Over the past three years, the Top Cut Invitational has become a tradition in the Pokémon TCG community. Each year we invite eight of the game’s biggest names to showcase their talents and to find out who’s the best. While this unique event is extremely competitive, it’s also a relaxed, fun atmosphere where the live crowd can gather around and spectate. The TCI is an event grounded in the community, so we want everyone to be able to enjoy it. For those who can’t be there in person, the event is also streamed live so everyone can witness these incredible players in action!
Every year the tournament’s roster presents an interesting combination of players, and this may be the most exciting one yet. On top of the usual cast of established superstars, we have a mix of rising stars, new champions, and even a player from the Senior division! Let’s take a look at this year’s participants in the 2014 Top Cut Invitational.
Recently nobody has been more consistent than Ryan Sabelhaus. Although many saw his second place finish at US Nationals last season as his breakout performance, the truth is that Ryan has been dominating the game for years. In addition to winning a Regional Championship for three straight seasons, he has been a perennial Worlds qualifier and tournament winner. At this year’s National Championships, he built on his resume with another strong Top 16 result. When you look at all of his results, Ryan just may be the best player in the world right now.
In last year’s Invitational, Sabelhaus ran through the competition with his Rayquaza/Eelektrik deck. In the process, he avenged his loss at US Nationals to Edmund Kuras by defeating him in the Finals; talk about a sweet victory! We’ve never had a two-time champion at the Top Cut Invitational, but Ryan is one of three participants this year who have a chance to make history. Don’t be surprised if he’s the first to do it.
If you’ve played the Pokémon TCG at all, odds are you know the name “Jason Klaczynski.” If you were around during the game’s early years, you even may have known him as “Ness” from that old Pojo site. But whether it’s 2000 or 2014, one thing hasn’t changed; Jason is a winner and a champion. In 2013, Jason broke his own record by becoming a three-time World Champion. No other player has won more than once, and only one other person has even made it to the Finals twice in Masters. Nobody has won more big tournaments than Klaczynski.
However, Jason’s performances tend to be very hit-or-miss. Even though he has won three World Championships, he has made top cut only one other time (losing to eventual World Champion Jeremy Maron in 2005), meaning he missed the other four times. A similar trend is brewing at our Top Cut Invitational. After winning the very first one in 2012, Jason has flopped to an 0-2 early exit with some highly questionable decks in the past two years. Which player will show up this year? Will we see the first two-time Top Cut Invitational champion, or will he show up with his Flareon/Cofagrigus deck and go 0-2 again?
Even though hundreds of different players were picked in various fantasy drafts for US Nationals this year, I would be surprised if anyone had Brandon Salazar on their team. In what seems to be the norm lately, Brandon came out of nowhere to win the US National Championship. Normally first year Masters players are shaky, inexperienced, and not quite ready for the tougher competition. But as we followed Brandon through his run at the US National Championships, everyone could see that he was not your average first year Masters player. Even playing on stage, he calmly defeated tough opponents one by one until he became champion. Truly it was an impressive performance.
As is the case with every new face that wins a big event, now we are left wondering one thing. Is Brandon Salazar the real deal, or was it just his lucky weekend? One of the cool things about the Top Cut Invitational is that we potentially get to answer that question. If Brandon has a big showing here, he will earn a lot of respect from the TCG community and prove to everyone that he deserves every bit of his success. If he doesn’t, well, he’s still a National Champion; nobody can take that away. It will be exciting to see Brandon in action once again.
At the beginning of this season, the first major independent tournament was held, the Klaczynski Open. Some of the best players in the world gathered to play in this incredible event, and everyone thought one of the big names would take it. Then something magical happened. A Senior player had decided to enter the main event and take on the Masters. Round after round, Lex D’Andrea was taking down some of the best players in the game, including Alex Brosseau, Henry Prior and Ross Cawthon. To the surprise of everyone, the 14 year old player from New Jersey not only won the event, but he made a statement by going undefeated. Oh, and he did it in a 2.5 hour, best-of-five series against Ross Cawthon. (My voice is still tired from commentating that one.)
While it certainly wasn’t in our plans to invite a Senior player to the Invitational, one of the prizes for winning the KO was a spot in our event. Of course, we’re keeping true to our word, and we couldn’t be happier to welcome Lex to this year’s tournament. On top of being a great player, he has an excitement and passion for Pokémon that makes you want to root for him. It’s tough to know what to expect from Lex, but don’t underestimate him. As he’s already shown us, he can beat the best of the best.
In 2004, an unknown Japanese player took the World Championships by storm. With his surprising Team Magma deck, he ran through the entire tournament without losing a single game, and he became a legend. Today Tsuguyoshi Yamato is easily recognized by Pokémon TCG fans all across the world for both his incredible skill and his love for the game. When he enters a room, people gravitate towards him; his positive attitude is infectious. As strange as it may sound, there is some kind of aura that Yamato emits, and it’s an honor to have him play in the Invitational for the fourth year.
Like Sabelhaus and Klaczynski, Yamato is a former Top Cut Invitational champion. After a brutal first turn loss eliminated him last year, he is more determined than ever to win again. What kind of deck will he show up with, though? Since the format in Japan is different than ours, the Japanese players always seem to play something unusual. For example, Yamato used an unorthodox line of Weavile in his Darkrai/Mewtwo deck when he won two years ago. No matter what he plays, Tsuguyoshi Yamato is sure to entertain his fans and bring excitement to this year’s TCI.
Over the history of the Pokémon TCG, Sami Sekkoum has to be the most consistent player ever. Nobody has more Top 8 finishes at the World Championships, and he has won UK Nationals more times than I can count. Even in the Top Cut Invitational, he holds a 2nd and 3rd place finish. There’s no doubt about it; Sami is really, really good. Now more than ever, he is determined to win this tournament.
Like Yamato, Sami has a fun-loving personality that makes the event more enjoyable. For as great as the gameplay is, there’s nothing quite like being in person to see all of the players interact. Don’t be fooled by his jokes and laughing, though. Sami is an extremely focused and competitive player. If there’s a way to win, he will find it. Perhaps this is the year he takes down the Invitational and reminds us all how good he really is.
For the first time, we welcome Ross Cawthon to the Top Cut Invitational! (It’s about time.) Ross is on a very short list of players who have qualified for every single World Championship (dating back to 2002), and he is widely known as one of the best in the game. But besides being ridiculously good, people know Ross for his crazy deck ideas. Nobody has come up with more successful rogue decks than him, and he isn’t afraid to use them. If you want proof, last year he played a Gothitelle/Celebi EX deck at the World Championships! Most people have to try hard to think outside of the box, but I don’t even think Ross knows where the box is.
So that begs the question. What will Ross show up with at the Top Cut Invitational? So far this season he has used basically nothing but Blastoise, but now it’s his time to come up with something new. Will we witness the next great rogue creation? No matter what happens, Ross will play his deck to perfection, and he will add even more layers of excitement to this event.
While Yamato is the most popular player from Japan, the consensus among the Japanese is that Takuya Yoneda is the best. At last year’s World Championships, he certainly proved them right. After qualifying through the Last Chance Qualifier, Yoneda went undefeated through the Swiss rounds en route to a Top 8 finish. Such a winning streak hasn’t been seen since Alex Brosseau had a similar run in 2008 (but Alex fell in the Top 32). We’re excited to see what Japan’s best has to offer this year.
Because of the language barrier and distance, the rest of the world doesn’t get many opportunities to see Japanese players in action. As such, it’s always an honor to be able to feature some of the most talented people in our event. Honestly we don’t know much about Yoneda besides the fact that he’s extremely good. We’re just looking forward to seeing him play. Don’t be surprised to see him win!
The lineup for this year’s Top Cut Invitational certainly is an intriguing one, and there’s no telling how the tournament will play out! The tournament structure is the same as the one outlined at this link. If you’re at the World Championships, be sure to stop by and witness it in person! This year’s event will take place on Sunday, August 17th in the Open Gaming Room at the Marriott Marquis hotel (attached to the convention center). It will begin at 7:30 EST. For those who can’t make it, be sure to watch the stream at http://twitch.tv/thetopcut! We’ll have live commentary, and there may just be a special guest joining us as well. Stay tuned for updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Thanks, and we hope you enjoy the event!