This past weekend the ARG Circuit Series made its way to the St. Louis area, holding an event at the Gateway Center in Collinsville, Illinois, the same location as the Pokemon Regional Championship that takes place in the area. For those not familiar with the ARG Circuit Series, it’s a weekend of tournament events for a variety of card games including other game such as Yugioh, Force of Will, among others. Last year Pokemon TCG was added into the circuit series, so Pokemon players now have a circuit that they can play in outside of the Play Pokemon program.
The Pokemon tournament that was held this weekend was a best of 1 tournament, played with Swiss rounds and a top cut. The prize pool for the tournament was $1,000, along with playmats for Top 8 and Top 16 players as well. Also at stake were invitations to an ARG Invitational tournament (I don’t think it’s been announced yet where it will be) in which players with an invitation can play in a set of tournaments with larger prize pools. Additionally, 1st place would receive 2 byes at the invitational and 2nd place would receive 1 bye at the invitational.
At the St. Louis ARG there were 50 total Pokemon players, with 48 Masters division players and 2 Senior division players, and since there were so few Seniors they were mixed into the Masters tournament, and then had separate pack prizing for their division.
This was the first tournament that I had attended from the ARG Circuit Series, and I have to say that it was a good experience. The tournament was a little bit smaller in attendance compared to State Championships of past years, but the prizing available added a more serious tone to the tournament that made it a pretty similar experience to those.
If I had the choice to play in a ~50 player League Cup versus a comparably sized ARG tournament, I think the ARG tournament is 100% a better option to play in as the prizing is very strong. I think something plaguing Play Pokemon events right now is poor control by TPCI over what is acceptable prizing for organizers to pay out for tournaments. Unfortunately, at too many tournaments Championship Points are being awarded as if they’re real prizes when they really should just be looked at as a rating system to rate players.
I am excited by what I saw from the first event of this circuit that I attended and I hope to see it grow moving forward so we can get larger tournaments with larger prizes in the future. If there is an ARG Circuit Series tournament in your area, I would highly recommend going.
Also, here is what the playmat looked like for players that made Top 8 as well as Top 16.
ARG St. Louis Top 8
This tournament was played in the BREAKthrough through Shining Legends format. After six rounds of Swiss, here was the Top 8:
1. Conner Lavelle – Drampa GX/Espeon GX/Garbodor
2. Skylar Hopkins – Volcanion/Ho-oh GX/Turtonator GX
3. Andrew Wamboldt – Drampa GX/Espeon GX/Garbodor
4. Michael Hopkins – Alolan Ninetales GX/Zoroark GX
5. Zack Martin – Golisopod GX/Drampa GX/Garbodor
6. Brandon Oldham – Metagross GX/Solgaleo GX
7. Lavell Lovett – Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu GX
8. Erik Garcia – Drampa GX/Espeon GX/Garbodor
In addition to these players/decks, Zach Zamora was also 4-1-1 and bubbled at 9th with Golisopod GX/Zoroark GX.
All of the players in Top 8 agreed to split the $1,000 prize pool, paying out each player $125. Because of this, Top 8 was not played and the final Swiss standings would become the final tournament standings. I don’t think anyone in the Top 8 was super confident with these matchups, as a lot of these matchups tend to be in the 50/50 or 55/45 range.
Overall, it was a very good day for The Charizard Lounge. Conner picked up the 1st place finish and I finished 3rd.
My friend Michael also finished right behind in 4th with an Alolan Ninetales GX/Zoroark GX deck that I handed to him before the tournament that I netdecked from Brad Curcio’s Facebook wall. I don’t think Michael had played any games with the deck before hand, let alone much Pokemon at all lately, so his strong performance with a deck he wasn’t super familiar with really shows the strength of the archetype.
No Gardevoir GX in Top 8
A lot has been made about there being no Gardevoir GX in Top 8 in this tournament, but I don’t think it means all that much. If you replay this tournament over and over again, there will be plenty of simulations in which Gardevoir makes it into the Top 8.
Something else to note is that Metagross GX variants were probably a little bit more popular than on average, with a few players setting out with the “hard counter” to Gardevoir. I’m not sure how much that actually mattered though, because while there was more Metagross than is usual, there was also less Greninja than there would be in most other metas. Some of the Metagross players also lost to Gardevoir at the tournament too.
While I think Gardevoir is certainly a very powerful archetype, I think the deck is overrated. It is probably the BDIF, but the separation between it and the rest of the format is much smaller in actuality than you would think it would be based on its dominance over the first two Standard Regional Championships in North America.
There were still at least two Gardevoir players in Top 16, so it’s not like it did horribly anyhow.
Vikavolt with Po Town
Something else that I thought was pretty interesting was the inclusion of two Po Town in Lavell’s Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu GX list. Vikavolt is in a unique position as it doesn’t really look to attack with its Stage 2 much, with Vikavolt primarily being a bench sitter (although it can mix it up as an attacker every now and then). Therefore, you don’t really care too much if it takes the Po Town damage when you evolve. All of your other Pokemon are Basic, so they won’t suffer any ill effects from the Po Town.
Against other evolution decks, if the Po Town sticks, it can pay big dividends. Against Gardevoir, for example, a single Po Town knocks Gardevoir GX down to 200 HP, which means you can knock it out with Tapu Bulu GX’s Nature’s Judgment with a Choice Band. If they evolve through a Stage 1, they would only have 170 HP remaining, meaning you could knock it out without even needing a Tool.
I’m not sure how consistent the two Po Town were at doing this in a matchup such as Gardevoir, as I’ve never tested Po Town in Vikabulu, but it’s definitely an interesting idea that players may want to keep in mind when building Vikavolt moving forward.
Drampa GX/Garbodor & My Tournament
Anyone who has talked to me about Pokemon recently probably knows that I’m not a very big fan of the Standard format. I don’t really enjoy playing Stage 2 decks as they seem to not like me very much. Decks that seemingly get setup on turns 2 or 3 for other players tend to get setup around turn 7 for me, or never setup at all. Based on this experience with a wide variety of Stage 2 decks (primarily the Rare Candy ones, Forest is fine) over the years, the past few seasons I’ve tended to gravitate towards playing decks based around Basic or Stage 1 Pokemon as those decks tend to setup consistently allowing you to truly play the game every match.
I think the best of these decks, at least for now, is Drampa GX/Garbodor, and the tournament results back that up. It took a little bit of time for good lists for the deck to develop this season, but I think we’re at the point where we have good lists for the deck. Tord Reklev re-entered the deck into the Standard consciousness at the Bremen Regional Championship. Then at the Vancouver Regional Championship, we saw the further refinement of the list by American players such as Xander Pero and Sam Chen.
For the past couple of weekends I’ve been playing a variant based off of Xander Pero’s list from Vancouver, in which he finished in the Top 4. Xander wrote about his list for the deck here. His list is what the majority of players have been using to base their lists off of since then. The list gave new innovations to the archetype such as the very innovative 3-2/2 Garbodor line as well as added consistency with Lillie as a 9th draw Supporter.
Vancouver was played in the BREAKthrough through Burning Shadows format, while the past two weekends Shining Legends has also been legal. Shining Legends adds quite a few new cards that could be played in the deck, with Latios, Shining Jirachi, and Shining Mew all having some degree of potential in the deck, but also cards that aren’t finding too much success in the three weekends of tournaments since the set became legal.
I played a similar variant to what I played this weekend at a League Cup last weekend. I had played the Latios in that tournament, as I thought it would help with spreading damage to setup my devolution strategy, but it didn’t end up being that impactful, and with Mr. Mime starting to go into people’s lists, it’s losing even more of its impact.
In that tournament I ended up losing my win and in to Greninja BREAK. I ended up failing to establish Garbotoxin at any point in the game and got railed by Greninja about as hard as you can.
With that tournament experience in hand, I was able to change my approach to some matchups based on what hadn’t worked at the League Cup, and then also make some changes to the list that I thought would improve it.
Here is how my rounds played out:
Round 1 – Zack Martin – Golisopod GX/Drampa GX/Garbodor – Loss (0-1)
Round 2 – Charles Larenas-Leach – Gardevoir GX/Sylveon GX – Win (1-1)
Round 3 – Ben Barham – Gardevoir GX/Sylveon GX – Win (2-1)
Round 4 – Hector Iblama – Gardevoir GX/Sylveon GX – Win (3-1)
Round 5 – Brandon Oldham – Metagross GX/Solgaleo GX – Win (4-1)
Round 6 – Skylar Hopkins – Volcanion/Ho-Oh GX/Turtonator GX – ID (4-1-1)
Here is the list that I played at the ARG tournament.
Pokemon – 15
Trainers – 33
4 Po Town
Energy – 12
Spooky Shaymin – Marshadow Shining Legends
One of the changes that I made to Xander’s list was to play Marshadow from Shining Legends in place of a Tapu Lele GX. I like this change as it gives me a second consistency option to use out of an Ultra Ball beyond Wonder Tag. I think having a split between the two is a very strong play as both options, searching the deck for a Supporter as well as shuffling your hand into your deck and drawing can be good, but either one can be better depending on the situation.
For example, late in the game, Tapu Lele GX might be able to get you the game winning Guzma, but you might also need a Double Colorless Energy to win the game. If you don’t have the Double Colorless in hand, that Tapu Lele GX out for a Guzma is useless. However, with Marshadow, you can thin your hand a little bit, and then use Let Loose to shuffle it up and try to draw the game winning combo. In some situations, you can thin your deck down to the point where you guarantee the combo.
Over the course of two tournaments with the deck, I have used Let Loose in I think every game. Even though you play Garbotoxin, Let Loose can still be effective at all points in the game. Players are playing lots of Field Blowers in their decks, so your opponent may remove the Tool from your Garbodor opening you up to play Marshadow after Garbotoxin was initially established. Additionally, you play two Field Blower of your own, and while not common, you can remove the Tool from your Garbodor with your own Field Blower to open up using your other Abilities.
In the majority of my games I am using Marshadow as a draw card. The most common time it is played is after having already played my Supporter for turn, whiffing something like an Energy attachment, and then using Let Loose to find my Energy for turn. Sometimes you will use Marshadow alongside a non-draw Supporter (such as Guzma or Brigette) to also get draw out of your turn.
There seems to be a mental block among a lot of the player base that refuses to view Marshadow as a potential draw card. They see that it has the same effect as Judge, categorize Judge as a disruption card, and completely write off Marshadow’s draw potential. I think Marshadow is a little bit weaker than Shaymin EX as a draw card, but a little bit weaker than Shaymin EX isn’t a bad thing for a card to be given Shaymin EX has been one of the most played cards in recent history.
That’s not to say you will never use Marshadow for disruption, it can still be very strong in this department as well. It is at its strongest as a disruption card immediately after your opponent searched their deck. This makes it good against setup attacks such as Sylveon GX’s Magical Ribbon or Metagross GX’s Algorithm GX. This also makes it good when your opponent uses Skyla for a Supporter they want to use during their next turn. It can also be good in situations where your opponent has a large hand size.
In the mid and late game with Marshadow, we can do something like play a Professor Sycamore to get good draw for ourselves, and then after the Professor Sycamore play Marshadow to get more draw for ourselves and also softly disrupt our opponent. If our opponent has fewer than 4 prize cards remaining, this will be a weaker disruption play than N, but it can still be just enough disruption to keep the opponent out of all the resources they need, and combined with the better draw from getting to play a Professor Sycamore it can be a much stronger play all around.
Mono Max Elixir
So often when playing this deck, I could find myself in situations where I was left thinking, “If only I could power up a second Drampa GX in one turn, then I could take a OHKO with Beserk and turn around this game.” From this, I thought that I should add Max Elixir into the deck to give myself the option to power up Drampa GX (or even Espeon GX if you accelerate to Eevee then evolve) in a single turn.
I think people are a little bit too skeptical of the consistency of the 1-of Max Elixir. The single Max Elixir is going to be as consistent at hitting the Energy as any other deck that plays 8 Basic Energy would be at successfully hitting a Max Elixir. For example, Rainbow Road decklists from last season typically played only 8 Basic Fairy Energy. The number of Max Elixir in a deck doesn’t change the probability of hitting an Energy with x Energy in deck, all it does is change the number of attempts you get at accelerating Energy.
In this tournament, I believe I hit on the Max Elixir 4/6 games. In one of the games I whiffed on it, and then the other game it was prized, so 4/5 in games that I actually got to play it.
The “difficult” part is finding the Max Elixir when you need it, but this is a little bit of an inaccurate way to view the Max Elixir, as there typically isn’t a specific point that you need it. The important part is just getting to use it at some point in the game. The important part is getting ahead a turn on attachments, not necessarily accelerating to power up an attacker in one turn (although it can be clutch for that if that’s the situation where you need it in a given game).
That one extra attachment can be huge in terms of deciding the game. It can be the difference between using Righteous Edge for an insignificant amount of damage or using Berserk for the game winning OHKO.
Espeon EX > Shining Jirachi
I think that Espeon EX is a much better card than Shining Jirachi in this deck. While Shining Jirachi can do the damage that sets up a knockout on the active Pokemon, I think that is a much less impactful play than using Miraculous Shine with Espeon EX. Being able to devolve 3 or 4 different Pokemon all at the same time is a super strong play, and especially since the opponent will be largely reliant on Rare Candy to get setup quickly with their Stage 2 deck, any Pokemon evolved with Rare Candy don’t typically get re-established within that game.
I think Shining Jirachi is easier to use, so that may be why people like it, but once you learn how to properly maneuver your devolution strategy, then Espeon EX’s impact is much greater overall. I also don’t think people should play a copy of each in their lists either to use in different situations, I think Espeon EX is more than enough and players should learn how to properly utilize it within the construct of this deck.
Overall, it was a great weekend. Thanks to the experience that I was able to gain with the deck from playing in the League Cup, I was able to play the deck at a higher level this weekend. In particular, I felt like I had a much better approach to my Gardevoir GX matchup than how I approached it when I played it at the League Cup the previous weekend.
I think Drampa GX/Garbodor should probably be good moving into the next format. The deck is pretty consistent and has a lot of different routes it can take its gameplay which lends itself to being competitive in a wide range of matchups.
I’m not really sure what if anything changes with the deck with the new set, Crimson Invasion, as I was focused on doing well at this tournament so I was focused on the current format and have not yet seriously looked into how I would do stuff with the new set.