Hey all! Marcus Raj (a.k.a Lionheartex) here with a report on my second place finish at the 2015 Pokémon TCG National Championships held in Melbourne over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.
I’ve been committed to competitive Pokémon TCG for almost 12 years, and this year was certainly no exception. I had begun this season with the intention of ranking within top 8 Asia Pacific based on Championship Points. Ranking within the top 8 before the cutoff date is rewarded with a paid invite to the World Championships, and automatic entry into day 2 of the swiss matches for the tournament. This is a pretty big deal – to get through day one of swiss, you need to have a record of X-2-0 or better (X = The number of wins, which is the total number of swiss matches minus two). As you can discern, this is a pretty massive reward.
Overall, my performance has been pretty good this season and I could see myself ranking in the top 8 once the announcement is made. While I haven’t won any events this season, I have had a number of strong finishes, including 2nd place at two Regional Championships and one City Championship, and a 9th place finish at another Regionals. Before entering the National Championships, I had 355 Championship Points – a win would seal the deal and lock me into the top 8, however a second place finish would place me in contention. I went into the event seeking a second place finish at minimum – which I am proud to say I was successful at!
The Lead up to Nationals
Leading up to Nationals, it was difficult to select a deck to play. My testing partner Joey Forster and I had tested M Rayquaza/Shaymin EX, Seismitoad EX/Shaymin EX, Raichu variants, TDK (Team Plasma), M Manectric EX variants, Virizion EX/Genesect EX, Trevenant variants, and some rogue builds which consisted of some really underrated cards like the Jolteon promo from the Sylveon Collection Box, and Cacturne. Between our testing and my online testing, I think I had played approximately 500 games in the weeks leading up to the event – this was achievable by knowing when to concede in many of those games once we decided playing the remainder of those games was no longer fruitful due to a number of factors, such as setting up successful locks or simply predicting the prize trade off and determining the outcome of the match.
After the testing phase, I had committed to my deck choice 2-3 days prior to the event, and ended up selecting Seismitoad EX/Shaymin EX/Slurpuff PHF – a deck that is widely regarded as best deck in format due to it’s amazing control and disruption while dealing damage. Seismitoad EX uses it’s Quaking Punch attack to prevent your opponent from playing any item cards and deal moderate damage, while Shaymin EX and Slurpuff use their Setup and Tasting abilities respectively, to draw powerful cards from your deck to disrupt your opponent, such as Crushing Hammer to discard their energy, Hypnotoxic Laser to inflict the poison status to deal extra damage, and Super Scoop Up to clear your Seismitoad EX’s damage to deny your opponent Prize Cards. Once I ran out of those disruptive cards, I would use Lysandre’s Trump Card to place all the cards from both player’s discard piles into our decks, then reuse all of the draw power to gain access back to those resources. The deck itself is one of the more powerful decks that has seen play over the past few years, and is regarded as a very unfair strategy. Strategies like this have led to the controversial ban of Lysandre’s Trump Card so that the lock cannot be sustained infinitely.
It’s no secret I like to play lock decks. During my Regionals run, I played Exeggutor from Plasma Freeze which used its Blockade attack to prevent the opponent from playing Supporter cards such as Professor Juniper, which would often stop your opponent from drawing extra cards and locking the game state. Exeggutor adopted a very similar disruption strategy to Seismitoad EX decks on top of locking them out of drawing new cards. I’d have loved to play Exeggutor for Nationals, however, the sheer draw power that Shaymin EX offers in decks meant that Blockade has less of an impact. I took lessons from my Exeggutor run though, and opted to ensure consistency above all else. To that end, I played the following list:
This list was very straight forward. Draw and Lock. I didn’t want to do any other fancy tricks that would delay that from happening. Once locked, it is easy for me to control the pace of the game and it meant my opponent would often have to rely on luck to even have a chance to stay in the game by drawing into what they needed through Supporter cards or top decking what they needed.
There’s no doubt I had to rely on a little bit of luck too – utilizing all those coin flip cards would dictate this – however, luck is mitigated by consistency. What this means is the more times I was able to play cards such as Crushing Hammer and Super Scoop Up, the less I would rely on luck. The basic premise of odds is that the more you risk those odds, the more static positive results you’ll see – while that may still only be 50% of coins flipped yielding a positive result (e.g 10 heads out of 20 coin flips), it’s still 10 heads – meaning any combination of 10 energies denied to my opponent, prize denials by scooping up a damaged Seismitoad EX, or extra Shaymin EX uses to draw more cards. People often complain about luck dictating this format, however very few of my matches came down to getting the right coin flip. I often found myself getting tails a lot, although it was rarely crucial to me maintaining a winning position. On the other hand, there were no doubt one or two games where I needed to get a heads on a Crushing Hammer to win. Pokémon is a game of variance and this is no different to being donked for example. Being aggressive with these cards meant more chances at maintaining control, so I would often play them as I had them so I could play Lysandre’s Trump Card and put them back into the deck to draw again in subsequent turns for later use. Micro Managing resources, even though I had access to use them as much as I wanted, was crucial during the day.
Cards like AZ added to consistency – there were turns where relying on the coin flip of Super Scoop Up was way too risky, so simply using AZ as my supporter for the turn was necessary. I’m really glad I included AZ in the list as it quite often kept me in the game by returning a Shaymin EX to my hand when I had no access to other draw cards, or guaranteeing a damaged Seismitoad EX be returned to the hand when Super Scoop Up had failed. Overall, this was ultimately one of the top performers for the tournament.
The one card that rarely performed for me was Team Flare Grunt. My opponents were normally smart enough to attach energy to their benched Pokémon and wait for me to KO their active before getting an attack in, or other supporters such as Xerosic or AZ were simply stronger options for the turn. When I wanted the Team Flare Grunt it was prized or in the deck and inaccessible, meaning I had to rely on Crushing Hammer flips. Sadly there’s no replacement for Team Flare Grunt, so I’m unsure if I should have replaced this with something else like a second Xerosic. That said, I didn’t play too many mirror matches which is where this card really shines. It had a good showing in testing, so ultimately I think keeping it in the list was still the correct decision, even if it was the card least used. If I were to change it, I would have played Enhanced Hammer instead, but Team Flare Grunt felt like a much safer option.
The other interesting choice in the deck was the 1-1 Slurpuff line, which a lot of other Seismitoad EX players were not using. I think that these two were an excellent decision and would not have changed them. Tasting is so powerful, and with the inclusion of one Switch, allowed me to get very greedy and aggressive. It kept me in the game so many times, and if I was not running this evolution line I would not have even made top cut. Even Swirlix hilariously pulled weight, managing to donk two opponents throughout the tournament with Tackle, Muscle Band, Hypnotoxic Laser, and Virbank City. While you should never ever rely on that tactic to win games (As you should walk into a game expecting your opponent to play perfectly and have above average opening turns), the opportunities presented themselves, and strangely, Swirlix was there to take advantage of my opponent’s bad starts.
Mewtwo EX was a card I rarely used, however it did take crucial prizes during many games – being able to deal 60 damage with a Double Colorless Energy and Muscle Band. This meant I was able to KO opposing Shaymin EXs after they had taken damage from a Muscle Banded Quaking Punch, as seen in my game 1 top 2 match against Andrew Tan – where normally if I wanted that KO with Seismitoad EX, I would need a Hypnotoxic Laser. It was really about having more options, and having Mewtwo EX there simply provided more opportunities to take those last prizes in a few games.
The final interesting thing about my list is the lack of Acro Bike and the inclusion of one Ghetsis. This was a counter play to the mirror match. If the opposing Seismitoad EX Quaking Punched me, Acro Bike is dead in hand. I felt that the exclusion of Acro Bike in the end did not impact the consistency of the deck. Ghetsis on the other hand was amazing – a Turn 1 Ghetsis often turned the game in my favor, as my opponent would often have to commit to a supporter for the turn before playing Shaymin EX, giving them less disruptive options. Sometimes I got unlucky, but overall I think this was a good play.
That largely explains the list I played and the choices behind some of the non-standard cards that you would not expect to see in a Seismitoad EX/Shaymin EX list all the time.
Now, onto a match report for the tournament. Please don’t be offended if I cannot recall your name or if I get some plays wrong – I often have trouble doing this.
Round 1 – ??? – VS Night March – 1-0
Night March is a very item-heavy deck, abusing cards such as Battle Compressor and Ultra Ball to put Pokémon with the Night March attack in the discard pile so they can do massive amounts of damage. To resolve this, I would simply play Lysandre’s Trump Card and then attack with Quaking Punch – meaning all their Night March Pokémon get put back into the deck, reducing their damage output, and then they are unable to play Battle Compressors and Ultra Balls due to Quaking Punch. Both Game 1 and Game 2 followed this premise and I won comfortably.
Round 2 – Peter G – VirGen – 2-0
VirGen is the name for Virizion EX/Genesect EX – a grass deck which uses Virizion EX to accelerate energy. This deck in theory is very problematic for me. Not only are it’s main attackers Grass Pokémon, which is Seismitoad EX’s weakness, Virizion EX’s attack Emerald Slash attaches two energy from the deck, meaning it can be very hard to prevent my opponent from attacking me and KOing my Seismitoad EX very quickly. In practice however, this is simply not the case. The disruptive strength of Head Ringer and Crushing Hammer early can overwhelm the deck and once a lock is established, it can be quite difficult to break out of. Peter is an old friend of mine and was a very good player from 2008-2010, returning for the tournament. The matchup went as predicted and I was able to prevent him from attacking with any Grass Pokémon the entire match, for a 2-0 victory.
Round 3 – Brendan Vagg – Night March – 3-0
Night March again. Game 1 was pretty straight forward, and went the same as my earlier round. Game 2 my lone Shaymin EX was donked as I was unable to find another Basic Pokémon or Ultra Ball on my opening turn. Game 3 was scary for a moment as my Lysandre’s Trump Card was prized. Thankfully I found it from the prizes and the game was over as soon as I played it then Quaking Punched.
Round 4 – Shanan Kan – M Rayquaza EX (Colorless)/Shaymin EX/Leafeon – 4-0
This deck can get pretty terrifying pretty quickly, with the ability to do 240 damage on it’s first attack. However, energy and item denial hurt this deck too much and the big scary dragon becomes nothing more than a Game of Thrones special effect. It’s rare for the deck to give Seismitoad EX any trouble, until the inclusion of Leafeon, who can evolve from Eevee when a grass energy is attached to it. Leafon hits Seismitoad for a lot of damage and has resistance making it really annoying to get around. Shanan is a very good player, and played the deck very well. Game 1 went well, as I was able to lock him out of the game with my first Quaking Punch and controlled the board state. Game 2 did not go as smoothly. He went second and managed to KO my Shaymin EX straight away, putting me on the backfoot for the entire game while trading Leafeons with my Seismitoad EX (This was not very favorable for me at all). Time was called and he had two prizes left – I had to break the lock to sacrifice my Slurpuff while I looked for ways to stop M Rayquaza EX from attacking. On Turn 2 of time, I was able to get two crushing hammer heads in a row and remove all of the energy he had, then Quaking Punch. This created a perfect lock for Turn 3 where he was unable to take prizes, meaning Game 2 was a tie. As the match was incomplete and I had already won Game 1, I was declared the winner at the time limit.
Round 5 – Shaun Murphy – M Manectric EX/Suicune/Seismitoad EX – 4-1
Shaun is a long time friend of mine and I think the best player QLD has to offer. I knew this match was not going to be easy. Rough Seas makes the match up long and arduous due to the healing, and unfavorable for me as Manectric EX and it’s Mega deal so much damage that I cannot take advantage of his Rough Seas like he can against me. Virbank City Gym was crucial in this match up, as was aggressive energy denial. Game one I draw – pass for the first 5-6 turns as I drew no energy or supporter. This let him set up far too quickly and overwhelm me. Game two I was able to get the lock up early and control the board state. I was able to get very very greedy as I flipped a lot of heads on Super Scoop Up for repeated Shaymin EX abuse and stay very far ahead of him for the entire game. Game three sadly went just as well as game one.
Round 6 – Ashton Jayde – Seismitoad EX/Shaymin EX/Techs – 4-2
The mirror match is always tough and so much can go wrong so quickly. The opening turn is critical and failing to setup a good board position means you can lose very quickly. This sure enough happened in game one where I simply saw no Double Colorless Energy early and fell too far behind. Game two I was able to take advantage of his Keldeo EX and pop a Head Ringer on it, turning it into a liability for him, and then control the game from there as I was able to Quaking Punch on my turn 2 this time. Game 3 I saw a lone Seismitoad EX with no supporter or other basic Pokémon, and simply lost in three turns as he was able to drop a Hypnotoxic Laser on me and Quaking Punch.
At this stage I need to win my next two matches to be in contention for top cut.
Round 7 – James Goreing – Seismitoad EX/Shaymin EX/Techs – 5-2
Another mirror and this one is a bit fearsome – James is a very very good player who has played Seismitoad EX all season, including wins at Adelaide Regionals and Werribee City Championships with Seismitoad EX variants. I can’t quite recall how this match went – it was pretty straightforward both games. I do remember managing to establish locks early in two games before he was able to, giving me an advantage very early. One of the games saw his Keldeo EX be gifted a Head Ringer to make his board less mobile and turn it into a liability like the last round. It was very back and forth, however my strong early game put me too far ahead. It was disappointing as I’d have liked to have seen James in top cut, but only one of us could make it and the swiss pairing gods are unkind.
Round 8 – James Williams – Seismitoad EX/Shaymin EX/Slurpuff – 6-2
A true mirror this time around. Game one he got the lock running while I struggled to find a Double Colorless Energy and he was too far ahead. Game two the reverse happened. There’s really not much to report; the match was uneventful… right… up until game 3…
James opted to go first and we both flipped over Swirlix. He plays a Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym, then plays an N to refresh his hand, and gets no basic Pokémon. On my turn in my hand I have a Double Colorless Energy, Muscle Band, Hypnotoxic Laser, and Ultra Ball. I use the Ultra Ball to fetch a Shaymin EX so I have a basic Pokémon on the bench, then play down Muscle Band, Hypnotoxic Laser and Double Colorless to steal an amusing victory.
With that I was 6-2 and I was confident I would be in top cut. In the final rounds many of my previous opponents won, pushing up my resistance so it was a sure thing. When the top 8 was announced, I wasn’t in it initially and I wasn’t announced as 9th place. In a heartbreaking moment I thought I had maybe ended up as 10th or 11th and was confused as I should have had better resistance as the 8th and 9th seed players. I went to the front to speak to the judges and find out my result and was told I was something like 16th or 17th which was impossible for a 6-2 record. We found out that my last round result was entered incorrectly. Once resolved, the standings were shuffled and sure enough I was 8th seed, having a good ~6-7% resistance above 9th seed. I was ecstatic to be in my first Nationals top cut since 2008, and the Top 8 APAC dream was still alive.
After a full day’s break, mucking around at side events and spectating VGC swiss, I woke up Monday very nervous. However I was committed to the cause and would not let nerves and emotions get the better of me.
Top 8 Match – Syahmi Razak – Raichu Bats – 7-2
Raichu Bats is not a favorable matchup due to the prize trade off. The deck uses Skyfield to increase Bench Size so Raichu can deal up to 160 damage without Muscle Band with it’s Circle Circuit Attack. This in combination with Golbat’s ability to place two damage counters when coming into play is the magic 180 needed to KO Seismitoad EX. It is a winnable matchup however. Game one my opponent was issued a prize card penalty due to a decklist error. We traded Pokémon however he is naturally up on the prize trade due to not having Pokémon EX. I was able to keep ahead though and take my last prize card with Mewtwo EX before he could KO my third Pokémon EX due to the prize card penalty. However, the prize card penalty would not have made a huge impact as I had Virbank City Gym and N in my hand meaning I could reduce the bench sizes and N my opponent to two cards in hand, making him have to draw into the win. While this would have given him a chance to take game one, I think I still would have come out on top. In Game two, he went first with a lone Zubat, and I a lone Swirlix. The first card he played was N. I knew why – he needed a basic Pokémon to stop me from donking him. He did not get the basic Pokémon. With a Double Colorless Energy and Muscle Band, Swirlix’s tackle won me it’s second match of the tournament by knocking out Zubat’s 40 HP.
Top 4 Match – Shaun Murphy – M Manectric EX/Suicune/Seismitoad EX – 8-2
This match was very long and very grueling… for Shaun more than me. In both games I established a dominating lock with some quick Head Ringers and a Quaking Punch. After a two long games of attrition involving a lot of Crushing Hammers, Hypnotoxic Lasers, Rough Seas usage, Stadium Countering and Lysandre’s Trump Card, I managed to come out on top, with Shaun only being able to attack once for any significant damage. Shaun had to reach for an Energy to stay in the game on a few occasions but was unable to find one.
Top 2 Match – Andrew Tanadius – Seismitoad EX/Shaymin EX/Techs
I couldn’t believe it. I had made it. I said leading up to the weeks multiple times that I wanted to achieve top 2 and I did it. I was very proud of myself and would not be disappointed in the outcome either way. One the one hand, if I won this, I would be the first person in Masters to win two National Championships. On the other, this is my 4th time being in the finals for the Masters division, which is a record no other Australian player has achieved.
Andrew and I began our match and he opened with a lone Keldeo EX. On my opening turn I attached a Muscle Band to my Seismitoad EX, a Head Ringer to his Keldeo EX then played down Virbank City Gym then passed. He was unable to find a way to retreat his Keldeo EX after placing down some basics and I was able to take advantage of that – Double Colorless Energy and Hypnotoxic Laser sealed Keldeo’s fate and put me ahead for the rest of the game. Despite going back and forth I was way too far ahead and took the win. Game two and three were much less successful. With a lack of basics in two and Double Colorless Energy in three, I was unable to establish any board position so he was able to take the match and become the 2015 National Champion.
After a successful season, I am on 655 Championship Points. As I had mentioned earlier, I am very proud of my performance, this being my best season since 2008 and managing to sustain an Australian record in terms of National finishes in the Masters Division. This hopefully locks me into the top 8 for Asia Pacific on Championship Points but that relies on the remaining four Nationals in Asia Pacific – New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Keep an eye out as once the top 8 is confirmed, Pokémon Australia will deliver the exciting news!
I hope you enjoyed reading my report, and hope that you will follow my journey this season as I continue onto the World Championships in Boston this August. I will be attending regardless of making top 8 in Asia Pacific as I have already qualified for day one of the event. If you’re at attending an event or a league don’t be afraid to say hi! I’ll be playing at Good Games Melbourne a lot during the upcoming weeks during their league on Sundays to get some casual games in, and keep my mind sharp for the slight format change once Lysandre’s Trump Card is banned on the 15th of June.