The majority of players have been testing and tweaking new teams on regular basis in an attempt to stay on-top of the metagame. Not Gavin Michaels. When he won the San Jose regional, he did so with a team that had almost gone unchanged from the time it was built.
“I figured that no one would have a good way to beat hard Trick-Room,” Michaels said during a post-San Jose Smogcast. “I figured, over time, someone would develop an answer for it — and people really weren’t using good answers for it. So it was like, ok, why would I use standard when I could use this?”
Michaels further explained that, had he gone with a standard team, he would have had to add techs for Trick Room. Then, if he played others who hadn’t invested resources into stopping Trick Room, his techs would be worthless and he’d be at a disadvantage. Instead, he said it was better to use hard Trick Room himself and force people to answer him.
According to Michaels, in an appearance on The Hyper Voice, explained the team started when Harrison Saylor stumbled across a player using Hariyama, Porygon2, Magnezone, Shiinotic, Wishiwashi and Palossand. Saylor then brought the team to a skeptical Michaels’ attention.
“If I didn’t know Harrison like I know Harrison, I’d have said ‘you’re crazy,’ but Harrison has been right about early-meta calls every single year he’s played,” Michaels said. “He was telling me at the beginning of 2016, ‘dude, you’ve gotta use Gengar/Kyogre — it’s really good.’ I didn’t believe him. It sounded like trash. But hey, turns out Gengar/Kyogre was ok.”
Willing to go with whatever Saylor said, Michaels realized while using the team that Hariyama, Porygon2 and Magnezone were actually very strong. The rest, they decided, made no sense whatsoever. They quickly dropped Wishiwashi for Araquanid after Michaels lost to a choice-band set and saw the potential of Water Bubble. Mimikyu replaced the next mon for its ability to score one-hit-knock-outs on Tapu Lele with a fast Never Ending Nightmare. With Psychic terrain preventing Hariyama’s Fake Out and Taunt preventing Porygon2’s Trick Room, it was a major threat.
Tapu Bulu originally occupied the final slot as an answer to Gastrodon, but it didn’t quite fit into the team’s Trick Room mode. Since the duo didn’t have the resources to invest in a fast mode, Bulu struggled too much against the slower Gastrodon. Michaels and Saylor sought out Pokémon that were slower than Gastrodon, and they eventually came across Drampa. Once Saylor pointed out it got access to Energy Ball, they never looked back.
Outside of Drampa’s useful move-pool, its Cloud Nine ability is what surprised Michaels in a way he wasn’t expecting. With it, he had solid answers to almost every form of weather, from Lilligant/Torkoal to Gigalith.
In the end, the team and other players’ lack of answers to it meant that Michaels could often “auto-win” if he played properly. His eleventh place finish after Swiss rounds was a testament to that. According to Michaels, one of the few tough matches he faced the whole weekend was against Alberto Lara. Though Michaels won the set 2-1 in their all-important top-cut match, Lara was able to beat him during Swiss.
Michaels’ other tough matchup was in the finals against Enosh Shachar, a repeat of the 2013 US National Championship finals. Shachar, who had dominated his opponents on stream multiple times and went undefeated through Swiss with a Tapu Fini team, was one of the favorites to win San Jose.
Of course, much like in 2013, Michaels wouldn’t be denied victory. That didn’t mean Shachar made it easy for him, nor that Michaels wasn’t nervous about his chances.
“Enosh is a really solid player, so it was obviously really terrifying,” Michaels said. “I thought, oh god, I’m one game away from winning, but it’s against someone who I think is the toughest opponent to beat in this tournament. But it does also get your heart pumping a little bit, and I don’t think I would have played as good in that finals as I did against anyone else.”
The set (@1:07) was highly competitive, with Michaels taking game one win by knocking out Shachar’s Tapu Fini early on. When Krookodile went down two turns later, Shachar’s ability to maneuver was too limited to recover.
However, in game two, Shachar capitalized on a self-described “risky switch” by Michaels and scored a critical hit on Araquanid with a Tectonic Rage. According to Michaels, he was trying to bait-out the z-attack and expected to live that plus a Moonblast. The crit threw his calculations off and Michaels couldn’t claw his way back.
In their final game, the two spent almost ten minutes feeling each out, jockeying for a better board position. They each managed to take a single Pokémon from their opponent during that time, but everything else stayed relatively even.
However, just when it seemed as if Shachar boxed Michaels into a corner, he tried to play things safe instead of turning on the pressure. That gave Michaels another chance to swing the match back into his favor. On the back of continued solid positioning, he eventually sealed the deal.
Regardless of the winner, the two put on one of the best sets of the season so far and demonstrated that they will be major players in the current format. And in winning his very first regional, Michaels proved that sometimes the answer is changing what’s meta instead of just trying to keep up.
That, or he proved you should always listen to Harrison Saylor.