Every year US Nationals is the largest tournament of the season, and this one was no different. Although attendance was down from last year, the field consisted of 927 Masters, making it the largest National Championship by far. With the sheer number of competitors and the laundry list of star players, it’s easy to argue that this is the most difficult tournament in the world. With three grueling days of play and a Top 128 cut, any player that survives all the way through must be quite skilled (and have a little luck on their side).
Heading into the tournament, the big three decks were on everyone’s radar – Plasma, Blastoise, and Darkrai. Since Blastoise had just won Canadian Nationals, many were expecting an influx of that particular archetype. If it set up, the deck looked to be unbeatable. Plasma was expected to be the most popular deck since it’s speedy and consistent (and, let’s be honest, the cards look awesome). Darkrai is the deck that never goes away, and it gained Absol, so it certainly wasn’t going away.
In a field full of World Champions, National Champions, and an immense number of world class players, two relatively unheard of players emerged undefeated from the Blue and Orange pods. In the Orange pod, Rahul Reddy from Virginia got through all nine Swiss rounds without dropping a game. Was anyone surprised to see a Blastoise deck doing so well? Not really, but it was an impressive feat nonetheless. Being the only undefeated person out of nearly 500 people in your pod is an incredible accomplishment. On the other side, Michael Slutsky from Minnesota shocked everyone by going 9-0 with his Klinklang deck. Not only was it Klinklang, but it was an old school version that revolved around Shift Gear, Darkrai EX, and Keldeo EX! It takes guts to stick with a deck that many consider outdated, but Michael stuck to his guns and didn’t drop a game in Swiss. Both of these players deserve tons of praise.
However, the Swiss rounds are only the beginning of the tournament. After that, the Top 128 single elimination cut began. For the first time in US Nationals history, we had 75 minutes + 3 turns for these rounds, an excellent move from TPCi. As a result, we had very few matches decided by time. Players were thankful for this change in tournament structure, and the event felt much more legitimate as a result. To see all of the players who made the cut, check out this bracket provided by Ace Trainer Australia!
Right off the bat, we had tons of star studded matchups. Last year in the Top 16 of US Nationals, Jeremy Jallen and Jay Hornung faced off in an epic match that had Jeremy one Catcher short of a win and an invitation to the World Championships. Now would be his chance for revenge on Jay. While Jeremy was piloting the dreaded Gothitelle/Accelgor deck, Jay went with good old reliable Darkrai for the event. Overall, the matchup would seem to favor Jay when you factor two Keldeo EX into the equation, but anything can happen when Gothitelle’s Magic Room blocks Items. This time around, Jeremy would be the one advancing, shocking everyone by eliminating one of the best performers in US Nationals history. By no means is it an upset, but seeing Jay have an early exit after his incredible run over the past few years certainly is surprising. Perhaps their rivalry will continue at Worlds!
Another notable matchup would be the match between Rahul Reddy (undefeated) and Aaron Curry (64th in Blue pod). While you would expect Rahul’s run to keep going, records go out the window once you hit the top cut. The veteran Curry would end up taking down the undefeated Blastoise with his Gothitelle/Accelgor deck, perhaps foreshadowing the rest of the tournament. Next, Frank Diaz would go up against his friend Sam Chen in another incredible matchup of Gothitelle vs. Blastoise, and once again the Gothitelle player would emerge victorious as the older Diaz brother advanced.
After playing each other all season in the Chicago area, rising star Jando Luna would run into one of the game’s legendary players, Ross Cawthon. While Jando used Blastoise, Ross continued his trend of unusual decks by playing something we haven’t seen since Autumn Battle Roads, Garchomp/Altaria! How in the world did he make it so far with that deck? Nobody knows. Unfortunately for Jando, Blastoise’s reliance on Black Kyurem EX nowadays is a major problem against the Dragon type Garchomp, who can score easy KOs for one or two Energy. If Garchomp has a good matchup, it’s Blastoise, and Ross proved it with a 2-0 victory.
Finally, we had two matchups that really pitted the old school against the new generation of players. In the first match, Gino Lombardi’s Plasma faced off against Henry Prior’s Gothitelle/Accelgor. In the other, Kyle Sucevich was pitted against 2012 Worlds runner-up Harrison Leven in the same matchup. The National Champions from 2008 and 2009 went up against the next generation of players looking to cement their names in Pokémon TCG history. While Gino was taken down by Henry, the impressive first year Masters player, Pooka barely got past Harrison in a close 2-1 series to advance. In addition to these six matches, there were 58 others that probably were just as interesting!
If you were paying attention, you probably noticed a common theme in a lot of these big matches – Gothitelle. Even though everyone knew how strong this deck was, many players wrote it off because more people were starting to add Keldeo EX in order to counter it. Plus, the more popular Blastoise is, the riskier the deck is to use. With Darkrai and its two Keldeo EX always a looming threat as well, it’s easy to see why people just ignored Gothitelle altogether. But if you take a look, eight of these decks advanced to the Top 64. According to the bracket, that means only two of the 10 were eliminated in Top 128, and one of those was a mirror match! Perhaps the 75 minute cut really benefited this deck. Whatever the case, it was very apparent that Gothitelle/Accelgor was not to be taken lightly, and it made up 1/8 of the cut after the first round.
As the tournament progressed, we saw the field whittle down to nothing but Plasma, Gothitelle, and a few other decks. Shockingly enough, by the top we got to the Top 16, not a single Blastoise deck remained in the field! Somehow the deck that many considered a favorite to win the event didn’t have a single player representing it after Top 32. Perhaps it just isn’t the kind of deck built to survive a long tournament like US Nationals. Overall, there were 7 Plasma decks, 5 Gothitelle/Accelgor, 2 Darkrai, 1 Klinklang, and 1 Garbodor deck remaining. Did anyone expect this many Gothitelle decks to survive so long? Since Plasma does have a bad matchup against the deck, perhaps it wasn’t too surprising. At this point, it seemed like Gothitelle could not be stopped.
As you would expect, the Top 16 featured some great matches between incredible players. In what would be the first of many Gothitelle mirror matches, Sam Liggett would go up against Jeremy Jallen in what is perhaps the most excruciating, boring matchup in the Pokémon TCG today. We assume that the reason Sam won is because he was able to stay awake through the entire match. In another huge match between star players, Dylan Bryan (Klinklang) faced Jayson Harry (Plasma). For the second straight year, Dylan was able to make it to the Top 16 at US Nationals, making him and Jeremy the only players to do so in Masters. On the other hand, Jayson is one of the game’s most consistent performers, having a Top 8 at Nationals under his belt along with many Worlds invites. In this clash of the titans, Dylan was able to get over the hump and move onto the Top 8.
For the sixth time since 2004, Kyle Sucevich made it back to the Top 16 at US Nationals. His opponent, Dave Richard, was a new Masters player in a Plasma mirror match. But the main card that separated the two decks was the Ace Spec card. While Pooka stuck with the tried and true Computer Search, Dave used the underrated Life Dew, a card that can deny your opponent a prize at crucial points in the game. While the series was close, Dave would win 2-1, knocking out perhaps the best performer in the history of US Nationals in the process. To round out the Top 8, Edmund Kuras (Gothitelle), Sean Foisy (Gothitelle), Omar Reyhan (Darkrai), Ryan Sabelhaus (Plasma), and Robert Seley (Plasma) also advanced.
Down to eight players, now 3 Plasma, 3 Gothitelle, 1 Darkrai, and 1 Klinklang remained. After the Top 8 matches, only two decks remained – 2 Plasma and 2 Gothitelle. At this point, it seemed inevitable that the lock deck would emerge victorious at US Nationals, but anything could happen. Both matches in the Top 4 featured mirrors, with Edmund and Sam facing off in Gothitelle madness and Ryan and Robert having a Plasma showdown. Which one of these four players would be crowned the new US National Champion?
Eventually the two finalists were decided. On one side, we had the veteran player from South Carolina (or a teenager from the Midwest depending on your point of view), Ryan Sabelhaus. Over the past few years, Ryan has racked up tons of tournament wins, including multiple Regional Championships. If we were going on tournament résumés alone, Ryan would be the clear favorite. His opponent would be Edmund Kuras, a second year Masters player from California. While Edmund did have a great year in 2012, he hardly played at all in 2013. In fact, he hardly had enough Play! Points to enter US Nationals! Clearly the kid knows how to play, though, and he was steamrolling his way through the competition the entire weekend. While Ryan may have more experience, Edmund’s Gothitelle/Accelgor deck certainly was the favorite to win.
The atmosphere was incredible for the Finals. For starters, the match was projected on the big screen with commentary from Josue “Crimz” Rojano and Drew Holton. Any time a player made a big move, the crowd erupted with noise and support. In the first game Ryan came out of the gates strong with an early KO on a Gothita, but Edmund was able to stabilize after a huge topdeck of a Juniper. From there, he set up the lock and never looked back. As long as Edmund could set up, he was going to win. Ryan knew that and did everything he could to put on pressure before that happened. It didn’t work out for him in the first game, but it was only one game.
In the second game, Sabelhaus brought the noise to Edmund by attacking with Thundurus EX’s Thunderous Noise on the second turn. After taking an early KO on a Gothita followed by knocking out two Accelgor, Ryan had put his opponent on the back foot. Realizing his only chance to win was to get his Super Rod to put Accelgor back into the deck, Kuras searched his deck with an Ultra Ball to see if it was in there. After seeing that the Super Rod was prized, he conceded knowing that he was out of Accelgor and had no way to deal damage. Onto the third game!
In the deciding game, Ryan once again tried to put on as much pressure as possible before Edmund could set up. Benching Deoxys EX would be his undoing, though. Once Edmund got a Gothitelle into play to shut off Items, a Pokémon Catcher to drag up Deoxys EX would allow him to use Tropical Beach to set everything up. Once the Gothitelle and Dusknoir were set up, the rest of the game was just a formality. With a constant stream of Mew EX + Double Colorless Energy, Deck and Cover was used every turn to Paralyze and Poison the Active. Seeing the writing on the wall, Ryan extended his hand to congratulate Edmund on becoming this year’s US National Champion!
Heading into the weekend, not many would have predicted Edmund or Gothitelle to win US Nationals. But that’s what makes the tournament so special. With so many players, you never know who or what is going to come out on top. In recent history, the underdog has come out on top at the biggest tournament of the year. Congratulations to Edmund, Ryan, and all of the other competitors who did well at the event! Hopefully we’ll continue to see great stories and performances at the World Championships. As always, US Nationals was an incredible event. If you can make it to the next one, it’s worth your while.