Hello ‘Beach goers! It’s truly a pleasure to be joining you here again for more competitive Pokemon card discussion. I hope all of your summers are going well and that you have been able to get some rest and enjoy yourselves during these warmer months. For those of us who attended National Championships two weekends ago, “post Nationals depression” is finally wearing off and life is beginning to return to normal. This is a funny time in the competitive Pokemon season. Some are doing their best to concoct an ideal play for the World Championships over a month away in August, while others have their eyes set on Ancient Origins and the recently-announced XY-On Rotation. Either way, this is definitely one of the most relaxed times of year in the Pokemon Trading Card Game, and it’s a much welcomed break if you ask me! The downtime I’ve had in the last couple weeks has given me some much needed perspective, while also renewing my love for the game. It has been a refreshing change of pace to say the least!
In this article, I will touch on my U.S. Nationals performance and share some of my more recent lighthearted experiences with the Pokemon Trading Card Game before diving into a full-fledged deck breakdown and analysis of Steve Guthrie’s wild and powerful Archie’s Blastoise deck. Steve was able to earn top 16 honors with his unique Blastoise deck at the U.S. National Championships, and I was able to get an awesome interview with him to help give some insight as to why the deck works so well and how he came up with it! Steve has been piloting Blastoise with success since State Championships, so his Nationals run is no fluke. Blastoise has always been one of my favorite archetypes and is extremely fun to play, so I jumped at the opportunity to test and reign in Steve’s already proven list. After doing a turn one 170 damage with Secret Sword my first time out, I instantly fell in love with the deck and now it is one of my top picks heading into the World Championships! Even if you’re not playing in Worlds this August, I wouldn’t miss this opportunity to play Blastoise in this new and exciting way, whether it be at League, on Pokemon Trading Card Game Online, or amongst friends at home. Blastoise will be rotating out of Standard play come September, so this could be your last chance to pilot the Rain Dancer for a while! Don’t miss out!
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U.S. Nationals: Raichu Down for the Count
Despite my solid performance throughout the year so far, my performance at Nationals this year was not exactly one to write home about. By the time Nationals week rolled around, I was pretty set on playing a Raichu variant. Raichu had been testing very well with me in the weeks prior to Nationals and the Mouse’s success at Canadian Nationals only boosted my confidence in the deck’s viability. Heading into the tournament with two byes, I was pretty confident that I could do well if I just brought a consistent and hard-hitting deck to the tables and let it do work! But much to my dismay, this was not the case. This Nationals was certainly a learning experience for myself, and a humbling one at that. I was pretty hard on myself in the moments after my tournament run was over. My expectations had not been set this high in quite some time! I was definitely bummed, but all in all, I had a great time with my friends, old and new, and I am happy with the way things turned out either way. This experience will only make me a stronger and more seasoned player in the long run.
So what happened? I played a version of Dark Raichu that I had been toying with since the Lysandre's Trump Card ban and initially wrote about here. Though I liked Raichu / Crobat, I did not want to play it for Nationals, as I felt like the deck was inconsistent at times and played too few basic Energy to have a decent Metal matchup, while also struggling to maintain KOs against the popular Seismitoad-EX / Crobat deck. Dark Raichu is much more consistent and reliable, however, my main issue with that deck is its damage ceiling. Raichu / Crobat is capable of hitting KOs outside Raichu’s Circle Circuit range thanks to Crobat’s additional damage output, but Dark Raichu has to hope to 2HKO larger threats with the help of Yveltal‘s Oblivion Wing. As I continued testing, I thought that I might try and include a thin Colorless M Rayquaza-EX line in Dark Raichu in order to give the deck a harder hitting tank option. The idea seemed to make sense, since both Raichu and Cololress Rayquaza use Sky Field to boost their damage output and attack quickly with the help of Double Colorless Energy. Sure enough, I was able to construct the deck in a way so that obtaining a turn one Colorless M Rayquaza-EX with an Energy attached could happen in nearly 80% of my games without the use of any Spirit Links. Rayquaza’s Delta Evolution Trait makes it so that the Dragon was very easy to get into play, and since I would only be playing Mega Ray in a few matchups, I didn’t mind sacking a single turn, especially a turn one, just to Mega Evolve. The deck was fluid and consistent, and could stream Circle Circuits for 180 damage easily as early as turn two. Colorless M Rayquaza-EX helped patch up Raichu’s Landorus-EX / Crobat, Toad / Bats, Primal Groudon-EX, and Primal Kyogre-EX matchups, so I figured I was good to go!
As it turns out, however, I did not have a clear read on the metagame to be. I did not in any way anticipate the number of M Manectric-EX decks that would rear their heads at Nationals, and even though my friends and I had our hands on a Wailord-EX deck the night before the tournament, we all (incorrectly) dismissed it as a legitimate play. At Wisconsin Regionals, I got burned by altering my deck for Day Two to accommodate for all of the Archeops hype, so I had sworn off believing last minute hearsay before big tournaments. But sure enough, there I was the day before Nationals being warned about Manectric by my friend Jimmy McClure, and not wanting to believe it because I hadn’t heard anything about it previously. Until Nationals, my motto had been “just go with what you know best,” but it turns out, what you know best isn’t always going to be the greatest meta call for a given day. From now on, I’m definitely going to want a few backup plans heading into tournaments like this. I can’t always get away with being “all in” on one archetype. If there is one thing I did get right, however, it’s that Garbodor proved to be a strong play for Nationals as I correctly predicted at the end of my last article. It seems clear that Garbodor is poised to enjoy success during the World Championships as well, before inevitably rotating into the world of Regionals Day Two Expanded decks.
Just for reference, here is the Dark Raichu list I ended up playing at Nationals, along with a brief record of my matches. It is certainly a fun deck and I think the idea has potential, so I’m not bummed about the work I put into it. This’ll be one to put in the books and maybe hang onto for another day.
3x N (NVI #92)
I started out my Nationals run with an immediate loss to Ben Moscow’s top 4 Metal deck. His list was very similar to the one that Chase Maloney piloted to a Canadian Nationals victory the week prior. I had issues finding Darkness Energy in both of my games, and by the time I began attaching single Energies to my Pikachus, Ben was able to Lysandre them up before I could even hit into his Aegislash-EX with Raichu. Throughout this series, I realized that Rayquaza-EX was indeed very good, but that I might as well be piloting a Metal Rayquaza deck altogether at this point, like fellow ‘Beach writer Ben Sauk did to great success! Aeigislash was simply too strong for my Double Colorless dependent deck and I took the loss.
I was able to come back and win my next two games, toppling a Landorus-EX / Crobat deck as well as a Fairy Box deck. Going into round six at 4-1, I was feeling pretty good, but then see I am paired against my friend Jimmy McClure who I know is piloting Landorus / Crobat. I had just beaten a Landorus / Crobat deck in one of the previous rounds (a feat for any Raichu-centric deck), but I knew Jimmy’s list was really solid, because I helped him with it minutes before the player meeting! Jimmy and I had a very close series that eventually came down to a tie. Knowing that I would need solid performances from here on out in order to make Day Two, I dive into round seven hoping for the best. I see I am facing a Donphan deck, which shouldn’t be too bad so long as I am able to stream Lysandre and sit behind my beefy Yveltals, however, I open unplayable hands in both of my games and swiftly take the loss. At one point in game two I actually bring the game down to one Prize by taking multiple Phanpy KOs with Rayquaza-EX‘s reckless Dragon Pulse attack, but I can’t find a way to take the last Prize after multiple Ns to one and eventually lose the match.
Going into round eight I know I need to win out to have a chance at Day Two, but inevitably enough, I get paired with a M Manectric-EX / Ninetales / Rough Seas deck. Both games I am not running very well, and am unable to get the turn two Raichu KO on the opposing Manectric. Game two I am actually able take four prizes under Ninetales’ lock with a M Rayquaza-EX equipped with a Muscle Band that can conveniently swing for 170, but eventually he is able to get a M Manectric-EX going to KO my Rayquaza and N me to low numbers that I can’t pull out of with my nerfed Raichu damage and lack of Bench space. And that was it! Nationals was over. I had no chance at making Day Two with my third loss, so I dropped from the tournament and went out to enjoy time with friends, trying not to dwell on under-performing.
I could write it off as bad luck, bad matchups, or poor draws, but that would be doing myself and you all a disservice. I think anytime things don’t go well in Pokemon, it is the opportunity for a learning experience. So long as this is your outlook, you will continue to get better with each tournament, regardless of how you finish! U.S. Nationals was filled with anti-meta and counter decks. I should have known better than to roll up with one of the most feared archetypes that everyone would have an answer for. Raichu’s surprise factor had long worn off since Wisconsin Regionals and players had figured out how to counter it by U.S. Nationals. Pokemon is all about being one step ahead, and that is something I have to keep in mind for my next competition. I have my eyes set on Worlds now, where bigger and better things are at stake, so it’s officially time to get my act together for Boston! But before all that, I had to take a little time off to regroup.
Theme Deck Mayhem
The week after U.S. Nationals, I left home again to visit my family for a week in Baltimore, MD. Though this required quite a bit of traveling, it was great experience overall! I got to attend an Orioles game with my dad, experience the Visionary Arts Museum in Federal Hill, go for runs along the Inner Harbor, and spend time with various friends from my childhood that I don’t get to see much anymore. Kristen and I made a conscious decision not to bring our Pokemon Cards on the trip, so we could take a little break from cards having just returned from a grueling National Championship. But of course, being the nerds we are, Pokemon had to make an appearance somehow!
While hanging out with my best friend Alex and his wife, Courtney, Alex mentions to me that he had been considering picking up a couple Pokemon Theme Decks so he and his wife could learn how to play the TCG. Although I did not start playing the Pokemon Trading Card game competitively until the release of Noble Victories, I was an avid Pokemon Card fan throughout my childhood and used to play Pokemon Cards casually with Alex in high school. When I’d spend the night over his house on weekends, we’d ride our bikes out to the 7-11 and spend all of our lawn cutting money on ex FireRed and LeafGreen packs, trying to pull our favorite Pokemon ex. We had our own bad Unlimited decks that we would continuously pit against each other, and we never played with Weaknesses and Resistances, because I had a Lightning-type deck and he had a Water-type deck, so that just wouldn’t be fair. With such fond memories of Pokemon Cards, Alex was anxious to grab a Theme Deck and have some fun. So we made a run out to the store and we each carefully selected our own Decks to pilot for that night. Kirsten and I did our best to coach Alex and Courtney how to play, however, we were not sure if either of them really got it. At the end of a long night, we called it quits and went our separate ways in the morning.
Sure enough, the next day I get a call from Alex who is at the store, again, but this time he is wondering which Theme Decks his friends should buy, and which packs he should purchase if he wants to pull a Charizard-EX. With no reasonable way to quell his enthusiasm, I direct him to Flashfire over the phone. We end up going back to Alex’s that night, but this time, it is an all out Theme Deck battle royale. He and his friends had spent the day ripping packs and each of their Theme Decks now featured a Pokemon-EX! Knowing that Kirsten and I’s Burning Winds and Aurora Blast Theme Decks will not make the cut in this advanced field, we go ahead and purchase Blaziken-EX and Swampert-EX tins to beef up our respective decks with these never used Pokemon-EX cards. Alex and Courtney were absolutely hooked. When we arrive at their house that night, Alex is already complaining about how powerful Courtney’s deck had gotten and was drilling me about which cards he could add to his deck to make it better. We spend the night messing around with our decks, playing games and trading various cards that would have been sold for bulk in any other reasonable scenario. As Kirsten and I are lying down for bed that night we laugh and I ask “do you think we made their lives better or worse?”
The fun of discovering (or rediscovering) the Pokemon Trading Card game is really a wonderful thing. Our friends were absolutely addicted with their new-found hobby, and it was neat to watch the cogs turn as they each revealed new strategies to outwit their opponents. I had one of the best times I’d had with Pokemon Cards in a long time that week, playing bad cards without sleeves with good friends. It reminded me of when I got back into the game, and more importantly why I got back into the game: for joy, good times, and friendships. Being the competitive person I am, of course I play to win as well, but this experience allowed me to check myself and realize that winning isn’t the only thing I love about this fantastic game we share.
Shortly after round seven concluded at the U.S. National Championships this year, I saw my friend Carl Scheu was looking extremely disgruntled (to put it lightly). Carl was piloting a very good Metal list that he had been working on for months leading up to the National Championships. But sure enough, Carl had just taken his second lost to Blastoise on the day, knocking him out of contention for Day Two. Two Blastoise decks in seven rounds? Just ask Carl, he’ll tell you the astronomically small odds of that happening. After Carl calmed himself, it was story time, and not one you’d want to miss!
Carl went on to weave a sob-worthy tale for the ages. He’s paired against Steve Guthrie’s Archie’s Blastoise and sure enough, Steve gets a six Energy Keldeo-EX rolling turn one going first in the series. That’s a lot to see go down before you even get to play one turn. Thankfully, Carl plays a Mewtwo-EX, so he should be okay… right? Steve KO’s Carl’s Active Seismitoad-EX and Carl responds with a Mewtwo-EX X Ball KO and a prompt N to four cards. Not bad right? Maybe the N will stick? No chance. Steve responds with another six Energy Secret Sword to KO Carl’s Mewtwo-EX. Devastating! But Carl’s not going down without a fight. Carl uses Computer Search to find his single copy of Revive and Revives the Mewtwo while N’ing Steve to two cards! Carl is able to pull off another swift OHKO on Steve’s second Keldeo-EX. If Steve is not able to draw out of this one, Carl will have a good shot to win the game. But alas, Steve hits the Shaymin-EX off the N to two cards and pulls off a third consecutive Secret Sword for 170 damage to end the game. Carl is able to seal away the second game by denying Steve access to Items with Seismitoad early and taking Prizes with Heatran, but game three Carl is overwhelmed by back to back to back Secret Swords once again and loses the series.
Dang Carl, I mean, what more could you have done? Talk about bad beats stories. I wrote this off as a case of Carl’s opponent drawing like Hercules and didn’t put much thought into it at the moment. However, after watching Steve take this Blastoise deck all the way to a top 16 finish, my interest was officially piqued! I found Steve’s list and started toying around with it to see what it was all about, and sure enough I was blown away. I’ve seen articles that say Mewtwo-EX counters this deck outright, but clearly that is not the case. Wanting to hear more about how this original deck came to surface in a game that hasn’t seen Blastoise for an entire season, I contacted Steve for an interview and he was gracious enough to share with us his thoughts! Below I will post Steve’s list for reference before sharing our interview, my personal experience testing with the deck, tips on netting a turn one Blastoise, a couple additional options for the list, and my thoughts on how Blastoise fits into the current metagame! If you’re going to the World Championships, you won’t want to miss out on this opportunity to learn about one of the best up-and-coming decks of this format! As I said earlier in the article, this deck is one of my top choices for Worlds, and after reading the rest of this article, you will most certainly find out why!
This concludes the public portion of this article.
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