By Andrew Wamboldt, Contributing Writer
Day 2 of the Pokémon North American International Championships kicks off on Saturday, June 22 at 8:45 a.m. It's going to be a busy day on Twitch.tv/PokemonTCG, with all three divisions in action. Masters Division players who qualified for Day 2 will play six additional Swiss rounds to determine the Top 8, then those players will also play their Top 8 matches. The Senior Division concluded its Swiss rounds on Friday and will showcase Top 8 and Top 4 matches on Saturday, while the Junior Division tournament gets underway.
In the first day of the event, the Masters and Senior Division players put on quite the show. We saw big contenders continue to perform well, along with some surprise decks and new innovations to existing decks. Check out what happened Friday and what to expect as the matches continue on Saturday.
The Fire and Clown Show
For both the Masters and Senior Dvisions, the most popular deck here in Columbus was Reshiram & Charizard-GX, which has proven to be one of the strongest in the format after winning two Regional Championships in May. The deck sets up quickly, using Kiawe and Welder to accelerate Energy to its Pokémon. Once powered up, Reshiram & Charizard-GX is a powerful attacker capable of knocking out most Pokémon with a single Flare Strike attack. A common inclusion in this deck was Eevee & Snorlax-GX, which gives the deck another powerful attacker that cannot be hit for the Water weakness Reshiram & Charizard-GX shares with most other Fire-types.
Using Water-type Pokémon to hit Reshiram & Charizard-GX for weakness was a common strategy used against the deck, with some players splashing Slowking or Dewgong into their decks. Swampert saw play in both Gardevoir-GX and Nidoqueen decks because it can attack with a single Triple Acceleration Energy or Super Boost Energy. Some competitors even played decks entirely built around Water-type Pokémon, such as the Quagsire/Naganadel deck.
Reshiram & Charizard-GX wasn't the only Fire-type deck that was popular this weekend, however; the Blacephalon-GX/Naganadel deck, which won the Madison Regional Championship in June, was also a favorite. This deck thrives in tournaments where Pokémon-GX are heavily played, as it can knock them out with a single Mind Blown attack. That's especially game-changing against TAG TEAM decks when it gets those three prize cards for a knock out. Persian-GX was a popular inclusion in the deck this weekend, giving players a way to search out their Beast Ring when needed.
Blacephalon decks also were successful in Day 1. Blacephalon can inflict one-hit knockouts with its Fireball Circus attack, allowing it to create favorable prize trades against other decks. Some competitors played the deck with four Blacephalon as the only Pokémon, while others played it alongside support Pokémon like Salazzle to add some extra card draw to the deck.
Lightning Decks Electrify the Field
The second most played deck in the field on Friday was Pikachu & Zekrom-GX. The deck continues to be one of the most powerful and fastest decks in the format, able to unleash Full Blitz early in the game by accelerating Energy with Tapu Koko Prism Star, then accelerating more Energy with the attack.
Zapdos variants also continued to do well, with most players choosing the Ultra Beast variant of the deck—it uses Buzzwole and Nihilego to add some powerful attacks. We'll see if it can make a charge into Day 2 past some of the bigger Pokémon-GX archetypes in field.
Zoroark-GX's Last Stand
With Zoroark-GX rotating out of the Standard format before the World Championships, this tournament is the last time players can use this Pokémon at a major Standard event. It has had an incredible run, enjoying success at all levels of play, including wins at Regional Championships, International Championships, and a World Championship.
With the release of Sun & Moon—Unbroken Bonds, Zoroark-GX gained Triple Acceleration Energy, allowing it to be paired with new Pokémon that can now be powered up via a single Energy attachment. It also gave players more Energy compatible with Zoroark-GX itself.
Zoroark-GX's most common partner in today's matches was Persian-GX, but beyond that inclusion, there were variations abound. Slowking and Dewgong were used as Water-type teammates to counter Reshiram & Charizard-GX. Fighting-type Pokémon also saw play to counter Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, other Zoroark-GX decks, and Eevee & Snorlax-GX. Lycanroc-GX and Lucario-GX were most frequently selected for this role. Silvally-GX was also played along with Fighting Memory; Silvally-GX becomes a Fighting-type when that card's attached, allowing the Pokémon to hit for Fighting weakness.
A somewhat surprising new partner that was popular among some of the recent champions from Europe—including Stephane Ivanoff, Robin Schulz, and Tord Reklev—was Naganadel-GX. This combination is effective against TAG TEAM decks because you can use the Stinger-GX attack to bring both players to three Prize Cards, allowing you to win the game with a single knockout on a TAG TEAM Pokémon-GX.
Other Decks Seeing Success
The depth of the current meta was on full display Friday. Some players made it into Day 2 using Malamar or Ultra Necrozma-GX decks, while others used only Psychic attackers. Stall variants were also successful on Day 1, with most based around Lucario & Melmetal-GX. Other common Pokémon used in stall decks were Hoopa, Regigigas, and Stakataka, and a few of this style of deck played Vileplume to prevent Basic Pokémon from attacking. Some of the more successful stall players also utilized attackers, such as Buzzwole, Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX, White Kyurem, and Frost Rotom.
Yet another stall deck that put a player into Day 2 was a prize denial variant that uses Shedinja to prevent the opponent from taking prizes while it puts its disruption resources back into the deck with Oranguru's Resource Management.
There were also some surprises in the decks that advanced to Day 2. One of these was the Spiritomb/Stunfisk variant that Hunter Butler played on stream. It uses the damage counters Spiritomb puts on itself with its Building Spite Ability to boost the damage output of Stunfisk's Electric Trap attack, which does more damage for each Pokémon you have in play with damage counters on it. The deck then uses Damage Mover to move damage counters to other Pokémon to further boost the damage of Electric Trap.
Doublade decks, known as Tool Drop decks, also saw success. The Tool Drop attack does 30 damage for each Pokémon Tool attached to all Pokémon. The deck uses a variety of Pokémon Tool cards. These included Metal Frying Pan, to reduce damage received, Choice Band, to increase damage, and Stealthy Hood, to keep its Abilities active against Ability lock.
Some other under-the-radar decks that got players into Day 2 include Weezing spread, Quagsire/Naganadel, and a Blissey.
The Senior Division Top 8
The Senior Division finished their Swiss rounds on Friday and will begin playing their Top 8 cut on Saturday. Here are the matchups:
Regan R. [US] (Weezing) vs. Joao Gabriel P. [BR] (Reshiram
Lucas X. [CA] (Zoroark-GX/Persian-GX) vs. Mateus C.R. [BR] (Zapdos TEU 40/Ultra Beasts)
Rowan S. [CA] (Zoroark GX/Persian-GX) vs. Kaya L. [DE] (Lucario & Melmetal-GX Stall)
Isaiah B.[US] (Zoroark-GX/Persian-GX) vs. Frank M. [US] (Weezing)
The winners of the first two matches listed will play each other in the semifinals, as will the winners of the last two matches.
The North America Pokémon TCG International Championships has already been a fascinating competition, both in the variety of decks and the amount of high-quality play. Be sure to see more of both as the event continues on Saturday on Twitch.tv/PokemonTCG!
About the Writer
Andrew Wamboldt has played in competitive Pokémon TCG tournaments since 2011. He competed in the Pokémon TCG World Championship in 2015 and 2016. He has a degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri.