During this weekend’s Pokémon World Championships, Japan reasserted itself as the best region on the planet. Ryota Otsubo won the master’s division against Australia’s Sam Pandelis in a match where both sides were full of twists on teams we’ve seen before this season.
Otsubo ran Tapu Fini, Celesteela, Tapu Koko, Whimsicott, Krookodile and Alolan Marowak. While the first three were common sights throughout the entire season, the latter three were much more rare and used to overcome popular teams at the time. On the whole, his team was built for controlled power. Otsubo would play conservatively, switching around his active Pokémon and whittling away the biggest threats to his team. But once they were dealt with, he’d power through whatever remained. It’s a common strategy among high-level competitors, but Otsubo put on a master class.
Meanwhile, Pandelis’ team was entirely different, with Tapu Lele, Xurkitree, Garchomp, Mandibuzz, Arcanine and Alolan Ninetails. Whereas Otsubo was about a calculated caution, Pandelis was about overwhelming aggression. The first three Pokémon on his team all know moves that boost their offensive power, and the latter three are there to offer the support needed for them to survive setting up. By applying pressure early and ceaselessly, the opponent is too busy reacting to position themselves for the win — or so it goes in theory.
Their set was one of the closest in the history of the Video Game Championships, and only the second to go to three games. The first even went to Pandelis, who seized the momentum after a Swords Dance boosted Tectonic Rage knocked out Otsubo’s Marowak through a Protect. Without Marowak to stop Xurkitree’s electric type attacks (which were boosted by three stages via Tail Glow), Pandelis was able to close out game one with ease.
The second game almost went to Pandelis as well. Otsubo took the early advantage, showing off his unique Brick Break Marowak, which perfectly counters Ninetails by removing the damage reducing Aurora Veil from the field. He also took down Pandelis’ threatening Xurkitree with Whimsicott’s Nature Power, which transforms into the Fairy type attack, Moonblast.
But when Otsubo let his Tapu Fini go down to a Tectonic Rage from Pandelis’ Garchomp, the championship almost slipped from his fingers. However, the Australian got a bit too greedy by setting up a Swords Dance when he should have kept the pressure on his opponent. By not finishing off Whimsicott faster, it was able to match Tailwinds with Pandelis’ Mandibuzz. This ensured that Otsubo’s Tapu Koko would be fast enough to finish off Garchomp with a Dazzling Gleam, instead of fainting to an Earthquake.
Having been forced into game three, Pandelis’ took more time to think during team preview than he did in the previous to games. And even though he seemed a bit shaken, his first turn showed he wasn’t planning to go away quietly. He knew that Otsubo would switch in his Tapu Fini, set up Misty Terrain, and use Whimsicott’s Z-attack to use Twinkle Tackle against his Garchomp. But thanks to the new Prankster mechanics, Pandelis knew he could switch in his Dark type Mandibuzz and be immune to the super powerful attack.
The plan worked, and Pandelis even seemed like he could have pulled out the win. But after his Mandibuzz and Ninetails were worn down, he chose the wrong Pokémon to save with a Garchomp switch. Without Mandibuzz to help him maintain the proper speed control, Tapu Fini and Whimsicott eventually finished off Pandelis’ team and delivered victory once more unto Japan’s finest.
Otsubo’s victory was a complete reversal of 2016, where no Japanese players made it anywhere near the top eight. It was no 2015, when seven of the top eight players were from Japan, but it showed that the home of Pokémon was still its king all along.
But that isn’t the only lesson from this world championship. Pandelis making it to the finals and half the top eight slots going to Latin American players proves that VGC’s newest regions are finally able to compete consistently at the highest level. And now that the season is over, every player from every region is preparing for the 2018 circuit completely unsure of where the next champion will come from.