Last weekend the United States’ Pokemon National Championship took place. It was the largest Pokemon Trading Card Game tournament ever held, with 1,105 players competing in the Masters Division. When it was all said and done, Nick Robinson, an Iowa player, was the only player left standing, using his Night March/Vespiquen deck to march over the competition for a first place finish.
In this article I will be taking a look at the results of US Nationals, looking at why Night March won the tournament and did so well, discuss the implications of the US Nationals meta game as we head towards the World Championship, and then wrap it all up by going over my own Nationals experience.
The Top 8 of US Nationals
In case you haven’t seen it yet, here is how US Nationals shook out:
1. Nick Robinson – Night March/Vespiquen
2. Marcos Garcia – Seismitoad EX/Giratina EX
3. Paul Johnston – Seismitoad EX’s Waterbox
4. Liam Williams – Darkrai EX/Giratina EX/Latios EX/Hydreigon EX
5. Chris Siakala – Night March
6. Michael Bergerac – Trevenant BREAK/Hammers
7. James DePamphillis – Trevenant BREAK/Hammers
8. Fred X. Hoban – Vileplume/Vespiquen
To see the full results from the Top 64, make sure to check out our results page for US Nationals.
It Turns Out, Night March Still Rules the World
Headed into US Nationals, there was a lot of discussion about Night March’s place in the format as it failed to capture the kind of success at foreign National Championships post Fates Collide release that it had been able to capture during State Championships in the Spring. Players began to wonder if the rest of the format had caught up, and began to surpass Night March.
Then US Nationals happened and Night March absolutely obliterated everything in its path. Night March variants took 37.46% of the Championship Points available from the Top 64. The top seed after Swiss, Chris Siakala, was playing Night March, and of course the eventual champion, Nick Robinson, was playing Night March/Vespiquen.
I’m not sure how much play Night March actually saw at the tournament, but I would guess it was probably the most popular deck in the tournament, but I would also guess that it was less than 37.46% of the field, and that the deck rose to the top of the tournament based on its strength relative to the rest of the format.
Most amazing about Night March’s success at this tournament is that the meta game as a whole was probably more hostile at US Nationals than it was at previous foreign National Championships. Approximately 42% of the meta game at US Nationals was decks that were supposed to be counters to Night March in some form or another. That means around 79% of the meta game was either Night March or Night March counter decks, with other decks making up 21% of the meta game.
In all likelihood the actual percentages of decks played had decks that didn’t fall in the Night March vs. Anti-Night March dichotomy was greater than 21%, but of the players who were actually competitive in this tournament, these decks only made up about 1/5 of the meta.
This begs a new question. If the meta game was so hostile towards Night March, why did the deck win?
Night March Won Because Its BDIF
Let’s start by taking a look at Nick Robinson’s US Nationals winning deck list.
Pokemon – 25
4 Joltik PHF
Trainers – 31
4 Professor Sycamore
4 Ultra Ball
2 Dimension Valley
Energy – 4
4 Double Colorless
Even after Nick won US Nationals with this deck, along with the deck finishing in the Top 8 of Origins, showing continued success for the sub-archetype, there still has been a lot of chatter in the community about this deck not being a good deck. I disagree with that completely, and believe the Night March/Vespiquen sub archetype to be pretty close to being a perfect deck as you can get. The deck has minimal flaws and has a shot against pretty much everything, so it should be no surprise that someone was able to win US Nationals with it, as it was the best deck.
Night March as a whole is very threatening towards the format in a general sense. It’s aggressive and can start taking OHKO’s on the first turn of the game. This means that Night March effectively sets the rules of engagement, saying if you don’t do anything to stop me, I will end the game in 6 turns or less. This makes every other deck in the format have to either be intrinsically strong against Night March, or adapt itself to react to Night March if it wants to survive. Going too hard against Night March can leave decks susceptible against other decks in the format, but not paying enough attention to it is a good way to get blown out by it.
WIth everything else having to be built around Night March, that means that Night March is the deck running the show. This leaves us with two potential formats. The first is a general format, where people play what they like, and Night March almost always comes out on top. The other format is the BDIF vs. Counter format, where people either play the BDIF or try to counter it. US Nationals was largely a BDIF vs. Counter format, but Night March decks were able to be built in ways to beat the counters a good enough amount of the time that they dominated the meta game and Nick won the tournament with it.
A simple run through of the matchups against decks that performed well at US Nationals should help illustrate why Night March/Vespiquen is so close to a perfect deck.
Night March – This is essentially a mirror match, but Night March/Vespiquen with its 4 Professor Sycamore generally is able to get away without playing a Shaymin EX in more games than straight Night March variants. It is susceptible to Target Whistle on a Shaymin EX it has to throw away with Professor Sycamore, but it can work around this by jamming its bench with Unown. You can also play Parallel City to allow a turn of playing down Shaymin EX and then discarding them in the mirror match, and then it can be hard to Target Whistle a Shaymin EX after a late game N with this play. This is still a close matchup, but Night March/Vespiquen tends to have a minor advantage.
Trevenant BREAK – This is the matchup you just kind of wrote off headed into US Nationals as your auto loss. Almost every deck has them, so you just have to take them. However, an interesting thing happened at US Nationals, where a lot of the top Trevenant BREAK decks were hammer variants of the deck without Bursting Balloon. While this doesn’t turn Night March into a bad matchup for the deck, it does turn it into something close to a 50/50 where Night March generally wins if it wins the opening coin flip. So even Night March’s most scary matchup wasn’t as scary as it could be at US Nationals.
Water Box – This matchup can be somewhat sketchy for straight Night March variants, but Vespiquen punishes them very badly for choosing to use Seismitoad EX to attack with. They don’t have a lot of great outs when they have to deal with Vespiquen in addition to the Night March attackers.
Darkrai EX/Dragons – This is a matchup that was in the bad column headed out of Origins, but was very simply fixed by adding Xerosic and Enhanced Hammer into the deck. In the testing games that I did with Andrew Mahone before US Nationals, we found the only games Darkrai was winning were the games it donked with Latios EX or when the Night March deck dead drew to start the game.
Seismitoad EX/Giratina EX – You have Vespiquen to punish any Seismitoad EX plays, and the Xerosic/Enhanced Hammer play can nullify Giratina EX. That’s in addition to possibly just using an early Lysandre to KO a Giratina EX before it can power up. Nick ended up 2-0’ing this in the finals.
M Manectric EX – This is generally a good matchup for Night March variants. You can OHKO Manectric EX’s before they evolve, as well as Lysandre up bench sitters like Hoopa EX and Shaymin EX for some easy KO’s as well. Then you can swing for OHKO’s with either a Night Marcher or Vespiquen in the later stages of the game. Vespiquen also gives you an attacker that can OHKO Jolteon EX.
Vileplume/Vespiquen – This matchup is definitely tilted in Vileplume/Vespiquen’s favor, but most VV players aren’t good at playing the deck and would often lose themselves games with the Night March player not having to do much. Xerosic allowed you to take one less KO before you ran them out of Energy as well. If the Night March deck goes first and has a good first turn, it can set itself up to win the game a good amount of the time. If Night March doesn’t have a great first turn, VV usually wins going second. If it goes second, VV usually wins the matchup unless the player playing VV isn’t very good and misplays themselves into a loss (generally by decking out). Xerosic also opened up potential Vileplume locking in the matchup, and Vespiquen gave you an out against the Jolteon EX variants of the deck.
Zygarde EX/Carbink BREAK – Thanks to Vespiquen swinging for Grass weakness, you OHKO everything in their deck fairly easily. This makes it very easy to trade 2 for 1 on prizes. Startling Megaphone and Xerosic give you the outs you need to deal with Focus Sash.
Straight Vespiquen – Almost like a mirror match where they need more setup and don’t have an active first turn attacker, giving you an advantage.
Vileplume/Zygarde EX – Somewhat similar to Vileplume/Vespiquen, but a lot less consistent in getting turn 1 Item Lock, and with Vespiquen, you can easily OHKO their main attacker for two prizes, letting you finish the game out fairly quickly.
M Rayquaza EX – This deck didn’t do great at US Nationals, but it was hyped heading into the tournament after winning Canada. You easily OHKO M Rayquaza EX with Joltik, and you can use Vespiquen to knock out Jolteon EX if they’re playing one of those variants of the deck.
Bronzong/Genesect EX/Aegislash EX – This matchup comes down to whether you can hit your Hex Maniac during the turns you have to OHKO Aegislash EX. If you can, you generally win, if you don’t, you lose. Night March probably won 60% of games against this in my testing before Nationals.
Greninja BREAK – This was perhaps the most hyped deck early on in the format, but it fell out of favor with players after a poor showing at Origins. The deck probably should have saw more play with how good Night March did at US Nationals, but this matchup comes down to two things: Jirachi count for the Greninja player, and Escape Rope count for the Night March player. My testing before Nationals showed that if you kept your Escape Rope count equal to the Jirachi count they were playing, then Night March would win most of the time.
And this is why I call Night March/Vespiquen a nearly perfect deck. So many of those matchups are heavily tilted in its favor, and even the matchups you don’t really want to play against, there are lines of play open to beating them. This means you could play Night March/Vespiquen at US Nationals, and feel like you have a shot at winning every round you played. Yveltal EX decks have long been a competitive cornerstone for having a similar role in the meta where they had 50/50’s against nearly everything, but I don’t think Yveltal EX ever had as many blowout matchups as Night March/Vespiquen did at US Nationals.
Night March/Vespiquen was the BDIF for the US National Championship, and it should be no surprise that it won.
An Alternative – Night March/Maxie’s
There is one other Night March variant that I feel like is worth a mention as a particularly strong contender, and that is the Night March/Maxie’s variant. Kolton Day managed to finish 9th place for the coveted bubble boy spot at US Nationals. Here is the list he played:
Pokemon – 20
4 Joltik PHF
Trainers – 35
2 Professor Sycamore
4 Ultra Ball
3 Dimension Valley
Energy – 5
4 Double Colorless
This deck packs itself with outs against a lot of Night March’s problems, just in a different way than Night March/Vespiquen does.
It uses the Maxie’s engine to fix a lot of Night March’s issue. Gallade BKT gives you a simple OHKO out against Jolteon EX as well as Darkrai EX. Marowak prevents the effects of Giratina EX and Seismitoad EX’s attacks from effecting you.
I would imagine this type of list is a little more susceptible to losing to Waterbox variants, but it’s raw consistency should improve its matchup against item lock decks as it should be able to more consistently have big turn 1’s against those decks.
Similar to Night March/Vespiquen, this type of list has solid answers to just about everything you could play against.
One other thing to note, is that Basic Energy was very popular in non-Vespiquen Night March decks as a whole. Most good players were using Metal Energy, as you can copy Jirachi’s attack with Mew to put a Jolteon EX asleep.
The Forgotten Deck – Seismitoad EX/Giratina EX
A big surprise from US Nationals was Marcos Garcia making it all the way to the finals with Seismitoad EX/Giratina EX. Here is the list he played for the tournament:
Pokemon – 10
3 Seismitoad EX
Trainers – 42
3 Professor Sycamore
3 Ultra Ball
1 Silent Lab
Energy – 8
4 Double Colorless
This is a deck that many people had written off as being a dead deck, but then Marcos, who also won the Texas State Championship with the deck, took it all the way to the finals of US Nationals.
It probably shouldn’t be a giant surprise that this deck did well in a format so full of Night March. When breaking down Night March’s matchups for State Championships, Seismitoad EX/Hammer variants did the best among major decks against Night March, winning the matchup over 70% of the time.
Why did this deck fall off? I think players forgot about it as a viable option. It was the 4th best performing deck coming out of State Championships, and nothing was released in Fates Collide to make the deck worse. What I think happened is the Waterbox deck emerged onto the scene, and people flocked to that as the way to play Seismitoad EX, forgetting that there was also another viable Seismitoad EX deck. Just because there is a new deck that uses a certain card very well doesn’t mean all other decks based around that card are invalid.
Looking Ahead Towards the World Championships
It’s very difficult to assess how the format will look headed into the World Championships as we still don’t know if Karen will be included in Steam Siege or not. Most signs indicate it being in the set, but we won’t know for sure until we get confirmation. For those that don’t know, Karen is a Supporter card that shuffles all Pokemon in both players’ discard piles back into their deck, essentially nerfing Night March and Vespiquen decks.
If we don’t get Karen, Night March will be the BDIF headed into the World Championships. It gains Pokemon Ranger as a simple counter to Seismitoad EX, Giratina EX, and Jolteon EX, greatly improving the deck’s matchup spread. If we don’t get Karen, I fully expect the tournament to largely be based around three decks: Night March, Trevenant BREAK, and Vileplume/Vespiquen.
If we do get Karen, then we can probably look towards decks like Waterbox, Darkrai EX/Dragons, Bronzong, M Rayquaza EX, and Greninja BREAK as being the main decks to worry about headed into the World Championships. These decks won’t be negatively impacted by Karen’s introduction into the format at all. If Night March is knocked out of the format, things could also get sketchier for Trevenant BREAK decks, as they might find themselves with more bad matchups.
Something also worth mentioning as far as Trevenant decks are concerned is that the Shaymin EX promo from the Generations Elite Trainer Box will also be legal for the World Championships and it works as a good counter to Silent Fear, especially if you put two of them on your bench. One thing worth mentioning with this card however, is players might find it difficult to include in a two count, as many decks want to play 3 Shaymin EX ROS, and since the card have the same name, you can only play a combination of 4 of them altogether.
However, we shouldn’t fully discount Night March and Vespiquen decks from that format. Players actually need to put Karen into their decks for it to counter these decks.
36th Place US Nationals with Night March/Vespiquen
To finish things off, I want to go over my own US Nationals experience. I ended up playing Night March/Vespiquen for the tournament, the same deck that I used at Origins. The deck tested strongly before Origins and it continued to test strongly after Origins, so I felt no need to make a change in decks.
While it would have been nice to have a fresh rogue deck for US Nationals, nothing we tested ended up being good enough. We spent considerable time working on Wailord EX before deciding it wasn’t quite good enough. I also felt this variant of Night March was underrated, so it didn’t have as big of a target on its back headed into Nationals as it should have had.
Here is the list I played for the tournament:
Pokemon – 24
4 Joltik PHF
Trainers – 32
4 Professor Sycamore
4 Ultra Ball
1 Parallel City
Energy – 4
4 Double Colorless
After Origins and the emergence of Darkrai EX/Giratina EX onto the scene, it was necessary to build with dealing with Giratina EX in mind. This meant having to fit Enhanced Hammer and Xerosic into the list. I decided to make room by cutting from the Pokemon lines, finding that I could hit my knockout numbers still by using the newly put in Xerosic (in addition to the Startling Megaphone that was already there) for removing Fighting Fury Belt. This did make the Mega Pokemon matchup a little more dicey, but it was still favored and something I felt comfortable winning most of the time.
Round 1 – Bye (1-0-0)
Round 2 – Edan Lewis – Night March/Vespiquen AOR – WW (2-0-0)
Round 3 – Eric Gansman – Vileplume AOR/Vespiquen AOR/Jolteon EX – WW (3-0-0)
Round 4 – Patrick Brodesser – Vileplume AOR/Zygarde EX/Carbink BREAK – WW (4-0-0)
Round 5 – Michael Bergerac – Trevenant BREAK/Hammers – WLW (5-0-0)
Round 6 – Christian Ortiz – Night March/Mew FCO/Jirachi PR – WL (5-0-1)
Round 7 – Sam VerNooy – Night March/Mew FCO/Jirachi PR – WL (5-0-2)
Round 8 – Travis McKain – Night March/Mew FCO – WW (6-0-2)
Round 9 – Travis Nunlist – Waterbox – WW (7-0-2)
The first day of the tournament went very well for me. Aided by a first round bye, I was able to go 7-0-2 on the first day which put me as the 3rd seed in the blue flight headed out of Day 1.
The meta didn’t turn out quite like I had predicted. I thought I would have some Bronzong and Darkrai EX/Giratina EX in day 1, and never expected to play against so many Night March or Vileplume decks. I was very happy to do so well on the first day, even with predicting the meta game wrong.
The Round 8 matchup was a pretty unique experience. Headed into that round at 5-0-2, I knew that a win here would lock me into Day 2. This is big, because for the first time ever Pokemon had all those cash prizes available for players to win, and a Top 64 finish guaranteed $500. Having to win a Night March mirror for $500 is a pretty intense experience.
Here is how my Day 2 played out:
Round 10 – James DePamphillis – Trevenant BREAK/Hammers – LWL (7-1-2)
Round 11 – Kolton Day – Night March/Maxie’s – WL (7-1-3)
Round 12 – Fred Hoban – Vileplume/Vespiquen – WLL (7-2-3)
Round 13 – Kevin Baxter – Yveltal/Zoroark BKT/Gallade BKT – LWL (7-3-3)
Round 14 – Zach Elliot – M Manectric EX – WL (7-3-4)
Round 15 – Ronald Marlow – Zygarde EX/Carbink BREAK – WW (8-3-4)
In the end that was good enough for 36th place at the tournament. This was a bit disappointing, as I woke up in the morning fully expecting to win US Nationals during this weekend, and then by the end of the third round on Day 2 those dreams were pretty much dashed.
As far as what went wrong on Day 2? I think my list failed me on the second day, I didn’t make a good enough deck list to take the close victories you need against the good players late in the tournament. The three players that effectively knocked me out of the tournament were the 7th, 8th, and 9th place finishers in the tournament, and for people to finish that highly they need to beat someone to get there.
Against the Trevenant BREAK deck, I lost the coin flip and went second in games 1 and 3. I almost managed to win game 3 by deck out, but I couldn’t draw into a second Shaymin EX to avoid being benched out and got Tree Slammed for the game. Shaymin EX was the only Pokemon I could bench, as anything else would be knocked out too easily leading me to loss, while the Shaymin EX would have taken multiple turns to knockout, and if I could draw a second Shaymin EX, I could Sky Return loop to deny damage. Once getting a second Shaymin EX benched, I would have just needed to Lysandre for up a benched Trevenant with no Energy on it for the deck out.
Against Fred, I won game 1, and then game 2, he went first and got the lock. It appeared as if I might win by decking him out, as either Fred discarded a Bunnelby on turn 1, or I had knocked out a Bunnelby, but then Fred dropped his second Bunnelby to prevent me from winning by deck out. In the third game, I opened N with not much else, and then played the N, and didn’t draw an Ultra Ball or Shaymin EX to continue my draw for turn, so I had an underwhelming turn 1, and then Fred locked me on his first turn, and I couldn’t do anything to disrupt his major board advantage.
It was disappointing to lose to two item lock decks so early in the day, but those decks exist to beat Night March, and if I had played a more consistent list I might have been able to win those matches. Vileplume/Vespiquen in particular was built to beat Night March, whether it went first or second, so at the very least I’m glad that Fred did with the deck what he was supposed to be able to do, even though many players playing it find so many unique ways to lose with it.
At that point, out of contention, I was hoping that Fred would be able to win the tournament with VV. He did a good job with the deck, and played it far better than any other player that I’ve played against who was using the deck.
Areas for Improvement
The biggest thing I think I could have improved upon for this tournament is doing a better job building my deck. The thing I liked the most about Nick’s list that he used to win was the 4 Unown. At a large tournament like US Nationals, you want your deck to be as consistent as possible, and by going 4 Unown in the deck, Nick did just that. Something like the 2nd Escape Rope, while never bad, was unneeded because Greninja was barely played at this tournament, and that was a space that could have been used for another Unown. Additionally, I could have went 3-3 Vespiquen instead of 4-3 to fit a 4th Unown.
It’s always hard to tell, but having those extra Unown might have been all the extra consistency I needed to pull out some of the very close losses I had throughout the tournament.
I also didn’t do a very good job at predicting the meta game for the tournament. I spent most of my time testing against Waterbox, Darkrai, and Bronzong, but I only played against 1 of the 3 decks. I also didn’t expect to play against as many Night March decks as I ended up playing against. I am not really sure why I thought this, because all signs indicated that I would play against a lot of Night March, it was the most popular deck on PTCGO, for example, during the lead up to US Nationals.
If I had predicted how much Night March would be played correctly, I would have opted to find room for a Target Whistle in my list. In addition to the advantages that Unown (which should have been a 4 count) and Parallel City already provide in the mirror match, a Target Whistle would have given me the overwhelming advantage that I should have been seeking to gain in that matchup to flip a 2-0-3 record against the mirror into a 5-0-0 record, which would have been huge matchup to improve upon for this tournament.
I generally am not that big of a fan of Target Whistle, as I view it as largely being a win more card, but it would have been very good in this particular meta game for this deck.
Lastly, I could have done a better job choosing when to concede matches. In I believe 3/4 of my tied rounds (might have only been 2 though), I had established a game state advantage, making it very probable I would have won those matches, so by allowing those games to go to a tie, I left 2 points each round off the board. The Night March matches are tough to concede though, because even when you’re behind, if you’re N to 1 sticks them with a bad hand, you then win the game on your next turn, so I don’t feel too bad about the Night March matches going to the tie. The M Manectric matchup, I clung to a too improbable path towards victory in game 2, which ended up nullifying a game 3 I was dominating and knocking me out of Top 32 contention, as well as the extra $250 and box of cards that comes with that.
Overall though, it was a good tournament. 36th place is never a bad finish at a tournament with 1,105 players, but it is short of what I wanted out of the tournament. The tournament leaves me with some areas to improve upon to hopefully put myself in a position to finish higher in subsequent years.
US Nationals should largely conclude what will be referred to when we look back at as they year of Night March in the Standard format. It was one of the best decks during City Championships and then went on to completely dominate State Championships and the US National Championship.
I think this year was the probably the most fun Nationals I’ve had, and I’m really proud what my team has been able to accomplish this season. With the Top 64 finish at US Nationals, I finish the season at 529 Championship Points, a personal best.
Moving forward content wise, I probably won’t do too much writing on the World Championship format. This isn’t of interest to a majority of the site’s readers, and I will be aiming to beat the ones who do care about it and who also read the site. I will do a set review for Steam Siege though and give honest evaluations and discussion on the cards in the set.
Please send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org of what type of content people would like to see written about as we move through the transition period between seasons.
Featured Image Credit: ky-nim on Deviant Art