By Jason Krell, Contributing Writer
After many intense battles during the first day of the 2019 North America Video Game International Championships, only 32 trainers from eight countries remain. They'll duke it out all Saturday long at Twitch.tv/PokemonVGC. With teams as fierce and competitive as their play during Day 1, there's plenty to look forward to during Day 2. As the competitions heads into the weekend, let's see what shook out in Friday's action and what to watch for tomorrow.
Same Restricted Pokémon, Different Partners
In the Ultra Series of the Video Game Championship series, the restricted Legendary Pokémon often steal the spotlight. They're strong and flashy, but players have long since narrowed the field to focus on a handful of the most powerful pairings. Duos like Xerneas and Primal Groudon or Mega Rayquaza and Primal Kyogre were dominant all the way back in 2016 when the GS Cup rules were last in effect, and players have spent all season finding the best ways to use the Legendary Pokémon discovered in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. Even with the restricted pairs fairly set, it's thrilling to see diversity in the Pokémon supporting them.
In 2016 teams that relied on Xerneas and Primal Groudon looked very similar—with only one or two different Pokémon that filled similar roles. But at this year's North America International Championships, players have put several different spins on Xerneas and Primal Groudon teams. Many look like the team Paul Chua used to reach Day 2, with Amoonguss, Mega Salamence, Tapu Fini and Incineroar. This version enables Xerneas and Primal Groudon to use a variety of supportive tools, from Fake Out, to speed control, to redirection. Other Xerneas and Primal Groudon teams look more like the one Ashton Cox brought, with Tornadus, Mega Kangaskhan, Mega Metagross, and Tapu Koko. Ashton even said Tornadus and Kangaskhan are the true stars of his team.
“They're a consistent lead, bulky enough without being too bulky, and they're also very powerful,” Ashton said. “They kind of annoy my opponent, for lack of a better word, and put me into a situation where I can take my momentum and then bring in my restricted Pokémon.”
For Mega Rayquaza and Primal Kyogre teams, many rely on teammates such as Tapu Koko, Incineroar, Mega Gengar, and a Steel-type Pokémon—Bronzong and Stakataka are the most common choices, but some players, like 2016 World Champion Wolfe Glick and North America International Championship runner-up Aaron Traylor, decided to try Celesteela instead. According to Wolfe, he and Aaron landed on Celesteela after looking for a specific answer to Paul's Xerneas and Primal Groudon team. Bronzong worked well against the archetype in 2016, but Incineroar wasn't around back then to harass it with Dark-type attacks.
Since that option was too vulnerable, only Celesteela fit their needs. Its Steel and Flying-types let it check Xerneas while maintaining complete immunity to Groudon's Fire-type and Ground-type attacks while Primal Kyogre's Heavy Rain is in effect. Celesteela can't learn Trick Room like Bronzong can, but Wolfe said Wide Guard was just as valuable when dealing with the many powerful spread attacks in the GS Cup format.
Celesteela is also very durable, with good defensive stats, and access to HP recovery from Leftovers and Leech Seed. However, Wolfe said many players make the mistake of training Celesteela too defensively. Instead, Wolfe trained his Celesteela so its Beast Boost ability raises its Attack stat whenever he lands a knockout. This makes Heavy Slam even more threatening to all Pokémon, and not just Fairy-types.
Will their Celesteela strategy to continue to pay off? Be sure to watch Twitch.tv/PokemonVGC to see if these top players to continue their run on Saturday.
Thinking Outside the Pokémon Box
While the field was full of familiar faces, a few less commonly used Pokémon made a huge impact.
Mega Medicham was the star of Day 1, and Graham Amedee used it to qualify for Day 2 by winning seven straight rounds. Graham said he picked Mega Medicham not only for its disruptive Fake Out and the overwhelming Attack boost from its Pure Power Ability, but also for another important reason.
“Whatever hits Lunala super-effectively or what Lunala can't hit offensively, Medicham covers,” Graham said. “I've pretty much been bringing Mega Medicham and Lunala to all my games.”
Graham proved this on-stream during Round 2 when his Mega Medicham scored a one-hit Knock-Out on Aaron Traylor's Incineroar with High Jump Kick despite suffering from Intimidate twice. By finding the perfect complement to the Lunala and Primal Kyogre combination he's used since the first day of the Ultra Series, Graham is in a good position to make a deep run this weekend.
Meanwhile, Melvin Keh qualified for Day 2 by bringing the same Shedinja team he used to finish in the top four at the 2019 European International Championships. Players still struggled to get around its Wonder Guard ability, especially when Tapu Fini can change Shedinja it into a Water-type with Soak and alter its weaknesses. He is going into Day 2 with an undefeated record.
Players like Ben Grissmer also succeeded with Shedinja, but his team featured an even bigger surprise: Mega Lopunny. With its extremely high Speed stat, Mega Lopunny has the fastest Fake Out in the game. But this isn't just a one-trick Lopunny—Ben used the Pokémon's devastating Giga Impact to score pivotal knock outs on Pokémon with far more value.
Joohwan Kim reached Day 2 using a creative team featuring his signature Pokémon, Lilligant. Joohwan made a name for himself during 2017 using Harsh Sunlight to trigger Chlorophyll's Speed boost, and now he's using Primal Groudon's Extremely Harsh Sunlight to do the same. Lilligant's Leaf Storm gives him powerful Grass-type coverage against Primal Kyogre, and Sleep Powder helps neutralize other threats for a few turns. With the rest of his team set up to deal with the other restricted Pokémon, Joohwan has the chance to win with his favorite.
Finally, Gary Qian was the only player to reach Day 2 using Mewtwo. The team was a throwback to 2016, when he used something similar to reach top 12 during the U.S. National Championships. This year Gary traded in his Venusaur and Primal Groudon synergy for a Tapu Lele, which uses its Psychic Surge ability to boost the power of Mewtwo's Psychic attacks to ridiculous levels.
As you can see, the North America International Challenges have been packed with surprises from many talented Trainers. It's going to be an exciting run as we head into the weekend. Congratulations to everyone who competed on Day 1 and good luck to the Trainers advancing to Day 2. Be sure to watch Twitch.tv/PokemonVGC all day Saturday to catch the action.