A Former Top Player Returns to Top Form

A Former Top Player Returns to Top Form

The Oregon Winter Regional Championships were full of exciting matches and talented players. But one storyline arguably stands out over the rest: the remarkable return of Masters Division player Sebastian Crema. He effectively stopped playing the Pokémon Trading Card Game competitively about five years ago. When he decided to come back, he did it in the biggest way—by winning the whole competition.

We talked to him about his return and his prospects in future tournaments after his surprise victory.

  • 3
    Primal Groudon-EX
    xy5 86
  • 3
    xy5 85
  • 4
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  • 1
    xyp XY67
  • 1
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Energy Cards
  • 6
    Fighting Energy
    xy1 137
  • 3
    Strong Energy
    xy3 104
  • 1
    Psychic Energy
    xy1 136
Trainer Cards
  • 4
    xy3 95
  • 3
    bw5 96
  • 3
    Professor Sycamore
    xy9 107
  • 2
    xy7 78
  • 1
    xy1 115
  • 1
    Hex Maniac
    xy7 75
  • 1
    Pokémon Center Lady
    xy2 93
  • 1
    xy4 110
  • 4
    Tropical Beach
    bwp BW50
  • 4
    VS Seeker
    xy4 109
  • 2
    Focus Sash
    xy3 91
  • 2
    Mega Turbo
    xy6 86
  • 2
    Professor's Letter
    xy8 146
  • 2
    Robo Substitute Team Flare Gear
    xy4 102
  • 1
    Assault Vest
    xy8 133
  • 1
    Enhanced Hammer
    xy4 94
  • 1
    Escape Rope
    xy5 127
  • 1
    Float Stone
    xy8 137
  • 1
    xy6 91
  • 1
    Computer Search
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More Info Copy Deck List

Pokemon.com: We heard you hadn’t been playing the game competitively much for a long time before this tournament.

This was my first tournament in about three years. Even that tournament I went to three years ago, I just kind of went for fun—I didn’t really know what was going on in the game. This was the first tournament I took seriously in over five years, so I definitely didn’t expect to get the results I did. I’m pretty happy about it, and it definitely motivated me to try to qualify for Worlds and see what could happen this year.

Pokemon.com: Winning a Regional can really put you in a position to get to Worlds all of a sudden. That must be changing your entire perspective on the year.

Yeah, no doubt. I just drove down from British Columbia to have fun, meet some old friends, and see what would happen. I wasn’t even really aware of the whole Championship Points structure prior to the tournament. I got there, and as I started doing all right, I started talking with my friends and really seeing what was going on here. It’s a nice surprise, and now I’m definitely going to attend some more events and see if I can make it to San Fran.

Pokemon.com: From a gameplay perspective, was it kind of like riding a bike for you, or did you feel rusty starting out when you were playing?

A little bit rusty. I spent a couple hours online looking at all the cards that were legal, which for the Expanded format was a ton. It was not something that I was used to at all, because back when I played, they never had the Expanded format at all—they just had Standard, which included seven or eight of the most recent sets—so this was an interesting one to get used to. I started online, looking up the cards and practicing online.

Pokemon.com: The last time you were playing, there was no Mega Evolution, no BREAK Evolution, and probably a lot of different things weren’t out yet. The game probably felt a lot different in certain regards, didn’t it?

Yeah, it totally did. As you said, both of those Evolution rules were totally new to me. What was new to me as well was the Swiss best-of-three format; I’d never played that prior to this tournament. I’d been used to best-of-three in top cuts before, but never in Swiss. One of the things I noticed is how difficult it is to make the Top 8 cut. When I was playing before they’d have the Top 32 or Top 16 cut, but now you really have to be on your game to make it into the playoffs.

Pokemon.com: How did you arrive at the deck you decided to bring?

My playing style and my preference has carried over these few years even though I haven’t been really involved in the game. I prefer strong, bulky attackers that are tough to Knock Out. So it’s super interesting that when I ended up picking this Groudon deck, it kind of stuck with the same philosophy: guys who had high HP. I’d never seen in my day, ever, a Pokémon with 240 HP (Primal Groudon-EX)! As soon as I saw that, I was drawn to it right away. I dislike how Lysandre can go and just take away one of your main attackers that you’ve been saving or powering up very easily. So as soon as I saw the Ω Barrier Ancient Trait on Primal Groudon [which prevents the effect of Lysandre], that was a selling point for me.

Pokemon.com: Pokémon are just a lot bigger now, with a lot bigger attacks. Four or five years ago, we’re probably talking about the 130 HP Reshiram being a dominant Pokémon.

Yeah, exactly. To go back to my playing style, I kind of play slower decks that take some time to get together and build up, and then when they’re ready to go, they’re powerful. I’ve never really been one of those quick-hitting, try-to-win-the-game-right-away sort of players. I just didn’t feel like playing one of those decks that just does a ton of damage at the start, so I went with this one, and it did me well.

Pokemon.com: How did you practice before Oregon? How much time did you put in with this deck?

I probably played for about a month total before the tournament. It was all online. I played for two weeks, and then my buddy Ricky showed me this deck probably two weeks before the tournament. Prior to that, I was trying to make a Vileplume deck work, one of those Trainer lock things, but it just wasn’t cutting it for me. I honestly was second-guessing even going to the Regional because I didn’t think my deck was strong enough. As soon as my buddy showed me this deck, I recognized that it could be pretty powerful. I actually tried to use Lysandre on one of his Primal Groudon and it just didn’t work, and I had to read the card to see what was going on.

So yeah, about a month total, and about two weeks with this deck prior to the tournament. The first game I actually played in real life with the deck was round one at the Regional.

Pokemon.com: What was your record over the whole weekend? Did you drop any games?

I started off winning my first two games, then tied, then won the next round to go 3-0-1. I then tied the fifth round against an X-1 player, Sam Chen. Afterward my buddies were telling me “hey, you basically have to win out.” I was fortunate enough to win the next three games, including one against Simon Narode, who I heard had done well at Worlds in recent years, so I ended up going 6-0-2 to make it in as a 2nd seed. I ended up being fortunate to basically not lose a match the whole weekend.

Pokemon.com: You probably saw a variety of decks. Were there any types of decks that even if you won, you felt like they were able to give you more trouble than any other decks?

The one that I did have a bit of an issue with and had a lot of close games with was the Yveltal-EX deck. The reason being is because of that XY—BREAKthrough Yveltal that does 60 damage to the Active and also 60 damage to your Benched Pokémon-EX. So while I’m charging up my big Groudon, it’s not too nice when they’re putting 60 damage on me, as well as on the Bench. I had to think on my feet and use a couple of different strategies to come out on top in those games. That was definitely the toughest matchup I faced, and the toughest card without a doubt was that Yveltal.

Pokemon.com: You’ve had a lot of success in a lot of different areas. You made Top 4 at Worlds in 2004, Top 8 at Worlds in 2009, now you won Regionals this year. What do you think is the biggest reason you’ve been able to win no matter what environment you’re in?

I feel like it’s the preparation. I just played so many games with the same deck. I know a lot of guys that just try out so many decks—they play a bunch of games with all these different decks until they find the one they like, which obviously makes sense. But when I find one I like, sometimes it can also be a detriment because I hang on to it for too long. So I keep it, I change it all the time, I’m working with it throughout the whole season, just tweaking cards, adding little changes here and there. As I keep playing a deck, I get more and more comfortable with it, understand the matchups more and more, and I feel like my preparation and understanding of what to do in almost all situations is what really helps.

As well, I feel like my experience in previous top cut matches—I mentioned I never did any Swiss best-of-three—really helped me. I felt like in terms of managing the clock, knowing what to do when you win the first game, knowing what to do when you lose the first game, knowing when to forfeit if you have to, I felt like I used all those tactics to my advantage. I think preparation and experience with two-out-of-three gameplay are the reasons why I’ve been fortunate enough to do well.

Pokemon.com: You said that you practice and practice with the same deck. Are you resistant to even making minor changes within that deck, or are you always still trying to make minor changes?

It’s always those little ones, like swapping one Energy and one Trainer, until I find what I feel is the perfect combination of cards to allow me to do well. However, now with the flip back to Standard for the upcoming States, it’s definitely going to be a lot different than in previous years for me because I’m going to have to make a lot more significant changes to the deck because cards aren’t legal anymore. If I want to stick to my Groudon deck for the Standard format as well, which I might be trying to do here, it’s going to be a lot tougher. I’m going to have to suck it up and realize that hey, I have to change up more things than I might be used to this time.

Pokemon.com: Were there any cards you wish you added to your deck looking back at the tournament?

I definitely would have changed a few things for sure. Actually, before the tournament, this is something I’d never done before, I always do my practicing online leading up to the tournament, and I just feel comfortable with the deck and roll right on in. This time, I made a change literally about two minutes prior to handing in my deck list. I added an Enhanced Hammer card to the deck, which I didn’t have before and didn’t really practice with online much, which ended up being an awesome card for me.

For the tournament, to make those Yveltal matches better, I think I would have added that Mr. Mime card in that I believe I saw some other people playing in Groudon decks, including the guy that came in second in the Florida Regionals in the Masters Division. I think that really would have helped my Yveltal matchup, which was definitely the toughest one for me. So definitely a Mr. Mime would have helped, and also probably I would have gone with the fourth Strong Energy also. I was debating on that as well. I just don’t like how many counters there are for Special Energy cards, all these things that can remove them or whatnot, though obviously Primal Groudon with the Ω Barrier Ancient Trait is nice.

Pokemon.com: You mentioned in the Expanded format there are a lot of cards you’d probably never seen, since you’d been out of the game for so long. How often did you find yourself having to adapt, read what your opponents’ cards did, or did you have a pretty good feel for pretty much everything?

I’d like to think I had a pretty good feel for the major decks that I thought I would need to prepare for, but especially with the new set just being released, there were definitely times where I had to read my opponent’s cards. I remember picking up an Iris, I had no idea what that did, and it was actually pretty scary because I like to think I’ve got everything under control with all the math and damage calculations. Also in the final, against Trevenant, I think I knew what most of the stuff did, just from talking to some of my friends prior to going into the final match. But I still wasn’t sure exactly what BREAK Evolution did, and I think he kinda poked fun at me for grabbing his card and taking a look at it, which was funny. And then things like Red Card I wasn’t super familiar with. There were definitely some surprises, but for the most part I don’t think I was caught off guard, which was nice.

Pokemon.com: If you qualify for the World Championships, it’ll have been a long time since you last attended. Do you think you’ll still have an advantage by having been successful there before?

Definitely. I live for those exciting moments where you get into a tough World Championship match where you try to outmaneuver your opponent... I love those moments, and I really relish them. I think my experience, and being comfortable and calm at those events in the past, and doing well in those events in the past, will be a huge advantage for me over some of my opponents. These days, there are a lot of people who have World Championships experience and top cut experience, so it’s definitely going to be way tougher than when I used to play.

I was reading up on the current format of Worlds as well, and only a select few players make it straight to Day Two. And Day One is seemingly a very challenging grind. I know I have my work cut out for me if I’m fortunate enough to qualify for the tournament down there.

Pokemon.com: You’re kind of unique in that you’ve introduced yourself to competitive play more than once in your career. What is your suggestion for people who are trying to get into competitive play, or for people who are returning to it after not playing for a long time?

I’d say just do your homework. It’s a lot of fun to read up on the new cards, what they do, to practice against so many different decks. Especially in the Expanded format. This is something I never really experienced before, where there are so many different cards and decks that you had to know, but I view that as a fun, positive challenge. It took maybe a little bit more practice and preparation this go-around, to know the cards and to know how to play against different kinds of decks. My advice would be to just do your homework, make sure to know what to do against all the different types of popular decks.

And always analyze your own deck, too. When you find one that you like, don’t just get complacent with it, and say “hey, I’ve got the best 60-card deck.” I don’t know if I’ve honestly ever played a tournament with the perfect 60 cards in my deck. You can always improve your deck, even if it’s one or two little things, you can always make it better. You can always practice a little bit harder, and you can always improve your deck.

Pokemon.com: Is it wild seeing some of the players you probably saw 10 years ago still playing and still performing well?

It was great, and that was honestly probably my favorite part of the whole weekend. Seeing all of my old friends who I hadn’t seen in three, five, or more years. We all kind of keep in touch online and over the phone, and I see how people are doing at various tournaments, so I feel like I’ve still been in touch with these guys and they’re not total strangers anymore. But to see them face to face, it was super awesome.

A friend of mine, Mike Pramawat, flew out from Virginia, so that was totally unexpected—great to see him. Then also the old Washington guys. A lot of these players from Washington and Oregon I go way back with. I was around when there wasn’t much Pokémon happening here in BC in Canada, so what I had to do is convince my parents to let me travel down to the States and go to Seattle and Portland for some of these major tournaments when I was a lot younger. I met all these friends on the way that I’ve known for over 10 years, and a lot of these guys were really great to me.

One of the tournament organizers, Terry, came up to BC from Washington just to help us run tournaments to get our Pokémon scene going. He would bring players up, he’d come up to organize tournaments when we didn’t have any Tournament Organizers up here, so I really credit a lot of those guys with helping get Pokémon in British Columbia going. And today, it’s a huge thing. We have guys doing very well at all levels of competition; you mentioned the video game champion was from BC, as well. I owe a lot to those guys, I spent many years with them at all these tournaments. Everyone is just so friendly and great and wishes each other well. It’s awesome.

Pokemon.com: Thanks for talking with us. It’s great to hear from a longtime veteran, and we wish you the best in the 2016 season.

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