Surfer’s Paradise is Balls! – Angbao Challenge Champion VGC’17 Season Report

July 20th, 2017 | Posted by Isaac Lam in Team Reports

Hey everyone, it’s editor cum contributor Isaac Lam here again. With the conclusion of Singapore’s third Mid-Season Showdown at the House of N event on 25th June, my VGC season and career have reached their ends, spurring me to write this summary of my season; an ode to possibly my favorite team of all time.

I started the VGC’17 season without any intention of excelling or qualifying for the World Championships. The 2016 season had already strained my finances, and I’d become frankly exhausted of competing in the circuit competitively.  I played in both the first Singapore and Malaysia Opens with sloppily built Trick Room hybrid teams, which made for unsurprisingly mediocre performances in both. (The real intent of attending the Malaysia Open had been to go bargain shopping in KL with the squad) I was later able to top cut a 70+ player Premier Challenge with an evolution of my original team built around Special Araquanid and Porygon2, but lost terribly in the Top 8 to a cookie-cutter, bog standard team piloted by Wei Wen.

At this point, most of the teams I tried building or ripping simply lacked the charisma to sustain my interest in competing in the format for leisure, and I seriously contemplated leaving VGC’17 aside to pursue other interests.  It was by chance that in between discussions about Gran Turismo, I decided to ask old friend Low Kit Meng for inspiration, to which he responded to by sharing the team he had been using then – William Tansley’s Top 8 London Internationals Surge Offense team.

I quickly found myself on Pokémon Showdown testing the team, absolutely in love. Kit has always been a player I’ve respected immensely and whose playstyle I find easy to sympathise with. Our unofficial ‘coach’, good friend and fellow editor Matthew Hui brands us both the same breed of ‘control’ players. William’s team report on Trainer Tower also read enthrallingly to me, owing to the ingenious simplicity of its logic – no matter how many times I tried rebuilding a Surge-centric team from the ground up, I always arrived on the same six Pokemon. The team’s solid matchups against Nelson Lim’s Singapore open winning team and the obnoxious Eevee-centric setup teams only further strengthened its appeal. Having laddered to 1500+ in one sitting almost effortlessly while still enjoying the team, I decided to bring it to the weekend’s upcoming Premier Challenge and see how far I could take it.

William Tansley’s original team report you can read on Trainer Tower to understand the team’s framework. It was with that in mind that I set out to rebuild and improve on support for the Surge Offense duo, with results as I have detailed below.

Singapore Premier Challenges (Jan-Feb)

Version 1

Esprit (Raichu-Alola) @ Psychium Z
Ability: Surge Surfer
EVs: 6 HP / 252 SpA / 252 Spe
Timid Nature
– Fake Out
– Thunderbolt
– Psychic
– Protect

Raichu is all that sets this team apart from the standard of the time, and was what inspired me to give it a chance despite failing miserably at playing the early metagame ‘Big 6’ archetypes.

Fake Out has always been a VGC staple, and is in my opinion the best move in the game – the single turn board control it provides when available can sway entire games if played right.  Its effectiveness took a bit hit going into Gen 7 with the introduction of Tapu Lele and Psychic Terrain, but that’s where Alolan Raichu’s strengths come into play. Raichu is the only Fake Out user in the format (bar the then unreleased Salazzle, and no Chelsea, Poisonium Z Togedemaru does NOT count) which can feasibly punish Tapu Lele leads or switch-ins, hitting Tapu Lele’s partners for huge damage with terrain boosted STAB Psychic moves.

The ‘tech’ of Psychium Z was an interesting choice lifted straight from William Tansley’s team. Apart from securing KOs on 2 of the biggest threats to its Surge-supplying partner Tapu Koko in opposing Tapu Koko and Marowak, Shattered Psyche also allowed me to OHKO Arcanine, the most common partner to Tapu Lele then, under Psychic Terrain, which would often cause such teams a lot of momentum, and open up opportunities for Kartana to clean up late-game. Even if my opponents did not set themselves up a quick KO from the outset by leading with Tapu Lele, the pressure of Fake Out was usually enough to force it in on Turn 1, allowing me to punish the switch with a boosted Shattered Psyche into Tapu Lele’s partner, or at least force a 50-50 mindgame between Fake Out and Shattered Psyche, as would often happen deeper into best-of-three sets. Most of my opponents usually didn’t expect the Psychium Z on Raichu, which I found rather surprising with William’s report so prominently featured on Trainer Tower, but nevertheless allowed me to pick up easy KOs on the aforementioned threats early-game.

Like William, during testing I experimented with a lot of moves in the fourth slot including Encore, Feint and even Nuzzle, but never found any of them used often enough to justify dropping Protect on a Pokemon as frail as Raichu. Volt Switch I didn’t consider a serious option at the time because of how common Lightning Rod Marowak was.

Raichu’s moveset would be extensively overhauled later in the season, but as far as the early months of 2017 were concerned, this simple set definitely pulled its weight and won me plenty of games.

Tiburon (Tapu Koko) @ Life Orb
Ability: Electric Surge
EVs: 6 HP / 252 SpA / 252 Spe
Timid Nature
IVs: 0 Atk
– Thunderbolt
– Dazzling Gleam
Taunt
– Protect

The second half of the Surge Offense duo, Life Orb Tapu Koko was ripped from William’s team without much consideration, and I think it needs no introduction, hitting sufficiently hard and fast at that stage of the season. I’d used Tapu Koko on all my teams earlier in the format as well, valuing the insurance against Torkoal/Lilligant teams Electric Terrain provided by blocking Sleep Powder.

William originally ran Discharge in his Tapu Koko’s third slot, only because he hadn’t the time to change it or test anything else, and made no sense on a team without Electric immunities. Kit and I tested a whole host of options in this slot, including the move Electric Terrain for a manual terrain override, though we eventually decided that we needed a move to counter Eevee teams in that slot. Kit chose to run Sky Drop to secure 100% plays against said Eevee teams, while I opted for Taunt instead, which while not ensuring a foolproof game plan against Eevee teams, gave me sufficient options to take them on whilst improving my matchup against Porygon2 Trick Room teams in sets where I couldn’t afford to bring my own Trick Room attackers. It also gave another option to prevent Ninetales from disrupting the Surge duo’s momentum with Aurora Veil, other than the often predictable Gigalith switch-in. Taunt was instrumental in securing me many games during this part of the season, and would serve me well until I had to overhaul Tapu Koko’s set as well later in the year.

#FORZAYN (Kartana) @ Focus Sash
Ability: Beast Boost
Level: 50
EVs: 6 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spe
Jolly Nature
– Leaf Blade
– Smart Strike
– Sacred Sword
– Detect

Kartana rounds off my fast-mode Surge Offense core, and is in my opinion the best Pokemon in the VGC’17 format. Its sheer offensive pressure so easily forces plays from opponents when played right, covers so much of this format between its Grass and Steel STAB moves and Sacred Sword, and can start snowball sweeps so easily thanks to its ability Beast Boost.

William Tansley writes that Kartana’s main role on the team was just to beat Gastrodon, which would otherwise wall the the rest of the team. Though in my testing, Kartana gradually evolved to become so much more. It paired well with both Tapu Koko and Raichu, both of which outsped Kartana and could weaken most threats into KO range for Kartana helping to snag a ‘free’ Beast Boost with a timely double-target, and even paired well with the team’s slow Trick Room mode, as a clean-up sweeper for when Trick Room expired and Gigalith was done.

Running Focus Sash was a no-brainer for me, as the item which I thought best abused Kartana’s aforementioned strengths. I often played Kartana as a late-game sweeper cleaning up opposing teams after Raichu and Tapu Koko were done tearing holes through them, and in such scenarios the safety net Focus Sash provided was invaluable, enabling Kartana to come out on top in some 1-vs-3 scenarios thanks to Beast Boost’s snowballing effect. I never considered Assault Vest, thinking this team needed as much power as it could get, and saw no reason to try other funky items like Z-moves (no space) or Choice Scarf.

Zheng (Gyarados) @ Lum Berry 
Ability: Intimidate
Level: 50
EVs: 6 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spe
Jolly Nature
– Waterfall
– Ice Fang
– Dragon Dance
– Protect

With the team’s primary offense coming from two frail, ground-weak Pokemon, it seemed clear that I needed an Intimidate user either immune or resistant to Ground-type attacks to give me some defensive leeway. I also needed a Pokemon to check Garchomp, which unlike the other dominant Ground-types, Krookodile and Mudsdale, could not be easily OHKO’d by Tapu Koko or Kartana’s attacks. Gyarados stood out as the most viable pick, with a better matchup against Garchomp than Salamence, and better general utility overall.

When I first began playing with the team using William Tansley’s original spreads, Gyarados saw the least use out of the team’s six members. Garchomp just didn’t yet feel like the threat it posed in theory, being easily dispatched in most matches by a Psychic + Dazzling Gleam or Ice Beam from Porygon2. Gigalith had been seeing much more use on the team, and seemed in want of a Z-crystal more, for the option of a powerful Continental Crush to punish obvious Arcanine or opposing Gyarados switch-ins. As such I first opted to replace Gyarados’ Waterium Z with a Lum Berry, which I chose to allow Gyarados to set-up more safely in front of opposing Arcanine, which at the time mostly ran supportive sets with Will-O-Wisp.

Being slower than Tapu Koko even after a Dragon Dance also sucked, as William had noted in his post-tournament reflections. I thus switched Gyarados’ rather convulated EV spread to a simpler Jolly 252 Speed one, which allowed me to outspeed the aforementioned Tapu Koko at +1 speed, and maximised my odds against opposing Arcanine, which were operating with all sorts of unpredictable Speed numbers then.

This culminated in a rather odd set for Gyarados, which I didn’t care too much about then since Gyarados was rarely seeing use on my team anyways. Only closer to the Mirage Angbao Challenge would I learn to play it more effectively.

Dwayne (Gigalith) @ Rockium Z
Ability: Sand Stream
Level: 50
EVs: 252 HP / 252 Atk / 6 SpD
Brave Nature
IVs: 0 Spe
Protect
– Earthquake
– Stone Edge
– Rock Slide

All my best VGC teams have always had a Trick Room mode to complement my speedy attackers, and I didn’t intend to make an exception this generation. Gigalith fit the team best by essentially hard countering Alolan Ninetales, which could disrupt Raichu and Tapu Koko’s momentum with Aurora Veil, OHKO Gyarados with Freeze Dry, and break Kartana’s Focus Sash with hail and then speed tie with it to hit for massive damage with Blizzard. Having another check to Alolan Marowak also didn’t hurt.

During initial testing I found setting Gigalith up in Trick Room to be the team’s most common win condition, probably due to how unprepared the metagame was for it at the time. Gigalith could also function independent of my own Trick Room setup, both as a Trick Room counter a la 2011-2015 Amoonguss against teams running Araquanid, Marowak or Torkoal as their sweepers, or as a general bulky attacker which could both sponge hits and hit back hard. In these two roles I found Assault Vest Gigalith’s power lacking, and its special bulk slightly excessive, leading me to switch its item to Rockium Z, giving me a 180 Base Power Continental Crush with which I could OHKO Arcanine and Gyarados even at -1 and Marowak at neutral Attack, at the expense of my own Gyarados’ Waterium Z which I had not been using much regardless.

In Gigalith’s third coverage slot I chose to run Earthquake, deeming it necessary for a fighting chance against Togedemaru. Heavy Slam was a tempting option to deal with Tapu Lele and Tapu Bulu better, but I deemed Continental Crush’s power and Kartana adequate measures against them.

Digimon (Porygon2) @ Eviolite
Ability: Download
Level: 50
EVs: 244 HP / 4 Atk / 92 Def / 28 SpA / 140 SpD
Sassy Nature
IVs: 0 Spe
– Trick Room
Return
– Ice Beam
– Recover

With Gigalith I needed a Trick Room user which could match-up well against Garchomp, and thus naturally ended up with Porygon2 on the team. Porygon2’s EV spread I had taken straight from Trainer Tower’s EV Spread Compendium early in the format without really knowing what it did then, but it always pulled through for me and I saw no reason to change it. On hindsight it was probably a bad choice since its Special Defense investment is to take Hydro Vortex + Scald from the Double Duck combination in the rain, which wasn’t really necessary since I would usually lead Tapu Koko + Raichu against Double Duck teams, or could switch in Gigalith to allow Porygon2 to sponge those hits comfortably regardless.

Return was a revolutionary new tech at the time, and was one I willingly embraced due to its ability to take advantage of the more common physical attack boosts triggered by Download, and hit physically frail threats like opposing Tapu Lele so hard. William’s team ran Toxic in that slot, which I couldn’t really understand since this team already had other means of combating the conventional Toxic targets like Gastrodon.

Weaknesses

Lil’ Lup Sup Ball was easily the biggest threat in theory to my team in this iteration, completely shutting down my Surge Offense core with its Lightning Rod ability and Steel secondary typing. Kartana and Gigalith could both OHKO it, but the threat of Focus Sash and Spiky Shield threatening to break my own Kartana’s Focus Sash made playing against it tricky.

Regardless Togedemaru was a not a Pokemon I expected to see much of in the metagame’s early stages, and was a match-up I chose to sacrifice and not over-compensate for. I would end up playing one in the Swiss Rounds of the first PC I attended with this team, which I was fortunately able to play around and beat with Gigalith.

Magnezone’s typing also made it a significant threat to my team, though only when paired with Intimidate users and Tapu Bulu on teams like the one Wolfe Glick had popularised at the time. Against less defensive teams playing Magnezone offensively, Gigalith’s Earthquake and Kartana’s Sacred Sword would usually be enough to pin Magnezone down both in and out of Trick Room.

Muk was very annoying to face, as another one of the few Pokemon in the format which could stop the Surge Offense duo cold thanks to its incredible defensive typing. Its low physical Defense made it a lot more manageable a threat to Magnezone though, and I could usually overwhelm it with attacks from Gyarados, Kartana, Gigalith, or even Porygon2’s Return enough to beat it, though not without suffering significant collateral.

As mentioned earlier Ninetales was a problem for the Surge Offense duo thanks to Aurora Veil, and how it basically invalidates Kartana and Gyarados with Blizzard and Freeze-Dry respectively. While Gigalith effectively hard-counters it, I often have to play very predictably with Gigalith against Ninetales teams which can be exploited by common partners to Ninetales like Garchomp. Certain team compositions may also make bringing Gigalith impossible, and force me to play very aggressively against Ninetales and risk speed ties against it with Kartana, which my opponent can easily punish me for.

Much like Ninetales, Gastrodon was not too difficult a match-up most of the time since I had Kartana on my team, but one that could get hairy against certain team compositions. The combination of Ninetales and Gastrodon, particularly when paired with Marowak as was common early in the format, was probably the most difficult matchup for my team since it entirely invalidated my fast-mode quartet, and forced me to play straight with Gigalith which my opponent could easily capitalise on.

Premier Challenge #3 (Metagame) – 6-0 Swiss, 5th Place

As mentioned earlier I debuted the team at a Premier Challenge in January at Metagame. This event I was pretty eager to play at, owing to how much I enjoyed the team, and that Kit Meng had also agreed to play in it with his take on the team, allowing for a bit of friendly competition between us.

I’m not a particularly enthusiastic note taker – I don’t think I took any notes at all this entire tournament, and so unfortunately cannot recall and report on much from this tournament other than my Bo1 Swiss game against Kit. I do remember though the day’s matches being intense, with a lot of close games coming down to Kartana/Ninetales speed ties, and Raichu’s Psychium Z catching a lot of opponents off guard in the Bo1 Swiss Rounds.

R5: Vs Low Kit Meng

    /

vs

   

At this point Kit and I were the only undefeated players in the tournament, so we knew we’d be facing off, which I think we were both looking forward to. Kit had swapped Gigalith out for Drampa on his team, which I was slightly afraid of since I knew it could hit my Gigalith hard with Cloud Nine negating the Special Defense boost from Sandstorm. Regardless I knew setting Gigalith up in Trick Room would be my win condition this game, since Kit only had one good resist to its moves in Kartana. I went with Raichu and Kartana for my leads, threatening with Fake Out and hoping that Kit would bring his Tapu Koko and set up Electric Terrain for me.

It turns out that Kit had the exact same thought, and led with his Kartana and Raichu too. It wasn’t exactly what I had wanted to see, since I knew the amount of momentum at stake in this situation meant that how Turn 1 played out would likely decide the game. The obvious play for both of us was to Fake Out into each others’ Kartana and hope to get an attack off, which I didn’t want to risk since that would likely break Kartana’s Focus Sash. I decided to Detect with my Kartana and fire off a Thunderbolt into the opposing Kartana, since I figured that my Raichu wasn’t going to be eating a Fake Out this turn. It ended up paying off as Kit doubled into my Kartana with Thunderbolt and Sacred Sword, allowing me to get off free damage onto his Kartana and threaten the KO with a second Thunderbolt the next turn. Things only went downhill for Kit here, as I was eventually able to set up Trick Room and bring Gigalith in, and even predict a Gyarados switch-in which I nailed with Continental Crush.

I ended the Swiss Rounds as the only 6-0, but fell in the Top Cut to a team with the the aforementioned Ninetales/Marowak/Gastrodon combination partnered with a Kartana. I unfortunately really can’t remember who my Top Cut opponent was, other than that he was playing in his first Premier Challenge, and that he was a pleasant, polite player I thoroughly enjoyed playing against. Really sorry to my opponent if you’re out there reading this; hit me up and I’ll be sure to amend the article with your name.

Not breaking past Top 8 this time was a bit of a bummer, but nothing I was too upset about since going 6-0 in Swiss was already much more than I had expected from myself. I felt like I played my team comfortably and wrote off my Top 8 loss as an uncannily bad match-up I had no reason to beat myself down over, and prepared to take the team to the next Premier Challenge I could attend to see how far I could take it.

Premier Challenge #4 (Jurong Spring) – X-1 Swiss, 2nd Place

I remember even less from this Premier Challenge than from the one before it – I can’t even recall how many Swiss Rounds I played that day! What I can remember is going into it very confident due to the surge (pun intended) in Tapu Fini usage leading up to it, and that I lost a round to Ryan Loh’s team in what I thought was an overwhelmingly difficult match-up.

Top 8: Vs Matthew Hui (WLW)

    / ??

I wasn’t exceptionally elated to play fellow editor and good friend Matthew Hui in the first round of Top Cut, since we both knew this would end quickly in my favour having played in Swiss. Matthew’s team pivoted heavily around setting up Trick Room with his Alolan Exeggutor, which my Tapu Koko could OHKO with Dazzling Gleam, and allowing Araquanid to sweep, which my Gigalith pinned down in Trick Room anyways. I got a bit careless in Game 2, missing a KO on Lucario using Psychic instead of my Raichu’s Z-move which allowed Matthew to steal a win, but in Game 3 I played straighter and easily took the win.

Top 4: Vs Lim Xi Wen (WW)

   

Knocking Matthew out put him back behind the commentary desk, which was fortunate since it meant his analysis is available for the rest of my games this tournament, all of which were recorded and uploaded to Youtube.

I didn’t know much about Xi Wen at this point, except that she could recite more Fire types offhand than Wei Wen. Regardless, it was nice seeing her already make it so far in this tournament, which I believe was still one of her first few, and I knew she had to know what she was doing to make it so far.

Seeing Tapu Fini in team preview was definitely pleasant, as my main offensive core of Raichu/Tapu Koko/Kartana would walk all over it. Though her packing both Ninetales and Marowak was annoying, and cemented Gigalith’s place in the 4 I’d pick. I guessed that Xi Wen would be hoping to set up Trick Room at some point in the game, since Raichu and Tapu Koko both outsped her entire team even outside of Electric Terrain, and so felt confident enough to bring Gigalith without my own Porygon2 for Trick Room support, hoping to whittle down her leads with the Surge Offense duo, and position myself late-game for a Kartana or Gigalith sweep.

Game 1

Game 1 began with me leading Raichu and Tapu Koko against her Ninetales and Porygon2. Xi Wen threatened to disrupt my momentum here both with Aurora Veil and Trick Room, neither of which I could really afford this early in the game, and so tried to disrupt with Fake Out into Ninetales and Taunt into Porygon2, which unfortunately she called by targeting Raichu with Ice Beam instead of going for Trick Room. Since the game was to be played outside of the Trick Room for the next 3 turns, I knew I really needed to stop Aurora Veil and switched out Raichu for Gigalith and went for Thunderbolt with Tapu Koko onto Ninetales. Looking back I really don’t know why I went for Thunderbolt, since Ninetales was probably holding Focus Sash and Xi Wen still had Marowak in the back. Xi Wen ended up predicting the Gigalith switch-in too and went for Blizzard, which unfortunately failed to connect with both targets due to Sandstorm lowering its accuracy. Feeling that I’d pinned Xi Wen down with my position, I decided to Protect Tapu Koko and fire off a Rock Slide with Gigalith, just to see what damage I could get away with. Fortunately she kept both her Pokemon in, and Rock Slide was able to connect and secure a KO on her Ninetales.

Xi Wen brought Marowak in to replace Ninetales, which I was pretty happy with since it looked prime to be picked off by Raichu’s surprise Shattered Psyche. I Protected Gigalith anticipating her to attack into it with Marowak, and knock out Tapu Koko with Porygon2, though she ended up Protecting her own Marowak as well, but still allowing me to sacrifice Tapu Koko to bring in Raichu cleanly next turn. Porygon2’s Taunted status also wore off this turn, which I was okay with since I’d positioned Gigalith well enough to punish any attempts at a Trick Room sweep.

Raichu was able to fire off a Shattered Psyche into Marowak, which despite the earlier chip damage Marowak had taken was not able to take it out, much to my surprise. Xi Wen ended up going for Shadow Bone into Gigalith though which did not take it out, allowing me to pick Marowak off with Rock Slide and snag a flinch onto Porygon2. I certainly had not been gaming for the flinch at this point, which put me in a far better position than I had been mentally preparing myself to play, since I could easily KO Porygon2 next turn with Raichu, and finish Xi Wen’s final Pokemon – Gigalith – easily with my own Kartana.

I like to think the Flinch didn’t matter too much, since Xi Wen would still have to get past another Gigalith speed tie next turn under Trick Room and take out her own Porygon 2 with Earthquake to beat my Gigalith, which would allow Kartana to close up the game easily even under Trick Room. Though this game was still a bit messier than I had liked, and going into Game 2, I knew I needed to up my game a notch.

Game 2

I saw no reason to switch my 4 up for Game 2, though Xi Wen did and chose to lead with Tapu Fini and Ninetales instead. Seeing Tapu Fini emerge as Xi Wen’s counter to the Surge Offense duo by denying Electric Terrain had me feel that she might have dropped Marowak this game, which I decided to scout for with a Fake Out into Tapu Fini and Thunderbolt into Ninetales, figuring that Marowak would likely switch in to the Ninetales slot, and that I would prime Ninetales for a quick KO next turn if it did not come in. Xi Wen ended up going for a double Protect, which was nice since it confirmed that Tapu Fini wasn’t holding a Choice Specs, and I thought confirmed my suspicions that she had dropped Marowak, since she likely would have brought it in that turn had it been in the back. That emboldened me enough to fire off a double Thunderbolt into Ninetales next turn to KO it quickly, which I was able to secure, whilst shrugging off Tapu Fini’s unboosted Muddy Water with relative ease.

Xi Wen brought in Gigalith, which I thought confirmed Xi Wen’s last slot to be Porygon2. Expecting her to Protect Tapu Fini and attack with Gigalith this turn, I opted for Dazzling Gleam with Tapu Koko and Shattered Psyche with Raichu, hoping to get as much damage as possible onto Gigalith before sacrificing Tapu Koko and Raichu. On hindsight I feel like I should have conserved my Z-move, since Gigalith’s Continental Crush would have done far more than Shattered Psyche would have to Xi Wen’s Gigalith. The turn played out as planned, and I was able to sacrifice both Tapu Koko and Raichu allowing me to get Kartana and Gigalith in completely unscathed, securing myself a win condition both in and out of Trick Room should Xi Wen try to set it up late game. Fortunately things played out fairly straightforward from here, as I KO’d Tapu Fini with Leaf Blade from Kartana snagging a Beast Boost, before taking out her Gigalith with a single-target Rock Slide from my own. Porygon2 would come in, only to fall to the combination of +1 Sacred Sword and a Stone Edge from Gigalith, which I thought I might have needed to KO Porygon2 that turn, but was really just another terrible play on hindsight. Sorry if it came across as bad manners Xi Wen, I really thought I needed it to secure the KO there.

Finals: Vs Ryan Loh

   

I was not happy at all to hear that I would be playing Ryan Loh in the finals. He had annihilated me in Swiss with the combination of Choice Scarf Tapu Lele and his Garchomp, a combination which put a lot of pressure on my team’s fast mode despite the terrain advantage I’d gain leading with Tapu Koko. That was not even considering Ryan’s skill level, which I knew was nothing something to scoff at having played Ryan frequently since 2011. Especially since Ryan had come off fresh from a Top Cut finish at the Malaysian Open, and was well on track to Worlds qualification this year.

I don’t really feel like elaborating much on these games, since they were mostly clean, straight sets in which Ryan’s sheer offensive pressure completely overwhelmed me. The threat of Garchomp forced me to overcompensate too much early on in both games, allowing Tapu Lele to pressure by team with Dazzling Gleam into submission. On hindsight I realised that I should have tried bringing Porygon2 and setting up Trick Room, which for some reason never crossed my mind, I think due to Ryan’s team looking rather hostile towards a straight, offensive Gigalith with the full AFK core. Not to discredit Ryan’s win, which I think he earned by playing this set as straight as he should. I could only fault myself for this loss, and I knew I needed to accept that if I wanted to do better next time.

The Mirage Angbao Challenge

I played in another premier challenge with the team unchanged, but bubbled out of Top Cut with a 3-2 record, losing to Justin Lok and Ryan again. Both games I shied away from playing Kartana speed ties, leading to sub-optimal plays costing me the game. (Also shout-out to Justin for winning that game “despite Porygon-Z getting an unfortunate Download Attack boost”)

Although I didn’t feel like my losses were unwinnable and exclusively the fault of my team, my confidence in the team definitely took a hit and made me very seriously reconsider its relevance, especially with the Melbourne International Championships looming, which I had already made plans to attend. The rise of several new threats like Assault Vest Kartana and Belly Drum+Recycle Snorlax made the team’s current iteration much more difficult to pilot.

After the Premier Challenge Melvin borrowed my game to pilot the team in a fun friendly match against Reuven which he won, and shared his opinions on the team and what changes he thought it would be worth making. While I ended up not incorporating any of his ideas, which included swapping Psychium Z for Alolaraichunium Z,  on the team’s revised build, it was Melvin’s confidence in the team which inspired me to continue working on the team, resulting in the build below which I would take to a 1st place finish at The Mirage Hongbao challenge.

Version 2

Esprit (Raichu-Alola) @ Psychium Z
Ability: Surge Surfer
EVs: 6 HP / 252 SpA / 252 Spe
Timid Nature
– Fake Out
– Thunderbolt
– Psychic
Hidden Power [Fire]

Protect was still seeing only very situational use on Raichu, and with the rise in more unorthodox Kartana sets I finally could justify replacing it with an offensive option in Hidden Power Fire. Previously the team had relied on doubling into Kartana with Raichu and Tapu Koko’s Electric type moves to beat it, which worked fine against Focus Sash or Z-move variants, but could not beat the Assault Vest variants which shrugged even Terrain-boosted Thunderbolts with impunity. Hidden Power Fire could OHKO Ray Rizzo’s frailer Assault Vest Kartana EV spread and almost OHKO the bulkier build popularised by Sam Schweitzer in his Dallas Regional team, allowing Tapu Koko’s Dazzling Gleam to easily pick off the latter. Hidden Power Fire also helped deal with the odd Choice Scarf Kartana I had begun to see periodically in testing, which Raichu could outspeed and OHKO in Electric Terrain.

Tiburon (Tapu Koko) @ Life Orb
Ability: Electric Surge
EVs: 6 HP / 252 SpA / 252 Spe
Timid Nature
IVs: 0 Atk
– Thunderbolt
– Dazzling Gleam
– Taunt
– Protect

#FORZAYN (Kartana) @ Focus Sash
Ability: Beast Boost
Level: 50
EVs: 6 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spe
Jolly Nature
– Leaf Blade
– Smart Strike
– Sacred Sword
– Detect

Zheng (Gyarados) @ Waterium Z
Ability: Intimidate
Level: 50
EVs: 6 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spe
Jolly Nature
– Waterfall
– Ice Fang
– Dragon Dance
– Protect

I experienced an epiphany watching Skyler pilot the team during a weekday night dinner session, that was supposed to be Truffle Chicken Rice but unfortunately ended up being Justacia. Skyler piloted a curiously defensive lead of Gyarados+Porygon2 which worked surprisingly well against Alan, and finally made me realise just how poorly I had been playing Gyarados. I had always assumed Gyarados to function as a Dragon Dance setup sweeper, without realising that its main purpose was that of a Intimidate support pivot to switch in to obvious Ground moves, that could also outright nuke most threats to the rest of the team when necessary with Hydro Vortex and Ice Fang, both in and outside of Trick Room owing to its natural bulk. Switching back to Waterium Z saw immediate results with this refreshed paradigm, and it came in clutch multiple times during the Angbao Challenge.

Thanks Skyler. Your insight was actually pretty sicc.

Digimon (Porygon2) @ Eviolite
Ability: Download
Level: 50
EVs: 244 HP / 4 Atk / 92 Def / 28 SpA / 140 SpD
Sassy Nature
IVs: 0 Spe
– Trick Room
– Return
– Ice Beam
– Recover

Dwayne (Gigalith) @ Assault Vest
Ability: Sand Stream
Level: 50
EVs: 252 HP / 252 Atk / 6 SpD
Brave Nature
IVs: 0 Spe
Heavy Slam
– Earthquake
– Stone Edge
– Rock Slide

Running 2 Z-moves on a team is always a stretch, and 3 a definite no-no, so with Waterium Z back on Gyarados I was forced to reconsider Gigalith’s item, reverting back to an Assault Vest set for the Angbao Challenge. Other items I considered then included Weakness Policy or the 50% Pinch Berries, but I found I needed the additional Special bulk from Assault Vest I had scoffed at earlier crucial when piloting the team’s defensive Gyarados + Porygon2 + Gigalith mode. The bulk came in most important when fighting against Tapu Lele, which Gigalith could now switch into fairly safely and OHKO back with Heavy Slam.

Gigalith’s EV spread is probably not what you want to be running on an Assault Vest set, and I would probably have worked on it further had I needed the team for more serious tournaments.

The Mirage Angbao Fundraiser Challenge

For those unaware, The Mirage Angbao Fundraiser was an unsanctioned VGC’17 tournament held to award sponsorship to the Melbourne International Championships. $650 would be awarded to the winner of the tournament, on the condition that he/she played in the Melbourne IC without retiring prematurely.

I originally had not intended to play in the Angbao Challenge; Alan, Matt and I had showed up to spectate and offer commentary if necessary, knowing that the stakes this tournament were high and promised exciting matches. We had already planned to make the Melbourne trip regardless, seeing it as a send-off vacation for me before my move to New Zealand, and didn’t desperately need the money for it. I only thought of participating after hearing that only 13 players had registered (one more player would allow for 2 full brackets of round robin, and prevent BYEs), and being done Hyper Training my new Raichu set with Hidden Power Fire while waiting for registration to begin, which I decided I’d like to put to the test since the tournament was to be Best-of-3.

I ended up finishing 2nd in my bracket of 7, allowing me to advance to the 4 player top cut, along with Wei Wen, Amirul and Yoko. I remember being pretty relieved about that as I had not expected to top cut, due to mispredicting the outcome of a game involving either Martin Teo or Bryan Cheang against Corey. It wasn’t a top cut I felt exceptionally confident about playing in: I’d not played Yoko yet the entire season then, already lost to Wei Wen in a top cut once before, and had lost to Amirul during the earlier round robin.

Top 4: Vs Yoko Taguma (WW)

   

Entering Team Preview, I couldn’t have been more relieved. Yoko’s team comprised my team’s favourite combination of Island Guardians to play against in Tapu Koko and Tapu Fini, both of which the Surge Offense duo could pin down easily. She also had no good answer against the Porygon2+Gigalith combination save for Celesteela, which I doubted she’d bring against a team with Raichu and Tapu Koko. Expecting the Choice Scarf to be on Vanilluxe and not Garchomp, I saw no reason to lead anything other than the standard Tapu Koko+Raichu lead and bring Porygon2 and Gigalith in the back, playing to a Gigalith sweep end-game.

Game 1

Yoko led with Tapu Koko and Vanilluxe, which hinted to me that she was not expecting Shattered Psyche from Raichu and more likely feared Stoked Sparksurfer, as otherwise she’d probably have brought Tapu Fini up front. I thus decided to push for the KO on Tapu Koko with my Z-move, and switch out Tapu Koko for Gigalith to gain the weather advantage. The turn plays out perfectly as Yoko’s Tapu Koko goes down, and Vanilluxe’s Blizzard misses my Raichu thanks to the Sandstorm, hitting my Assault Vest Gigalith which I was perfectly comfortable with.

Yoko brought in Tapu Fini to replace Tapu Koko, turning the terrain advantage in her favour. Expecting Vanilluxe to retreat, I decided to switch in Tapu Koko to boost Raichu’s Thunderbolt and get massive damage onto Tapu Fini, which once against plays out perfectly as Yoko brings in Garchomp over Vanilluxe allowing me to bring Tapu Fini all the way down to the red, even nabbing a lucky paralysis in the process, though that wouldn’t end up mattering. Knowing from Scald’s damage that Yoko’s Tapu Fini had to be holding Choice Specs, next turn I was able to make the straightforward play of doubling into Garchomp with Psychic and Dazzling Gleam, picking up two KOs and forcing in Vanilluxe, which I could easily beat with Gigalith still in the back.

Game 2

With Shattered Psyche revealed in Game 1, I expected Yoko to try leading with Tapu Fini this time to get the Terrain advantage from the outset. To counter that I knew I needed to lead with my chosen 4’s last slot, which could be either Kartana or Porygon2. Seeing that Garchomp was almost guaranteed to appear again this game, I brought Porygon2, which also secured an early-game Trick Room option to sweep with Gigalith.

Once again I was able to call Yoko’s leads favourably, and she brought in Garchomp and Tapu Fini to face against my Porygon2 and Raichu. With an Attack boost from Download triggered I knew I could pin both Garchomp and Yoko’s relatively frail Tapu Fini down in Trick Room easily, and decided to Fake Out Garchomp and force Trick Room up early instead of making the straight Fake Out + Ice Beam offensive play, which I thought Yoko would anticipate and play around with Protect. She ended up exposing Garchomp and bringing in Tapu Koko, which actually set me back more than I liked since it doubled Raichu’s already high speed, ensuring it’d move last in Trick Room.

Deciding that with Trick Room up, Raichu could be worth sacrificing in order to bring in Gigalith cleanly, I decided to try for a Shattered Psyche into Tapu Koko and hit Garchomp with an Ice Beam. Garchomp ended up going for Protect, which allowed Shattered Psyche to connect with Tapu Koko and take it out once again. Yoko brought back in Tapu Fini, ending an unfortunate turn with her in arguably a worse position than she had been in before.

I fired off another Ice Beam into Garchomp, not expecting it to be able to Protect this turn, and attacked Tapu Fini with Raichu, hoping to finally sacrifice it this turn. Yoko switched out Garchomp into Vanilluxe to take the Ice Beam, and KO’d my Raichu with a Choice Specs boosted Moonblast, much to my glee since it meant I could bring in Gigalith for free, under Trick Room and facing against a Vanilluxe and Tapu Fini locked into Moonblast. I made the easy Rock Slide play with Gigalith here, and went for Ice Beam with Porygon2 into Tapu Fini, covering a likely Garchomp switch in. Yoko ended up keeping Tapu Fini in, which ended up Flinching from my Gigalith’s Rock Slide.

Yoko brought Garchomp back in here, and with only 1 turn of Trick Room left, looking set to Protect. I thus fired off Heavy Slam into Tapu Fini which I thought would take it out, and went for Recover on Porygon2 to help prepare it for the possible Tectonic Rage the following turn. Heavy Slam ended up barely missing the KO and letting Tapu Fini get a Moonblast onto Porygon2 before falling to Sandstorm, leaving Porygon2 standing at the end of the turn with a bit more damage than I’d have liked it to take. Regardless, with Tapu Koko still healthy in the back, and Garchomp forced to go for Tectonic Rage to take Porygon2 out, I knew I could safely go for Heavy Slam and Ice Beam to bring Garchomp into KO range for Tapu Koko’s single-target Dazzling Gleam, and seal up the game.

It was a tough team matchup for Yoko definitely, which I think she tried her best to adapt to, and one I’d not expect to overcome in her position without a lot of luck.

Finals: Vs Wei Wen (LWW)

   

I was very relieved to hear that Wei Wen had won his set against Amirul, since Amirul had smashed me in the Round Robin with a team which matched up overwhelmingly well against mine with Ninetales and Belly Drum Snorlax, which my team would need multiple base-109 speed ties to beat. I’d seen snippets of Wei Wen’s team broadcast at the previous Premier Challenge, but didn’t know much about it except that he’d been showing a slightly ironic penchant for Fire-types with both Marowak and Torkoal. The games which ensued would prove to be the most exhausting and drawn out set I’d ever play with this usually fast-paced team.

My relief was short lived as we jumped into Team Preview, and I began properly considering my matchup. Wei Wen’s team had answers to all my main strategies: Marowak and Garchomp for the Surge Duo, Torkoal, Marowak and Gyarados to deter Kartana, and Torkoal to make maneuvering Gigalith in for a sweep difficult. Wei Wen looked confident going into the set, and I knew he had watched my last match with Yoko intensely having finished his set early. I figured that he had to have a detailed game plan drawn out against me at this point, and that my best shot at taking this set would be to have it figured out Game 1. I thus brought what I though were my obvious best picks in Raichu/Porygon2/Gigalith/Gyarados to try and fish out what Wei Wen had in store for me.

Game 1

Wei Wen would lead with Marowak and Porygon2 while I led with Raichu and my own Porygon2. I made a rather miscalculated judgement here firing off my Z-move into Marowak here, which Wei Wen probably anticipated, going for Protect. I guess I thought he’d be pretty confident about his position and expected to have Raichu locked down, and so be a bit more enthusiastic in taking it out to free up his Gyarados later in the game, though I really should have known better since he probably had known my Raichu’s item by then. Wei Wen would reveal Shadow Ball here on his Porygon2 which did just over half to Raichu, and I set up Trick Room with my own Porygon2, in a less than ideal position with Raichu living longer than I’d hoped for.

I went for Recover next turn with Porygon2 expecting it to eat a Flare Blitz, which ended up failing with my Porygon2 winning the speed tie and Marowak revealing itself faster than my Porygon2, giving Wei Wen a perfect free turn to reverse Trick Room and take out Raichu. I brought in Gyarados expecting it to have free reign, but Wei Wen switched out his Marowak and revealed Thunderbolt, which I had not expected since Porygon2’s offensive options tended to come in conjugate pairs of Thunderbolt/Ice Beam or Shadow Ball/Normal-type move. He also revealed Taunt on Gyarados this turn, preventing my Porygon2 from setting up Trick Room and dashing any hopes of a Gigalith sweep.

Wei Wen’s Gyarados would easily pick off my Gigalith with a Hydro Vortex the following turn, leaving my Porygon2 to face off against full team of 4, seizing victory in an absolutely disastrous game for me. It cost him a lot of precious information though, and taking the time to close out the game afforded to me by the drawn out end-game, allowed me to formulate my own game plan which I was confident could beat him.

Game 2

Wei Wen’s play of switching out Marowak the previous game gave me an epiphany, realising that Gyarados made a fairly safe lead since it would predictably force Marowak out against the lead combination Wei Wen had used Game 1. I also opted to switch out Raichu for Tapu Koko, realising that Hydro Vortex from my Gyarados would likely be key to sealing up this set, and that I couldn’t afford to waste my Z-move on Shattered Psyche no matter how tempting it could seem. Seeing Hydro Vortex on Gyarados roused suspicions that he was running a Dragon Dance set, which Tapu Koko could potentially outspeed even at +1 if Wei Wen ran the more common Adamant set. Having Terrain control would also improve Gigalith’s matchup against Tapu Lele, which I expected to be the last of Wei Wen’s chosen four.

Wei Wen led once again with Marowak and Porygon2 as anticipated, which I happily led Gyarados and Porygon2 against. Expecting him to retreat Marowak and target Gyarados with Thunderbolt, I withdrew Gyarados for Gigalith and set up Trick Room. The turn played out as expected but Wei Wen ended up bringing his own Gyarados in to replace Marowak, which unfortunately Intimidated my Gigalith, temporarily delaying its sweep.

I fully expected Wei Wen to play to his safest out this turn, which would be to Protect Gyarados and reverse Trick Room with Porygon2. I swapped out Porygon2 for Tapu Koko here to pin Gyarados down the following turn outside of Trick Room, and fired off a Rock Slide from Gigalith. Wei Wen would Protect his Gyarados but Rock Slide would end up Flinching Porygon2, which I’m not sure I wanted and probably should have accounted for.

Contrary to what Matthew might have thought while commentating, I knew I wasn’t out of the running yet and still held a decent position. I read Wei Wen’s best out to be avoiding a Flinch or Stone Edge and nabbing a kill with Hydro Vortex, so I switched Gigalith out for Gyarados and Protected Tapu Koko. The turn played out perfectly as Wei Wen switched out Porygon2 for Marowak and burned his Hydro Vortex on my Gyarados. The next turn I hit Marowak with a Hydro Vortex of my own and switched out Tapu Koko into Porygon2, expecting Wei Wen to target into it with either Shadow Bone or Bonemerang from Marowak since Gyarados would not be able to take it out. Wei Wen went on the offensive with both his attackers and lost Marowak to my Z-move, which fortunately hit its desired target.

Wei Wen brought in Porygon2 to replace Marowak, pinning with Gyarados down with the threat of Thunderbolt. With only one turn of Trick Room left, I decided to switch in Tapu Koko over Gyarados and Recover with Porygon2 to preserve my Intimidate for later in the game, confident both could take the combination of Thunderbolt and -1 Waterfall easily. With Trick Room down Tapu Koko pinned Wei Wen’s Gyarados down with Thunderbolt this time, so I Protected it expecting his Gyarados to Protect and his Porygon2 to try for the KO on my Tapu Koko. Once again I called Wei Wen’s play perfectly and my Porygon2 got an Ice Beam off onto his Porygon2 for free, though not securing the Freeze which could have locked up the game there and then. I went for Thunderbolt again the next turn, confident that Wei Wen would not have Garchomp in the back, and that it would do plenty of damage to his Tapu Lele should he try to bring it in. Gyarados did not switch and fell to the Thunderbolt, while his Porygon2 picked Tapu Koko off with Shadow Ball, allowing me to set Trick Room up. Wei Wen revealed his last Pokemon to be Tapu Lele as I had suspected, allowing me to easily close up the game with my Assault Vest Gigalith and Porygon2.

Game 3

I stuck with the same leads and Pokemon for game 3, while Wei Wen switched his leads to Gyarados and Porygon2. Expecting Thunderbolt into my Gyarados and Taunt into my Porygon2, I switched Porygon2 out into my Tapu Koko and Protected Gyarados. Expecting Wei Wen to make a hard read here I switched in Gigalith over Gyarados and attacked with Thunderbolt from Tapu Koko, which would either nail Gyarados or punish a Marowak switch-in and Trick Room. Wei Wen ended up playing it straight by Protecting Gyarados and going for Thunderbolt onto Gyarados, chipping my Gigalith’s HP down a bit but otherwise not gaining much.

Next turn I switched Gigalith out into Gyarados, expecting Wei Wen to retreat Porygon2 for Marowak and fire off a Hydro Vortex which both Tapu Koko and Gyarados would comfortably stomach after Intimidate. Wei Wen ended up targeting Gigalith’s slot which worked out great for me, once again burning his Z-move with Gyarados and limiting his Gyarados’ offensive pressure. I predicted him to switch out Gyarados after this to reset its neutered Attack stat and targeted Marowak with a Hydro Vortex of my own, figuring that it even if Wei Wen Protected it, I would be able to pick if off with Waterfall next turn.

I’m not sure why I did what I did the next turn, firing a Waterfall off into Marowak and Taunting Porygon2. I really should have just switched Gigalith in to either of the slots to counter the potential Trick Room play, and at least account for the possibility of Thunderbolt taking out Gyarados instead of just sacrificing it there. Regardless what happened did happen, and I lost Gyarados, though not without doing a significant chunk of damage to the Tapu Lele which switched in over Marowak. I brought Porygon2 in to replace Gyarados, and switched Gigalith in over Tapu Koko next turn hoping to set up Trick Room and position my endgame sweep. Fortunately Wei Wen switched out his Porygon2 and brought Marowak in, while Psychic fails to take out Gigalith on the switch despite a Critical Hit, allowing Trick Room to go up.

The next turn I expected Wei Wen to go for a double Protect to stall out his Trick Room turns, and so went for Rock Slide and Return to maximise my damage output on whatever could come in. He ended up attacking with both his Pokemon, allowing Rock Slide to pick off a double KO and forcing his Gyarados and Porygon2 in. I’m really not sure why he did this, though considering how the next few turns went I would probably have benefited more from a turn of Trick Room stalled out. Without Protect on Gigalith ,there was not much I could do the following turn other than attack again and hope that Rock Slide flinched his Porygon2, since he probably was going to Protect Gyarados and attack Gigalith. I wasn’t able to connect with the Flinch and so lost Gigalith, which forced my Tapu Koko in with 2 turns of Trick Room remaining. Wei Wen actually revealed Ice Beam this turn as his last move on Porygon2, which I unfortunately did not catch but probably surprised members of the audience, and meant that all I had to do was take out Gyarados to secure a win, since my Porygon2 would probably win a war of attrition against his.

Next turn I knew I had to Protect Tapu Koko and attack with Porygon2, and hope that I could take Gyarados down within the next 2 turns. After careful deliberation I realised that Return was probably going to do more damage with Gyarados’ lower Defense stat, and as it turns out, was able to 2HKO Wei Wen’s Gyarados at that point. I was really happy to see the damage Return dealt as I knew I had the game locked down then with one more Return. Figuring that things could still go awry should I hit a low roll with Return, and Wei Wen then double into my Tapu Koko, I fished for a second Protect which I fortunately got, but didn’t need as Gyarados fell to Return before it could attack. I taunted Porygon2 the next turn with Tapu Koko thinking I would have a Porygon2 mirror stall war to play out and expecting Recover, only for Wei Wen to go for Shadow Ball on Tapu Koko, which was only when I realised that Wei Wen did not have Recover, and that bar some Freeze or Paralysis hax which didn’t happen, I had won the game!

Reflections

I was really happy to have won the tournament, since I’d left the house not even expecting to play in it, much less do well enough to win it and bring home an effective $650 cash prize – more than anything any other Singaporean player had won from a local event before. This tournament was also the last in Singapore I could attend before my move to New Zealand in March, so I it made for a sentimental, bittersweet title and legacy I could leave behind.

As for the team, playing in this tournament had exposed some severe weaknesses, most notably to Belly Drum Snorlax which Amirul had used to beat me in the round robin. I started to doubt that the team could remain as eternally relevant as my friends and I had hyped within our private social circles, and look to other team options for the coming Melbourne International Championships.

Retirement?

The sudden rise of the Drifblim + Tapu Lele combination made this team absolutely unplayable, which combined with its tricky Snorlax matchup, forced me to abandon it leading to the Melbourne IC. I experimented with several team archetypes including a Driflbim team of my own, but ultimately settled with a team inspired by Rob Akershoek’s Sheffield Regional’s team involving Persian, the AFK core and Mimikyu + Snorlax. I thought it’d play similarly to the Surge team with Persian for Fake Out support and a strong Trick Room core, but never could quite get used to it in the limited time I had to practice with it.

I ended up finishing 5-4 in Melbourne, which I was fairly satisfied with since I managed to break even, meet lots of great players and end with the same score as practice buddy Chelsea, who was running the exact same team and had helped me figure it out in the week before the tournament. Melbourne Internationals was easily the the most enjoyable event I’ve played in during my VGC career, the environment was fantastic, friendly and a refreshing reminder of how enjoyable Pokemon can be. Kudos to the Australians for being great hosts and people in general.

Melbourne looked set to be my last major event of the year. I wasn’t returning to Singapore after the tournament, instead moving on to New Zealand, to live with my family who were in the midst of migrating there. New Zealand has a notoriously inactive VGC community scene almost no official support, so I was expecting to put down my 3DS and retire from VGC for good, hopefully moving on to more productive exploits in life.

Hong Kong Regional Championships (4-3 Swiss, 20th)

That was until sometime mid-April, when I confirmed that I’d be making a trip back to Singapore from late May to early July, to help complete my family’s move and hopefully catch up with my older friends. Hong Kong Regionals was announced during this same period, which my friends Matthew and Ryan Chiam were highly enthusiastic for. I needed to leave the country during the period anyways to avoid voiding my National Service exit permit, so upon successful registration, decided to make the trip to Hong Kong.

Much like with Melbourne, my intention of travelling to Hong Kong had not been to win. I was much more keen on picking up rare die-cast cars, observing the country’s state as a politically mature individual for the first time, and feasting on the Pork-filled McMuffins Matthew perpetually raved about.

I thus looked for teams which I not only could win games with, but also enjoy and play reflexively. I experimented with a Driflbim + Tapu Lele team of my own sometime late April, and the FAKE-PG archetype which had begun to make waves sometime in May, both of which felt disappointing despite netting me decent progress on Showdown and Chelsea’s repeated efforts at convincing me how amazingly impenetrable the AFK core was.

Eventually I stumbled upon Koutaro Nakagome’s Melbourne International Championships Day 2 team, also centered around the Raichu+Tapu Koko combination. His use of Electro Ball caught my eye, mainly because of how much easier it made playing against Snorlax and Porygon2. Inspired by that, and another strange Japanese team linked to me by Chelsea which Matthew refused to help translate featuring Choice Specs Raichu, I sat down to tweak the team once again, and see how far I could take it.

The team easily outperformed my expectations in testing. Metagame shifts meant that threats like Marowak and Drifblim were almost non-existent, and the most common teams of the time like ‘FAKE-PG’ and ‘GACT’ the Surge duo could easily overwhelm and defeat. I tested a lot of interesting switches to the team, including Pheromosa and Celesteela over Kartana, and Arcanine over Gyarados, but always found myself reverting back to the team’s original 6 members, albeit with revised sets and EV spreads.

Eventually I skyrocketed to a peak of 169* on Showdown in a single sitting using one iteration of the team, which convinced me it was worth playing and bringing back home to Singapore. Unfortunately I wouldn’t end up using it in Singapore Opens II and III, both of which I commentated instead in place of Justin, who held hopes of a Worlds Day 2 invite and needed to play in said events to secure it. I didn’t have much time to myself once back in Singapore due to personal and social commitments outside of Pokemon, and as a result the only real practice I got in was during a 2.5 hour Showdown session while waiting for my flight at the airport. Regardless I would bring the team to Hong Kong, armed only with a belly full of Pork McMuffins, and confidence that the instincts I’d honed all season would carry me somewhere.

Version 3

Esprit (Raichu-Alola) @ Psychium Z
Ability: Surge Surfer
EVs: 4 Atk / 252 SpA / 252 Spe
Timid Nature
– Fake Out
– Electro Ball
– Volt Switch
– Psychic

Raichu saw the most extensive overhaul on this version of the team. While the Psychium Z tech remained, Thunderbolt was replaced by Electro Ball and Volt Switch as my main offensive options. Contrary to what most might expect, Electro Ball’s base power does account for the Speed boost Surge Surfer provides, and thus hits a lot of key threats for huge damage – most notably Snorlax and Porygon2, both of which took the maximum 150 base damage under Electric Terrain.

Volt Switch seemed like a silly choice earlier in the format when Marowak dominated the metagame, but with it and Togedemaru’s usage diminished, made an great tech allowing for some interesting positioning plays against more passive AFK teams. Many such teams would lead with Tapu Fini to gain an immediate terrain advantage, which I could take advantage of by double Volt Switching with both Tapu Koko and Raichu, bringing Tapu Koko back in (since it would Volt Switch out first) to reset the terrain in my favour.

Most Japanese players prefer to run quirkier items on their Raichu, including Choice Specs or Razor Fang for Fling, which I think actually benefited me since it made Psychium Z even less expected a pick. I saw no reason to swap it out as it still consistently nabbed surprise OHKOs on most opposing Tapu Koko I faced in practice.

Tapu Kok (Tapu Koko) @ Choice Specs
Ability: Electric Surge
EVs: 6 HP / 252 SpA / 252 Spe
Modest Nature
IVs: 0 Atk
– Thunderbolt
– Dazzling Gleam
– Volt Switch
– Electro Ball

Much like with Raichu, the demise of Marowak allowed me to play Tapu Koko more aggressively, dropping Protect and Taunt in favour of a Choice Specs build. Both Volt Switch and Electro Ball I’ve already sung plenty of praises for above, though with Tapu Koko, the latter proved especially useful in 2HKOing Porygon2 in and potentially OHKOing Snorlax under Electric Terrain thanks to Choice Specs.

I actually hastily locked in a Timid Tapu Koko for Hong Kong Regionals, which I was fortunately alerted to early in Round 2, when a combination of Raichu’s Electro Ball and Tapu Koko’s Thunderbolt left a Porygon2 standing with a bit too much HP. I ended up winning the set regardless, but would lose a few other games later due to Tapu Koko barely missing KOs, learning the hard way that Modest Tapu Koko was the way to go for this team.

#FORZAYN (Kartana) @ Focus Sash
Ability: Beast Boost
Level: 50
EVs: 6 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spe
Jolly Nature
– Leaf Blade
– Smart Strike
– Sacred Sword
– Detect

Although Kartana’s set remained completely unchanged, I had to adjust the way I played it to keep it relevant. The metagame had adapted to it, so no longer were Kartana 1-vs-3 comebacks a possibility, and rarely ever did I find myself playing to Kartana clean-up endgames. Instead I’d use it either to punch holes in opponents’ teams early in the game, usually to punish attempts by opposing Tapu Fini or Tapu Lele to gain terrain advantages, or as a defensive pivot coming in after a Volt Switch.

I briefly considered Grassium Z to allow Kartana to swiftly dispatch opposing Garchomp, but found the team too pressed for Z-moves on Raichu and Gyarados as it was to consider. Focus Sash also helped improve my team’s Pheromosa matchup, especially since most Pheromosa had started running Z-moves, allowing Kartana to beat them 1-vs-1.

Even now I retain my opinion that Kartana is the best Pokemon in the format, with its sheer offensive pressure making it absolutely indispensable in combating niche picks that would otherwise trouble the team such as Mudsdale, Togedemaru, and Xurkitree.

Also, can someone please tell me why people are still running Protect and not Detect on Kartana this late in the year?

Rucky RuoHan (Gyarados) @ Waterium Z
Ability: Intimidate
Level: 50
Shiny: Yes
EVs: 60 HP / 252 Atk / 4 Def / 4 SpD / 188 Spe
Jolly Nature
– Waterfall
Flamethrower
– Dragon Dance
– Protect

In the process of dolling Gyarados up for a prosperous Hong Kong run, I finally got around to optimising its EV spread. The spread allowed it to outspeed Sejun’s offensive Arcanine before a Dragon Dance, and outspeed Timid Tapu Koko after one. Ice Fang fell out of favour during practice as I learnt to better manage Porygon2 against opposing Garchomp, and I decided to replace it with Flamethrower after losing 3 games in a row against Kartanas in situations I could have come back from with Flamethrower.

Flamethrower was a hasty addition I made the morning of my flight, and would only ever come in handy once against a Tapu Bulu in Hong Kong – only because my Gyarados had been burnt and taken an Intimidate. I’m honestly not sure how much I benefited from ‘optimising’ Gyarados, since dropping my speed from Jolly 252 would cost me my Top 8 match against Bryan Cheang later on.

Digimon (Porygon2) @ Eviolite
Ability: Download
Level: 50
EVs: 244 HP / 4 Atk / 92 Def / 28 SpA / 140 SpD
Sassy Nature
IVs: 0 Spe
– Trick Room
– Return
– Ice Beam
– Recover

Porygon2 also remained as it had always been, with no changes to both its set and my mentality towards it – I still never got around to figuring out what it could and couldn’t take. I did however learn to play it better, learning to predict Download boosts which helped me play against teams with Garchomp a lot better. Porygon2 also gave me my one out against the Driflblim + Tapu Lele combination with Trick Room, which I could either set-up Turn 1 against Choice Specs Tapu Lele, or try and set up late-game against Life Orb variants.

I somehow feel like Return only managed to get better as the season progressed, despite the rise of Arcanine to ubiquity. It hit so hard against the three popular Island Guardians, and other miscellaneous threats to the team like Ninetales and Muk.

10^9-lith (Gigalith) @ Wiki Berry
Ability: Sand Stream
Level: 50
EVs: 228 HP / 156 Atk / 32 Def / 92 SpD
Brave Nature
IVs: 0 Spe
Protect
– Earthquake
Curse
– Rock Slide

Curse Gigalith was something I had considered before Melbourne to counter the rise of Snorlax, but written off as inadequate. After being proven wrong by players like Nick Navarre who piloted it to a Top Cut finish in Melbourne, I gave it a shot, and after some practice, never looked back. Earthquake remained the coverage move of choice, as I still absolutely needed it to deal with Togedemaru.

Gigalith’s EV spread I received through Chelsea but originated from (I think) Martin. Its benchmarks I was told involved Tapu Lele at an effective neutral Special Attack (Terrain + Sandstorm or No Terrain+No Sandstorm), which I liked very much and thus decided to use. The Attack I sacrificed never let me down, and has so far proven a perfect fit for the team.

Gigalith can be a very difficult Pokemon to use on this team, especially against the Snorlax that it is designed to combat, since it relies on prior damage to take on 1-vs-1. It took a fair bit of practice before I started winning with it again without relying on the Rock Slide flinches some other players seem to have a penchant for banking on, but its simply impossible to replace, with how it completely swings the team’s matchup against Ninetales, and punishes late-game many of the threats that the team’s other 5 cannot easily overwhelm.

Weaknesses

Drifblim + Tapu Lele is an absolutely terrible matchup for this team. Preventing Tailwind is almost outright impossible, Drifblim threatens an OHKO on Raichu with Shadow Ball, a burn on Kartana and Gigalith, and most such teams run Taunt on Tapu Lele to prevent Porygon2 from setting up Trick Room.

In testing I formulated a complicated game plan which had me lead Kartana and Tapu Koko T1, forcing Drifblim to forgo Tailwind for Will-o-Wisp onto Kartana allowing me take it out with Tapu Koko, which often worked out on Showdown, but I thought unlikely to last in a Best of 3 set. Fortunately the combination had fallen out of vogue right around the time I brought the team back, and I never had to worry about it any of the tournaments I played in.

A lot of the team’s weaknesses didn’t change, though they were slightly mitigated by the re-addition of Hydro Vortex Gyarados and Choice Specs Tapu Koko. Many of them, like Tapu Bulu and Gastrodon, also fell out of favour as the metagame progressed.

Hong Kong Regionals

Hong Kong Regionals was a fantastic event that seemed to have it all: a spacious venue, generous participation prizes, a Pikachu mascot, a complementary buffet lunch, incredibly polite players contrary to conventional Cantonese stereotypes, and even an antique Rolls-Royce in the lobby. Save for the small letdown when our attempts at registering our Traditional Chinese names failed, and the panic the regional restrictions on participants’ cartridges induced leading up to the event, it was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed and would return for another time if I could.

My halting Banana’s Mandarin proficiency made it difficult for me to remember my opponents’ names, even during the event itself. I probably would have remembered more of them had Ryan Chiam kept a log of them for me. Regardless I do have notes from the event and will try to recall my matches as well as I can.

R1: Vs ??? (WW)

   

My round 1 opponent was from the mainland, which surprised me since I didn’t expect any VGC interest to exist there. Game 1 I remember overwhelming him completely with a Surge lead, and confirming that his Pheromosa held Fightingnium Z and that his Garchomp did not hold Choice Scarf. Game 2 he adapted by bringing his Muk, which I was able to beat by conserving my Z-move for Gyarados’ Hydro Vortex.

R2: Vs ??? (WW)

   

Round 2 offered me a straight FAKE-PG team played by a Hong Kong native, which I was happy to see having rehearsed the match-up many times prior. His Gigalith did not have Curse or a 50% Pinch Berry, so I was able to comfortably overpower him both games with a Raichu + Tapu Koko lead and Porygon2 + Gigalith in the back despite getting Gigalith frozen in game 1. This game was also when I first realised I’d brought Timid Tapu Koko, unlike the Modest one I’d been testing with, and started worrying that it might not have been such a good idea.

R3: Vs ??? (WW)

   

I faced yet another mainlander in round 3, though with a team I found much more terrifying. He packed 3 of my team’s greatest nemeses in Goodra, Metagross and Tapu Bulu, and I knew I had to play this match very carefully.

Game 1 I was able to confirm that his Goodra held Assault Vest and packed Bulldoze, which he’d use to activate Metagross’ Weakness Policy. I also learnt that his Arcanine held Grassy Seed, and that his Tapu Bulu was Choice Scarfed. I played Game 1 hoping to set up Gyarados, which I knew he’d struggled to break without a move on Goodra which could touch it, and got my breakthrough when my Gyarados landed a Critical Hit with Waterfall onto this +1 Arcanine, taking it out.

Game 2 I stuck with the same plan, but this time landed my break with a Ice Beam freeze onto his Metagross. I’m not sure how much it mattered since I remember playing that turn into a position where he’d switch Metagross out or risk losing it regardless, but it did make my late-game a lot easier.

I had been assigned the stream table for this game, though we were made to defer to Junior Division players Aidan Lee and the famous John Chan, whom the Tournament Organizers wanted to have on stream – I think for the better, with how unclean this game ended up. I felt bad having beaten my opponent this way, but he insisted that he’d lost a bad matchup to Gyarados and that I should feel no shame for my win, and even jokingly wished me more of such luck in the tournament. Kudos to him for his sportsmanship.

Nelson and I were the only 3-0 Singaporeans at this point, which started to make me nervous since I knew the next few matches were sure to be tough.

R4: Vs Leung Yui Cheung (LL)

   

Having only caught a fleeting glimpse at my opponent’s name and only catching “Cheung”, my first thoughts were “crap am I already playing Edward Cheung”. Having been brought for a splendid local dinner by him the night before, I wasn’t too pleased with the thought of potentially denying Edward his World’s invite.

Fortunately I’d be facing someone else, and I felt pretty optimistic about my team matchup. I stuck with the usual plan of leading Tapu Koko and Raichu and keeping Porygon2 and Gigalith in the back. Yui Cheung led with both Tapu Lele and Tapu Koko, setting up Psychic Terrain, which I’d usually counteract with a double Volt Switch into his Tapu Lele. My relief was short lived though as his Tapu Lele attacked before my Raichu and OHKO’d it with Moonblast, revealing itself to be a slower Choice Scarf variant underspeeding Timid Tapu Koko but still outspeeding Raichu. I brought in Porygon2 next turn, hoping to clutch out a Gigalith Trick Room sweep. Though Yui Cheung ended up keeping his Kartana alive long enough to nail Porygon2 with an All-Out-Pummeling before I could take it out.

I tried adapting in Game 2, leading with Porygon2 and switching in Tapu Koko while going for Fake Out onto this Tapu Lele instead. I’d learn in Turn 2 however that his Tapu Koko held an Assault Vest as Shattered Psyche did less 75% to it, after which the game for me quickly spiraled out of control, ending even more disastrously than my first.

Yui Cheung was a great sport I thoroughly enjoyed playing against. After seeing his Choice Scarf Tapu Lele Game 1 I knew the match was near impossible, and we spent the bulk of the match jovially joking with each other as the games played out. It made the set a lot more enjoyable to play than such a crushing defeat would usually have been, so thanks for that, Yui Cheung.

R5: Vs Kevin Ngim (LL)

   

Kevin’s team was hauntingly similar to Yui Cheung’s, which absolutely terrified me. Fortunately his Tapu Lele held a Life Orb instead as I’d learn almost immediately in Game 1, but his Tapu Koko still held the troublesome Assault Vest which made it difficult to take out.

I struggled to get a read on Kevin’s plan Game 1, burning my Raichu’s Shattered Psyche into a Protect and eventually getting my momentum disrupted by Tapu Koko’s Sky Drop. I vaguely remember barely missing out on 2 crucial KOs with Tapu Koko costing Game 2, which I really wanted to shoot myself for since Modest would have made the match much easier. I didn’t feel too bad about things yet though, Kevin’s team felt like it had what it took to go far, and I could still squeeze into Top Cut with 2 more wins.

R6: Vs Esmond Leung (LWL)

   

Esmond’s name I was pretty disheartened to see, having some vague recollection of Chelsea mentioning his name before which meant he had to be good. I was even more disheartened to see a defensive Tapu Bulu team a la Wolfe since I knew it could beat me easily if played well.

The set ended up exasperatingly drawn out, after two close games which I felt anyone could have won. In Game 3 I was able to freeze his Tapu Bulu with Porygon2, but despite that couldn’t pin down the rest of the team enough to stop Gigalith from being Burned and Intimidated into oblivion by Arcanine.

With my third loss I’d knew my shot at Top Cut was lost, though I didn’t care too much since winning had never been my main intention travelling to Hong Kong, and this game had been refreshingly intense.

R7: Vs ??? (WW)

   ??? ??? ???

I didn’t scribble down my last round opponent’s team and honestly don’t remember too much about it. We’d been more fixated on the streamed match, since it featured a friend of his playing.

I remember this game being rather straightforward since his team’s main objective was to set up his ‘Skyler’ Snorlax which dropped High Horsepower for Recycle and ran Facade over Return, and both games I was able to take Sableye out early enough to deny him the option of a self Will-O-Wisp, whilst boosting up Gigalith quickly enough to beat his Snorlax 1-vs-1. I also got an impossibly lucky number of Rock Slide Flinches onto his Snorlax in Game 2, which my opponent fortunately didn’t get too worked up about, and brushed aside as nothing compared to the madness with Guillotine we’d been watching on screen after I revealed a healthy Kartana in my last slot.

Post-Tournament Reflections

I ended up finishing 20th overall with a 4-3 record. I was pretty pleased with it, with nothing tangible to gain from doing any better, and still finishing well among all the other Singaporeans – below only Nelson at 5-2 and Yoko just one place above me – despite my limited practice and hiatus in New Zealand. We left the venue early, and I’d only learn later that all 3 opponents who beat me went on to the top cut, with Esmond winning the tournament and Yui Cheung finishing a semi-finalist, which too made me feel a lot better about my performance as I spent the rest of the night binge-drinking Bubble Tea in the hotel room. I’d spend the next days out scouring Hong Kong for bargain Tomica deals and setting my pulse racing at Ocean Park, ending an amazing trip with Matthew and Ryan, and what I’d expected then to be my Pokemon career.

House of N Mid-Season Showdown

Like with the Angbao Challenge and HK Regionals, I hadn’t originally planned to play in the House of N MSS. I originally had a dinner planned with some old friends on the date, which ended up being cancelled just a few days before. That same day I played a few matches against Chelsea piloting a ‘GACT’ team which she touted to be the new metagame standard, and after brutally crushing her, found myself convinced by her to play in the MSS just to see how far I could push my team – this time with the correct Tapu Koko. There were some pretty attractive prizes on the line anyways, and with Bryan Tan to annoy, so why not?

R1: Vs Bryan Cheang (LWW)

   

A Surge mirror was hardly what I’d expected to face going into Round 1, but one I couldn’t feel bad about either. I’d played against Bryan a few times before leaving Singapore, and he’d left a strong First Impression on me with his penchant for Golisopod.

I’d recognised his team as loosely based off Koutaro Nakagome’s Melbourne team, but remembered too little about it outside of the Tapu Koko, Raichu and Golisopod sets for that to be of any use. I ended up falling for the Scarf Garchomp Game 1 and lost both Tapu Koko and Raichu, but managed to claw my way back in Game 2 and 3 switching up to a Raichu/Porygon2 lead and wearing down Garchomp and Goliospod with Gyarados switch-ins.

Bryan shared after our games that he’d run his team partially inspired by his losses to me earlier on in the season, which I found rather heartening, seeing his experiences and love for Golisopod fuse and manifest in his take on Koutaro’s team.

R2: Vs Nelson Lim (WLW)

   

This set was streamed through The Mirage Island’s Facebook Page, and can be viewed here

Seeing myself paired against Nelson, I knew my match would be put on stream. Nelson and I go way back, and we hadn’t yet played a VGC’17 match since both us hit our top form this season, so I was quite eager to play against him. I had what I recalled to be a perfect track record facing him head-on at major events since 2012, which I, needless to say, was keen to maintain.

Game 1

I’d seen Nelson run Will-O-Wisp Arcanine  and noticed his penchant for Gigalith while commentating the second Singapore Open, so didn’t feel too comfortable running my usual game plan of Tapu Koko + Raichu and Porygon2 + Gigalith in the back. I knew I could comfortably beat FAKE+PG almost just as well with Kartana and Gyarados in the back, so I decided to try for that.

Nelson led with Tapu Koko and Porygon2. Predicting at worst a Volt Switch from Tapu Koko, I doubled into Porygon2 with Fake Out and Electro Ball. Tapu Koko ended up Protecting itself while Porygon2 lost more than half its HP achieving essentially nothing. Next turn, I figured that Nelson wouldn’t run Assault Vest or Focus Sash on his Tapu Koko and decided to fire Shattered Psyche into that slot. Nelson probably didn’t expect Shattered Psyche and kept both his Pokemon in, allowing me to pick them both off and gain an early 4-2 lead, without taking any damage whatsoever.

Next turn Nelson brought in Arcanine and Gigalith. I Volt Switched out with Raichu hoping to bring in Gyarados to get Intimidate off, and try to draw out the game as long as possible to scout his Arcanine’s moveset. Rock Slide ended up landing a Critical Hit on Gyarados taking it out, letting Kartana come back in. Expecting Gigalith to Protect and Arcanine to attack it with Flare Blitz, I then retreat Tapu Koko for Raichu to get recycle Fake Out pressure, and save Electric Surge for later. Nelson ends up playing as predicted, and next turn I Fake Out Arcanine and take out Gigalith with Kartana, snagging a beast boost. The rest of this game plays out for Nelson as well as you’d expect.

Game 2

Going into Game 2, I expected Nelson to bring in Tapu Fini to combat the surge lead, and felt confident enough to revert to my usual game plan of Porygon2 and Gigalith in the back. Nelson led this time with Arcanine and Tapu Koko. Expecting Nelson to Protect Tapu Koko again fearing the Shattered Psyche and pack Snarl on his Arcanine, I double targeted Arcanine with Volt Switch, which I was confident would take it out, and allow me to bring Raichu back in the next turn for a fresh Fake Out.

Nelson ended up calling my bluff and firing off Extremespeed and Gigavolt Havoc into my Tapu Koko which I had not anticipated, forcing me to lose Tapu Koko and bring in Porygon2. Though unfortunate, it wasn’t the end of the world yet. I brought Raichu back in the next turn and Volt Switched out to bring in Gigalith, as Trick Room went up. Nelson also brought in his Gigalith the same turn through his Volt Switch, forcing us to play a tricky Gigalith mirror match. Eventually I was able to set up a Curse and threaten Nelson’s Gigalith with a boosted Earthquake, but not without knocking out my own Porygon2 due to terrible luck, in both an earlier Rock Slide Flinch and a Critical Hit. Without my Porygon2 to continue dragging out the game, and both Trick Room and Sandstorm down, Nelson was eventually able to close out the game with his Porygon2.

Losing Game 2 to a combination of such stacked dumb luck and 2 of Nelson’s reckless bluffs was rough, but I remained confident that I could still pull the set off.

Game 3

I switched back to the core I brought in Game 1, deciding that I needed Gyarados’ Intimidate and that Kartana might give me better odds against Nelson’s Porygon2 and Gigalith. Nelson led with Arcanine and Tapu Koko again. Not wanting to fall prey to his bluff a third time, I blasted Tapu Koko with Shattered Psyche and targeted Arcanine with Volt Switch. I ended up falling straight into a Double Protect, which I’d not expected from Arcanine, still anticipating Will-O-Wisp to be tucked somewhere on his set.  Burning my Z-move put me in a terrible position, vulnerable to the same Extremespeed + Gigavolt Havoc play which cost me last game. Vaguely recalling that Modest Magnezone barely secured the KO on Tapu Koko with Gigavolt Havoc for some reason, I thought I could survive the hit after Intimidate and switched in Gyarados over Raichu. Nelson ended up playing as predicted but still managed the KO, punishing me for my gross miscalculation.

I brought back Raichu in over Tapu Koko to threaten with Fake Out pressure again, figuring that I’d have a free turn to Dragon Dance with Fake Out onto Tapu Koko, and Arcanine certain to not carry Will-O-Wisp. Nelson smartly withdraws Tapu Koko into Porygon2 but goes for Snarl with Arcanine, allowing me to set up Dragon Dance almost unpunished. Next turn I vaguely entertained the possibility of fishing for a Flinch with Waterfall, but realised that Nelson probably wanted Gigalith in this turn, and could either sacrifice Arcanine to get it in, assuming Gigalith in my last slot, or switch Gigalith in hoping I don’t target the slot with my boosted Waterfall. With how Game 2 I had played, I decided to take my chances counting on another reckless bluff from Nelson, which paid off as I nailed the Arcanine with Waterfall and Volt Switched Raichu out into Kartana.

Staring down Porygon2 and Gigalith in Trick Room with Kartana and Gyarados, Nelson’s safest option seemed to be Ice Beam into Kartana and a Rock Slide, hoping to net a flinch somewhere. I decided to switch out Gyarados into Raichu thinking I could take the Rock Slide, while Protecting Kartana giving me Fake Out pressure again next turn. Nelson ended up calling going for Stone Edge though, with fortunately enough for me misses. Nothing I thought I could feel too bad about since the factors that cost me Game 2 definitely fell below a 20% probability of occurrence.

Despite getting Fake Out back on the field cleanly, I was still playing from behind and had to consider my next turn carefully. I could take out both Porygon2 and Gigalith with a combination of the right moves, and thought that Nelson would expect me to double into Porygon2 with Fake Out and Sacred Sword, anticipating him to Protect Gigalith. As such I decided to go all in against Gigalith that turn hitting it with Fake Out and Leaf Blade, thinking the worst Porygon2 could do that turn was Recover, and that I might be bailed out by an increased Critical Hit chance from Leaf Blade regardless. The turn played out perfectly though, as Nelson switched in his Tapu Koko over Porygon2 giving me a free turn to double target into Gigalith, not taking it out and triggering its Pinch Berry but still putting it just above half HP, KO range for Waterfall.

With Tapu Koko back in, my Kartana was put in an excellent position, threatening a KO with Leaf Blade before Tapu Koko could even move, thanks to Trick Room. Although Nelson could Protect his Tapu Koko this turn, I didn’t expect him to since doing so would gain him no real momentum, and the additional turn of Rock Slide damage wouldn’t change the outcome of the following turn. I only feared a Rock Slide Flinch which I knew Nelson would try for, but decided that I had to risk. As such I brought in Gyarados to neuter Gigalith with Intimidate, in the off chance that my inexperienced calculations failed me again and gave me an additional out. Nelson ended up not Protecting his Tapu Koko and both Kartana and Gyarados ate a Rock Slide, which fortunately did not Flinch Kartana allowing me to take Tapu Koko out.

Not Flinching was a huge relief to me. I knew that I just needed to Protect Kartana the next turn and switch Raichu back in to stall out the last turn of Trick Room and seal up the game, since Gigalith wouldn’t bother Kartana outside of Trick Room, and a combination of Gyarados’ Waterfall and Raichu’s Electro Ball should be enough to KO Porygon2 in tandem with a +1 Sacred Sword. Fortunately Raichu didn’t fall to Gigalith’s Intimidated Rock Slide on the switch, and next turn I took out Porygon2 with an Electro Ball and Sacred Sword, securing myself the win.

Taking out Nelson, then 2nd in the APAC CP standings, was a huge boost to my confidence. I almost started to feel like nothing could stop me. Except my hunger of course, which was starting to kick in, and drove me to Bugis Junction for some sushi.

R3: Vs Ryan Chiam (LWW)

   

Ryan’s a good friend I’ve spent the bulk of my last two years teambuilding with, but was more than happy to play against this time since I knew he’d already secured his Worlds’ invitation and was in the tournament just for fun. I was quite familiar with his team, inspired by Daniel Parks’s Top 16 Melbourne Internationals one, but had never really thought about his match-up against mine. Ryan knew my team intricately too, having finished Top 4 in a Malaysian MSS piloting its second iteration, so I knew this match was less about information and more about what we could do with it.

In Game 1 I led with Raichu and Tapu Koko while Ryan led with Porygon-Z and Aerodactyl. Expecting him to call the Fake Out and Thunderbolt into Porygon-Z and switch in Tapu Lele, I targeted Porygon-Z with Shattered Psyche hoping to take it out. Ryan ended up Protecting Porygon-Z and going for Tailwind with Aerodactyl, which I had somehow forgotten he could do. With Porygon-Z set up I conceded the game here, but stalled for time by playing it out to try and formulate a retaliatory plan for Game 2. During these turns I realised that Aerodactyl would not be able to Taunt Porygon2 and stop Trick Room if I could force it to Sky Drop, and recalled that Ryan’s team ran the ‘Skyler’ Snorlax build with Stockpile over High Horsepower, leading me to decide that a Porygon2/Gigalith Trick Room sweep was probably my best out to this set.

In Games 2 and 3 I lead with Raichu + Porygon2 with Gigalith and Kartana in the back. Both games I hit Aerodactyl with Fake Out and went for Trick Room with Porygon2. In Game 2 Ryan went for Z-Conversion which made his Porygon-Z slower than Raichu under Trick Room, allowing me to pick it off and snowball a sweep from there, while in Game 3, Ryan went for Breakneck Blitz which couldn’t take out Porygon2 and let Trick Room get up easily. Both games I brought in Gigalith early, eventually pinning down Ryan’s boosted Snorlax with a healthy Kartana which would easily dispatch it with Sacred Sword.

R4: Vs Amirulhusnii Mohamad (WW)

   

Still reeling from the trauma of losing to Yui Cheung in Hong Kong, during Team Preview against Amirul I mentally prepared myself for yet another crushing defeat to slow Choice Scarf Tapu Lele and Assault Vest Tapu Koko. This time I found my spirits lifted as we entered our first match, where Amirul led Tapu Lele and Tapu Koko into my Surge lead, only to see the terrain shift from Electric to Psychic, and then to Electric once again! Both of us were shocked by how the turn played out; Amirul hadn’t expected Modest Tapu Koko and it’d completely slipped my mind that Modest Tapu Koko would win out in such a situation. Capitalising on this I double Volt Switched into the Tapu Lele slot, taking it out while causing Amirul to fire off a Shadow Ball into a Porygon2 (formerly Raichu). The rest of the game played out smoothly as Shattered Psyche took out his Tapu Koko which did not hold Assault Vest, allowing me to seal up the game 4-0.

Game 2 I recall played out a bit closer with a few opportunities for Amirul to come back after yet again being overwhelmed by the Surge lead turn 1. He did not capitalise on them however and I was able to take the game with a Kartana clean-up, after surprising his Arcanine with Hydro Vortex from Gyarados.

R5: Vs Melvin Keh (WW)

   

No one likes seeing themselves paired against Melvin before securing Top Cut, but I guess it was an inevitability I had to accept in a tournament with so many prizes at stake. I’d not played Melvin at all the whole year, but was fairly familiar with his team from my recent commentary work, and was very eager to prove myself against him, after losing most of my past games against him from the get-go by getting too flustered during Team Preview.

I expected Melvin to bring his Whimsicott for Tailwind support against me, and to make Xurkitree his win condition to take advantage of my team’s dependence on Electric Terrain. I also knew his team had an exploitable Gigalith weakness, which I’ve seen a few players trouble him with before. I thus decided to lead with Kartana and Raichu, hoping to catch Whimsicott early and snowball a Beast Boost sweep, or least set up for Porygon2 to come in late game and sweep with Gigalith.

In Game 1 he led with Whimsicott and Tapu Lele. I hastily doubled into Whimsicott to snag a beast boost with Volt Switch and Smart Strike, expecting Melvin to Protect Tapu Lele and set up Tailwind. He ended up reading me and switched Whimsicott out for Arcanine, while going for Psychic with Tapu Lele which revealed itself to be holding a Life Orb. I still managed to chunk his Arcanine for a significant amount of damage this turn, and brought in Porygon2 to try and set up Trick Room. I don’t remember exactly what happened here other than that I got Trick Room up and landed a Critical Hit on his Xurkitree on the switch-in with Rock Slide, allowing me to take it out with a boosted Return from my Porygon2. I also recall a moment late-game where I OHKO’d his Tapu Lele with a Smart Strike from Kartana, which surprised me since Melvin was previously infamous for running obnoxiously bulky sets on Pokemon.

I remember even less from Game 2, except that Whimsicott appeared early partnered I think with Xurkitree, and that I was eventually able to set up Trick Room and take out Xurkitree with two Critical Hits from Rock Slide and Return on the same turn. I’m not sure how much that mattered in the long run with Earthquake on Gigalith and Whimsicott not on the field to set up a Gigavolt Havoc OHKO that turn, but it was still a nasty way to win I couldn’t be too pleased with.

R6: Vs Emil Ng (WW)

   

Although I’d already secured a spot in Top Cut at this point, Emil was never one to give me any quarter in such situations in the past, and I intended to return the favour by playing this match out as hard as I could.

Emil’s team was tempting to underestimate, comprising several unusual Pokemon, but I knew couldn’t be taken lightly having seen a Hong Kong player cut a MSS previously with the Marowak and Slowking combination. Fortunately his team only had Tapu Koko for terrain control, which meant I could easily dispatch Slowking with Electro Ball should Marowak be taken care of, and punish the rest of his team with Gigalith even if Trick Room went up.

In Game 1 Emil led with Lurantis and Slowking, while I led with Raichu and Gyarados. Lurantis Protected allowing me to Flinch Slowking with Fake Out, but also burning the Hydro Vortex I fired off expecting a Marowak switch-in. Next turn I doubled into Slowking with Electro Ball and Waterfall which took it out, while Lurantis fired off a Leaf Storm which did just about half to Gyarados, but not without netting a Special Attack boost from Contrary. The rest of the game played out bizarrely, with Lurantis actually missing more Leaf Storms than I’d like it to keeping Gyarados and Raichu on the field for an awkwardly long amount of time, and Emil revealing Marowak as his fourth Pokemon despite many prime opportunities to switch it in earlier. I recall even intentionally firing off Volt Switch into Marowak just to check if it actually had Lightning Rod as its ability late game – which it did. On hindsight Emil might not have expected Electro Ball and probably expected Thunderbolt which his Slowking would take comfortably, and maybe found Raichu’s moves too hard to read to justify the risk of exposing Marowak to Gyarados on the switch.

Game 2 ended up a lot more straightforward as I took out Slowking early and Tapu Koko shortly after with Shattered Psyche, allowing the match to quickly snowball into an Electro Ball sweep. Emil’s team just didn’t enjoy Fake Out pressure scrambling his carefully calculated defenses, and Electro Ball’s high damage output against his naturally slow Pokemon.

Top 8: Vs Bryan Cheang (LWL)

   

With the results in it was announced that I’d be up against Bryan Cheang yet again, whom I honestly hadn’t expected to meet again this tournament after our round 1 run-in. Having beaten him in the first round and uncovered his potentially deadly tech in Choice Scarf Garchomp, I didn’t feel too bad about my match-up and focused instead on eloping for a nice meal of baked cream sauce penne with an Oreo milkshake at the library’s cafe. At some point it crossed my mind that Bryan could make the match-up a lot hairier for me by bringing Braviary depending on its set, but I didn’t want to think too much about and instead dedicated my attention to enjoying my dinner.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have enjoyed my dinner so well, as Bryan did end up switching Tapu Koko out for Braviary in our first Top Cut match. All our matches began as wars of attrition, with me maneuvering Gyarados in and out to keep Garchomp and Golisopod neutered, while he kept pressing for openings to attack with them and get Braviary in. In Game 1, caught off guard by the Braviary, Bryan succeeded in cornering me, while in Game 2 I managed to out-maneuver him, though only barely due to a Critical Hit from Supersonic Skystrike onto Porygon2 and a subsequent Rock Slide Flinch, which would have doomed me had Rock Slide not missed the following turn.

Game 3 began with my Raichu and Porygon2 against his Raichu and Garchomp, unfortunately netting me an Attack boost. Download had been instrumental in my past victories since the lead of Garchomp and Golisopod gave me a Special Attack which let me OHKO Garchomp with Ice Beam. We traded Fake Outs, which allowed Bryan to send in Golisopod over Garchomp almost for free. Raichu was in an unfortunate position here, pinned down by First Impression since it couldn’t protect. Yet I couldn’t retreat it for Gyarados, since Bryan could punish such a move with Volt Switch from Raichu in the same slot. As such I switched in my Tapu Koko, which took a surprisingly high amount of damage from First Impression, and had its health brought down below half by Raichu’s Volt Switch. Raichu retreated out into Garchomp, which I was able to punish but not take down with Ice Beam. The rest of the game played out fairly expectedly as I eventually lost Tapu Koko, until I called an Intimidated Golisopod switch into Garchomp correctly and took Garchomp out with Ice Beam, without realising that doing so allowed Golisopod to come back in the following for free and pin down Porygon2’s partner Raichu again with First Impression. To protect Raichu I was forced to to bring Gyarados in in front of Braviary, before being hit with the unfortunate reality that Bryan’s Braviary ran close to maximum speed, moving before my Gyarados and allowing him to take the game.

It was a great set to play which I think both of us played amazingly, although I couldn’t help but feel that I could’ve done better had I given the matchup more thought instead of dedicating it to my Oreo milkshake. After all I did finish in the Top 8 with a flawless Swiss record despite my recent lack of interest and tournament practice in the format, which was something I thought I could be proud of.

Conclusion

Peace out, mates

The VGC’17 season I think has been my most fulfilling in all my years playing VGC, despite me ending nowhere near the Worlds Qualification CP mark, and never having aspired to meet it. The Malaysia, Melbourne and Hong Kong trips were the most enjoyable and carefree out of all the Pokemon related trips I’ve had the privilege of embarking on, and the battles I’ve fought this year the most thoughtful and intense, showing me how much both me and the VGC scene around me has evolved, facilitating such high level play. I doubt I’ll ever be in the running for a World Championships qualification again as I saddle up to focus on Law School in Auckland next year, but I’ll definitely keep playing and enjoying VGC (relationship maintenance calls…), and will participate in whatever events I can, be it in New Zealand, Australia, or back in Singapore when I return for future holidays. And I’ll certainly not forget the wonderful relationships I’ve forged with everyone along the way, that I’m sure will carry on even after Pokemon!

Shout-outs to these especially wonderful people who’ve made this journey possible:

  • The squad, for all the amazing memories over the years both in and out of VGC, especially:
    • Matthew, Ryan, Alan, Justin and Skyler for making the SICC Melbourne trip SICC
    • Matthew and Ryan for the Hong Kong McMuffin and Dim Sum hunt
    • + Daniel, Bryan Tan and Zong Ying and Shawn for that crazy ‘chalet’ in KL last year
  • Low Kit Meng for referring me the Surge Offense team which sparked this wild ride, and being a great friend I can enjoy more than just Pokemon with.
  • Chelsea for being my favourite strategising partner in recent months, and keeping me playing VGC even during my solitary time in New Zealand. I hope we’ll keep at this in the years to come, even as we get busier with our legal studies!
  • Zong Ying, Soon and all the other TOs for the hard work making Singapore the best country in the world to play VGC competitively. Having helped run events in the past I know how hard and thankless your work can be, especially with the tensions over the higher stakes these days. Keep at it!
  • Jon Chiang for inspiring the report’s thumbnail. Hope you appreciate the exposure I’m giving you.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 Both comments and pings are currently closed.