Published on August 12th, 2015 | by rapha45
We Stand on Garde for Thee: 2015 US Nationals Runner Up Report
Hello there reader! Rapha “bagel bagel” Bagara here! I recently earned a second place finish at the US National Championships, losing to former World Champion Toler Webb (Dim) in the finals. Playing 18 best-of-three games, meeting people who were merely usernames to me before, receiving lots of support during the weekend; it was far and away the best experience I’ve in Pokemon ever.
I’ve always viewed myself as just another player in this community and I never could have imagined I would have this kind of run during what was considered the most difficult US Nationals ever.
Let me give you some background information on me as a player. I first started playing VGC just last season after I discovered it thanks to Worlds being hosted in my hometown of Vancouver in 2013. The first event I attended was a 50 person Premier Challenge where I lost to Randy Kwa (R Inanimate) and his villain-mode Smeargle in the finals. I attended another Premier Challenge two weeks later, but lost in top 8 because Bidier’s Ice Beam Kangaskhan froze my Aegislash (still salty!).
Over the past year I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the BC community quite well and I even joined the VGC With Hats crew, a blog founded by two fantastic and accomplished players in Max Douglas (starmetroid) and Mark Hanson (Crawdaunt).
I’ve also met people I had known about online during regionals and, while I was having a very middling season before my miracle run during Nationals, I don’t regret the time and effort I’ve put in trying to earn a worlds invite. My near disastrous finishes during spring regionals (4-4 in Seattle, 5-3 in Kansas) taught me not to take opportunities for granted and I realized I needed to be more attentive in my practice if I wanted to salvage my season at Nationals.
Sohaib once told me of Trick Room Mega Gardevoir with Amoonguss and I immediately dismissed it as being a dumb idea because of Mega Gardevoir’s high base speed (oops!). Months later, I saw Lajo using it and, after being better informed of how the team functions, I was immediately interested in trying the team structure for myself. Lajo used Hydreigon on his team, but training partners Spurrific and LPFan, who were both also trying the team, had decided that Scrafty was a better fit.
Some time after those two were using the team, Ray started streaming with pretty much the same Pokemon, and I copied his Super Fang Scrafty set. I created a version of the team that had Gardevoir / Amoonguss / Heatran / Scrafty / Landorus-T / Rotom-W and won the BC Invitational with it, going undefeated the entire way (check out my report of that tournament here!).
After I won the BC Invitational, however, I started to struggle while practicing for Nationals. I tanked on the BattleSpot ladder due to bad plays and new techs, like Safety Goggles Aegislash, that gave the team a rough time. Two weeks before Nationals, I started toying around with other teams, such as Charizard / Cresselia, and I even entertained the idea of bringing back MegaGross Rain. However, those ideas also led to nowhere in practice and I kept coming back to Gardevoir.
It was at this point that I decided to try Thundurus over Rotom-W. I liked Rotom-W over Thundurus in theory because its Water-typing was useful against Heatran and Landorus. However, I realized that I would play situations sub-optimally, acting as if Hydro Pump would always miss, and Rotom ended up being a massive weak link to the team. Thundurus was very helpful in its ability to Taunt problematic Pokemon like Aegislash and Breloom, while priority Thunder Wave and Swagger worked well in conjunction with Landorus’ Rock Slide. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this change meant that I ended up with the same six Pokemon as Ray, even though this team was originally taken from Lajo.
I used the team of Gardevoir / Amoonguss / Heatran / Scrafty / Landorus-T / Thundurus-I in the June International Challenge and had solid results, but the biggest thing I took away from the online tournament was that I had started to feel very comfortable with the team. I probably should have learned all my damage calcs but, overall, I knew exactly what I wanted to use for Nationals.
The team structure is something a lot of people are familiar with, so I’ll go over it quickly. The team relies on two different modes with Trick Room and Thunder Wave. Which mode I would go with largely depended on how easily I could set up Trick Room, how Amoonguss and Scrafty fared against my opponent’s team, and where Gardevoir’s speed stat lies relative to my opponent’s bigger threats.
For example, I wouldn’t care too much if my opponent had Pokemon like Suicune or Cresselia because they exert little offensive pressure against my team, but I would be more inclined to use Trick Room versus a team with Garchomp or Terrakion than one with a Sylveon or Mawile. These are very specific requirements, which is why I used Thunder Wave more often than Trick Room throughout the tournament, but having these two modes allowed this team to excel in the best-of-three format of US Nationals.
My go-to lead during the tournament was Landorus + Thundurus, because it had so few bad matchups and it was a combination that allowed me to pivot into even more favorable positions. Even in bad lead situations I could always U-Turn out with Landorus and start putting myself in a better position with Thunder Wave. Swagger was also used effectively to discourage my opponent from staying in to take advantage of a good lead.
If I wanted to set up Trick Room, the preferred lead was Gardevoir + Landorus. I could start the game with Intimidate and U-Turn out in order to have a turn two Fake Out with Scrafty and another Intimidate. Typically from there, in most situations, Scrafty would use Super Fang (or Knock Off on a Sitrus Berry holder) so that Gardevoir’s powerful Hyper Voice can get the KO. Alternatively, I could also bring Amoonguss out in Trick Room and start putting things to sleep quickly so that Gardevoir can get several uninterrupted attacks off in quick succession.
Gardevoir @ Gardevoirite
EVs: 220 HP / 252 SAtk / 36 Spd
– Hyper Voice
– Trick Room
As expected, given that it’s my mega of choice, the team is centered around Gardevoir. I have double Intimidate to support its pitiful physical bulk and two forms of speed control to solve the problem of Gardevoir’s middling speed. Redirection from Amoonguss allows Gardevoir to attack more freely and Gardevoir pairs well with Heatran as Fairy / Fire / Ground attacks offer fantastic coverage.
I have tried Mega Gardevoir in the past, but was left largely unimpressed by its frailty. However, it’s a Pokemon that can shine in this archetype and I was glad that I didn’t face too many players that tried to counter this team with specific techs. The EV spread is pretty lazy, but I haven’t needed Gardevoir to do much else: 36 Speed is there to speed creep Bisharp after mega evolving, 252 special attack for maximum damage output, and the rest into HP for generic bulk. I chose Psyshock over the more powerful Psychic because a lot of opposing Amoonguss and Mega Venusaur are trained to survive Psychic already, so both attacks are only 2HKOes, but Psyshock allows me to hit Pokemon like Milotic, Sylveon, and Ludicolo for more damage.
Amoonguss @ Rocky Helmet
EVs: 252 HP / 148 Def / 108 SDef
IVs: 0 Atk / 0 Spd
– Giga Drain
– Rage Powder
I honestly don’t think Amoonguss is a very good Pokemon. People have wised up to its antics and started using items like Safety Goggles, Rage Powder is greatly inferior to Follow Me, and lots of popular Pokemon, such as Charizard, Salamence, and Talonflame, have a field day against Amoonguss. On this team, however, there weren’t very many good alternatives, as redirection has become a staple on every team I’ve built and it helps set up Trick Room.
Under Trick Room, Amoonguss can Spore targets quickly to give Gardevoir free turns to use Hyper Voice. The set is incredibly standard, but I’ve been asked why I use Sassy nature with Rocky Helmet. I trained my Amoonguss to always survive the first hit from +2 Mega Kangaskhan’s Return without requiring Relaxed nature. Plus, I already have double Intimidate to help soften the blow from physical attackers. Amoonguss’ defenses are more split and choosing Sassy over Relaxed was more efficient. During the BC Invitational, I used an EV spread that mostly focused on just physical bulk, but I didn’t like how that spread was damaged by Sylveon so easily.
Heatran @ Life Orb
Ability: Flash Fire
EVs: 4 HP / 252 SAtk / 252 Spd
– Heat Wave
– Flash Cannon
– Earth Power
I don’t know whether I’m ahead or behind the curve with my use of Life Orb Heatran. Literally all the opposing Heatran I faced at Nationals had Shuca Berry. I like Life Orb a lot on Heatran because I felt that it would never quite hit hard enough without it. Also, yes, this Heatran is indeed Timid and max speed despite the team having a Trick Room option. I felt that if I leaned too heavily with making this team slow that I would have trouble handling Breloom and Bisharp. Also, given that this team uses Thunder Wave more, I was better off with speed over bulk.
The Trick Room portion of this team was mostly just Gardevoir / Amoonguss / Scrafty anyway. During the BC Invitational, I used Overheat over Flash Cannon, but I felt that this team needed more ways to deal with Fairies. I never needed Overheat during Nationals and Flash Cannon was useful beyond hitting Sylveon for good damage. Also, Heatran was the only Pokemon on this team that wasn’t significantly trained in defense, which follows the bulky-offense approach I went with when building this team.
Scrafty @ Assault Vest
EVs: 252 HP / 252 Def / 4 SDef
IVs: 0 Spd
– Fake Out
– Drain Punch
– Knock Off
– Super Fang
One half of the double Intimidate combo and an integral part of the Trick Room mode for this team. Scrafty helps set up Trick Room with Fake Out and, once the dimensions have been twisted, Scrafty supports Gardevoir a great deal by softening up Pokemon with Knock Off and Super Fang, making them even more vulnerable to Hyper Voice.
Relaxed Scrafty with max defense is an idea that I outright stole from Ray Rizzo. All that defense investment coupled with Assault Vest made Scrafty capable of taking hits from both sides of the spectrum and gave Scrafty great longevity to support the rest of the team. I never needed much attack investment, nor did I particularly care for burns, as Scrafty’s offense came primarily from using Super Fang. I generally don’t like Scrafty very much and it was my least used Pokemon during the tournament, but its role on this team was irreplaceable. It’s also difficult to overstate how good of a move Knock Off is in best-of-three play.
Landorus-T @ Choice Band
EVs: 164 HP / 20 Atk / 4 Def / 68 SDef / 252 Spd
– Rock Slide
This was my favorite set on the team, and Choice Band has always been my favorite item on Landorus. I didn’t have much use for Choice Scarf because I typically only like that item for the purpose of outspeeding Terrakion, but I already have plenty of options to deal with the Rock-type muskateer. Assault Vest was taken by Scrafty and Choice Band allowed me to forgo investing too much in Landorus’ attack, which in turn allows it to be heavily trained in speed and bulk.
This Landorus is able to survive an Ice Beam from 100 SAtk Suicune 100% of the time, survive a +1 Sucker Punch from Life Orb Bisharp, while still OHKOing Pokemon like Charizard and Kangaskhan that were trained to barely survive attacks from 252-Attack Adamant Choice Scarf Landorus. During the tournament, the use of Choice Band was most useful against all the Shuca Berry Heatran I faced. The moveset is standard, because this is still Landorus after all. I did consider Knock Off, but U-Turn allowed me to shuffle Intimidate better, as well as do neat things like reseting Scrafty’s Fake Out or healing Amoonguss with Regenerator while still keeping it on the field.
Thundurus-I @ Sitrus Berry
EVs: 244 HP / 12 Def / 4 SAtk / 180 SDef / 68 Spd
– Thunder Wave
I hit 140 speed to outrun other Thundurus and, while I thought that this was excessive at first, I ended up facing three Thundurus that were faster than mine. This was a struggle to work around as I was heavily dependent on Thundurus to Taunt problematic Pokemon like Aegislash. For my Thundurus, I chose to invest heavily into special defense due to my team’s lack of concrete answers to Sylveon and because I already have double Intimidate. This Thundurus was trained to only be 3HKOed by Choice Specs Sylveon’s Hyper Voice but still maintains enough physical bulk to avoid a 2HKO from Landorus’ Rock Slide, even without Intimidate.
Though my team doesn’t have a way to hit Landorus for super effective damage, I chose to forgo Hidden Power Ice in favor of Swagger and this is a decision that I want to talk about a little bit. Though it gained a reputation as an amateur strategy, Swagger is a move that often has little downside when used and, even beyond its ability to win games from a sure-loss situation, Swagger can turn bad positions into neutral ones, neutral positions into positives, and positives into an insurmountable advantage. Preventing your opponent from moving even just once in a battle is a powerful tool, especially when stacked with Thunder Wave and Rock Slide. The worst thing it can do is discourage your opponent from trying to attack. This is especially true if I use Swagger on Aegislash. Despite missing Swagger a whopping nine times during the tournament, the move was still instrumental in allowing me to win matchups where I otherwise would have no chance.
Round 1: Whitney Johnson (brokestupidlonely) (2-1W)
Round 2: Zach Droegkamp (Braverius) (2-1L)
Round 3: Ethan Simpson (2-1W)
Round 4: Sheryl Rummel (2-0W)
Round 5: Nathan Powell (Illuminatimon) (2-1W)
Round 6: Hanna Coder (2-1L)
Round 7: Walter Morales (Wally1021) (2-0W)
Round 8: Kyle Ayala (crazyck) (2-1W)
Round 9: Sohaib Mufti (sohaib) (2-1W)
I played very poorly versus Hanna Coder to drop to 4-2, and I legitimately feared that my tournament life would end because I put myself in a position where I no longer had any margin for error. Two rounds later, I played Kyle Ayala, who was making very strong reads that put me on the edge. Thankfully I was one step ahead when I needed to be and won a very close set. In round 9, I was paired up against friend and training partner Sohaib, who was using a team that I had a hand in putting together. It was a messy set because of double genie shenanigans on both sides, but I won based on a good prediction in the final turn of the final game. It was a shame that one of us had to knock the other out of the tournament.
Round 1: Blake Hopper (Bopper) (2-1L)
Round 2: Nikolai Zielinski (Nikolai) (2-0W)
Round 3: Alex Underhill (Lexicon) (2-0L)
Round 4: Leonard Craft III (DaWoblefet) (2-1W)
Round 5: Gavin Michaels (kingofmars) (2-1W)
Round 6: Evan Bates (Veteran Padgett) (2-0W)
I lost to Blake in round 1, but playing that set gave me some insight on how to approach Charizard / Aegislash teams, which helped me win versus Leonard in round 4. In round 5 versus Gavin, Swagger really proved its worth as I won a very messy set. After beating Evan in round 6, I guaranteed myself a worlds invite with a guaranteed Top 16 finish.
I was on cloud nine. I played a lot of Pokemon that weekend and I was ecstatic that all my effort culminated to an invite to Boston. I celebrated with friends, watched the stream a little, and I didn’t think about anything other than the fact that I had earned the invite. I didn’t even think about top cut because of my 1-2 start. I didn’t want to trick myself and get my hopes up for top cut because the most important thing was that I had an invite. Did I mention I had a worlds invite?
The celebration lasted a fair amount of time because I finished the round 6 set quickly. After some time passed, Justin (Spurrific) had pulled up the standings and informed me that I had made top cut as the 8th seed.
Somehow, some way, despite my poor start, I was still moving on. The rest of the day disappeared in a blur. Eventually, it had sunk in that I made top cut and I realized that I would be playing against good friend and former world champion Hayden McTavish in the first round. At that moment I honestly would have been perfectly fine with getting destroyed since I was already happy to have made it this far but, of course, I still wanted to give it my best to go even deeper in the tournament. Anything less would be a waste of the opportunity. Also, man, my name still looks out of place next to everyone else in top cut.
I also want to talk about how much sheer, dumb luck helped me get into top cut. I got paired up and won in round 2 versus Nikolai, which helped my resistance tremendously. Meanwhile, the eventual 9th place finisher Aaron Liebersbach (Arch), who I edged out on the secondary tie-breaker, lost a pair down in round 5. A certain Volcarona user also mysteriously disappeared from competition when he was 3-1. Of course, if I wasn’t the one to have gotten lucky, it would have been someone else. I just wanted to express how grateful I was for the opportunity and that I didn’t squander it.
Top 8: Hayden McTavish (enigne)
Sadly, I have to start this section to acknowledge some of the unfortunate conversations Hayden and I had with other people. Hayden is typically reluctant to scout his opponent. He will often tell people that one of the major factors to his win at Worlds was because his final opponent refused to scout him. However, people had gotten in his ear about the scholarship prize for top 4 finish at Nats, how he he apparently had a fantastic team matchup versus me, and a certain former opponent of mine had told him that my Landorus had Assault Vest (which it most definitely doesn’t).
This all caused Hayden to think that he already had the set won and was pressured to do everything he could not to lose this set. Also, a mutual friend of mine and Hayden’s, Demitrios Kaguras (kingdjk) had accidentally blurted out to me that Hayden’s Aegislash did not have Wide Guard.
Mutual unsolicited scouting aside, Hayden is a fellow BC Invitational competitor and he had read my report on that tournament. Hayden had some crazy sets on his team, such as a Conkeldurr that didn’t carry Hammer Arm or Drain Punch. Also, his Salamence was trained to survive a Hyper Voice from my Gardevoir. I abused Swagger a fair bit in this set and, while it wasn’t anything like my set against Gavin, Swagger gave me a few crucial turns that allowed me to win this very close set.
Towards the end of game 3, Hayden said something along the lines of “that cost me $1500” and I had no idea what he was talking about at the time, but he was referring to the scholarship, and “that” was his decision to scout me before our set started. He had known my Landorus had Choice Band and was capable of OHKOing his Heatran through Shuca Berry from my BC Invitationals report but, motivated to secure assurance, he had gathered team information to his detriment. I genuinely felt awful to see Hayden crushed after this set. Unfortunately, as a certain NPA manager once taught me: there are no friends once the round starts.
Top 4: Blake Hopper (Bopper)
After I won my top 8 match, I was immediately pulled aside to the play area that hosted Day 2 Swiss. I was honestly confused at what was happening, as I was hoping, and expecting, to be on the stage and stream. Blake and I weren’t being streamed and, instead, were relegated to one of the side TVs, much to my disappointment. I had badly wanted to get on stream, but I suppose it became another thing motivating me to win the set.
It really was too bad that this match wasn’t streamed, as I thought it was a phenomenal set filled with high level plays from both sides. Thanks to the close nature of this match, the atmosphere of the crowd that we gathered, the giddiness that Blake and I shared over the fact that we were in top 4 of US Nationals, this was probably the most fun set of games I had all weekend.
In game 1, I realized that I hadn’t actually revealed Heatran’s Flash Cannon during our Swiss match, and I was able to pick up a KO on his Sylveon on turn 1. I win game 1 handily with that early advantage. In game 2, I had given his Aegislash a Weakness Policy boost that allowed it to KO my Heatran. I don’t remember any particulars of game 3, but man, that game was the one I enjoyed the most all weekend because I was doing cartwheels in my mind over how I played. I felt that I was making off-the-wall reads that allowed me to win this set and I got to move on to the finals!
At this point I learned that everyone in top 4 earned a scholarship, not just the winner like I had previously thought. I also completely forgot that the finals were going to be played on the next day because I was still struck by how surreal everything was: I didn’t think too highly of my season’s performance before Nationals, but I now somehow found myself in the finals of what was widely considered the most difficult US Nationals ever. I was met with congratulations from everyone and it took some time for everything to sink in.
It’s worth mentioning that my opponent in the finals, Toler Webb, was also one of my roommates for the weekend. It would have been impossible for me to prepare if I had gone back to my own hotel room, so I spent the evening with Mark, Max, Hayden, and Demitri at their hotel in order to prepare for the finals. Preparation that night admittedly went nowhere, so when I finally returned to my hotel room, Toler and I had some awkward conversations because our teams were published online. I don’t think this sort of information really changed anything considering we had already shared a good deal of team information before we even knew we’d be facing each other in the finals, but it really was strange that our teams were posted before we even played. Toler even ran into someone online who had been using his exact six Pokemon.
The next day, nerves really had their way with me, as I had serious difficulty eating anything. We checked in at 10 AM but didn’t play until after 4 PM, so it was a solid 6+ hours for nerves to continue piling up. It was during this wait that I also realized that I really, really hate Wailord. I spent some time during the wait with Mark and Max to see how I should approach the upcoming matchup, and this time, we were able to assess certain things about the matchup that I thought would help me. Once the VGC matches had begun, excitement started to replace the nervousness that I felt and I was ready to finally play.
Finals: Toler Webb (Dim)
I know this is Nugget Bridge, but if I had any regrets about the weekend, it is that I wish I would have played better in the finals. Apologies to the viewers and Toler for not making the best plays. For those wondering why I chose to Super Fang Landorus instead of Gardevoir at the end of game 3, my answer to that is that I was already in a losing position and KOing Gardevoir sooner wouldn’t help the situation. If I chose to Super Fang Gardevoir, the best that could have happened is that I lose Scrafty in exchange for Gardevoir and I would then lose to timer against Landorus since my Thundurus had no way to touch it.
I needed Gardevoir to not attack so Scrafty could KO Landorus with Super Fang and then Knock Off. Had that happened, Thundurus would have had enough turns to KO Gardevoir. What I should have done in that game prior to that scenario, though, was conserve my Gardevoir and Heatran better. I fully acknowledge that played them recklessly and lost the game and set as a result. Props to Toler for the Helping Hand + Earthquake play, though. I did not see that coming and it gave him a huge advantage.
Congrats once again to Toler for his incredible performance that weekend, as he truly deserved his National title. I was genuinely happy for his win and, if I had to lose to anyone in the finals of such a large and high level tournament, it would be to him. In the end, only one of the two Mega Gardevoir users could take home the title! America won, Swagger lost, and the VGC With Hats crew keeps the second place finish streak alive.
See you guys in Boston,