Hey, my name is Tord Reklev, most known for winning 3 Internationals in the Pokemon Trading Card Game. I usually never write articles, so I am trying to make up for it by going over my history as a player, and going in-depth of the tournaments I really poured my heart into. While writing this, I realize it has gotten quite long, so feel free to skip parts and formats you are not interested in. You can find my 2019 worlds run HERE! Without further ado, come join me on a journey through the big moments of my Pokemon career!
- Early years
- My first Nationals and World Championships
- Moving, a new chapter in life and my first big result
- My first National win and Worlds in Hawaii 2012
- Norway Nationals 2013 and the crazy Worlds deck, Vancouver 2013
- Military and Hearthstone
- 2014 Nationals win and Worlds
- Nationals & Worlds 2015 + 2016 and the Regionals Grand Slam
- The introduction of Internationals and the cash era
- Zoroark’s debut and EUIC
- Regional mill fiesta, OCIC, cooperation with Limitless
- Brazil IC with ZoroPod vs ZoroLucario, the flop and the nerves
- NAIC Lonzo and Oranguru’s debut
- Bootcamp in Norway, testing Zoroark
- The second try at Brazil
- EUIC, PikaZek and developing Shedinja
- Finding the best Zoroark list
- Checkmate for NAIC
- My big showing at Worlds, and Victory Star!
- What now? What lies ahead?
So basics first, I am a 24-year-old Pokemon player from Norway, and I have been playing the Pokemon TCG ever since my mother taught me how to play when I was 6 years old. In my first few years, I was just playing the game at home and collecting cards while playing on the Gameboy, you know, just typical kid stuff. Fast forward to when I was 11, there was a Deoxys download event for Emerald at a local shop. Here I saw people playing with Pokemon cards for the first time outside my home, and I was amazed. This was then my first meeting with my local league. I will admit, my confidence level was pretty high, after all, I was always winning over my mom, so I would probably beat everyone there as well. Guess what, they mopped the floor with me time after time, and I quickly realized I was nowhere near being able to call myself good. Short after I was playing Pokemon at league every week, and I was so happy to have discovered that more people loved this game! Fortunately for me, I became friends with probably the best master player in Norway at the time, and he taught me how my 1-1-1 lines of 9 different stage 2s were not the way to go if you wanted to win, and that a deck should consist of mostly trainer cards, crazy right?
My first Nationals and World Championships
Later that year (2006) I attended my first National Championships, playing LBS (Lugia ex, Blastoise ex, and Steelix ex), a rain dance deck that took maximum advantage of Holons Magneton and Holons Electrode to fuel multitype attackers. Probably one of my favorite decks of all time. I ended up making top 16 in seniors, which was pretty big because back then seniors was the biggest division with over 100 players alone.
This was a confidence boost for me and drove my hunger to compete even more. In the next few years in seniors I was constantly placing 5th at tournaments with top 4 cut. There was a group of 4 players a couple of years older, that was just better at the game than I was, and I could not wait for them to age up to masters, because then maybe finally I could shine. (One of those four players was Khanh Le, runner-up against Jason K. at the Worlds finals in 2008 with Blissey.)
When they eventually aged up a year or two after, I was winning basically every single tournament I attended in the senior division, except Norway Nationals. I was always too nervous or making the wrong metacalls, and the win eluded me.
After aging up in the master division myself I felt that my chances of ever winning a big tournament would decrease drastically.
I did attend Worlds in seniors in 2008 though. I was playing Empoleon Omastar, a deck that tried to spread damage around on your opponent’s pokemon, then finally devolve everything with Omastar to clean up and win the game. I made it to top 32, and back then that was where the single-elimination matches started. I remember having a crazy finish to the match, where time was called on my turn, but back then, there were no +3 turns, so I devolved his whole field with my lone Omastar to take 5 prizes to his 2 remaining, winning me the series barely. In top 16 I was facing Empoleon Bronzong, a similar concept to mine, but with harder damage spread focus and no need to devolve. I got outplayed and lost, and I was completely fine with it, being already incredibly happy with my finish at my first Worlds.
In 2009 I was again back at Worlds, playing Gengar Nidoqueen, a deck that tried to take cheap prizes and use the highly imbalanced Gengar Poke-Power to take even more cheap prizes. (Once during your opponent’s turn, if Gengar would be knocked out by damage from an attack, you may flip a coin, if heads, the defending Pokemon is knocked out). I went 8-1 in swiss, making top 32 comfortably. There I was defeated by a Flygon Lv. X mill deck that I didn’t even know existed prior to the tournament, and the matchup was an auto loss in its purest form.
Moving, a new chapter in life and my first big result
Being originally from Oslo, the capital of Norway, 2010 was a big chapter in my life since my family and I were moving to Trondheim, a smaller city located more in the middle of Norway, 500 kilometers north of Oslo. I was also about to start high school, so a lot of things were happening in my life. This lead to me not being able to attend Worlds in 2010 and 2011, even with me being able to scramble some invites together.
In 2012, my big comeback began, starting with the ECC (European Challenge Cup). This tournament was basically EUIC back in the day, it was the biggest tournament of the year for us Europeans excluding Worlds. We had been in an era with single prize attackers for years, but Pokemon was ready to introduce what was going to be the start of the “big basic format” that we STILL are playing with to this day. It all started with the printing of Mewtwo-EX, which had the first attack and stats of Tapu Lele-GX, but in a much weaker format. The card ended up costing 70+ dollars apiece and was released right before the ECC. The tournament almost came down to: “are you rich enough to have Mewtwos in your deck, and how many do you have?” Being a spoiled Norwegian I managed to get my hands on 2 of them. I started the tournament 1-2, but from there I didn’t lose a single match until I was eventually defeated in top 4, facing 3 Mewtwo-EX compared to my 2. This was my first big result on the international level and was a huge confidence boost in my career. Of course, the number of Mewtwo EXs in your deck wasn’t the only factor, but it certainly did help.
My first National win and Worlds in Hawaii 2012
After that, I was still hungry for a win at Nationals, so I put in countless hours testing Darkrai-EX Terrakion Mewtwo EX. And as fate would have it, I finally won Norwegian Nationals, and even in the master division! This meant a free trip to Worlds in Hawaii, which I highly doubt I would have traveled to otherwise.
Streaming was starting to become a thing in the Pokemon community thanks to “The Top Cut”, and I was following the US Nationals closely. The deck that really stood out to me was the straight Darkrai-EX Mewtwo-EX deck. It was basically just a more consistent version of my nats winning deck. I decided to roll with it but added a twist. I was playing Super Scoop Ups, the only flipping card I ever really liked. The reason I like this card is because of its huge versatility, barring the coin flip. It lets you heal, reuse abilities (most notably at the time Shaymin, which lets you move energy on the field at will when benched), readjust your field, and switch out your active pokemon, all in one card.
I was challenging a lot of people at the open gaming area at Worlds to test for the event, and I cannot remember even dropping a single game, so needless to say I was brimming with confidence going in. After 4 rounds I was 3-1, only losing a game to being donked on the first turn, so I was still feeling amazing. When the 5th round came around, I was about to have my first ever real featured match, playing against a big name, Esa Juntunen. This guy had been winning Finland nationals for like 6 years straight, got top 8 at Worlds in masters in 2008, and was widely known in Europe. The footage of this match still exist and you can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_HZOe1nAJY.
I hope you didn’t build up too much excitement because this was one of the big flaws of that format, the dreaded T1 attack and KO for game, the real meaning of donk. If you watch the footage closely, you can see Esa having a Shaymin in his hand that he chose not to bench, unlike me, who refused to lose on a donk if I lost the coinflip.
I won the next round as well, putting me at a 5-1 record. Worlds structure that year was top 16 single-elimination, and I was feeling good about my chances. Unfortunately for me, I lost the next round to a rough matchup, Celebi Terrakion Tornadus-EX (Celebi, I know, ironic right?). The 5-2 bubble was brutal, and multiple people with that record made it into top 16, but my opponents win % was horrible, so I finished 29th. Looking back, this was probably the best list I have ever played at Worlds up until this year, and I was really disappointed with not making it through.
Norway Nationals 2013 and the crazy Worlds deck, Vancouver 2013
The following year I managed to reach the finals of Norway Nationals again, playing Plasma against my friend David’s Gothitelle Accelgor deck. (He was actually the first to play this deck, which is really cool to look back at. David’s deck won US Nationals the same year.) Him being under 18, we saw it as a no-brainer to let him win and him picking me as his guardian for Worlds, meaning pokemon would pay for 2 trips instead of 1. We were also informed by the judges at the time that this was allowed, so we would not come in trouble for it later.
This year I tried to do the most insane meta call of my life at Worlds. I was playing quad Driftblim, three Keldeo-EX, Landorus EX with Mr. Mime and a couple of Mewtwo-EX. The deck tried to target the 3 biggest decks in the format, Plasma, Gothitelle, and straight Darkrai, while taking an auto loss to the less played Blastoise Rain Dance deck.
I ended up going 5-3, beating all 3 “auto loss” Blastoise decks I faced and losing one game each to the 3 decks I tried to counter. David, playing the same deck, also went 5-3, but he lost to the 3 Blastoise decks he faced. (Best of 1 has so much variance.) Fair to say, I left feeling sad and confused.
Another fun fact: My backup deck was straight Darkrai, coincidentally a 60 card copy of the deck Jason K. used to win Worlds this year.
Military and Hearthstone
So my high school years are almost over, and I’m off to do my one duty year in the Norwegian military, which also meant I could not really attend many tournaments this year either. I learned a new game around this time though, Hearthstone. It was easy to pull out whenever I had breaks or downtime, and while you might say “how is this relevant?”, the thing is, playing other card games can open up your mind to think and look at things from different perspectives. I would be lying if I didn’t say how Hearthstone taught me what card advantage and “tempo” really was, and how you could effectively use that against your opponent to close out games. In Pokemon, we have such insane draw cards that we often fail to realize that card advantage is still a big thing to respect.
(Fun fact trivia: My highlight in Hearthstone was reaching rank 1 legend on the European server a couple of times, and losing my win and in for top 8 at Dreamhack in Sweden against “Dog”, the only tournament I ever attended. Here is my featured match from that event, actually playing against my friend David, we were picked for stream because we both were national champion pokemon players, kinda cool in my opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrFhd3tpNiY.)
2014 Nationals win and Worlds
The year is 2014, and Norwegian nationals were closing in again, and I was trying to grind PTCGO whenever I had some free time, which was hard, but I could manage to squeak some time in. I ended up playing Yveltal Garbodor, which had the ability lock Garbodor and the hard-hitting Yveltal-EX. With limited testing, I still ended up making the finals and got myself another win. I contribute that to the deck being very similar to the deck I played at EUIC, only with a new main attacker.
I ended up playing the same deck for Worlds this year, but didn’t do too great. My friend Stian (the finalist of Nationals this year) was playing the same 60 and barely bubbled out at 9th though, so the deck was probably not the problem, but rather me not playing too great. Worlds structure that year was crazy as well, 9 rounds and top 8 right away, insanely hard.
Nationals & Worlds 2015 + 2016 and the Regionals Grand Slam
The following year I went on a tear and won 4 Regionals back to back to back to back in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Noting, the Regionals were much smaller than they are today, but still had tons of top players in them, and a lot of them are still top players to this day.
At Nationals that year I was playing Seismitoad-EX Shaymin-EX control with Lysandre’s Trump Card, an insanely powerful card that Pokemon banned shortly after release, but not soon enough for Norwegian Nationals. I ended up losing a close mirror in the finals, but we had now moved on to the top 22 travel award system, so it didn’t really matter too much anymore, leading up to Worlds at least.
I was now about to start my bachelor studies at university and had just moved away from home, so the following year I was barely playing. I came back to play what I didn’t know would be the last Nationals in Norway ever, winning with Seismitoad-EX Zygarde-EX Carbink Break Vileplume, going 6-0 in day 1, and ending 1-3-3 day 2, the deck was pretty all over the place, to say the least.
The introduction of Internationals and the cash era
We are now approaching a more familiar territory. 2017 is the year TPCI announces Internationals and Regionals with big cash prizes on the line. The game suddenly saw dramatic growth, and we are in the era we all now take for granted.
I show up to the first-ever Internationals, EUIC, playing Yveltal EX Garbodor (how are these cards STILL legal!?) and ended up making top 4. (Many of my matches from this event were streamed and you can find them on Youtube if you would like to watch some of them.) This was a big deal for me, but at the same time, this was “just the new age ECC”, which meant that would be my third top 4 at this type of event. Needless to say, I REALLY wanted that win too. I decided to start taking things serious again, with this kickstart placement giving me some fundings to travel around the world in this new era. I ended up having decent results through the season, placing top 32 in Oceania IC with turbo Darkrai-EX and a couple of top cuts at Regionals, but never a win.
Fortunately for me, that would change at the last and biggest tournament of the year, the first ever NAIC. I was preparing like crazy for this tournament, probably playing 10+ hours every day for almost 2 months straight with my Drampa-GX Quad Tapu Lele-GX Garbodor deck. Originally I just wanted to attend this tournament, as it was the biggest and coolest event of the year, doing good would just be a bonus. I decided to play 4 Tapu Lele GX, which was pretty unusual, as most people played around 2. I felt the card had so much to offer through the whole game that playing less than 4 seemed suboptimal.
In the end, all that testing resulted in me actually winning the whole thing, everything happened so fast and felt so unreal. This was my first really big tournament victory in an International event. I wouldn’t say my accomplishments before this were not noteworthy, but it was clear to me that winning this tournament made people see me in a whole different light than before. This was the list I used to win: https://limitlesstcg.com/decks/?list=2.
I ended up playing the same deck for worlds, with the inclusion of Acerola from the newly released set. I knew the Gardevoir-GX matchup was a really rough one, but I hoped the massive amounts of expected Decidueye-GX would scare away or beat them before I faced them. I started off well, and was 4-0, meaning I was almost looking at locking up my spot for the top 8 for the first time ever at Worlds. Then the nerves came to me. First I faced Pablo Meza’s Gardevoir and got swiftly 2-0d. This shook me up, and my last 2 rounds both ended it a tie, getting me into top 32, but no further.
I continued playing my trusty Drampa Garbodor decks in Regionals after, having good results and top cutting, but still not winning them.
Zoroark’s debut and EUIC
Then, EUIC in London came around again. I was determined to have a good showing because I believe that anyone can be lucky and win a big tournament, so I wanted to prove to myself that my win was not a fluke.
I was playing some PTCGO ladder, and randomly faced someone playing a couple of Zoroark-GX in his deck. It took me about 3 Trades before I realized that this was probably the best card ever printed, and I was determined to make a functioning deck with Zoroark-GX as the main attacker and engine. The card offered protection from N, could tank a hit from basically everything, which was insane in combination with Acerola and had a 1 energy attack that could 1-2 shot everything in the format. My quest to make the first functioning Zoroark deck began.
My core started out with 4 Zorua, 4 Zoroark GX and 4 Double Colorless Energies. I know I know, this is just common sense, but back then, people were talking about Zoroark as a subpar Octillery that gave up 2 prizes, can you even imagine?
I figured that my plan would be simple: get as many Zoroarks on the board as quickly as possible. To do this, I needed Zoruas on my board, so naturally, I would need to find Brigette on my first turn. Up until this point, playing 1 Brigette was the norm, with some Gardevoir players arguing that you could play 2 just to not prize it, since you could get it with Tapu Lele-GX anyway. I did the math and realized that 2 Brigette was simply not enough. Also, having the natural Brigette was much better than having to use Tapu Lele for it, as it occupied a bench space.
So I knew I had to beat Gardevoir and the Garbodor variants to do well, in addition to Volcanion-EX/Ho-Oh-GX. For Gardevoir, I realized I had to max out Guzma so I could snipe their set up early. For Garbodor, I decided to play 4 Field Blower to not get locked out of the game by Garbotoxin + N. Maxing Guzma to snipe Garbodors was also a given. Then, I decided to max out Acerola as well, so the prize trade would favor me. I was afraid of Gardevoir being able to stack up energies on a Gardevoir and take a couple of quick one-shots since there was no way for me to one-shot it back, so I added 3 Enhanced Hammer to the core as well to deal with that problem. Up until this point, having cards that were not useful in every matchup was not a great idea, as you would get stuck with them and eventually get N‘d out of the game. Zoroark-GX fixed this problem with Trade and allowed you to play situational cards like Enhanced Hammer with no major drawback.
Also, the Gardevoir archetype played Gallade of course, so I figured Zoroark needed some kind of alternative attacker to deal with it. The partner that seemed like the best alternative was Golisopod-GX, having a one energy attack just like Zoroark made it the perfect fit to synergize with the main supporters in Acerola and Guzma. Its GX attack could also handle a single Gallade while switching out into a pokemon with no energy to protect itself from Gardevoir. Being a Grass Pokemon, it also dealt with other scary threats, like Lycanroc-GX and Greninja, so it checked every box for making it the perfect partner in my new deck.
For the hard-hitting Volcanion, trying to not get one-shot didn’t seem like a great plan, also Enhanced Hammers didn’t do anything against them, so I came up with something better. I decided to add single prize attackers, mainly Tapu Koko, but also Mewtwo and Stand In Zoroark. If you managed to get off 2 Flying Flips with Koko, you could then clean up their whole field using a Zoroark with a Choice Band. It was also a great pivot free retreater for Golisopod after using Acerola or Guzma. The Mewtwo could poke a scary threat and set up for a 2-shot on a clean target, and Zoroark Stand In could take a surprise KO out of nowhere, even on a fully loaded Ho-Oh GX.
My deck started out with 8 Grass Energy and 4 Double Colorless, but I cut a Grass almost every game the first few games I played, ending up with 4.
After doing a lot of ladder grinding, I decided to add Puzzle of Time to the deck. This is where the deck started to get complicated. Of course, this is obvious for us right now, but it was not back then. Puzzle of Time had not been used since Night March reigned as the supreme deck, and because Trashalance Garbodor was so prominent in the meta, everyone was watching their item counts like life depended on it. By adding Puzzles, I could now cut back on some of the thicker lines of situational cards like Enhanced Hammer, Acerola, and Rescue Stretcher. I also went from 4 Grass down to 3.
At the same time that Zoroark-GX dropped in the side set Shining Legends, Buzzwole-GX dropped in the main set, but this one was also not getting nearly as much recognition as it deserved, EXCEPT some Norwegian players that were hyping it up like crazy. After testing against their list some, I still didn’t realize its full potential yet and found it kinda inconsistent for my liking. Still, having the Mewtwo option against this deck felt comfortable.
So now that you know some of the background and my thought process behind the deck, this is what I played at the EUIC:
As you can see from the picture, I ended up winning the event as well! Words cannot describe how proud I was. My goal of proving to myself that my NAIC win was not a fluke was a success! Not only that, but I had been the first to play what would come to be recognized as one of the best, if not the best archetype for a year to come, and made a functioning engine from scratch. At least for me, that was a dream come true.
The Norwegian Buzzwole players ended up making 1st and 2nd seed going into top 8 at EUIC, along with me and Magnus K. playing Zoroark Golisopod. None of the 4 Norwegians faced each other in top 8, but only I advanced from there. In addition, Benjamin P. ended up bubbling at 9th, which was really unfortunate as he had been a great help during the process of making the deck in the first place.
In the coming year, the top decks were the Zoroark Core I used for EUIC (with different side attackers) going up against the other deck from Norway, Buzzwole Lycanroc Octillery. Definitely the biggest impact our small country has ever had on the metagame, in addition to the Gothitelle Accelgor lock deck from David a few years earlier.
Regional mill fiesta, OCIC, cooperation with Limitless
After my success in London, the deck gained a lot of traction and was widely played. A few weeks after, I attended Leipzig Regionals, playing more or less the same deck, but I had added the Evosodas for further consistency. I ended up getting completely destroyed, as half the playerbase was playing either Sylveon-GX Control or Hoopa Stall, both of which were almost theoretically impossible to beat for ZoroPod at that point.
With Oceania IC only a few weeks away, this made me think. This was also about the time I really started to theorize and playtest with the people in team Limitless, rather than to sit at home and only play ladder all day. We figured that we could swap out our side attacker Golisopod with Gardevoir-GX, to deal with the new problems. The Gardevoir line had the GX attack to get back 10 cards of resources and the possibility of playing Gallade, a card that was great against Hoopa, but also really good against the other Zoroark players. This swap of attackers would weaken the deck against Buzzwole Lycanroc, that just kept on getting more popular, but removing the auto losses still felt like a good bargain.
Some days before the tournament, while we were testing in an apartment in Sydney in Australia, Philip tries to show us a new concept, namely Zoroark without any partner, but rather using Weakness Policy and playing a more control oriented version. I quickly dismissed the idea, as it just sounded weaker than the concept we were already testing. This was the original concept for the deck we later played at NAIC this year, but we will come back to that.
This is what we ended up playing for OCIC:
This tournament was probably one of the craziest I ever attended. I went into it having a really high fever, so high that I should definitly not be playing. I remember after having won my first 2 rounds that I was on the verge of signing my drop slip. Luckily for me, I didnt and fought it through. In the end, over the 17 rounds I played (9 + 5 + top 8 cut) I think I faced around 11 Buzzwole Lycanroc decks, which with the swap of partner, was the least preferred matchup, in addition to facing 0 mill variants. I won a lot of really close games thanks to the different tech items in combination with Mallow and Premonition to get them at the right times to swing games. The deck was also completely new, so my opponents were making gamedeciding mistakes a lot, even in top cut. Before the finals on sunday, I had managed to go to the doctor and gotten some strong painkillers, which helped me a ton keeping calm and focus. I definitely had a fair share of luck to come out on top in this tournament, in addition to the surprise factor, and the deck having a really high powerlevel to push me forward.
The deck also had very good results among all the others that played it, with Philip S. making top 4, and multiple top 32s as well.
Brazil IC with ZoroPod vs ZoroLucario, the flop and the nerves
I was now a 3 time International champion with 3 different decks in a timespan of only around half a year. I had already accomplished way more than I could have ever hoped for in this game and was living the dream.
The question now was, would I be able to do the full grand slam and win Brazil as well, the missing piece of the puzzle?
The pressure on me leading up to this event felt unreal, people almost assumed that I would win just by showing up. After Australia, I definitely felt how burned out I was, I had been playing and practicing nonstop in every free moment I had for about 9 months straight at this point, and me getting sick didn’t help my situation. My motivation to find the next big deck was lacking, so I was prioritizing resting up as my preparation for Brazil IC instead.
With not too much preparation, I ended up going back to Zoroark Golisopod, which turned out to be a big mistake, since Lucario-GX was released and legal right before the event. I was underestimating the matchup and was also letting the pressure of winning get to me. I ended up making silly mistakes, which ended up in me taking 2 losses to 2 Zoroark Lucario decks during the first few rounds, knocking me out of contention for another win. Being out, I managed to calm down and was able to climb back to a top 128 placement (99th) for some points, scoring my weakest performance at an IC so far.
NAIC Lonzo and Oranguru’s debut
With my last exams ending and having summer vacation, I again had a lot of time on my hands to prepare for NAIC. Philip brought up the straight Zoroark deck again, that we had previously discarded around OCIC. This time, it for some reason was looking way more appealing. Buzzwole Lycanroc had just gotten Beast Ring, Beast Energy and Baby Buzzwole added to their deck from the newest expansion, making the deck extremely oppressive towards the rest of the metagame. For some reason, we figured the best solution would be “hey, let’s just play an all fighting weak deck to counter it, what could go wrong?”.
The way we managed to do this, was by using the previously mentioned Weakness Policy, so Zoroark could be more resilient against Buzzwole, and a combo of N + Counter Catcher on their Octillery to shut them down. The strategy worked surprisingly well, and after a lot of testing, I also added other key control cards like Delinquent and Team Flare Grunt. Team Flare Grunt was especially good against Lycanroc, so we could 2-shot it safely without fearing a Dangerous Rogue GX attack followed by a Claw Slash attack for them to sweep the game. Reverse Valley let us one-shot Baby Buzzwole with Zoroark, and Mew-EX gave us an easy out to a stacked Buzzwole-GX to keep the pressure up.
In addition, this deck featured Oranguru‘s Resource Management. The card was still kinda overlooked by the majority of the playerbase, but that was about to change. This was the first deck that really took advantage of this card, creating immortal board states with no way to lose anymore against a plethora of decks. I played some of my favorite matches of the season, where you can also see the extreme control Oranguru could provide, at this tournament, with multiple of them recorded, so look them up on Youtube if you’re interested.
The list we ended up playing looked like this:
As you can see I ended up making finals, but not quite closing it out. Some of my plays in the finals where questionable, but the decions were really hard, and I remember we discussed for weeks the different lines of plays I could have done opposed to the ones I did make.
You can judge for yourself by watching the finals match here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpVk7kOZyyk.
With this final placement, I managed to barely pass Azul GG for global CP leader at the end of the season. This was at that point the highest CP score in the history of masters TCG on a global scale. I was proud of my accomplishment, especially because being from Europe, having access to not even half the amount of Regionals makes competing with Americans for higher CP score a difficult task.
Bootcamp in Norway, testing Zoroark
That year, I managed to gather my friends from limitless++ in Norway at my summer house, where we were supposed to break the metagame and come up with the next great deck to play at the World Championship later that summer.
Our inital testing started out with modifying the list from NAIC, adding the recently released Magcargo to the deck, which meant we could play less of the different situational cards, as we could always search them out whenever we needed them.
I was testing this deck extensively and was really liking it. Playing Red Card + Delinquent gave incredible control against other Zoroark variants, but the deck also needed combo pieces to be able to deal with the hardhitting decks like Rayquaza-GX and BuzzRoc. Leading up to the event, I realized that I could not fit all the 65ish cards I wanted into the deck, and removing pieces meant taking choices and sacrificing matchup percentages. This resulted in all of us going back to the comfort pick, Zoroark Garbodor, as it seemingly had answers for everything, with the downside of being the most expected deck by far. The night before we would compete, Robin came to me and wanted to cut all the Ultra Balls for Mysterious Treasures. I figured this could work out, but I didnt want to change up my own list that “drastically” the night before and ended up sticking with the list I knew.
Now that you have seen more of my Worlds history, you would realize that this is now the only event I still haven’t been able to break. So once again, my nerves were kicking in, making me mess up microdecions all over the place. I also ended up playing Zoroark mirrors for almost the whole day, and was kicking myself for not sticking with Zoroark Magcargo, even if I could not fit all the cards I initially wanted. I lost my last round for top 32 against Yoneda, one of the best players in the history of the game in a nailbiter of a match, definitly not a bad way to go out, but frustrating none the less.
Regardless, I was really happy my friends Robin and Pedro won and made top 4 respectively, it made that year’s Worlds really special to me, despite my lack of own performance.
If you are interested in more details around this event, I would recommend reading the World Champion Robin Schulz article as well, which you can find here: https://limitlesstcg.com/how-zoroark-garbodor-won-worlds/.
The second try at Brazil
I was now publicly stating that I would take a step back from the game to focus more on university. Because of my commitment to Pokemon, I had to extend my Bachelor’s, and I wanted to make sure I could catch up properly.
A lot of the core cards for Zoroark had rotated, (Puzzle of Time, Brigette, Evosoda, Parallel City) and I felt the biggest strenght of the deck, its consistency, had been taken away. I was searching for a new deck that could provide me with similar treats as Zoroark could before.
It was then I discovered Granbull with the Oranguru Magcargo engine, a crazy deck that had just been doing good at a tournament in japan. The concept was amazing, having a 1 energy attacker that could hit for 160 base while having Magcargo + Oranguru to draw into exactly what you needed for turn looked really strong. The deck was also great for me at the time, since it was mostly solitaire, making sure you could empty your hand and stream Granbull turn after turn meant that I could just grind random ladder matches to quickly learn the pattern.
I did some small adjustments to the original list and headed over to Brazil, figuring it would be foolish of me to waste my travel award not going, even with me stepping back.
This is the list I ended up playing for the event:
I went 9-1-4 and bubbled out at 9th. It was a fair share more Alolan Muk than I was anticipating, which completely shuts down my whole engine. Fortunately for me, I dodged most of them, and managed to tie the 2 I did face. I also took my only loss to a local hero playing straight Quad Registeel, which I am still laughing about to this day.
Coming so close and missing out was a letdown, but I could still not be dissatisfied given the circumstances. The next day something dramatic happened. One of the finalists was DQd for stacking during a previously streamed match. That meant that everyone else would move up 1 placement, which put me into 8th place!
I could then technically say that I was the first person to make top 8 at every IC, but I didn’t make top 8, I just got 8th place.
EUIC, PikaZek and developing Shedinja
I decided to skip the Oceania IC, as I did not have a trawel award, only a stipend. At home, I was instead occupied going to school and started to stream some as well. On stream I was playing PikaZek, doing a challenge I created where the goal was to win 100 ladder matches in a row. With me trying this challenge on stream a couple of days, it meant I had gotten a ridicolous amount of games in with the deck, so I was already feeling comfortable with it as a pick for EUIC. The deck was expected to be big, so at this point, I wanted to see if I could create something stronger.
I then started, together with Pedro, to make the dreaded Oranguru Shedinja Zebstrika control deck. In the beginning, even I was convinced it was just a gimmick, but the more we tested, the more it started to look like a real deck. If you had a decent start, you could easily attach Shedinja to your active Pokemon on the secound turn, and continue doing that for the rest of the game. Even if your opponent got a KO on the first/second turn of the game, he would still have to get 5 more prizes somehow. Most decks were not playing Field Blower, but they were playing 4 Guzma, meaning that was their only outs to win the game from there, in addition to eventual Field Blowers. To bring more control to the game, I added Slowking, which could peak at your opponent’s hand and lost zone the Guzmas/Field Blowers if they had any, effectively removing any hope for your opponent to win.
The concept looked good, but would it work in a tournament setting? After playing some games with a timer, we realized that game 1 could easily go to time in certain matchups. To avoid this, we added a 1-1 Trashalance Garbodor line to the deck, so we could come in and just pick up all of our prizes as soon as we had established that our opponent was out of win conditions. Trubbish could also discard the top card of our opponent’s deck, giving another way to speed up a win condition.
We ended up swapping out the Garbodor line for Durant and a DCE, as a different way to speed up the game, as it allowed us to play only Water Basic Energies.
Some weeks later, an American player posted a similar concept on twitter. Pedro and I were really annoyed that someone else had seen the infinite loop and figured it was most likely by playing against one of us on the ladder. We decided to not let it ruin it for us, as the list posted had some flaws, and did not include key cards like Slowking and Durant, which we deemed to be essential win condition cards in a tournament setting.
In the end, Pedro ended up playing the deck for EUIC, but I did not. I decided to not play the deck based solely on rather being able to play 3 games. With a control deck like this, you try to win 1-0 over your opponent, which means that if you brick game 1 or 2, you will in best case get a tie, and not a win for the round. I believed my chances to win a series was greater if I could play 3 games than with a deck that won every time if it didnt brick 1/2 games.
Pedros list: https://limitlesstcg.com/decks/?list=2436
I was having a great run with PikaZek, just losing my win and in to Rahul in a mirror match, ending with me in 12th place. Again, I was close but still outside topcutting an IC this season.
Finding the best Zoroark list
A couple more months passed, and the final tournament of the season was nearing, NAIC. Also, Zoroark GX was about to rotate out of the standard format, as TPCi decided to have rotation before Worlds this year. After making a statement on twitter, I locked myself into playing with my favorite card of all time the rest of the season, which included a couple of Cups, a Regionals and NAIC.
I tested all kinds of Zoroark variants, originally favoring a straight version. This version competed with PikaZek and ReshiZard by using Trickster GX to oneshot them, by using a combination of Choice Band + Devoured Field while copying their own attacks. With only needing Zoroark on the field, this let me max out both Dedenne-GX AND Tapu Lele-GX, playing 8 total, giving the deck incredible consistency. It also allowed the deck to play Basic Energies, which were great against control decks.
After a while, the double attachment needed on Zoroark became an annoyance, and I was looking for other options. An alternative I found, was playing Persian-GX with Shrine of Punishment and Professor Kukui. For ReshiZard/SnorlaxEevee you could use Lt. Surge and double Kukui. The combo to one-shot could now be done out of nothing, and Persian’s ability let you more easily access all the needed combo pieces to pull it off. The downside was, the field was now getting more awkward, as you wanted a secondary line on the field, and preferably two of the Persian as well. To solve this issue, Giovanni’s Exile was added. It was great to clean up Dedennes and Leles from the early game and had the added bonus of fueling Persian’s Vengeance attack. But, Giovanni did have anti synergy with Shrine, so I decided to swap it out for Nanu. The biggest reason for this was that it let you evolve into Alolan Muk immediatly after Grimer was knocked out, completely destroying any Jirachi based deck. Playing the Persian-GX also made the deck a lot stronger versus other Zoroark variants, which in the end was the deciding factor to pick this version over the straight Zoroark Trickster version.
Then, I discovered that you could play Naganadel-GX in the deck as another substitute to the Tag Team matchup. The new game plan was to swing into a Tag Team, use Stinger GX to reset both players to 3 prizes, and then simply snipe off the damaged Tag Team Pokemon, winning you the game one turn before your opponent. This comeback gameplan would not work against anything but Tag Team decks. I decided to see if it was possible to further take advantage of this strategy. If you somehow could get Jirachi Prism Star into your prizes, you could do this strategy against any deck with a GX Pokemon, which was basically all of them, since almost every deck was at least playing Dedenne-GX.
The way to do this was by playing Mr. Mime from the newly released Detective Pikachu expansion. By using Mallow, you could put Jirachi on the top of your deck, play Mr. Mime to put it in your prizes, and then knock out a GX Pokemon for game. To be able to win even if the said GX Pokemon was not active, it was neccesary to play Lt. Surge as well, so you could also Guzma it on the same turn. This version also played Giovanni’s Exile to clean up the bench, preparing for the combo.
After discovering this, I was extremely hyped for NAIC, and decided to not reveal Naganadel-GX or the Mr. Mime combo before that tournament. I could now safely play the Persian-GX Shrine variant for the remaining cups and for the Sweden Regionals, knowing I had something even better coming up a month later for NAIC.
This was the list I ended up playing in Sweden and in some cups: https://limitlesstcg.com/decks/?list=2676
I ended 32th place, barely getting points to keep my top 22 dream alive. Even with the version being very geared towards beating other Zoroark decks, I lost some heartbreaking matches to going second and facing a T2 Dewgong + Triple Acceleration Energy + Alolan Muk (for Mew) to completely cripple my setup and locking me out of the game. This happened 4 times during the tournament, giving me 2 losses and knocking me out of contention for top 8.
Checkmate for NAIC
I had taken extreme precautions for not letting the combo get leaked before the tournament, and to do so, I had not even told my friends and testing partners, nor did I play it online. Looking back at it, it was a big blunder of me, because it resulted in a lack of testing and an underdeveloped list. The last few days before the event, we were all testing together frantically trying to optimize the list and the combo. In the end, the list ended up being a mashup between the Zoroark Persian list from Sweden, and the more dedicated Stinger GX version. We ended up cutting the Jirachi and Mr. Mime after a handful of games where we could not pull off the combo successfully and decided to let Naganadel-GX be solely for Tag Team decks. Looking back, the key card missing in the final list was Giovanni’s Exile, which lead to many awkward board states that we could not fix.
This is the list we had going in (Pedro’s Top 16 picture):
I ended up going 5-2-2, losing a couple of games to said awkward board states.
I had my win and in streamed and you can find the video on youtube. If you watch it, you’ll see that I would most likely have lost if the game finished. Under other circumstances, I would have scooped and let him proceed to day 2, but this one point now meant I could secure my spot in top 256. If I was not getting points at this tournament, I would have ended up being barely outside the top 22 for the season, missing out on the travel award and day 2 for worlds. It hurts not being able to give someone the win in a situation like that, but that’s just how it is sometimes. I explained to him my situation, and he was very understanding and said he did not even consider me scooping the match, which was a relief to hear.
My big showing at Worlds, and Victory Star!
Rotation was a factum, Zoroark was gone, and the meta was again wide open. The biggest change by far was the rotation of Guzma. My friends all know how much I dislike gust effects as a concept in Pokemon, so I was ecstatic to see it go. Funnily enough, I played a gust effect as my final card to win 3 of the international finals I played, that effect is just way too game-changing.
Picking the deck
I started to look into the different archetypes available and realized that there really were not too many options to choose from. After some theory-crafting, I figured the viable options would be: Fire decks, including ReshiZard and Blacephalon-GX, Lighting (PikaZek), a dark deck featuring Weavile-GX (DarkBox), Malamar and some kind of Mewtwo & Mew box. These where the typings and archetypes with reasonable support behind them left. In addition, I knew it was possible to build a control deck as well, now that we had access to Reset Stamp, but I wanted to steer clear from that for any cost. The reasoning still being the same as for not playing Shedinja at EUIC, but now adding in my stress factor from playing in Worlds as well.
After doing initial testing with the options presented, it was clear to me that Fire and Lighting were the best-supported typings by far, it was not even close how much better the cards for these typings were compared to the rest. This left me with 3 viable alternatives: Fire, Lightning, and Mew3. Mew3 box was so flexible that it could be fueled by Fire support as well, effectively making it another Fire deck, but could take advantage of the best Psychic support card as well, Mysterious Treasure.
PikaZek received a couple of cards from the newest expansion to make it even better, namely the Raichu Tag Team GX, Tag Switch, and Stadium Nav. After playing a few games with it, it was clear that the deck was definitely a contender for the best deck in our new format.
I then decided to shift my focus to Fire. With the rotation of Guzma, the absolute best and most reliable gust effect left in the format was Ninetales. Playing 4 Custom Catcher felt awkward in general, and gave you problems such as discarding one early, or prizing one, giving you lots of games with access to only 1 gust effect. Me knowing how good gust effects are, I was determined that my fire deck would have to play Ninetales. With the printing of Giant Hearth, Ninetales was even easier to activate as well, as if having access to Fire Crystal didn’t already make it easy enough.
Playing a Fire archetype had a lot going for it. Welder is probably one of the single best supporter cards ever printed, and could basically always be activated thanks to Giant Hearth and Fire Crystal. In addition, we still had Heat Factory and a ton of good attackers that required Fire Energy. I was determined to find an archetype where I could play as few situational tech cards for matchups as possible, as those cards often end up clogging up your hand and game, now that we were back to a format with N in form of Reset Stamp. Playing Ninetales, there was no need to play cards like Lysandre Labs for going around Shedinja and Spell Tag, and no need for Custom Catcher either.
My initial list started out like this:
As you can see, it was quite far from the final list yet. This was my first draft of the deck and was the list I tested for around a week with my local friends in my city.
Then, Philip came up with a concept of playing ONLY 4 Welders and a Jirachi engine to try and draw into them every turn. This was what he sent us:
I was intrigued, but also skeptical. I suggested adding Pal Pad, to make it easier to play Welder every turn, and it became a staple really fast. After some games on PTCGO, I was really liking the change in engine and concept overall, it felt really strong. Having Switch in Item form as well made it more reliable against PikaZek when they eventually tried to paralyze you with Raichu Tag Team. Seemingly, the only thing the deck was lacking was a way to win the prize trade if your opponent could stream single prizers that could 2-shot you, which decks like Malamar and the more fringe Spiritomb deck could do. Healing for 50 with Great Potion didn’t seem great, Acerola was rotated as well, so the only option left was Super Scoop Up. I immediatly remembered back to my Worlds deck in 2012, and the uses for the card this time were almost identical. Smeargle was replaced by Jirachi, Shaymin was replaced by Dedenne-GX, and the deck still had a tanky main attacker to swing with. The card was definitely worth a try, and to my surprise, it worked like a charm. The Malamar matchup and random single prize attacker decks suddenly became much easier matchups, as a single heads often meant you would win even through a good setup from your opponent. Also being able to reuse Dedenne-GX to refill your hand, using a single Jirachi multiple times a turn, and making space on your field for another Vulpix in tight situations really made the card deserve its spots.
I was now going to the Limitless bootcamp in Germany and was already heavily liking my new deck.
The inital problems
The first few days of testing, I was beating most matchups, having pretty positive records against them, but there were still some things that were bugging me with the deck. First off, the deck didn’t have a good option for a T1 attack going second, and could sometimes be suspect to whiffing a good target for Welder, forcing you to Welder a Jirachi/Vulpix/Dedenne, and then only being able to use the energies for Turtonator in the future. Not having a strong option for attacking T1 going second was especially relevant against Malamar, where you often wanted to save your GX attack if you were playing against a Tag Team variant of the deck.
The first solution to this problem was adding a small Mewtwo & Mew Tag Team package to the deck, including 2 Mew3, 1 Solgaleo-GX and 1 Dragonite-GX. Using Solgaleo’s first attack on your first turn is probably one of the strongest possible plays against almost all matchups, setting you up for 2 big knockouts on the following turns. We tested this a lot but ended up discarding it in fear of people countering Mewtwo with Power Plant, but more importantly, it was awkward to never know if decks like PikaZek played their own Mew3 to Full Blitz KO you out of nowhere, losing you the game immediately.
Instead, the card that could fix both of the afforementioned problems was Heatran-GX. Adding this card now meant that you could Welder to anything in the early game, and still set up for a big knockout T2, or simply doing 130 to a small target, saving your GX attack. It also served other important roles, one being able to knock out Jirachi on your first turn even if you could not find the Welder. Another being the only 2 prize attacker in the deck. We also realized this card was great against Malamar, and the ideal attacker for the first few prizes in that matchup.
Another problem the deck had was not being able to do a big KO from an empty energy board state, making the deck predictable. The first solution to this was Blacephalon. If you had managed to build a strong hand, rather than a strong board, Blacephalon could swoop right in and take a big Tag Team KO out of nowhere. We were testing this card a lot, and at one point we even played 2, but ended up discarding the idea. The games we struggled were usually when we got Reset Stamped in addition to a KO, and then Blacephalon became too unreliable.
After testing the Blacephalon-GX matchup, I figured the best game plan would be to go in with Turtonator for the first KO, and follow up with 2 ReshiZards. This plan would almost be a guaranteed win if the opponent didn’t play Custom Catchers or Ninetales, but preparing for the worst case, I wanted another single prize attacker.
Victini Prism Star
This is when Victini Prism was finally added to the deck. At that point, the deck was still playing the Fire Crystals and 12 Fire Energy. That was enough for the Blacephalon matchup, altough somewhat sketchy, as you could only prize 1 Fire Energy to get the knockout on a Blacehalon-GX with Victini. Victini also served another purpose, it restored all your energies, making it great in the Malamar matchup as well, as you want to use Ninetales every turn to play around Spell Tags while you snipe off Malamars, which could be problematic if you had to discard multiple Crystals with Dedenne-GX early game.
After I added the Victini, the rest of the group wanted to add more energies, to be able to reach knockouts more safely, and also one-shotting bigger targets. In the following days, we were adding around 2 Fire Energy a day, but were still playing the Fire Crystals.
At one point Robin said, why don’t we just go full theme deck, cut the Crystals, and play 19 Fire Energy? We were all laughing, but you probably know how the story goes already.
With the high energy count, we now had a much more reliable one-shot option in Tag Team matchups than Blacephalon could provide. You could simply bench Victini and attach an Energy, and suddenly you were threatening to knock out a clean Tag Team next turn.
Removing Fire Crystals for more Fire Energy also meant that our openings became much more consistent. I can’t even describe how much it hurts having to Dedenne away 2 Fire Crystals and a Welder on the first turn of the game. It also meant that Giant Hearth could be used a couple more turns than usual.
The Welder problem and Reset Stamp
The deck now seemingly had all the answers to every matchup, it was just one catch: Our deck played only 4 supporters. We were now convinced the deck would be able to beat anything IF it was able to draw the Welders. Some bad variance missing Welders the last couple of days made everyone start questioning the deck, and we tried to find the best way of being able to draw into it every turn. To make room for the new cards we had tested, the list was now only playing 2 Jirachi. I was now leaning heavily towards having more Jirachi as the way to get them, because even if it failed, you would get another chance with it next turn at least, unlike Pokegear, where if it failed the card was just gone.
Another card that we considered was Reset Stamp, as having no hand disruption felt very unnatural to most of us. The card was obviously strong, but there was no guarantee that it would change the outcome of a match even if found at the right turn, and half the time it was discarded early game by Dedenne anyway, which made me not wanting to play the card overall.
The freak out
With few days left, I was starting to become nervous, and wondering if we were being tunnelvisioned on our deck. After all, it was now a real “theme deck”, having 18 Basic Energy and only 4 Supporters. The last night of the camp, I decided to look at Mewtwo box as an alternative to the deck. In theory, Mewtwo would also have all the answers to the current format, having one-shot options in Dragonite-GX/ReshiZard-GX/Magcargo-GX and field control with Naganadel-GX and Espeon & Deoxys-GX.
The decks played day 1 at worlds were pretty much what we expected, with the exception of Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX. Around half of us had to play day 1, but only one made it through with the deck, with Philip missing by 1 point. He said after that he didnt enjoy playing the deck, but that the games he opened Jirachi went really well. I was now even more unsure what to do, as the deck didn’t perform too well on day 1. Philip was praising PikaZek as the king of the format and said he would have played that given another chance. I was now split between 3 decks: ReshiTales, Mewtwo Box and PikaZek. Out of these 3, there was only one of them I had actually been testing 10 hours straight every day for weeks, but somehow I was still unsure.
After dinner, I finally woke up. I realized even considering anything but the deck I knew inside and out was a silly idea, and finally locked in my deck. With Philip telling me how crucial Jirachi was, I wanted to make room for 4 of it. I was discussing heavily with Pedro the night before about the last 2 cards and ended up cutting an Acro Bike for a Jirachi. Also, somehow Heatran had managed to escape the deck, so he was the last card I added back in, don’t even ask me how he managed to get out.
The tournament report
I was about to play, and I was nervous as usual. Pairings went up and I was playing against Philipp Leciejewski, the runner up at EUIC this season.
Round 1, Philipp Leciejewski (Germany), Gengar Mimikyu GX Omastar
He flipped his Gengar & Mimikyu-GX, and I was thinking, “good thing I am playing a theme deck, and only have energys in my deck, his damage output won’t be high”. I got a decent start, but he decided to randomly Stamp me from 6 cards to 6 new cards, giving me 2 Communication and 4 Energy, meaning I have no way of discarding those items. My topdeck was also not relevant, putting me in a really awkward position in a game I thought I had control over. I still manage to threaten game on my following turn with Heatran, but he uses 3 Surprise Boxes (I was really surprised) on me to fill my hand with trainers to take an OHKO to win game 1.
Game 2 I go first, but have to Welder to a Dedenne, hand attachment, bench a couple Jirachis and pass. He was opening Gengar Mimikyu and plays a Green’s Exploration. I was praying he would forget what Heatran was capable of, and it happened. He did not bench any Fossils and did not use his GX attack, just an attach and a pass. I then simply used Welder again, attached from hand, found Heatran, and then moved all the energy in play to Heatran, and used GX attack for game.
Game 3 I was having another amazing start, getting a T3 (he GX attacked) knockout on his Gengar Mimikyu with ReshiZards GX attack. He then promoted a fossil and made the blunder of playing Coach Trainer. He drew 4 cards, instead of 2, and got a double prize penalty. With me having Ninetales in play, this forced him to discard both of his fossils in play and promote Gengar with a single energy attached, passing again. I then got Turtonator and used Welder on it, retreated and took another big KO winning me the first round. Luckily, the prize penalty was irrelevant here.
Round 2, Yu Ito (Japan), Malamar Ultra Necrozma
This game was streamed, so you can probably find a video on Youtube.
First game he bricked.
In the second game, I completely forgot that I could use Ninetales under Gengar Mimikyu’s GX attack, which lead to me attacking with Victini over ReshiZard when my opponent was at 4 prizes. This ended up costing me the game, as he managed to deck himself and get all the combo pieces he needed to make the comeback. I did flip 3 tails in a row on sleep as well, but make no mistake about it, me losing that second game was my own fault, and not bad luck.
Game 3 was overwhelmingly in my favor if it would finish, but sadly, with no time left, the series ended in a tie.
Round 3, Michael Pramawat (USA), Pidgeotto control
So, this was my first meeting with this deck. At some point during the bootcamp, Robin talked about making a Swampert control deck which in theory could not lose if set up properly, and I immediatly knew what the big combo he was going for was. He was trying to pull off a combination off Reset Stamp + Articuno-GX + Mars + Chip-Chip Ice Axe + Power Plant to drain my hand completely, stuck my active pokemon and lock me out of potential topdecks.
The way it played out was quite different though. I get an early Welder to my Heatran and was feeling good. Pram responds with double Crushing Hammer heads and a Girafarig to lost zone my energies. I proceed to miss the Welder, and attach to Heatran. At this point, Pram was about to discard his Girafarig, assuming I would just GX for 100 instead. Me on the other hand, was not realizing that was an option and said pass. In the same moment I said pass I saw Prams hand move towards the Girafarig, then stop, look up at me and ask “pass?”. I then realized, and was screaming inside, but calmly nodded and said “pass” again, not wanting him to realize that I was a complete idiot. There was no reason for saving my GX attack in this matchup, and the following turn I again missed the Welder with Pram flipping away another of my energys. This time, I did announce the GX attack for 100 and smiled at him.
From there, my Heatran was fully powered, Ninetales was online and Victini was on the bench. I spent the rest of the game knocking out Pidgeottos turn after turn, making it difficult for him to assemble his combo. After attacking with Victini going down to 1 prize the game was basically locked up, and I won on the following turn.
He knew that he would have no chance of winning a game 2 in time, so he conceded the series to give us a short break.
Round 4, Alex Silva (Brazil), Malamar Tag Teams
First game I get a T1 attack off with Heatran, giving me the first prize. He proceeds to miss the T2 attack, giving me a huge lead. I think he also was forced to bench a Dedenne, giving me even more of an advantage. In addition, I flipped heads on a Super Scoop Up to heal my Heatran, re-benched it and powered it up again. He scoops up his cards, realizing he can’t come back anymore.
Game 2, his start is strong, attacking on his second turn, meanwhile, I have a decent start but struggle to find Vulpix, forcing me to take unneccesary Spell Tag damage. At one point in the game, he proceeds to draw 7 cards off a Lillie, giving me another double prize penalty. This resulted in me being able to Victini my way to victory, doing 280 to a Giratina & Garchomp-GX when I had 4 prizes remaining to win the series. Unfortunate way for him to lose the game, but he had no hard feelings about it.
Round 5, Christian Hasbani (Australia), Malamar
I lost the coinflip, drew my hand and saw a Heatran and 6 Fire Energies. My opponent flips over Inkay, drew his card, looked at me, smiled, and said pass. I could not believe it. My topdeck for turn was a Super Scoop Up, making my turn a pretty easy one, attach pass, this time remembering Heatrans GX attack, but still being 10 damage off winning on the first turn. He draws another card, smiles again, uses Mysterious Treasure for a Giratina and passes back. My topdeck for turn is a ReshiZard. I attach again and announce GX attack for KO on Inkay. The rest of the game is him topdecking basics and looping his lone Giratina, ending in one of the saddest games I have ever played.
We shuffle up for game 2, he goes first. He flips another Inkay, looks at his hand and is about to burst out in laughter when he has to announce pass yet again. This time I get the Welder for the knockout on my first turn. He was really cool about it, said these things happen, and signed the match slip. Not at all how I imagined my round 5 at worlds to go, but here I was.
Round 6, Hideki Sano (Japan), Gardevoir Sylveon
I was now playing my win and in for top 8 at worlds for the first time in my career and I was about to break down. All my work and effort since I was 6 years old came down to this.
I was facing a friendly guy from Japan, and I was immediately hoping he was playing Gardevoir Sylveon like the other Japanese guys, a really good matchup for me.
He flipped a Gardevoir Sylveon, and we were off. My start was absurd, opening Jirachi, Escape Board, Vulpix, Dedenne, Giant Hearth and ReshiZard. I drew the Welder, and got a T2 300 attack off with ReshiZard. He poked me for 150, I prized my Turtonator so I was forced to hit back for 230. He was not able to heal, so he had to retreat, and I could simply Ninetales for game next turn.
The second game, he drew his hand and I could see him being visibly upset about his starter. He flipped over a Xerneas-GX, probably the only basic he played that’s not a Gardevoir Sylveon. This meant that he had to use his first turn of Green’s just to find a Switch and a Gardevoir Sylveon, really slowing him down. I got a Welder on my ReshiZard and passed.
He was not able to find another Gardevoir Sylveon, so he was forced to charge up his Xerneas, which was horrible for him, since he could not Tag Switch from that over to a Gardevoir Sylveon next turn either. I got another Welder, but I still needed to retreat my Jirachi. In my hand I have 2 Super Scoop Ups, and believe me when I say that my heartbeat was racing when I flipped the dice to get that retreat. I pick up the dice, roll, it’s a heads first try, I almost scream out loud. I announce GX attack and the game is as good as over. He manages to get 2 more Gardevoir Sylveon into play and charge the bench. I hit the active for 230. He retreats to Xerneas and uses the GX attack to move the damage right back at me. At this point I still haven’t found a Vulpix, so I couldn’t just use Nine Temptations and Outrage just yet. I didn’t want to knock out the active in fear of Reset Stamp, so I ended up hard retreating into Jirachi to find a Vulpix and passed. I was expecting him to use Green’s for double Custom Catcher, but he picked up something else and used Xerneas’ first attack to snipe ReshiZard for 20, threatening KO with the same attack next turn.
My heart was racing, I use Jirachi, find the escape board, use Communication for Ninetales, use the ability to drag up Gardevoir Sylveon, retreat into the ReshiZard, which at this point had 250 damage on it, and use Outrage for a clean KO on his Tag Team.
I did it! I was 5-0-1 at Worlds. I could not stop myself from letting out a big YES, and I was about to cry.
My friends ran over to me, I hugged them, I screamed, they screamed, I was so happy. It had finally happened, all I had to do now was ID my final round, and there would not be any bubble shenanigans happening.
Round 7, Caiwen Cabbabe (Australia), PikaZek
I walked over to table 1, shook his hand, gave him a hug and said congrats on top 8.
At this point I still hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so Philip decided to be a hero and walked me to the nearest pizza place to get me some food before my match.
Top 8, Paco Saurus (Spain), ReshiZard Green’s
The match was streamed you can find videos of it online.
Game 1 starts picture-perfect for me, sniping off his ReshiZard with mine T2 using Ninetales. From here, I just have to play around getting Reset Stamped out of the game. I end up needing another bench space for Victini to shuffle back my resources, so Super Scoop Up really came in clutch here. I played all 3 I had in hand, with 1 meaning I could attack with Victini, but 2 heads would mean winning the game that turn. I could pick up my ReshiZard with all the energies, use Ninetales on his ReshiZard and discard the rest with Dedenne, scoring me a big knockout with Victini.
Game 2: He opens Hoopa and goes for a T2 knockout on my Vupix. I knock out Hoopa, and he pokes me with Volcanion for 110. I then miss a crucial Ninetales and Welder, forcing me to either knock out another irrelevant Pokemon with my only attacker, or pass. I chose to pass. He then played double Custom Catcher on my ReshiZard the following turn. This forced me into a situation where I could get the respond knockout with Victini, but I would have to flip heads on a Super Scoop Up to get the bench space I needed for Turtonator as a follow up. I flipped tails, and he then got the 2 turns he needed to play Welder, and then Green’s for Custom Catchers on my Dedenne to clean up the game.
Game 3: The judges informed us that there were about 10 minutes left, and I got pretty anxious. This meant that the game would definitely not finish, and whoever was in the lead after +3 turns would be the winner.
I get another great start, Welder to ReshiZard, while Paco only has a couple of Volcanions. On my second turn, time is called. I knew I was heavily favored to win the game from here, but I still saw a way for Paco to win. If I attacked with ReshiZard, he could bench another Volcanion, use Welder and poke me for 110. I would then have my last turn next turn, and could at best take 2 prizes. He could then on his final turn drop a ReshiZard, Welder to it and use Double Blaze GX to knock out my ReshiZard. That would mean he would have taken 3 prizes to my 2, winning him the match. To prevent this, I wanted to attack with Heatran this turn instead, avoiding the chip damage from Volcanion. The problem was, I thought my bench was full! It had been a long day, I was really tired, and that 6 energy ReshiZard was so fat that when looking at my bench, I thought there was no more space. You can see me try to Super Scoop Up a Dedenne as well to try and make room for my Heatran, I flip tails. I retreat into ReshiZard, thinking Heatran was not an option. I look at my bench again and ask the judge where my 5th benched Pokemon went. He told me it was 4 all along. Extremely flustered, I use Cherish Ball, pick up Heatran and switch into it, doing the play I originally wanted to.
With this misplay, I now had wasted my Switch, giving him another way to win. If he now benched ReshiZard, uses Welder on it two turns in a row, he could then GX attack my own ReshiChard, giving him the same win condition I tried to play around. My hand was containing mostly fire energy, so I could drag up his ReshiChard if he benched it, but with no Switch and no Welder, I had no way of actually knocking it out anymore.
Luckily for me, he chose to retreat right away and knock out my Heatran instead. This was such a relief for me because this opened up both Dedenne and Jirachi for me as options to find my Welder to get the KO. He used Acro Bike and managed to get a Power Plant, but this was negated by me topdecking Giant Hearth of my own as a counter. This was perfect for me, because I could now use Dedenne first, then stadium to secure the fire energies, and then Stellar Wish, which is the order with the highest probability of getting me where I wanted. I ended up getting my Welder on the first 6 cards with Dedenne, sealing up the game for me right away. Right before the match was about to finish, our headsets went crazy, making extremly loud sounds, forcing us to take them off. I was confused about whether I should continue playing until this issue was fixed or not, but the judge did tell me to continue right away. I was then counting the energies on my ReshiZard probably 4 times, making sure it actually was 6 attached before I announced my GX attack, leaving him with absolute no way to catch up on prizes.
He extended his hand, and that was it!
I had now advanced to top 4 at the World Championships. Words can’t describe what I was feeling. I was a wreck, still shaking after the match.
Since the game went to overtime, that meant little time to get a break, and in addition, I was informed I would have to play the next game on stream as well, going up against Shintaro Ito, the 2016 World Champion. This was going to be my third stream match on the same day, and I was honestly not looking forward to it. I was convinced I would not be able to play optimally anymore, which was a shame, going up against such a skilled player.
Top 4, Shintaro Ito (Japan), Blacephalon Naganadel Heatran
Game 1: I start off with prizing my Victini, the key attacker in this matchup. My start is great, opening Jirachi, finding Vulpix and getting a ReshiZard with 3 energy on my first turn. As soon as I said pass I realized that Heatran could now knock out my Jirachi with its GX attack, making Shintaro’s weakest opener into his best. I should definitely have retreated into my ReshiZard before passing the turn. He knocks out Jirachi, I respond with ReshiZard knocking out Heatran. Shintaro then whiffs Beast Ring completely, since he prized 2, and can’t knock me out back. This is huge for me. He has to resort to confusion. If I somehow can get this knockout, the game will basically be over. Here is where I do a very controversial play of retreating into Jirachi. In my hand, I already had a couple of Fire Energy and a Super Scoop Up, and I had just shuffled a couple of Welders back into my very thin deck, so hitting Welder off Jirachi was very likely. I do indeed find it off Stellar Wish, meaning all I would have to do now is flipping heads on the Super Scoop Up to pick up Jirachi and use my GX attack to knock out the Blacephalon. I flip the dice, it’s tails. The Welder would now have to draw into my last Switch for me to get the knockout, but it does not. With my line of play, I got a 50% chance of attacking with my Super Scoop Up, plus the chance of drawing into my Switch to take the knockout for turn, instead of having to flip for confusion, which would also leave my 3 prize attacker in the active, giving me no way of winning if I flipped tails. In addition, I had already flipped tails on burn, meaning a tails on confusion would give my ReshiZard 70 damage, so Shintaro would now only need to lost zone 4 energy.
At this point, Shintaro checked my discard pile and realized how much Fire Energy was gone, I was almost completely out. He retreated into Poipole, passing his turn, forcing me to waste resources on an irrelevant prize card. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but with Victini still prized, I had no good options left with the limited energies remaining. I used Heatran to knock out the Poipole, as that was the most effective way I could do anything.
At this point, the game was paused for several minutes with the judges discussing heavily. Shintaro had not been shuffling his deck properly during our match, doing mostly overhand shuffles. The normal penalty for this is a double prize penalty, but here it was issued a warning. I was informed by the judges after the match that this was because he was from Japan, and in this case considered a mitigating circumstance. They apologized for giving him a non-existent penalty for insufficient randomization. I didn’t want to win such a match on a penalty regardless, especially knowing I should have retreated that Jirachi on my first turn as well.
The game resumes, and Shintaro swiftly knocks out my ReshiZard and my Dedenne to win the first game.
Game 2: This game, I have both Turtonator and Victini in my deck, but my start is awful. I can’t find Welder the first turn, and the next turn I am forced to hard retreat Heatran into Jirachi. My first 2 Dedenne also discard a ton of energy. I end up having to take my first knockout with Heatran with 4 energy, then using Turtonator for the next one. Before charging up my Turtonator, I realize that if I can’t draw my last Fire Energy out of the prizes on this knockout, I would have no way to attack with Victini anymore. If I was able to, I would have attacked with Victini this turn instead, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find it before the Welder. I put all my faith in drawing my last energy out of the prizes, granted, drawing 2/4 prize cards gives you a 50 % chance of finding it. I drew my prizes and realized that was it for me.
Both games came down to a 50-50 chance, which is kinda crazy to think about.
I originally thought I was playing much worse in top 8 and top 4, but after rewatching the games, I realize most of my turns where still played close to optimal, which I am really happy about.
The clock was now around 10:30 PM, and my heart almost melted when I realized that all my friends were still there watching, waiting for me to finish so we could go grab dinner together. They circled around me, gave me hugs and congratulated me. Even if I lost, that’s one of the moments I will never forget, it was true friendship.
I was asked to write down names for the deck in case it got printed, and we actually had already thought of this, and the name of the deck is “Victory Star”, emphasizing Victini’s importance. Kaya used the same deck to win in the senior division (awesome btw), so it’s more likely it will get printed there.
I now finally have this Pikachu trophy as a token of my effort in this game. Did I deserve the trophy for perfect plays through this tournament? Probably not. Did I deserve it for the effort in making the deck, testing matchups and my commitment to the game?
I would like to think so.
Worlds is a once a year tournament, meaning we dont have many of them. Chances are I will never get another opportunity as big as this to win that tournament, and I am fine with that. That still doesnt mean that I won’t try to defy the odds, and try again!
What now? What lies ahead?
Alright, time for some cliche. I realized I am never going to stop playing this game, at least not completely. Having grown up and dedicated such major parts of my life to it, it’s not something I could picture myself doing. I made so many friends along the way, traveled the world, and I definitely would not Trade it for anything. No matter how much you read of this, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my Giant Hearth for listening to my story.
Cheers for many years to come!