless

4 Triple Acceleration


Copy List

****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******

##Pokémon - 24

* 4 Zorua SLG 52
* 4 Zoroark-GX SLG 53
* 2 Seel UNB 44
* 2 Dewgong UNB 45
* 1 Meowth TEU 125
* 1 Persian-GX UNB 149
* 1 Poipole LOT 107
* 1 Naganadel-GX FLI 56
* 1 Alolan Muk SUM 58
* 1 Ditto p LOT 154
* 2 Tapu Lele-GX GRI 60
* 1 Dedenne-GX UNB 57
* 1 Mew UNB 76
* 1 Marshadow UNB 81
* 1 Giratina LOT 97

##Trainer Cards - 28

* 4 Lillie SUM 122
* 3 Guzma BUS 115
* 2 Judge BKT 143
* 1 Acerola BUS 112
* 1 Tate & Liza CES 148
* 4 Nest Ball SUM 123
* 4 Pokémon Communication BLW 99
* 3 Ultra Ball SUM 135
* 2 Rescue Stretcher GRI 130
* 1 Pal Pad FLF 92
* 1 Field Blower GRI 125
* 2 Choice Band GRI 121

##Energy - 8

* 4 Double Colorless Energy SUM 136
* 4 Triple Acceleration Energy UNB 190

Total Cards - 60

****** via SixPrizes: ******

Stéphane’s list was incredibly smart and capitalized on from playing from behind. Dewgong was instrumental in setting up splash damage across the board to have a few easier turns to close out the game after Stinger-GX.

1 Giratina LOT

Giratina is good because it sets up Prizes on Pokémon with 70 HP after you use Stinger-GX and a Dual Blizzard. If anyone watched the Seniors TCG finals, we saw Isaiah Bradner masterfully set up damage on two Weezings, follow this up with a Distortion Door, and then use Mew to take 3 Prizes in the same turn. Spreading damage across the board is the name of the game for this version of the deck, and Giratina helps a lot with that.

2 Judge

The biggest card in this deck that screams comeback is Judge. Playing 2 Judge is such an easy inclusion because Zoroark-GX sets up so quickly, and once it has established multiple Trades in a turn, it isn’t as bothered by putting itself at 4 cards.

The rest of the list speaks for itself. Huge congrats to both Stéphane and Isaiah for winning their divisions with this extremely powerful 60-card list!

2nd: Emery Taylor—PikaRom

Pokémon (16)

2 Pikachu & Zekrom-GX

2 Zeraora-GX

2 Zapdos TEU

1 Tapu Koko p

1 Tapu Koko-GX

1 Raikou SLG

2 Marshadow SLG

2 Dedenne-GX

1 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Wobbuffet LOT

1 Marshadow UNB

Trainer (33)

4 Guzma

4 Lillie

2 Volkner


4 Electropower

4 Energy Switch

4 Ultra Ball

2 Electromagnetic Radar

2 Field Blower

2 Nest Ball

1 Escape Rope

1 Rescue Stretcher


2 Choice Band


1 Thunder Mountain p

Energy (11)

11 L


Copy List

****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******

##Pokémon - 16

* 2 Pikachu & Zekrom-GX TEU 33
* 2 Zeraora-GX LOT 86
* 2 Zapdos TEU 40
* 1 Tapu Koko p TEU 51
* 1 Tapu Koko-GX GRI 47
* 1 Raikou SLG 32
* 2 Marshadow SLG 45
* 2 Dedenne-GX UNB 57
* 1 Tapu Lele-GX GRI 60
* 1 Wobbuffet LOT 93
* 1 Marshadow UNB 81

##Trainer Cards - 33

* 4 Lillie SUM 122
* 4 Guzma BUS 115
* 2 Volkner UPR 135
* 4 Electropower LOT 172
* 4 Energy Switch SUM 117
* 4 Ultra Ball SUM 135
* 2 Nest Ball SUM 123
* 2 Electromagnetic Radar UNB 169
* 2 Field Blower GRI 125
* 1 Escape Rope BUS 114
* 1 Rescue Stretcher GRI 130
* 2 Choice Band GRI 121
* 1 Thunder Mountain p LOT 191

##Energy - 11

* 11 L Energy Energy 4

Total Cards - 60

****** via SixPrizes: ******

Does this list look familiar? It should! It’s only a few cards off from the list Xander Pero and myself piloted at Madison a few weeks ago (and the list I wrote about previously). What changes did Emery make that gave him a unique advantage at NAIC?

1 Raikou SLG

Raikou is a cute card when you have Tapu Koko p prized to accelerate another Energy onto the board. Prizing Tapu Koko p is usually the reason that games feel lost early, especially if you go second. Raikou also feels strong against Zapdos-based decks and Stall decks that use the Hoopa engine, rather than Vileplume.

4 Guzma, 1 Escape Rope

After playing Madison, I felt like an idiot for not playing 4 Guzma. The power of Guzma in an aggressive deck like this cannot be understated. We saw Emery use Guzma three turns in a row to slow down Stéphane’s board in the finals by picking off pivotal pieces of his combo. The Escape Rope can put your opponent in a tough spot, but it can also act as a switching card when you yourself are in a pinch.

Emery chose a powerful deck and what was my top choice until the morning of. The power of Full Blitz and the options that the deck creates with the multiple attackers cannot be underestimated. Congrats to Emery for representing America so well and being the best performing player from our region!

3rd: Nathaniel Kaplan—Blacephalon

Pokémon (6)

4 Blacephalon UNB

1 Blacephalon-GX

1 Victini p

Trainer (41)

4 Green’s Exploration

4 Welder

1 Bill’s Analysis

1 Guzma

1 Lusamine p


4 Fiery Flint

4 Fire Crystal

4 Nest Ball

4 Pokégear 3.0

3 Acro Bike

3 Energy Retrieval

2 Rescue Stretcher


4 Wishful Baton


1 Heat Factory p

1 Ultra Space

Energy (13)

13 R


Copy List

****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******

##Pokémon - 6

* 4 Blacephalon UNB 32
* 1 Blacephalon-GX LOT 52
* 1 Victini p DRM 7

##Trainer Cards - 41

* 4 Green's Exploration UNB 175
* 4 Welder UNB 189
* 1 Bill’s Analysis TEU 133
* 1 Guzma BUS 115
* 1 Lusamine p LOT 182
* 4 Pokégear 3.0 UNB 182
* 4 Nest Ball SUM 123
* 4 Fire Crystal UNB 173
* 4 Fiery Flint DRM 60
* 3 Acro Bike PRC 122
* 3 Energy Retrieval SUM 116
* 2 Rescue Stretcher GRI 130
* 4 Wishful Baton BUS 128
* 1 Ultra Space FLI 115
* 1 Heat Factory p LOT 178

##Energy - 13

* 13 R Energy Energy 2

Total Cards - 60

****** via SixPrizes: ******

Nathaniel brought this version of Baby Blacephalon into the forefront after his stellar performance at Origins SPE. His list varied from the one my group played—he focused on having as much draw and cycle as possible, with cards like Acro Bike and Ultra Space.

3 Acro Bike, No Pokégear 3.0

Pokégear is a powerful card when it gets you a Green’s Exploration Turn 1, but when it doesn’t, it is a dead card. Nathaniel chose to go the Acro Bike route because Acro Bike are useful throughout all phases of the game and allow you to have a little extra dig in the early game, after a Let Loose even.

1 Blacephalon-GX, 1 Victini p

Blacephalon-GX is probably the worst starter that the deck can have, but if you can maneuver the game to take 5 Prize cards without burning all of your resources, then the last Prize card is attainable with a simple Burst-GX. Victini p feels difficult to fully utilize because the deck doesn’t play enough Energy to yield high damage from Infinity, but in the middle of the game, if some of your Fiery Flints are left and you are running low on Energy, you can always use the attack to throw Energy back into your deck.

Huge congrats to Nathaniel for making it so far. He was the ring leader of our circus of clowns this weekend, and bringing back a deck that was thought to be dead is a laudable feat.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

That’s going to be all from me on NAIC. The next article you see from me will be just prior to the first weekend of Unified Minds Prereleases, so hopefully I can give you all my thoughts on the cards I believe will make an impact on the Standard format for Worlds and the start of 2019–2020 (UPR–Unified Minds). I have secured Top 16 North America after a long season and am beyond excited for the World Championships to be taking place in my hometown, Washington, D.C., in a little under two months. If there’s anything you should take from this NAIC, it is to be confident in yourself and your crazy deck ideas because anything is possible. Just look at the decks in Top 8 this weekend!

Thank you all for reading and until next time!

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