Weekend Report #7 – Here Comes Dat Greninja Boi
For some reason in the Pokemon universe Greninja has developed a bad habit of coming up short at the biggest moments. In the Kalos League, Ash’s Greninja was knocked out by Alain’s M Charizard X in the finals. At the finals of the World Championship Shintaro Ito and his M Audino EX deck took out Cody Walinski and his Greninja deck.
Of course in typical Greninja fashion, Greninja would fight its way back to the finals at the first Regional Championship of the season, this times in the hands of Drew Kennett. Drew faced off against William Herrmann, with his Trevenant BREAK deck, in the finals of the Arizona Regional Championships. Is the third time the charm for Greninja? Or did Greninja fall in the finals for a third straight time?
In this edition of Weekend Report we cover the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Regional Championship held in Phoenix, Arizona this past weekend.
Tournament Results and North American Power Rankings
Before I get into full coverage of Arizona, I first want to share some links with you directing you to some additional content.
This season I am going to try something new and keep the Regional Championship results all on a single page for ease of use. There is a Table of Contents that will link to various sub results within the page so you can find the exact results you are looking for. Having a single page will make it easier for players to know where to look for the results they are looking for throughout the season.
The Regional Championship page is updated with the full results from the Top 32 at the Phoenix, Arizona Regional Championship.
Pages will also be created for League Cups, Special Events, International Championships, and the World Championships as the beginning of play in such events approaches.
The other link is to the North American Pokemon Player Power Rankings. This is a project that I started that attempts to provide a current ranking of the best players in the Pokemon TCG for the North American rating zone. Ideally Pokemon would keep track of a long term Elo score, that would be much more effective in actually establishing who the best players are, but this system should at least give a good idea of who the best players are at any given time. The rankings take into account a 3-year rolling period (going back to the 2013-2014 season) and is updated after every major tournament.
Arizona Regional Championship Top 8
Top 8 (Before Cut)
1. Travis Nunlist (10-2-2) – Greninja BREAK/Talonflame STS
2. Eric Gansman (10-2-2) – Seismitoad EX/Crobat PHF
3. William Herrmann (10-2-2) – Trevenant BREAK
4. Drew Kennett (9-1-4) – Greninja BREAK/Talonflame STS
5. Stefan Tabaco (9-1-4) – Primal Groudon EX
6. Michael Slutsky (9-1-4) – Raikou BKT/Eelektrik NVI/Gallade BKT
7. Caleb Gedemer (9-1-4) – Greninja BREAK/Talonflame STS
8. TJ Traquair (9-2-2) – Sableye DEX/Garbodor/Latias EX
Day 2 Standings (After Cut)
1. Drew Kennett – Greninja BREAK/Talonflame STS
2. William Herrmann – Trevenant BREAK
3. Travis Nunlist – Greninja BREAK/Talonflame STS
4. Eric Gansman – Seismitoad EX/Crobat PHF
5. Stefan Tabaco – Primal Groudon EX
6. Michael Slutsky – Raikou BKT/Eelektrik NVI/Gallade BKT
7. Caleb Gedemer – Greninja BREAK/Talonflame STS
8. TJ Traquair – Sableye DEX/Garbodor/Latias EX
Remember to check out the results page for a full breakdown of the Top 32 decks and players.
Greninja Wins Arizona
The big surprise of the weekend was Greninja completely taking over the tournament. Fairly early in the tournament it was apparent that Greninja might be poised to have a big weekend as big name players such as World Champion, Jacob Van Wagner, World Championship finalist, Cody Walinski, and US Nationals finalist, Enrique Avila were found out to have been playing the deck.
After the first day of tournament play, three Greninja BREAK decks moved onto the second day of Swiss play. Caleb Gedemer entered as the No. 3 seed with a 7-1-1 record, Drew Kennett as the No. 22 seed with a 6-1-2 record and Travis Nunlist entered as the No. 29 seed with a 6-2-1 record.
Seeding didn’t seem to matter much as all three players were still there when Swiss play ended on Day 2 and Top 8 began. Travis entered Top 8 as the No. 1 seed, going 4-0-1 on Day 2, Drew entered as the No. 4 seed (3-0-2) and Caleb entered as the No. 7 seed (2-0-3).
Caleb would fall to Eric Gansman and his Seismitoad EX/Crobat PHF deck in Top 8. Drew and Travis ended up in a long, drawn out mirror match in the Top 4 which Drew prevailed in. In the finals, Drew knocked out William Hermmann and his Trevenant BREAK deck to win the Arizona Regional Championship.
Greninja winning Arizona was completely unexpected and not something that was supposed to happen. Headed into the tournament, the assumption was that Greninja was only good in the Standard format and forces like Archeops NVI were too much for Greninja to overcome. This line of thought was blown out of the water this past weekend in Arizona.
From what I’ve been told by players, most Greninja players chose to build the deck with Archeops in mind. They included cards like Evo Soda, Wally, and Hex Maniac to get around the Ancient Power Ability, which prevents you from evolving from your hand. From what I’ve heard and seen with the stream, the Regional Champion, Drew Kennett actually chose not to tech against Archeops and it didn’t end up hurting him at all.
This is actually a fairly smart move. While Yveltal EX/Archeops NVI may have been the most popular deck in the tournament, it still made up a very low percentage of the meta game, as the meta game for Arizona was very diverse. Even though it was the most popular, you were still only likely to play against the deck 1-2 times in a tournament, which isn’t enough to keep you from doing well at a tournament.
All of the builds I saw were the Greninja BREAK/Talonflame/Bursting Balloon variant which was popularized at the World Championship.
It will be interesting to see how players adapt to Greninja’s success in the Expanded meta game headed into Philadelphia Regional Championships at the beginning of November. In Standard format, the strength of Greninja led to Garbodor popping up at Origins. Will Garbodor start showing up heavily at the Philadelphia Regional Championships as well to counter Greninja?
The Diversity of Expanded
One of the coolest things to see at Arizona Regional Championships was the diversity of the Expanded format. In total there were 16 different deck archetypes that made it to Day 2. Archetypes as old as Eelektrik (Noble Victories) and Accelgor (Dark Explorers) made it into Day 2, while decks as new as Volcanion EX (Steam Siege) also made Day 2.
There is a vocal minority that would like to see Expanded done away with, but I have to say that I love Expanded and think it’s one of the best things Pokemon has done with competitive play. It gives us a truly distinct experience from the Standard format with a mostly different set of decks seeing play. Various formats that exist within this game can be frustrating to play, and with two formats (Standard/Expanded) being supported by competitive play, it’s more likely that any individual player will find a format they enjoy playing in than if Standard was the only format supported by competitive play.
Additionally, I think with how deep the card pool is, almost any deck can be teched in some way to deal with a given bad matchup, which allows true meta gaming, deck building, and deck building skills to shine.
In the following sections I am going to take a look at some of the decks that made up the diversity of the Expanded format that were shared with the community.
Eric Gansman’s Seismitoad EX/Crobat Deck
The following is Eric Gansmans’s Seismitoad EX/Crobat list which he used to finish in 4th place at the Arizona Regional Championship.
Pokemon – 16
3 Seismitoad EX
Trainers – 37
4 Professor Sycamore
1 Computer Search
3 Silent Lab
Energy – 7
4 Double Colorless
Interestingly enough, prior to the Regional Championship, Eric went on the Super Rod-cast (a really good podcast, although beware of lots of swearing if that’s an issue for you) and talked about how much he thought Toad Bats was the best deck, only to follow it up by proving that it was a great deck for the tournament.
For those that don’t know who Eric is, he is a former East Coast player that now resides in Indiana. Coming out of Arizona Regionals he is currently ranked No. 21 in the North American Power Rankings. He has actually been the best overall player since the beginning of Spring Regional Championships last season, which is when he started attending tournaments more frequently. Since then, he has finished 2nd, 4th, and Top 8 at Regional Championships and has also finished Top 128 at US Nationals and Top 16 at the World Championship. Truly an amazing string of tournaments, and he’s certainly a player you should care about what he’s doing.
For more on Eric’s tournament, check out this interview that he did with The Chaos Gym Youtube Channel.
Michael Slutsky’s Raikou/Gallade/Eelektrik Deck
The other deck that I have to share with you is Michael Slutsky’s Raikou BKT/Eelektrik NVI deck, which also played a tech Gallade BKT with Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick. Michael finished the tournament in 6th place. Here is the list to his deck:
Pokemon – 15
4 Raikou BKT
Trainers – 33
4 Professor Sycamore
1 Computer Search
3 Rough Seas
Energy – 12
The Gallade is a very smart inclusion into the deck. The deck already was playing at least two copies of Battle Compressor, so sliding Maxie’s and Gallade into the deck was something easy to pull off. By adding Gallade, the deck gains a good answer to Jolteon EX and turns Yveltal EX and Darkrai EX decks into nearly auto wins.
From what I read on social media, Michael will be writing a tournament report about Arizona, and I will make sure to include a link to that on The Charizard Lounge’s Facebook page.
Sableye Shows Life
Prior to Florida Regional Championships, Sableye DEX/Garbodor (DRX/BPT) was the most hyped deck in the format. It was receiving Puzzle of Time in BREAKpoint, which meant that it could get Life Dew back on an Active Sableye every turn of the game, which was supposed to form an impenetrable wall. It also gained Delinquent, which alongside Puzzle of Time gave it another option for game state control.
While it was full of hype, the deck failed at living up to the hype perhaps more so than any other deck in the history of the Pokemon TCG. It failed to make a placement at any of the Regional Championships held the weekend after BREAKpoint became legal and then disappeared from the meta game…until Arizona.
At the Arizona Regional Championship, Sableye/Garbodor made its return to the meta as TJ Traquair finished 8th place with the deck. TJ’s finish shows that Sableye is still viable in someway, but as he did not win, one can assume that it still isn’t broken as had been predicted prior to BREAKpoint’s legality. I think the deck has some legitimate issues with Item lock decks, and with Seismitoad EX, Trevenant, and Vileplume all having places in the Expanded meta game, it may be difficult for Sableye to find good footing headed forward.
With the Top 8 finish, TJ Traquair moved into the Top 10 of the North American Power Rankings and now occupies the 10th place spot.
Late to the Party, Where are you Karen?
One of the most anticipated card releases was the release of the Karen promo card which was meant to save the format from the oppressive Battle Compressor decks like Night March and Vespiquen/Flareon. Interestingly enough, it appears that Expanded managed to find ways to deal with these decks without the help of Karen.
While Night March was the most prevalent deck in the Top 32 (with 6 total placements), no Night March decks or even Vespiquen/Flareon decks (1 placement) made it into the Top 8 at Arizona. In total, the two Battle Compressor decks combined for a total of 14.61% of the Championship Points from Top 32 finishes. This isn’t a wide enough representation that you really want to be actively teching against it, as it appears most decks can manage these matchups as is.
Karen was originally expected to shake up the Expanded format, but it looks like it will probably not make the final cut into decks at Philadelphia as the two Battle Compressor decks, while both good, aren’t dominating the format in any way. In Standard, there is a more legitimate reason to play Karen in decks like M Rayquaza EX, Rainbow Road, and M Gardevoir EX STS, but in Expanded, especially with the legality of Sacred Ash, there aren’t very good reasons to play Karen except to counter the Battle Compressor decks, and if the Battle Compressor decks continue to make up such a small portion of the meta game than there really won’t be a good reason for players to be including Karen in their Expanded deck lists, which should give both Night March and Vespiquen/Flareon decks the opportunity to live into the future.
The Top 4 Prize Dropoff
One of the largest negatives of the tournament is the steep prize drop that occurs when a player fails to make the finals. For those that don’t know, the prize structure that Pokemon chose to use for their Regional Championships is very top heavy. Using the numbers for Day 2 Swiss tournaments (which almost all Masters division tournaments should reach attendance levels for), 1st place received $5000, 2nd place receives $2500, and then 3rd through either Top 16 or Top 32 all receive the same $250 prize.
I have a few problems with this. First of all, Top 4 finishers should receive more prizes than Top 8 finishers, and Top 8 finisher should receive more prizes than Top 32 finishers simply because they finishes one more stage of the tournament further than the previous class of rankings. If you do better at a tournament it’s only logical that your prize share is greater than players who finish at a lower stage of the tournament.
A quick aside, but Pokemon also needs to start printing playmats with Top 4 labeled on the mat. For some reason, Pokemon started giving places 3rd-8th all mats marked as Top 8. Finishing Top 4 in a tournament is much better than finishing Top 8 in a tournament and should be designated as such.
I think players who finish 3rd-8th should receive more cash prizes than players who finish in 16th-32nd. They’ve extended their tournament to further stages so they deserve more prize support. Additionally, as the prize support is currently structured it makes players feel too shitty for finishing in the Top 8 but not making it to the finals. While technically finishing 2nd as opposed to first loses you more money as opposed to finishing in the Top 4 as opposed to the finals ($2,500 loss compared to $2,250), the finals loss feels much less crappy because you still walk away with a significant amount of money.
My recommendation to Pokemon would be to add cash prize support to Top 4 and Top 8 finishers while not touching the cash prize support for 16th-32nd finishers.
When Pokemon initially mentioned cash prizes, they initially promised $50,000 in cash prizes for Regional Championships. While the maximum amount paid out is slightly in excess of $50,000 , the actual prize support for Arizona fell well short of that figure, and the average across all Regionals for the year should also fall well short.
Based on attendance numbers here are the prizes paid out per division at Arizona Regional Championships:
- TCG Masters – 459 ($11,000)
- TCG Seniors – 71 ($2,750)
- TCG Juniors – 38 ($2,000)
- VGC Masters – 139 ($2,000)
- VGC Seniors – 15 ($0)
- VGC Juniors – 11 ($0)
For anyone out there calculating, that’s a total of $17,750, very well short of the originally promised $50,000 in prize support.
I would expect later Regional Championships to follow similar splits in terms of games and division attendance, although overall attendance will be increased as some Regional Championships. What this means is that we will most likely never see a Regional Championship that gets close to reaching the originally promised prize support, which means Pokemon also still has plenty of money in their budget to increase the prize support for Top 8 finishers.
I think a better structure would be something like:
- 1st – $5,000
- 2nd – $2,500
- Top 4 – $1,000
- Top 8 – $500
- Top 16 – $250
- Top 32 – $250
This gives players finishing in Top 8 and Top 4 more prizes for their superior finishes, which they absolutely deserve.
This type of prize payout structure is probably only needed for the Masters Division in the Trading Card Game. No other game or division is likely to hit the attendance numbers to get this type of prize support, but if VGC or a lower age division does hit proper attendance numbers than they should also receive this type of increased prize scaling.
If Pokemon hasn’t figured out now, the Masters Division in the Trading Card game is the division that consistently shows up to events and is the best promoters of their organized play strucutre. As the Masters TCG division is their core competitive play participants, Pokemon should probably start building their organized play structure around their game and division with the most consistent turnout.
It should be noted that the organizers of the Orlando Regional Championship, which is up next on the schedule, are personally adding prize support to Top 8 finishers based on attendance which should help ease some of the pain with losing in Top 8.
Problems, Problems, Problems at Arizona Regionals
Before I get into this section I want to quickly point out that I felt that the people who were actually involved in the operations of the Arizona Regional Championship did a good job of running the tournament. I’ve heard some complaints about incorrect judge calls, but this seems to be the case at most tournaments, so I won’t hammer in on that. All of the problems I had with the tournament were things that had to do with how the tournament was organized.
To draw an analogy, the problems with Arizona Regionals were leadership problems. For example, if you have a basketball team, say the Cleveland Cavaliers and they fail to to make the playoffs because they have Byron Scott as their coach, you don’t blame the players like Kyrie Irving and Lebron James, which were more than adequate to get the job done. Instead you blame the game plan, which falls back on the coach. If someone like Gregg Popovich was coaching the team, then they would have had a better game plan and probably won the championship. This is basically how I view Arizona Regionals. All of the volunteers did a fine enough job to put on a good Regional, but the tournament was tarred by a poor plan from the organizer.
The undoing of Arizona Regionals appears to be entirely based around money. Most negative experiences related to the tournament can be traced back to the tournament organizer chipping players for small amounts of money (which grow into large amounts of money when collected from enough people) for what can only be assumed to be a pure motive of personal profit. While trying to profit off your event isn’t an issue, trashing the quality of your event to further profit is.
The first major problem at the event was the registration process. The organizer set up a registration system that required players to print out a registration slip. If a player failed to print out the registration slip, then they could print it at the event….for $5. Here is a copy of the registration sheet with personal information blacked out.
While I don’t care about players who were too lazy to print out their registration sheet being penalized, what I do take with issue with is that the event organizer allowed the event to start 2 hours late because they wanted to use a registration sheet that allowed them to profit off player negligence.
The purpose presented for using this registration system is that scanning bar codes is faster than manually typing in player information. The blacked out portion under the bar code is the Player ID number. Because the Player ID number is what’s under the Bar Code, one can assume that all the bar code contains information for is the Player ID number. To further confirm this, I read the bar code with a bar code scanning software and the only information that the bar code contained was the Player ID, just as I suspected. It takes about the same amount of time to take a bar code scanner and scan a bar code as it does to simply type six digits on a number pad, so the time saving argument is very illegitimate.
Proof of purchase could also be proved quickly by generating a document with registrants information and simply using the CTRL+F function within said document.
To think what happened with Arizona Regional’s registration process was anything more than a ploy to chip some money off of negligent players is foolish. It’s very sad that the organizer chose to tarnish their event to make a little extra money.
Because of the delay in getting the tournament started because of the inept registration process, the tournament started around noon and didn’t let out until after midnight. This gave players no time to socialize on Saturday evening after the tournament, and gave players who qualified for Day 2 very little time to sleep before the start of Day 2 Swiss rounds.
The money hungry attitude of the tournament creeped into the second day of the tournament as the organizer chose to charge $5 for the tournament’s League Challenge and provide no prizes beyond the promo cards for Top 4 finishers that Pokemon sends to organizers for free. In addition to the League Challenge, the organizer also charged $10 for the VGC Premier Challenge and gave no prizes whatsoever, according to VGC players who played in that tournament.
From what some local players told me, it’s standard operating procedure in Arizona to charge $5 for League Challenges and then to provide no prize support beyond the free prize support that Pokemon will send to any league. For anyone in Arizona who didn’t already know, this isn’t normal, and almost every League Challenge elsewhere comes with at the very least a participation pack for registration, as well as prize pots of packs and cash for Top 4 and Top 8 finishers, and sometimes even beyond that (such as a pack for every win). Arizona players are being ripped off at their League Challenges. Additionally, I’ve never played in a Regional League Challenge that didn’t give out for Top 4 finishers the Playmats that Pokemon provides to organizers to give out as prizes during Side Events at their Regional Championships.
This was by far the worst Regional Championship that I’ve ever attended, and the second worst doesn’t even come close to touching this one. While other tournaments may have had some bumps in their operations, this is the first tournament I’ve attended where I felt the organizer truly didn’t give a shit about the players and solely saw this event as an opportunity to make money. This is especially upsetting because Regional Championships like Kansas City, where the organizer cares very much about putting on a good experience for the players, were axed from the schedule.
I think Phoenix is a great location for a Regional Championship and hope it maintains one as the Pokemon communities that combine to make up the Regional area are terrific, but this event was awful, and needs fixing for future seasons.
I highly recommend that Pokemon outsources this Regional Championship next season to an organizer who knows how to put on a good tournament for the players to help teach Arizona’s organization to put on better tournaments for future years. This event was unacceptable, and Pokemon players deserve a much better experience out of Regional Championships with how costly it can be for players to travel to and book hotels for these events.
For this tournament I decided to stick with Vespiquen/Flareon. It’s the Expanded deck that I know best, so I felt it gave me the best chance to do well at this tournament.
Here’s the list I used:
Pokemon – 27
4 Combee AOR
Trainers – 26
3 Professor Juniper
1 Computer Search
2 Tropical Beach
Energy – 7
4 Double Colorless
This core deck structure has had great success at previous Regional Championships while being played by multiple players, so I felt that the list was super strong and any shortcomings would be the result of my play.
Here is how my tournament played out:
Round 1 – Drew Allen – Vileplume Toolbox – WL (0-0-1)
Round 2 – Erik Ujvari – Yveltal EX/Archeops NVI – WW (1-0-1)
Round 3 – Bryan Nguyen – Rainbow Road – LW (1-0-2)
Round 4 – Hayden Cameron-Jacobus – Accelgor DEX/Wobbuffet PHF – LW (1-0-3)
Round 5 – Billy Do – Trevenant BREAK – WL (1-0-4)
Round 6 – Oscar Mendez – Turbo Darkrai EX – WW (2-0-4)
Round 7 – Megan Batchelder – M Gardevoir EX STS – WW (3-0-4)
Round 8 – Kenny Reynolds – Vileplume Toolbox – WW (4-0-4)
Round 9 – Ryan Grant – Accelgor DEX/Wobbuffet PHF – LL (4-1-4)
Ultimately I think I could have played better in the early rounds than I did. Additionally, I wasn’t properly prepared for the matchups that I ended up facing.
For example, in my round 1 tie, I had a situation arise on the penultimate turn of the game. I had Wobbuffet active, so I was shutting of his Vileplume. With VS Seeker in hand, I had the choice of any Supporter to use. He had just knocked out my Mew EX with his Mewtwo EX and was down to 1 prize. I had 4 prizes left and could win the game in two turns by knocking out the Mewtwo EX and then knocking out another EX, with Lysandre. His only setup attacker was Aegislash EX, which was maxing out at 60 damage, and could do 80 damage with another colored attachment. Unfortunately, I was only hitting for 160 damage, and needed to hit a Battle Compressor (or Ultra Ball/Pokemon) to get that last 10 damage to knockout Mewtwo EX.
I decided that N was my best route to win the game. He had a large hand, and could potentially Ninja Boy into Glaceon EX and win the game off of that. The probability of him hitting a Lysandre or out to a Lysandre off an N to 1 with Vileplume’s Ability Active (as I would be retreating Wobbuffet) seemed low. So I benched a Combee to increase my probabilities of hitting a Battle Compressor, and then the next turn he used Lysandre to knockout the Combee to win, which forced a tie. If I had been properly prepared and knew what a proper Vileplume Toolbox decklist looked like, I would have known something like common Ninja Boy and Glaceon EX counts, and potentially could have chosen to do something like Colress if I knew Ninja Boy into a viable attacker was impossible based on common deck inclusions. Did I make a misplay in this round or a correct play? I don’t really know still as I still don’t know what the standard list for Vileplume Toolbox is as it isn’t a deck I properly prepared for.
Additionally, I could have won my Round 3 matchup if I decided to concede Game 1 earlier when I was in a Supporter drought. Rainbow Road is a very favorable matchup, so the probability of me not winning the next two games in the match were very low, so I absolutely should have conceded early. If I had started out the tournament 2-0-1 instead of 1-0-2 I probably am better able to avoid terrible matchups like Accelgor DEX/Wobbuffet and Trevenant throughout the rest of the day. I was very lucky to get ties in these rounds and those matchups are awful for this deck. Poor early play led to a bad day overall and I need to do a better job of coming into future Regional tournaments with a winning mindset in the early rounds and do better tournament preparation.
The one thing that I’m proud of is the inclusion of Mew EX. I had noticed that Glaceon EX was popping up in a variety of deck archetypes in Expanded which was very bad for this deck, so I decided to include a Mew EX to deal with it. Mew EX worked great in this role and I’m very glad I included it.
I also played in the League Challenge the following day using the same list. I’m not sure on the ordering, but I beat Seismitoad EX/Giratina EX, Turbo Darkrai EX, Darkrai EX/Giratina EX, and M Rayquaza EX and took a narrow loss to Yveltal EX/Archeops NVI. This was good to finish 3rd place and put some points on the board for this season. 10/500!
I also took 2nd in a Pokken side event that they held Sunday using Chandelure. Lost to the same kid in both the Winners Finals and Grand Finals of the side event. Pokken is a lot a of fun, and I hope to see more support for the game from TPCI in the future.
While Arizona Regional Championships definitely had organizational problems, it was still a fun tournamnet to be at. The Pokemon community is mostly great and fun to be around, and playing Pokemon cards is always a fun activity to do.
Next up is Orlando Regionals and the first look at the PRC-STS Standard Format. As the event will be co-hosted by my local tournament organizers I can vouch for their quality in tournament operations and would say that you can expect a much better experience in Orlando than you received if you went to Phoenix.