Experts' corner

Nico Alabas

Finding the play for NAIC

Nico takes a look at the top plays for the International Championships in Columbus, Ohio

06/20/2019 by Nico Alabas

What's up guys, this is Nico and today I'm going to talk to you about my top picks for the upcoming North American International Championships in Columbus, Ohio. By now we had a decent amount of tournaments in the SUM to UNB format, which allows us to get a pretty good picture on what the last big tournament in this format is going to look like. Against my own personal expectations, Reshiram and Charizard GX (UBO; 20) was able to live up to its hype and became on of the most influencial decks of the format. Most people expected Pikachu & Zekrom GX (TM; 33) to be pushed out of the format by Reshiram and Charizard GX (UBO; 20) as the new big Tag Team deck, but as it turns out both of them are pretty good and neither of them is going to leave any time soon. After a very long period of being considered inconsistent or straight up bad, Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) was able to make another push towards being one of the top decks until it will finally be forced to leave the Standard format, thanks to rotation, shortly before the World Championships in Washington D.C. The cards that made it possible for Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) to finally be recognized as one of the top decks again, without being considered "high roll" are primarily Persian GX (UBO; 149) and Triple Acceleration Energy which gave the deck a huge boost in consistency, but also allowed a much easier use of tech attackers like Slowking (LT; 55) and Dewgong (UBO; 45) , because it's possible to power them up with just one energy attachment. The final top tier deck is Zapdos (TM; 40) , which has been dominating ever since the release of Team Up, so it doesnt come to anyone's surprise that it's still staying on the top, especially because it also got some new tricks with Unbroken Bonds. Before I give away all the information about those decks just in the intro, let's take a look at each of them in detail, and also one pick that might not be on everyone's top list for NAIC.



Shedinja Control


Shedinja (LT; 95) is by far the most complicated deck in the current format, but when played one hundred percent optimally, all you're going to face during a tournament are autowins, and autoloss, with those only being a hundred percent lost if your opponent also plays close to optimal. If you take a look at the list it's also going to be very easy to see, why the matchups for Shedinja (LT; 95) turn out this way. If you're able to get out your prefect loop to stall out your opponent, the only way for them is to have enough Field Blower (GRI; 125) , Escape Rope (BUS; 114) and/or Guzma (BUS; 115) , if they don't they just straight up lose the game. Unfortunitely for Shedinja (LT; 95) , all the other top decks except Reshiram and Charizard GX (UBO; 20) have enough of those cards to close out the game, forcing Shedinja (LT; 95) to be very close to the top, but not quite able to make it. The basic strategy of Shedinja (LT; 95) is very easy, you set up multiple Zebstrika (LT; 82) to thin out your deck until you're able to draw all the cards you put in with Brock's Grit and Oranguru (UPR; 114) 's Ressource Management, put one Shedinja (LT; 95) onto Oranguru (UPR; 114) , so your opponent doesn't take a prize, and also bench one Nincada so you can evolve it during your next turn, attach it to a new Oranguru (UPR; 114) after your active one got knocked out, and promote the new one. Simply by using that strategy you can already win a lot of games, especially if your opponent eventually realizes he can't win anymore. But as soon as you start playing versus good player, this won't be enough. They will try their best to win the game and punish every slightest mistake or use the smallest opening to win the game. For cases like that we have got Slowking (LT; 55) . Slowking (LT; 55) allows us to look at our opponent's hand and put one card into the lost zone. This is a super good way to take away cards like Guzma (BUS; 115) , Pal Pad, Field Blower (GRI; 125) etc, but also requires a lot of focus. You need to make sure that you still have enough energies, switching cards and the right Pokémon in your deck before you start using Slowking (LT; 55) , otherwise you might just lock your Slowking (LT; 55) active and lose the game to decking out yourself. There's also a lot of other scenarios that you can end up into with all this decks cards and all the different decks in the format, that it would just be way too much for this article, so I suggest that you practice the deck for yourself and see if it even fits your playstyle, because it gets very exhausting to play the deck for multiple games, let alone an entire International Championship.






Next up on my list is Pikachu & Zekrom GX (TM; 33) which ever since its release in Team-Up has been one of the top decks in the metagame, with a variety of versions. For this NAIC I feel like the best version is the one that Rahul Reddy, Xander Pero, Will Jenkins and Justin Bokhari used at the Regional Championships in Madison, Wisconsin, as well as Jesper Eriksen at the Regionals in Jönköping, Sweden. Its newly gained aggressivity thanks to Electromagnetic Radar (UBO; 230) and Dedenne GX (UBO; 57) makes it a lot easier to set up a turn one Full Blitz than before, and that's exactly what you need to keep up with decks like Reshiram and Charizard GX (UBO; 20) , the mirror and Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) . On the other side, commiting on an aggressive version of Pikachu & Zekrom GX (TM; 33) makes it weaker to decks like Zapdos (TM; 40) where you would like to be able to play a non-GX heavy strategy with Zapdos (TM; 40) , or use Jolteon GX to swing the matchup in your favor. At the end of the day Pikachu & Zekrom GX (TM; 33) is mostly a glas cannon deck and you should be aware of that before you take the deck to the tournament since you can end your day witha X-0 record, as well as an 0-X record. When played correctly its definitely a good pick, so if you've been a Pikachu & Zekrom GX (TM; 33) playerfor the past couple of months, there is no reason to switch to a different deck for the biggest tournament of the season.






After being called out on being way too inconsistent or straight up bad, just shortly before rotating out, Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) makes a comeback as one of my top picks because Unbroken Bonds really helped the deck to find some strong new additions. The most important one is definitely Persian GX (UBO; 149) , which is one of my favorite cards from Unbroken Bonds, because it doesn't just have a super strong ability, but also an incredibly strong attack, especially with the addition of {CARD 5483}, which is the second cards of Unbroken Bonds to help Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) gain popularity again. Basically playing eight Double Colorless Energy (PHF; 111) is just super good for Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) which got into some troublesome situations when it comes to energy attachments, after the loss of Puzzle of time. Another really good card for the deck is Dedenne GX (UBO; 57) which helps to mkae up for the lack of consistency in some situations by allowing you to draw more cards and therefore get more options. The inclusion of a water type attacker is a no-brainer, but players are divided between Dewgong (UBO; 45) and Slowking (LT; 55) . I think that Slowking (LT; 55) is by far the superior attacker of the two, especially now that Reshiram and Charizard GX (UBO; 20) just plays healing cards to make Dewgong (UBO; 45) completely useless. Slowking (LT; 55) is able to hit very nice numbers versus Reshiram and Charizard GX (UBO; 20) for just a {CARD 5483} and if necessary Choice Band (GRI; 121) and/or Professor Kukui (SUM; 128) . I think Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) is in a much better spot than it has been the entire season, so if you want to take it for one last ride before rotation, the time is now.






I was very surprised when I first saw Reshiram and Charizard GX (UBO; 20) doing well at tournaments, because I expected it to be just another hyped up oneshot deck that turns out to be too linear to be an actual contestant on being a top tier deck. I still don't think it's the greatest deck ever, neither do I like its playstyle, but after the past few tournaments I have to admit that it's indeed very strong, especially the newly popularized version that uses Green's Exploration (UBO; 175) and heavy healing cards like Mixed Herbs (LT; 184) , Acerola and Max potion. I like that version more than the heavy Jirachi (TM; 99) version that uses Kiawe, because you're way less reliant on a good turn one, but instead actually get to play the game even if you don't get the most broken set-up. I know that Green's Exploration (UBO; 175) has been played in the past, but I really think that the addition of Mixed Herbs (LT; 184) makes a very big difference against the top decks. Reshiram and Charizard GX (UBO; 20) s biggest problem for this tournament is going to be that most people will not be playing decks that lose to Reshiram and Charizard GX (UBO; 20) . Every player will have it on their target list and due to its linear playstyle, it's more vulnerable to that kind of counter play than any of the other top decks. It's still going to be a strong play non the less, because not every deck has found a water proof strategy to beat Reshiram and Charizard GX (UBO; 20) yet.






As you might know by now, ZapBeasts is by far my favorite deck in the current format as I was able to get quite some accomplishments throughout my time with deck, so it might not come as a surprise that it's also my top pick for Columbus. It's adaptability to almost every matchup makes it a very scary opponent when facing it, and also an incredibly powerful weapon when using it yourself. The addition of Pheromosa & Buzzwole GX (UBO; 1) and Kartana (UBO; 19) as new option swing some matchups even more in your favor. I want to talk about Pheromosa & Buzzwole GX (UBO; 1) in more detail because in my opinion it's an auto unclude in the deck and I'm very surprised that a lot of people chose not to play it. First and foremost it swings the mirror around by a lot if one of the players uses it and the other doesn't. Normally the mirror comes down to who takes the first knockout, or who whiffes the follow up ko first, but if only one of the players uses Pheromosa & Buzzwole GX (UBO; 1) in his list, he can make up for being down on prizes by simply using the GX attack, or gain an even bigger advantage when already ahead in knockouts. Another card I want to talk about is Zebstrika (LT; 82) , as there's probably a decent amount of people that wonder why I chose to not include it in my list, especially with the rise of Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) s popularity. If you take a look at my previous list that I used to get Top4 at the SPE in Bolzano, Top32 at the Regionals in Denver and 2nd at the Regionals in Bristol you'll already realise that I never used it, and the reasoning behind that is pretty simple. I don't like the idea of discarding your ressources, especially not in a deck like ZapBeasts that heavily relies on using the right attacker, or combination of cards in the right moment. That becomes much more difficult when you have to discard cards like Rainbow Energie, Guzma (BUS; 115) , or simply your attackers or Rescue Stretcher (GRI; 130) . I've never had any issues when playing without Zebra because I simply replaced it with more consistency cards. However, if you really want to include a Zebstrika (LT; 82) line in your list, simply take out Volkner and either the fourth Jirachi (TM; 99) , Energy Loto (GRI; 122) , or ideally Shrine of Punishment (CLS; 143) .




Closing thoughts


For quite some time, there hasn't been a clear top deck that will just guarantee you at least a decent placement when played correctly and not getting too unlucky, NAIC will not be any different. The variety of strategies within the top decks is simply too big to find the one deck that deals with all of them easily. Stall decks have a rough time against most Reshiram and Charizard GX (UBO; 20) and Pikachu & Zekrom GX (TM; 33) versions, as well as the right Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) list. Pikachu & Zekrom GX (TM; 33) and Reshiram and Charizard GX (UBO; 20) usually lose to ZapBeast because of its non GX focus which makes it incredibly hard for Tag Team Pokémon to get even, or advantagous prize trades. They also get very weird games against each other or themselves, because the game tends to very quickly turn into a three to four turn game of "whoever gets the first ko and doesn't whiff wins". On the other hand they have a easy time against Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) decks that don't set up super well. Among those five decks Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) is definitely the most well rounded deck matchup wise, bud sadly having a bunch of, worst case, slightly unfavored matchups, doesn't help a deck that even now with Persian GX (UBO; 149) and {CARD 5483}, is known to get a decent amount of awkward starts. Without stall being that popular, Zapbeasts would easily be the best deck, but sadly stall decks still exist, which ends up creating that cycle of a bunch of top decks beating each other. In the end I suggest everyone to just play their omfort pick, as long as it's not some low tier meme deck, especially if you're still trying to get those last few points to secure your invite to the World Championships in Washington D.C.

I really hope you liked my insight on what to play in Berlin later this week. If you want to keep updated about my tournaments, streaming or coaching, make sure to follow me on Twitter @LimitlessNico.


[+0] okko


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