2019 NAIC: Day 1 Recap

June 21, 2019 // Tate Whitesell (@twhitesell42)

The first day of competition at the 2019 North American International Championship has concluded. Out of 1120 Masters at the beginning of Swiss round 1, 112 have advanced to Day 2 to continue to fight for a chance at Top 8 and the first-place trophy.

Reshiram & Charizard-GX was expected
to define the NAIC metagame, but it is
not one of the better-represented decks
in Day 2. 
Last season's champion, Stéphane Ivanoff, is alive and well with a 7-1-1 record, but 2017 champion and 2018 finalist Tord Reklev tied his final round to finish 5-2-2 and will not be able to make a third NAIC finals appearance. European team Limitless is keeping Reklev's deckbuilding skills alive at least, with several of their members taking the group's Zoroark-GX/Persian/Naganadel-GX concoction into Day 2. Dead Draw Gaming, the American team that won nine of the 14 NA Regionals this season, has not fared quite as well as usual with their Pikachu & Zekrom-GX deck choice; while Daniel AltavillaAzul Garcia Griego, and Isaiah Williams managed to reach Day 2, Caleb Gedemer and Jimmy Pendarvis did not.

In terms of the metagame, the format leading up to this NAIC was largely defined by Reshiram & Charizard-GX, but that deck did not show up quite as strongly as expected. While Limitless went with Zoroark-GX and DDG picked Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, other top players chose Malamar/Ultra Necrozma-GX, Zapdos/Ultra Beasts, Stall, and Blacephalon UNB. Plenty of less-expected decks made it in as well: the Day 2 field will feature Stunfisk, Blissey, Meganium, and more. Some other interesting decks--Sam Hough's Quagsire Toolbox (5-2-2) and Takuya Yoneda's Zoroark-GX/Silvally-GX/Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX (6-3-0)--fell just short.

Stream match recaps

Round 1: Pedro Eugenio Torres (0-0-0, Zoroark-GX/Persian/Naganadel-GX) 2-0 Rahul Reddy (0-0-0, Blacephalon UNB)
After cryptic tweets of chess pieces from Tord Reklev's testing group, their deck was revealed to us during the very first stream match of the day, as 2018 Worlds Semifinalist Pedro Torres rolled through what Rahul Reddy called "Red Greninja." While Blacephalon UNB is typically unfavorable against Zoroark-GX decks, Torres's Persian TEU added an extra wrinkle. Reddy also Prized three of his Green's Exploration in game 2. 

"ZoroChess" was finally revealed: a
Zoroark-GX/Persian-GX deck with some
control options in Persian TEU and
Round 2: Daniel Altavilla (1-0-0, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX) 2-0 Emily Sherrard (1-0-0, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX)
In DDG's first stream appearance of the day, Altavilla, who has won a Regional, an International, and an SPE this season, quickly dismantled up-and-coming player Sherrard in a mirror match. His Wobbuffet tech helped provide an advantage. 

Round 3: Takuya Yoneda (2-0-0, Zoroark-GX/Silvally-GX/Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX) 0-1 Kevin Tran (Stall)
Japanese legend Takuya brought another of his unorthodox creations to a North American tournament, and while he was able to take five Prizes in the only game of this series, his deck was not equipped to deal with Stall and he couldn't close out the win. Kevin Tran's list was a bit heavier on attacking options than typical Stall builds, with cards like Counter Energy and Counter Gain letting him go on the offensive after slowing down his opponent. 

Round 4: Ian Robb (3-0-0, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX) 2-0 Ryne Morgan (3-0-0, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX)
In a match similar to the one showcased in Round 2, some explosive plays from Robb and unfortunate draws from Morgan led to a quick 2-0. 

Round 5: Le Bui (4-0-0, Vikavolt UNB) 1-2 Christian Pappas (4-0-0, Zapdos/Ultra Beasts)
The rogue Vikavolt deck that PokéStats's Carl Barone and Chris Hoag made a name for at Madison Regionals showed up here in the hands of new player Le Bui, who already has a Regional Top 4 in his first season. Unfortunately, Zapdos proved to be a difficult matchup, and after an explosive game 1, Bui faltered in games 2 and 3.  

Round 6: Luis Duran (5-0-0, Zoroark-GX/Persian-GXDewgong) 1-2 Azul Garcia Griego (Pikachu & Zekrom-GX)
Fan-favorite Griego ran through game 1 fairly quickly, but Luis Duran made some intelligent plays to swing game 2 in his favor. Game 3 was a nailbiter: Griego went up five Prizes to zero, but Duran was finally able to take down Griego's only Pikachu & Zekrom-GX and leave him with almost nothing to work with. A tie seemed imminent, but Griego was eventually able to find a way to claim that last Prize. 

Round 7 - main stream: Noah Sawyer (6-0-0, Malamar/Ultra Necrozma-GX) 1-1 Magnus Pedersen (6-0-0, Zapdos/Ultra Beasts)
Malamar was an under-the-radar deck heading into NAIC, but Noah Sawyer has done well with the deck at several tournaments this season and decided to stick with it here. He found an unfavorable matchup in 2018 Senior Division World Champion Magnus Pedersen's Zapdos deck, but was able to win game 1 due to Pedersen's poor draws. Pedersen won a much more typical game 2 and the series ended in a tie. 

Round 7 - TCG stream: Bert Wolters (5-0-1, Reshiram & Charizard-GX) 2-1 Noel Steslicki (5-0-1, Blacephalon-GX/Naganadel)
One of the few high-profile players to stick with Reshiram & Charizard-GX, Bert Wolters must have been a bit nervous to see Blacephalon-GX across from him--at Madison Regionals earlier this month, Ian Robb's Blacephalon-GX deck demolished three consecutive Reshiram & Charizard-GX in Top 8. Wolters was playing the Green's Exploration-focused build of the deck as opposed to the more common Jirachi-based version; this allowed him to run cards such as Custom Catcher and Mixed Herbs. Wolters won game 1 fairly convincingly, but after a turn 1 Let Loose from Steslicki in game 2, Wolters looked at his new hand and immediately scooped up his cards. Steslicki was given an ample opportunity to lock up game 3 as Wolters struggled to set up multiple attackers, but she made a crucial mistake in discarding Energy from her Benched (not Active) Blacephalon-GX with Mind Blown, significantly diminishing her chance to use Mind Blown again on the next turn after Wolters KOd the Active. Steslicki had to resort to Bursting Burn's Confusion to stall--but those Mixed Herbs saved the day for Wolters, healing the Confusion and letting him take the final KO. 

Round 8 - main stream: Chris Siakala (5-1-1, Spiritomb/Umbreon/Honchkrow-GX) 1-2 Stéphane Ivanoff (5-1-1, Zoroark-GX/Dewgong)
Another under-the-radar pick for NAIC, the Spiritomb/Umbreon deck featuring a heavy line of Honchkrow-GX was pioneered by Grant Manley during Origins the previous week. Although Honchkrow-GX is strong against Zoroark-GX decks, it can be hard to use effectively, and reigning NAIC Champion Ivanoff had plenty of tricks up his sleeve. Siakala put up a fight, but Ivanoff was able to win the series in three games, lock up a Day 2 berth, and prove that--contrary to the opinions of many--Dewgong is actually good. 
Is Stunfisk the most-unexpected--and
best-positioned--deck moving on to
Day 2?

Round 8 - TCG stream: Sam Hough (5-0-2, Quagsire Toolbox) 0-2 Hunter Butler (5-0-2, Stunfisk/Spiritomb)
Possibly the two most unique decks seen on stream all day faced off in a completely unpredictable matchup. A fan of "toolbox" style decks such as the Vileplume Toolbox he took to Top 4 at Worlds 2016, Sam Hough crafted a build that used Quagsire, Unit Energy GRW, and Rainbow Energy to charge up big Basic attackers such as Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX, Marshadow & Machamp-GX, and Reshiram & Charizard-GX. However, this type of deck seems naturally somewhat inconsistent, and with some poor draws from Hough, Hunter Butler's fast-paced, heavy-hitting single-Prizer deck was able to run him over in two games. 

Round 9 - main stream: Aden Cunningham (5-2-1, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX) 1-1 Tord Reklev (5-2-1, Zoroark-GX/Persian/Naganadel-GX)
You'd expect three-time International Champion Tord Reklev, considered by many to be the best player in the world right now, to find his way on stream at some point during this weekend. After all those chess-piece tweets, Reklev's new Zoroark-GX build still needed one more win to advance to Day 2. However, Aden Cunningham's Pikachu & Zekrom-GX got off to a blazing start in game 1, running through Reklev's board. Although Reklev made some smart plays to nearly swing a comeback, he was unable to do so fast enough. Game 2 went more in Reklev's favor, as Cunningham did not set up quite as explosively and Reklev was able to establish his board more. However, the game still dragged on for some time, and while Reklev took it in the end, there was almost nothing he could do to win the third game--he simply had to play to not lose during the extra turns. While Reklev was undoubtedly sad to not have a chance to reach his third straight NAIC finals, and Cunningham likely felt the disappointment of coming so close to beating such a legendary player, both players seemed to take it in good spirits--it had been a close and exciting match. 

Round 9 - TCG stream: Zach Zamora (5-1-2, Shedinja Control) 1-1 Colin Tang (5-1-2, Zapdos/Ultra Beasts)
In a slightly less exciting match than the one on the main stream, notable rogue-deck fan Zach Zamora attempted to establish the Shedinja lock against one of the decks best equipped to beat it: Zapdos. Colin Tang is one of the most accomplished Zapdos players in the world, having earned over 500 CP with the deck in this quarter alone, but he could not beat the lock in game 1. Zamora struggled in game 2 and Tang was able to win that one, but with both decks naturally needing a long time to win games, game 3 proved impossible to finish. 

The Day 2 picture
Team DDG's pick for the event, and the
deck to eliminate Tord Reklev from Day 2
contention, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX seems
like the deck to beat this weekend.
With Reshiram & Charizard-GX taking a bit of a backseat (though still certainly present), Day 2 will revolve around Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, Zoroark-GX variants, Zapdos/Ultra Beasts, and perhaps the handful of Malamar decks. As John Kettler pointed out, though, this may be the year that an anti-meta deck finally takes down the tournament. There are several rogue decks positioned to perform well against the majority of the metagame.

Some of the more unusual decks in Day 2 include:

Kevin Tran, Attacking Stall
As seen on stream in Round 3 against Japanese legend Takuya Yoneda, this deck uses typical "stall" attackers like Hoopa and Regigigas, but also packs Counter Energy and Counter Gain to take a more aggressive approach. A large number of decks in the Day 2 field seem unprepared for Stall, so Tran (as well as the other Stall players, most notably Peter Kica) has a good chance to pick up some more easy wins.

Hunter Butler, Stunfisk/Spiritomb
The Stunfisk/Spiritomb combo was somewhat hyped when the cards were released, but never saw any success at a major event. Butler saw their powerful potential and we saw him run through Sam Hough's big Basics deck on stream. If Butler's deck is consistent and can prey on the many Tag Team-GX-based decks in Day 2, he could go a long way.

Charlie Lockyer, Tool Drop
Several readers discussing our Day 2 Players & Decks post thought this was a meme, but it's real: another known rogue-deck creator, Charlie Lockyer, decided Tool Drop (Doublade/Genesect-GX) had what it takes to do well this weekend. His list can even beat Fire decks, using cards like Metal Frying Pan.

Jit Min Lim, Nidoqueen/Meganium/Swampert
The man who took Vespiquen/Excadrill for a spin at Worlds 2016 is no stranger to unusual decks, and his Meganium/Nidoqueen list is already proven at Oceania tournaments. This deck can be surprisingly fast and difficult to stop.

Chris Siakala, Spiritomb/Umbreon/Honchkrow-GX
Siakala saw potential in this deck that Grant Manley used at last week's Origins event, splashing the disruptive Honchkrow-GX into the single-Prize-attacker-based Spiritomb/Umbreon. Honchkrow-GX can be very disruptive against Zoroark-GX decks (although Siakala did lose to Stéphane Ivanoff's on stream), while Black Market ♢ can provide an advantage against other single-Prize-attacker decks.

Drew Kennett, Blissey/Welder
Some1'sPC team member Drew Kennett found success with the Blissey deck Russell LaParre had been hyping. Blissey had a Day 2 appearance at Madison Regionals as well, proving that it can actually perform quite well with a little luck, and is not simply a meme deck.

Kendon Kula, Zoroark-GX/Marshadow & Machamp-GX
While Zoroark-GX is usually paired with Lycanroc-GX if it wants a Fighting attacker, Kula thought Marshadow & Machamp-GX, paired with Counter Gain, was a stronger choice for this tournament. We'll see if it outperforms the other Zoroark-GX lists in Day 2.

Paden Richard, Granbull
After PokéStats's Alec Geissler took Granbull to Day 2 in Madison with a Phinn Lynch-designed list, there was some hype for the deck, but it had mostly died down by NAIC. Paden Richard will hope to hit some big-Basic matchups (while dodging Zoroark-GX, Zapdos, and Malamar) and prove that Granbull can still be a strong pick in the right meta.