More Event Coverage
By contributing writer Kyle Sabelhaus
The atmosphere at the Latin America International Championships was electric as players from around the world gathered in São Paulo, Brazil with full hearts to compete in the first International Championship of the 2020 season. This event was the first time that the Sun & Moon—Cosmic Eclipse expansion was legal for a major event, so countless hours of strategizing and playtesting were finally put to the test.
In the Masters Division, more than 780 players competed to become an International Champion. Along with the admiration of your peers, this title also comes with a $10,000 grand prize and 500 Championship Points—which prove crucial for players looking to earn a travel stipend to the Oceania International Championships coming up in February.
The framework was set for an event full of inventive deck engineering, spirited competition, and masterful in-game performances. The only question left: Who would become your 2020 Pokémon TCG Latin America International Champion?
With the introduction of a brand-new expansion in Sun & Moon—Cosmic Eclipse, the established archetypes that found success in this season's Regional Championship and Special Events would not necessarily be the obvious choice for this tournament. For example, Mewtwo & Mew-GX was successful early on in the season, but Malamar decks that feature the new Mimikyu's Shadow Box Ability could now remove the powerful Perfection Ability with some help from Giratina's Distortion Door Ability. This simple combination forced many of the Mewtwo & Mew-GX players into either playing Stealthy Hood to protect their TAG TEAM or to take the risk and hope to avoid Malamar decks that play this new one-two punch.
Pikachu & Zekrom-GX reached high accolades in this young season, even while top players around the world questioned the continued viability of the deck. With the last major event before the Latin America International Championship (and Sun & Moon—Cosmic Eclipse) being won by Joe Bernard and his Pikachu & Zekrom-GX deck, the confusion compounded. The consensus was that this archetype would not see much benefit from the newest expansion besides the addition of Great Catcher, but perhaps this TAG TEAM deck is most dangerous when it flies under the radar.
Control variants have been pushing their way up the tier list, with the top variant before the expansion being Pidgeotto/Oranguru. This deck focuses on the player burning through his or her deck as quickly as possible with Pidgeotto's Air Mail Ability and using certain Trainer and Supporter cards over and over with the help of Oranguru's Resource Management attack. This strategy is slow and requires a pilot with near-omniscient abilities to maintain a healthy hand, discard pile, and deck, all while controlling the draws of the opponent via Chip-Chip Ice Axe. With the current format— best-of-3 and 50-minute time limit—the Pidgeotto/Oranguru player seeks to win a 40-45-minute game one and allow time to expire before there's any opportunity for a tie in the second game. With strong finishes in Regional Championships featuring both the Standard and Expanded format, the deck looked to become even stronger with some help from the Sun & Moon—Cosmic Eclipse expansion. A new TAG TEAM Supporter in Bellelba & Brycen-Man has an initial effect of both players discarding the top 3 cards of their deck. This trade-off seems fair, but with Oranguru's Resource Management attack, the replacement of those cards becomes much easier to deal with. In combination with Lt. Surge's Strategy, multiple Bellelba & Brycen-Man in a turn had the potential to give this control deck some speed in a pinch. The upgrade don't end with just one new TAG TEAM Supporter either, as Misty & Lorelei have a trick up their sleeves, as well. At the hefty cost of discarding five cards from hand, your water Pokémon can use their GX attacks even if you have used them already in the game. Articuno-GX was the answer to large threats with multiple energy like a Mewtwo & Mew-GX or a Reshiram & Charizard-GX, as Cold Crush GX removed all these energy for the cost of a single Water energy. With the potential to achieve this a second time in a game, Pidgeotto/Oranguru appeared on paper to be a top contender for Top 8.
With all the prep work done, players took their seats on Friday to test their abilities among the best competition there is to offer. The first featured match of the day included the current reigning Champion of the Latin America Internationals, Daniel Altavilla from the United States. Daniel worked with many other top Champion Point-earning players from his country to concoct the next winning strategy. This came in the form of Naganadel & Guzzlord-GX from the Sun & Moon—Cosmic Eclipse expansion: paired with the Mismagius' Mysterious Message Ability, this deck has the potential to give and take prizes in an explosive fashion. Daniel gave the field a glimpse of its power with Beast Bringer, a Tool card that theoretically could allow him to win the game by scoring one knock-out on a TAG TEAM Pokémon for 4 prize cards, then using Chaotic Order-GX with the additional energy costs to take the remaining 2 prize cards. Combine this power with the disruption of Reset Stamp, and it looked like the Americans may have discovered a way to shock the field. Of course, none of these vicious combinations are possible when you start with a lone Misdreavus, attach an Energy, then pass, as is what happened to Daniel. Brazil's Denner Ramires prevailed over Daniel in the opening match with only two minutes remaining on the clock, giving everyone a reminder of the sustained power of Mewtwo & Mew-GX.
Throughout the rest of the first day, the mist surrounding the metagame eventually faded and decks in true contention began to emerge. At the feature table, Nico Alabas of Germany put on a repeat performance of the Reshiram & Charizard-GX/Ninetales dominance from the World Championships. This victory gave him a 5-0 record to lead off the Latin America International Championships, a feat that ended up matching him against two-time International Champion Stéphane Ivanoff. Stéphane gave a spirited showing with a Silvally-GX/Quagsire deck focused around the new TAG TEAM Supporter Red & Blue, but Alabas proved to be too much for him this time around.
The first day's action lived up to expectations, with players finding success a bunch of new and tweaked decks. After 9 rounds of heart-pounding action, the Masters Division field of over 780 was now down to 88 hopefuls.
Surveying those who made it to day two, the deck that truly stood out as the prime contender, at least by sheer numbers, was the new Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX from the Sun & Moon—Cosmic Eclipse expansion. With more than 30 such instances in the Day Two field, it was likely that your favorite player was either playing this deck or going to have to face off against it in order to become a champion. But prevalence doesn't always mean dominance, especially in the Pokémon TCG. After several more Swiss rounds to narrow the field down to the Top 8, it became clear that there was more than one way to win it all here in Brazil.
Playing in his home country, Gustavo Wada, the reigning champion of the European International Championship, had worked his way back into another Top 8 with a truly original build of Giratina & Garchomp-GX with Mismagius and Omastar. Gustavo's run would end in 6th place after Chilean Giovanni Peregallo and his Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX overtook the European International Champion. Giovanni would finish a solid 3rd place. Ondrej Skubal was another standout during the tournament with his Florges/Lillie's Poké Doll control variant. After being among the first to secure his Top 8 spot in Day Two, it appeared that Ondrej ran into the one deck remaining that could counter his strategy: Blacephalon-GX and Naganadel-GX piloted by Lucas Gusso of Brazil. Naganadel-GX and its Stinger-GX attack, in combination with the newest Blacephalon from Sun & Moon—Cosmic Eclipse, can spread damage across the board. That proved a surefire way to stop Ondrej, who ended up finishing in 5th place. Lucas' run ended there, however, as he placed 4th in the final standings. Victor Viera of Brazil reached the Top 8 playing the Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX deck, but ran into Dutch player Bryan de Vries' powerhouse Mewtwo & Mew-GX and finished in 7th. To round out the final placings, Matthew Burris of Australia played a spirited feature match against top-seeded Robin Schulz of Germany, but his Mewtwo & Mew-GX deck seemed to fail him at the worst possible time, leaving Matthew in the 8th spot at the International Championship.
The Champion of Champions
After nearly two full days of competition and a grueling Top 8 and Top 4 against some of the best players in the world, the stage was set for our final. 2018 World Champion Robin Schulz had made his way back to another prestigious Championship match. Piloting his current favorite deck in Reshiram & Charizard-GX, Robin would face off against Bryan de Vries. Bryan was playing that powerhouse Mewtwo & Mew-GX deck mentioned earlier, which absolutely dominated Giovanni Peregallo in the Top 4. When interviewed after Top 4, Robin admitted this matchup would likely be unfavorable to him and even pinpointed the Charizard-GX Flare Blitz-GX attack along with Great Catcher as two key factors in the matchup.
The Latin American International Championship finals got off to a little bit of a rocky start. The match began with the announcement that Bryan de Vries would start one game down in the best--of-3 match due to an error with his deck sleeves. This news meant that Robin would need to win only one game for another title. To make things even more difficult for Bryan, he started with one of the worst Pokémon for this matchup in Espeon & Deoxys-GX. Not only did this mean 3 prize cards would be vulnerable for the rest of the game, but the 2 Energy retreat cost of this Pokémon card put Bryan in trouble early. As Robin began to set up two incredible attackers in Reshiram & Charizard-GX along with Mega Lopunny & Jigglypuff-GX from Sun & Moon—Cosmic Eclipse, Bryan had only one Mewtwo & Mew-GX with Energy on the Bench and a stubborn Espeon & Deoxys-GX in the active position. Finally, the turn came where Bryan would take a risk. With Mega Lopunny & Jigglypuff-GX and its Jumping Balloon in mind, Bryan decided he would fill the board with Pokémon-GX and use Dedenne-GX's Dedechange Ability to try and find the Great Catcher to turn the tide. There were 11 cards in his deck and this allowed him to draw six cards, but the Great Catcher rested on the bottom of the deck, and Bryan was forced to knock out a Jirachi. After Robin returned a knockout on Bryan's best Pokémon with a Jumping Balloon, Bryan acknowledged the match was over and the crowd erupted as Robin Schulz was crowned the International Champion of Latin America.
The Senior and Junior Divisions
In the Junior Division, Marley S., playing the Pidgeotto/Oranguru control deck, faced off against Pedro A. of Brazil. With Pedro playing the Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX deck, the clock was ticking on Marley to establish control of the match quickly. After receiving a double prize penalty, Marley saw the writing on the wall for the first game and quickly scooped up his cards to attempt a comeback. Pedro set up well again with immense pressure applied by the Altered Creation-GX and Ultimate Ray attacks of his Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX. Marley found an opportunity to potentially put Pedro down to zero cards in-hand and no Energy on the active Pokémon, but played his hand slightly out of sequence. Pedro took advantage and used Switch on his other Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX to end the Championship Match in the Junior Division.
The Senior Division final featured Lochie M. from New Zealand and Renan T. from Brazil. With Lochie on a Mewtwo & Mew-GX deck and Renan playing Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX, the match was sure to be full of excitement. Renan played all of the counters available to help in the matchup, using Absol's Dark Ambition Ability to add to the retreat cost of Lochie's Jirachi, and Choice Helmet to allow his TAG TEAM trio to take a Flare Blitz-GX from Charizard-GX without being knocked out. However, after Renan failed to find enough Energy to use Ultimate Ray, the first game quickly went to Lochie. With a quick second game going to Renan, the stage was set for a final game to determine the Champion. Both players went into their usual strategies, with Lochie managing to take down an Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX with Flare Blitz-GX. The game then turned into Greninja Mist Slash vs Keldeo-GX and its Pure Heart Ability. Both players used the Mallow & Lana TAG TEAM Supporter to heal their Pokémon for several turns, but eventually that came to a halt when Renan missed a turn of healing. Lochie capitalized with an Acro Bike into Great Catcher to end the match and become the Champion.
With the first International of the 2020 Championship Series season officially in the books, players and fans around the world now look toward the upcoming Regional Championships and the soon-approaching Oceania International Championships in February. Be sure to check back with Pokemon.com to follow the latest Pokémon TCG news and updates!