Four Players, One Tournament — Four U.S. National Championship Reports and Reflections

Hello PokeBeach! I’m back from another Nationals. This was my fourth one to date! As we all know, the year’s biggest tournament usually takes place in Indianapolis. However, this year, Pokemon decided to move the whole shebang to Columbus, Ohio. I definitely like Indianapolis better as a city and a location for the tournament, but Ohio was a bit closer for me to get to, so that was nice.

Indianapolis, you will be missed!

In this article I, along with three of my testing partners, Dylan Dreyer, Henry Ross-Clunis and Igor Costa, will go over our individual Nationals tournament reports. While none of us were able to make the second day of competition, each of us played a unique deck for the event, and we all learned a lot from this humbling experience. Even if you don’t get insight from the best players at this event, we all have some thoughtful advice to share with you about preparing for tournaments and the ins-and-outs of our lists. And you’ll get to hear from our excellent guest writers, too!

Before I start, I’d like to do some quick and guilt-free self-promotion. I stream on Twitch every week about three or four times. I usually stream Hearthstone, but I’m incorporating more PTCGO into my schedule, so I’ll be doing that at least once a week as well. I like to chat more than I like to focus on the game while streaming, so come hang out sometime and gossip about everything Pokemon related! You can also follow me on Twitter to see when I’ll go live. Anyways… here we go.

Tournament Reports

Unfortunately, I had to work the Thursday right before the tournament began on Friday, so I was limited in terms of getting there. I ended up arriving at my hotel at 4 AM, needless to say, this was a huge bummer. I traveled with four members of my testing team: Igor Costa, Henry Ross-Clunis, and Dylan Dreyer. The last member, premium writer Jimmy Pendarvis, left my apartment early in order to get to Ohio earlier for more sleep and prep time. This was a smart decision on his part, but one I couldn’t make myself due to work.

So when we got there at 4 AM, we had about three hours to sleep before having to leave the room for the tournament. Part of what I want to talk about in this article, besides the lists we all played, is preparation for large tournaments like Nationals. This was the largest Pokemon TCG tournament ever. I missed the in-person registration, but luckily we all pre-registered online beforehand, or we wouldn’t have even been able to play! I heard they turned away lots of people after reaching the attendance cap, which is completely crazy. I guess the increased cash prize support really attracted more players than usual.

Me when I got to the hotel room.

Although I haven’t really played in many tournaments this season, I have been keeping up with the meta and what people are playing. However, I learned this weekend that simply having all the information is not enough, at least for me as a player. I’m no Tom Dolezal. Theorymon is a great tool and one that people with busier schedules can employ in order to make up for lost testing time. When I say theorymon, I’m using a slang term for thinking about decks and the meta and lists and plays, simply in one’s mind, without touching any physical cards. Most players do this and lots of good players are constantly thinking about the TCG in addition to testing with their team.

I’m not trying to make excuses for myself for playing badly. I’m just giving my perspective and reflecting. This was the first year since I started playing that I haven’t gone out to tournaments on a regular basis. It’s not as much like riding a bike as I thought it would be. Losing touch with different techs and cards is one thing, but losing all my good habits as a competitive player is another. This weekend, I made careless misplays that I wouldn’t have made previously. An example that stood out to me is that I played a Trainers' Mail at the beginning of my turn. I selected the best option out of those four cards, a Sycamore, but I had a Shaymin-EX in my hand, as well as a VS Seeker and a Supporter in the discard pile. Just because I played Trainers’ Mail doesn’t mean I needed to take anything. I made a similar mistake later when I failed to grab a Pokemon off an Ultra Ball when it would have thinned my deck, allowing me to potentially draw a card I needed later. It’s small things like these that make or break a game, and I failed in my attention to detail, for the most part.

Now, I don’t think I made any egregious misplays. The mistakes I made were minor gameplay errors, in my opinion, caused by me not being used to competitive play anymore. I’ve always been much better at analysis and deck building than actual gameplay, but I’ve been nurturing the former all year and neglecting the latter. I thought that choosing the right deck would be enough, but that’s not how it is, at least for me.

Also, getting sleep before the tournament is really important! I started the day on tilt. I was tired, and the hotel was 15 minutes away from the venue, and parking was irritating, but I made it to the player meeting with a bit of time to spare. I needed to re-sleeve my deck, so right after the meeting I headed to the vendor, where purchasing my sleeves took about eight minutes. Then I looked at my phone, saw that I had 15 minutes until the round started, and began to re-sleeve. Halfway through, I got a text from Jimmy saying that we were about to play, so I scooped up my stuff and rushed into the other room. They were starting the round 10 minutes early, so I asked a Judge if I could get time to finish re-sleeving and thoroughly shuffle, because I didn’t want myself or my opponent to feel rushed throughout the game. The judge said no and marked me late, although I was in my seat and I get two minutes to shuffle anyway. I appealed to the head judge and she repealed the decision, but I was already frustrated. I sometimes feel like the judges are on a witch hunt to penalize players for no reason when we are all supposedly there to have fun.

Yeah, I’m surprised you were everywhere too.

We’re mostly at the end of my gripe session, so let’s move on to what was played. I knew that Dark decks would be popular and a decent play after Jimmy McClure won the Origins tournament with a Darkrai-EX / Garbodor deck. However, I was only partially correct here, because I thought most players would cut Garbodor from the list, similarly to what Sorina Radu did, because it’s not entirely necessary and the deck runs more smoothly without it. Also, you have a better matchup against the clunkier Garbodor version. I also expected more straightforward Dark builds without Giratina-EX, but players mostly seemed to continue to use Giratina-EX and Double Colorless Energy. I think a Seismitoad-EX / Double Colorless Energy version would be better, but that wasn’t played much. I also knew Vespiquen would be a deck to watch out for, possibly with Vileplume, because of its great matchup against WaterBox, a deck that was receiving quite a bit of hype, including from my own teammates. I knew Greninja and M Sceptile-EX would not be popular because these are inconsistent decks that most players do not want to take the risk of bringing to Nationals. They never caught on in the States, despite doing well in foreign countries. I expected to see a lot of M Manectric-EX decks as well, because they have a history of being played at Nats and in this type of meta. However, I wasn’t too worried about the Lightning Dog, because I think the deck is and has always been underwhelming. It seems good in theory, but usually can’t get there, so I figured these would fall off after the first few rounds.

My team and I decided that the best decks were WaterBox, Trevenant, Night March, and Greninja. I was iffy on Night March and Greninja being good plays, and I ranked Greninja last on decks that I might possibly play. Dark was also in the mix for me, but I ended up going with Trevenant. The five of us ended up playing a combination of all these decks, because we felt they were almost all equally strong, just dependent on what matchups we would face throughout the day.

Like I said, I embraced Trevenant for this tournament, although I had never played it before. I knew of a list that used Hammers to disrupt, but I wanted to go for more consistency in getting a turn one Ghost Tree. This is ironic since this only happened twice for me, but it is what it is.

Nicholena Moon

Pokemon (14)

3x Trevenant BREAK (BKP #66)4x Trevenant (XY #55)4x Phantump (BKP #64)3x Shaymin-EX (RSK #77)

Trainers (38)

4x Professor Sycamore (PHF #101)3x N (FAC #105)3x Wally (RSK #94)1x Team Flare Grunt (XY #129)1x Delinquent (BKP #98)1x AZ (PHF #91)1x Lysandre (AOR #78)4x VS Seeker (PHF #109)4x Ultra Ball (FAC #113)4x Trainers' Mail (RSK #92)4x Bursting Balloon (BKP #97)2x Battle Compressor (PHF #92)1x Startling Megaphone (FLF #97)1x Level Ball (AOR #76)4x Dimension Valley (PHF #93)

Energy (8)

8x Psychic Energy (GEN #79)

The reason I chose to play Trevenant is because I thought it had pretty good matchups against most of the field. Even if I hit a bad matchup, sometimes the turn one Item lock going first can be enough to win the game right there. Silent Fear is also a great attack, and Trevenant BREAK is a 160 HP behemoth of a non-EX. Rough Seas shuts that attack right down, but I played four Stadiums and a Delinquent to hopefully combat that as much as I could.

I’m going to go through and give a brief recap of everyone’s rounds. Mine will be short since I only played three. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I won’t lie to you: this was my literal worst tournament ever. I did not win a single round. That does not feel good, and I’m definitely not used to it. I hope that this never happens again in the rest of my Pokemon career! Anyways, let’s go back to the little scenario I was describing before now. I was in such a panic to re-sleeve my deck, I was already on tilt. Yes, this is partially my own fault — actually, mostly my own fault. Either way, I ended up leaving out three Trevenant BREAK from the deck. I discovered this when I went to play a Wally to evolve one, and thought it statistically unlikely that they were all prized. I checked my deck box and lo and behold they were there. I knew I could not win the game without it, although with it I was going to win, so I called a judge over. I got a game loss obviously and I put the cards in the deck and went first game two.

This round I’m describing was against a Darkrai-EX / Giratina-EX / Garbodor deck. The matchup is fine for me if I draw Startling Megaphone or get the Trevenant out turn one. I did the latter and the game was a relatively quick draw-pass affair. In game three, he put down a Trubbish plus Float Stone on turn one and my Startling Megaphone was prized. I really should have played Xerosic for just these situations, but I didn’t expect to see tons of Garbodor, and usually removing the Tool once is enough. I could have also KO’d the Garbodor, but I was never able to get enough Energy to attack and Lysandre in the same hand before he would KO my Trevenant. When that deck can play Items, they can get tons of Energy on the board very fast. My opponent was able to flood the board with Energy and I was unable to stabilize it long enough to take a Knock Out.

In my second round, I was facing a M Manectric-EX / Garbodor. Game one, I got donked. I opened Phantump, played N, and did not draw another Pokemon. He opens Manectric-EX, attaches to it, benches a second Manectric-EX, plays a Max Elixir that is successful, and plays N. He then plays another Max Elixir, again successful, retreats the Active Manectric-EX, and KO’s my Phantump. The second game I went first and got a turn one Trevenant. He looks at his hand, draws, plays a Pokemon, and passes. I attach Energy to Trevenant, bench a Shaymin-EX to draw two cards, and pass. He looks at his topdeck, benches Trubbish, uses Lysandre on the Shaymin-EX, attaches Float Stone, plays Ultra Ball, and draws up to six with Shaymin. I’m like, okay, how do I win this? He has M Manectric-EX and Garbodor. I can never kill a M Manectric-EX, especially one with free retreat being healed every turn by Rough Seas, and they pump Energy back to the Bench so I’m always behind. I’m also very tilted from the first “game” at this point, so I just scooped the match.

My third round was a similar sob story. It was a weird combo of the first two rounds, one game I got donked, one I got a turn two Trevenant and won, and then I scooped the third game. It was another M Manectric-EX / Garbodor. I didn’t play against any Night March, WaterBox, regular Darkrai-EX / Giratina-EX, or Fighting decks, which were all good matchups. I could not have made a worse choice for my personal variance, but there was no way I could have known that. Other Trevenant did well in my pod, making day two, so I guess it was a combination of horrible luck and slight misplays on my part (though I don’t know if I would have won the game if it weren’t for them anyway). I’m still fine with my deck choice, and I would make it again if I knew I would get different matchups.

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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