Experts' corner

Rahul Reddy

Slaying Dragons - A Top 128 Nationals 2016 Report and Recap

Rahul goes over his Nationals experience and recaps the event as a whole and talks about what it means going into worlds.

07/20/2016 by Rahul Reddy


Hey again, 60Cards readers, it’s me Rahul Reddy bringing you guys my Nationals experience. I know I haven't put out an article in a while because I was busy with some stuff in my life, but now that Nationals is behind us and I have a few days to relax and unwind I can bring you guys some more content. 

So leading up to Nationals, me and my teammates at Team Prison were discussing decks for weeks and most of us had settled on decks to play. As for myself I was going to play Jose Marrero's Mega Rayquaza deck (the list can be found on but when it won Canadian Nationals, I realized that it would be a deck with a heavy target on its back. I became swamped with work and an unfortunate car accident so I wasn't able to really think about Nationals until Thursday when I flew out. I landed at the airport and took the bus on over and ended up at the Crowne. As I first got there my teammate Grafton Roll began hyping me up about his Zygarde-EX/Carbink/Garbodor deck which seemed very interesting but ultimately wasn't my cup of tea. I went around the town saying hi to everybody until I met up with my other teammates Ryan Sabelhaus and Mike Canaves and we sat down and tried to figure out what the play was going to be. We spent almost 5 hours trying to come up with something and ultimately felt uncomfortable with any decision that we could have made so we all decided on Night March and went to bed. The next morning I was building my Night March deck before the player's meeting when a good friend Azul comes in to the room where I was staying in order to borrow some cards and saw how perplexed I was in choosing a deck. He suggested I play what he was playing (which will be right below) and with about 45 minutes until I had to turn in my decklist I built it and ran downstairs. The players meeting ran smoothly and I was in the Blue Pod which was the arguable tougher pod this year, with 1,105 Masters players, we had the largest U.S. National Championship in history to look forward to. 

Before I jump into Day 1, let’s take a look at the deck I played, shall we?

This deck is very similar to the deck I played at the Florida State Championships and it was because the metagame that we had at Nationals was very similar to the meta we had a few months ago at states. This deck was appealing to me because of Vespiquen, a card that I've been playing since the days of Flareon, and Zebstrika, a card that I was advocating for since its release and took to a states with mediocre success. With those two cards at the helm of the deck, you have two strong attackers that devour almost any Pokémon the later the game gets, with Vespiquen one-shotting anything and Zebstrika there to clean up Shaymin-EX later in the game. So let us get into the tech cards that I used in the deck.

2 Gallade/1-1 Marowak

The 2 Gallade were for Maxie's and so that the Mega Manectric matchup would be very good for me. The Gallade also provided innate consistency and I was able to have exactly what I needed every turn in each of the games I got a Gallade out. Now Marowak, for those of you who don't know, stops all effects of attacks done to a player's hand and removes the existing effects. So the idea of the Marowak with Cubone and Maxie's was to ensure that I would be able to get it out under Toad Lock or Giratina Lock to break it. Marowak was a calculated risk as I assumed that I would be seeing a lot of Water Toolbox decks and a lot of Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor decks. 

2 Sycamore/2 Maxie’s

You might be thinking that I'm insane for only having 2 Sycamore in the deck and having 2 Maxie’s rather than the traditional 1. Well, with 4 Battle Compressor, 4 VS Seeker, 4 Ultra Ball, 4 Shaymin-EX, and 4 Unown, close to 40% of my deck is dedicated to drawing more cards, so I should be able to get set up without a Supporter in most cases. There were games I drew dead because I couldn't find any of my draw cards but I didn't ever feel like a 3rd Sycamore would be needed. 

1 Xerosic/0 Startling Megaphone

This might be a very odd thing at first glance because almost every deck put in a Megaphone to deal with Garbodor and the amount of Tools in the Metal deck. Xerosic not only helps the Giratina matchup but the fact that I can remove Tools multiple times allows me to chip away at my opponent and use the card when I need to rather than a Megaphone which I may have to discard very early in the game without it getting any use. 

1 Silent Lab

In this current metagame a single Stadium card can turn the tide of the game, so deciding which Stadium to use was a difficult decision. In a deck like this there were 3 options to start from: Forest of Giant Plants, Parallel City and Silent Lab. The Forest offered quick knockouts and a faster response time. The Parallel City offered the ability to remove Shaymin-EX off of your own Bench and the ability to make Water Toolbox do 20 less damage every turn. Silent Lab was giving us an answer to speed decks that use Shaymin to set up and an answer to Aegislash-EX in the mid-late game. Silent Lab was, in fact, the MVP card of this tournament for me and felt that it was one of the best cards in the deck. 

So with the deck covered, lets hop into the first day of play. Before I start I'd like to thank the judges and everyone who was helping at the event for making this one of the fastest and most efficient Nationals that I've ever attended. 

So shortly after the players’ meeting we were greeted with a short delay which I used to take a bathroom break and by 9 AM the show was on the road. 

Round 1 vs Jared Weiss (Metal)

So the first round itself I get a familiar face in my friend Jared Weiss, who has his Worlds invite this year, so I was starting the tournament off with a hard matchup of the minds. 

Game 1

The first game was a stomp in Jared's favor as the one Basic I didn't want to start showed up to party, Cubone. Not only is Cubone fat and useless in this matchup but I was unable to get anything going so I scooped early as to not reveal anything in my deck. (L)

Game 2

This game was a very back-and-forth. One, and I had my Lysandre Prized so I was struggling to take the first Prizes of the game. I was down 6-2 when I finally took my first Prize of the game which was my Lysandre thanks to my Town Map and with that I was able to follow up with N and take the game from there. (W)

Game 3

I was off to the races with a super-hot start and was able to get going. As I was using my first Lysandre time was called on my turn so I was turn 0 in taking my first 2 Prizes. I was pretty upset that this is what happened because with an additional turn, I had the cards to seal off the game pretty quickly but it ended in a tie to my dismay. (T) 0-0-1

Not the way I wanted to start my tournament off but it wasn't a loss so I couldn't complain. 

Round 2 vs Matt Harrington (Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor)

Game 1

During the first game I was attempting to formulate a game plan against my opponent and it came down to needing to get Marowak and Gallade out. In my opening hand, I was able to get a Cubone down as well as a Gallade and I began threatening my opponent’s board. He was unable to really do anything and I took the game quite handily from there. (W)

Game 2

This game I had a rocky start opening Cubone again for the 3rd time in 2 rounds. I was pretty upset that he would probably get KO’d and I would be left without a Marowak for a while. Lucky for me, I had the turn 1 Maxie into a Gallade and began setting up. My opponent was able to get off a turn 2 Chaos Wheel, Knocking Out my Cubone and used a Xerosic in the same turn to get rid of my DCE that I had put on a Combee on my Bench. I was able to miraculously pull of a turn 2 Maxie's as well into a Marowak and one-shotted my opponents Giratina-EX in the very same turn, leaving him with no semblance of a board. I admit I got incredibly lucky with this game but the deck is designed to get Maxie's out reliably and this became a couple of easy Prizes to take and seal off the game. (W) 1-0-1

Round 3 vs Christopher Czirok (Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor)

Game 1

My opponent had gotten off to a slow start and I was running through his field and didn't see him use a Giratina during the first game so I assumed I was facing against a plain Darkrai/Garbodor deck until he discarded a DDE off of a Juniper and I realized that I would have to be careful during the 2nd game. Due to his dead-drawing and my early Gallade and Marowak again in this matchup I was able to quickly seal off this win. (W)

Game 2

My opponent after winning the coin flip chose to go second in this game and I was baffled but pleased with it. I was able to just get 2 Combee down and just pass my first turn not hitting a DCE like I was hoping I could seeing that my opponent had a Giratina-EX in the active slot. He was able to Ultra Ball for a Hoopa-EX and set up but didn't use a Supporter, he also attached a DDE and a Fighting Fury Belt to the Active Giratina-EX and passed his turn. Seeing this, I decided to go all-in and hope for the best. By the end of my 2nd turn, I had 17 Pokémon in the discard and a Muscle Banded Vespiquen that knocked out his Giratina and from there he continued to struggle to find a response and I was able to quickly knock out 3 Pokémon-EX and seal up a quick Game 2. (W) 2-0-1

Round 4 vs Anthony Desiata (60 Card mirror)

Game 1

Let me preface this by saying Anthony is one of the few people I talk to when I have an idea or want to test a deck out so we both know each other very, very well. During the first game he's off to a commanding lead due to going second and deciding to open Shaymin-EX so that he can Muscle Band it and Sky Return to knockout one of my Combee. I was able to get a Gallade out and he dropped the Silent Lab knowing that neither of us could remove it. This was his biggest mistake as I began to chain N's and I had a reliable way to get cards consistently while he was stuck hoping that his draws would be good. This mistake on his part lead me to take this game. (W)

Game 2

I opened that cute Cubone once more and had a pretty awful Turn 1, only being able to Bench a Combee and pass. During his turn he had the Escape Rope and knockout on my Combee and after drawing my card for the turn I had nothing so I scooped quickly and decided that a Game 3 was in order. (L)

Game 3

This game was very similar to the second game as I had absolutely nothing and proceeded to lose in a mere couple of turns. I drew into an opening hand of 7 Pokémon and only one of them was a Basic one so I was pretty bummed out about losing a series I definitely had a shot in. (L) 2-1-1

Round 5 vs Austin Barner (Night March/Bursting Balloon)

Game 1

The first game he mulliganed his hand and I saw Bursting Balloon and Dimension valley and I thought to myself this game is over I can't beat Trevenant especially if they have the Balloons. To my surprise he opened a Night Marcher and I was able to figure out how to win this one easily. The fact that he didn't play Fighting Fury Belt gave me the edge because I was able to preserve my DCEs using Shaymin-EX to Knock Out his Joltik while he was struggling to dig for DCEs the whole game. I was able to N him out of the game and just sweep his board when we were both at 3 Prizes. (W)

Game 2

This game was a super weird one because I wasn't expecting any of the things that he did. He began by going super ham and just setting up normally. After he Sycamore’d and got a pretty set up field I thought he would be done with his turn but he kept going. 3 Shaymin later and he has like 8 cards left in his deck at the end of his first turn. I stay calm and just set up my board and pass giving him the first knockout if he chooses. Then I ignored the Pumpkaboo that’s barreling down my attackers and go for the Shaymin. 3 turns and 3 Lysandres later I had taken the game in a very surprising manor to myself. (W) 3-1-1

Round 6 vs Michael Pramawat (60 Card Mirror)

Game 1

Would you look at that? Another 60 card mirror in my first 6 games. In a field of over 1100 masters I didn't expect to hit one much less two in the same day. During the first game we both began setting up normally and exchanging knockouts, but there was one crucial turn where after a Sycamore, Mike didn't get the DCE to take a knockout to keep the trade going. At this point we were both at 4 Prizes so I set up some more, drop the Silent Lab and N us both to 4 knowing that I've effectively shut off half of the draw cards in his deck. After he takes another turn and doesn't take a knockout he concedes the game knowing he's way too far behind on the Prize trade to stay in this game and we move to a second game. (W)

Game 2

The second game was a lot more even and back and forth. I was able to get a Gallade out as was he and we began to set up and get moving in this matchup taking knockouts on one another. There was again one crucial turn where Mike missed his DCE allowing me to take the commanding lead by pulling up his Shaymin that turn and taking the knockout. With a Vespiquen and Zebstrika left and 2 Prizes to take for me, Mike N's me to 2 while I have a 7 card deck. My cards were a 1-1 Vespi Line, an Ultra Ball, a Shaymin-EX, a Target Whistle and 2 puzzles of time. The three cards I drew off of the N and the draw for my turn were the Target Whistle and the 2 Puzzles allowing me to get a DCE back and a Lysandre followed up with a Target Whistle to seal the game off. That was the luckiest I had gotten all day and that had won me a game which had I drawn poorly for 2 more turns I think I would have lost. (W) 4-1-1

Round 7 vs Adam Jones (Mega Rayquaza/Jolteon-EX)

Game 1

The first game I was off to a very rocky start and thought I would lose because I couldn't find my DCE but as the game progressed I was able to just take 3 swift Knockouts on 3 of his Pokémon to just win the game with my Zebras because this was probably my most favorable matchup on paper. (W)

Game 2

I opened extremely poorly once more with a Shaymin start and had to Sky Return so I could draw more cards the following turn and hope that he couldn't knockout my lone Combee in that one turn which he did and took us to a game 3. (L)

Game 3

The third game went exactly as the matchup should go, with me setting up a horde of Zebras and eating the dragons alive. I was able to KO a Mega Rayquaza on my second turn of the game as well as the 3rd and finished it off my taking a Shaymin-EX knockout to round out my 5th and 6th Prize cards to seal up the game. Fortunately for me this was a matchup that I was hoping I would see the whole day and it was hands down my best matchup so I was glad I was able to face against it at least once. (W) 5-1-1

Round 8 vs Jeremy Jallen (Night March)

Game 1

I have to go against a friend and a teammate in the game that determines if one of us is moving onto the second day of play which is heartbreaking but that's what makes this a competition at the end of the day. With a heavy heart we began to set up throwing out any thoughts in our mind but winning. During the first game I went first and opened my dear beloved Shaymin-EX and had to Shaymin-EX for 1 two more times in a desperate attempt to draw into literally anything that would keep me in this first game. My attempts were futile as I was already down 4 Prizes by Jeremy's second turn and even with an N he had plenty of outs to get out of the situation and take his last two Prizes so I scooped it up and we moved onto a second game. (L)

Game 2

This game was very back and forth and for a majority of the game I was in the lead, but Jeremy was counting my resources and knew at one point that I had only 1 VS seeker and 2 DCE left meaning that with 3 Prize cards left I had to Knock Out something and a Shaymin-EX. He took a turn to bounce the Shaymin off of his field leaving me with only a Target Whistle+Lysandre play. After about 3 minutes of thinking my brain went completely dead and I made the misplay that would cost me my tournament life. With the last VS Seeker in my hand and an N and an Ultra ball plus one irrelevant card, I decided that it was the perfect time to Maxie's out a Gallade and instantly realized what I had done. I had thrown away my win condition by using my very last VS seeker. The moment I did it Jeremy and I both realized that this game was over. He proceeded to Stardust two turns in a row to take away both of my remaining DCEs and I packed it up knowing that this meant I was most likely eliminated from making the second day of the tournament. (L) 5-2-1

Round 9 vs Jarret Grimes (Speed Giratina/Mega Mewtwo)

Game 1

So at this point I'm mentally broken but want to win to see if there's any semblance of a chance that I make it to the second day of play. My opponent flips over a Mewtwo-EX and I was just confused beyond anything. I decided to just all in and on my second turn I was able to one shot his Mewtwo-EX. I took two more-EX knockouts in this game and sealed it up but he revealed to me that he had a Giratina-EX in his deck and I was shocked nay surprised by this revelation because I didn't see one that entire game. (W)

Game 2

The second game started off extremely poorly for me giving up 4 Prizes in an attempt to stabilize the game and it worked with me knocking out his first Giratina-EX, but he slaps another one down and double Elixirs to it hitting energy cards on both. Then in what I call a game losing misplay he slapped a DCE energy onto his Giratina-EX thinking it was a DDE. While I normally let people take things back this was a move that would literally lose me the game if I let him take it back so I couldn't. The following turn I just N'd him to 2 and myself to 4 and began just taking knockout after knockout. With a 2 card hand and my Silent Lab in play he was left with no option but to pass for two turns until I swept his field and won the game from there. (W) 6-2-1

From there I was anxiously awaiting standings to go up waiting on some sort of a miracle that would allow me to bubble into the second day of play because I was beyond confident in my deck choice and knew that I would be able to stand a chance against almost anything especially all of the Zygarde decks that were doing well. To my dismay not a single 19 pointer from the blue pod moved into the second day, in fact 3 of the 20 pointers missed cut as well. I was the 39th Place in the Blue Pod and while that secured me a Top 128 finish at the US National Championships it wasn't the slot into the second day that I was hoping for to make a run at the title. While I didn't underperform, in my mind I went in with the drive to win and was upset that I couldn't even make it to Saturday.

So the rest of the weekend I was able to hang around and have fun with my friends, and while Columbus wasn't the best city I've been too the food options were godlike. I would take any of the food options in Columbus over Indianapolis any given day, especially the North Market and MELT. So fast forward to Sunday evening and the finals of Nationals is going down Toad/Tina vs Vespiquen/Night March, who would've thought that these would be the two decks that made the cut as the Finalists’ decks. Now not to take away from either of these two guys who made it through the biggest Nationals in the history of the game, but I felt like both of the decks that made it to the finals run themselves to an extent. What I mean when I say that is that the decks have skill involved and they can be played properly but sometimes you just have those hands with Night March where your opponent knows that they've lost by the end of the second turn. Congrats to Nick Robinson for winning Nationals and props to him for playing very well in the finals! 

What does this mean for us leading into Worlds? Well the biggest question is are we getting Karen or not? I strongly believe that we will be receiving Karen so I've been preparing accordingly for Worlds. [Editor’s note: since this was written, it’s been revealed that we likely won’t get Karen after all.] What cards become strong with the introduction of Karen to the format leading into Worlds? Here are my Top 5 cards that I think will make an impact at Worlds if Karen is introduced.

1. Mega Rayquaza-EX

Why do I think that this card will be good? Well Mega Rayquaza has always been a Tier 2 deck throughout this entire season picking up success around States winning a handful of states piloted by players such as Jose Marrero and Connor Finton to a combined 3 states wins but it always struggled with Night March which is why it struggled to see success during this recent Nationals. With the introduction of Pokémon Ranger you can deal with Giratina-EX locking out your energy and with the introduction of Karen to this deck you can always late game make Night March have to work for their final Prizes. If a Night March player goes through all of their resources, as they often do, a late game Karen can just seal up the game leaving Night March dealing meager damage with all of their Pokémon stuck in their deck. Mega Rayquaza eliminates almost all of its weaknesses with the release of Karen and becomes one of the strongest contenders going into the World Championships.

2. Flareon-EX

This second card might come as a shock to a majority of you. Flareon-EX made a small splash during States in a Turbo Giratina deck that was piloted by the Hovercats for some late game damage and was disregarded as nothing more than a niche tech card. When I saw Steam Siege I thought that Flareon-EX would be one of the strongest cards going into Worlds. With Volcanion-EX and a Blacksmith, Flareon-EX can be hitting for 170 on your very first turn with very few cards and I think that’s just insane. The ability to start swinging for a minimum of that much damage with almost no response is legit. The reason I didn't place this card at number 1 is because Flareon-EX can get destroyed by Mega Rayquaza because they run Hex maniac as well as having so much HP that the game just becomes incredibly hard if they can OHKO your Flareon-EX on their first opportunity to do so. I haven't tested this out just yet but with the Entei that does damage based on the Bench of the opponent this deck could stand a shot vs Mega Rayquaza but until the set list for Steam Siege is released I won't be sitting down to start my testing. 

3. Seismitoad-EX

This card should be no surprise to anyone with its dominance in the format since its release. With Worlds being its last standard tournament I don't doubt that the Water Toolbox deck that Russel LaParre reinvented and Paul Johnston took to a 3rd place finish at the National Championships will be popular at the world championships. While Toad does become weaker with the introduction of Pokémon Ranger I argue that if Karen does come he becomes stronger. Night March becomes a deck that you no longer have any doubt about winning as well as many of the Vespiquen variants that have been popping up as of late. I think that Water Toolbox is super strong going into Worlds and with the addition of Karen I think that it gets stronger and almost unstoppable.

4. Zebstrika

This card is my favorite card in this current format and I'll stick with that until he no longer becomes playable. Zebstrika provides almost the perfect counter to Mega Rayquaza with a one shot every single time you attack it. Zebstrika provides knockouts on Shaymin-EXs as well and goes through the Jirachi promo as well as Aegislash-EX. Zebstrika seems like it would be super strong in a Stage 1 toolbox to counter a lot of things especially a strong answer to Mega Rayquaza. There's probably stronger cards like Zoroark that fulfill the same role but Zebstrika is something that I personally think is super strong if utilized properly.

5. Captivating Poké Puff

This card as my good friend Russell would say "people are sleepin’ on it." This card is the most overlooked cards in the new expansion and I think is a ridiculously strong card. Almost every deck in the current format has some form of ability that gets activated when a Pokémon from their hand gets put down on their Bench especially Shaymin-EX. With a turn 1 Poké Puff you just destroy your opponent’s field and consistency by dropping their Shaymin or Hoopa down onto their Bench. If Target Whistle at one point was a staple card in decks, I believe that Captivating Poké Puff will reach the same level of play because of its raw potential to just win a game in one turn.

That pretty much sums up my Nationals experience and how my tournament went. If you just want to get a view of how my tournament went and see who I hang out with and what I do at the tournament when I'm not playing, take a couple minutes to watch my VLOG that I shot at the event. With that being said I hope to see many of you at worlds and I hope to continue my VLOG and have a good tournament run there. Feel free to always message me your ideas and talk to me about anything Pokemon related. See you guys in San Francisco in August and till then good luck have fun! Thank you for reading and if you enjoyed it be sure to leave a +1 at the bottom. 

- Rahul

[+6] okko


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