Experts' corner

Chris Fulop

U.S. Nationals 2015 Tournament Report

Read All About My Experience in Indianapolis at the 2015 U.S. National Championships!

07/10/2015 by Chris Fulop

This is going to be a different type of article out of me than I normally write. I want to write about my experiences over the past weekend and that includes both the actual tournament and everything else. I know for me, I enjoy reading tournament reports partially because I like hearing about the adventures players have at these tournaments, so I want to share everything with you guys as well.

This past weekend was the first time I have played in a National Championship since it was held at the Origins Gaming Convention in Columbus, Ohio in 2008. In 2009, the event was moved to St. Louis, before finding its current home in Indianapolis. Nationals has long been a favorite tournament of mine, not even taking into account my victory in 2007. It is the one time a year I get to see so many friends I do not get to see otherwise.  The World Championship is similar, and I get to see my international friends too, but without invites, I know a lot of people who will make the trip to Nationals to play who will not go to Worlds.

For the past 4 years, I've made the trip to Nationals with my Ohio friends. We get a pair of rooms at a cheap motel outside of Indianapolis and the entire cost of gas for travel, parking, and the room comes out about seventy dollars for the four-day weekend. It is a bit of an inconvience not staying on site for the event, but the price difference is well worth it since most of our group is really looking to keep costs down.

Last year we crammed something like eleven people into a pair of rooms. (We have the "player room" and the adjacent "drunken degenerate party room". The player room is for people who actually want to sleep and be rested for the tournament, where as the other room is for people who want to stay up until 6 AM every night.) This year, due to the last-minute exit of my friends Scotty Doolittle and Mr. James (yes, I am bail-shaming) we wound up with only six people sharing the two rooms: myself, trip organizer and Pokémon Cube innovator Alex Schacht, "The Polynesean Oak" Corey David Scott, "Chef" David Cook, Matt "The Price Is Right" Price, and Kyle "No Nickname" Pattyson. None of these people are aware that I am christening them with these titles.

Anyways, of these people, only myself, Corey, Matt, and Cook aimed to play in the event. Alex was stuck working until like 6:00 on Thursday evening, so despite living close to him and a good hour from Matt – our second driver – me and Cook decided to get dropped off in Cuyahoga Falls to meet up with Matt and Corey to catch a ride out to Indy at the awful crack of 8:00 AM. Now, I'm messed up and have an inverted sleep schedule. I generally go to bed at roughly 6:00 AM and wake up around 2:00 PM. As a result, waking up at the necessary 6:30 AM to get to Cuyahoga Falls on time to catch my ride was going to be a real chore.

As a result, I end up being unable to fall asleep at all Wednesday night, despite having been awake since 7:00 AM to go in to work. I went up to Walmart at midnight to buy a copy of Pokémon OmegaRuby so I'd have something to play during the drive out. (Yes, it has taken me this long to get a copy of the game. I used to love the Pokémon video games, but in the past six years or so, I've just found it a struggle to get excited to play them as much as I used to. My original Pokémon Blue had almost 900 hours on it, and Pokémon Silver was not too far behind.)

The original plan was for me, Cook, and Matt to drive out together, with Alex, Kyle, and Mr. James making it into town around midnight. Well, me and Cook arrived to meet up with Matt, who magically has a Corey David Scotty in tow! Corey had originally been unable to get off work for the weekend, but managed to pull it off at the last second to join our car. At the same time, it turned out James had bailed at the last minute, leaving Alex's car with just him and Kyle. This would end being up a big problem: my friend Brian Baker was loaning me a ton of cards for the event and lived near James. The plan was for Alex to pick up the cards off Brian while picking up James. Baker had Shaymin, Groudon, Raichu, Rayquaza, Crobat, etc. set aside for me. Most people are aware of this already, but I do not own very many cards. I had managed to compile a reasonable collection during my Cities run, but I owned no cards from Primal Clash or Roaring Skies. I'd always been able to borrow cards off of friends, but I was really nervous about my ability to obtain Shaymin-EX. I knew how prices skyrocket at the event itself, so buying them would just not be an option. Most people owned exactly their playset and I assumed that the extras that people might own would already be spoken for.

The drive out itself was quite the adventure. Matt has quite the interesting playlist available for us. It consisted of some great bands (personal favorites include Bad Religion, Rise Against, Brand New, and Less Than Jake) as well as some absurd tracks. The drive deteriorated into us all singing along to such hits as the Backstreet Boys and Limp Bizkit while sending Snapchats like thirteen-year-old girls. (It was far, far worse than I'm making it sound, I promise.)

I end up falling asleep for, like, five-to-ten-minute increments before finally being woken up for good when we roll into the World's Nicest Wendy's™ for lunch. The building itself was beautiful. We walk inside to order and there are leather seats, and nice tables. At the back of the dining room there was actually a fireplace. My mind was blown by all of this, to the point where I could barely focus on how absolutely medicore the food was. At that point, I was so hungry that it didn't really even matter anyway.

We make it into Indianapolis at 2:00 PM and check into the Day's Inn. This was the first time we've made this trip without staying at Old Faithful, the America's Best Value. While both places are actually pretty awful, they are cheap and fairly nice for what you end up paying. ABV had become a bit of a cult hit for our group, so I felt some weird sense of betrayal mixing it up at the Day's Inn instead. (The Day's Inn was about a fifteen-minute drive outside of downtown Indianapolis.) Well, we get into our room and it breaks down into us wrestling. I end up chokeslamming Matt onto one of the beds. He gets up to fight back, and this turns into me DDT-ing him onto the bed.  What a DDT actually is doesn't really matter; just know that when he hit the bed, we heard a lurch, then a snap, and then the bed dropped. One of the wheels at the base of the bed had snapped clean off, and shot out from underneath it. Well, this doesn't stop the melee.  Being the savages we are, I try to tangle with the Polynesian Oak himself, Corey David Scott. I'm not a small guy...I'm almost 6'2" and about 240 lbs. Corey dwarfs me, being an inch or two taller than me and having likely 100 lbs on me. I manage to take him down onto the broken bed, and as he rebounds and tries to tackle me onto the unbroken bed, I manage to swing with it, and come out in a way where I'm over his back pushing him down onto the bed. Lurch. Snap. Drop. Wheel shoots off. In the span of ten minutes, we had broken both of the beds in this room. (At time of press, we are still crossing our fingers that this does not get us additional fines.)

Anyways, fresh out of additional beds to break, we decide to drive downtown and go onsite in order to register for Nationals. We weren't sure how many playmats they would have available so we wanted to get in line so we wouldn't miss out on them. We get in around 2:30 and they hadn't opened a line yet. I take this opportunity to look for friends and to check out the vendors who were still setting up. This is also when I found out about James bailing, meaning I'd need to find access to cards, particularly Shaymin-EX. Cook was actually on the fence about playing at all. If he opted not to play, I'd have access to his cards, but I didn't want to bank on that. I manage to get a copy of Shaymin off of Carl Scheu, who had a second one coming in later (so he said) but trying to gather additional copies proved to be near-impossible, as I watched in horror as the vendor prices skyrocketed. Keep in mind, this entire time, I had no idea what I even wanted to play yet. I had options, but everything seemed pretty unappealing. I didn't feel like I had a good metagame read, which further muddled my feelings.

I chat with some people who seem to suggest that Garbodor is a good play for the next day. I discuss things with Steven Bates, who was on a Landorus/Garbodor/Raichu build. I had previously fooled around with the deck and just felt it was clunky, so my initial feelings were a bit cold on it. Anyways, during this whole process, I end up being late to get into line for registration as it opens. As a result, the line snaked all through the convention center. The line takes me almost an hour to sit through and I'm just praying that they actually have enough playmats available because if I waited in line for so long and wound up emptyhanded I'd have been rather annoyed. I'm not sure exactly what could have been done better, but I know that the system they had in place for registration there could not have been the most efficient. It was a trainwreck. At this point, I meet up with Kevin Baxter and pick up my 60cards supplies to pass around for the weekend.

I get my playmat and debate selling it, but figure I'll hold it until Worlds to hopefully sell it to international players. (I personally do not use playmats, so this does me no good. I actually really liked the Rayquaza...mouse pad(?) the VGC players got a lot more.) Now, I'm still facing the challenge of getting Shaymin-EX and figuring out a deck for the next day. So, naturally, I take the best course of action: I go with Cook, Corey, Dan Polo, Alan, and Alan's girlfriend to the movie theater to watch Jurassic World! Cook and I had set the evening aside for the movie a few weeks prior and I'd put off seeing the film sooner – I wasn't about to skip it!

The movie turned out to be rather good! It was a lot better than I had expected, although not as good as the hype behind it may suggest. Luckily, I got a text at the end of the film from Alex informing me he had picked up the cards from Baker anyway, meaning I had access to more or less whatever I needed for the next day. The movie ended at 10:00 or so, and we managed to make it back to the hotel at almost 11:00. Alex hadn't gotten in yet, so I built a few decks to the best of my ability, proxying the cards I was lacking.

I initially wanted to try Raichu/Crobat builds, but they were being a bit clunky for me. I was really noticing the clash between thick evolution lines and the strength of Shaymin-EX, which I wanted to abuse. I was just getting too many awkward hands where Set Up was bogged down by cards I couldn't filter out. I built Raichu/Garbodor/Landorus as well, and that was far worse for me. We discuss which decks I wanted to consider and part of me really wanted to find a reason to justify turbo Rayquaza-EX. By the end of the night, I had the following decks "built": Crayquaza, Metal, and LandyBats.

I'm not sure why I built traditional Rayquaza over Bronzong/Ray, but the appeal of the card was how fast and consistent it was. The Metal build was likely better; I just felt drawn to the deck for its speed. Ironically, I had a normal Metal deck built because I felt it was a good metagame call and I knew I could pilot the deck very well. That was a major concern I had regarding switching between decks at the last minute. I didn't want to go in entirely unprepared, and even if I hadn't played the particular build of Metal I'd sleeved up, I knew the archetype in and out from my run at Cities and Regionals.

I knew LandyBats had done very well in Europe and felt that the deck was already very explored and safe. I loved how good its starts were. Having so many free-Retreat basics and a ton of good, quick attackers was very appealing to me. I loved how a great start could just overwhelm most decks.  I loved how, due to the nature of Crobat and all this Bench damage, you could really outplay people. It was a deck I could use to leverage my skill advantage over opponents that also functioned in a way where I would not be fundamentally punished for not knowing the deck inside and out either. This is a rare set of traits in a deck.

I do find it interesting that I went into the weekend really wanting to be on Raichu. The biggest issue I had was that a selling point for Raichu for me was being able to reliably fill the Bench with Exeggcute to keep hitting for 180 damage. I just felt like Exeggcute was a massive liability at the moment. Bronzong/Raichu had been great for me, but I felt like it was a huge underdog to Crobat decks despite being great everywhere else. I felt the deck was incredible, but was bad in the expected metagame (especially if the Garbodor read would hold true).

Alex rolls in and by this point I was solidly on LandyBats. Cook opts not to play and instead drink and adventure with Alex and Kyle. As a result, I get a rare bed to myself that night! I had a rough skeleton of what I wanted to use. This list is a bit over sixty, but included everything I wanted at the time.

Unfortunately, in order to trim it down, I had to cut the Absol (I hadn't tested it enough, even though it was promising. I just didn't want too many bad openers.) and the fourth Super Scoop Up. I debated a split with Fighting Stadium and Silent Lab, but liked the set of Fighting Stadium. The archetype in general is very good against non-EX Pokémon, and I didn't really care about discouraging Shaymin abuse. (In fact, I wanted to use my own Shaymin freely too.) Now, obviously, the primary role of Silent Lab is to turn off cards like Aegislash-EX, Suicune, and Mr. Mime. I was not actually too afraid of Mr. Mime. It isn't that hard to answer with Bat Abilities.  (Had I run Absol, it would have made Mime even easier to answer.) I didn't feel like Suicune had any viable homes. Aegislash was decent, but still very answerable. Suicune also could be answered by Miltank, a card I really was excited for in this deck. I felt the lack of Silent Lab would hinder how easily I beat certain cards, but I felt like I could still beat all of them without it, even if it meant I had to play tighter. If you'll notice, I went with four Muscle Band and three Fighting Stadium. In such a large event, I just really wanted to be extremely consistent and aggressive. I also felt Fighting Stadium was important for my Toad matchup.

Anyways, here is what I sat down at the Player's Meeting ready to register:


I get seated across from the Toys 'R' Us Kid, Chris Silver. He is also on LandyBats! We discuss the deck, as him choosing it too was reassuring. He ran four Sycamore and only one Shaymin. I was confident in my split there. He was running Silent Lab, but I was stubborn in my decision not to make that split. The card he included that I was immediately sold on was his pair of Focus Sash. The card seemed incredible against Mega Rayquaza-EX decks (I felt like the Bronzong build would be popular) and against Primal Groudon. I ask PokePop how long I have before decklists get collected and I have enough time to run to the Top Cut vendor room, where I yell across the room to Dave Coleman that I need two Focus Sash. He tosses me a pair "on the house" and I scramble back in time to adjust my deck list.

This is what I ended up turning in:

I cut the fourth Muscle Band (which makes sense as I was adding additional Tools) and the fourth Golbat (which I was not happy about) to make room for the pair of Focus Sash.

The tournament has two flights, Ruby and Sapphire (Groudon and Kyogre, as I had taken to calling them all day) and 911 players total. (I'll "never forget" that number.) I wind up in the Kyogre flight and roll my eyes when pairings go up: I'm against my friend Taylor Mitchell.

Round 1 versus Taylor Mitchell with Metal Rayquaza.

Game 1: I had actually sat down with Taylor on Thursday to help her with her list, so I knew her deck card-for-card. I was really glad I had the Focus Sash in my list for this match. I end up opening with three Hawlucha, which isn't normally great, but is fantastic in this matchup as they exchange really well and the damage output is outstanding. This is still a bit of a learning experience for me, though. She opens Aegislash-EX and I manage to smack it for 100 with Hawlucha. I'm then faced with a conundrum. She Benches it with Rush In, and I have to choose between pressuring her Bronzong, trying to get damage on her Rayquaza-EX to try and two-shot it, or taking the Prizes off the Aegislash before she got to heal it. I end up chasing the Aegislash, and KO it.

From there, I end up using Bat damage to two-shot her Rayquaza with Hawlucha. She ends up a turn behind me in the exchange as I've been able to power up a Landorus-EX for Land's Judgment to KO her Benched Cobalion-EX. (I had placed a Sash on the Landorus, so it wasn't very lucrative to Lysandre it up.)


Game 2: Game 2 was interesting. She doesn't have a ton going and my hand is not great. I opened Lucario-EX and had the choice between playing an N or Lysandre-ing up her lone Bronzong and KOing it with a Strong Energy. I take that line, as she had no way to threaten a return hit without Metal Links. She struggles to get the right Energy and is forced to put two DCE on an Aegislash. Lucario does work, using Corkscrew Punch to keep drawing me cards. I get pretty far ahead as it turns out her lacking that Bronzong was backbreaking. I'm stuck playing around the Aegislash until she finally uses it to KO my Lucario. There was a turn where she N'd and needed a Metal off her six cards to KO Lucario (otherwise she would be 20 shy) and she had already discarded three Metal. She whiffed and Lucario survived and that really swung the gamestate from a point where she could realistically come back, to her needing a ton of breaks just to stay in it. She gets that break at the very end of the game, where she sticks an N on me and I draw poorly off of it, but I do end up drawing out of it before she can really stage a full comeback.



Round 2 versus Caleb Johnson with Seismitoad/Crobat

This match actually got chosen as the feature match! I haven't gotten to play in a feature match for Pokémon before, mainly because they never streamed when I played the most. I was going to get the feature match for St. Louis Regionals earlier this year in the final round of Day 2, but we wound up IDing so I missed my opportunity. I was flattered to have gotten the nod this round, even if it was likely influenced by the fact most of the big-name players had two byes. I actually would have loved for the feature match to have been in the first round, since Taylor is also a player who has been involved in this game forever and she took Top 4 at Worlds before. I won't be picky, though.

I won't go too in-depth over this round as the footage from it is available, but I got absolutely destroyed. Now, this matchup is one of my worst. "Hilariously," while they made us wait and resleeve (they wanted glareproof sleeves for the camera), it was extremely easy to overhear the commentary team's discussion from the stage before we had to put the headset on. They did a pre-round interview with us, and all I heard from Kyle was how we both had Crobat decks, but different variants.  This meant he was either on Raichu or Seismitoad, unless he had something more fringe. I was hoping for Raichu. (I was disappointed.)

Both games, I had reasonable starts, but he N's me to four or five cards, and I just dead-draw from there, seeing no draw and just piles of Item cards while under Quaking Punch.  It was an unfortunate way to go, but I'd rather get these kind of draws out of the way while against a matchup I have to view as 25-75 at best. I would have needed a lot of favorable variance to get this match.

There was one point where I had a questionable decision to make, and it is one of the potential "mistakes" I made on stream. I could have N'd us both, or VS Seeker'd for a Colress to draw a few extra cards. I wound up going with N, and maybe I was chasing a bit deep, but I was confident I had picked up on a signal that Caleb was quite happy with the hand he had available. He had mentioned earlier that he didn't have a ton of experience with the game and I felt like he gave off a few physical tells over the course of our match. Now, I can't even say I was necessary correct on my read. Even more critically, I'm not sure if it was correct of me to follow through on it anyways, as the additional cards may have been more important. I had been asked to speed up my turn previously by a judge, which I felt was completely uncalled for (especially given the context of the pace of play they allowed for the rest of the feature matches throughout the day) so I was trying to be a bit more brisk with my decision-making from there on out.


Round 3 versus Brandon Flowers with Raichu/Crobat/Ninetales

Game 1: We both got rather poor starts. His was a bit worse than mine, but I'm not really able to get many Bats into play and I can't pressure him as much as I'd like. He was running all sorts of Pokémon, so it was hard to really tell what he had available to him. I was doing quite well for myself until he Benched a Zubat and a Mr. Mime. This is the point where a Silent Lab would have been nice. I didn't get enough Zubat onto the Bench prior to this to be able to pressure the Mime, and I had to just accept the fact that Hammerhead wouldn't net me extra damage. I was unsure how thick his Bat line was too. He had Ninetales in the deck and this made me think that he could just be running a thin Bat line. In all honesty, a 1-1 line, just to get the KO on Landorus and to break Focus Sash, crossed my mind. (It turned out he was running a fairly thick line, at least a 2-2/2, and likely more.) The biggest problem I had this game was that I had to Juniper on my first turn, and in the process, discard two Golbat. I had no way to know (nor any alternative play) but my third Golbat was Prized. I ran no Sacred Ash so I was just stuck Batless until I freed the Golbat from my Prizes, which was far too late. I had a turn at the end where I got a KO on one of his Pokémon, going to one Prizes versus his two. I needed him to not be able to get a Skyfield, DCE, Raichu, three Benched Pokémon, and Crobat. His hand was pretty huge, though. (I had tried a SSU the turn prior to bounce my Sash'd Hawlucha so I could Sash my Active Landorus-EX.) He managed to hit all of those cards and win the game.


Game 2: I got to go first and get a great start. It takes him a bit to get Mr. Mime out and I Bat it down. I'm just ahead this game, and I'm able to pressure his setup a lot better. This matchup is favorable for me despite his Mr. Mime, so going first with a good start, I should win more often than not. Maybe I'm forgetting some key turning points, but nothing stood out to me, which happens a lot when you're drawing well. I even kept notes of each round for this report, which is rare!


Game 3: This game, he struggles to get Bats into play. I hunt them mercilessly, as without them, he is stuck two-hitting Landorus. He also Prized his Mr. Mime, as I found out after the game. I end up getting a KO on Shaymin-EX with Land's Judgment, of all things, and go down to one Prize versus his four. He N's me to one, with an Energyless Landorus Active, and I dead-draw off of it. It was at this point where time was called. I had Energy on the Bench and likely win a longer game even after that hiccup, but instead it winds up a draw as I didn't draw Energy or a means to Bench the stranded Landorus.



Round 4 versus Kevin Estop with Primal Groudon

Game 1: Out of four rounds, I'm friends with three of my opponents. Kevin is on Groudon, and I open poorly with a Shaymin-EX. He gets out a turn-three Groudon, and I'm stuck three-hitting it with Banded Hawlucha. By the time he chews through those, I have an army of Bats up, and am able to KO the second Groundon once it gets powered. I thought I was in bad shape after our starts, but the matchup is really favorable, especially with the Focus Sashes in the mix.


Game 2: This time he gets a really bad start, missing Energy drops, while I'm able to just pile damage onto him. He gets one attack off with Groudon before I get to KO it, and he is left unable to get a second one up ever.



Round 5 versus Noel T with Primal Groudon/Jynx

Game 1: Well, he gets a near dead-draw, allowing me to just go super-aggressive Landorus-EX and stack damage all over his field. By the time he gets a Groudon powered, it is within KO range of of a Hawlucha alongside some Bats. After the match, not rudely or bitterly, he mentions how bad his draw was, and clues me into the fact he runs four Jynx in his deck. Yikes. That is a lot of healing for me to chew through if he gets set up! Worth noting is that Jynx only heals off the Active, so I can still compile damage on the Bench and hope it doesn't matter, but if he ever gets a remotely fresh Groudon, it is going to be really difficult to ever two-hit it, and that may just be too much.


Game 2: Noel again gets a terrible start and I get to lead with Landorus again. I cannot find a single Golbat in my first six turns, but it isn't too important as I am in great shape, going down to one Prize versus his six (I had to KO a Wobbuffet at one point). My field is in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, he N's me to one and I am narrowly short of killing his Groudon as I never draw a playable card for the rest of the game and he sweeps six Prizes in a row. (He had a Jynx on the Bench that I could KO at any point if I drew a Lysandre. Can you tell how much I love N?)


Game 3: This time I get a great start, full of Bats and a turn-one Landorus. He again gets an awful start, which is just mindblowing because – glancing through his list after the match – it wasn't built poorly or inconsistently. He just managed terrible draws three games in a row. I felt like I was favored anyways, even with the Jynx, but it was much closer. By the time he gets a Groudon up, I'd Sash'd a Landorus-EX charged for Land's Judgment and OHKO'd his Groudon, effectively ending it.



Round 6 versus Colin Peterik with Crayquaza

Game 1: For Round 6, I get paired against fellow Lafonte member Colin Peterik, who was using my favorite deck, turbo Rayquaza. Unfortunately for him, he gets a turn-three Rayquaza, after having to Juniper away two DCE and two Mega Turbo on his first turn. My start wasn't great, but it was better than his. I end up KOing the first Ray and bring it to two Prizes apiece when Hawlucha brings down the second. Unfortunately, due to that first Juniper, he was unable to power anything up and was almost decked. I had all non-EX Pokémon in play, and end up Lysandre-ing a Shaymin-EX for the KO to win. (I think he was just unable to attack even at the end, as he only had a DCE left. I think he was down to just using Sky Return.)


Game 2: This game, Colin opens with Shaymin-EX and no plays. He is forced to pass, as I smack Shaymin-EX for 80 with a Hawlucha. Unfortunately, he draws an N and gets a DCE and more Shaymin. He gets to go nuts off that N and more or less sets up fully. It is really frustrating as his Sky Return resets all the damage off that Shaymin and I'm now facing down his full setup with my average one, after he had a dead hand and only 30 HP left in play the prior turn. Luckily for me, I never had to use any EX Pokémon and had a lot of Bats in play. Hawlucha swarms with Sashes and Bat damage winds up taking all six Prizes for me, while leaving him at three Prizes left. The way this game played out left me really confident in the matchup, feeling like the deck just couldn't keep up on Prizes if I don't have to Bench any Pokémon-EX.



Round 7 versus Kyle Warden with LandyBats

Game 1: This game, Kyle mulligans twice and my hand is pretty good. To top it off, I got to go first. This lets my Bats pick on his Bats, as I get to lead with Landorus-EX. He runs Mr. Mime and I do not, which is again frustrating. Now, this makes me wonder if I should have run Silent Lab, or if I should have run my own Mr. Mime. I needed equality from one front or the other, and I'm unsure which is the better route to take. The Mr. Mime is definitely easier to see each game. Silent Lab is hard to get to, but has wider applications. Anyways, he is forced to use Lucario into my Land's Jugment. (I used this attack far more than I had a right to.) The game was already wildly in my favor, but I went 3/3 on SSU as well, undoing all his work.


Game 2: This game I draw somewhat awkwardly, but his draws are even worse, even though I had to mulligan. He has no Supporter, and is forced to keep Lysandre-ing up my Shaymin to try to stall, but I have AZ and VS Seeker in my hand. By the time he draws into a draw Supporter, I have a huge setup advantage and was up two Prizes by KOing a Landorus-EX while he was messing around with my looping Shaymin. To make it worse, I again went 3/3 on SSU, also in the most irrelevent fashion. (The first one could have mattered, but that snowballed things enough the others were really win-more flips.)



Round 8 versus Jason Klaczynski with Seismitoad/Garbodor

Game 1: Well, at the 5-1-1 bracket, we had a lot of really tough players in Sapphire. In particular, we had Jason, myself, and Tom Dolezal, who was on Night March. I get paired against Jason, who I knew was on Toad/Garbodor. It isn't a good matchup, but it is one of the Toad builds I was most okay with having to play against. This is, of course, offset by the fact that I am playing against Jason. I knew going into this round that 6-2-1 was likely not good enough to get me into Day 2. My tiebreakers would have been really poor after my 1-1-1 start. If I won this round, I could draw my last round and make Day 2. If I drew this round, I had one more shot at a win-and-in. No pressure, right?

Anyways, I got off to a pretty reasonable start this game and I end up KOing a Seismitoad early on. My setup is pretty solid and he has yet to get a Garbodor out. While it isn't really that crucial in this matchup, it is in others, and part of my issue with that archetype is that Garbodor is not very easy to get out and online.

Unfortunately for me, N strikes again. I get N'd to 4 and draw all Items. Much like both games of Round 2, I go from being narrowly ahead on the board, to not really playing anything at all the rest of the game and losing. Now, I understand that the real threat from these Toad decks does come from later into the games, so "being ahead" means very little, but it is still extremely frustrating to go 3/3 on game-ending N's to 4 or higher. It doesn't take long at all for the game to be thoroughly out of reach, but I wanted to see what assortment of cards he ran. This let me find out he ran an AZ and that I could assume he did not run any Super Scoop Up. This was good for me. I can't expect Toad with no healing, but Super Scoop Up was one of the most brutal cards to deal with. I also wanted to draw the game out, as I was playing for a draw, not a win. I could maybe steal Game 2, and not finish the third. I didn't think I could win both Games 2 and 3, especially not with him on the play for the third game. I did think he could lose Game 2 and then win a third, though.


Game 2: This game started similiarly to the first game. He actually whiffs his turn-one Quaking Punch, but unfortunately, I'm not able to gain a ton off of it. LandyBats isn't THAT explosive, so that extra window of Items doesn't give me a lot of ground, especially since the real challenging point of the matchup is in the late game. I end up taking out a Toad, and manage to take a second Toad down as well, as he is unable to get to his AZ. I get N'd to 2 and my gameplan is to try and take out his Shaymin-EX on the Bench for my last two Prizes. I'm in a spot where I have a number of lines available to put me in a competitive position, but I knew that as the game dragged on, I'd be losing percentage points for the game rapidly. I was still reasonably ahead on board, so the game was likely to go long assuming I didn't just dead-draw. Luckily for me, I drew my last Lysandre off the N and brought up the Shaymin for the KO to tie the series!


Game 3: There was very little time for this game, as Jason is a slower player, and I had prolonged our first game. I estimated about five-to-ten minutes. I got a reasonable setup, but was just playing for a draw. Time gets called with us both at four or more Prizes left, so we don't play out the extra turns. I was narrowly ahead on board, so I had a shot, but as I said before, I'd usually start off ahead. It's securing the late game and last few Prizes that is the challenge, so it isn't too telling. One thing I noticed in this match is that if Toad is popular, I'd really like a Jirachi-EX over the second Shaymin. Getting Supporters is a lot stronger than trying to draw cards off Set Up when your hand is clogged full of Items you can't cycle out.



Round 9 versus Brandon Z with Wailord

Game 1: After having to play Jason in the previous round, I was a bit relieved to see a name I was unfamiliar with for my win-and-in. Unfortunately, Tom Dolezal delivers me the unfortunate news: he had played against Brandon the previous round and he was on the breakout deck from the event, Wailord-EX. Tom had played his match against Brandon into a draw, with Game 1 never finishing within the fifty minutes. Now, I'll be honest: I could likely have taken the first game to fifty minutes if I really wanted to play methodically. Ethical debate aside, it wasn't really an option for me; a draw eliminates both of us. I knew if it came to a draw, I'd be the guy who would concede. I mean, I'd prefer it if he scooped to me, but it feels like most Pokémon players are pretty stingy in this regard, and I didn't expect a player to offer up a scoop to me after I just forced a fifty-minute Game 1 either. Knowing I wouldn't let the match come down to a draw and eliminate both of us, playing for a draw wasn't even on the radar.

Now let me be honest: this matchup is an actual autoloss. I am pretty sure I could stack both of our decks and draws and never win. (This isn't actually true: I could arrange some dead draws for him, but it really requires entirely unrealistic draws out of his deck to let me even come close to winning.) Now, for those unfamiliar with the deck, let me address what this Wailord deck does.

[Editor's note: the full list is available here.]

The deck runs four Wailord-EX, and some number of Suicune. It then runs four Rough Seas and four Hard Charms, making it so that the deck "reduces" 50 damage a turn. You have to hit for 270 to be able to one-shot a fully tanked Wailord. It then runs four AZ, four Cassius, four VS Seeker, and four Max Potion. It also runs as many Energy-removal effects as it can fit. It then heals Wailord over and over and over again until they get the opportunity to remove all of your Energy. At this point, it is only a matter of time before you deck out. Now, traditionally, you can use N and Colress to prevent the deckout. Well, there is a problem. The deck runs Hugh. Yes, Hugh, the Supporter which makes both players draw or discard until their hand-size is at five. So if you stockpile cards to make your N or Colress restock your deck, Hugh can be backbreaking, making you discard 10+ cards at a time, making a win extremely unlikely, especially since you have to devote resources to attempt to attack. You just expend resources far faster than they do. Now, if you try and do very little, and maintain "Hugh parity," they can attach Hard Charm to a Wailord and each Cassius "nets" an additional shuffle in.

Now, the probem for LandyBats here is that the damage output is just way too low. I'm stuck four-hitting a Wailord-EX. If they have Suicune, I am forced to use Miltank to deal with it. It forces me to get out a Crobat (which uses a lot of cards) plus Miltank to KO one Suicune, which is an irrelevent "seventh Prize" in most cases.

The bigger problem than the damage output is the fact that I run nine Energy. It is not hard for them to discard all of these. The worst part is I run only five Basic Energy. In order to hit a Suicune, I need to use a Bat or Miltank, which can only use the Basic Energy, so once they get rid of all my Fighting Energy, I can't damage Suicune at all. The worst part of this lower Energy count is that I am forced to use drawpower to draw into them, decking myself more quickly.

I do my best to try and play out this game and I get nowhere, not even coming close to taking a Prize, and I scoop after about twenty-five minutes.


Game 2: This game goes a bit better, as my opening is stronger, and I can use fewer resources to get some sort of offense going. I actually end up KOing a Suicune with my Miltank, and get a ton of damage on a Wailord. I am actually a SSU flip away from getting the kill on the Wailord, but I flip tails. I wasn't going to win after that anyway, but I concede at that point, because even if I was to somehow win that game, I would have never gotten near a win in Game 3, and we're back to the "me conceding on a draw" state. I was hungry, so conceding let me eat sooner.



In the end, I was actually quite disappointed. If you would have asked me on Thursday night if I would have been content with a 5-2-2 record, my answer would have still been no. Not cutting is never desireable. That said, it would have been in line with my expectations at the time. I wasn't confident in a deck. I was fairly panicked. Yet by the time I got midway through the event, I had really gotten comfortable with the deck and I felt like I had made a fairly good metagame call. It was frustrating to turn a sketchy 1-1-1 start around into 5-1-1, only to get paired against a bad matchup against the best player in the history of the game (and the eventual event winner!) and then hit one of six copies in the entire field of my only actual, undeniable autoloss after turning my Round 8 into a fortunate draw to keep my tournament run alive.

I didn't embarrass myself by any means, but I also didn't do nearly as well as I'd have hoped. Now, for me, I needed a Top 16 placement to qualify for Worlds. Beyond that placement, the Prize payout didn't matter much to me. Getting Top 16 would require a lot of luck anyways, so I didn't have that pressure of needing to do well at this event. I actually enjoyed that. If I won, I won; if I scrubbed out, it is what it is. I felt like I did well enough for myself that I could be proud, especially looking at what my losses were. It is nice to enjoy this game without experiencing the extreme pressure of demanding success out of myself.

Final Standing: 81st place, Sapphire Flight

After the tournament, I grab dinner with Tracy Key and Frank Diaz at the Colt's Diner – or whatever it was called – attached to one of the adjacent hotels, ordering two full meals because I hadn't eaten all day. (I also managed to go the whole day without an energy drink, despite bringing one with me!) After this, I meet up with my hotelmates at the Slippery Noodle bar before we all head back to the hotel around 1:00 AM. Only Corey and I were sober, so I drove Matt's car back while Corey drove Alex's.

The plan was to buy a bunch to drink at the store before 1:00, and that was Corey's car's task. Unfortunately, they didn't make it in time, which led to some annoyed people in the rooms. Instead, we just played the Wii that we brought with us on the TV we brought with us with the controllers we brou–okay, you get the idea. I guess the new Mario Kart game has some terrible DLC where you can play 200 CC races. And by "races," I mean that all I did was fly off corners every course. It was terrible. I'm not even usually that bad at those games either. This transitioned to some Marvel vs. Capcom on a Dreamcast (I love that system's controller!) and I actually am that bad at that game. Button-mashing did not do me much good.

The plan for Saturday was to watch the second day and go to the Natural History Museum. We didn't make it to bed until, like, 4:00 AM, so it took us until 2:00 PM to make it onsite. I wind up playing a Worlds 2004 rematch against Taylor Mitchell, borrowing old decks off Jimmy Ballard so we could play my Blaziken against her Swampert deck. I win the first two games we play before losing the third. Around this time, Jimmy discovers his 2004 Crobyss deck had gone missing. Jimmy is a great guy, and has done the community a huge favor with building these old decks to let us play, so please, if you know anything about the whereabouts of this deck, let him know. I firmly believe the misplacement of this deck is an accident (it may be the least valuable deck in his collection, so a thief would've picked a really bad target) but it would be nice to see him get the deck back.

While this is happening, I watch Allie Jensen buy one booster of Bandit Ring (the Japanese Ancient Origins), and she snipes the crazy-looking shiny Rayquaza out of it, making me wildly jealous. She brags about how she's great at opening packs, wondering why more people don't have her open their packs. So I take this as a challenge and give her a twenty to go buy me three packs from a vendor. All that liar got me was a Gallade-EX, and a bad rate on three boosters. (Top Cut gave me them at three for $10.) I also managed to flat-out lose the Gallade within, like, a half hour. No idea where it went.

After this, I wound up meeting up with Jayson Harry, Emily Elsner, and that whole crew to play some board games. I got to play this hexagon piece game "Six" and my favorite game of the weekend, Sushi Go! I actually got to play both games briefly with Jayson between rounds on Friday, but we had a bunch of people gaming at the Embassy this time. For dinner, I wound up going to Noodles & Company, my favorite place in Indianapolis, with Taylor and my boy Louis Thompson.

Afterwards, Taylor heads off, and me and Louis bump into Zach Zamora and debate watching the random free Panic! at the Disco show that was right in front of us. I think we watched a song by...I want to say the band is called New Politics. I actually dislike both bands quite a bit, so I wasn't too interested. Instead, we head down to the Embassy to play more board games. Now, I had previously told Tracy that we'd continue our Fourth of July tradition of going to this Thai restaurant and watching fireworks, but all of my rides back to the Day's Inn were leaving early so they could drink. I run into Matt and Corey at said Embassy and they said they were leaving. Louis, coming through in the clutch, offers to let me crash on his floor if I wanted to stay, so I take him up on the offer and continue playing games. Around 9:00, myself, Tracy, and Michigan's own Chris Derocher all make the trek to the Thai restaurant, managing to narrowly obtain an outdoor seat right under where the fireworks were set off. Being totally unadventurous, I order the same pad thai (medium heat) that I get every year. Chris got some garlic-pepper chicken dish which wound up being substantially better than mine. Yes. I ate two dinners in the span of, like, three hours. This is why I am fat.

We make the trek back to the Embassy and along the way, some mongoloid set off a big firework from the street...only it didn't launch at all, and literally burst at street level, sending professional-grade fireworks in all directions, sending people rushing away in a panic. It was far enough away to be safe for us, but it was still terrifying.

I end up staying up until like 3:00 AM at the Embassy lobby playing Settlers of Catan before everyone is asked to leave. Louis has yet to eat, so I go with him to Steak 'n Shake (I had tried to avoid the place all weekend, but failed). We roll into his hotel at 4:00 AM and I pass out on the floor.

I get up at noon the next day and we head to the convention center in time to watch most of the Top 8. Wailord gets a free pass into the finals through auto wins, while Jason Klaczynski bests Dylan Bryan's Klinklang deck in Top 8 before beating another Metal deck on time in three games in Top 4. After narrowly losing Game 1 of the finals to Wailord, he takes five Prizes before time is called in the second game to force a Sudden Death! He N's Wailord to one and gets a KO to win the 2015 U.S. National Championship! I'd always given Jason some teasing over how he always did poorly at Nationals, so I have to give him credit for breaking that curse! That was a great performance and extremely tight play all weekend.

I don't feel like Toad/Garbodor is the best deck in the format. I think it is a good deck, but only one of many. Jason played it perfectly and got rewarded for it. I don't think it is going to be a massive, format-defining force going into Worlds, though. I'm not even sure it's the best Toad variant.

As for Wailord, the most hyped deck after Nationals? The deck was brilliantly designed. It was a stellar call for the event. Yet unfortunately, it has too many exploitable weaknesses. It can't beat Primal Groudon. (Three Strong Energy and a Fighting Stadium gets a KO.) It struggles against Metal, which can also two-shot it and never runs out of Energy. It isn't great against Manectric-EX if they have a solution to Suicune. Worst off, it cannot beat a Bunnelby. Literally any deck with a Bunnelby autowins it. I found it funny that Wailord sold out at Nationals, as if people just didn't bother to think about the long-term viability of the archetype. It can never be viable again once it is a known entity. The only hope it has is for it to be so far removed from the radar again that it is entirely disregarded and can be useful again. I don't mean this as an insult to the deck's creators either! It was the perfect play for the weekend. Jason won the event, but Wailord was a far better choice for the tournament than Toad/Garb. Exploitative as the deck was, it was probably the best surprise deck since 2006's Delta Raichu/Exeggcutor deck which swept that Nationals. That is quite the accomplishment, guys!

Anyways, congratulations to all those involved in the Wail Experiment. Congrats to Jason Klaczynski for an extremely impressive win. Congrats to the entire Top 8 for their great performance. And I want to thank all of my friends for making the weekend such an absolute blast for me. Part of me is almost thankful I didn't make the second day, because I got to spend more time with everyone by not playing.

As for my deck choice? I was happy with it! Outside of the decks I've mentioned, I feel like I need to note that Manectric-EX was a VERY popular card this weekend, even though I am not a big fan of it. Florida players brought a Bunnelby mill deck to the table, putting Harrison Leven into Day 2. Both of these decks are soft to LandyBats. I want to take a moment to thank Chris Silver for the last-minute changes again; the Focus Sash were huge. I would likely make a few changes, cutting the second Shaymin for a Jirachi-EX. I'd also suck it up and run one Silent Lab over the third Fighting Stadium. Somewhere, I'd really want a fourth Golbat, as I'd be lying if I said that I didn't feel the reduction from the full set all weekend long.

I am not qualified for Worlds, but I will be going. If Worlds were tomorrow, I'd very much consider LandyBats again. I also like Metal, as I feel it has very few bad matchups, even if it isn't the least clunky deck available. I know this is a slightly different style of article than those I normally do, but I hope it was enjoyable! Until next time!



[+23] okko


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