For the first time since I have started playing the Pokemon TCG, there has been a major tournament held in the United States that was played in the National Championship format. This past weekend Pokemon ran a Win a Trip tournament at the Origins Game Convention in Columbus, Ohio.
The top prize for the tournament was a paid trip to San Francisco for the World Championship along with four plane tickets for you and three friends. In addition to the trip, the tournament paid out Championship points at a State Championship level for the Top 16 finishers in the tournament.
With a fairly high cost of entry because of the need to also purchase a badge to get into the convention itself as well as a late announcement of the Championship Points available at the tournament, attendance was a little bit on the low end, hitting 64 players.
Even though the tournament was only 64 players, it still was probably the most difficult State Championship level tournament played this year as the tournament was very deep in very good players. The tournament was mostly constructed of players who already had their World Championship invite and were vying for the free trip and to improve their position in potentially getting a Top 16 invite to the World Championship after US Nationals. The other major set of players in the tournament were players in the 200-299 Championship Point range, looking to get those last few points to round out a World Championship invite. The tournament was essentially a very difficult State Championship.
In this edition of Weekend Report, I am going to be going over what happened in the Origins Game Convention Win a Trip tournament, as well as give a recap of my own tournament experience at Origins.
I decided during the week to head up to Origins to play in the Win a Trip tournament. I thought the tournament would provide a great opportunity to get some experience playing in the Nationals format and I thought the opportunity to win a trip to Worlds was great incentive to attend a tournament easily within driving distance.
I decided to play Night March/Vespiquen for the tournament at the recommendation of my friend Andrew Mahone, who has written extensively about the deck in his Pokebeach articles. I played the list that he had built for the deck, swapping in a Startling Megaphone for a Xerosic that was originally in the list.
Pokemon – 26
4 Combee AOR
Trainers – 30
4 Professor Sycamore
4 Ultra Ball
1 Parallel City
Energy – 4
4 Double Colorless
The way I viewed the deck is that I should play it very similarly to Vespiquen/Flareon in Expanded. I looked at Vespiquen as my best attacker in the deck, and viewed my Night March Pokemon, primarily Joltik, as the alternate attacker to Vespiquen, similar to the role Flareon fulfills in the deck in Expanded. The deck doesn’t really use Pumpkaboo as an attacker as you don’t play Dimension Valley, but you can use it as an attacker against Trevenant and other Night March decks, which typically play Dimension Valley down for you to use too.
Here is how my tournament played out:
Round 1 – Alex Croxton – Genesect EX/Aegislash EX/Zoroark BKT/Bronzong PHF – LL (0-1-0)
Round 2 – Owen Robinson – Zygarde EX/Lucario EX/Regirock EX – WW (1-1-0)
Round 3- Ryan Grant – Night March LW (1-1-1)
Round 4 – Dan Green – Genesect EX/Bronzong PHF – WW (2-1-1)
Round 5 – Dimitri Lekert – Darkrai EX/Giratina EX/Garbodor BPT – WW (3-1-1)
Round 6 – Chris Taporco – Water Box – WW (4-1-1)
Top 8 – Aaron Tarbell – Trevenant BREAK – LL
Most of my wins at this tournament were the fairly straight forward wins that Night March is known to take. That is doing OHKO attack turn after turn while trading with non-EX’s.
Adding Vespiquen in the deck gave the deck a terrific matchup against Water Box. The strategy Water box typically takes against Night March is to use Quaking Punch to slow down the game, while pivoting to other attackers or another Toad when a Seismitoad EX becomes heavily damaged so you they can heal it. They then transition to Articuno to prize gain.
This isn’t possible against a deck with a 4-4 Vespiquen line, which doesn’t need too many Pokemon in the discard pile to OHKO a Seismitoad EX because of the weakness to Grass. Once Seismitoad EX is taken care of, you have full access to the rest of your deck and can easily take a couple more knockouts on EX Pokemon.
While I don’t think Bronzong/Aegislash is an auto loss by any means, Alex was especially difficult to beat because he used a heavier than usual Zoroark count in his deck, giving him a non-EX attacker to use to take away the prize trade advantage, while also having Aegislash EX there forcing me to use Hex Maniac for knockouts.
As for the Darkrai EX/Giratina EX matchup, I got a bit lucky in that one. I don’t think the matchup is as bad as it looks on paper though. Night March is a more consistent deck and Darkrai EX/Giratina EX can suffer from some early game inconsistencies. I hadn’t gotten a game in against the Garbodor variant before the tournament, but I assumed that the addition of Garbodor gave Night March a better matchup against the deck, because it added inconsistency to that deck.
The strategy I found in testing against it online is to go very aggressive during turn 1, and try to string Hex Maniac for as many turns as possible to stunt their setup at the beginning of the game. During these initial turns of the game, you want to try to play down as many Double Colorless Energy on your field as possible. Darkrai EX/Giratina EX decks don’t really have room for Energy removal cards, so the Energy should stick against most players playing the deck. You then use the Pokemon with those Energy already played down to deal with your opponent’s Pokemon, in particular any Giratina EX they setup. It doesn’t always work, but it works often enough. I still think the matchup is tilted in Darkrai EX/Giratina EX’s favor, but this is enough to make you competitive in the matchup.
However, that’s not how this matchup played out. During the first game I went first and used Hex Maniac. He played some Trainers’ Mail and then didn’t hit anything of use, so I believe I was able to just go ahead and knockout a lone Pokemon on turn 2.
In the second game, he drew pass starting a Trubbish to start the game. Even with a pair of mulligans, I couldn’t get the donk as I drew a bunch of Night March Pokemon. I used Escape Rope to go into a Shaymin EX (after using Setup for 0), and then used Sky Return leaving my field at a lone Joltik, but burning cards to allow me to Setup the next turn, especially if I were to get a favorable top deck. He then evolved into Garbodor and attached a Fighting Fury Belt and passed. I eventually drew into the Ultra Ball (I forget if we drew passed a few turns before this), which would have allowed me to go off, but Garbodor was now in play, so I attached to a Joltik and used Night March for 40. Then he got a Darkrai EX and played that down. I didn’t want to KO the Garbodor, as it prevented any Shaymin EX or Hoopa EX he might play from allowing him to get setup. I eventually got a Lysandre and started attacking a Darkrai EX without Energy.
In the end I was able to get 3/4 Double Colorless Energy on the field before he used Chaos Wheel in this game after we broke out of the draw pass game state. When he took his first knockout with Giratina EX, unfortunately I only had the cards to get up to 160 damage on the Giratina EX, falling 10 damage short of a knockout (not being able to play down Unown and use Farewell Letter is a bummer), so I chose to retreat the Vespiquen and try to wait a turn to get more Pokemon in the discard pile, but he hit it with a Lysandre, and now I was Chaos Wheel locked with zero Energy on the field. The only hope I had for winning was to stall with Lysandre and hope he couldn’t get something out of the active, so I brought up a Darkrai EX. He had no immediate answer to getting Darkrai EX out of the active position, and the game went into a state of draw pass, and after an N or two, I was in top deck mode. Eventually I got a Professor Sycamore, and drew into my Startling Megaphone to shutoff Garbodor, allowing me to use my Unown and Shaymin EX’s to essentially draw through the rest of my deck into the Double Colorless Energy, allowing me to take the knockout on the Darkrai EX for the match.
The Top 8 match against Aaron Tarbell didn’t go very well for me. We actually played essentially the same matchup in Day 2 of Wisconsin Regionals, so this was like a Standard rematch in a way. He won that one, and I figured he would probably win this one as well, it’s not a good matchup for these Vespiquen decks, and Tarbell is probably the best Trevenant player in the world to boot, so he would be unlikely to misplay to create opportunities for me to steal games.
I think the Expanded Vespiquen deck has a much better chance against Trevenant because of cards like Tropical Beach, Flareon’s 100 HP, and Blacksmith to bring back Energy from the dead.
I won the coin flip for the match, and then was forced to draw pass in the first game. This is very bad against Trevenant. I was able to actually make somewhat of a game out of it by using Teammates for 2 Shaymin EX, but at some point he used N, I didn’t draw into the Double Colorless Energy to maintain the Shaymin EX loop, and then he took a Tree Slam knockout. With my third Shaymin EX prized, this game was at a loss.
Game 2 I went very aggressive on my first turn of the game, trying to setup a solid position. I played Town Map seeing I prized a Lysandre and Hex Maniac, but chose to play my Professor Sycamore discarding my lone N in the process. I then didn’t draw a VS Seeker, so N was lost until I could get Hex Maniac out of the prizes. I also didn’t hit a hand to get Shaymin EX out of the active and was trapped into a Shaymin loop situation out of the gate. Then with Professor Sycamore being my only draw supporter left in deck, I was in trouble. After a well timed Delinquent I was setup to deck out in the game. Thinking back on the game, I should have just hit the escape button and used Sky Return to end the game early.
While I do think it’s a poor matchup, it’s not unwinnable. I think I took some poor lines of play which turned what was a difficult matchup for me into a slam dunk matchup for him.
But it is what it is. The Top 8 finish replaced one of my Top 32 Regional performances, giving me +20 Championship Points, putting me at 469 on the season.
The only thing that I really didn’t like about the deck was Puzzle of Time. This card is such a pain in the behind to play with when you’re reliant on it to keep attacking in some games. I much prefer the ease of use that Blacksmith brings in the Expanded version of this deck. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a necessary inclusion in the deck, at the current moment, but it’s not a set of cards I enjoy playing in this type of deck.
The Top 8 of Origins
After 6 rounds of Swiss at the Win a Trip tournament, the Top 8 headed into top cut was:
1. Chris Schemanske – Darkrai EX/Giratina EX/Latios EX/Garbodor BPT
2. Aaron Tarbell – Trevenant BREAK
3. Alex Croxton – Genesect EX/Aegislash EX/Zoroark BKT/Bronzong PHF
4. Alex Hill – Darkrai EX/Giratina EX/Latios EX/Garbodor BPT
5. Sean Foisy – Darkrai EX/Giratina EX/Latios EX/Garbodor BPT
6. Russell LaParre – Water Toolbox
7. Andrew Wamboldt – Night March/Vespiquen AOR
8. Jimmy McClure – Darkrai EX/Garbodor BPT
This is probably the most intense Top 8 that I have ever been a part of. 6/8 players in it made it to Day 2 of the World Championships last year in the Masters Division. Additionally there have been many top finishes at Regional Championships (1st/2nd/3rd for Tarbell, Hill, and Schemanske) and State Championship winners (myself and McClure) in the Top 8.
After Top 8 we got final standings of:
1. Jimmy McClure – Darkrai EX/Garbodor BPT
2. Aaron Tarbell – Trevenant BREAK
3. Alex Hill – Darkrai EX/Giratina EX/Latios EX/Garbodor BPT
4. Russell LaParre – Water Toolbox
5. Chris Schemanske – Darkrai EX/Giratina EX/Latios EX/Garbodor BPT
6. Alex Croxton – Genesect EX/Aegislash EX/Zoroark BKT/Bronzong PHF
7. Sean Foisy – Darkrai EX/Giratina EX/Latios EX/Garbodor BPT
8. Andrew Wamboldt – Night March/Vespiquen AOR
The Overall Meta Game
While the Top 8 is only comprised of 5 different archetypes, the overall meta game was quite diverse for the tournament as a whole. The meta seemed to be comprised primarily of:
- Darkrai EX/Garbodor BPT (most with Dragons)
- Night March
- Greninja BREAK
- Trevenant BREAK
- Vileplume AOR/Vespiquen AOR
- Genesect EX/Bronzong PHF
- Water Toolbox
In addition to these decks, other decks I saw throughout the tournament were M Manectric EX, Wailord EX, M Sceptile EX, Serperior/Ariados, Latios EX/Vileplume AOR, Zygarde EX/Regirock EX, and Carbink BREAK/Medicham PRC decks.
With the exception of the Darkrai EX/Garbodor BPT decks, most of the meta game is what we would expect based upon the results of foreign National Championships.
Vileplume/Vespiquen decks started the tournament very strong, filling the top tables very late in the tournament with lots of Vileplume but they all ended up dropping late.
Night March, Trevenant BREAK, Genesect EX/Bronzong, and Water Toolbox all followed a similar road in the tournament, where there was a group of probably 4 or 5 players playing each of the archetype, with only one making it into cut.
Greninja BREAK was probably played by around 7 or 8 players, with it failing to find any traction with in the tournament and finishing low overall.
Darkrai EX/Garbodor BPT variants were the most consistent in their success, with the majority of the players who played the deck making it into Top 8.
In the next sections I will take a look at Darkrai EX/Garbodor, Night March, and Greninja BREAK to explain their placings in the tournament.
The big “surprise” coming out of the tournament is Darkrai EX/Garbodor BPT variants absolutely dominating the Top 8 of the tournament, taking 4/8 slots. Three of the variants, played by the Michigan State crew, included Giratina EX and Latios EX with Double Dragon Energy, and the eventual winner, Jimmy McClure played a straight Darkness variant of it.
I put surprise in parenthesis, because I’m not sure how much of a surprise it really was, despite multiple postings online about people having their secret deck for Nationals ruined by the players that played it here. The Darkrai EX/Giratina EX archetype has been covered a decent bit online before the tournament, and multiple people alerted me to the Garbodor variant in the run up to the tournament (including one person alerting me of it who also made Top 8 at Origins).
I was skeptical of the Darkrai EX/Giratina EX variant as a whole with how we have had it presented before, and by the time of the week I had heard of the Garbodor variant I didn’t have much time to test in relations to that, so I was unsure headed into Origins if the Garbodor took a mediocre deck into a great deck, or if it was just hype, but if the results of Origins say anything, Garbodor indeed takes one of these concepts that wasn’t quite good enough on its own and adds a new characteristic to the deck, Ability Lock, which positions it well to deal with decks like Bronzong or Greninja BREAK which were decks that were keeping it down in the test games I did with it.
From what I’ve seen on Facebook, John D’Alotto is the person who got this all started, tipping off the Michigan State Pokemon players to the concept and letting them run with the deck. In the end they represented the deck very well, with Chris Schemanske, Alex Hill, and Sean Foisy all taking Top 8 with their team’s list for the deck. When you have multiple people all doing well with the same list for a deck at the same tournament, you can tell for sure it wasn’t a fluke performance.
Here is a sample list for Darkrai EX/Giratina EX/Garbodor BPT for players to get used to testing with the deck:
Pokemon – 14
3 Darkrai EX
Trainers – 34
4 Professor Sycamore
4 Trainers’ Mail
1 Parallel City
Energy – 12
I’m not sure how close this list is to the actual list that they used at the tournament, but it should be close enough to give you a good basis to start testing with and against the deck. Both Alex Hill and Chris Schemanske write for Six Prizes, so I would look to there for either of them to publish their list and discuss the concept at some point.
With the addition of Garbodor, I think this deck definitely needs to be moved from where I had it prior to Origins (not quite good enough) to being one of the top decks you should worry about heading into Nationals. The addition of Garbodor helps it in matchups like Bronzong and Greninja BREAK that you previously wouldn’t have wanted to play against with the straight variant of Darkrai EX/Giratina EX.
If you look at the deck’s matchups headed into Nationals, Garbodor helps give it fairly hard counters to a lot of the top decks now. Garbodor is able to counter Greninja BREAK’s Giant Water Shuriken and Bronzong’s Metal Links Ability, greatly increasing its matchups against those decks. Darkrai EX gives it a reasonable answer to Trevenant decks, and Giratina EX lets it hard counter Night March and Vespiquen variants.
Latios EX gives the deck outs to also donk low HP Pokemon like Froakie, Phantump, Jirachi, Joltik, Pumpkaboo, Mew, Bronzor, and Zorua. In a long tournament like US Nationals, being able to steal few games now and then with donks is very strong. Light Pulse also isn’t the worst attack in the world.
By removing the Dragon elements of the deck, you surely make your matchup against Night March much worse, but you will make the deck a bit more consistent and likely be better suited for the mirror match, as Giratina EX doesn’t add much in a matchup against a deck revolving around Basic Dark Energy. Even though you make your Night March matchup worse, it doesn’t mean you straight up lose to Night March. A Darkrai EX with Fighting Fury Belt on it is still difficult to knock out, especially if you’re hit with constant N’s, and Yveltal XY trades excellently with Night March Pokemon.
Night March No Longer Rules the World
If you’ve been paying attention to foreign National Championships, and now Origins, Night March has lost its stranglehold on the meta game. While it appears to no longer be the top deck in the format, I still think it’s a very strong contender for being a Tier 1 deck.
The largest issue plaguing Night March at the moment is the re-introduction of N into the format. I think one of the biggest reasons that Night March dominated the meta game as much as it did during State Championships was because there wasn’t any effective hand disruption against Night March decks. Night March players could often hold fairly large hands at most points in the game, allowing them to get maximum utility out of all of their resources. When they did get disrupted, it was generally by weak disruption, such as Judge in most decks, and Ace Trainer in a few Greninja and Yveltal/Zoroark decks.
In the late game if you play Judge to disrupt a Night March deck, you give them 5 cards to start their turn, they will probably get what they want. If you N Night March to 1, they get 2 cards to start their turn. Of course sometimes they will get the last cards they need to win the game, but many times they will not, so there are all these games for Night March where they lose to a late game hand disruption which simply didn’t exist during State Championships.
In addition to Night March now facing proper disruption, it also has to face a more hostile meta game. Jirachi is a popular inclusion in Greninja decks now, Giratina EX has found a new top tier home, and Aegislash EX is on the upswing with Bronzong’s resurgence with Genesect EX’s release.
I think this combination of having to work with less optimal hands because of N and an already hostile meta game adding even more hostile answers to the deck makes the skill floor needed to play Night March to success much higher than it’s been previously this season. The best players will of course always do better with any deck, so they will also be able to get more out of lower skill floor decks than less skilled players, who will find ways to misplay into losses, but I think the skill needed to do well with Night March has been upped to a point where we won’t see less skilled players having good tournament runs with the deck at the National Championship.
As for Night March’s place in the meta game at Origins, here is what you need to know about how the deck did. There were four named players who played the deck at origins, myself, Ryan Grant, Andrew Mahone, and Caleb Gedemer. I’m not exactly sure what happened with Caleb at the tournament, I think he was doing alright fairly late into the tournament, but he had to deal with the theft of his property while he was playing, so he was unfortunately stuck having to deal with that during the tournament.
Of the remaining three of us, there was a bit of self-cannibalization among the Night March players going on at the tournament. Ryan ended up beating Mahone in the mirror match, knocking him out of contention for Top 8. I played Ryan as well, and we ended up with a tie, and that tie put both of us on the bubble at 4-1-1 at the end of the tournament.
I ended up bubbling in as the 7th seed, while Ryan missed out on resistance. I then went on to lose to Trevenant in Top 8.
The overall Top 8 was very hostile for Night March, but it’s important to remember this is only one tournament that doesn’t represent all tournaments that will ever be played, even if future tournaments have the same meta game. If you replayed a tournament with the Origins meta game even just 10 times, there is probably 1-2 simulations that would result in a Top 8 that is favorable for Night March to win the tournament.
A Water Flop, not Magikarp, I mean Greninja
The other big story coming out of Origins is the massive flop that Greninja took in the tournament, not taking a single Top 8 slot, and I think only one made it into the Top 16, but I’m not even sure on that.
Going into Origins, Greninja BREAK decks were widely being considered in most testing circles that I’ve talked to as the top deck headed into US Nationals, so Greninja’s complete failure to do anything at this tournament does come as a big shock to the meta game.
In going over Greninja’s failure at Origins I will start by going over the obvious reasons for why it didn’t do too well and then I will go into some less than obvious reasons that it didn’t do well that you would only know if you were actually at Origins seeing the tournament play out.
Let’s start with the one big obvious reason that Greninja did poorly at this tournament, and that is the re-emergence of Garbodor in the meta game. Garbodor has been largely absent in the meta games for both Standard and Expanded throughout the season, with players mostly playing Hex Maniac if they want to lock their opponent’s Abilities.
I had ranked Garbodor as my top card from BREAKpoint, based on its previous strength throughout various meta games with its Dragons Exalted counterpart. I was beginning to think that I may have gotten another one wrong, but Origins has proved Garbodor’s strength as a card once again. While Hex Maniac is great because it can fit in any deck, and also be used in Ability based decks, there are some things that Garbodor allows that Hex Maniac doesn’t currently do.
First of all, Garbodor lasts for the entirety of the game except when your opponent counters it either by removing a the Tool card attached to it or knocking it out. This means that your opponent has to actively counter Garbodor if they want to deal with it, while with Hex Maniac they can simply wait it out. The other big thing Garbodor allows, is that you can use some other Supporter card while simultaneously locking your opponent’s Abilities. This allows you to disrupt your opponent’s hand with N, bring up a more favorable target with Lysandre, or further setup your board with Professor Sycamore. It also allows you to not use your VS Seekers for Hex Maniac, leaving them available to use more N’s, Sycamore, and Lysandre in game.
Bringing this back to Greninja, it’s clear why Garbodor works as a Greninja counter and Hex Maniac falls mostly short of fulfilling that purpose. With Hex Maniac, Greninja simply can wait them out and then disrupt the opponent’s hand with N or Ace Trainer to make it harder for them to continuing to use Hex Maniac. Additionally, if you’re using Hex Maniac to lock their Abilities, you may be falling behind in your board setup.
I don’t think Garbodor necessarily completely negates Greninja as a play, but I would venture to guess that most Greninja players at Origins weren’t prepared to properly deal with playing against Garbodor. Even if Greninja players do tech for Garbodor, it is still a nuisance they have to deal with, and that will devote their deck resources away from other matchups, weakening other matchups, so Garbodor may still do its job in damaging Greninja enough to knock it out of the top of the meta by making them worse against everything else.
Moving onto the less obvious reasons…
There was a decent amount of Grass decks at the tournament. There was a fair bit of Vileplume/Vespiquen, but there were also Serperior/Ariados and M Sceptile EX variants that were played at the tournament. While not a major part of the meta game, combined these three decks probably made up around 15% of the overall meta game at the tournament (and about 8% for the pure Grass decks), so a few Greninja players got caught up in these terrible matchups adding a loss to their record in a tournament where you could only afford to lose one game.
The other less obvious reason for it doing poorly is that the best players in the tournament were not using Greninja. The best players in the tournament chose to play Darkrai EX/Garbodor, Trevenant BREAK, Night March, Bronzong, and Water Box.
The people playing Greninja decks for the most part were the players looking to get the last points they needed for a World Championship invite, or players who were so far off from the invite that they needed more than just this tournament to get an invite, even if they won the tournament. I’m not sure on the Championship Point totals of every player in the tournament, or know of everyone who played Greninja in the tournament, but I think it’s very possible that there were zero players with a World Championship invite who played Greninja at the tournament.
In general, the best players in a tournament are those with the most Championship Points or who have prolonged strong performance over a number of years. These are the players that you would expect to be most likely to win the tournament and make it into the Top 8. So logically, it would make sense that Greninja didn’t make Top 8 at this tournament, because the players that one would expect to make Top 8 in the tournament weren’t playing the deck.
This however, could also be viewed as an indictment of the deck. Is there something wrong with the deck that makes the best players in a tournament like this shy away from playing the deck? We need to be careful with this line of thought though, as we have two great examples from this season for why this can be nonsense.
First, there was Yveltal EX, which struggled to put up results at the beginning of City Championship, simply because people weren’t playing it, and not because it actually wasn’t as good as people generally would think it is. It went on to finish City Championships finishing second overall to Vespiquen/Flareon, and then it went on to be the most dominant deck during Winter Regionals and the first two weeks of Spring Regionals.
The second example is Vespiquen/Flareon. It was the most successful deck during City Championships and then was second to Yveltal EX during the first two weeks of Winter Regional Championships. Then Week 3 of Winter Regionals, it disappeared from the meta game. It remained mostly absent during Week 1 of Spring Regionals, before coming back with a slew of Top 8’s during Week 2, and then winning Edmonton Regionals in Week 3.
What Yveltal EX and Vespiquen/Flareon’s vacations from the meta game tell us is sometimes a deck is actually still really good, but just isn’t being played because players find faulty reasons to not play a deck in a given format.
My gut reaction to the results from Origins this past weekend is that Greninja BREAK decks are still high tier decks, and Origins will be looked back on as an anomaly for the deck. I think Greninja ultimately didn’t see success at Origins because a combination of a meta game that is a bit more hostile to the deck than what will be present at US Nationals and the best Greninja players not being at the tournament.
Overall it was a fun tournament to go to, and the competitive makeup of the players in it made it good preparation for Nationals. It was great to get to spend sometime with friends from the Midwest and East Coast at the tournament, even if we were only in Columbus for a short period of time this weekend.