Singapore Nationals 2016 Preview

June 23rd, 2016 | Posted by Matthew Hui in Preview

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After a gruelling 2016 season that for some started all the way back at the Boston Open in August 2015, VGC in Singapore reaches its apex with the National Championships to be held at ITE College Central on June 25-26. The stakes have been raised, with a veritable bounty of physical prizes and championship points on offer, and the player base has responded in kind. Judging by online pre-registration, Singapore Nationals looks set to be the biggest ever VGC event held in Southeast Asia, with participants from at least eight countries set to attend.

Matches will be streamed starting Saturday June 25 12:00 pm (UTC+8) at https://www.twitch.tv/themirageisland, and from 11:00 am (UTC+8) on Sunday June 26.

With all that in mind, players and spectators alike may be interested to know what to expect heading into the weekend. As someone with too much time on his hands and a wide busybody streak, I’d like to offer my take, and get the hype train rolling.

DISCLAIMER: The points expressed in this article reflect the opinion of the author alone, and are in no way reflective of TMI or the Nationals organising team. If I fan APAC fires again, Zong Ying will have my head.

Prizes

 Masters DivisionSenior DivisionJunior Division
1st Place- Nintendo NEW 3DS XL Console (US Set)
- Pokemon Cafe 3-course VIP Dining Experience
- Champion Trophy
- Champion Certificate
- Pokemon Centre Extra Large Plush
- Champion Trophy
- Champion Certificate
- Pokemon Centre Pikachu Plush
- Champion Trophy
- Champion Certificate
600 Championship Points
2nd Place- Pokemon Centre Exclusive Kabuki Pikachu Pair Plush
- Pokemon Centre Gengar Slim Battery
- Pokemon Cafe 3-course VIP Dining Experience
- Finalist Trophy
- Finalist Certificate
- Pokemon Centre Plush
- Finalist Trophy
- Finalist Certificate
- Pokemon Centre Plush
- Finalist Trophy
- Finalist Certificate
540 Championship Points
3rd and 4th Place- Pokemon Centre Ditto Series Mascot Plush x 2
- Takara Tomy Pokemon Plush
- Pokemon Cafe 3-course VIP Dining Experience
- Semi Finalist Trophy
- Semi Finalist Certificate
- Pokemon Takara Tomy Medium Plush
- Semi Finalist Trophy
- Semi Finalist Certificate
- Pokemon Takara Tomy Medium Plush
- Semi Finalist Trophy
- Semi Finalist Certificate
480 Championship Points
5th to 8th Place- Pokemon Centre Mega Plush (Large)
- Top Cut Certificate
- Pokemon Moncolle Figurine
- 1 Pokemon TCG Booster Pack
- Pokemon Moncolle Figurine
- 1 Pokemon TCG Booster Pack
420 Championship Points
9th to 16th Place- Takara Tomy Pokemon Plush- 1 Pokemon TCG Booster Pack- 1 Pokemon TCG Booster Pack
366 Championship Points
17th to 32nd Place- Assorted Prizes including:
Pokemon Center Mascot Plush or Large Figurine
--
222 Championship Points
33rd to 64th Place (requires 128 players in the division)– 2 Pokemon TCG Booster Packs or Moncolle Figurine--
132 Championship Points

State of the Game

Now I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by rehashing the basics of VGC’16 (seems we do enough of that on commentary every time we discuss usage statistics oops), but I feel certain trends do warrant discussion. European players have arguably led the way for much of the VGC’16 metagame, and the rest of the world was able to watch this up close through three National Championships thanks to the remarkably well run stream. With a distinctly international feel to the upcoming Singapore Nationals, I do believe players will have been watching and applying the lessons learned to their own teams and approaches going into this weekend.


Quite frankly, if it was just up to me the discussion would end here, since I believe that the combination of these two is head-and-shoulders above the rest to the point where little else warrants consideration. But since we’ve yet to have our Worlds 2015 CHALK moment (there was that brief Big 6 panic after Longjumeau Regionals, I guess?), variety still reigns!

Classic Big 6 in its purest form has largely fallen out of favour, with players opting to swap out various members for options such as Thundurus and Cresselia, and also looking beyond just Smeargle to the likes of Clefairy and Amoonguss for their redirection needs. In terms of its restricted core though, the elephant in the room that should be addressed is the rise of bulky Xerneas, symbolised in part by Ethan Hall’s 2nd place finish in UK. Depending on who you ask, this is either a natural progression of the metagame as we slowly approach Worlds (players favouring more bulk yadda yadda) or an absolute travesty that auto-loses matchups.

The advantages have been bandied about enough, a Xerneas that can take more punishment can set up and sustain a sweep in situations where fast Xerneas cannot. To anyone who has ever set up a Geomancy only to leave Xerneas within range of being KOed by Talonflame’s Brave Bird, or even worse, Kangaskhan’s Sucker Punch, this is undeniably attractive. Yet many players who have jumped on the bandwagon are woefully short-sighted when it comes to the fundamental limitations of slowing your Xerneas down. Not outspeeding max speed primals means you are no longer guaranteed to get that +2 SpD before Eruption or Water Spout lands, ironically making you weak to the special Groudon sets that are often mocked for being unable to hit Xerneas. This also makes you more susceptible to an opposing Tailwind messing up a sweep. And most damningly, you are at an innate disadvantage against opposing fast Xerneas, which will always be able to dictate the terms of the battle when both are boosted. This has repercussions especially in the early game, where you cannot simply match Geomancys and play from there, forcing you to have to gamble on leads, and means that it is almost mandatory to carry your own dedicated Xerneas counter.

Plenty of players recognise this and build their teams accordingly, with Ethan Hall’s being a good example of this. But I’ve seen enough people just add bulk to their Xerneas and expect it to work magic. Complex spreads do not automatically make you a superior player; a realisation that might arrive only after yet another Moonblast from a fast Xerneas lowers your SpA and leaves you high and dry.


When Alex Gomez won UK Nationals, out of a Top 8 that was 3/4 dual primals, it felt like the culmination of a gradual rise and the beginning of dual primal’s total reign over the format, with a few of the commentators already calling his team skeleton the “new big 6”. It hasn’t quite panned out to that extent, but dual primals as an archetype is now firmly established as the go-to team for those looking to play a bulkier, control-based style reminiscent of VGC in previous years. No surprise then, that VGC veterans both local and abroad have really taken to the archetype.

But while I can kind of see where players are coming from when they say that the archetype gives them the tools to truly outplay an opponent, away from the ‘cheese or be cheesed’ that VGC’16 can sometimes feel like, I’m not totally sold. The heavy reliance on non-restricted teammates to give the primals the speed control and support necessary to do their thing means that the team can become overly dependent on the primals to generate all of its damage. Coupled with how both primals don’t necessarily play nice with one another due to conflicting weather, and it can become possible for the dual primal player to be placed in a sticky situation with one primal mostly neutralised and needing to be carried by the other (and then you lose to VGC’15 teams! Hi Kenny). Balance is a key part of playing dual primals, as is the awareness of when to resist temptation and only bring one of your primals when necessary.


The spanner in the works of the well-oiled European VGC machine. Dubbed “X-Ray” by the European commentators, this pretty much came out of nowhere to win Italy Nationals, armed with such fabulous tech as HP Ground on Xerneas for its single target move. The temptation therefore is to dismiss this as a fluke, but it has definitely captured the popular imagination, especially since Javier Señorena made many a flashy play en route to capturing his title.

Consensus among players I’ve spoken to is that the combination of Xerneas and Rayquaza is incredibly volatile, and things can go really wrong really quickly due to the relative fragility and almost non-existent defensive synergy compared to the primals. But the payoff is amazing, as we saw in Italy, and the sheer offensive coverage is something players would not be amiss in exploring for themselves. An important thing to note is that Rayquaza is probably the best self-contained Ferrothorn counter due to its ability to Overheat even in the rain, and sometimes eliminating that Ferro is all that Xerneas needs.

Choice Scarf
This strategy is notorious for being able to ‘auto-win’ in many scenarios, partially due to some teams being unprepared for it as well as the inability to discern Kyogre’s item during Team Preview. Yet the myth of ScarfOgre being a gimmick that only works in best-of-1 should be well and truly dispelled by now, with two different players piloting it into the Top 8 of Italy Nationals, one of them (Mark Duò) even being the presumptive favourite to win the event at one point. Closer to home, Ronald Seet has had consistently good results in PCs, and Melvin Keh even borrowed his team to win a PC in Hong Kong.

So it will be interesting to see what players make of this formerly niche pick’s sudden prominence, since without a dedicated gameplan you can get bogged down in a myriad of painful 50/50s when playing against this team, especially if you are running Groudon. And no one likes losing to something perceived as a novelty option.


The other team that wasn’t quite in keeping with the rest of Europe, as Arash Ommati reminded everyone why he is a former World Champion by taking Germany Nationals. Didn’t quite make the splash that “X-Ray” has done, but I believe that a big part of that is due to how players saw, over the course of top cut, the number of – at times absurd – reads Arash had to make to keep himself alive in the face of disadvantageous matchups. Yveltal’s glaring Xerneas weakness is an unfortunate occupational hazard, and Arash got a fair bit of mileage out of his fast special Groudon raining damage on a slower, bulkier field.

Yet the thing is, if you can make those reads, you can get those results; something which our own commentator Shang discovered to his detriment in Italy when he ran up against Davide Miraglia and fell short despite having the matchup advantage on paper. Deeper into the top cut we even saw Davide score a perfect 4-0 to eliminate Alberto Gini, taking a grand total of 0 HP in damage during Game 2 of his Top 8 match; a feat rarely achieved in any game let alone against a player of Alberto’s calibre. This can be attributed, mostly, to the support and disruption that Jumpluff provides the team which allows the player to make said reads. (slyx183 N.B.: When you get read that hard, you just hold up both hands and say GGWP really) Yveltal still retains an edge against most variants of dual primals, and has that nifty ability to check Cresselia, whose usage has been gradually creeping up as the season progressed. I’m of the belief that the weaknesses outweigh the strengths, but you dismiss Yveltal variants at your own peril.


A face only Shawn could love.

An accepted part of VGC’16 by now, Smeargle sets have taken on an interesting look overseas. A Mental Herb set fully investing in Defence has rapidly gained in popularity, doing a number on Smeargle’s typical counters and surviving silly things like Adamant Precipice Blades. But wider trends have not always been reflected here in Singapore, where the addiction is very much to the dreaded, yet oft-derided, Scarf Smeargle, which Fam An only just piloted to a Regionals win three weeks ago. Even as Crafty Shield became a popular pick on Sash Smeargles overseas, which in theory really hurts the effectiveness of ScarfSmear, the train showed no signs of slowing down here. I’ve honestly been amazed at some of the tech options local players have been finding to put on their ScarfSmears to get around typical counterplay, but being slow to catch up to wider metagame trends may yet come back to hurt them.

The local angle

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Featured here in their graphical splendour (courtesy of Zong Ying) are the usage statistics of the last major tournament that took place in Singapore, our second Regionals held on June 4-5. The smaller scale of the event means one should exercise caution when generalising based on what you see here, with Nationals set to have more than twice the number of participants.

Dual primals fever certainly caught on locally, but that didn’t exactly translate to results with only one team making cut where it fell in Top 8. Similarly Xerneas-Groudon remained the most dominant restricted pairing, but only two made cut and both lost in Top 8. Remarkably, not a single Groudon made it into Top 4, which is almost par for the course in Singapore tournaments of late. Fam An emerged triumphant with a team running Xerneas and Kyogre, a combination Ryan Chiam likes to call “but Ferrothorn?!”, beating out Bryan Tan’s even more unorthodox Xerneas and Yveltal X-Y combo in the final.

Picking a Winner

Plenty is at stake for players attending Singapore Nationals, what with the physical prizes to be won and us getting the official trophies for the very first time. Yet the pressure is probably not as high for the majority of players as it was last year, since they are no longer competing for a limited number of unpaid invites with the 200 CP bar now in place. I’m sure everyone would still love to be crowned National Champion though!

But the pressure is as intense as ever at the top, where the players who have distinguished themselves over the course of various tournaments will hope to cap their seasons with the ultimate accomplishment of a strong finish at Nats to seal one of the four paid invitations to Day 2 of Worlds on offer for the Asia Pacific region.

With the Hong Kong organisers obfuscating event and registration information for everyone not living there, and a lack of foreign players travelling to Australian Nationals (Mark Duffield???) – which is actually a shame since AU Nats 2015 was incredibly well-run and an experience I would heartily recommend – Singapore Nationals looks set to arguably impact the largest number of players in the chase for a paid invite to Worlds.

And just to point it out before I begin, reigning Singapore Nats Champion Zarif Ayman from Malaysia will not be present this year to defend his title.

Chasing the plane to San Francisco: The front-runners

There is one name local players fear above all, and that is Melvin Keh. Never flashy, never risky, Melvin’s ability to break down all of the factors in play on any given turn to make the most optimal move, all while slowly choking the life out of an opponent’s team, is a sight to behold. Sitting at first in the APAC region before the beginning of the Nats season, Melvin will have first place in this event firmly in his sights, to seal the paid invitation to Day 2 that his performances this year have deserved.

Following closely behind is Poh Yu Jie, erstwhile Seniors prodigy turned Masters powerhouse. Yu Jie plays with his heart on his sleeve, for better or for worse, and will hope to recapture the form that took him to Top 8 of last year’s Singapore Nats if he is to make it into Day 2 of Worlds. His best performances this year have come across the border in Malaysia, amusingly enough, with a Regionals win and a second place finish, and one suspects he’s about to make a statement especially after the beating his pride took at Regionals three weeks ago.

Siu Ling Yee of Hong Kong has made it into the top cut of a major Singapore event before, and will be a name to look out for. She will probably get a second try at getting the CP necessary for a paid invite at her home Nationals in a week’s time, but why go through more stress when you can get it done on the first go? The same goes for Alvin Fu, who has slowly amassed a reputation as Hong Kong’s finest. Melvin waltzed into his backyard and beat him in the final of a PC a few weeks ago, so you have to think he’ll be looking to return the favour.

Stephen Tan heads up a group of very competent Malaysian players making the trip over the border, and has demonstrated remarkable consistency throughout the 2016 season, with a MSS win and multiple Regionals top cuts under his belt. If another Malaysian is to follow in Zarif’s footsteps and claim the Singapore Nats title, Stephen would be a good bet. Yoko Taguma already has a Top 8 finish in Taiwan which put her in the current paid invite positions, but will be looking to see if she can outdo that here to strengthen her claim.

The other sharks in the tank

SINGAPORE

Emil Ng‘s team has worked wonders this year, with his signature pick of Emolga simultaneously attracting attention and mockery from certain salty individuals who should really learn not to judge a book by its cover. It was Emil who laid out the blueprint for playing dual primals locally, and he will be looking to make the most out of his outside chance at a paid invite. Another player who often attracts attention for his Pokemon choices is Reuven Tan, who will be looking to shake off the disappointment from Regionals three weeks ago and get back to mercilessly psyching his opponents out.

Kenny Lee has had a stop-start VGC’16 season, after finding so much success last year with CHALK. A brief glimmer of life at the Singapore MSS was brutally snuffed out by a Regionals to forget. Never count out Kenny’s ability to make “big plays” though. Fam An comes in as the form player after taking Singapore Regionals three weeks ago, making some spectacular plays along the way, but will players be more prepared for him now? Likewise for the player he beat in the final, Bryan Tan, who surprised everyone by taking the XY legendary combo as far as he did.

Wilson Foong has been a steady presence at the top level of competition locally, and will fancy his chances. Zulherryka Yusof made it to the final of Singapore Nats last year only to fall at the ultimate hurdle to Zarif, and will be looking to make another bid for glory. Isaac Lam has little to play for at this point, but the incentive of finishing ahead of Nelson remains as enticing as ever. And speaking of Nelson Lim, his VGC’16 struggles were quickly forgotten after going unbeaten in Swiss during the most recent Singapore Regionals, upon which he began to have delusions of grandeur. Fam An subsequently put him in his place, but last I checked, Nelson still thinks he can win Nats. How cute.

When he’s not busy corrupting the young and impressionable, Jonathan Chiang is always capable of making a deep tournament run. Bryan Wong is currently on a pretty solid run of major tournament results. And finally, a dark horse pick (though he would probably miss Sunday top cut anyway) is Guan Yang Ze, better known as Level 51 online. Yang Ze was one of the first players to really get a handle on the VGC’16 format locally, and has done well at every major tournament he’s attended this year, which have been few and far between.

MALAYSIA

Kevin Ngim is another player who has been consistent throughout the season, without quite having the one breakthrough performance. Aiman Ishak is better known around these parts as the guy who crushed Ry Loh so badly he went into retirement, and has shown an impressive analytical approach to the game. Gary Ng has had flashes of brilliance in tournaments both sides of the border, while Ariff Erzanie Ramli took his most recent home Regionals, ending Yu Jie’s winning streak in Malaysia.

Finally, the last time a large group of Malaysians came down to a tournament here, Leon Saw emerged victorious, and if fortune chooses to smile on him as it did before, Singapore could once again be a happy hunting ground for him.

THAILAND

The trio of Jirawiwat Thitasiri, Chaiyawat Traiwichcha and Noppasorn Tangkasem are familiar faces to all of us by now, and their skills are well respected. Jira had been on a tear before a recent slump as details about his team became more well known, Singapore Nats could be the venue for him to get his groove back. Chaiyawat played straight Big 6 for long enough that other players started to expect it from him, only to reveal a sneaky propensity for adaptation that caught many an opponent off-guard in the most recent Malaysia Regionals. Noppasorn has had a steady series of results, and maybe if he can avoid Nelson haxing him out this time, Singapore Nats could be his time to shine.

REST OF THE REGION

Edward Cheung from Hong Kong made it to the Top 4 of Singapore Nats last year, and will be eyeing a repeat performance. Huang Zih-Syuan arrives from Taiwan having not quite achieved the needed CP for Worlds from his home Nationals and needing a final boost here. Matthew Marcelinus from Indonesia made waves the last time he travelled out of country, in the first Malaysia Regionals last year, and may take heart from his compatriot Jack’s strong performance in Taiwan. There is also a large contingent of players coming over from the Philippines, but their scene is largely unknown to me, and I look forward to seeing what they are capable of.

Closing Thoughts

The names listed above may seem intimidating, but your chance at glory is as good as any. At this stage the format has matured enough that all the information about what works is out there for players to sift through and decide for themselves what would give them the best chance of winning. The best-of-3 nature of Swiss at Nats is no longer the relative novelty it was last year; players are far more aware of what it entails and how to prepare for it. All this sets up the most open VGC tournament field Singapore has ever seen.

With that, I wish every player the best of luck in achieving their goals, be it simply getting enough points to hit the 200 CP bar for Worlds, or the loftier ambition of winning it all. Let’s make this an event to remember and a showcase of the best the APAC region has to offer.

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