International Championships are the most exciting and important tournaments on the road to the Pokémon World Championships, and the Latin America International Championships in Sao Paolo got the season off to a shocking start. You'll be able to watch the final matches on YouTube.com/Pokemon and check out the winning teams and decks at Pokemon.com/EventResults soon, but in the mean time you can catch up with what happened at an incredible International Championships.
Even though this event took place in 2018, it's the first International Championships to help players qualify for the 2019 Pokémon World Championships next August. The top-performing players will also have a big leg up earning Travel Awards for the upcoming Oceania International Championships, so you can look forward to watching the victorious competitors from this event again soon!
In the Pokémon TCG
The Latin America International Championships was the first to permit the recently released Sun & Moon—Lost Thunder expansion. The newest set of Pokémon TCG cards enabled most decks to get going more quickly and consistently, led by Ditto Prism Star and Professor Elm's Lecture. Ditto Prism Star offered increased flexibility in decks with multiple Evolution lines, while Professor Elm's Lecture quickly became the ideal Supporter to play on turn one for decks looking to get lots of lower-HP Pokémon in play.
The latest expansion's most intriguing contribution may be the new Alolan Ninetales-GX. Combined with Ditto Prism Star and Professor Elm's Lecture, its Mysterious Guidance Ability was such a powerful tool for seeking out crucial items like Rare Candy that many more players opted to run decks featuring Stage 2 Pokémon than usual. Mysterious Guidance was also effective for seeking out Trainer cards crucial for other decks, such as those that use Beast Ring. It even for enabled some aggressive players to try out cards befitting greedier strategies like Custom Catcher and Swampert.
Sun & Moon—Lost Thunder spawned some powerful new decks in addition to enhancing already established ones. The most impressive of these new decks was one built around Granbull and Zebstrika that a number of top players chose to pilot. Trainers playing this deck had a tricky puzzle to solve each turn—they needed to use easy-to-play cards like Great Ball in conjunction with cards that could discard others like Ultra Ball to reduce their hand size to zero for Granbull's All Out attack. Then on the next turn they needed to recover with Zebstrika's Sprint or Oranguru's Instruct Abilities before repeating the process again.
The other big new contender was an Ultra Beast-focused deck pairing Blacephalon-GX with Naganadel. The goal of this strategy is to use Naganadel's Charging Up Ability to get enough Fire Energy in play to enable Blacephalon-GX to continually score big knockouts with its Mind Blown attack. Fewer players opted to risk it with this new deck than with Granbull, but each were represented in the Masters Division Top Cut. One final rogue deck deserves a mention: Nelson José Motta Rodrigues put up an incredible seven win, seven tie, zero loss performance with a deck highlighting the Unown with the HAND Ability, but unfortunately he found himself three match points short of making the top cut.
The Granbull and Blacephalon-GX decks in top cut were joined by a wide variety of decks. The top cut included control-focused Zoroark-GX decks, a Fighting deck aided by Alolan Ninetales-GX featuring Buzzwole-GX and Lycanroc-GX, and two decks pairing Zoroark-GX with a resurgent Decidueye-GX, which returned to the top tables with the increased speed and reliability afforded by Sun & Moon—Lost Thunder's Alolan Ninetales-GX.
In the end, the newer decks weren't able to solve the Zoroark-GX decks, which seemed to be a step ahead of the field at yet another tournament. Masters Division Champion Daniel Altavilla has had many incredible Regionals finishes, but he had never reached top cut an International Championships before, and had only even made it to Day 2 twice. He showed off some clever play in an impressive breakout performance on the International stage, highlighted by his broadcast quarterfinal match against Zach Lesage, where he shut down Zach's Blacephalon-GX with help from the unexpected Articuno-GX.
The Junior Division finals pitted two Brazilian players against each other, ensuring the fans would have a local Champion to celebrate. Pedro Augusto's Malamar deck vs. Henrique Guarita's Blacephalon-GX deck. Henrique was a prize card away from a 2-0 victory in this showdown of key cards from Sun & Moon—Lost Thunder and Sun & Moon—Forbidden Light, but some careful play with the new Giratina allowed Pedro to survive the second game. In the deciding third game, Pedro could never quite get going, leaving Henrique the Champion.
After Blacephalon-GX delivered a Champion in the Junior Division, Daniel Rosas gave it a chance at a second win in the Senior Division finals. But he'd need to get by Christian Moreno and his version of the Buzzwole-GX, Buzzwole, Lycanroc-GX, and Alolan Ninetales-GX deck. Daniel was a prize away from winning the first game, but Christian was able to delay his onslaught just long enough to win. Christian got Alolan Ninetales-GX rolling on the second turn of the next game, and after a massive play where he was able to put down Energy Switch, Unit Energy, and Marshadow, he put himself so far ahead that Daniel could never catch up.
In the Video Game Championships
The video game tournament in Sao Paolo may have taken place on the same day Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! were released, but the battles still took place on Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon. Trainers will be permitted to use up to two of the most powerful Legendary Pokémon on their teams all year long, but there are also some special restrictions early in the season. This event was the only International Championships using the Sun Series rules (September 4, 2018–January 7, 2019), where Trainers were prohibited from using Z-Moves, Mega Evolution, and similar effects.
Competitors have identified Xerneas as the top concern in the Sun Series, as the Fairy Pokémon's incredible Geomancy move—which raises its Special Attack, Special Defense, and Speed by two levels in a single turn if it's holding a Power Herb—is uninhibited by the item restrictions that limit the power of many other Legendary Pokémon. Xerneas continued to headline the Sun Series in Sao Paolo, appearing on more than half of the Masters Division teams at the event and on five of the eight teams in the Masters Division top cut.
We've seen two Xerneas-based strategies rise above the others throughout the Sun Series. One pairs Xerneas with Kyogre and a number of supportive Pokémon (Incineroar, Tornadus, Kartana, and Amoonguss), and the other, innovated by Ashton Cox and Jeremy Rodrigues, that pairs Xerneas with Lunala and an equally powerful group of utility-oriented Pokémon (Incineroar, Toxicroak, Smeargle, and Crobat). These teams combined to win most of the Sun Series Regional Championships in North America and Europe, and their presence was felt again in Sao Paolo.
Finding Pokémon that provide some resistance to Xerneas and Kyogre has been a key factor in constructing teams in the Sun Series, and we again saw a barrage of Fire-type, Grass-type, and Poison-type Pokémon rounding out the top-performing teams. Incineroar, Kyogre, Kartana, Tapu Koko, Amoonguss, and Tornadus joined Xerneas to round out the group of most frequently selected Pokémon in the Masters Division, each appearing on more than a quarter of all teams. Groudon, Lunala, Tapu Lele, Tsareena, Solgaleo, Venusaur, Smeargle, Toxicroak, and Yveltal appeared ten or more Masters Division teams, continuing the trend of supportive Pokémon and powerful Restricted Legendary Pokémon.
The top players after Friday's Swiss rounds were the aforementioned Ashton Cox (7-0) and Jeremy Rodrigues (6-1), American players who've worked together preparing for tournaments all season long. They opted to bring identical teams to Sao Paolo, and its composition may look familiar to fans of the Video Game Championships—it's the same team they brought to the Memphis Regional Championships, where Ashton bested Jeremy in the finals. Ashton again defeated Jeremy during the Swiss rounds in Sao Paolo, helping him secure a theoretically easier path to the finals.
The top cut was full of impressive players, including reigning World Champion Paul Ruiz and Melvin Keh, who was competing in his third consecutive International Championships top cut. The teams in the top cut looked a little different than those from the tournament as a whole—Lunala appeared on four of the eight teams, nearly matching Xerneas and Kyogre's five appearances each. The top teams also featured some creative tricks intended to slow down the format's most popular Pokémon, highlighted by Melvin's speedy Torracat taking the spot where we usually see Incineroar, and Paul revealing the rarely-seen Moltres as part of a surprising duo of Fire-types on his Rain-based team.
Many fans expected the tournament to be on a collision course toward a rematch between Ashton and Jeremy, but some excellent play by James Baek set up a finals showdown of the Sun format's two most successful teams instead. James and his team—a squad of Xerneas, Kyogre, Incineroar, Tornadus, Kartana, and Amoonguss that seemed win every major tournament immediately preceding the Latin America International Championships—was able to best Jeremy in the semifinals, earning him a match against Ashton in the finals and rematch between the two teams.
The team James used proved so powerful that it appeared in the finals of all three age divisions. First up was two-time International Champion Justin Miranda-Radbord in the Junior Division, who was able to use the team to win a tight three-game set over Jonathan Kasmir, one of the few Trainers opting for a Groudon-based team in the Sun Series. The Senior Division matched Juan Salerno against Alfredo Chang-Gonzalez, another returning International Champion and the division's sole undefeated player after Swiss. Alfredo's Trick Room-based team was one of the few to feature Dialga, and he was able to show its strength by winning another International Championship over Juan's take on the Kyogre and Xerneas team.
Ashton's team may have lost to James when he defeated Jeremy in the semifinals of the Masters Division event, but you wouldn't have known it by watching the finals. The 2017 Latin America International Champion put forth a masterful performance in game one, defeating James without any of his own Pokémon being defeated. The second game was a nail biter, but Ashton again came out on top, becoming the first two-time Latin America International Champion. and in bizarre coincidence, becoming the third of this year's Memphis Regional Champions to also win in Sao Paolo.
The next International Championships will be the Oceania International Championships on February 15–17, 2019. Video Game players will be moving on to the Moon Format, where Z-Crystals will again be permitted in competition, while Pokémon TCG players will have powerful new cards to consider for their decks. Make sure to follow Twitch.tv/Pokemon to see which Pokémon and competitors rise to the top at the next amazing event, and check back soon to Pokemon.com/EventResults to see the top teams and decks from the event!