By Contributing Writer Ellis Longhurst
Over three weekends, nearly one thousand Trainers from around the globe battled in the Pokémon Players Cup Region Qualifiers to earn a place in the Finals. The tournament brought Trainers to a new battlefield—The Pokémon Trading Card Game Online—and used a challenging double-elimination structure. Sixteen Top Trainers from the North America, Europe, Latin America, and Oceania Rating zones rose to the challenge, earning a place in the Finals and the chance to win one of four travel awards to a future International Championship of their choice.
The Finals will be broadcast on August 29 and 30 at Twitch.tv/Pokemon and YouTube.com/Pokemon. The finalists are able to change their decks between the Region Qualifiers and the Finals, so take a look at the decks they used to make it there; then, tune in to the stream to find out what decks they choose to use in the final rounds! Before you jump into the exciting battles, continue reading to catch up on how the Players Cup unfolded and to find out what to expect from the Finals.
The Players Cup Kickoff Invitational
Before the Region Qualifiers began, the Pokémon Players Cup was kicked off with a special, online invitational tournament that featured eight Top Trainers and former champions. The winner would earn a spot in the Pokémon Players Cup Finals in August. Despite there being only a small number of Trainers competing, the path to victory at this tournament was not easy—every competitor had previously earned a Regional, International, or World Championship trophy!
Tord Reklev of Norway was unfazed by his competition. Through the Play Pokémon broadcast on Twitch, the world watched on as Tord expertly piloted the new Dragapult VMAX deck to victory, defeating Trainers like the 2017 Europe International Champion, Michael Pramawat, and the 2019 World Champion, Henry Brand, along the way. With an impressive three international titles to his name, Tord continues to build a case to be considered the best Pokémon TCG player of all time. He is seen by many in the competitive community as the favorite to win it all as he enters the Finals.
Region Qualifiers Deck Breakdowns
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dragapult VMAX emerged as the most popular deck across all Region Qualifiers—almost one quarter of the competitors chose to battle using this Psychic-type Pokémon. The deck is designed to place loads of damage counters on the opponent's Pokémon through the use of Stadium cards, Special Energy cards, and Pokémon attacks and Abilities. Once the opponent's Pokémon are weakened, Dragapult VMAX can achieve multiple Knock Outs using its Max Phantom attack—sometimes collecting six Prize Cards in one turn!
In addition to Tord Reklev, four competitors qualified for the Finals using the Dragapult VMAX deck: Tim Bartels of Germany, Victor Freitas of Brazil, Dan Hugar of the USA, and Austin Ianham of the USA. While their overall strategy was the same, these competitors brought their own flare to the deck. For example, Dan Hugar included a Mr. Mime to prevent his opponents from removing damage counters from the battlefield, while Tim Bartels sought to disrupt his opponents using Crushing Hammers and Power Plant. Seeing which of these variants finds the most success in the Finals will certainly be something to watch for.
Pikachu & Zekrom-GX
Almost one-fifth of the competitors in the Region Qualifiers pinned their qualifying hopes on the Pikachu & Zekrom-GX deck. The deck has been a powerhouse since it debuted at the 2019 Oceania International Championships, and the addition of new cards from the Sword & Shield—Rebel Clash expansion, like Boltund V and Speed Lightning Energy, continued to make it an attractive choice.
Six of the sixteen competitors who qualified for the Finals did so by using the Pikachu & Zekrom-GX deck, including all three of the qualifiers from Oceania. Natalie Millar and Matthew Burris, both of Australia, proved to be an unstoppable tag team of their own: They played the same 60-card combination and remained undefeated throughout the Oceania Qualifier until they faced each other in the final round. Both players earned a Top 8 at an International Championship earlier this season and are hungry to convert that momentum into a major win. In the Finals, they are joined by four other competitors who qualified using Pikachu & Zekrom-GX: David Daritan of Australia, Tamao Cameron of the UK, Will Jenkins of the USA, and Alejandro Nunez of Chile.
Zacian V Combo, Blacephalon
It is not unusual for Zacian V to dominate a tournament, but it may be surprising to read that it did so without Arceus, Dialga & Palkia-GX, who has been a steadfast partner until now. Instead of relying on Altered Creation-GX, the new Zacian V combo deck is designed to take an extra Prize card with each Knock Out by using Jirachi Prism Star's Wish Upon a Star Ability. In combination with Oranguru, Mr. Mime, and Scoop Up Net, this effect can even be achieved multiple times per game. Zacian V continues to be the hero of the deck, but it now has a new method to expedite a victory.
The Zacian V combo deck was piloted by three of the competitors who qualified for the Finals: Alex Piney of Germany, Sam Taylor of the UK, and Heitor Gomes of Brazil. This is the first Top Cut at an international tournament for each of these competitors. While their lists had many similarities, there was no consensus on the best 60-card combination. For example, Alex was the only competitor who prepared to battle against Pikachu & Zekrom-GX by including a Mew in his deck, while Heitor saw merit in using a Zamazenta V to gain an advantage against Dragapult VMAX.
Marco Antonio of Chile also qualified for the Finals with the help of Zacian V. However, unlike the other competitors who qualified, Marco's deck did not include Jirachi Prism Star. Instead, his deck was designed to prevent his opponent's Pokémon from achieving Knock Outs by reducing the damage output of their attacks. By taking advantage of Lucario & Melmetal-GX's Full Metal Wall-GX attack, the Metal Frying Pan Item card, and the Mallow & Lana Supporter card, Marco's Zacian V could withstand more attacks than usual. Marco proved that you don't need to take extra Prize Cards each turn if you are able to prevent your opponent from taking any!
Despite being the third most played deck during the Region Qualifiers, only one competitor qualified for the Finals using a Blacephalon deck: Tyson Blatter of the USA. This could be explained by the high prevalence of unfavorable match-ups or because competitors prepared strategies to defeat Blacephalon. For example, Sam Taylor, Heitor Gomes and Alex Piney all included a Tapu Fini in their Zacian combo decks. Tyson managed to survive all the way to the Finals, but it'll be interesting to see if he feels he needs to make changes before the conclusive battles begin.
Finals Series Format
The Pokémon Players Cup Finals bring a twist to the tournament. Not only is it the first opportunity for Trainers to compete using cards from the Sword & Shield—Darkness Ablaze expansion, but they will also need to navigate a new card format rotation. This means that competitors will be required to submit a new deck list that only uses cards released since the Sun & Moon—Team Up expansion.
Many of the current top decks include cards that are rotating out of the Standard format. For example, Dragapult VMAX utilizes Mysterious Treasure, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX relies on Electropower and Thunder Mountain Prism Star, and the new Zacian V deck requires Jirachi Prism Star to execute its strategy. Don't be surprised to see new iterations of existing decks or completely new archetypes show up in the Players Cup Finals.
One of those new archetypes is likely to feature Darkness-type Pokémon from the new Sword & Shield—Darkness Ablaze expansion. By taking full advantage of its Infinity Max Ability, Eternatus VMAX's Dread End attack can deal up to 270 damage for a cost of only two Energy. That's enough damage to Knock Out most Pokémon in one hit! Crobat V's Night Asset Ability allows players to draw until they have six cards when it is played from the hand, and Hoopa is a single prize attacker than can easily take Knock Outs on Pokémon with low Hit Points. With the new Piers Supporter card, these Pokémon can easily be drawn from the deck. In combination, these new cards from Sword & Shield—Darkness Ablaze could make for a powerful new deck!
However, it is not always the most conspicuous new deck that comes out on top of the competition. In 2018, Tord Reklev won the Oceania International Championship with an innovative Gardevoir-GX and Zoroark-GX deck. In 2020, Tim Bartels placed 4th at the Oceania International Championships with an unusual Galarian Obstagoon deck, and Pokémon fans will remember Tamao Cameron as one of the pioneers of the Xerneas Break deck back in 2017. With so many creative deck builders competing in the Players Cup Finals, it is wise to expect the unexpected.
Find out which decks the sixteen Top Trainers choose, and watch them battle during the Official Pokémon Broadcast of the Pokémon Players Cup Finals on August 29 and 30 at Twitch.tv/Pokemon and YouTube.com/Pokemon.