For the 10th time under the Nintendo era, The Pokémon Company International hosted the Pokémon TCG World Championships, an annual tournament to find the best of the best. Numerous players from over 25 different countries gathered in Vancouver, British Columbia to compete, spectate, and celebrate the game they all love. From August 9-11, hundreds would face off to fight for the coveted title of World Champion.
To kick things off, the Last Chance Qualifier is exactly what it sounds like; one last chance for players to earn a spot in the World Championships. The tournament that was coined “the grinder” is a grueling path through people who are hungry for a chance to get into the main event. In this year’s event, nearly 300 players entered, but only eight would be given the opportunity to advance. After six rounds of best 2-of-3 single elimination, the ones left standing were Amelia Bottemiller, Dylan Dreyer, Michael San Roman, Rob Weidemann, Takashi Yoneda, Takuya Yoneda, Takeshi Tosa, and, a very familiar face, Jason Klaczynski. Without a doubt, it was an interesting cast of players that included three Japanese players, a female player, and even a PokéDad! What an incredible accomplishment for all of them.
Of course, the main event is what everyone came for. Players from over 25 countries would compete for the title of World Champion in two grueling days. With 209 players in the field, 2013 was the largest World Championship to date. While there were plenty of new faces trying to make names for themselves, two players would have a chance to make history by winning another World Championship – Igor Costa and Jason Klaczynski. If Igor won, he would tie Jason with two wins and become the first back-to-back winner. If Jason won, he would shatter his own record by winning three times, and he would be the first World Champion to qualify through the LCQ. With a win, either player’s legacy in this game would be cemented forever.
Unlike previous years, the entire tournament would be played on Saturday until the Finals. Then the last match would be streamed live for viewers at home to watch! While the exposure for the game was incredible, players would have to grind through eight rounds of Swiss and then four matches of single elimination in a single day if they wanted to end up on that stage. Some didn’t mind, but others were upset with what would be more than 12 hours of Pokémon if they made it through to the end. After a while, fatigue sets in, and you begin to make sloppy plays. With so much on the line, perhaps cramming everything into the first day wasn’t a great idea. Still, the players had to deal with it.
Going into the tournament, the metagame seemed to be fairly well defined. After Gothitelle/Accelgor’s big win at US Nationals, it was public enemy number one. Nearly every deck would tech to try to beat it, but Gothitelle can overcome anything with a good start. As always, Team Plasma decks were expected to be the most popular. On the other hand, with its good matchups against both decks, Darkrai was expected to make a resurgence. In addition, Blastoise decks were expected to decline in popularity, which was Darkrai’s worst matchup. Other decks like Klinklang and Rayquaza/Eelektrik were expected to show up in some capacity, but they wouldn’t be as popular as the other four decks. Garbodor variants seemed to die out because of the poor Gothitelle matchup.
However, when there’s a field of over 200 players, predictions tend to go out the window. Nobody could have expected the kind of diversity and creativity shown in the successful decks in the Swiss rounds. In the Top 32, just about every archetype was represented – except Gothitelle/Accelgor! Everyone had teched to beat it, and it didn’t survive. Lots of stories emerged from the beginning of the first day. Takuya Yoneda, who qualified through the LCQ, continued his undefeated streak to go 8-0 in the Swiss rounds. No player has managed to do that since Alex Brosseau did in 2008. Yoneda had the opportunity to not only win Worlds after grinding in, but he could go undefeated with his Darkrai/Garbodor deck to do it.
Perhaps the biggest buzz was around Dylan Bryan, a player who came up with one crazy deck for the World Championships. In an attempt to metagame the popular decks, Dylan ran a strange combination of Flareon, Drifblim, Garbodor, and Landorus EX. While the deck revolved mainly around Flareon’s Vengeance, it included a lot of sidekicks to help in certain matchups. By combining Drifblim with Enhanced Hammer, Plasma decks became a better matchup due to their reliance on Special Energy. Once enough of them hit the discard pile, Drifblim is able to KO anything in one hit with Shadow Steal for just one Energy. Garbodor was a nice tech that gave a little boost in the Blastoise and Rayquaza/Eelektrik matchups. For Darkrai decks, Landorus EX, Terrakion, and Mr. Mime could help out. To top it all off, the deck ran four Audino and an Espeon (DEX) to smash Gothitelle/Accelgor. Truly this was one incredible concoction of ingenuity.
Other players on the radar were Sami Sekkoum and Jason Klaczynski, both running straight Darkrai EX decks. Would this be Sami’s year to break through and finally win the tournament, or would he suffer another exit before hitting the Top 4? Would it really be possible for Jason to win a third World Championship? Speaking of Darkrai players, Chase Moloney had a chance to win a World Championship in Masters right after winning in Seniors in 2012. How about Gino Lombardi, the 3rd place finisher in 2008? He was on a roll with his Blastoise deck, and he could become the first US National Champion to win the World Championships as well. Let’s keep in mind that the recent trend has been for a relatively unknown player to rise to the occasion and win, too! Anybody could take home the gold.
As the field cut down to 16, we had a very diverse group of players and decks. Eight different countries were represented, and everyone’s decks were incredibly different. Those who remained were Jason Klaczynski, Simon Narode, James Good, Dustin Zimmerman, Takuya Yoneda, Johnny Rabus, Rick Verwaal, Jonathon Bristow, Gino Lombardi, Dylan Bryan, Josue Palomino, Mike Newman, Gunther Kirchhofer, Joey Ho, Chase Moloney, and Kerwin Lee. In this round we had plenty of interesting matchups, such as James Good vs. Gino Lombardi in a Blastoise mirror match, Johnny Rabus vs. Joey Ho in a Plasma vs. Klinklang match, and Mike Newman vs. Jonathan Bristow in what seemed to be a match straight from City Championships, Blastoise/Keldeo vs. Rayquaza/Eelektrik.
But the match that everyone was watching was Jason Klaczynski’s Darkrai taking on Dylan Bryan’s wacky Flareon deck. Up on the big stage for all to see, these two world class players would clash to see who moved on to the Top 8. In the first game, Jason had to figure out exactly what Dylan was playing, and he played very carefully because of it. We saw Dylan pull out everything in his bag of tricks, from Leafeon’s Energy Crush to Audino’s Hip Bump. Eventually the game came down to an N to 2, and Dylan was unable to get one last Flareon to win the game. The next game featured an extremely bizarre situation where Jason attached two Energy in a turn, and nobody noticed until a few turns later. Since the game state was broken, Jason was given a game loss, and we were onto the third game. Unfortunately for Dylan, he drew a dead hand and had to watch as all of his Pokémon fell victim to Darkrai’s Night Spear. For the third year in a row, Dylan was eliminated in the Top 16 of the World Championships, and Jason was one step closer to becoming the three-time World Champion.
Now we were down to eight players. With a win in this round, four of them would hit the promised land – a paid trip to next year’s World Championships. Here were the remaining players and their decks.
Takuya Yoneda – Darkrai/Garbodor
James Good – Blastoise/Keldeo/Black Kyurem
Johnny Rabus – Plasma/Lugia/Frozen City
Simon Narode – Plasma
Dustin Zimmerman – Darkrai/Garbodor/Hammers
Rick Verwaal – Plasma
Jason Klaczynski – Darkrai
Jonathan Bristow – Rayquaza/Eelektrik
In the feature match, Takuya Yoneda went up against James Good in an incredible series of games. In all three games, both players used every last resource to their fullest potential. While the Garbodor was a key factor for Yoneda, James was ready with an early Blastoise in all three games to combat it before it came out. Then he used his Pokémon Catchers to trash the Garbodor and regain his ability to use Blastoise’s Deluge. When Black Kyurem EX is able to be powered up every turn, Darkrai cannot keep up with the constant stream of 200 damage from Black Ballista. Tool Scrapper proved to be the key to victory for James. Just one turn of using Abilities is all you need sometimes, and that certainly was the case in this series. While every game was back in forth, James was able to take down the undefeated Yoneda in the third game, securing his spot in the Top 4.
Next up we had Johnny Rabus against Simon Narode in a Plasma mirror match, but the two decks were extremely different. While Simon had the more “traditional” version of the deck, Johnny focused heavily on Lugia EX, trying to take big three prize KOs on Pokémon-EX with Plasma Gale. One important thing to note is that instead of running Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym, Rabus ran Frozen City! Ultimately the difference maker in this series was Max Potion. Unlike normal builds of Plasma, Simon ran two Max Potion, which was huge to remove damage and block those big KOs from Lugia EX. Eventually Simon Narode would emerge as the victor and join James in the Top 4.
In another match, Dustin Zimmerman faced off against the Netherlands’ Rick Verwaal. Of the decks remaining in the tournament, surely Dustin had the most unique one. Although he was using Darkrai/Garbodor, the focus was on Sableye and Hammers to lock down the opponent. With a combination of Crushing Hammer, Enhanced Hammer, and Life Dew to deny prizes, the deck aimed to run the opponent out of Energy until Darkrai could come in for an easy sweep. Garbodor’s Garbotoxin prevented crucial Abilities like Deoxys EX’s Power Connect, which could give Thundurus EX a boost to KO the 70 HP Sableye in one hit. Since Plasma relies so much on Special Energy, it was just a matter of time before Sableye’s Junk Hunt combined with Enhanced Hammer grinded out two victories. Rick had a great run, but Dustin would be the one moving on.
Finally the most controversial match happened between Jason Klaczynski and Jon Bristow. In the first game Jason’s Darkrai was able to outspeed the Ray/Eel player, and eventually Jon was left with not enough Eelektrik in play to continually fuel Rayquaza EX’s Dragon Burst. In the second game, many more Eelektrik hit the field, and Jon seemed to be rolling with constant 180 damage hits from the big dragon. After a long, drawn out game, we were heading to a third game to decide the series. Going first against a lone Tynamo, Jason saw an opportunity to win outright with Sableye’s Confuse Ray. After attaching a Dark Claw and going for a big Professor Juniper, all Jason needed was a Hypnotoxic Laser to add the 10 damage he needed to take down the 40 HP Basic. Off the seven cards, he was unable to draw one, so the game would continue.
With one prize taken for Jason, time was called. Now there would be three turns to decide a winner. Whoever had less prizes remaining would advance to the Top 4. With another Pokémon Catcher on an Eelektrik, Jason took a two prize lead. However, Jon had an immediate response with a 180 damage Dragon Burst from Rayquaza EX to tie it up. Now Jason played another Catcher on an Eelektrik, played an N to put Jon at 4 cards, and took a prize to regain the lead. Since Jon was the third turn, he had to take a prize or lose. If he could get two Eelektrik and a Lightning Energy, he could Dragon Burst for 180 and win. He ended up one card short, but he did have a Pokémon Catcher to bring out Jason’s Sableye and tie the game at three prizes each.
Now the pressure was back on Jason. If he couldn’t take a prize this turn, odds are Jon would be able to draw a Lightning Energy and Dragon Burst for the win. The only way to take a KO was to find one more Catcher. Jason played a Random Receiver, hoping to hit a Professor Juniper and dig through his deck to find it. Unfortunately, he revealed an N, which would net him only three cards. But in a bizarre situation, Jon shuffled his hand in after the N was flipped over. He thought that Jason had played the N, but he actually was shuffling the other cards Random Receiver had revealed back into his deck. After a lot of deliberation, the judges had to make the tough call and give Jon a game loss for a broken game state. We’ll never know if Jason would have drawn that last Catcher off the N to 3, but we do know that he advanced to the Top 4 in a situation that left everyone speechless. Nobody wants to see the match end like that, and you have to feel bad for Jon. But the rules are the rules.
By this point, it was 1 AM! If you think about it, the tournament started around 10 AM, which means these guys had been playing Pokémon for 15 hours. Instead of forcing them to play on, TPCi decided to call it a night and have the Top 4 matches played on Sunday instead. Of the 209 players in the event, now just four remained, and they were all from the US. In his rookie season, James Good was able to get this far, and he said he wasn’t coming this far to lose. His opponent, Simon Narode, was a second year player with incredible results in his short time playing. In the other match, Dustin Zimmerman finally caught his big break after falling short at US Nationals and Worlds so many times, solidifying himself as one of the best players in the game right now. His opponent, Jason Klaczynski, would be trying to make history with a third World Championship victory.
At around 9 AM, the players returned. With just two more matches, the 2013 Pokémon TCG World Champion would be crowned. In a battle of the northwest, James took on Simon in a Blastoise vs. Plasma match. While it can go either way, generally the Plasma deck is slightly favored because of the number of non-EX attackers it can use. In this series, that would hold true. With some rough hands and ugly Professor Junipers discarding precious resources, James fell short and ran out of Energy to attack with. Even though he was shaking from the nerves of a high pressure situation, Simon was able to advance to the Finals! In a show of great sportsmanship, James raised Simon’s hand to declare him the winner in an incredible moment.
The other match between Dustin and Jason was very interesting. Basically both players would rely on Sableye to win the matchup, but they had different purposes. While Jason could use Junk Hunt to get back Tool Scrapper and Dark Patch, Dustin could respond by getting Crushing Hammer and Float Stone. If Garbodor’s Garbotoxin could shut off Darkrai’s Dark Cloak, Hypnotoxic Laser and Crushing Hammer would become a deadly combo for Dustin. In a way, the game can become a stalemate and comes down to someone potentially not drawing the correct cards from an N. The one card that threw a wrench in the mix was Zimmerman’s ace in the hole, Ghetsis. After a Junk Hunt from Jason, Dustin could play Ghetsis to shuffle in the Items that were put back into his opponent’s hand. Two long games ensued between these incredible players, and they were tied at one a piece. Unfortunately for Dustin, time was running low, and Jason’s deck has an inherent speed advantage. When time was called early in the third game, Jason was ahead on prizes, and Dustin couldn’t even the score in time. For the third time in his career, Jason Klaczynski was headed to the Finals of the World Championships.
One match stood between the final two players and a place in Pokémon TCG history. For Simon, it would be making a name for himself in his second year of playing. When you become World Champion, your name is up there with legends of the game like Tsuguyoshi Yamato and Yuta Komatsuda. Of course, to do it, he would have to go through one of those legends. What would a third World Championship mean for Jason? Without a doubt, he would have to be considered the greatest player of all time. Since the game’s humble beginnings, Klaczynski has been the face of Pokémon, but this would be his first major tournament win since his last World Championship in 2008. Surely a win would cement his legacy forever. Three time World Champion? Nobody will ever match that.
Entering the match, Jason’s Darkrai deck had the advantage. With two Enhanced Hammer and three Sableye, Simon’s deck with all Special Energy would struggle. However, if the Plasma deck can build up enough Energy in play before the Enhanced Hammers start hitting the field, a win is in reach. The key is to use Thundurus EX and Hypnotoxic Laser to Raiden Knuckle for a KO on Sableye, which allows you to attach an extra Energy to one of your other Pokémon. Once you clear the Sableyes, it’s just a fight against Darkrai. Surely both players knew that going into the Finals, but the games don’t always play out the way they’re supposed to.
With hundreds in the live audience and thousands watching on stream, both players were under extreme pressure as they got on stage. In the first game, Simon got off to a strong start with some fast KOs on Sableye. However, some nice draws and flips started to go Jason’s way, and he began to mount a comeback. In the clutch moments of the game, it seemed like Jason always drew his Dark Claw, Hypnotoxic Laser, and Pokémon Catcher at the right times. After chipping away a few Energy with Enhanced Hammer and Sableye’s Junk Hunt, Jason would switch gears and use Darkrai to target down the Pokémon that had all the Energy. Once the Plasma deck is left with no Energy in play, Darkrai racks up damage extremely quickly with Night Spear. With a Dark Claw and Hypnotoxic Laser off his last Professor Juniper, Jason sealed the first game.
In the second game, Simon put the pressure on early, but he had to discard a few Plasma Energy to do it. Being able to use Colress Machine for Energy acceleration is a big deal, and he didn’t have that option for most of the game. After taking down two Sableye, he had a fully powered Kyurem in play with a few Deoxys EX on board. On one fateful turn, the game basically was decided. If Jason could get a Dark Claw, Hypnotoxic Laser, and Virbank City Gym to KO the fully powered Kyurem in one hit, Simon would be left with no Energy. After playing down the Dark Claw and Laser, an N for six cards would all but determine whether or not Jason would be in this game. Emphatically Jason slammed down the Virbank City Gym, giving him the KO on Kyurem and the lead in the game.
From there, Simon attempted to recover with Thundurus EX using Raiden Knuckle to set up Lugia EX for a big Plasma Gale KO on Darkrai. But, once again, Jason had exactly what he needed. With a Computer Search for Enhanced Hammer, he was able to discard the Energy off Lugia EX and slow it down a turn. Immediately Jason focused his attention to the Lugia because its 180 HP makes it very difficult for Darkrai to KO. After a Catcher onto it and Night Spear, the Lugia was left with 40 HP, but this did give Simon a turn to use Plasma Gale for a three prize turn. On a Colress for nine, he just needed a Pokémon Catcher to bring out the Darkrai with 50 damage on it to go down to one prize. A look at his hand would tell Simon that it just wasn’t his day, as the Lugia was forced to go to the bench to wait for a better time to attack. On the following turn, he was able to Skyla for a Catcher to take down the Darkrai, but it was one turn too late. With one last Professor Juniper, Jason drew his entire deck to find his last Catcher and Laser to KO Simon’s Keldeo EX and Lugia EX simultaneously. Jason Klaczynski is the three time World Champion!
What more can be said? With this win, Jason has shattered just about every record there is in Pokémon. Of the eight World Championships he’s been a part of, he has won three of them! Not only did he win, but he came up through the Last Chance Qualifier to do it, the first player in Masters to do so. Previously the furthest any LCQ player had gotten was Top 4 (Jimmy O’Brien in 2008, Frank Diaz in 2010, and Mike Diaz in 2012). Like his previous wins, Jason managed to take a very simple concept, play it flawlessly, and triumph through sheer consistency. Sure, he had a lot of luck along the way, but that’s what you need to win a tournament.
What will be in store next year in Washington D.C.? Only time will tell. We know that Jason Klaczynski, Simon Narode, James Good, and Dustin Zimmerman will be there. Who else will be invited to play in the 2014 World Championships? The next season of Pokémon starts soon. When Worlds ends, everything starts over. Time to get back to the grind. Thanks for reading!