More Event Coverage
By Evan Latt, Contributing Writer
The first International Championships of the Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield era of competitive Pokémon kicked off with a supersized tournament in Melbourne, Australia. Players traveled from all over the globe to compete in the sold out tournament where, over the course of fourteen rounds of Swiss matches leading into a single-elimination Top Cut bracket, Trainers demonstrated just how much the competitive Pokémon scene has evolved with the new games.
Underdog Dynamax Pokémon and Masterful Max Moves
It's impossible to talk about Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield without addressing the abnormally large Copperajah in the room: Dynamax. And in Melbourne, proper use of Trainers' Dynamax Pokémon and their Max Moves was critical to their successes.
Coming into the Oceania International Championships, many observers may have felt like they had a handle on which Pokémon are going Dynamax in any given match. Pokémon like Tyranitar, Rhyperior, Excadrill, and Togekiss are popular because of their flexibility to either Dynamax or not, while other Pokémon like Durant and Duraludon typically Dynamax when they're selected. Instead of falling into a trap of Dynamaxing the same Pokémon every time, Trainers who succeeded in Melbourne Dynamaxed the Pokémon that would give them the greatest advantage in a match, regardless of their intended strategies.
Perhaps the biggest surprise Dynamax of the tournament was Arcanine, who repeatedly came through for the Trainers bold enough to Dynamax it. Despite being selected mostly to support teams with Intimidate, Snarl, and Will-O-Wisp, instead going on the offense with Dynamaxed Arcanine proved to be a strong answer to some of the unique situations competitors ran into at this tournament. Max Flare was highly valued in Melbourne because it could deal big damage to Excadrill, of course, but also to break through Bisharp and Gourgeist, two Pokémon that had surprisingly strong showings in Melbourne.
Gastrodon is a Pokémon similarly chosen for its support skills, typically soaking up damage and using the Storm Drain Ability to protect its partner from Water-type attacks and sometimes even making use of Yawn to force switches or spread the Sleep status. But once Dynamaxed, Gastrodon proved an even better damage sponge thanks to Dynamax's doubled hit points. It was a common sight in Melbourne to see Gastrodon Dynamax, boost its Special Defense with Max Quake, soak up a bunch of damage, and then recover it all away once Dynamax ended.
As with Max Quake's effect of increasing the user and it's partner's Special Defense, the most successful Trainers relied heavily on the added effects of Max Moves to set up their teams for success instead of being drawn in by the allure of big damage output.
Masters Division Champion Marco Silva demonstrated that in his Quarterfinals set against Eric Rios, opting to teach his Duraludon the surprising Body Press attack to help boost the power of his Dracovish. “The most important thing for Duraludon is to have a Fighting move, but not usually for Max Knuckle. However, when I'm playing, I realized I could boost the Attack of my Dracovish, and that ends up being a good tech, especially against Gastrodon teams,” because it allows Dracovish to pick up KOs without relying on Fishious Rend and the vulnerability to Gastrodon's Storm Drain Ability it brings.
Round after round, games were won and lost based on which competitor could make the most out of each turn of Dynamax. Some of the most impressive examples included Quarterfinalist Yuya Tada showing off Dragapult's Max Geyser to set Rain and power up its partner Wash Rotom early in the tournament, and Finalist (and defending Oceania International Champion) Eduardo Cunha using Togekiss' Max Starfall to set Misty Terrain and protect his Tyranitar from Will-O-Wisp to guarantee victory in his Semifinal.
The VGC Metagame In Melbourne
With the first International Championships in the books, it's time to take stock of how the early Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield metagame is shaking out. While changes are on the way with for Series 3 of battles, the Oceania International Championships solidifies some emerging trendlines. (Don't forget to check out the Oceania Internationals: Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield VGC 2020 Power Rankings to see the panel's expectations entering the tournament.)
Durant: After finals appearances in both the Dallas Regional Championships and the Oceania International Championships, the metagame conversation has to start with Durant. Using Max Moves while Dynamaxed allows Durant to enjoy the full effects of its Hustle Ability to boost its damage output while ignoring the Accuracy drop that non-Dynamaxed Durant must struggle through. With Dynamax, Durant has seen a new lease on life and proven to be able to carry even more than fifty times its weight in the hands of a top Trainer.
In the hands of Masters Division Finalist Eduardo Cunha, Durant showed off its raw damage output in game two of his Semifinals match against Nihal Noor. After Dynamaxing, Durant immediately picked up an overwhelming three straight Knock Outs, even after receiving an Intimidate from Nihal's Arcanine. The match's third game three proved an even more interesting display of Durant's impact as Eduardo sacrificed what should've been his main damage source early in the game. As he told us after the match: “I like using Durant as if it's a Follow Me Pokémon because it forces the opponent to target it because it has so much pressure.” By focusing too much on eliminating the Durant, Nihal gave up pressure and allowed Eduardo to follow his Dynamaxed Togekiss to victory instead.
Dracovish: The Oceania International Championships was a big tournament for Dracovish, who helped take home the title in the Masters Division and reached the Finals in the Senior Division. Initially considered a top-tier competitor in the earliest days of the 2020 Video Game Championships metagame, Dracovish's popularity had fallen off because of its one-dimensional nature. It does one thing (dish out ridiculous amounts of damage), and it does it well, but especially with the rise of Gastrodon, it's become much more difficult for Dracovish players to find opportunities to land those big Fishious Rends.
Dracovish players in the Oceania International Championships are now giving thanks to the supporting players like Whimsicott and Conkeldurr, whose respective Tailwind and Max Knuckle provide opportunities for Dracovish to change its fate by picking up KOs without having to rely exclusively on the overwhelming power of Fishious Rend.
Stat-Increasing Moves: A major trend throughout the tournament was the rise of boosting attackers, especially Swords Dance Excadrill and Nasty Plot Rotom (usually seen in either its Heat or Wash forms). Early on, players discovered the overwhelming power of Weakness Policy when combined with Dynamax. After a boost, a Weakness Policy Pokémon could usually pick up one hit KOs on basically any opposing Pokémon. With Swords Dance and Nasty Plot, Excadrill and Rotom can create their own boosts, limiting the effectiveness of Intimidate and Snarl as counters and opening their item slot for more survivability in the form of a Focus Sash or Sitrus Berry.
Unconventional Strategies: The duo of Bisharp and Gourgeist were Pokémon unlikely to be on anyone's top threat list going into the International Championships, but Bisharp and Gengar finished in the Quarterfinals and Semifinals piloted by Brady Smith and Nihal Noor, respectively. The offensive pressure from Bisharp's Sucker Punch and same type attack bonus-boosted Max Darkness and Max Steelspike after Dynamaxing made Bisharp tough to check. Alongside its partner Rotom's Ally Switch, every move their opponents made were fraught with risk.
The more defensive Gourgeist also ended up being an exceptional call for the Oceania metagame. Reaching both the Quarterfinals and Finals at the hands of Raghav Malaviya and Eduardo Cunha, Gourgeist's Grass typing gave it favorable matchups against the many bulky Water-type Pokémon seen in the field, like Milotic and Gastrodon. Even more importantly, Gourgeist's signature Trick-or-Treat was a rogue call that could be used to help its partner Tyranitar deal more damage with Crunch or Max Darkness or, as Raghav demonstrated in his semifinal match, to defend partner Pokémon like Excadrill from Conkeldurr by adding Ghost-typing to confer immunity to Fighting-type attacks.
A Star is Born in the Junior Division
It seemed like it was going to be a lopsided matchup in the Junior Division Final, with one of the most decorated VGC players of all-time playing against a young rookie in her very first season of competitive play. Justin Miranda-Radbord has 21 Regional Championships to his name, was the defending Oceania International Champion, and he was coming off a Quarterfinals placing in the 2019 World Championships in Washington, DC, too. That's a record that would give any player pause. Simone Lim, however, did not seem the least bit intimidated.
The set's decisive third game truly stunned the audience as both players made their biggest plays of the tournament. Justin revealed that his Glaceon knew Ice Shard, an increased priority attack that can deal super effective damage to his own Rhyperior and activate its Weakness Policy. Its Weakness Policy online, Justin's Rhyperior was able to pick up Knock Outs on most of Simone's Pokémon, with the battle coming down to Justin's Dusclops and Rhyperior versus Simone's lone Tyranitar after Trick Room expired.
Simone had a choice. If she targeted the Rhyperior with Superpower to pick up a Knock Out while Justin had Rhyperior Protect and set Trick Room with Dusclops, she would lose. If she had Tyranitar target Dusclops with Crunch to Knock it Out instead while Justin had Rhyperior attack, she would lose. She made the hard read to target down the Dusclops as Rhyperior helplessly watched behind its Protect because, as she explained after the match, “I knew he'd protect the Rhyperior.” The crowd erupted to celebrate the young rookie who had just upset one of the strongest Junior Division players in Pokémon history to become the Oceania International Champion.
A Tricky Duel in the Senior Division
The Senior Division Final was an all-out brawl between two decorated competitors. Federico Camporesi of Italy had momentum behind him coming into this tournament with a Finals appearance at the Latin American International Championships earlier in the season, as well as a victory at the Bochum Regional Championships, the first large event featuring Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. However, his opponent, Jack Gilbert from Australia, was no stranger to the top stage and hungry for a Championship title after two straight semifinal appearances at the 2018 and 2019 Oceania International Championships. In fact, in a preview of things to come, Jack had already defeated Federico in the final round of Swiss, giving him the confidence to play a fast-paced matchup in the Finals.
The competitors traded impressive wins to open the match, so it was inevitable that the deciding game three was going to be a nail biter. Federico shook up his game plan by Dynamaxing his Sylveon instead of Duraludon on turn one to negate the flinching effect of Grimmsnarl's Fake Out and to Knock Out Jellicent, preventing Jack from getting Trick Room set up at all. That didn't prove to be an issue for Jack, however, as the Dynamax Sylveon and regular Duraludon couldn't exert enough pressure on Jack's Dynamax Rhyperior, who proceeded to pick up Knock Out after Knock Out and secured the Championship for Jack Gilbert and the home crowd.
A Masterful Finish
The Masters Division Final is always the most anticipated match of the day on Championship Sunday, and this year's Oceania International Championships did not disappoint. This final pitted the defending Oceania International Champion, Eduardo Cunha of Portugal, against a young, upstart trainer from Italy who had previously placed in the Seniors Division: Marco Hemantha Kaludura Silva, who had already made a splash at the most recent Latin American International Championships with a top 16 finish.
The finals opened to a showcase on Conkeldurr and Marco's big reads. Marco all but forced Eduardo's strategy to favor his Gastrodon, which has an excellent matchup against the Duraludon and Dracovish on Marco's team. That opened Eduardo up to being punished by a Dynamax Conkeldurr, whose Max Knuckle could punch holes in Eduardo's team. A hard read from Marco that caught Eduardo's Togekiss with Conkeldurr's Max Hailstorm as Togekiss switched into battle took Eduardo's only counter out of the game and gave Marco the win.
In the second and final game of the match, Marco proved to be one step ahead of Eduardo from the jump. By adapting his Pokémon choice to include Heat Rotom, Marco was prepared for Eduardo to try and counter his Conkeldurr with the raw power of Dynamaxed Durant. After dancing around each other for much of the game, Marco finally caught the Durant with his Dynamaxed Heat Rotom. Eduardo matched Rotom's Dynamax with his own on Durant, but without Rock-type coverage, all Eduardo could do was bluff a Knock Out on Rotom. With a game advantage already, Marco was able to call Eduardo's bluff, going all in on a Max Flare and scoring a clean Knock Out on Eduardo's only real source of damage.
With Durant out of the way, Eduardo just couldn't keep up with the damage coming out from Marco's Rotom and Sylveon, paving the way for Marco Silva to defeat the defending champion and bring a Championship home to Italy. With his incredible performance, Marco is the player to beat heading into the Europe International Championships in April.
With the metagame still young, and major shifts coming in as Pokémon like Incineroar and Venusaur become available for competition, Trainers will need to be on their A-game as they continue their path to the Pokémon World Championships in London. The results of the Oceania International Championships show that to succeed in the 2020 Video Game Championships, players are going to need to be more adaptive than ever before. We saw some incredible matches in Melbourne demonstrating why Pokémon is such an exciting and dynamic competitive game, and it can only get better as our players spend more time with the format. This is shaping up to be one of the most exciting years to follow the circuit!