VGC 2017 International Championships Europe Preview

Alola Pokémon Trainers! Our season kicks off in earnest as London hosts Europe’s biggest event of the 2016/17 calendar: the newly established International Championships. The stakes will be high as trainers from all corners of the globe converge on the ExCeL Exhibition Center to battle for the title of European International Champion.

Prizes

This year, TPCI are putting more cash into the circuit, in terms of overall prizes. The amount that various finishes earn will differ significantly per the number of players in each respective division. The greatest potential first place prize, $5,000, requires 500 players to register for the event. In addition, regardless of the number of attendees, all those who finish in the Top 16 will receive TCG booster packs as supplementary prizes. More importantly, those who finish strongly at the event will receive valuable championship points, again depending on the amount of players who register. For a full run-down of all relevant figures, including those for the Trading Card Game, please click here.

It’s worth noting that this year the kicker limits for championship points are much more dependent on attendance than in previous years. For example, a top 128 finisher from 2016 earned points if at least 256 players registered in their division. This year, however, 512 players are required for the top 128 finishers to earn any points. This makes rewards contingent on healthy numbers and players having strong results at large events.

Quick-fire building from the outset

guardians

With Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon’s global release less than a month before the event , those entering will have only had a few short weeks to grasp Gen VII’s quirks. With such a raft of new Pokémon, moves and abilities to consider alongside changed mechanics, many trainers will not have completely processed the full gamut of options at their disposal. This, along with the truncated amount of practice that each player has had available to them, means very few players will know whether their team is the correct call to make. Comfort will be in short supply.

That is not to say players are shooting in the dark, however. The established player base has had some time to mull over the older generation Pokémon returning to Sun & Moon, which gives some insight into the relationship between new and old mons in a vacuum. Since the finer details (such as the typing, move pool, abilities and base stats of the newly introduced Pokémon) dropped upon release, players have already set to building teams in earnest.

As far as new Pokémon are concerned however, many players have speculated that the Tapu quartet will be influential to this years’ format. Their signature ‘Surge’ abilities bring a much-needed boost to field terrain, giving players the option of viable setters with effects that are broadly appealing. Each also have Fairy as their secondary typing, providing a huge benefit given the type’s utility since its recent introduction. The impact felt in London from these four could be wide-reaching, so expect teams to have the guardians in mind.

Typically, early meta calls for each new format yield fast, hard-hitting but comparatively frail squads, designed to out-pace opposition and secure easy knock-outs. With such a short time-frame between release and the competition, this assumption should hold well while the metagame is in relative infancy. We should also expect several teams to focus around Pokémon who have typically been steadfast options across multiple formats. The key will be if these teams offer synergy that allows each Pokémon to play off each other with a greater sum than the individual parts. Ultimately, with so much untapped opportunities to build around, teams will need to accommodate for the full range of possibilities they could face.

Tweaks to the old guard

While there is much in the way of new offerings on the horizon, it’s often the older generations that get overlooked. This generation is no exception to the minor tweaks, most coming with regards to ability changes. Some of the most impactful alterations come from older Pokémon gaining access to weather-setting abilities. With Pelipper, Torkoal, Vanilluxe, Alolan Ninetales and Gigalith all gaining the weather ability connected to their typing, these will no doubt be key candidates for teams hoping to continue the influential control on weather. Beyond that, other stalwarts to the competitive scene received important changes on abilities. Gengar losing its invaluable Levitate ability for Cursed Body is perhaps the most notable. Players will need to keep an open mind when playing and not get bogged down in old generation habits.

A few minor amendments have also been made to some Pokémons’ Base Stats. While most of these changes are minor, it could allow some Pokémon to now carve out specific niches on teams. And, as always, some families will receive updated move-pools that may affect how players build their sets. In all, the addition of new moves and abilities will create a lot of intriguing strategic calls as players look to maximize these new exciting avenues to their absolute fullest.

Power Creep slots into reverse

z-move

The flow of battles will also be a significantly different beast than the one seen during the 2016 rule-set. There will be less raw power on the field without both restricted Pokémon and Mega Evolution in the mix. This significant change  will shake up viability quite considerably and is a new experience for many players. Offerings such as Kangaskhan, Salamence and Gengar, who would have otherwise been heavily considered for their Mega forms, will now have to make inroads in their base forms. Some will be able to cope with the shift, while other Pokémon will fall back into relative obscurity. Many players  broadly welcome this shake up, which helps breathe life into a format that otherwise would be heavily reliant on Mega/Legendary participation once again.

With respect to the new mechanics debuting this season, the biggest addition undoubtedly are Z-Moves. While they share several similarities with the single-use, power-boosting gems from the fifth generation, the limiting factor of only one Z-Move per game will force players to make an informed choice before the tournament on what they value. Again, this will require some element of speculation, particularly with the Z-crystal taking up the all-important item slot. We also learned very recently that the Base Power and determination of whether Z-Moves are Physical or Special is based on the base move it is activated with. This means that, in theory at least, every offensively-orientated Pokémon should have a viable Z-Move to use.

Z-Moves do carry some clout with them, as will be expected. While damaging Z-Moves can be nullified by type immunities and essentially wasted, a Z-Move that connects into a Protect will still inflict a quarter of the move’s original damage. This grants Z-moves an almost unprecedented potential scope since all Pokémon have access to them. Not only that, but Z-Moves using Status moves as the trigger gain additional benefits on top of the original effect of the move. The nuances of this system are wide-reaching and could offer potential diversity unlike anything previously seen.

We can expect a great deal of variability in team composition thanks to the format rules, as well as the fact that trainers will be forced to find their feet quickly. Those players that go deep into the tournament will be those able to command a level of mechanical skill and flare which will set them apart from the competition.

London a unique twist on the metagame

pokemon_bank_logo

Part of the unique appeal for London will be how different the format will look and feel in comparison to what develops later in the season. Since the Pokémon Bank will not be compatible with the new games until at least January 2017, players have faced some limitations when building for London. Perhaps the most influential problem will be the loss of egg moves. These moves, which for some families are integral to move set diversity or team support, could also have a subtle effect on usage. As ever, it will be interesting to see what avenue players take. It will also be key for players to be aware on those missing key moves that might make the difference between the correct call and an error.

Real international flavour

Whilst this International Championship is based in Europe and effectively replaces the National Championships of old, the change in rules allowing players from other Zones to come and compete will bring a much sharper edge to the competition. This will also create very interesting sub-plots on a region-by-region basis, as those in attendance try to stake early leads over their peers. TPCI’s active encouragement of players from various regions to participate, with incentives such as flights and travel awards for those players who topped the standings in each of the main four regions last year, will certainly assist in building the competition. This should give the tournament a feel something akin to a miniature Worlds. So, whilst the clear majority of the field will be European, there will be several contingents of notable worldwide players in attendance.

In addition to players from the North and South America, as well as Asia-Pacific,  a contingent of Japanese players is expected to enter the mix. 2013 World Finalist Ryoske Kosuge is among some the notable players who are reportedly going to attend. This will certainly be an interesting twist, as Japan has a different qualifying format. It must be noted they will not be eligible to earn championship points, but would qualify for any cash prizes on offer if they finish high enough.

But not on my time

One other major talking point raised from the general overview of the rules pertains to the new timer mechanics. The mechanics to this new timer are a major change to how competitive battles previously worked. The essence of this new timer aims to end timer-stalling, whereby a player who can command board position could legitimately use the full allocation of turn time available to him or her to win a match. This now no longer will be possible.

However, there are elements to the new rules which must be closely examined. With entire rounds limited to 50 minutes, there is little to prevent a deadlock from being broken by an extended state of passive play on both sides. The new Sudden Death rule may also come into play for the first time in London, potentially determining important finishes through a method that players have voiced concerns about. The new rules may also promote a certain amount of stall via different methods, whereby the stalling party would play inherently fast to minimize their used time allotted and force the opponent to break the siege quickly or else risk expiring on time. This may force players to adapt some move set choices to minimize the risk of, well… Minimize, for one!

There are a few methods to stop stalling measures though. Moves such as Taunt, Haze and Clear Smog are certainly open to prevent or neuter some of the more arduous stalling options, as well as Roar or Whirlwind to provide disruption. A more indirect way could be through the constructive use of Perish Song, which would aim to force a switch after three turns, negating the viability to boost remorselessly.

Names to look out for

As previously mentioned, it’s incredibly difficult to predict who will come into this event on top of their preparation with such a limited time to absorb the new information. However, many of the top players will be looking to stake an early claim and hope to adapt to the changes. Here are a few of my top picks.

Wolfe Glick

Wolfe Worlds

World Champion Wolfe Glick has seen a great deal of change and multiple formats during his years of play, but his skill remains as sharp as ever. His list of achievements is long, but includes six World Championship appearances, three of which ended in the single elimination stages (including his win in San Francisco this past summer). Many observers and fellow competitors will have him as a hot favourite to win in London as well, based upon his impressive record.

Glick has certainly demonstrated, across multiple formats, that he can challenge and compete at a high standard. So, his ability to adapt to the many changes on a yearly basis will likely not faze him in the slightest. In addition, Glick is known to be highly versatile, running teams ranging from fast offense to heavy defensive teams. It would be reasonable to say that the most iconic teams people associate with Glick are those that focus on a defensive style. These often allow Glick to pursue many possible win conditions as the match-up dictates. Whatever Glick decides to run in London, you can be sure that he will have extensively brushed up on the new options on the table.

Markus Stadter

Markus Stadter

As one of the most high-profile players from Germany, Markus Stadter will certainly look to push on from his top 4 World Championship performance. As a 2-time National Champion, Stadter is no stranger to high-pressure situations and knows what it takes to get the job done when everything is on the line. Some of his finest matches have been while under the greatest pressure and scrutiny, offering up a true masterclass in the face of the greatest adversaries. He’s also shown he has a very astute mind for game-play with his commentary stint, giving detailed insight into how players might analyse given board positions. This will give him an excellent platform to read and predict in this early meta.

Another of Stadter’s best characteristics is his mental fortitude, which was prominently on display in San Francisco during the Day 1 gauntlet he navigated en route to his final placing. Once again, Stadter will need to call on this focus with the tournament format mirroring the US National of the past two years if he is to claim this inaugural title. Worlds will no doubt have left him hungry for more success and he’ll look to stake an early marker in this format.

Aaron Traylor

Photo courtesy of Doug Morisoli.
Photo courtesy of Doug Morisoli.

Effervescent and always ready to lend a friendly ear, American Aaron Traylor is a true character and a scholar of the game. He has struck a rich vein of form over the past few months with runner-up at the US National preceding his top 8 finish at the World Championship, both spurred on by a wave of popular support from his peers. Traylor will be making the trip to London with a paid-invite, a worthy reward for his long-standing support of the circuit for several years, initially competing as a Senior back in 2011. However, it took him several years in the Masters’ Division for the early promise to shine through, with his breakthrough coming in early 2015.

One of the biggest parts of Traylor’s game is his acute perception of probability management and its application to game scenarios. Part of what made his US National run so memorable was him knowing when he needed to make educated calls, such as when to Hypnosis outside of Gravity, to maintain momentum. In addition to this, he has run unorthodox team compositions, including the ‘Bakery Fun Zone’ back in 2014, a team that similarly delves deep into the probability of events occurring and using it to his advantage. It will be intriguing to see how Traylor reacts to this restricted format, though if previous form has any merit, his Regional victory saw him use Minimize Clefable on his team. Could history repeat itself in London?

Ryosuke Kosuge

Ryosuke Kosuke

With a handful of player confirmed to be attending from Japan, it’s safe to assume those making the trip will be names to be mindful of. However Ryosuke Kosuge is by far one of the most accomplished from the crowd. Twice a Top Cut competitor at Worlds, including a 2013 Finals appearance and 2013 Japan National Champion, Kosuge should not be underestimated at any length. Like many of his peers in Japan, he can be considered one of the true students of the game and will no doubt be a huge early presence on the in-game ladder.

Despite not being a prominent figure on the radar in the past couple of seasons, Kosuge’s results speak for themselves. A large part of the community is excited at the prospect of his return to the stage and we know he is more than capable of sparring with the best players worldwide. By making the trip, Kosuge shows intent to win.

Sam Pandelis

sam-pandelis

As far as Asia Pacific’s chances are concerned, many of the top eight in Championship Points from 2015 will be in attendance. However, Australia’s Sam Pandelis is certainly one name to watch out for. Once again, Pandelis comes off an impressive season: a semi-final finish at Australian Nationals and, more recently, a Top 16 berth at the 2016 World Championships as only the second Australian to make the knockout stages. Once again, Sam is something of a long-standing battler within the video game format and this will be his fifth season competing.

Pandelis’ greatest asset is his ability to make reads during a game to capitalize on given board positions. By looking at what an opponents’ best plan of action is on a given turn, Pandelis aims to use their own thought process against them to swing momentum into his favour. While his game-plan is risky, Pandelis’ inherent confidence in his ability to make these calls is very high. He certainly ranks among the top players in this regard, but he’ll need to be mechanically aware of the changes and additions to this generation to pull off a big finish in London.

Jamie Boyt

jamie-boyt

While there is a certain amount of bias in the inclusion of Jamie Boyt as a name to watch out for, it is not without solid merit behind the decision. Boyt will be one of the numerous British players flying the flag in London, hot off the back of his impressive Top 16 in the recent World Championships. A quarter-final finish in May’s UK Nationals and two Regional wins come together to form an impressive 2016 season.

Boyt’s creative mind when designing teams is one of his greatest strengths. He rarely shies away from less conventional options, and has a penchant for unorthodox moves and synergy. Therefore, in a greatly restricted metagame with significantly less raw power, Boyt’s creativity will be an invaluable tool. Combined with his undeniable skill, this makes for a fearsome combination. We’ve seen on multiple occasions some of the Pokémon he has brought to the table, to devastating success, from Dual Screens Serperior in 2015 to Eviolite Togetic and Cottonee in Wakefield and Liverpool respectively.

Boyt has certainly cemented his name in the UK as one of the greatest active players in the community. From a relative misnomer in 2015 into a respected and widely recognised name internationally, it will be fun to see if he can slide into the VGC17 ruleset quickly and produce another truly original team.

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