Don’t be surprised if Pokémon that have been neglected so far this season finish near the top of the standings.
What to Expect in VGC at the Oceania International Championships
The Pokémon Championship Series is heading to Melbourne for the inaugural Oceania International Championships. International Championships are the largest official Pokémon tournaments, and they have more Championship Points on the line than any other type of tournament. The prizes available at International Championships are second only to the Pokémon World Championships, so Trainers will be bringing their best to Australia, starting on March 10.
As we approach the halfway point of the 2017 season, Trainers have a much better idea where they stand in their journey to August’s World Championships. Most tournaments in the Pokémon Championship Series have a Best Finish Limit, but International Championships do not. Every Championship Point earned in Melbourne will count toward the final season standings regardless of where Trainers finish in the upcoming Latin and North American International Championships.
A strong finish in Melbourne is vital for competitors hoping to make a splash at the 2017 World Championships. For many Trainers, a big finish in Melbourne could send them to Anaheim in August, while getting shut out of Championship Points could effectively end their trek toward Worlds in March. Read on to find out more about this critical tournament.
All Eyes on Australia
The Oceania International Championships will shift the focus of the competitive Pokémon world to Australia for the first time. The Oceania Rating Zone (previously Asia Pacific) has hosted National Championships in the past, but March’s International Championships will be the first time droves of challengers from North America and Europe will arrive to compete for their own share of the Championship Points and prizes available.
The global spotlight on Australia provides a great opportunity for local players to shine. Australia is still a relatively new participant in the Video Game Championships circuit, joining the fray in 2014. Many players from other regions didn’t expect the newcomers from down under to stand up to veterans from North America, Europe, Japan, and South Korea at its inaugural World Championships. But Dayne O’Meara shocked the rest of the world and made it all the way to the top cut in the 2014 Masters Division World Championships. Sam Pandelis accomplished the same feat in 2016, solidifying Australia’s global standing. Australia will have plenty of strong players defending their home turf, including 2016 Australia National Champion Phil Nguyen, who could be seen as a sort of defending champion.
Players in the Oceania region are no strangers to international competition. This region consists of several countries other than Australia that have sent players to the World Championships, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan. With only one International Championships for the entire region, players from each of these nearby countries will battle to represent their homelands at another World Championships. With the cost of the long trip to Anaheim looming, earning a travel award may be more important to players in Oceania than to those in any other region.
The competitors from other rating zones will be serious contenders to take home the championship. Many of the top players from the 2017 European International Championships have earned travel awards to try to repeat their performances, including Masters Division Champion Miguel Marti de la Torre. Expect to hear from top competitors from the 2016 World Championships as well, including Champion Wolfe Glick and semifinalist Markus Stadter. It will take an incredible performance to best each of these players as well as the many others who are vying to become the Oceania International Champion.
A Chaotic Championships
The teams topping major tournaments this season have evolved at a blistering pace. The first International Championships took place in London only a few weeks after the release of Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon. Players needed solid teams in place quickly to compete for the season-changing pool of Championship Points available. We saw players immediately leap to teams they thought were safe choices right from the word “Go!” instead of experimenting early in the season.
After a 2016 season dominated by teams featuring the core of Groudon, Xerneas, Kangaskhan, and Smeargle from almost the first day of competition, many players seemed to be chasing the next “big six” team. Before London, many players seemed to think they’d found it by including most or all of Tapu Koko, Garchomp, Gyarados, Marowak, Celesteela, and Porygon2 on their teams. However, the 2016 season has proven to be excitingly unpredictable. The teams that finished near the top in London had more flavor to them than these early big misses, and it was clear that there were many strategies left to discover.
Immediately following London, it seemed the strategies that took the top prizes at the first International Championships would shape tournaments moving forward. Instead, the surprises continued. The first streamed North American Regional Championships was won not by one of the strategies we saw in London, but by Gavin Michaels using a Trick Room team. And it was the team used by second place finisher Enosh Shachar that has had the longest lasting impact on the season.
Enosh’s team featured a Tapu Fini that knew Calm Mind, which quickly flooded tournaments all over the world. Almost overnight, Tapu Fini rose from an afterthought in most Trainers’ preparations to one of the cornerstones of the format. Players began combining Tapu Fini with Kartana and Arcanine, forming the backbone used by many teams we’ve seen in tournaments leading up to Melbourne. The Krookodile on Enosh’s team has also broken new ground, and has solidified itself alongside Arcanine as one of the premier Pokémon with the Intimidate Ability in this year’s format.
Trainers adapted Enosh’s team by giving Tapu Fini an Aguav Berry, signaling another key shift since London. While most Trainers have reverted to giving their Tapu Fini a Leftovers to hold, Aguav Berry and the similar Figy, Iapapa, Mago, and Wiki Berries have become some of the most important held items in the Video Game Championships. Rejuvenated perhaps by the tropical climate of Alola, these Berries now restore half of the holder’s HP once it falls below 1/4 health. These Berries are a risky alternative to a Sitrus Berry, which heals only 30% of the user’s HP while more reliably activating when the user falls below half of its health. The risk has seemed worth the reward to most Trainers; many teams are using two or three of these Berries on sturdy Pokémon such as Arcanine, Tapu Fini, Snorlax, and Muk.
The recent break between major competitions makes it difficult to anticipate what tricks top players may have up their sleeves. Trainers have recently competed mostly in smaller competitions such as Premier Challenges and Midseason Showdowns, where they’re more apt to experiment against less-experienced competition with low stakes on the line. We’ve seen a few Pokémon break out in these smaller competitions, including Snorlax blocking the road to victory for opposing Trick Room teams, Porygon-Z solidifying itself as a feisty opponent that can decimate foes using Z-Conversion, Breakneck Blitz, or Hyper Beam, and a renaissance of Ninetales and other Pokémon with Abilities that change the weather.
We’ve also seen a huge rise in tricky teams that don’t battle with conventional strategies. The updated Gavin Michaels’ Trick Room team we see some Trainers emulating is a pretty significant deviation from the norm, but it’s barely even the tip of the wonky team iceberg. Look out for Trainers combining Eevee’s Extreme Evoboost with a Krookodile that knows Power Trip, or those mixing Oricorio’s Dancer Ability and a Pheromosa that knows Quiver Dance. Even conventional teams are frequently adding an unexpected Z-Crystal, enabling Tapu Koko to dazzle unsuspecting teams with Twinkle Tackle or Arcanine to shock its opponents with Gigavolt Havoc. Whether you prefer aggressive offense, conservative defense, or a team full of tricky moves and surprising strategies, there’s a competitive team for you this season.
The bonus-round curveball for Trainers approaching Melbourne is the recent update to Pokémon Bank. Few official competitions have been held since the update, but it does enable a few new strategies. Trainers frustrated by the ubiquitous HP-restoring Berries may want to consider Aerodactyl for their teams. The fossil Pokémon may now be found with the Unnerve Ability, which prevents opponents from consuming Berries while Aerodactyl is on the field.
Another Pokémon offering some new tricks is Vikavolt. It has been a niche pick for some successful teams so far this season, and it now gets a new toy in the Egg Move Electroweb, thanks to Pokémon Bank. With few options to control the Speed of Pokémon on the field available this year, we anticipate Trainers will give Vikavolt a second look. Finally, Salazzle can now learn Fake Out, enabling it to perform a similar offensive role as Weavile, although the two Pokémon represent different types and Salazzle can also pressure foes with Encore.
Before the European International Championships, it was difficult to anticipate the strategies players would use because they had so little time to prepare. This time, it’s perhaps most difficult to anticipate what we’re likely to see because players have had so much time to prepare. We’re sure many savvy players have new tricks up their sleeves, so we should be in for memorable matches in Melbourne. Don’t be surprised if Pokémon that have been neglected so far this season finish near the top of the standings.
Check back after the event to see the teams, decks, and the top finishers from the tournament. And as always, don’t forget to check out more Pokémon TCG and video game articles and tournament analysis at Pokemon.com/Strategy.
— Pokémon News