Road to Nationals: Zach’s Time to Play
After five years of preparation, Senior Division player Zach Thornberg is finally heading to Indy for the National Championships.
Despite playing casually and competitively since 2008, Zach Thornberg has never made the trek to the U.S. National Championships—until this year. His excitement is overshadowed only by his commitment to training to the best of his ability.
Pokemon.com: You won the Senior Division Spring Regional Championships in Salt Lake City to earn a trip to the National Championships. How did those matches go?
Zach: It was the most well-run Regional Championships tournament I’ve ever attended. I preregistered and didn’t have much to worry about when I got there. I went 5-0 in the Swiss rounds. I didn’t have too many difficult games there.
Pokemon.com: What kind of team did you play there?
Zach: It was sort of a semi-Rain team. I used Politoed or Kingdra as my lead when I wanted to start the weather condition. I also ran Metagross holding a Normal Gem that could do Explosion. I’ve never liked full-Rain teams. I’d rather include a couple of Pokémon designed to counter other strategies. For example, I’ve been running a Chandelure with Substitute because I’ve been facing a lot of players using Bisharp or Zoroark with Sucker Punch on the first turn.
Pokemon.com: What is your take on the popularity of weather teams right now?
Zach: They’re still extremely popular. Before the tournament I played just some pickup games against people, and I saw a lot of Rain and Hail teams, usually combined with Trick Room. I mostly played against Masters Division players so I wouldn’t reveal my team to other players in my division. But then my top-4 match in the elimination rounds was against a Sandstorm team.
Pokemon.com: How much have the new move tutors in Pokémon Black Version 2 and Pokémon White Version 2 and the new Therian Forme Pokémon from Pokémon Dream Radar made an effect on team creation this year?
Zach: I think it’s made it a lot easier to construct teams. The Therian Formes have made using Pokémon like Thundurus more versatile. You can use the Incarnate Forme for bulky, defensive teams, and the Therian Forme is usually the choice for more offensive-minded teams. But all of the Pokémon with Hidden Abilities [from the Pokémon Dream World] have made the game so much better. There are so many options for how to create a team right now, and it creates a good competitive balance.
Pokemon.com: And what about your own strategy regarding strong defense or big offense?
Zach: I tend to run more offensive teams. I try to end the match as quickly as I can so that my opponent doesn’t have enough time to set up Trick Room or Tailwind. A lot of people try to get Trick Room going early, but if I can knock out their Trick Room Pokémon, their strategy falls apart. For example, Cresselia is a common Trick Room starter. I would often lead with a Chandelure, which could deliver a one-hit knockout. The length of rounds going from 15 to 20 minutes has kind of hurt my type of team, though, because it favors teams that use a lot of moves like Softboiled and Recover that can keep Pokémon healthy.
Pokemon.com: What are some of the ways that you typically train?
Zach: I play in a lot of the Pokémon Global Link Wi-Fi tournaments. I prefer to play in real-life tournaments because they’re not a play-as-much-as-you-can format. But Wi-Fi tournaments are a great place to train. But most of the smarter players won’t be using what they play at the National Championships. I’ll occasionally use my real team in the casual Wi-Fi matchups, but not in the tournaments. It’s too easy for people to scout you.
Pokemon.com: Let’s talk about your trip to the National Championships. You’ve qualified before but weren’t able to attend. What’s it mean now that you can go this year?
Zach: I qualified in 2010 but my family couldn’t go, so I’m now just really excited to be there. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people in the online community, and I’m really excited to meet them in person and compete against them. We’re planning on doing a lot of talking about strategy, but we probably won’t play against each other because we might meet in the competition.
Pokemon.com: Have you already begun training for Nationals?
Zach: Yeah. I’m completely starting over with a new team. I thought my Regionals team was very good, but I don’t want other players to be able to predict my team.
Pokemon.com: So does word get out about your team throughout the competitive community?
Zach: Oh, definitely. I’m sure that my Spring Regionals team is well known, partly because one of my battles was on YouTube. And if I ever see another Senior Division match online, I’ll definitely watch it and try to pick up on their style. I’m starting to realize that this isn’t really effective, though, as making predictions from watching people is really risky. I just try to do what I would naturally do.
Pokemon.com: How are you feeling going into the National Championships? Are you feeling comfortable, nervous...?
Zach: I’m actually feeling really comfortable. My goal at the Spring Regionals was only to make top 4 and I won it. I’m aiming to be in the top 8 at Nationals, but I think I’ll at least make the top cut [of 16]. But I’m also really excited just to go and hang out with friends.
Pokemon.com: What would it mean to qualify for the World Championships out of Nationals?
Zach: It would be so exciting. I remember watching the 2008 Pokémon Championships on the website, and I’ve wanted to go to Worlds ever since. I’ve been playing casually since then and competitively since 2010, so I’ve had this goal for a while.
Be sure to follow all the action from the U.S. National Championships in Indianapolis from July 5th to the 7th!