Road to Nationals: Mike Newman Is Focused on Fun
28 June, 2013 in Play! Pokémon
Mike is playing for a National Championship on his home turf, but he insists his plan is just to have a good time.
With an invitation to Worlds already in hand, Pokémon TCG Masters Division player—and Indianapolis native—Mike Newman isn’t feeling the pressure of Nationals. But if his dominance through this season is any indication, Mike will still be really tough to beat. Read on about his approach and strategy heading into the National Championships.
Pokemon.com: First, how long have you been playing the Pokémon TCG?
Mike: Only for a couple of years, actually. I collected the cards a lot when I was younger. Last year I dug them out and decided to play with my friends. Then I went online and discovered that people were playing competitively. I’m one of the few of my friends that really stuck with it, though.
Pokemon.com: How do you practice with your friends?
Mike: I’m one of the last people I know to get in on the whole online play thing. My best friend Travis and I live 30 seconds away from each other, so we play 10 or 15 games a week. So most of my testing is in person, and with the same person.
Pokemon.com: How have you done throughout the season?
Mike: I got off to a really slow start. I didn’t earn any Championship Points through Autumn Battle Roads. I made a few top cuts at some City Championships, then won Kentucky States, all with a Rayquaza-EX/Eelektrik (“Ray-Eels”) deck.
I had only 110 Championship Points going into States, but this string of wins got me the 290 more points I needed to get a World Championships invitation. Actually, I didn’t think I had a chance to get my invitation until I won the Kentucky States, then I realized I had a chance if I did well at Regionals and Battle Roads.
Pokemon.com: Let’s hear about your Spring Regional Championships victory in Georgia.
Mike: Sure. The Regionals in Madison, Wisconsin, was actually a lot closer and where a lot of my friends went, but I opted to go the extra 100 miles to Georgia to see some family and because the weather was way nicer.
It was a wacky tournament, though. I was playing my Ray-Eels deck, which doesn’t do that well against decks with a lot of big Basic Pokémon in it, like Tornadus-EX. But in the first six Swiss rounds I managed to completely avoid big Basic decks altogether. I started out 6–0, which guaranteed me a spot in the top cut. Then in the last two Swiss rounds I faced big Basic decks and lost both times. I was lucky enough to dodge them until the end—facing one of them any earlier maybe would have cost me top cut.
Only two of these big Basic decks made the top cut, and I didn’t have to face either of them. They got eliminated before I could play them, which definitely helped me win.
Pokemon.com: We’ve seen a lot of these big Basic decks in play at tournaments, so it’s a little surprising you didn’t play against a lot of them. Why do you think that is?
Mike: I know that a lot of people were expecting big Basics and planning against them, even as they played their own Big Basic decks. They ended up just beating each other up. There ended up being this dynamic where they were so concentrated on other big Basic decks, they lose to other kinds of decks that maybe were weaker.
Pokemon.com: What is it that you like about the Ray-Eels deck?
Mike: I really like that you can set up a state that your opponents can’t do much about. If you can weather the early rounds where your smaller Basic Pokémon are getting picked off, eventually you get to a point where your opponent can’t keep up with your attacks every turn. This deck did really well for me at States, so I didn’t really see any reason to abandon it for Regionals.
Pokemon.com: With such an amazing run with this particular deck, do you plan on keeping it as you head to the National Championships?
Mike: I think if I needed a few points at Nationals to get my Worlds invitation, maybe I’d do something different. But since I already have the invitation, Nationals is going to be more about fun to me than the competition. And I already have something of a gimmicky reputation for always playing this deck that it kind of outweighs my raw desire to win.
Pokemon.com: Do you think the experience of playing the same deck at competitively for so long gives you an advantage?
Mike: Absolutely. 100%. There’s no way I would’ve have won at Regionals if I hadn’t been playing it through States and most of Cities.
Pokemon.com: Now that the Black & White—Plasma Freeze expansion is out, does that change the effectiveness of your deck against Team Plasma decks?
Mike: Ray-Eels has a really tough time against Team Plasma decks. I’ll probably play Ray-Eels regardless just because I want to—I think I could do well with it but I don’t care if I don’t. But I have spent a lot of my pre-Nationals practice figuring out my way around the Team Plasma matchup and seeing how I can make my deck work against it.
I’ll probably have to tweak my deck list a little though. Victini-EX was my hero all the way through Regionals, and the big reason I was ever able to beat big Basic decks. I was really happy to come up with the idea to play Victini-EX on my own, too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do well against Team Plasma, and sometimes makes my deck worse. I need to find something else to make my deck work against Team Plasma.
Pokemon.com: You’re from Indianapolis. Are you going to have friends and fans out to watch you play?
Mike: Ha, I doubt it. I’ll probably drag my girlfriend along. She knows a lot of the players at tournaments, and often brings baked goods, so she’s pretty popular. [laughs] But I don’t really expect non-players to come out and cheer me on.
Pokemon.com: With your World Championships invitation in hand, the pressure is off for a good performance at Nationals. How does that change your approach to Nationals going in?
Mike: Since I got enough points at Battle Roads and there’s nothing riding on how I do at Nationals, I think I’ll just have a lot more fun. And actually I expect to do better now that I don’t have to worry about the points.
Pokemon.com: Having the National Championships in your hometown must be a bit of a double-edged sword. You don’t have to travel, but you also don’t get to travel.
Mike: Definitely. It’s especially true this year where I would have won travel for winning a Regional Championships. It’s more of a blessing than a curse, but I definitely get jealous when I see people booking their flights and hotel rooms. And I’ll get to go to Vancouver for Worlds!
Pokemon.com: What kinds of decks do you expect to see a lot of at Nationals?
Mike: I’m expecting a lot of Team Plasma decks, but also a lot of Darkrai-EX decks still. Both of these decks are just super good. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Darkrai-EX deck won Worlds again this year. It’s just so good. Even when a card like a supposed Darkrai-EX stopper like Landorus-EX comes out, it hangs on.
Pokemon.com: So how many players from out of town are asking to crash at your place for the weekend?
Mike: I get that...a lot. [laughs] But luckily for the most part I’ve managed to dodge the couch crashers. A few people who are coming early or hanging around late are staying with me, which I don’t mind at all.
Good luck at Nationals in July, Mike!
Be sure to follow coverage of the Pokémon National Championships from July 5–7 here on Pokemon.com!