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Tapu Bulu is back on top: VGC 2017 Madison Regional Championships recap

After winning Madison Regionals this past weekend, Drew Nowak becomes only the second player this season to win multiple regional titles. Nowak also becomes the second player in North America to take Tapu Bulu to a regional victory. This win was quite valuable to Nowak as not only a confidence booster but also for the needed Championship Point boost heading into the North American International Championships.

With 200 CP now added to his season total, Nowak is at 790, which places him in the top eight of North America. A spot in the top eight before Internationals is huge for Nowak’s chances for a Day Two invite to the World Championships, and this placing helps solidify him as a top contender from North America come August.

Results & teams (top 8)

1. Andrew Nowak

2. Zheyuan Huang

3. Terry Hong

4. Tyler Miller

5. Jeremy Odena

6. Justin Carris

7. Samuel Haarsma

8. Kazuki Kanehira

Is Tapu Bulu still bad?Image result for tapu bulu

At this point, the notion of Tapu Bulu being “bad” isn’t very accurate. Of course, the metagame trending towards double Tapu teams, the rise of Porygon2 and Gigalith as well as the decline of Alolan Muk’s popularity has helped Tapu Bulu rise in usage. It remains the most unpopular choice, but now with three regional titles under its belt, players competing in the season’s final tournaments should respect it.

Tapu Bulu has a great matchup versus the rest of the Tapu Pokemon, being able to take attacks as well as dish them out under Grassy Terrain. Despite the agonizing end-turn animations, Grassy Terrain does well to add longevity to Tapu Bulu’s teammates. It also makes the lack of Ground-resists a lot more forgiving since Grassy Terrain nerfs the damage of Earthquake and Bulldoze. This allows Pokemon like Arcanine and Nihilego to work well with Tapu Bulu, which is what happened to be on Drew Nowak’s winning team.

How Drew Nowak made Tapu Bulu workImage result for nihilego

Nowak’s team, in particular, was quite unique. Utilizing the dubbed “BAN Hammer core” (BAN standing for Bulu, Arcanine and Nihilego), Nowak was able to use this combination, alongside a Trick Room mode and Pheromosa, to overwhelm his opponents with damage. Though we rarely got to see the Trick Room component of the team during Nowak’s stream matches, it’s worth noting that Nowak’s Nihilego was carrying Trick Room much like Justin Burn’s Nihilego from his Seattle-winning team.

Image result for phermosaLooking at Nowak’s stream matches, by far his go-to lead was Pheromosa and Nihilego. This combination as a lead is deadly, as both were able to threaten a ton of damage to most leads in the format. Nowak’s Pheromosa was slightly different from the typical Fightinium-Z variant, as this Pheromosa featured a mixed attacking set of both physical and special moves. This lead was so effective, it was often the result of Nowak spending very little time in team preview during a few of his games in Top Cut.

Examining Tapu Bulu itself, we see a lot of the same, but there was an interesting tech in its move set. We saw Nowak whip out Disable in his top eight match against Justin Carris. In this situation, Nowak’s Tapu Bulu was able to survive a Flare Blitz from Carris’ Arcanine, then Disable Flare Blitz so Justin couldn’t use it to finish off Tapu Bule next turn. In a best-of-three tournament, it’s valuable to have ways to surprise your opponents and taking advantage of the flexibility of Tapu Bulu’s third move slot was a great way for Nowak to catch his opponents off-guard.

An all-Ultra Beast team?

Samuel Haarsma’s signature all-UB team has popped up a few times on various regional streams, but always during Swiss. Finally at Madison Regionals, Haarsma’s team was able to reach the top eight as the highest 6-2 record.

Running a team like this seems very odd considering the highly offensive nature of the Ultra Beasts (minus Celesteela). That being said, all seven are viable, so slapping them all on a team could work in theory. The team itself capitalizes on its sheer offensive power with Pokemon like Pheromosa, Nihilego and Kartana having the ability to sweep through teams with Beast Boost.

However, with such offensive Pokemon, this makes defensive play rather tricky. The previously mention Ultra Beasts are infamous for their lacking defenses, so if the damage output from Haarsma’s team is able to be stopped, the team often suffers tremendously. We saw in Haarsma’s stream matches that if his beasts were able to get going they weren’t easy to stop, but if the team fell behind, the team easily fell apart.

A unique team idea that is by no means easy play. Have to give a ton of credit to Haarsma for being able to pilot this team to a regional Top Cut.

Shiny Tapu Koko

This particular Tapu Koko that appeared on Zheyuan Huang’s team in Madison has been the source of some discussion of whether or not its smart to use the shiny version over a normal Tapu Koko. Since this Tapu Koko is event-only, it means its nature is set to Timid, and by using it you are basically giving your opponent a ton of free information.

But is it really that big of a deal? Obviously, the Shiny Tapu Koko hasn’t been that big of a set back considering the number of them we’re seeing in regional Top Cuts. The thing is, most variants of Tapu Koko, even the slower ones holding the Assault Vest, run the Timid nature anyway. Tapu Koko’s speed benchmark is rather standard, and the Timid nature allows it to hit that benchmark for the Assault Vest variant, or allow it to be insanely fast with max speed investment.

With the Timid nature on Tapu Koko being as standard as it is, I can’t see too much of a detriment to using the Shiny version. In any case, using an event Pokemon in a best-of-three tournament does remove a lot of the surprise factor of that Pokemon if your opponent is aware of it. But for Tapu Koko in this format, the Shiny version is fine for most teams.

Looking to Indy 

Image result for north america international championships pokemon

As regionals have wrapped up in North America, all eyes are now all focused on Indianapolis. The North American International Championships are the final opportunity players have to earn Championship Points this season, so this will likely be a make-or-break tournament for a lot of players. After Madison, 29 North American players have earned their invites, with Indy surely securing more. Though this is an International tournament, so we’re sure to get some visitors from overseas possibly looking to secure Day One or Two invites for themselves. It should be quite the tournament, and its approaching quicker than we think.

Thanks for reading!

Make sure to check back here on Friday for our recap from Birmingham Regionals!

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All Images from Pokemon and The Pokemon Company International

Art of Pokémon from Pokémon and Ken Sugimori

Pokémon Sprite Images courtesy of Game Freak

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