For the ninth straight year under the Nintendo era, The Pokémon Company International hosted its annual Pokémon TCG World Championship. From August 10-12, people from all over the world gathered together in beautiful Kona, Hawaii to participate in the most prestigious event of the year. Although the secluded location prevented many people from attending, the smaller size of the event gave it an exclusive feeling that’s fitting for the World Championship. For this invitation-only tournament, players had to earn their spot to compete for the title of World Champion. Over a hundred players from all over the globe had earned the right to enter. By the end of the weekend, one of them would be going home with $10,000, a big trophy, and a new legacy as one of the game’s best players.
Before the main event, the Last Chance Qualifier was held to give eight players one final opportunity to grind their way into the big dance. In the Masters division, around 200 players made the trip to Hawaii for one last shot at a spot in the World Championships. As usual, there was a mix of casual players, rising stars, and established veterans trying to make it through. Among the notable players were previous Worlds competitors like Tsuguyoshi Yamato (2004 World Champion), Drew Holton, Jimmy O’Brien, Yacine Sekkoum, Fares Sekkoum, Stefan Tabaco, Mike Diaz, Frank Diaz, Ben Potter, Aaron Curry, and more. Truly the LCQ is a test of skill, focus, and fortune. With the single elimination format, one mistake can mean the end of your chances. If you get one bad matchup, you’re out. Even being paired against a great player early on can mean the end of your run. However, five opponents are all that stand between you and a chance to become World Champion.
Early on we saw perennial Worlds competitors, such as Drew Holton and Frank Diaz, have their runs ended in the first few rounds. Still, the tournament was stacked with remarkable players. As the field started to thin out, the names were split between unfamiliar players and established pros. With one round left, we saw interesting matchups like Mike Diaz (2010 Seniors US National Champion) against Takuya Yoneda (2004 Seniors World Champion), Yacine Sekkoum (2011 UK National Champion) against Julie Kan (mother of Christopher Kan, 2011 Seniors World Champion), and, the most intriguing matchup of all, Aaron Curry against Tsuguyoshi Yamato. In the past, Yamato had failed to grind in only once in 2006, qualifying an astounding four times through the LCQ. All he had to do was win one more match to be a part of the main event once again.
However, Curry was the road block that halted Yamato’s path. For the first time since 2006, the 2004 World Champion would not qualify for the main event. When the dust had settled, half of the qualifiers were familiar previous Worlds competitors: Yacine Sekkoum, Mike Diaz, Stefan Tabaco, and Aaron Curry. The other four were not household names: Ross Gilbert, Nobuo Yano, Daichu Ueki, and Tomohisa Kanda. Of the players that qualified, there were three from the US, three from Japan, and two from the UK. Unfortunately, only these eight players would earn an invitation through the LCQ, half of the number that the previous year had allowed.
Normally Worlds competitors use the results from the LCQ as a preview of what to watch for at the main event. If there are any rogue decks that make it through, people want to be prepared. In 2004 the Japanese players swept the World Championships with their Team Magma deck. Since then, players pay close attention to what grinds in. This time around, though, nothing too unusual made it through. For the most part, we saw Darkrai and CMT decks, both of which were great for the 60 minute, best 2/3 single elimination format due to their speed. One of the decks that caused a little buzz was a Thundurus/Terrakion deck that included Exp. Share and Jirachi for Energy acceleration, but it wasn’t anything that players needed to panic about.
On the first day of the World Championships, there was an air of excitement, amazement, and nervousness. Truly there is no other event like it. Players from 27 different countries, who all had different paths to get here, gathered to compete for the title of World Champion. To play with the best in the World at the highest level of competition is every player’s dream, and they get to achieve it here. Without a doubt, the grandeur and spectacle of the event is awe inspiring. When it comes down to it, though, every player’s goal is to win the World Championship. No matter how many times you’ve been there, it always makes you a little nervous to be on the biggest stage that Pokémon has to offer.
Like every year, Worlds had many stories and opportunities for its players. Would we see a repeat champion? In total, three previous champions (Klaczynski, Komatsuda, Cohen) would have an opportunity to achieve the feat. While Cohen could be the first to win back-to-back titles, Komatsuda’s second championship plus a Top 4 finish in 2006 would put him in contention for the title of best player of all time. Of course, Klaczynski had an opportunity to win three World Championships, which would be two more than anyone else. Besides these players, several had an opportunity to return to the Top 4 or even the Finals. Michael Pramawat, Sami Sekkoum, and Steffen From could join an elite club of players who have been in the Finals or Top 4 twice. For Ross Cawthon, a third Finals appearance would be a record. Other players who could make the Top 4 for a second time were Jay Hornung, Josue Palomino, Pablo Meza, and Tom Dolezal. Other players like Dylan Lefavour (2008 Seniors World Champion), Miska Saari (2006 Seniors World Champion), and Curran Hill (2005 Juniors World Champion) are previous World Champions that could be the first to win in a younger division and in Masters. On top of these players, over a hundred other worthy competitors would have a chance to make history, too.
With 127 players in the event, there would be very little room for error for any of the competitors. To the dismay of all involved, the tournament would cut to a Top 16 after seven rounds rather than a Top 32. As a result, only those who went 7-0 or 6-1 would be guaranteed to advance to the second day. Most of the players that finished 5-2 would not make it. In single game Swiss rounds with lots of variance, any small mistake in one game could be the difference between having a chance to be World Champion and sitting on the sidelines. If you hit two bad matchups or got two bad hands, odds are you would be eliminated. Still, 16 players would advance at the end of the first day.
After US Nationals, the big decks were expected to be Mewtwo/Eelektrik, Darkrai/Mewtwo, and CMT. While Mew/Accelgor/Chandelure was a feared deck, not many expected it to win the event because of the 60 minute time limit in best 2/3 matches. Even though Klinklang wasn’t expected to be popular, its presence alone altered the way decks were built (thanks to John Roberts II). In nearly every deck, one or two Lost Remover was included because it was so useful against Klinklang. However, the card everyone was concerned about was Darkrai EX. Clearly it was a powerhouse that needed to be dealt with one way or another. As such, nearly every deck started to include some way to counter it, whether it be more Eviolites, healing cards, or Terrakion. If you couldn’t beat Darkrai, you weren’t going to win this event.
Overall, the field was predictable. As expected, the most popular decks were Darkrai variants, Eelektrik variants, and CMT. Sure, there was a mix of decks like Klinklang, Accelgor, and Entei, but there were no decks to catch people off guard. After the Swiss rounds had ended, the results for the Top 16 decks were fairly shocking. In total, 10 decks were Darkrai variants – over half of the spots. Of the six remaining, there were three CMT, one Mewtwo/Eelektrik, one Terrakion/Mewtwo, and the one Vileplume deck in the field, Mew/Accelgor/Chandelure. What can explain this result? Was Darkrai really that much better than the rest of the choices? Well, a lot of factors went into it. For the most part, Darkrai decks were the most consistent, requiring only one Basic Pokémon to set up. Combine this with the speed that Dark Patch provides, and you have a very good deck for single game Swiss rounds. The results speak for themselves!
For those who were able to survive the first day of the main event, the title of World Champion was just four matches away. 16 players from nine different countries would go into Sunday with the opportunity to take home $10,000, various prizes, and a place in the game’s history. When looking at the remaining players, the field was divided between established veterans and rising stars looking for a breakout performance. Perhaps the three players who qualified through the LCQ (Tabaco, Diaz, Curry) had the momentum. Truly it was anyone’s game. Still, there were some historical players to watch for.
For the second year in a row, Sami Sekkoum went undefeated in the Swiss rounds, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest Worlds performers of all time. With this year’s run, he has placed Top 16 or better at six of the nine World Championships under Nintendo, which is an incredible accomplishment. Would this be his year to win it all? By advancing to the Top 16, Yuta Komatsuda had an opportunity to become a two-time World Champion, already adding onto his incredible Worlds résumé. Speaking of Komatsuda, the brackets were aligned to have a potential rematch between him and Michael Pramawat in the Finals if both players kept advancing. Would Pram get his revenge for the last time they faced off in Hawaii? Could Jay Hornung add to his list of accomplishments with another deep Worlds run? After his third place finish at US Nationals, a good showing at the big event would be remarkable. Let’s not forget about the other 12 players, either; all of them were just as capable of winning the event.
Of the initial Top 16 matchups, some were particularly intriguing. Would Sami Sekkoum’s straight Darkrai deck be able to overcome the Terrakion/Mewtwo of Dylan Bryan, or would he fall victim to an early exit two years in a row? How would Yuta Komatsuda’s Darkrai/Mewtwo fare against Clifton Goh’s Mew/Accelgor/Chandelure deck? Before the event, Japanese players had expressed concern over facing the Accelgor deck because of how powerful it was. However, the 60 minute time limit makes it difficult for Vileplume decks to succeed, so it was anyone’s guess who would come out on top. How about Michael Pramawat taking on Steven Mao? Would the CMT deck conquer, or would Darkrai prevail? Could the single Eelektrik deck continue to bolt past the competition? Any number of scenarios could have happened.
As the field thinned to eight, only one non-Darkrai deck remained, which was the CMT of Stefan Tabaco. In terms of competitors, we had four players who already had Top 4 finishes and four players who were relatively new to success at Worlds. If everything worked out properly, the Top 4 could have been comprised of four players who had been there already (Komatsuda, Pramawat, Sekkoum, Hornung). With many Darkrai mirror matches at hand, the results were unpredictable. Of the decks remaining, four were Darkrai/Mewtwo, two were straight Darkrai, and one was Darkrai/Mewtwo/Terrakion. In general, Top 8 is regarded as the most important round for players. If you win this one, you reach the promised land; you get an invitation and a trip to next year’s World Championships. Would this be the year of the veteran, or was this another opportunity for new players to emerge?
In the match that we were able to record, Jay Hornung was able to make quick work of Stefan Tabaco in a fairly uneventful series. While CMT was the favorite on paper, Stefan’s deck was not able to set up in either of the games. Just like that, the last remaining non-Darkrai deck exited from the tournament. Let’s not forget about the incredible run that Stefan had, though; he went 12-2 over the course of the LCQ and Worlds, which is an amazing feat. After that, Michael Pramawat fell to Harrison Leven in another fairly quick 2-0 series, eliminating both Pram and the opportunity of an all repeat Top 4. Next up we had Sami Sekkoum and Mike Diaz in a very close match that went to three games. Unfortunately for Sami, his deck ran out of steam in the final game, and his undefeated streak would end. Whereas Mike would match his brother Frank’s run from LCQ to Top 4 (also in Hawaii), Sami would add yet another Top 8 finish to his Worlds résumé. In the last and most exciting match, the relatively unknown Igor Costa took Yuta Komatsuda to sudden death in the third game. With the crowd gathered around, everyone was shocked as the Portuguese National Champion was able to eliminate one of the game’s legendary players, ensuring that there would be a brand new World Champion. Oh, and let’s not forget that the lights went out during the Top 8, making it even more intense!
For the first time in a while, most of the Top 4 competitors were comprised of very young players for Masters standards. Of the four, Jay was the only one over the age of 18, making him the “old man” of the group. Whatever the reason may be, the recent trend has been for newer, younger players to have more success than ever. At this point, three of the remaining decks were Darkrai/Mewtwo, with very few cards separating the lists from each other. Of course, the exception to this was Igor, who had an entirely different take on the deck with Terrakion and Super Scoop Up. Conceptually, the decks were mostly the same, but anything can happen in Pokémon. Even though the Terrakion made Igor a favorite, it did cause his deck to be less consistent, so there was the possibility that it wouldn’t even make a difference.
Without question, all eyes were on Jay; this was his opportunity to get the big win. Even though he has a ton of accomplishments in the game, he’s never been able to capture a major victory at US Nationals or Worlds. Sure, he had taken 2nd and 3rd at US Nationals and 3rd at Worlds already, but there’s just something about being a champion that sets you apart from the rest. For the other three, it was an opportunity to go down in history as World Champion. No matter what happens afterwards, you will be remembered forever as the best in the world for that year if you win. Like every other game, the winners are who we remember most. Just two more wins stood between these players and eternal greatness.
Unfortunately for Jay, things did not go his way, and Harrison was able to dispose of him with a quick 2-0 victory. While the games were fairly close, the card that made all the difference was an often overlooked Trainer card, Potion. In the past, Potion was a card seen mostly in theme decks, but now it had earned a place in competitive play. By healing off 30 damage, Harrison was able to prevent his Pokémon from being KO’d too soon. In fact, Jay would have stolen the second game if Harrison had not played a Potion to heal his Smeargle. Who knows what happens if the series is extended to a third game? At any rate, Harrison was the first to claim victory, and the 18 year old Florida native would advance to the Finals. Once again, Jay was unable to get over the hump and win the big one, but another Top 4 adds to his already impressive track record. With this 3rd place finish, we’ll see him next year for his 10th straight World Championship.
In the other match, we had another relatively quick victory for Igor. While Mike put up a fight, he wasn’t able to withstand the Terrakion and multitude of options that Igor’s deck presented. Just like that, the 16 year old Portuguese National Champion would join Harrison in the Finals to see who would emerge as the 2012 World Champion. Before the tournament, hardly anyone knew who he was, but he had gone through a former World Champion to get here. Maybe Yuta had effectively passed the torch to Igor when he lost. After all, he was the last champion we had in Hawaii. On the other hand, Diaz had a remarkable weekend, going from the LCQ to the Top 4 of Worlds. So far, this is the third time that a player from the LCQ had been able to make it this far in Worlds, matching the achievements of Jimmy O’Brien in 2008 and Frank Diaz in 2010. Interestingly enough, all three of these players have been from New Jersey, and they’re all from the same playtesting group. Looks like they’re doing something right! Maybe some day we’ll see an LCQ player make it to the Finals or even win.
Now the stage was set for the last match of the weekend. With 10 matches and 125 players behind them, Harrison Leven and Igor Costa would face off to decide who would be crowned the World Champion. As the players approached the stage, there was a feeling of electricity that only the World Championships can provide. For the spectators at the event, the matches of all three divisions were projected to the big screen, allowing everyone to experience the excitement. For those at home, the event would be streamed live by GameSpot, the first official Pokémon stream in the game’s nearly 14 year history. Everything was on the line for this last match, and everyone was able to watch.
On paper, Igor was the favorite. Clearly the card setting these two players apart was Terrakion, which gave Igor the ability to KO a Darkrai EX in one hit. However, running it comes at a cost; you are forced to run different types of Energy and cut some cards to make it work. With a convoluted Energy line, sometimes it is tough to find the correct type at the right time. To give you an idea, Igor ran a combination of Darkness (Basic), Fighting, Prism, and Double Colorless. If everything fell into place, he would have the advantage, but a deck like this can fall apart at any time. On the other hand, Harrison had a straightforward version of the deck, with just Darkrai and Mewtwo as attackers. The only tricks he had up his sleeve were Potion and Lost Remover, which could come in handy. Otherwise, he would have to rely on his consistency to carry him through the match.
Both players appeared to be nervous on stage, but they were focused. On one hand, Harrison was playing in front of his friends and the whole world, so there was a lot of pressure. On the other hand, Igor was fighting for his country, to show everyone that Portugal was not to be taken lightly. With the announcement to begin from Nick McCord, things got underway. In the first game, we saw the inconsistency of Igor’s deck show through. As he struggled to set up, Harrison took advantage and coasted to a fairly uncontested victory. While there were opportunities for Igor to come back with Terrakion, he wasn’t able to draw the correct Energy or any Supporters. Taking in a sigh of relief, Harrison had taken the first game, and he was one more away from the title.
Things turned around in the second game, though, as Igor was able to get a Night Spear on the second turn. To make matters worse, Harrison was the one not drawing any Supporters this game, and he fell way behind in the game. Igor was able to use Shaymin’s Celebration Wind to power up a Terrakion, which forced Harrison to go for the hail mary; he powered up Mewtwo, played an N, and tried to make the 6-1 comeback. It got very scary for Igor as the Mewtwo started to blast his Pokémon one by one, but he was able to topdeck a Professor Oak’s New Theory, which allowed him to power up his own Mewtwo to take the second game. We’re moving on to a deciding game three.
As the match started, Harrison was in firm control. Once again, Igor had nothing going for him, and it seemed like he was going to be decimated in a similar fashion to the first game. However, there was one defining moment that changed the outcome of the game completely. Since Igor had a Fighting Energy and a Prism Energy on his Darkrai, Harrison feared the same Shaymin onto Terrakion play that had given him so much trouble in the second game. So, he decided to take a risk by moving all of his Energy onto his Mewtwo with his own Shaymin, and he knocked out Igor’s Darkrai to get rid of those Energy. Everyone in the crowd knew that this game would be decided in the following few turns. What would follow was perhaps the most epic finish in the history of the World Championships.
Even though Igor was down two prizes at this point, he now had an opening. In a fitting final match for this year’s format, this was boiling down to nothing more than a Mewtwo war. Fortunately for Igor, he had a Double Colorless in hand to power up his own Mewtwo, and he topdecked a Junk Arm, which he played for a Random Receiver, getting a Juniper. Now things were going to get interesting. Harrison did have another DCE to respond with an X-Ball KO on Igor’s already damaged Mewtwo, and he was down to two prizes. In a crazy turn, Igor was able to use Smeargle to Portrait a Juniper, and then he used Super Scoop Up to pick it up and use Portrait a second time. This time, he went for the N in Harrison’s hand in order to disrupt his opponent and buy some time. Seeing the three Pokémon Catcher in Harrison’s discard pile already, he attached a DCE to his benched Mewtwo and passed with the Smeargle active. Unfortunately for him, Harrison drew a Juniper and an Energy off the two cards from N. If Harrison drew one of his remaining Junk Arms, he would be able to Catcher Igor’s Mewtwo and win the tournament. As he drew his seven cards, everyone waited in suspense.
No Junk Arm! Igor would survive for at least one more turn. To make things more dramatic, time was called on Harrison’s turn, meaning that this match was going to end in the following three turns. Trying to make things more difficult for his opponent, Harrison retreated to his Shaymin and passed. Immediately Igor played a Junk Arm for Catcher to drag out Harrison’s Mewtwo with three Energy, and he used X-Ball to tie the game up at two prizes each. Yet again, Harrison would have his chance to close it out and become the champion. If he could find his second Shaymin and move Energy to his Mewtwo, he would emerge victorious. After attaching a DCE to Mewtwo, he used Smeargle to Portrait and got a PONT to draw six cards. However, he also saw some scary news. If he wasn’t able to win this turn, Igor had all of the tools in hand to take him out. When Harrison played a Junk Arm for Ultra Ball, the crowd waited in anticipation to see if the Shaymin was in his deck. With a quick scan of his cards, Harrison put his hands on his head in frustration, realizing that Shaymin was in his last two prizes. Out of options, all he could do was pass, and Igor slammed down the Energy and game winning Catcher to become the 2012 World Champion. What a finish!
For the second year in a row, a 16 year old player became World Champion, continuing a trend of young players having major success. Igor’s win marks just the second time that a Masters player not from the US or Japan was able to become World Champion. In the closing ceremony, the new World Champions were crowned. Truly they had all earned their place as a great player in Pokémon history. Fans cheered, players celebrated, and the staff basked in the great event that they had produced in Hawaii. In very big news, it was announced that Worlds would be taking place in Vancouver, Canada in 2013, the first time it will leave the US. The Top 4 players from each division have earned an invitation and travel award to next year’s event, so we will see them back next season.
Overall, the 2012 World Championship was a big step forward for the Pokémon TCG. For the first time, the Finals were streamed live for the whole world to watch, hopefully continuing a trend of better coverage of events. In addition, The Top Cut was able to record matches with live commentary from every round leading up to the Finals, which was a sign of the commitment of TPCi to expand coverage. What will the future hold? Only time will tell. Every World Championship has many stories to tell, and this year was no exception. All we can do is wait and prepare for another event that’s sure to be full of excitement. See you in Vancouver!
Credit for photos goes to Melvin Shaw, Doug Morisoli, Jason Klaczynski, and GameSpot.