When the 2015 Pokémon TCG US National Championships began, we had a lot of questions: How would the banning of Lysandre's Trump Card affect the game? Would there be any creative decks we'd never seen before? Would Seismitoad-EX continue to be dominant? The largest tournament of the season did more than provide the answers to those questions—the three-day event was full of exciting surprises, too.
Over 1,300 players across all age divisions entered this year's event, including over 900 players in the Masters Division. With so many players, we saw lots of different strategies and deck ideas. In previous years, we've seen just a few decks dominate the top tables, but it was a different story this time. There were more than a dozen decks in the Top 32 of the Masters Division, and all of the Top 8 decks were significantly different.
Without Lysandre's Trump Card, we saw the entire structure of decks change. Now that the most efficient way to recover resources is gone, the usage of speedy Item cards like Trainer's Mail and Acro Bike fell drastically. In addition, most players used only 1 or 2 Shaymin-EX in their decks instead of going all out with 4. The shift of thinking was very evident: burning through cards quickly is just too risky.
The ban of Lysandre's Trump Card also generated a resurgence of strategies that rely on having cards in the discard pile. The biggest example is the Night March deck, which is entirely dependent on having the correct Pokémon in the discard pile. Going into the tournament, this was the deck to beat. But although Night March was extremely popular at Nationals, it wasn't too successful. Perhaps it just was too obvious a choice, so people were prepared to beat it.
Mega Manectric-EX was another popular choice at the event. With 210 HP, it can withstand an attack from the prevalent Raichu and respond with a Turbo Bolt attack for a Knock Out, powering up another Pokémon in the process. Since Mega Manectric-EX is a Lightning type, it can take down the Colorless-type Mega Rayquaza-EX in one attack as well. And with the help of Rough Seas, it easily shrugs off the damage from Seismitoad-EX's Quaking Punch. With so many answers to top strategies, Mega Manectric-EX was a great call for US Nationals.
Three of the Top 8 decks for the Masters Division included Bronzong for its powerful Energy acceleration, but they all used different strategies. Some used Bronzong's Metal Links Ability to power up Mega Rayquaza-EX, some used a combination of Metal-type Pokémon and Seismitoad-EX, and a few even used Klinklang for added protection against Pokémon-EX. But the common link between all of these variations was Aegislash-EX, since its Mighty Shield Ability can shut down any strategy that relies too heavily on Special Energy. Metal-type decks were very successful at US Nationals, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them excel at the 2015 World Championships as well.
Over half of the Top 16 decks in the Masters Division focused on some kind of Water-type Pokémon, such as Keldeo-EX, Primal Kyogre-EX, or Seismitoad-EX. And then there was the Wailord-EX deck with no Energy cards. The strategy for that deck is so unusual that it warranted its own article.
One of the more creative Water-type strategies was a modern twist on the classic combination of Blastoise and Keldeo-EX. Instead of using the old-fashioned method of evolving, the new strategy aimed to use Archie's Ace in the Hole to get Blastoise into play on the first turn of the game. After that, the Deluge Ability could charge up Keldeo-EX's Secret Sword attack in one turn. That deck was all about speed and power, and some players just weren't prepared for it.
With 240 HP, Primal Kyogre-EX is a massive Pokémon that most decks struggle to deal with. Although the Tidal Storm attack won't Knock Out most Pokémon-EX right away, it wears down them down by hitting them on the Bench. Rough Seas can heal damage after an opponent's attack, and Keldeo-EX's Rush In Ability combined with Float Stone allows a player to switch to a fresh Primal Kyogre-EX when necessary. Once this deck gets up and running, it's difficult to deal with so many high-HP Pokémon.
Ultimately, the largest tournament of the season was dominated by a familiar face: Seismitoad-EX. Since its debut in the XY—Furious Fists expansion, its Quaking Punch attack has been a disruptive force that players have not been able to overcome. The most popular partner for Seismitoad-EX at Nationals was Crobat. Its Surprise Bite Ability puts more power behind Quaking Punch, which pressures the opponent while also shutting down Item cards. When Super Scoop Up is added into the mix, this strategy becomes dangerous.
The winning strategy used Seismitoad-EX alongside Garbodor to completely lock down opponents. While Quaking Punch keeps them from playing Item cards, the Garbotoxin Ability shuts down other Abilities, preventing decks from executing their strategies. Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym can provide the additional damage that Seismitoad-EX needs to take down high-HP Pokémon, and cards such as Crushing Hammer and Enhanced Hammer can slow down the opponent by discarding Energy. Even though this deck is frustrating to play against, nobody can deny the power of Quaking Punch.
We'll have to see what lessons the players learned from this competition as they head into the 2015 Pokémon TCG World Championships. There's a lot on the line, including a huge $25,000 scholarship award for each Pokémon TCG champion. What deck will win? Will we see any unexpected new strategies take everyone by surprise, or will Seismitoad-EX reign supreme again? We'll find out soon in Boston!
Remember, if you can't make it to Boston to watch the action firsthand, we'll have lots of coverage of the event here at Pokemon.com! And remember, you can always find the most recent strategy content at Pokemon.com/Strategy!