A clean Australian sweep: VGC 2017 North American International Championships recap
The first ever North American International Championships and the final tournament in the 2017 season before Worlds was a historic tournament for both sides of competitive Pokemon. While we saw the largest Pokemon TCG tournament in Play! Pokemon’s history, what emerged in the VGC was quite an unlikely rivalry that appeared in all of the finals matches.
USA vs. Australia was the story of this tournament’s top cut, despite the diverse array of nations that were represented in the tournament’s final stages. Former Seniors TCG World Champion Christopher Kan, as well as his younger brother Nicholas Kan, were both able to claim titles for their home nation with a little help from Alfredo Chang in the Seniors Division.
Let’s take a look at what made it big in Indianapolis and where this leaves us with Worlds coming in just over a month.
Results & teams (Top 10 Cut)
1. Christopher Kan [AU]
2. Paul Chua [US]
3. Cesar Reyes [MEX]
4. Sean Bannen [US]
5. Sebastian Escalante [ARG]
6. Markus Stadter [GER]
7. Nils Dunlop [SWE]
8. Nick Navarre [US]
9. Diego Ferreria [CHI]
10. Tyler Miller [US]
Tapu Koko and the new “Big 6”?
If it wasn’t clear by VGC 2017’s usage stats coming into the North American Internationals, the results from this tournament make a strong case for Tapu Koko as the format’s most dominant Tapu Pokemon. With this Pokemon’s place at the top, a possible new variant of the “big 6” could finally be emerging in the 2017 format.
The core of Tapu Koko, Celesteela, Arcanine and Garchomp is commonly referred to as a “goodstuffs” core as it features some of the best Pokemon in the format. To compliment this core, a popular team featuring Alolan Ninetales and Snorlax has been taking a number of high placings, including at this tournament.
What Paul Chua did differently
Paul Chua’s variant, being the most successful, featured this standard six, but a couple of unique tricks. One of the biggest surprises was Chua’s choice of the Choice Scarf item on his Garchomp. Many players don’t expect this item as it’s a common “best-of-one strategy” that is meant to catch players off-guard. Chua managed to play with this tech in a way that won him numerous games. Whether he was able to spam Earthquake after whittling down his opponent’s team or maybe score some clutch Rock Slide flinches to turn the tide his way.
Electrium Z was Chua’s item of choice for his Tapu Koko, in favor of the popular Assault Vest item that many other players have opted for at this stage of the season. Using Thunder as a means for a powerful Gigavolt Havoc, was risky given Thunder’s shaky accuracy, but the extra power boost was clutch in scoring KO’s on less bulky Tapu Koko and Arcanine.
Chua’s Ninetales was also quite unique as Protect was left out in favor of Roar. Roar was important during one of Chua’s earlier matches against Markus Stadter where it was able to disrupt Stadter’s Z-Conversion boosted Porygon-Z, eliminating its stat boosts by switching it out of play. Ninetales also did a lot of work during the finals as it managed to set up Aurora Veil while also scoring a clutch freeze on Kan’s Porygon2, essentially winning game two for Chua.
A tech for Snorlax that was not unique to Chua was the inclusion of Facade as Snorlax’s Normal-type attack of choice. We saw this come into play during the finals set as both Kan and Chua featured the less common move. Facade is a move that doubles in power when the user is afflicted by a status condition, and the choice to use this move was likely in anticipation of the popularity of Toxic which we saw Kan use to effectively wear down Chua’s team.
With these kinds of metagame adaptations, this team is quite powerful. Though Kan’s effective use of Toxic was able to clinch the final game, which is why I think this move deserves a bit more depth.
A metagame turned Toxic
In the finals match, we saw just how important Toxic can be for getting much needed extra damage on any of your opponent’s Pokemon. Despite boosting the power of Facade, Kan’s use of Toxic ended up being the crucial way for Kan to deal with Chua’s boosting Snorlax, as well as the rest of his team.
With the metagame naturally becoming a lot slower and more defensive, using Toxic as a way to punish slower play is almost a necessity for a team at this stage in the metagame. So many common Pokemon like Arcanine and Porygon2 have access to Toxic, and definitely have a good reason to use it. Nick Navarre used Chansey as his team’s Toxic user, but Chansey’s slow, defensive play style was able to be brought down by…You guessed it. Toxic.
Toxic could be a great weapon or the ultimate downfall for more defensively built Pokemon heading into Worlds. Tapu Fini might shoot back up in popularity as Misty Terrain could be a go-to strategy to ensure Toxic doesn’t slowly wear down your team. Definitely a move to watch out for.
What we’ve learned
Don’t sleep on any region
Despite being a region that looked to be slightly doomed by their lack of tournaments, Australia came to play in this International. Beyond Australia, Nils Dunlop’s stellar run put the small VGC nation of Sweden on the map, and his mission to improve his country’s competitive scene looks to be in full swing. Sebastian Escalante and Cesar Reyes were able to represent Latin America and also the lesser known North American Mexican scene as legitimate contenders with their performances. The US and Europe may be strong regions, but I don’t think we should be surprised to see any new countries make the Top Cut stage in Anaheim.
Tapu Koko is the best, and will remain on top
With 26 day two appearances and eight of them in the tTop 10 teams, it’s reasonable to conclude that Tapu Koko is the most consistent Island Guardian in VGC 2017. It’s speed, power and versatility make it so vital to a ton of strategies, including the previously mentioned “goodstuffs” archetype. Is there potential for any more unique Tapu Koko variants to pop into relevance in Anaheim? At this point, I think we’ve seen it all, but Tapu Koko is not one to be considered predictable by any means.
Toxic will be popular and prepared for
Like I said before, if Tapu Fini’s usage begins to dramatically rise again, you’ll know why. Toxic is a fantastic move for this new defensive stage of the format, but now the world has seen how effective it can be.
Overall, the North American International Championships was the perfect tournament to transition into Worlds. The sheer amount of high level play brought out some of the most exciting Pokemon of the entire season. I highly recommend watching or re-watching a lot of the streamed matches from the tournament, as there is a lot to take away and a lot to enjoy as well. We saw both established and newer players to the big stage make a statement in Indianapolis, and I expect nothing less from Anaheim this August. Only this time, we’ll have an even bigger pool of players, nations and strategies to watch. It should be an exciting finish.
Thanks for reading!
Featured Image from Pokemon and The Pokemon Company International
Art of Pokémon from Pokémon and Ken Sugimori
Pokémon Sprite Images courtesy of Game Freak
Other Image(s) from ishmam on deviantart