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Ryan Sabelhaus

"The Burning Shadows have Appeared" - A Complete Analysis of the Summer ARG Invitational

Ryan takes a look at the first major event with Burning Shadows legal for play, the 2017 Summer ARG invitational tournament.

08/21/2017 by Ryan Sabelhaus

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What’s happening, 60cards readers! For this article, we try something new to see how it goes. With the new set, Burning Shadows, just coming into the format, we’ve had one tournament to display how these new powerful cards can impact the game, and this was the ARG Invitational that happened during the weekend of August 11th-13th in Philadelphia. For this article, we’re going to focus on this tournament and have an in-depth discussion of the decks that saw success, along with reasoning why there were able to perform so well.

Analyzing which cards were popular from Burning Shadows, or possibly which cards are lacking from the new set within these decks, should help everyone with deck-building in the new format. For example, if the most popular decks have high counts of Guzma and don’t really play a large amount of switching cards, this would be a good indicator that less switching cards are needed for that deck and was able to find success at a large-scale tournament.

Throughout this article, I use an informal tone, as I’d rather this just be a good discussion that I’m having with all the readers here at 60cards. We go over the tournament, take a look at the decks that made their way into the Top 8, and discuss why these decks/players were able to succeed and take home some money with their placement. With this being the first major event to use the PRC-Burning Shadows format and offering a prize pool of $2,000 to the champion, all of the nearly 100 competitors brought their best decks to fight for prizing. For anyone that is playing in League Cups coming up soon, along with possibly the World Championships (depending on when this article is published), the format portrayed in this article should be a good indicator of what players are finding most comfortable right now.

A majority of the information listed in this article will also be straight from ARG| Grant Manley’s perspective, as he was personally at the event and got a good bit of information to be used for analysis and discussion. A big thanks to Grant for all his analysis into this crucial tournament that helped to display the strength of Burning Shadows cards. Let’s jump into article!

Table of contents

The ARG Invitational: PRC-BUS Format

-Meta Breakdown

-Notable Players and Deck Choices

-Day 1 Swiss and Final Standings

8th Place – ARG| Jose Marrero (Gyarados)

7th Place – Ryan Antonucci (Decidueye/Ninetales)

6th Place – Ryan Sinnott (Mega Rayquaza)

5th Place – Benjamin Rivera (Espeon/Garbodor)

4th Place – Grafton Roll (Greninja)

3rd Place – ARG| Grant Manley (Gyarados)

2nd Place – Josh Marking (Decidueye/Vileplume)

1st Place – Jon Eng 


The ARG Invitational: PRC-BUS Format

As stated earlier, the 2017 Summer ARG Invitational was the first major tournament to use the Primal Clash to Burning Shadows format, which means that it was the first opportunity for players to utilize cards from the new set. Players earned their invite to this tournament through playing at an ARG Circuit Series event earlier in the season and placing high enough at these events. Competitors that performed extremely well and won these Circuit Series events were able to get byes for the first/second round of the invitational, which depended on how well they finished. The invitational was eight rounds for the first day of Swiss, which were played in a best two-out-of-three format.

Players that finished in the Top 16 after day one proceeded into the second day of competition, which was a single elimination, bracket-style cut until a victor was crowned. After enough players were eliminated to have just two finalists, there was a playoff game between third and fourth place to determine which player would get the third place trophy (as only the top three placements would earn a trophy at this event). This event also was streamed on Twitch/tv/ARGlive2, where you can watch all the games from this exciting tournament. The overall champion of this tournament earned $2,000 and bragging rights, while money was also extended all the way down to the Top 8 players, as well. Let’s look at how diverse the meta was for the invitational.


Meta Breakdown

Here is the meta breakdown according to Grant, who recorded most of the decks being played during the first two rounds that he had byes for:

13 Gardevoir-GX
9 Volcanion-EX
7 Golisopod-GX
6 Decidueye-GX (only one or two with Plume)
6 Garbodor (I think three Espeon and three Drampa)
5 Gyarados
5 Greninja
5 Metagross-GX
4 Vespiquen
4 Darkrai-EX
4 Alolan Ninetales-GX
2 Mega Rayquaza-EX
2 VikaBulu
2 Rainbow Road
1 Zoroark/Drampa-GX
1 Noivern-GX/Garbodor
1 Glaceon/anti-meta toolbox
1 Sylveon-GX toolbox
1 Tapu Koko-GX

As we can see from these numbers, the two most hyped decks coming into this new Standard format, Gardevoir-GX and Volcanion-EX, were also the two most popular decks played at this high-stakes tournament with huge amounts of prize money on the line.

It seems like a good number of players have tested the new format and realized the strength that comes from Gardevoir-GX’s bulky HP and energy-accelerating ability, as 13 total players were recorded in the field. Since these numbers aren’t an exact count, there may have been even more Gardevoir-GX at this event.

With a few new toys for Volcanion-EX in Burning Shadows (Ho-Oh GX, Kiawe, most notably), it seems that a good majority of competitors also were looking to out-speed opponents and dominate with Volcanion-based decks. Outside of these two big deck choices, the meta had a good amount of diversity and players seemed to pick whatever they were most comfortable with. This is evident from how many different deck choices are actually up on the list above (17 different decks below Volcanion and Gardevoir). Based on just this event so far, all signs are pointing towards a diverse and even metagame for the upcoming Standard format of Pokémon!

Notable Players and Deck Choices

Now many people reading this article may be wondering what more notable players in the game today were seen piloting at this event. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular players that attended the invitational and which decks they chose:

• Jon Eng (2065 CP in the Senior Division) – Finished in first place at the event with Espeon-GX/Garbodor

• CCG| Azul Garcia Griego (1472 CP) – Even with two byes from a previous circuit series win, Azul somehow bubbled out of the Top 16 with his Drampa-GX/Garbodor deck.

• ARG| Michael Pramawat (1403 CP) – The current fifth place player for the United States and Canada region played his Vespiquen deck that he has seen success with already this season.

• Chris Siakala (1172 CP) – Followed the hype and played Volcanion-EX at this event.

• Grafton Roll (909 CP) – Finished in fourth place with his favorite deck of the season, Greninja.

• ARG| Jose Marrero (795 CP) – Played one of his favorite decks for this season, Gyarados, and finished in the Top 8.

• ARG| Grant Manley (645 CP) – Did not play a special rogue deck at this tournament, but found his way to a third place finish with Gyarados

• Josh Marking (170 CP) – Although he didn’t have many CP this season, Josh is a popular player from his YouTube channel “Team Fish Knuckles” and proved himself at this tournament with a second place finish with Decidueye/Vileplume.


Day 1 Swiss and Final Standings

After eight rounds of Swiss, here is which decks made it into the Top 16 to play in the second day of competition:

1) Decidueye-GX/Ninetales-GX
2) Espeon-GX/Garbodor
3) Gardevoir-GX
4) Gyarados 
5) Gardevoir-GX 
6) Gardevoir-GX 
7) Gyarados
8) M Rayquaza-EX/Fire
9) Decidueye-GX/Ninetales-GX 
10) Golisopod-GX/Eeveelutions 
11) Decidueye-GX/Ninetales-GX 
12) Espeon-GX/Garbodor 
13) Gyarados 
14) Decidueye-GX/Vileplume
15) Gyarados 
16) Greninja

After all the games were played out during the second day of competition, the final standings looked like this (Top 8 in Bold to show where cash prizing ended):

1) Espeon-GX/Garbodor
2) Decidueye-GX/Vileplume
3) Gyarados
4) Greninja
5) Espeon-GX/Garbodor
6) Mega Rayquaza-EX
7) Gyarados
8) Decidueye-GX/Ninetales-GX
9) Decidueye-GX/Ninetales-GX
10) Gardevoir-GX
11) Gyarados
12) Gardevoir-GX
13) Gardevoir-GX
14) Decidueye-GX/Ninetales-GX
15) Golisopod-GX
16) Gyarados

These results were shocking to see, as they were certainly not what would be expected after seeing the meta diversity.

With Volcanion-EX being one of the most popular decks, not a single Volcanion even made it into the top 16 decks to compete in day two. With all the new resources available from Burning Shadows, it seemed like a good number of players were ready to face opposing Volcanion decks. The most popular deck at the entire tournament was Gardevoir-GX, which had a decent showing for the Top 16 (three players), but these players lost in the very first round of single elimination. With all the hype surrounding both Gardevoir-GX and Volcanion-EX, neither deck even made an appearance in the Top 8 of this ARG invitational. Definitely seeing some surprising results come out of this tournament.

Not only did the two most hyped decks perform poorly, but decks that were assumed to be dropping in popularity have come back with force. Espeon-GX/Garbodor was expected to lower in popularity due to Guzma coming out in Burning Shadows, which will allow opponents to easily switch away from confusion. John Eng apparently didn’t care about Guzma, and just went with Espeon-GX for the powerful Psychic attack to punish opponents that had too many energy on board, while probably slipping in a confusion attack here and there. Ever since the Tapu Koko promo came out, Gyarados has also been hiding in the shadows to avoid losing schools of fish with a singular attack being called. At this event, some experience players decided to bring Gyarados back out for another shot and found great success. Both ARG| Grant Manley and ARG| Jose Marrero made their way into the Top 8 to leave this tournament with some prize money from piloting Gyarados decks.

Another popular counter in the metagame was going to be Metagross-GX, which took up at least five spots at the invitational. With high hopes of countering Gardevoir-GX from being Metal type, Metagross-GX was poorly mistaken and apparently couldn’t wiggle its way through all of the bad matchups in Volcanion-EX, Greninja, and Garbodor that were lurking in the field. For any player that believes Metagross-GX was the answer to help against the outbreak of Gardevoir, just remember that there are plenty of other decks at tournaments that are just dying to play against Metagross. It might be time to look elsewhere for an answer. 

8th Place – ARG| Jose Marrero (Gyarados)

This result isn’t very shocking to see, as 60Cards own writer Jose Marrero has made a name for placing well at nearly every event with one of his two favorite decks: Mega Rayquaza-EX and Gyarados. Jose saw a chance at this tournament to capitalize on players removing from their decks both Tapu Koko promo and Oricorio, which had become nearly staples in most decks before the release of Burning Shadows. With a big focus on Gardevoir-GX and Volcanion-EX, most players cut the extra tech cards to improve the matchups against these two big contenders. Jose dusted off his Gyarados deck, threw in a Mr. Mime to help better the matchup in case a Tapu Koko hit the board, and just prayed that he didn’t sit across from an opponent playing Decidueye-GX. This plan seemed to work well, as Jose made it all the way to the Top 8 and got to leave his sponsor’s event with a little more money in his wallet.


Let’s take a look at what makes Jose’s deck work so well. When looking at the Pokémon lines, Jose plays a Tapu Lele-GX and a Shaymin-EX as utility cards to help draw through his deck, while also having an Octillery line to consistently draw cards every turn. As long as he can find ways of getting damaged Magikarp on the bench and a Gyarados to attack, Jose will inevitably power through any opponent in his path. This deck mainly revolves around the use of playing a Teammates every turn and keeping up on the prize exchange, until a Pokémon-EX or Pokémon-GX can get knocked out to allow Gyarados to take the lead. This is why Jose plays two copies of Teammates, along with four Puzzle of Time, and plenty of recovery cards that will let him constantly refuel the vital resources needed to keep taking knockouts. With how much Jose has played Gyarados over this season, I would say that this is a prime example of a solid build that can carry any player to the top (if Decidueye matchups can be dodged).

7th Place – Ryan Antonucci (Decidueye/Ninetales)

When looking at Ryan Antonucci’s deck list, there is one thing that is abundantly clear, he did not want to lose to Gardevoir-GX at this tournament. Not only did he play one copy of Espeon-EX to devolve and set back any Gardevoir-GX that has been evolved through a Rare Candy, but Ryan decided to be safe and play two copies! With such a heavy focus on placing damage down on evolved Pokémon and then devolving to take knockouts, Ryan also played Ninetales-GX and Tapu Koko promo to start spreading damage. The game plan is obvious and clear for this deck, and it worked at the invitational. Without many new cards from Burning Shadows in this deck, it’s clear to see that Ryan was perfectly fine before this set and just wanted to keep doing what was working already.

6th Place – Ryan Sinnott (Mega Rayquaza)

A deck that has really fallen away from the Standard metagame in the past few months, Mega Rayquaza found its way back at this tournament with a strong Top 8 performance. When Gardevoir-GX was first announced, many were hoping that Mega Rayquaza-EX would be the savior that this format needed, as it can effectively one-shot a Gardevoir-GX with a full bench and isn’t easily knocked out in return. With enough recovery cards to survive throughout a game and no more Parallel City to stand in the way, Mega Rayquaza seemed like a good call! The only problem with playing this deck is the constant fear of facing an opponent that is playing Garbodor or Sudowoodo, as both are trouble for Mega Rayquaza. Ryan decided to throw caution to the wind and just hope that he found Volcanion-EX and Gardevoir-GX decks all the way to the finals, which seemed to work with this strong performance.

Some notable cards in Ryan’s deck were Acerola, Professor Kukui, and Volcanion-EX with Fire Energy to match. Although I hadn’t really thought about how strong Acerola is in this deck, Ryan was able to abuse the combo of picking up a damaged Mega Rayquaza-EX with Acerola, and then immediately evolving it right back since the Rayquaza Spirit Link gets returned to the hand as well. With older Mega Rayquaza decks that played AZ, immediate evolution couldn’t happen again from the Spirit Link having to be discarded. This certainly is a clever way of using new supporter cards from Burning Shadows.

Although I’m not sure why Ryan chose to play Professor Kukui, I can see some of the advantages to having a copy in the deck. The added 20 damage can allow knockouts on Pokémon-EX or Pokémon-GX without the need of a Sky Field, while also just allowing for only seven Pokémon on the bench to hit crucial numbers in the Gardevoir-GX matchup. While some other versions of this deck are also focusing on playing Metal Pokémon to abuse Magearna-EX, Ryan chose to just go with consistency and play Volcanion-EX. This allows Ryan to discard basic Fire energy whenever they are drawn, which can then be attached to his Mega Rayquaza using his Mega Turbos. In larger tournaments, consistency is key, which would certainly apply for this event as well.

5th Place – Benjamin Rivera (Espeon/Garbodor)

With many people expecting Espeon/Garbodor to see less play in tournaments, Benjamin apparently missed the memo and decided to just go with what has been working before the release of Burning Shadows. Espeon-GX is great at stalling for time through the use of confusing opponents, which also forces them to play more Item cards throughout the game. After spreading early damage and forcing out Item cards, Garbodor comes in to sweep through the rest of the field, while Garbotoxin is in play to constantly disrupt the abilities of an opponent. The deck has a simple strategy, which is the reason why Espeon/Garbodor has seen so much success at major tournaments lately. 

Benjamin plays a couple of peculiar tech cards in his deck which should be noted. In the Pokémon section, we can see that he has teched for Vespiquen and Gyarados by adding in the Oricorio, which was surprising to see. Vespiquen isn't that popular, but perhaps Benjamin expected to see a couple being played and just wanted to make sure that he could win that matchup. Either way, he had the perfect tech card to help against some of the Gyarados decks that were doing well at this tournament. Benjamin also teched in a Pokémon Center Lady, which comes in handy when opponents are trying to two-shot an Espeon-GX. This supporter card can work wonders against an opponent that is playing Gardevoir-GX, as they must now commit more energies than just the singular Fairy energy to two-shot an Espeon-GX, which can be rather difficult while under Garbotoxin lock. Another special supporter card added into this deck is the Professor Kukui, which can help to add a little bit of needed damage when necessary. Another tech supporter card that could have caught opponents off guard, especially when they weren't expecting any additional damage to come down. 

4th Place – Grafton Roll (Greninja)

For anyone that knows Grafton, you know that he is willing to play Greninja into any field with no second thoughts. Even with bad matchups to Golisopod-GX and Decidueye decks, Grafton valued the good matchups against the two most popular decks of Volcanion and Gardevoir. With enough experience to last a laugh time with Greninja, it's easy to see how Grafton could maneuver through any field and make it into the top cut. The decks strategy is simple to understand, just fall behind and let opponents take early prize cards and then come back with a vengeance through hand manipulation (Ace Trainer, N) and the ability of Greninja BREAK. As long as Frogadiers aren't in the prize cards and can come out through a quick Water Duplicates attack, Grafton should be fine to implement this strategy in every game.  

Grafton has plenty of tech cards in his Greninja deck that aren't in normal builds. He also chose to play the Oricorio to tech for Vespiquen and Greninja, which has been faithfully in Grafton's Greninja deck for the past couple of tournaments. He also chose to play a Fisherman to retrieve energy in the late game, along with a Teammates to help recover after an opponent knocks out one of his Pokémon. The Teammates is an especially useful card, as it can grab any two crucial pieces to help hit a quick Water Duplicates or to just find an energy and a Greninja to start attacking. Grafton doesn't like using Ultra Ball in Greninja, so he goes with a mix of Dive Ball, Level Ball, and a Timer Ball to get Pokémon out of his deck. While this may seem strange to some, Grafton understands Greninja better than anyone and values his resources too much to discard them.  

3rd Place – ARG| Grant Manley (Gyarados)

Grant is usually caught playing some random rogue creation at tournaments, which is confusing to see him playing such a straightforward Gyarados deck. It obviously worked out in his favor though, as Grant was able to work his way up to the Top 4 and even win the playoff match to finish in third place. It seems that Grant saw an opportunity to bring back out Gyarados for one last ride before rotation, which looks to capitalize on opponents with large HP Pokémon-GX or Pokémon-EX through one-shotting and hitting huge amounts of damage. Just looking at Grant's deck, everyone can see just how this extremely consistent build was able to go so far in this touranment. He plays four copies of every important Item card in this deck, including VS Seeker, Dive Ball, Ultra Ball, Trainers' Mail, Puzzle of Time, and Rescue Stretcher. That is the definition of consistency for a Gyarados build. 

The main difference between a normal Gyarados build and the version that Grant played would be the special tech Pokémon and some peculiar items. Instead of playing a Machoke line to negate damage to the bench, Grant decided to just go with a singular copy of Mr. Mime to save a little room. He also chose to play Giratina promo to tech against anyone that decided to play Greninja, which probably came in handy in that Top 4 playoff match against Grafton. When looking at the deck, one of the most standout cards would have to be the single copy of Rotom Dex. Instead of just playing a copy of Town Map to retrieve prized Magikarps, Grant just wanted to skip the whole ordeal and re-shuffle his prize cards back into the deck and try again. Town Map seems better in most situations, but Grant is the one that made it into the Top 4 of this tournament so it must have been working out for him. 

2nd Place – Josh Marking (Decidueye/Vileplume)

When looking at the standings, it was easy to predict what deck Josh Marking was going to bring to this tournament, as he loves his good friend Decidueye-GX. After John Kettler finished second place at the largest tournament in Pokémon history with DeciPlume, Josh saw a prime opportunity to play an extremely similar/consistent list to bring home some money at the ARG invitational.  A simple explanation to why DeciPlume is such an effective deck would be this: A fast Vileplume coming down can completely shut down any opposing deck, which allows Decidueye-GX and Lugia-EX/Tapu-Lele-GX to overpower an opponent that isn't setup. Josh didn't change many cards from Kettler's second place NAIC list, as he just added in a Guzma to replace the Olympia. The old saying, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it,” fits perfectly for this situation and Josh's deck choice for the tournament. 

1st Place – Jon Eng (Espeon/Garbodor)

Now this was an unexpected deck to come home with the victory at this tournament. With most predicting less play from Espeon-GX from Guzma coming out and confusion being less effective, not many expected Espeon/Garbodor to come away with the championship trophy at the ARG invitational. Since we've already highlighted what makes Espeon/Garbodor so strong in Benjamin's deck, we'll just take a look at some of the differences between their lists and the reasoning behind it. In the Pokémon section, Jon chose to tech for Volcanion with a Vaporeon to make all of his attackers Water type. Another crucial Pokémon difference would be the third Tapu Lele-GX, which is a crucial addition to assure that the deck gets set up consistently. Jon also chose to play a Parallel City to tech for many opponents, while also being an option to get rid of any damaged attackers that are on his own bench. Other than these changes, Jon just chose to play an extremely consistent list with a straightforward strategy and it worked out for him. 


Well everybody, that wraps up another article. If you aren’t currently following me on any social media platforms, be sure to add me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter (@Sabelhaus_TCG). You can also find updates on the CCG Castle Pro Team on our Facebook page called “Team CCG Castle Pro-Pokémon” or through our Twitter (@CCGCastle_TCG). If anyone is looking for some great customized Pokémon TCG damage counter dice and GX markers, also be sure to check out TC Evolutions. They’ve got some amazing products and have colors to match any deck box or sleeves that you’re currently using. When ordering products from, be sure to use the promo code “ccgcastle” to get free shipping as well!

Also, be sure to check out as well for any of your trading card game needs. You can also use the promo code “CCGTEAM5” to get 5% off of your next purchase at their website, which could help if any cards are needed for the upcoming Regional Championships for the next season. Thanks again to everybody that comes and reads my articles and is hopefully enjoying the content. If you have any questions or comments about the article or any deck ideas, feel free to message me with anything!


-Ryan Sabelhaus<3


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