In a format filled with overpowered Stage 2s, super strong Basic Pokemon, and a whole lot of luck, making a decision on a deck wasn't easy. No matter what you play, there will be something that beats you. On top of that, your game might not even go past the first turn. So, what can you do? Play the deck you feel most comfortable with and hope for the best. Going into Nationals, I had tested just about everything. I thought Gardevoir/Gallade/Weavile and Flygon were very strong decks, but could they consistently setup throughout the Swiss rounds and top cut? If they setup, they beat nearly everything. However, eventually these decks will run into a very bad start, and then your tournament is over - not because you played poorly, but because your deck didn't function. Every deck has bad starts, but big Stage 2 decks are even more vulnerable to them. I knew I wouldn't play those decks. Then there were the quick Stage 2 decks - Gengar, Kingdra, and Machamp. All of these have the capability to start attacking first turn and put major pressure on the opponent. I had problems with all of these decks individually, though. Gengar is too easy for a good opponent to play around. Unown G shuts down Shadow Room, and hand sizes can be manipulated to make Poltergeist do very little. Against someone who knows how to play against Gengar, you're a 50/50 matchup at best depending on Fainting Spell flips. Do you want a Stage 2 deck that goes 50/50 at best with the field? No thanks. You can't win coinflip matchups for that many rounds. Kingdra is a solid card, but at least 5 (popular) things give it major problems. Horsea having 50 HP makes it vulnerable to a variety of things on the first turn, including the dreaded Sableye. To pile onto that, the deck doesn't run Call Energy, making for a very scary first turn if you aren't going second. With the popularity of Mesprit, Luxray, and Nidoqueen (three huge problem cards), there's no way this deck can win a tournament like Nationals. At some point it just runs into a bad matchup and fizzles out. Machamp is the weakest of these three decks because it has bad matchups against other Stage 2 decks. It may be strong against SP decks, but those aren't even guaranteed wins. Usually your only offense becomes Hurricane Punch, which makes for a lot of flips during the tournament - not something you want to rely on for 8+ rounds. Machamp never even crossed my mind as an option. Well, with all the Stage 2 decks crossed off the list, that just left SP decks to choose from. With the release of SP Radar, these decks got a huge consistency boost, and consistency is key in a huge tournament. I had been a fan of straight Dialga throughout States and Regionals, but it seemed to lose its luster after Rising Rivals came out. Too many strong cards could KO Dialga easily, so it couldn't be run on its own. The obvious partner would be Palkia, a card I never was a fan of, so that got crossed off the list early. Although Gallade 4 was a strong card, it just lacked something. I don't know what it was, but I didn't feel comfortable running it; it just didn't feel like a winner. So, none of those would be in my deck. After testing, I knew I wanted to run a deck with Luxray. Bright Look is a great Power, and Lightning isn't too bad of a type. Free retreat is always a plus, and so are inexpensive attacks. There was only one problem; what's a good partner for it? After trying a lot of things, I just decided on a card that had absolutely no synergy with Luxray - Infernape. There's no real reason that Infernape is good with Luxray, but to me, it just seemed better than any other sidekick. Although normally not the case, sometimes cards that don't really have synergy can come together and be a decent deck. At the very least, I figured two strong SP Pokemon would be able to have a chance in any matchup. All the tools SP decks possess give you the ability to outplay an opponent, and the consistency of running all Basic Pokemon and SP Radar made me feel comfortable with it in a long tournament like Nationals where you need to setup in over 10 rounds if you want to win. Even though I was unsure about my list, I was set on using Luxray/Infernape for Nationals. Speaking of my list, I will not be posting it. I feel like deckbuilding has almost become a lost art with how prominent online message boards have become in the game. I don't encourage effortless copying of lists card for card and playing them. The biggest mistake I see people make is using someone else's list without trying it out beforehand. Before playing a deck, you should be comfortable and have something built that fits your playstyle. Make your own decks! One of the best parts about Pokemon is being able to put your own spin on the deck you're using. Anyway, back to the report. From Wednesday to Friday, not much testing was done. I had played most of my games against Flygon and Gardevoir, two pretty straightforward matchups, with Bianchi, Crim, and AJ. All I learned was if those decks setup completely, there was no way I was going to win. Still, I felt like the natural inconsistencies of those decks would give me the edge, so I didn't feel too uncomfortable. I was ready, but not expecting anything special. After all, the format is very luck-based, and I might not have a whole lot of control over what would happen. Thursday was probably the day I had the most fun. We held the annual Lafonte softball game in a park nearby. After nine innings and 12 at bats for Dave Coleman, Team 420 made a four run comeback and defeated Team Straightedge in an intense interleague game. Basically it was a great opportunity for a bunch of friends who don't see each other very often to do an activity together. Things like that don't happen very often, and they really are special. Anyway, Saturday came quicker than expected, and we were ready to go. I'm in the White Pod! If any of the details are wrong, I apologize, but I tried my best to report the games accurately. Round 1 - Kabutops/Ampharos/Claydol (James P.) Before the game, James pointed out how they didn't even bother to capitalize his name on the match slip lol. He was a great guy from around the area who had done well in the Professor Cup the previous day. Unfortunately for him, the only evolution he got into play this game was a Flaaffy. By about the fourth turn, Infernape LV.X cleared his board. He took it well and wished me good luck (and even gave me a die to use!). Great meeting you, James! 1-0 Round 2 - Dusknoir This game was extremely uneventful. He started with only Duskull and did 10 with Silhouette to my Baltoy. On the second turn, he played a TG Mars, attached, and hit for 20. I KO him with Luxray LV.X... that's all. Sorry, man! 2-0 Round 3 - Flygon When I saw the Trapinch, I got a little scared. Flygon is one of my least favorite decks to play against because the LV.X can discard crucial cards from your deck. My strategy was pretty simple: take out the Claydol, and the deck should fall apart. Well, that's pretty much what happened. After his Claydol went down, all he had left to use was one Flygon, which went down eventually. From there, I protected my Claydol from his Trapinch's Inviting Trap (Unown G stops it) and went through a swarm of Basics to clear his field fairly quickly. 3-0 Round 4 - Gengar/Nidoqueen (John G.) I'm having a hard time remembering this guy's name, but he was from Kentucky. He got out to a pretty quick start, but I went with the normal strategy of bringing out Claydol with Luxray LV.X and taking it out immediately. However, it wasn't so effective this time, seeing as he played Looker's Investigation to get a new hand three turns in a row! He got out another Claydol in no time, and I wasn't drawing into everything I needed to play the matchup like I wanted to. At a crucial point in the game, I went straight at the Gengar with Luxray, and he hit Heads for Fainting Spell. If he got Tails, the game would've been a blowout, but that's just how Gengar is. We went back and forth trading hits, and I was able to score a KO on Gengar with Fire Spin + Crobat's Flash Bite, avoiding Fainting Spell this time. After a Luxray KO on Nidoran and a Gengar KO on a random Benched Pokemon, the game was tied at 2 prizes each. Thanks to some previous damage, Infernape got to snag a prize with Split Bomb, and that meant he couldn't avoid the Fire Spin for the last prize next turn. Great game! 4-0 Round 5 - Gengar (Pajamas) Another Gengar meant more thinking and doing math. I'm already too tired for this! To make matters worse, my opponent got T2 Claydol and Gengar, so the pressure was on me early. Once again, I went after that Claydol, crippling his setup for the rest of the game. On a crucial turn, he played a Looker to get my hand to five cards. If I drew a Poke Turn or Cyrus, I would be able to reuse Luxray LV.X and bring out his second Baltoy for the KO, which would make things very difficult for him. As I draw my five cards, I am GREATLY disappointed at what I see. Just as I'm expecting to lose, I draw my card... Cyrus! I search for the Poke Turn and KO his Baltoy with Luxray LV.X, and it's smooth sailing from there. A few turns later I score a KO with Uxie, meaning Fainting Spell won't activate. Then, I got another KO with Fire Spin + Crobat on the next turn. He couldn't take enough prizes in time to close the gap, and I got a comfortable win after a very scary opening sequence with Looker. 5-0 Round 6 - Porygon Z (Kevin A.) When I saw the Porygon, I was a little unsure of the matchup, but I was fairly confident I could win. I had a Claydol in play, but I wasn't drawing into any Cyrus, which made things difficult. On the other side, he got T2 Porygon Z and Claydol - not bad! I had setup a play to Luxray out his Porygon Z with a bunch of TMs attached and KO it, but the turn before I was able to, he used Looker to put me at five cards - four Energy and a Stark Mountain. Then, he dropped Duskull/RC/Dusknoir to Dark Palm my Claydol back into the deck. Whoops! Then, I was building an attacker to KO Porygon, but then he played two Poke Blowers to stop that plan. With no Claydol and no Supporters, obviously I'm not going to be able to do much. He beat me pretty badly this game. 5-1 At this point, I know I need to win 1/2 to make the cut. Don't choke! Round 7 - Gengar/Machamp (Carson R.) When I saw the last name "Roll," I immediately thought of my good friend Bianchi's experience with Jim Roll's GeChamp at States. I was expecting Carson to run the same thing, and I was correct. After about three turns of Pitch Dark, I had built up around seven Trainers in my hand, and my Luxray got hit by Poltergeist for about 8000 damage. Thankfully, I was able to play out most of my Trainers immediately, making Poltergeist pretty useless from that point on. When he got a Machoke into play, I brought it out with Luxray, retreated to Uxie, leveled that up, and hit it with Zen Blade to KO it. Before I did, though, I had to make sure that I could get down to one Trainer in my hand, and thanks to Azelf, I knew I wouldn't take a Trainer as a prize, so I was safe. My logic on going after the Machoke was if Machamp got into play, I knew I'd have some troubles, so I wanted to avoid that all together. After a Poltergeist for 60 on Uxie LV.X, I retreated and brought out Baltoy with Luxray, taking it out before he could get a Claydol. From there, he struggled to get anything into play. Although he jumped ahead early, it got to that point against Gengar where they max out at 30 damage, and the door opens for a comeback. Eventually I hit him with the Fire Spin + Crobat KO, and another Fire Spin on a Gengar when he had 2 prizes to my 1 ended the game. Great game, Carson, and it was awesome to meet you. 6-1 I'm in the cut for sure! I have a lot of pressure on this game, though; if I win here, I'm guaranteed to have enough points for an invite. Let's do it! Round 8 - Gengar/various SP (Will B.) I got to sit next to my good pal CRIM this game. Before I knew what hit me, Honchkrow and a bunch of Crobats took some quick prizes. Then, a Gengar came into play. I don't understand how people fit so many cards into a 60 card deck! He seriously played Honchkrow, Crobat, Palkia, Luxray, and Houndoom on top of a heavy Gengar line and 2/2 Claydol. I don't get it! Anyway, back to the game. He jumps ahead a bunch of prizes thanks to Gengar, Crobats, and a bunch of Poke Turns. I have no idea how I'm going to win this game... and then it hits me that he's probably used all four Poke Turn. I look through his discard and, sure enough, they're all in the discard! Right now his field consists of Crobat, Crobat, Azelf, Uxie, Claydol, and Gengar - only one attacker! I now realize what I have to do, and I get to work. First, I use Psychic Restore with Uxie and put it on the bottom to give him zero good targets for Shadow Room. I have one Trainer (Poke Turn) in my hand of about seven cards, so Poltergeist does almost nothing, which he quickly figured out. My plan was simple - Split Bomb, but don't KO anything until I have to. That way, his only attacker is Gengar, which will max out at 30 every turn; I'll be able to catch up. He decides Gengar won't get the job done, so he goes with a new strategy - Toxic Fang with Crobat. I guess he figured I would have to Level Up to get rid of it, which meant Shadow Room did 60... too bad that wasn't going to happen. Using Stark Mountain, every turn I would just move a Fire off the active to a benched Ape, retreat, attach another Energy, and Split Bomb again. I guess having a hand of only Energy turned out to be good! After piling up huge damage on Claydol, Azelf, Gengar, and a Crobat, I made my move. In one turn, I took out Gengar with Flash Bite and KO'd his active Crobat with Luxray, taking my first two prizes. Now the game is heating up. He benches a Luxray, so I know he's going for a cheap prize to put himself at 1 prize. The details are a little fuzzy, but I believe I used Split Bomb for a KO on Claydol and 20 to Luxray, and he gusted something for a cheap prize. Infernape snags the KO with Fire Spin, and now the game is 2 prizes for me, 1 for him. Behind me, I hear my wonderful and faithful friend Crim say, "This game is coming down to a flip!" Well, I disagree! His Gengar can't effectively damage anything in time, so I send out my Infernape 4 with 20 damage on it to Split Bomb his Azelf for the KO and hit Palkia G for 20. With his only Energy on Gengar, I figure there's no way he can use Pearl Breath, so I'm safe from a KO. With 20 on Palkia, the only thing that could withstand a Fire Spin from Ape LV.X would be Gengar, even if he played down Palkia LV.X. He goes for the Poltergeist to try to win, but he sees some bad news - no Trainers in my hand. I use Intimidating Roar to send Gengar to the bench, and nothing on his bench can survive a Fire Spin. Somehow I make the comeback and secure my invite to Worlds. 7-1 Games like those are why I don't scoop very often; I make my opponent beat me! You never know what's gonna happen if you just play it out. *Glares at Crim* Now I'm positive that I have my invite to Worlds, but I came to win! Going through a Top 128 is incredibly difficult. For seven rounds in a row, you have to get through different matchups, great players, and probably some poor starts. Sometimes it comes down to plain luck; that's just the nature of the game. Top 128 - Dialga/Palkia (Kevin H.) Game One: I wasn't quite sure what to expect here, but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a Palkia. Luxray eliminates any Palkia for one Energy, and it won't get KO'd immediately unless they play a Toxicroak G. The game starts off normally, with him using multiple Mesprit to lock down my Powers. Fortunately, I played a Chatot, which allowed me to setup through the Mesprit lock. Even though his Azelf MT slowed me down, eventually the strength of Luxray overpowered Palkia, and there wasn't much he could do. Kevin admitted to misplaying a few times during this game, but I think my hand was strong enough to deal with anything this game, even his Toxicroak G. Game Two: This was a complete reverse of the first game. His start was incredibly fast, with a T2 KO on my Luxray and the Azelf MT annoyance immediately. On the third or fourth turn, I went to Cyrus for a SP Radar, then realized the rest were prized (I had played one earlier, shame on me for not checking the deck). Because of this, I was left with only an Infernape vs a fully powered Palkia. Whoops! Game Three: The 45 minute time limit made me extremely nervous here. Once again, he started off with a quick Palkia, Azelf MT, and several Mesprit drops. How did I start out? Baltoy. Fortunately, I was able to play my hand down to 0 on the first turn and Psychic Balance for a fresh hand of six cards. He got out to a quick lead; however, his hand withered down to about one or two cards, and he fizzled out after a few turns. Once the Power lock stopped, I Bright Looked the Palkia and never looked back. I took another prize with Luxray LV.X, then time got called with him unable to take a prize. Even if he was able to, Infernape LV.X could have KO'd anything on his field. Great games, Kevin, and it was a pleasure meeting you. Top 64 - Dialga/Palkia (Jake M.) Game One: I had heard a lot about Jake from my good friend Martin, but this was my first time meeting him. Unfortunately for Jake, this was probably his worst matchup possible. Palkia and Dialga both struggle to KO even a single Luxray, and Poke Turn makes sure they pretty much never get a prize. Chatot allows me to setup quickly, and when I setup, I can't lose against this deck. Luxray OHKOs Palkia for one Energy (and can gust them out), and Infernape OHKOs Dialga. The first game ended pretty quickly. Game Two: This game was even worse for Jake. I don't think he played a Supporter in the first few turns, and it was too late by the time he did. Once again, Luxray and Infernape were too strong for Palkia and Dialga to keep up. Infernape swept through some Dialgas, and Luxray was always a threat to any Palkias lurking about. Since he didn't run the Toxicroak G, the matchup was very very lopsided in my favor. It was great to finally meet you, Jake! See you in San Diego. After an extremely long day of Pokemon, somehow I moved onto day two. I was expecting to face Jayson Harry next because that's who the bracket said I would play next. I knew he was playing Palkia with Toxicroak G and Azelf MT, so it would be quite a challenge... but hey, it's not supposed to be easy, right? After a few games of Fluxx in Bianchi's room, I decided to get some sleep before the big day (or at least tried). I ended up going to bed at around 3 AM lol. When I got down to the tournament hall at around 8:45, I was forced to resleeve my deck, even though I had just bought my sleeves the previous day... oh well, at least they provided sleeves! Soon I found out that the pods were being mixed, meaning new matchups for everyone! Let's see who I'm paired up with... Top 32 - Dialga/Palkia/Toxicroak (Andy M.) Game One: I had never met Andy before, but he was a pretty cool guy. When I saw a Dialga on his field, I felt a little relief. Normally Dialga decks don't bring much trouble for me because... well, Infernape. In the first game he got off to a quick start with Dialga, and I had to resort to using Chatot to Mimic early. Eventually Infernape took out his Dialga, and he was back to square one. The threat of Luxray always kept his Palkia option in check, and I believe I Power Sprayed his Crobat to make sure he couldn't get the OHKO on Infernape LV.X with Pearl Breath. I got Uxie LV.X into play early, and he held onto his Power Sprays for Luxray LV.X, so I was free to Trade Off the entire game. Because of that, I was able to draw into pretty much everything I needed. If I setup completely, I don't think his deck can beat mine, and that's how it played out this game. I believe either his Toxicroak G (Promo) or Psychic Energy was prized this game, so he never really had a response to my Luxray. About 30 minutes in, he scooped to save time. Game Two: Andy had a pretty quick start this game, and mine wasn't bad. Unfortunately, he had a lot of Energy prized this game, including his Water for Palkia and Psychic for Toxicroak. Without those, he's pretty much helpless against Infernape and Luxray. The game gets out of hand pretty quickly as he struggles to KO anything of mine. I believe I am ahead when time is called, and the game was completely out of reach anyway. Sorry, Andy; that was a bad matchup and bad prizes on top. Great meeting you and great games. Top 16 - Dialga/Palkia/Luxray (Adam V.) Game One: Adam and I have known each other for a long time, and it looks like we just went all the way to St. Louis to play each other again. I am not sure what to expect from this matchup because of the Azelf MT, but I'm pretty optimistic about it. He doesn't really have any strong attackers to worry me besides Palkia, which dies to Luxray pretty easily. Unfortunately, the first game goes downhill for me early. I am forced to grab Chatot to Mimic immediately, which gets KO'd T2 by a Crobat + Luxray. However, I get to Bright Look his Azelf MT immediately and KO it, getting rid of that pest while I can. However, he gets way ahead early because of my otherwise slow start, and I am considering scooping this one quickly. However, I start to see my opening. Now his bench consists of Azelf (LA), Mesprit, Uxie, Claydol, and Palkia, and he has not used Mesprit to lock me. *Light flickers on* He has a bench of four useless Pokemon and Palkia, and Luxray LV.X is Active. Luxray will never be able to OHKO me, and unless he clears his bench with Palkia LV.X, he'll never have a threat that scares me. So basically, if I keep his Palkias out of play, I'll have nothing to worry about. I'm also free to use Powers because he has no bench space to play another Mesprit and only two SP Pokemon in play. With a Cyrus in hand, I know I'll be able to Bright Look for quite a few turns and eliminate his Palkias. Well... that's exactly how it plays out. I Bright Look one Palkia and KO it, then I Poke Turn Luxray LV.X and repeat the process to KO another Palkia the next turn. Realizing my plan, now Adam opts to bench a second Luxray instead, which is fine with me. Because he's used Flash Impact a few times, 30 damage is now on both Mesprit and Azelf, so I use Split Bomb on them with Infernape to setup for two easy prizes. Next turn, I drop Crobat for 10 on his Luxray and hit for 100 with Fire Spin for the KO. With three prizes left, I have two easy KOs whenever I need them and very strong board position. Seeing this, Adam scoops the first game. Game Two: Once again, my start is less than stellar. I actually opt to open with a Vulpix - seeing as I have four Energy in my hand - and begin the game by using Reheat to draw cards... not exactly the ideal start. On the other hand, my opponent gets setup rather quickly, this game with several Mesprit drops and the Azelf MT sitting pretty on the bench. The entire game I seem to be one card short of what I need. Eventually it gets to a sequence where he has two Energy on Palkia, and I keep using Intimidating Roar to force out something with a Retreat Cost, making sure he can't Hydro Shot my Luxray on the bench. During this time, I am unable to find a way to get a Luxray LV.X, even through multiple uses of Mimic with Chatot. In a lapse of judgment, I forget to bench my Bronzong G before using Mimic, meaning I would have to draw Energy Gain (or Bronzong) and Luxray LV.X in order to have enough Energy to KO his Palkia next turn. Unfortunately, I do not draw what I need, and I am in a terrible position. After retreating to Luxray, Adam passes, and all I can do is stare blankly at my hand. I try for another Intimidating Roar, but this time it is met with a Power Spray, and I cannot prevent a Hydro Shot next turn for his fourth prize. On his turn, he levels up Luxray, retreats, levels up Palkia, attaches the Energy, and I scoop promptly after he Hydro Shots for his fourth prize. Game Three: As we are shuffling for the third game, time is called. I ask the judge if I still get to choose who goes first this game because the game ended before time, and he answers no... whoops. If I had known that, I would have scooped a little sooner! Great, so now I figure I'm basically at the mercy of the coin flip. whoever goes second probably wins. After looking at my opening hand, I am certain that my tournament is over. My opening hand is this: Baltoy, Fire, Lightning, Energy Gain, Poke Turn, Luxury Ball, Stark Mountain. I win the roll, meaning I go first, which seemed irrelevant at the time. He opens with Palkia (thankfully not Luxray!), I draw another Fire, attach, and pass. All he can do is attach SP Energy, Psychic Bind with Mesprit, and pass. So, Claydol is out of the picture thanks to Mesprit, and now I have to decide what to Luxury Ball for. I draw my card... Ninetales, perfect. Well, I figure my only option at this point is Luxray, so I Luxury Ball for that, play Energy Gain, Lightning, retreat, and Bite for 60. I'm sitting there praying for him to just PASS! Let me win! ...but he plays a Poke Turn. He sends out Mesprit, plays Call, and has a decision on what two Pokemon to take. If he grabs a Luxray, surely he can win on the next turn; however, if he grabs Azelf MT and Uxie, he can prevent the Trash Bolt KO if I have two Energy. After a lot of deliberation, he decides to go for Uxie/Azelf, activating Downer Material and making me pay another Energy to attack. I draw Infernape, bench it, attach to Luxray, and Bite for 30. He retreats to Uxie, plays an Energy, and uses Psychic Restore for 20. Here is my chance; if I draw a Roseanne or Cyrus, I win! I draw... Night Maintenance, d'oh. I am positive he has a way to get Uxie LV.X - just a hunch. If I leave Luxray active, I lose the game to a Zen Blade. However, I can't attack with Infernape because of Downer Material, so now what? I stare at the useless cards in my hand in anger... Ninetales, Night Maintenance, Stark Mountain... Wait, Stark Mountain? Oh yeah! I play it down, move the Fire off Luxray to Infernape, Poke Turn, attach the Energy Gain to Ape, play the Lightning on it, bench the Luxray (in case of a Warp Point), and Split Bomb his Mesprit that has 30 damage on it already, putting it at 50. If he doesn't have a way to KO me or get rid of that Mesprit, Split Bomb is an unavoidable win condition. He plays a Premier Ball for Uxie LV.X (I knew he had it!), and I was correct in assuming that I would have lost if I left Luxray active. After a Trade Off, he looks at his hand, thinks for a while looking for a way out, and... finally admits that he cannot avoid the Split Bomb KO. My heart is pounding, and I'm extremely relieved that I pulled out a win here. Great games, Adam. After the game, I found out that Chuck lost on the first turn in Sudden Death - ouch. Since he lost, I would face his opponent, someone who apparently was undefeated up to this point. At this point, I'm glad that I've at least made some scholarship money, but the real prize was on the line in this next game. The trip is where it's at! Top 8 - Dialga/Palkia/Luxray (Benjamin A.) Game One: I should not have won this game. I'll just start by saying that. A lot of the details are blurry, so I'll try to piece this together the best I can. I get off to a fairly poor start, being forced to Mimic early with Chatot, which is promptly KO'd the next turn. For some reason nobody likes my Chatot! He starts off quickly with a bunch of Mesprits and an early Palkia/Luxray onslaught. In a mental lapse, I try to use Bright Look early game after being Psychic Binded... man, I need some sleep. Fortunately, I probably had to make that play to make sure Luxray didn't get Hydro Shotted for the KO, so it wasn't too terrible of a mistake. Anyway, I fall way behind early, and the entire game the only thing running through my mind is, "I need to scoop this game to save time. Just move on to the next game." However, the little things he did gave me a glimmer of hope. The stubborn side of me refused to concede the game, and I was sure that my ignorance was going to end my tournament. Ultimately, he game was highlighted by a few spots. First, in a desperate act, I decided to bench my Rayquaza to get some Energy into play. I went for Speed Gain... Tails. For whatever reason, he felt that Rayquaza was a threat, so he Bright Looked it up and hit me for 60. Not only did this give me a few turns to build up attackers, but also it put damage on his board thanks to Flash Impact. Next turn he KO'd me, and I was down by three prizes. A few turns later, he decided to Hydro Shot my Infernape with an Energy on the bench for a KO, probably thinking Toxicroak G would be able to KO any Luxrays (and looking at the prize count, he would come ahead on that exchange eventually). However, he had used both a Psychic Energy and SP Energy on Palkia, so there was a chance he wouldn't have the Energy to respond with Toxicroak. I take the KO on Palkia, the only thing I could do, and... he doesn't have the Psychic! Now the game gets interesting. Thanks to his earlier damage from Flash Impact, I start racking up damage with Split Bomb, putting things very close to KO range. I remember using Bright Look to bring out a Palkia, then KO'ing it with Infernape LV.X to avoid the Toxicroak G response this time. I really wish I remembered more details about this game because it was one of the best I've ever played. What I do remember is the final two turns. He has 70 damage on Claydol, 50 on Mesprit, Luxray LV.X (active) with 20, and a Toxicroak with Energy Gain on it. I promote my Infernape LV.X with no damage, attach a Call to have Fire/Call, and stare at the board. I sit there and wonder if there's any way to play my turn better and if there's any way he can beat me. I figure there's plenty of ways he can beat me, but I just have to hope he doesn't have any of them. I play down a Bronzong G in case he plays Warp Point to get the last cheap prize, and think for a little longer. The judges tell me I have to make a move, so I Split Bomb to KO Claydol and Mesprit, tying the game at one prize each. I know my top two prizes are Energy, but I don't remember which one is the last Fire I need, so I just take those two. It comes down to this. If he has a Water + Palkia + Energy Gain + Crobat, he can Galactic Switch an Energy to it, and I lose. There are more combinations of cards that give him the win, but basically he has to get a Crobat and an attacking Palkia out to OHKO my Infernape LV.X. When he plays the SP Radar for Palkia, my heart sinks a little bit. All I can do is wait in anticipation. He stares at his hand and plays down an Energy... Metal! My eyes popped open, and I think I jumped up in my seat a little bit. He hits me for 60 with Luxray, and I attach the Fire to Fire Spin for 100 and the game. My heart is racing! I just came back from down three prizes to take the most crucial game of my tournament life. Game Two: With around 20 minutes left, we both know that this game probably won't finish. I start off stronger this game, leading with Luxray against his Palkia. I take a few prizes pretty quickly, and he KOs my Luxray with a Toxicroak, but there's no way he can take four prizes in time. I'm not sure how the game would've played out, but he scooped up his cards and wished me good luck. Congrats on the invite, Benji! See you at Worlds, and it was great meeting you. The trip is in my hands! From here, I could care less how I do, but it sure would be nice to avenge my loss in the Finals of Nationals 2004. Let's see how far I can go! I get paired up with Anthony, a great guy I've known for a while now. I wish we hadn't gotten paired until the Finals, but I'm glad we both got trips, especially after Anthony couldn't go to Worlds 2006 after winning a trip. I would be glad if either of us won. Top 4 - Palkia/Luxray (Anthony E.) Game One: I got a pretty good start, and his wasn't bad, either. Right away I targeted the Azelf MT, making sure Downer Material wouldn't ruin me. Fortunately for me, both his Toxicroak G and Psychic Energy were prized this game, meaning Luxray was never in any serious trouble. Without Toxicroak and Azelf MT, my attackers are simply superior to his, and there isn't anything he can do. Eventually he scoops the first game when he can't stop me from using Bright Look on his Palkia with two Energy. Game Two: I start out with Luxray this game against his Uxie/Call start. He gets a T2 KO on my Luxray through Crobat/Poke Turn/Uxie LV.X for 20 + 60, but a few turns later I respond with a KO from Infernape LV.X, taking away his only draw power in Trade Off. In addition, it removes the Uxie from play, meaning Azelf MT is useless. Eventually my attackers start to overwhelm him, and he scoops. Anthony tells me he doesn't think he can beat the Manectric/Luxray deck that he would have to play in the Finals anyway, so he didn't want to play it out. Great job on the T4, and I'll see you at Worlds. You deserve it! Well, I'm at a place I never thought I'd be again - in the Finals at Nationals. Hopefully this time around I can pull out a win. I learn that I'm facing Darrell next, a great player (I believe he won States and Regionals this year) and stand up guy that I've met before. I know he's playing Manectric/Luxray, and I'm not sure how my matchup is against that, but I guess I'll find out. Before the match, I have all sorts of people telling me, "Win it for Lafonte!" or, "Don't let Underground win!" These were just the polite comments. Honestly, I don't understand where all the hate comes from. What's with all the drama? Almost everyone I've met from this game has been pretty nice to me. Can't we just get along? Oh well. Finals - Manectric/Luxray (Darrell M.) Game One: I can see all my friends watching the game closely, which is a pretty cool feeling. I have to focus, though. I can tell Darrell is nervous (understandably), but I'm pretty calm because I've been here before. We start off, and my opening hand for this game was about as perfect as you can get. I opened with Infernape, Energy Gain, Cyrus, and Luxray I believe. I go first, attach Fire to Infernape, and pass. Opening with Electrike, he plays down a Luxray, attaches to it, and passes. I Cyrus for SP Radar, get the Infernape LV.X, Intimidating Roar the Luxray out, and KO it with Fire Spin. I'm not sure if that was the correct play instead of just using High Jump Kick for the KO, but my gut was telling me to do it, so I went with it. Next, he benches Uxie/Luxray/Unown G, attaches to Electrike, and uses Roar to force out my Luxray. I level up, Bright Look the Unown G, retreat to Infernape LV.X, attach a Fire, and Split Bomb his bench. Somehow he can't find Manectric or Energy, and he is forced to pass. I drop the Crobat to hit Electrike for 10 and Split Bomb it for a KO. He attaches to Luxray and passes, then I High Jump Kick for the KO on Unown G. Just like that, I've taken three prizes with no damage on my board. Next turn I take another prize with Fire Spin, making it a four prize lead. With his limited options and huge prize deficit, Darrell scoops the first game. I'm one game away from the big win, but I know anything can happen, so I don't get my hopes up just yet. Game Two: My hand isn't anything stellar, but I do start with Luxray, Energy Gain, and Roseanne. He lets me go first, so I attach and pass. He has a lone Uxie, which got me thinking... what if he doesn't have another Basic? I can Trash Bolt to win next turn. He attaches to Uxie, plays a PlusPower, and uses Cynthia for four cards. Wow, now there's really a good chance he doesn't have another Basic! Darrell stares at his hand, grabs a card to play, and my heart sinks as I assume he's about to play down another Pokemon. He plays down... PlusPower? Is this really happening? All he can do is Psychic Restore for 40. As fast as I can, I draw, Roseanne for Lightning/Fire, play the Energy Gain and Lightning, and Trash Bolt for the KO... it's over. On the second turn, the game - and the tournament -ended just like that. Wow. I apologize for winning like that, but at the same time congratulate Darrell for making it this far. What an incredible season he's had! I know we'll be hearing a lot from him in future years, and I wish we could've had some better games. Great job, and I'll see you at Worlds man! After I win, I hear the crowd chanting "Pooka." What a cool scene. In one moment I get to see all the great people I've met through this game standing there cheering me on. I was just in awe and didn't know what to do except take it all in. I know I don't show much emotion, but I really do appreciate all the great things my friends have done for me, including making this moment special. This is something I'll never forget. To all my friends - you know who you are - thank you. The game isn't fun without you guys. I didn't play perfectly, I may not have had the best deck, and I got pretty lucky at some points, but at the end of the day, it just all fell into place. It's still a little surreal to me, but I guess I could get used to the thought of being National Champion for a year. I'm very grateful for the win, and I'll do my best to represent the US well. Nothing left to say except... I'll see you guys at Worlds! Oh, and thanks for reading.