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Chris Fulop

North American Intercontinental Championship Review

Pokemon's Largest Tournament Just Concluded, Revealing A Wide Open Metagame At The Top Of The Mountain!

10. 07. 2017 by Chris Fulop

Hello again everyone!

The North American Intercontinental Championships – US Nationals – is in the books. On the topic of books, this one goes down in the history books as the single largest Pokémon tournament ever, with nearly 1,400 Masters alone! In revenge for American Michael Pramawat's victory in London earlier this year, Europe struck back with Tord Reklev and his Garbodor Drampa deck defeating last American standing John Kettler's Decidueye Vileplume deck in the finals! Beyond these two players, both of whom have had an absolutely stellar season, the entire Top 8 of the event was absolutely stacked!

Grafton unfortunately bubbled in 9th place, despite having the same overall points as many of the players who settled into the Top 8, and I feel like that makes his inclusion worthwhile here as well. Overall, we saw arguably 7 different decks make it into the Top 8 of this event, as while both John and Igor ran Decidueye decks, Igor opted for a version that omitted Vileplume entirely which in turn really changes the dynamic of the deck. The two decks are different enough I can't help but classify them as different archetypes despite the overlap. Grafton using Greninja carries a bit of weight to it as well, as it puts a 2nd copy of Greninja within the Top 8 point range, which really changes how you have to evaluate the archetype's overall performance. It is not just an isolated strong performance out of a top player that could potentially be an outlier placement, you now have two copies of the deck doing well and that is difficult to ignore. I'll break down all 8 of these lists later into the article.

I did not end up attending this tournament, as early in the week of the event, I am informed that registration had hit its cap online, and I had not yet pre-registered, leaving me effectively locked out of the event. I assumed there was a chance that they would end up taking on-site registrations anyways (I actually do not know if they did or not, and part of me would rather not know in retrospect.) but I was not going to make the fairly expensive trip on the off chance that I had a chance to be able to play in the event.

This was particularly disheartening because I actually had a deck I felt really good about going into the event, which was Mega Gardevoir. In retrospect, with Decidueye variants and Greninja doing fairly well, I'm unsure how I would have fared as those are two of the deck's weaker matchups. Both seemed relatively off the radar looking at prior tournament results and while I felt both decks were still pretty strong, that doesn't always translate to them seeing substantial play and I'd much rather have an extremely favorable matchup against Garbodor builds and Zoroark, arguably the top 2 decks going into the event, than worry about Decidueye and Greninja. Here is the list I would have registered.

Before I get into the breakdown of my card choices, I want to discuss a card I had totally overlooked for this deck: Absol from Roaring Skies. In Seniors, a player Top 4ed with Mega Gardevoir and included a copy of the card, and I think it is ABSOLutely brilliant. (I can't help myself sometimes) While Mega Gardevoir can hit for 190 damage – 210 with a Prof. Kukui – it is not a deck that can just routinely score OHKOs on EX and GX Pokémon. Assuming your smaller hits end up leaving some damage on the field, something that happens a reasonable percentage of the time, you are left with a nice battery of damage available for Absol to soak off of. This makes subsequent OHKOs substantially easier. Normally Absol is just too low impact to justify a spot in decks. It eats up a bench space, and only gets one use before sitting there uselessly. With Despair Ray, that is absolutely not the case! You can pitch Absol, and with Dragonite-EX and in my case a slew of Rescue Stretcher, you can reliably use it every turn! If you hit something for 120 damage early on and it gets benched, you can use Absol 4 times throughout the game rather easily. While it isn't easy to pull off, an Absol use and a Prof. Kukui lets you actually it for 240 damage in a turn. I run 2 Switch and an Escape Rope here, but with Absol, it makes me want to consider flipping that split as being able to force what is often a feeler attacker to the bench after putting some damage on it feels really beneficial with Absol.

The Pokémon count is not terribly unusual. 3-3 Mega Gardevoir is the perfect amount, especially with how many recovery cards the deck runs. You don't need more than that. A pair of Tapu Lele-GX is pretty normal, and while this is a deck that wouldn't hate redundant consistency and has a huge bench to work with, you also do not have any DCE and Lele doesn't really ever attack so it is not as useful as it is in most decks. Something suspicious looking is running only 3 copies of Shaymin-EX. With Dragonite-EX and 3 Stretcher, it is really easy to re-use your Shaymins and you rarely run out. I actually cut the 4th Shaymin for the 3rd Hoopa as Hoopa ends up being that Shaymin plus so much more. Hoopa is much stronger in the early game, and you have so many available "copies" of Shaymin due to Dragonite, Stretcher and Karen as the game progresses that I care more about that early game. Hoopa is also really important in being able to chain multiple turns of 190 damage attacks in a row.

With 3 Rescue Stretcher, the 2nd Dragonite – a terrible starter, useless attacker, and perpetual Lysandre target – seems a bit unnecessary at first glance. On the other hand, the card is just so unbelievably good in this deck that you just cannot afford to prize it ever. You always want to have access to it. Sometimes in the late game you want to Hoopa for both copies for a full bench fill-up for Despair Ray. You could theoretically shave it to one copy, but this is an instance where I would always take the conservative play with two.

Oricorio is an interesting inclusion, but you just want a way to better hit your Energy drops. This acts as an 8th Energy card that also ends up being searchable with Ultra Ball, while also enabling you to turn your Dragonite and Stretcher uses into potential Energy drops. This just smooths out the deck's overall performance quite a bit. Finally, we have an Oranguru as your N protection that also just helps give you an occasional boost of draw power throughout a game. I had been a bit critical of Oranguru in Mega Rayquaza as I felt that it did it's least in the matchups you needed the most help in... namely against decks that featured Garbotoxin... but Gardevoir actually does really well in those matchups so things change some.

One big problem that plagues Mega Gardevoir and Mega Rayquaza, two decks that abuse Sky Field and a Hoopa/Shaymin engine, is Sudowoodo. I'd been preaching for a long time now that there is no reason for players to keep playing Sudooodo at all. There were so few copies of Mega Rayquaza or Gardevoir in the field that in most cases it is a wasted space. Players clung to the card long after it was wise, and if you look at how this Intercontinentals played out, very very few copies of the fake tree wound up sleeved up. It was only a matter of time before this shift happened. Gardevoir is much stronger than Rayquaza is against Sudowoodo as well. While the damage output when cramped by Sudowoodo is actually similar, one of the biggest problems the small bench provides actually is what it does to your draw power. Both Mega Pokémon are very hefty... games with Sudowoodo often devolve into instances of two hit KO vs two hit KO, which can absolutely still be won. The problem is continuing to power up your attackers without access to your Hoopas/Tapu Leles/Shaymins. Since Despair Ray can free your bench each turn, this isn't an issue, and you actually get to set up really well.

This actually leads to an interesting inclusion as well: One Psychic Energy. This is solely here for Tapu Lele-GX's GX attack, which can heal two Pokémon. If you end up in this two-hit KO war, you can actually clean up two damaged Mega Gardevoir with one attack and likely win from there. This is one of the reasons I opt for Switch and Escape Rope over any Float Stones... you will often want to bench a damaged Gardevoir, and Float Stone clashes with the Spirit Links too much. The one Psychic Energy also literally cannot interfere with anything, as your attacks all require at least 1 Colorless Energy, so one off-type Energy is literally free. Even if I did not have access to any attacks which use it, I would run a rogue Energy just because it represents unknowns. You know it is pointless, but the opponent has to try and figure out what things it could enable your deck to pull off. The more muddled you make their decision making process, the better. This GX attack is also surprisingly strong against both Greninja and Decidueye, as they both try and set up a bunch of bench damage. It isn't miraculous or anything, because usually by taking a turn off, these decks can pretty much restablish similar pressure on your field, but it comes up enough where it is game winning.

Supporter wise, things are pretty common. With this many Pokémon aiding your draw, 2 Sycamore, 2 N, 2 Lysandre, and 1 Hex Maniac is pretty normal. I love the 1-1-1 split on Mallow, Teammates and Skyla as they are all really strong search draw. These types of cards are weaker in the average deck, especially as Shaymin play drops to an all-time low, but when this deck can effortless spam Shaymin for card quantity, being able to search up key cards reliably becomes much more lucrative. I actually do wish I had a 2nd copy of Hex Maniac as it is so good against Greninja, Decidueye, Vikavolt and Metagross, all of which are on the rough end for this deck. Vikavolt and Metagross, of course, did pretty poorly this event, but thats still a wide swath of the metagame and worth addressing still. One of the last cuts made was actually the 4th VS Seeker, which makes Hex chaining even harder. I know a lot of players have embraced this VS Seeker trimming gimmick, and I actually just flat out hate it unless you have an engine available to make up for it. Hedging slightly against Garbodor – a top tier deck for sure, but one that is still only a small fraction of the field – is just not worth it.

Karen is a great inclusion in this deck as it restocks your deck with all of your Pokémon. Oddly enough, you rarely use it because you have so much recover with Dragonite and Rescue Stretcher. I could argue it is expendable, but I left it in because it also pretty much guarantees you smash Vespiquen, which was another popular deck. It didn't do well this event, but it had a justifiable target on its head going into it. Tacking on Vespiquen to the list of Espeon Garbodor, Drampa Garbodor, and Zoroark as decks you are substantially favored against is really alluring.

Most of the Trainer counts are pretty normal. I mentioned before that I went with real "switching" cards over Float Stone, and there are a few more reasons why I did this. First, Float Stone's value goes down with Field Blower being popular. It often ends up as a one-time use Switch as it is. You could argue that the Switches feed Garbodor while Float Stone doesn't, but they end up blown away often enough it isn't like you dodge the liability entirely anyways. I also like how the non-Tool switching cards can actually get you out of status conditions. While not super popular as a whole, Espeon-GX's attack is a huge pain to deal with.

The last two numbers worth going over are the 3 Stretcher and 4 Spirit Links. When I first started testing this deck, I ran 3 Spirit Link and 2 switching cards. I quickly realized a lot of my losses came from failing to secure a turn 2 Despair Ray and almost every instance of this was because I missed a Spirit Link or couldn't get a Mega Gardevoir active. While 3 and 2 wasn't an awful split, the deck performed much better with those counts buffed some.

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