Experts' corner

Chris Fulop

A Story of Ray and Rai...

Chris struggles to come up with article titles for his article recapping his experiences at a pair of City Championships in Bethel Park, PA (Standard) and Mansfield, OH (Expanded!)

01/06/2016 by Chris Fulop

Hello again, everyone! I really do need to work on some sort of introduction tagline or something for all of these. It’s almost as bad as me trying to come up with clever or witty article titles. Anyways, after being unable to attend any City Championships the prior weekend (I had family obligations Saturday, and a stomach virus on Sunday), I was determined to not only hit up two Cities this past weekend, but also to actually pick up some more Championship Points. Sitting at 110, and only 40 points from Cities is not anywhere near the trajectory of where I wanted to be. I can claim I've caught some pretty bad breaks and had some bad luck, but that’s a part of the game. Excuses or not, I had to get points, and that meant actually cutting some Cities, and ideally going deeper than Top 8 this time.

Since I wasn't willing to travel to any of the major Marathon tournaments, I had eight more Cities ahead of me within a three-hour drive of home. I needed to get at least my four "Best Finishes" from Cities, to gain at least 80 points. Unless I spiked a major event (doable, for sure, but not "likely" for any player) it would be really difficult to get an invite with a very poor Cities season. This past weekend I had a Cities in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania and in Mansfield, Ohio. Bethel Park was Standard, which I felt pretty comfortable about, and Mansfield was Expanded. On one hand, I'd played in a pair of Expanded tournaments, and those went well. (10th at Regionals, and a LC win) On the other hand, I hadn't tested the format with BREAKthrough since a vast majority of the Cities here were Standard. To compound the issue there, I was behind everyone else: There had been two Cities last Saturday for the format, so the rest of the player base had gotten a chance to play in the format. So while I was comfortable with my chances on Saturday, I was a bit lost regarding Sunday.

Bethel Park City Championships

Being nocturnal really isn't very conducive towards playing Trading Card Games. I actually managed to get myself to fall asleep at a somewhat normal hour before Saturday's tournament in Western PA, just outside of Pittsburgh, but when I woke up at 8, I still felt miserable. It’s a two-and-a-half hour drive to the tournament, and I had to pick up Sarah first, and then Carl, who was twenty minutes away, to make the trek. I get off to a somewhat late start, and by the time I've scooped Carl, its 9. We make the drive out, and due to some sort of accident or traffic jam, the GPA reroutes us onto some rural side roads. Now for those of you who have never been near Pittsburgh, let me tell you something about the hills. The terrain outside of the city is awful. Some of the inclines and declines on the roads are terrifying. To make it worse, it obviously decided it would be awesome if it were to rain. (It was not awesome.) I think the final hill before the game store summed things up perfect, where my car was teetering at the edge of the stop light on a very steep hill, and the car, likely a local, drove pretty much up to my rear bumper. Now, I know my car, and the second I take my foot off the brake, it’s lurching backwards before I can hit the gas hard enough to get my car climbing that hill. Why this guy thought it was safe to be this close behind me on this hill is beyond me, but I manage to catch the car before it hits him thankfully. There was no reason it needed to be that close, but maybe the locals are just used to driving on those things. I, on the other hand, am not. That little rant aside, let’s get into my deck choice for the tournament.

I only had two real choices to play. I had my trustworthy Yveltal/Gallade/Zoroark deck that I'd been using but I felt like players were starting to adapt to the deck and were likely to run counters. Entei, for example, has gained a lot of traction with players, and was a pretty rough matchup for my deck. Even Mega Houndoom, which locally was popular, was tough. The other deck I wanted to use was Mega Rayquaza. Of course, I love the card, but I felt it was really good in the current metagame. It smashes Entei, Mega Houndoom, and the influx of Mewtwo decks I'd been seeing. It’s good against Crobat and Manectric decks, and is favored against Yveltal-EX. It can't beat Night March, and is bad against Raichu, but both had been on a severe decline. The prior weekend my longtime friend Mikey "Magnechu" Fouchet used a similar list to mine to Top 4 his Cities, which was reassuring about the deck's viability. I figured you know what, I'm just going for it. Carl was still on Yveltal, pledging to use the deck in every tournament regardless of format now. Sarah made the switch off of Mega Sceptile onto Yveltal as well for the first time. I was torn between running Xerosic, or a 1-1 Banette line as my solution to Focus Sash. Shuppet's Bleh was also appealing, as it functions as a poor man's promo Jirachi.

I went with the Xerosic over the Banette line, but I left the Psychic Energy in despite the fact that they should be Metal (to bluff Bronzong) or Fire/Fighting (to rarely piggyback off of Scorched Earth). Clearly this never ended up impacting anything, but still, Psychic Energy is not a proper Energy type to be running.

Anyways, we had 29 Masters, meaning we get a lovely five rounds, with a cut to Top 8. Unfortunately, only Top 4 would earn Championship Points. I called myself losing in Top 8. (I already have bubbled, lost in Top 8, and lost in Top 8 due to deck registration error. I figured I'd find every new way to minimize my point intake possible.)

Round 1 versus Manectric/Crobat

I get paired against Manectric/Crobat, and go first. I get to KO the first Manectric, and get Altaria into play quickly. This matchup took a bit, but I never felt particularly threatened because the matchup is pretty favorable. Even if we ignore Altaria (it isn't that easy to get out and it can be Hex'd) the matchup is a lot easier than the also favorable one against Mega Manectric. Once I KO a Manectric, they need two turns to power up their next one. I'm a turn faster, and can get the jump on Manectric usually. To make matters worse for Manectric if I leave a Rayquaza on the Bench (or just leave it as a Dragon Rayquaza-EX) with Altaria in play, they aren't able to Lysandre and Hex Maniac in the same turn, so I am almost always getting the first Manectric KO which is pretty much securing the matchup. He was able to use Crobat to kill Altaria near the end of the midgame but the damage had already been done and I was up too far on Prizes not to be able to close it out fairly comfortably.

W (1-0)

Round 2 versus Mega Manectric

I get paired against Mega Manectric, and open with a lone Shaymin-EX and a dead hand, going second. He attaches a Lightning Energy to his Manectric-EX and passes. Theoretically, if I draw a Sycamore, I could score the win this turn. Unfortunately, I draw another blank, attach an Energy, and pass back. He has the second Energy and a Mega Manectric with the Spirit Link and KOs me for the game.

L (1-1)

We play again for fun, and my deck works as intended and I end up winning without getting an Altaria in play. (I got the KO on his Manectric first, and it snowballed, as it often does.)

Round 3 versus Carl Scheu with Yveltal/Gallade/Zoroark

We consider drawing this match, because 3-1-1 would make cut, and we'd rather play against the field to try and pick up those last two wins. I decide against it because I like this matchup. I take my turn, and burn through way too many resources to be happy. (I had to discard a pair of DCE to a Sycamore.) My set up is pretty poor after my first turn. Carl's turn ends similarly, with a lackluster field. I sensed an ugly game coming on, regardless of who won. I felt favored on board, but I predicted I'd run out of resources before the end of the game and lose, so I offered the draw. Carl was also thrilled to take the draw here, as he felt the matchup was unfavorable and his start was poor.

ID (1-1-1)

Round 4 versus Lucario/Bats

Lucario/Bats is a pretty favorable matchup, considering I added in the Xerosic. I have a reasonable opening hand, but when I Sycamore, my hand comes up completely dead, and I am stuck doing nothing for multiple turns while giving up Prizes. I FINALLY hit a VS Seeker and get Mega Rayquaza up, and start taking Prizes. I'm able to use AZ to deny Prizes off my Bench, and hold him at two Prizes, as I tie it up. I was in an awkward spot where he had put a bit of damage on my Shaymin-EX, and I could either Sky Return to get it off my Bench (I had other Shaymin as targets) or take a KO with Rayquaza and just hope he doesn't have a Lysandre (this isn't likely: his hand size was pretty large). I could try and play the Sky Return-loop game, but I felt like this only prolonged my loss, while not giving me any sort of opening to actually WIN the game. I felt like it was under a 5% chance he didn't have Lysandre, but at least if he didn't, I'd win. I went in the tank for a while on it, and decided to take the KO, but he had Lysandre and the game. I found out afterwards he didn't even run Focus Sash, which is brutal, because that’s the only card that makes the matchup competitive if I were to get a better start than that. Yuck. On the plus side, I didn't lose in Top 8?

L (1-2-1)

Round 5 versus Night March

PA had not been kind to me for Cities. At all. I decide to stay in because I want to test the deck a bit more, and because I was theoretically still live for Top 16 Prizes. (A whopping two boosters.)

Well, here goes nothing, as I am paired against Night March. I figure this is a fitting end to the day. I'm actually in a pretty good spot, as I'm able to use Dragon Rayquaza to get a KO on a Joltik, while getting Altaria out quickly. My opponent Prized multiple Night Marchers, and is one shy of getting the KO on Rayquaza. I'm able to use Mega Rayquaza to take the next KO after using a Switch, forcing my opponent to have a Hex Maniac and DCE with a small hand. He isn't able to take it, and I'm up multiple Prizes on him. Unfortunately, my deck is extremely small, and he transitions his game plan into using Bunnelby to try to deck me! He ran TWO Bunnelby, and Revived one, and really puts the hammer to my deck. I end up taking my sixth Prize with exactly 0 cards left in my deck to at least break even on the day.

W (2-2-1)

2-2-1, 15th place, 2 boosters. 110/300

I wind up in 15th place, good enough for two boosters with garbage in them. Sarah finished 3-2, and Carl won out to finish 3-1-1. He wound up making it all the way to the Finals, before losing in three in a mirror match. I tested some Expanded games with Sarah in the meantime, realizing I really dislike playing Vespiquen.

What is really frustrating is that I really liked Mega Rayquaza as a deck selection here. The metagame was wide open for it to do well, but there isn't much you can do about poor draws sometimes. I didn't care for the list, and wanted to make some major changes to it afterwards. I like the archetype, but feel like it needs better streamlined to be able to be viable. So I'm proud of my metagame read, but very disappointed in letting myself sleeve up such a clunky list.

There was a nice silver lining though, of course: We left in the middle of a nightlong downpour. It had rained a bit in the morning, but now it was flat out storming the whole ride home. What was a two-and-a-half-hour drive wound up talking well over three. I will say that there was nothing better than when I finally did manage to crawl into bed and actually fall asleep after taking everyone home.

Mansfield City Championships

After getting about seven hours of what I have to describe as the most useless sleep I'd ever gotten, I wake up at 8:30 to a call from Sarah checking in to make sure I was awake. (I was supposed to be picking her up at 9:30.) I promptly lie and tell her I'm about to get a shower, and make sure my lie was totally telegraphed by telling her if she hasn't heard back from me by 9:15 to call again. I slept for another half hour, got the quickest shower of my life, and zombied my way to my car.

The whole drive down I spend thinking about what deck to play, because I had put absolutely no effort into Expanded once Cities had started. Not only did we have very few Expanded events scheduled in the area here, but the one weekend I was going to be busy with family anyways. I felt like I needed to try and redeem myself somewhat for my pitiful performance in Bethel Park, though.

On one hand, the two decks that won the two Expanded CCs the prior week here had been Carl with Yveltal/Gallade/Zoroark in a bit of a port over from the Standard deck, adding Dark Patches and a 3-2 Laser/Virbank package. I found this appealing, as the Gallade would help shore up the otherwise dubious Mega Manectric matchup. It, alongside the Zoroark would give the deck more non-EX attackers to help against Vespiquen, the other deck I was a bit nervous about. On that same note, I also considered Vespiquen, but while testing it Saturday while waiting for Carl to finish playing out top cut, I just felt really offput by the way the deck played. I acknowledge it as the likely best deck in the format pre-Break, and I'm sure it’s a frontrunner now, but I just felt really awkward playing it. Much like putting off using Yveltal/Gallade/Zoroark for a week when Kevin Baxter shared the list with me for the first weekend of Cities, I just wasn't comfortable with the deck and didn't want to use it without further testing.

The other Cities was won by Matt Price, who took his event down with Giratina/Seismitoad, the same deck he piloted to a second place finish at Fort Wayne Regionals a few months prior. I have a pretty strong bias against using Seismitoad decks, so I wasn't considering USING the deck, but I did have to take into account what I expected other players to use based on these finishes.

I wound up just defaulting to Yveltal/Raichu, which I used to take 10th Place at Lancaster Regionals. I felt nervous about the other choices. I hadn't played the decks (I did play a few games with Yveltal/Gallade at Dan Polo's Christmas party the Friday before, but I don't count that as substantial enough.) and I didn't know the format's changes. If I wasn't going to be prepared with what I'm playing against, I wanted to at least sleeve up something I knew how to play well. I also really liked my Seismitoad matchup, and with Raichu, felt super favorable against the Yveltal mirror matches I would likely play. With Carl's success, a lot of the better local players I knew were bandwagoning onto the deck.

One of the things I really liked about my Regionals deck was a card players seemed to have deviated from, and that is Ghetsis. It started off as the most talked about, hyped innovation of Regionals, and players gradually seemed to become less high on it. I feel like as players run fewer and fewer Supporters and rely on such heavy Item-based engines, that the card only gets better and better. As decks get more incentive to try and incorporate thin Maxie lines to splash Gallade, for example Ghetsis becomes even more dangerous. The reason I like it the most in Raichu/Yveltal is that the deck is both very aggressive, and also runs Sky Field. Due to Sky Field, I can run Hoopa-EX, Shaymin-EX, AND Jirachi-EX, and not have to worry about filling my Bench with this very powerful turn one play and having my Bench cramped all game. Being able to Ultra Ball for Hoopa-EX to use Scoundrel Ring to grab Yveltal-EX, Shaymin-EX, and Jirachi-EX allows you to Set Up to six, then Jirachi-EX to grab Ghetsis and really hammer it home by stripping their hand of all Items. I guess a deck like Mega Rayquaza can also incorporate this, but I'm less interested in playing Rayquaza as a whole. Crobat/Raichu, an alright deck choice, doesn't really get the same benefits because it isn't as aggressive minded and doesn't capitalize off that initial jump in a game.

Anyways, Yveltal/Raichu is a pretty cramped deck. This is the first deck in a long time I've run that isn't jam-packed with Trainers' Mail, and that is because you cannot fit it alongside a thick Raichu line. (I ran a 3-3 Raichu line for Regionals. I'm at a 4-3 line now, but that may change.) I'm banking more on a slightly more traditional list, running three Professor Sycamore, 1 N, 1 Colress, and a Ghetsis. Hoopa, Shaymin and Jirachi-EX help make sure I get a good start, and from there I can just rely on VS Seeker for draw. Anyways, here is the list!

Computer Search is clearly the ACE SPEC of choice in this deck. I mean, honestly, I still default to it in any deck that relies on DCE unless there is some specific reason to run otherwise. Most of these numbers are pretty standard, but I'll touch on the more questionable ones.

I run one Battle Compressor because the card is good in the deck, but space is tight and duplicates are pretty subpar. I started at two, but the deck just can't fit more really. I know one copy seems really sketchy, but it does hold the deck together pretty well and is worth including.

I like Hex Maniac and AZ. Hex is just another great Jirachi target, and can be used on the first turn too. AZ helps to remove Shaymin or Jirachi as targets on the Bench. It also lets you re-use them. I've been a huge fan of the card against Seismitoad variants as well. I like Xerosic a lot too, but opted to go with the promo Jirachi as a better weapon against Seismitoad-EX decks. It gave me an additional Pokémon for Circle Circuit, and didn't eat into my Supporter uses. Xerosic is a bit more versatile, but I figured I'd give Jirachi the green light here and see how it plays.

One of the things I like about AZ is how it offers a potential turn-one Switching effect that can be Jirachi'd for whenever you do get those nice Dark Patch openings. I also run more Switches than my friends I've discussed this deck with, with a Float Stone/Switch split. I just like having the fluidity they offer, and while this may be overkill, I've just felt more comfortable having access to them.

Finally, we have a pair of cards coming out of BREAKthrough that make it into the deck. First, we have Yveltal. Yveltal is actually a really powerful attacker when a deck has access to Dark Patch, as it can be powered up in a turn with a Patch and a DCE. I would love to run two, as they work better in pairs. The ability to hit something for 60, while putting 60 on a Shaymin or a Jirachi is made better if you have a second copy to repeat the play with the pick up the Bench KO. (The card also does wonders versus Manectric-EX decks, as the 60 split on a pair of Manectric puts them nicely in Raichu range.) The deck is thin on a lot of its counts...Yveltal-EX, Darkrai-EX, 4-3 Raichu, 2-1 Yveltal...the lone Buddy-Buddy Rescue helps to mitigate that. I like it more than Super Rod or Sacred Ash in the deck, as putting the card into hand has been really powerful. This deck doesn't have the full gimmick engine many decks have, so Rod'ing a card in and digging it up immediately is pretty difficult mid to late game. I also like how it works with that lone Battle Compressor. (Hey, it comes up at times!)

One notable omission, and one I am not happy about, is Keldeo-EX. Keldeo is great at getting out of Lasers and switching around, as well as breaking gimmicky decks like Accelgor which may show up at tournaments. I felt like it was expendable because I ran three Switching cards (AZ included for being Item-locked). The biggest Laser decks are Yveltal, which Raichu put me a strong favorite against, and Toad decks, where I also had Jirachi for now. There’s a good chance it’s useful enough across the board that I should find a way to squeeze it in, but for this tournament I gave it the unconventional axe.

Anyways, this tournament was pretty ridiculous, with around 36 players, and a huge percentage of them being players who I consider to be strong competition. Not only did the event get most of the top Ohio players to show up, but the Michigan players made the trek down south to compete as well. This was definitely the hardest field I'd played in all Cities, by virtue of there being very few weak players in the field. We had enough for six rounds and a cut to a Top 8. Due to the player count being on the low end of things, there likely wouldn't be any issues bubbling.

Round 1 versus Frank with Yveltal

I hadn't seen Frank before, and in a field where I recognized almost all of the players, I considered this to be a pretty good thing. Frank was from New York, and was in town for a bit, and moving back to the Akron area in the next year or so. I win the flip, and he opens with what I believe was a Darkrai-EX. I get my Hoopa-EX special, and Ghetsis away an Ultra Ball, leaving his hand stranded with nothing to do. His draw yields no help, and I'm unable to get a turn-two KO (which admittedly is to be expected, as it would require a turn-two Raichu-EX with a full Bench and a Muscle Band. I wasn't even able to get a Pikachu on my first turn, and was just going with Yveltal-EX.) I settle on going for the two-hit, but he draws an Ultra Ball on his next turn and is able to use Shaymin to set up and stay in the game. I had a pretty substantial lead at this point, but while setting up, I overextended some, discarding a pair of Raichu to early on. I manage to get the KO on Darkrai, and then my lone Raichu takes out his Yveltal, and I'm able to take out a Shaymin-EX with a Lysandre using Darkrai-EX with a Muscle Band to close the game out. I may have approached the game poorly due to his poor start. On one hand, it’s really hard to not chase cheap wins, but if he’s off to a bad start, and I'm running Raichu, I'm extremely favored if I just get to set up on an even, yet alone favored board. Dumping the pair of Raichu early was pretty hindering.

W (1-0)

Round 2 versus Dan Polo with Mega Manectric

I always seem to get paired against Dan these days. I played him Round 1 of the Cities at Kent State University, beating his Latios Crobat deck with Yveltal/Gallade. This time, he was on a Mega Manectric deck that seemed to resemble the build that was very popular during Regionals. I didn't like the matchup there much, and I'm still not thrilled to see it here even though I felt I had a much better shot with the new Yveltal. I won the coin flip, and that was pretty huge. I lost twice to this deck at Regionals, but I took it to three games each time, and won the games I went first. Raichu hits like a truck, especially if I can get out ahead of his Megas.

I get a pretty solid start, and his looks ok as well. Unfortunately, his hand dies out mid game, and he’s left Supporterless. I wasn't in a bad spot leading into this, but I was likely having to rely on getting some set up shots on his Pokémon to get KOs with Raichu which was going to be a big pain. Instead, he’s not able to get the KOs he needs, and once I jump ahead in Prizes enough the game is pretty well over. I'm able to collect my last 2 Prizes off of a Benched Shaymin-EX from the start of the game a few turns after he’s able to draw out of his stall.

W (2-0)

Round 3 versus Nick Baker with Crobat/Seismitoad

I hadn't seen Nick, a player who I saw routinely before my temporary break from the game in 2011, in a long time. I knew from seeing him play earlier that he was on Crobat Seismitoad, which wasn't a matchup I felt extremely scared of. I'm not even saying that Yveltal is some lopsided favorite against Toad decks, but I do feel favored and also feel like there is a lot of play to the matchup, and I felt like I could manage the matchup better than most Toad players.

Of course, it doesn't matter, as I win the flip, and get to pull off one of my favorite plays of the day: turn-one Battle Compressor, discarding a Darkness Energy, Hoopa-EX, and a Ghetsis. My Jirachi-EX was Prized, but I had Buddy-Buddy Rescue for the Hoopa-EX, and a VS Seeker to grab Ghetsis, and managed to cobble the play together nonetheless. Nick was left with a pair of Zubat in play, Energy, and a Lysandre. He bricks for his turn, Lysandre'ing Hoopa for an attempted reprieve. I Switch out of it, and KO a Zubat. He draws, and Benches an additional Zubat, but passes. I KO a second Zubat while advancing my field, and his third draw step yields no help and Zubat #3 goes down to give me the game.

W (3-0)

Round 4 versus Kevin Estep with Durant

I knew Kevin was on Durant, and of the remaining undefeated decks, it was by far the one I wanted to play against the least. I didn't run a Seismitoad-EX, and I felt like my damage output per Energy was going to be just a little bit too low to keep up with the disruption the deck can put in front of me. I wasn't sure what was in his list, and I certainly hadn't tested against Durant at all. (Never mind the fact that I had barely tested post-BREAKthrough Expanded at all, for that matter!) I offered Kevin the draw, since the position we were both in as effectively one where we both needed to win 1 of the next 2 games, then draw in Round 6. By simply drawing now, it still left us at the same "Win one of the next two games" position, with a guarantee on that final draw (Who knows, someone could get paired down and be unable to draw at 4-1.) If I could avoid making one of those two games against Durant, I'd gladly do so. Kevin agreed to the draw, and I was off to a 3-0-1 start.

ID (3-0-1)

Round 5 versus Trey Reese with Yveltal

This was a disappointing pairing, because my friend Brian Baker was the lone 4-0 at this point since I drew with Kevin. Baker had already told me he would scoop to me if we got paired, and I had a 50-50 shot of getting that pairing. Instead, Kevin did, and Baker opted to play that out to try and work towards knocking Durant out of top cut. It turns out Ho-oh-EX does pretty good work against Durant, and Baker moved on to 5-0!

Trey was on Yveltal with Seismitoad-EX, and had beaten Sarah in a narrow game in Round 2, so I was looking to avenge her here. Unfortunately for me, Trey wins the flip, and has a pretty explosive first turn. On the other hand, my start was fairly anemic. I fall behind on Prizes, and have to two hit KO a Seismitoad-EX for my first pair of Prizes. I manage to get a Raichu KO on a Shaymin-EX on his Bench (I could have hit his Yveltal-EX with an Energy attached, but his Shaymin-EX was a potential flight risk, with Sky Return, so I wanted to get that KO while I could, hanging the Yveltal-EX for the next turn. Unfortunately for me, with us both at two Prizes, Trey uses another Shaymin-EX to Set Up for 5, and draw into a Dark Patch, a DCE, a Laser, and the Lysandre to get exactly enough damage to pick off my Yveltal-EX on my Bench the turn before I could score the win with a Raichu on Yveltal-EX.

L (3-1-1)

Round 6 versus Owen Robinson with Crobat Seismitoad

Owen and Kevin were the other 3-1-1s. There was a 5-0, being Brian Baker with my Xerneas Ho-Oh deck, and five 4-1s, including Sarah, who after taking 9th at three Cities, FINALLY broke through and made it into her first Top 8. 
All of the 4-1s or better could ID into Top 8, and a pair of 3-1-1s would play off for a Top 8 spot, while the last 3-1-1 would play against a 3-2 for the last spot. If the pairdown lost, a 4-2 would sneak their way into Top 8. Since I had already played Kevin, I was a coin flip for either being paired against Owen or a 3-2. I wind up against Owen, and we agree to do a chop on the packs that we win. (That way, whoever lost wasn't completely blown out. I'm always a fan of the security net on fairly high stakes games like this.)

I win the die roll, and Owen opens with a Zubat. I open with an Yveltal-EX. I get a Float Stone on the Yveltal-EX, and get a fairly set up Bench, using Hoopa-EX to Scoundrel Ring for a Jirachi-EX to grab a Ghetsis. I strip away a few cards, and see Owen has an N and a Colress in his hand alongside the Zubat. He debates the N and the Colress, with my Bench being full, and opts to Colress instead of giving me a new hand. He bricks on getting any additional Pokémon, and my Sycamore lets me hit a Darkness Energy and the Muscle Band to take the game with an Oblivion Wing after retreating with my Float Stone to secure my place in Top 8.

W, 4-1-1

Top 8
1.) Brian Baker (Xerneas Ho-oh)
2.) Alex Hill (Archie's Blastoise)
3.) Chris Fulop (Yveltal/Raichu)
4.) Trey Reese (Yveltal)
5.) Kevin Estep (Durant)
6.) Sarah Lyons (Yveltal Gallade)
7.) Steve Guthrie (Vespiquen Night March)
8.) Nick Baker (Seismitoad Crobat)

Top 8 versus Sarah Lyons with Yveltal

Of course, I get paired against Sarah in Top 8. It turns out Sarah had forgotten to register her Hex Maniac (I'm a bad influence!) and had to replace it with a Darkness Energy and get a game loss. She offers to scoop to me, and I'm not selfless enough to turn the offer down, even though being up a game with Yveltal/Raichu against Yveltal made me a pretty big favorite anyways. We both knew that her losing Hex Maniac was actually a really big deal: It was pretty vital towards being able to beat not only Baker's Xerneas/Ho-Oh deck, but more importantly, Alex's Blastoise deck. Alex was playing Steve in Top 8, and had beaten him in Swiss due to an Articuno/Victory Star Victini package. So, I said it then and I'll say it again, thank you, Sarah. We play a few games for fun while waiting, and I win I do win the first two we play anyways. It doesn't change her generosity any, though!

W (1-0)

Nick Baker won in three against Brian Baker in the battle of the Bakers, moving on to Top 4. This time, Steve beat Alex in three to move on to play against me. Trey beat Kevin's Durant to go on to play against Crobat Seismitoad.

Top 4 versus Steve Guthrie with Vespiquen/Night March

I had rejected an offer to be streamed for a feature match in Round 6, because I have had a pretty miserable track record on stream so far. Highlights include: Round 2 of U.S. Nationals, where I promptly get my Landy Bats deck absolutely routed 2-0 by Seismitoad/Crobat. Top 8 of Kent State Cities where I get 2-0'd by Mega Houndoom. The Top 8 of a Magic $50,000 tournament, where I lose in three. It isn't even that I get any sort of additional nerves, it’s just now become a bit of superstition for me, and I'll avoid being streamed if I can. That said, for Top 4, I did get streamed. This is the point where I really started to become exhausted, so my details here are going to be pretty sketchy. These games were recorded, and will be posted online on Kemony's YouTube challenge (She didn't even have to pay me for the plug!) which can be found here:

Game 1

This is a game where I manage to take the first Prize, and not have to Bench Pokémon-EX. I have a pretty good idea of how this matchup needs to play out simply from playing against Night March in Standard so many times. I can't Bench Pokémon-EX, and I need to just stay ahead on the Prize exchange. There is a big difference between the two matchups though: Night March can "comfortably" take the first 4 KOs before struggling to get powered up attackers for the last 2. With this deck transitioning from Night Marchers into Vespiquen, I'm tasked with a tougher challenge. (He was running a 2-2 Eelektrik line over Bronzong or Milotic as his late game Energy provider.) Against Night March, all I have to do is use Oblivion Wing over and over to get all my KOs, but I need to focus on getting better attackers in play to be able to actually score KOs on Vespiquen once he transitions. Luckily, a 4-3 Raichu line is pretty perfect for this. The challenge is actually making sure I have enough non-EX Pokémon to Bench to be able to get those KOs.

My plan plays out pretty well, and he has to play down Shaymin to set up as well, and I'm just able to take my last two Prizes off of that when he isn't in a position to hit me with an N on the last turn of the game to break up a potential Lysandre. I was in pretty safe shape, as I could have just taken 2 KOs before he had a chance to win, but the Shaymin closed the game out easier.

W (1-0)

Game 2

Game 2 is a much, much worse situation. I have a pretty poor start, but so does he. I open with a Pikachu against a Combee, and I see a nice opening if I can find a Muscle Band to get the KO with a DCE, but I whiff (It was obviously the next card, after a Sycamore) and Pikachu goes down. I'm able to take a few Prize cards, but wind up in this awful spot where Steve is at two Prizes to my four after using Jirachi to buy myself a turn stripping away one of his DCEs when he doesn't have a Lysandre. I'm forced to use BREAKthrough Yveltal to get a KO on his...Joltik, I believe, putting 60 on his Shaymin-EX, going to three Prizes. I was hoping to hit an N on that turn, but it was in my very thin deck still (I was under eight cards) so I couldn't pull it off. He KOs Yveltal, and I promote my...Pikachu? I think it was a Pikachu. My plan was to Buddy-Buddy Rescue back my Shaymin, attach a DCE to it, and Set Up the rest of my deck, hit the N, and N him getting the KO on Joltik and ideally have him whiff the attack, then have to find a way to KO that Shaymin before I died. (He had a very small deck, my odds were not very good.) Instead I draw Dark Patch! I'm able to Buddy-Buddy Rescue for Yveltal (BREAKthrough), attach the DCE, Dark Patch, play my Float Stone, and get the KO on his Active AND the Shaymin-EX for my last three Prizes to somehow win that game. (I pretty much emptied my whole hand to pull that off.)

I was really close to conceding this fact, in my head, I more or less had. The big thing I wanted here was to be able to choose to go second in Game 3, and I wanted to take as much time away from the round as possible. If I can get the first KO (which I should going second) I can likely sustain the first few KOs in that sort of game. Where the matchup falls apart is mid to late game once he can transition over to Vespiquen. I was hoping to make sure that the game wouldn't have enough time to transition into where it got dangerous for me. (Worth noting, the extra Switching cards were pretty important in being able to get that turn-one KO in this matchup.)

W (2-0)

Top 2 versus Trey Reese with Yveltal

We both were exhausted and tired, and wanted to leave, so we agreed to play 1 game for the match, by alternatively conceding Games 1 and 2. This likely benefitted him, as I feel like I am pretty favored in the matchup due to Raichu. By playing only a single game, the odds he can steal a single game opposed to two is definitely higher.

I win the flip, but miss the turn-one Ghetsis since Jirachi-EX was Prized. He opens with a Seismitoad-EX, which I end up 2 hitting with an Yveltal-EX. He takes down Yveltal with a Darkrai, but I get the return KO with a fully set up Raichu with a Muscle Band. I'm able to use Lysandre to take out an Yveltal-EX on his Bench the next turn with a second Raichu to pick up the win, FINALLY breaking my really cold streak and taking down a City Championships.

W (1-0)

1st Place, 160/300

Not only was this a big confidence booster as I'd taken a few frustrating lumps along the way this Cities season, but it puts me much closer to being on track for my Invite. I now have 45 CP from Regionals, 25 from LCs, and 90 from Cities. My low end cut off for what I consider to be an acceptable amount of Cities points is 100. I was sitting at a low 40, and that wasn't close to cutting it. Now, I only need a Top 8 to really put myself at my target. Also, if in the next few weekends, I'm able to win two more Cities (unlikely, but definitely doable!) I can realistically pick up my invite. That will put me at 240 points, with one of my Top 8s being upgraded. I still have 65 points to earn off of LCs, and with the number of them we have here, I feel like if I make the effort I can secure my 90s by the end of the season. I expect to earn more points at States, Regionals and Nationals, but those are all very difficult events, and it isn't unrealistic not to, even though I'd have to be pretty unlucky. Picking up at least another 40 points from Cities would be a massive help.

I felt like I finally caught pretty good variance for this event. I had a lot of help from my opponent's decks malfunctioning, although a lot of that was induced by Ghetsis. That is a card I could not be higher on at the moment. This is the third tournament where the card has been an all-star for me. (10th at Regionals, 1st at a League Challenge, and now 1st at this Cities with this deck.) I wonder how telling it is that of my points, 110 are in Expanded.

Anyways, I also want to give a huge shot out to Brian Baker and his beautiful nearly-all-full-art Ho-Oh/Xerneas deck! (He has managed to complete his vanity project with the deck, maxing the rarity on every card sans his Dedenne, which was non-reverse foil! For shame!) Anyways, here is the list he used for the event!

This was a slight deviation from the list I posted in an article a few months ago, that I gave Baker since he has been obsessed with Ho-Oh decks for a long time now. He picked it up and loved it and has been using it since. I'm thrilled to see that the deck worked out really well for him, although I was really hoping I could have gotten to play him in the finals! (I think had he gotten past Nick, he had a very good shot against Trey's Yveltal build, too.) I'm not trying to spin the deck as the second coming, or anything close, but it is actually a viable deck choice, and more importantly, extremely fun to play. I logged some games on PTCGO with the deck, and it was just a blast. 

After having a bit of time to unwind and evaluate my deck choice for the event, I really want to fit in a seventh Darkness Energy and the Keldeo-EX. I actually think I want to trim a Dark Patch for the 7th Darkness. As for the Keldeo slot? I'm really at a bit of a loss for that one, unfortunately. I think the most natural swap would have to be a Switching card, but I'm hesitant. The final card I would really, really like is a 2nd Yveltal from Breakthrough. Not only is the card pretty impressive, but it fundamentally just works better in pairs where you can hit for 60, and actually be able to follow it up to pick something off. Currently as it is, you hit something on the Bench for 60, but can't really abuse that huge jump in say, KOing Shaymin. If you Lysandre it up later, the damage is irrelevant. It still helps to take down beefier targets, but that’s only living up to half the cards potential. Currently I have to settle for Buddy-Buddy Rescue to offer that sort of pressure. Worth noting, as well, is that if we did run a second Yveltal, I'd keep the fourth Dark Patch as it is pretty useful in conjunction with the big bird.

I want to include a pair of lists as well, first being my Yveltal/Gallade list for Expanded, and then an interesting updated take on Mega Rayquaza for Standard, as I still feel like the deck is extremely well positioned at the moment if I can get it running smoother.

The big problem I was having with the deck was getting too many Supporters, Mega Turbos, VS Seeker, Energy, and Sky Fields stuck in your hand. Not only do you end up burning way too many resources, but you get your hand clogged so that your Shaymin's Set Ups are really weak. This leads to dead ends during the course of the game, and it adds up. Maintenance seems like a miserable card, as it is card disadvantage, but in this case, the card is pretty awesome! It helps regulate your hand size and put back resources you don't want to have to discard. Everyone knows how awesome Ultra Ball is at dumping cards to enable Set Up, and Maintenance acts as a poor man's back up Ultra Ball towards that secondary function. The card is actually better than Acro Bike in this deck, despite digging less deep. It also helps up the Trainer density for your Trainers' Mail which adds up. I've played a few games with the deck and it’s been pretty nice so far!

There is another variant of Rayquaza I wanted to look into, but haven't actually gotten time to test. Running Rayquaza alongside Yveltal, the non-EX, seems interesting! It gives you a nice attacker against Night March (and with a thick enough line with Sacred Ash, can give you an actual chance to beat that matchup reliably.) and Oblivion Wing helps to power up Rayquaza without the need for Mega Turbos consistently. It would end up being a slower build, but it may end up playing better. Another alternative would be to run a 1-1 Maxie/Gallade in the deck. (This works better with the Maintenance) as that gives you a non-Lightning weak attacker, and should shore up any Manectric concerns if you have them. I think it’s unnecessary, but it’s better to look things over than omit them.

The last deck I want to address is Night March Vespiquen. I feel like the best deck in the format is Yveltal/Gallade/Zoroark. I feel like decks built to beat this deck, and beat other decks which compete against Yveltal are viable counter choices. The last option I'm liking at the moment is Night March/Vespiquen (In standard, as well as Expanded.) because there are a lot of decks which fold to Night March, and many of the decks which do beat Night March are much worse against a deck that also has the 90 HP Vespiquen as an alternative attacker. I think it is one of the better choices going forward. Here is my rough list for the deck.

Anyways, I have a pair of Cities this weekend, at my home town of North Olmsted Saturday, and then in Streetsboro on Sunday which is about an hour away for me. If Rayquaza keeps testing favorably for me, I'm going to give it an additional run, even though I was disappointed with how it did for me on Saturday, of course. Anyways, Cities are more than half over now, but for those of you still on the grind, good luck at your upcoming events! I've got another article coming up next week, and hopefully I'll have another good result or two to report to you guys!



[+8] okko


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