More Event Coverage
By contributing writer Markus Stadter
The first International Championship of the 2020 season was also the fourth and final major tournament using the Ultra Series format. Once upon a time, it looked like Rayquaza and Xerneas would dominate the format; Flavio del Pidio won the 2019 European International Championships using that exact pairing, Wolfe Glick took the North American International Championships with Primal Kyogre and Rayquaza, and Hirofumi Kimura emerged victorious at the Japan National Championships with the unorthodox duo of Solgaleo and Rayquaza. But neither Rayquaza nor Xerneas made it into the Masters' finals at the World Championships, with Primal Groudon and Lunala instead leading Naoto Mizobushi's team to victory. . With the format seemingly wide open, players and spectators were eager to see what combination of Legendary Pokémon would step into the spotlight at the Latin America International Championships.
In the Pokémon VGC Power Rankings leading up to the event, Pokemon.com's panel of video game experts predicted Xerneas and Primal Groudon would be the hottest archetype going into the tournament. With a supporting cast of Mega Kangaskhan, Tornadus, Incineroar, and Amoonguss it seemed as if the best way to design Xerneas teams had been figured out, and each competitor should expect to play against a few such teams.
The other story was whether players from the United States would continue their dominance over this specific tournament. Ashton Cox won the first and the third instances of the Latin America International Championships in 2017 and 2019, while Carson Confer won the tournament in 2018. Would Latin America's talented player base, including 2018 World Champion and 2019 Latin America International semifinalist Paul Ruiz and local hero Gabriel Agati, who was coming off a top-16 performance at this year's World Championship, be able to win the biggest tournament in their region for the very first time?
Ultra Necrozma Bursts the Competition
The Ultra Series unleashed one of the strongest Pokémon ever allowed in competitive play: Ultra Necrozma. Despite a lot of initial interest, players had been hesitant to use it early in the series. Ultra Necrozma finally broke out at the 2019 World Championships, where Japanese National Champion Hirofumi Kimura used it on a unique team alongside Umbreon to finish in second place. Trainers solved how to best make use of Necrozma's Dawn Wings or Dusk Mane forms before Ultra Bursting, giving them greater flexibility. Almost always paired with a Tapu Lele holding Choice Scarf, Ultra Necrozma can use its exclusive Z-Move Light That Burns The Sky to knock out most opponents in one hit. Mega Salamence and Primal Groudon usually round out a core that is incredibly difficult to break. In this year's Latin America Masters Division finals, Javier Valdez couldn't make much headway against James Baek, who was using this exact core, despite Javier having both a Lunala and a Mandibuzz, which seemed tailor made to beat such a team. This marks James' second appearance in the finals of the Latin America International Championship— he came very close to winning this event last year before losing a close set to Ashton Cox. With James' victory this year, a player from the United States once again took home the title, and we will have to wait at least another year to see a home player from the region win in Latin America.
Primal Kyogre's Reign Is Over
Though players had to overcome some extreme real-life weather conditions to check-in for the event on Thursday, Primal Kyogre and its heavy rain was absent for almost the entirety of the tournament. James Baek made it all the way to Top-4 at the World Championships with Xerneas and Primal Kyogre, but he decided to abandon the latter for this tournament and switched to Primal Groudon, just like many of his fellow competitors. Previously Primal Kyogre's most common partner, Rayquaza was instead used primarily with Lunala (in the hands of Javier Valdez and Nicholas Kan) or Xerneas (Jean Paul Lopez and Yuya Tada), and made it to the finals of all three divisions, even winning in the Senior Division.
At the end of this format it seems as if Primal Groudon is the superior option between the two Pokémon capable of Primal Reversion, but many players opted to not use either of them. 2018 North American International Champion and 2019 Latin America International Championship semifinalist Jeremy Rodriguez finished Friday's swiss rounds with a flawless 7-0 record using the combination of Lunala and Xerneas that got him so far in this tournament last season. He stated that he thought this particular pairing was a good fit for an International Championship, as he didn't have to worry too much about weather interactions and could focus more on his own strategy, which was setting up Xerneas aided by three Pokémon that knew the move Fake Out. Cesar Reyes also used Lunala and Xerneas, but his team focused more on defensive synergy and switching between Amoonguss and Incineroar.
No Incineroar in Finals
A certain oft-seen Pokémon was curiously missing from the teams of the Masters Division finalists, and its absence was so shocking that it becomes clear how dominant Incineroar was in this format. The supreme support provided by Incineroar's Intimidate, Fake Out, and U-turn made it almost look like a risky strategy not to incorporate it in a team. However, players found ways to deal with Incineroar efficiently as the season progressed, leading to only one appearance in the Top-4 of this event. Eric Rios was the sole player to reach the semifinals with Incineroar. His team was very solid with Xerneas and Primal Groudon, and for the fourth major event in a row he finished amongst the Top 8 or better! Unlike Eric, James and semifinalist Juan Salerno relied on Salamence for its Intimidate ability, whereas Javier didn't have a any Pokémon with the Intimidate Ability.
Creative Calls in Sao Paolo
In place of more expected choices like Incineroar, Javier Valdez' team was full of surprises and creative twists. He used Mandibuzz as an alternative to Yveltal that does not take up one of the Restricted Legendary Pokémon slots, as well as a unconventional Togedemaru holding Electrium Z to great success. Both his Legendary Pokémon also had some tricks up their sleeve. His Lunala did not carry the common Lunalium Z, but instead was equipped with a Choice Scarf which allowed it to out-speed key Pokémon like the Ultra Necrozma and Tapu Lele that were featured on James Baek's winning team. Javier's Rayquaza used Surf as a surprising way to beat Primal Groudon, since Rayquaza's Air Lock ability allows it to attack with Water-type moves despite Primal Groudon's Desolate Land. Mega Metagross and a Tapu Fini holding Waterium Z rounded out a team which will be remembered as one of the most creative to ever do well at such a high-level tournament. Javier has been known for his unique teams, but this is his best finish in an International tournament.
His finals opponent, James Baek, used Accelgor to win the entire event. He paired the Bug-type with Tapu Lele so that its Psychic Surge would activate Accelgor's Psychic Seed and therefore its Unburden Ability, which increases Accelgor's incredibly high Speed stat even further. While Accelgor didn't make an appearance in the final games, it played a key role in James' semifinals match against Juan and in the Swiss round games that got him there.
Some other outstanding and unique choices came from Junior Division's Champion Angel R., who used Chansey, and 2019 Junior World Championship runner-up Ethan F., who showed off a strategy where he used Soak on his Shedinja to turn it into a pure Water-type Pokémon, making it even more difficult to knock out through its Wonder Guard Ability. Ultimately, just like in their encounter earlier this summer in Washington D.C., Ethan lost to 2019 Junior World Champion Pi W., who went on to finish in the Top-4 of the Senior Division at this tournament. Juan Salerno is another up-and-coming player who recently moved up to a new age division. Following his great results in the Senior Division, Juan made it to the semifinals of his first big tournament in the Masters Division using a team that was very similar to James' and featured Jumpluff.
A big takeaway of the event is that even after months of tournament play in the Ultra Series format, there is still room for improvement and creativity. The prevalence of the move Magic Room is another prime example, as it was used multiple times to prevent Xerneas from consuming its Power Herb and thus the one-turn Geomancy set up. It has particularly great synergy with the Choice Scarf item, as it allows the holder to out-speed Xerneas on the first turn, while then negating the drawback of needing to use the same move repeatedly for the five turns Magic Room is active. This strategy was featured three times among the four Masters Division semifinalists.
The End of an Era
The Latin America International Championships mark the last big event before Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield join the Video Game Championships circuit on January 4, 2020. We are all looking forward to seeing what Trainers come up with in the remainder of the 2020 season and how they will utilize the novel options the new games provide. The next International Championship will be held in Melbourne, Australia on the 21st through 23rd of February, so make sure to tune in.