Team Report Back in the Saddle - A VGCPL Season Report

Ace Emerald

Cyclic, lunar, metamorphosing
is a Site Content Manager Alumnusis a Top Social Media Contributor Alumnusis a Senior Staff Member Alumnusis a Contributor Alumnus
Hello, and welcome to my VGC PL Season Report! Well, this is sort of a report of the VGC PL season. There will be commentary of my battles, descriptions of my teams, and some added context to piece it together. But that's not all this is. This summer, I hit a VGC milestone: 10 years of competing in the circuits. This prompted me to reflect on my time in Pokemon as a whole, which produced some..... complicated feelings. So this is also a journey into the past, a look at a decade of VGC and what that has meant to me. I hope I do this story justice, as its the kind of story I can only tell once. If you are only interested in the PL, it should be easy enough to skip to those sections, but my goal is to write a story that's interesting from start to finish. So without further preamble, let's start in the beginning!

Pre Season

Smogon dot com, 2010. I'm exploring the forums, as is my frequent habit, when I come across a warstory. Unlike the many accounts of online tournaments, this one happened in the real world. The description of the winner's lounge, where the top players congregate before finals, grabs me, and I begin to wonder how it feels to be behind that curtain...

I came into this summer in a serious Pokemon slump. After a couple of poor tournament performances over the winter and spring, I had taken a bit of a break from playing. It wasn't a conscious decision at first, I was just busy. But after a while, I realized I was avoiding tournaments because I was tired of losing, and it was time to get over myself and try to get better. So with that mindset, I signed up for the VGC PL. A league tournament was the perfect place to start a comeback: lots of matches to watch, lots of teams to dissect, and a collaborative environment in which to do it. I didn't anticipate playing a lot of games myself, but if drafted I would be happy to just test teams and cheer on my teammates.

Getting drafted is not always easy, and unless you have a list of recent accomplishments, it often comes down to who you know. Fortunately for me, I knew Borghi and Aldrich, and they were game to nominate me with a minimum bid. So with that, I was officially a Luxray! But in a plot twist that I did not see coming, I was informed that the Politoeds were interested in a trade. I really cannot emphasize enough how much this surprised me; I didn't have any history with Melvin or Matthias and no big recent accomplishments, so I wasn't sure why they would want me. They told me "it was just a vibe" but honestly the reason doesn't matter, I'm just happy they took a chance on me. And so I landed with the Politoeds!

Week 2 vs Raineko

Washington D.C., June 2011. I'm awake in a dark hotel room, lit only by my DS Lite. I'm still finishing my EV training, I didn't expect it to take this long! My first VGC tournament is tomorrow, well I guess today technically. If I can make it four rounds in the single elimination, best of one, tournament, I'll make it to the winner's lounge just like I read about online. This is my chance to prove I'm a great player.

I constructed this team before I got drafted to be my Series 9 tournament team. I built it to have a positive matchup into the two most successful teams of the moment, LO Dragapult + Coalossal, and Regieleki + Glastrier + Gothitelle. There were a couple variants of Elekihorse running around, so I built with a specific team in mind. One given to me by Borghi, and built by himself, Scarlett, and (I didn't know this at the time) Yuki. I had laddered a lot with this version of Elekihorse, and I knew its weaknesses. The Spectrier matchup hinged on Rillaboom OHKOing Clefairy, so my switchup of Togekiss would force an opponent to rely on Glastrier out of Trick Room, or Regieleki.
:porygon2: :togekiss: :spectrier: :incineroar: :rillaboom: :araquanid: vs :regieleki: :gothitelle: :urshifu: :rillaboom: :glastrier: :incineroar:
I was relieved when team preview opened on a team I was so familiar with, one I had kept in mind when building. The crit on turn 1 of game 1 actually hurt more than it helped in my opinion. Had Glastrier removed Togekiss, I could have brought Incineroar out the next turn and threatened 2 KOs with no safe switches. With Gothitelle down, Regieleki would be unable to OHKO Spectrier. It turned out okay though, as removing Glastrier so quickly forced my opponent to spend a lot of energy removing Rillaboom, and Togekiss finished out.
For game 2, I honestly played pretty poorly and was carried by team matchup. Turn 3 should have been Max Phantasm -> Glastrier and Grassy Glide -> Urshifu, missing that play cost me Rillaboom. Turn 4 should have been Shadow Ball -> Glastrier and Fake Out -> Gothitelle, missing that cost me Spectrier. Fortunately, Incineroar was able to finish the game.

Record: 1-0

Week 3 vs SableyeVGC

Virginia, Janurary 2014. The huge event space, which was packed with over 500 players this morning, is nearly empty. My heart is racing. I'm finally here, filling out my teamsheet next to some of the best players in the world. Across the table, Ray Rizzo is asking someone what Ferrothorn's ability is called. My path to Top Cut was not a clean one, but I'm still here. This is my chance to prove I'm a great player.

I was very interested in Scarf Calyrex-S early in the Series 10 format. It could be bulky enough to take a Zacian Behemoth Blade, faster than Regieleki, and most importantly, faster than other Calyrex. I've cooled on it a lot since then, as its much harder to position, but it wasn't a bad pick early on. I had a feeling my opponent might also bring Calyrex, as 1) I had run Eternatus for two rounds in the S10 kickoff tournament, and 2) Hyper Offense is a good early meta design. So running a team with a positive matchup into Calyrex (and other HO builds) felt pretty safe.
:calyrex-shadow: :rillaboom: :urshifu: :volcarona: :regieleki: :whimsicott: vs :calyrex-shadow: :weezing: :mienshao: :incineroar: :tapu lele: :regieleki:
From team preview I see my wincon: chip Regieleki (likely sash), get Calyrex-S and Urshifu-R on the field at the same time, then win. However, turn 2 throws me for a huge loop. Regieleki is not sashed, but Assault Vest, and deals significant damage to my Urshifu. The rest of the game is me trying to get Calyrex back onto the field without losing Urshifu and without letting my opponent keep a Substitute. I'm able to do so by sacrificing Rillaboom and Regieleki, and grab the victory.
I now know my wincon is: deal 40% to Regieleki, get Calyrex-S and Urshifu on the field at the same time, then win. I double into Regieleki turn 1 to make that happen, and after a read turn 4 I get in my winning position.

Record: 2-0

Week 4 vs EternalSnowman

Indiana, 2014. I'm sitting against a window in the convention hall, sipping some coffee. Maybe not the best choice as my heart is already racing. I made it to the second day of Nationals, and I'm preparing to face some of the best players in the country. If I do well, I could even end up playing on stage and potentially winning an invitation to Worlds. This is my chance to prove I'm a great player.

Around this time, I'd heard some rumblings about Necrozma-DM as a good meta pick, so I decided to take a shot at a team. I wanted something that matched well into Calyrex and covered for Necrozma's huge Incineroar weakness, so I opted for combining Weakness Policy with Instruct + Rock Slide shenanigans. The rest of the team was pretty standard balance, as I felt Necrozma could match okay into opposing balance teams outside of Trick Room.
:necrozma-dusk-mane: :oranguru: :incineroar: :urshifu: :rillaboom: :thundurus: vs :abomasnow: :volcarona: :zacian: :whimsicott: :grimmsnarl: :regieleki:
I was pretty happy to see Volcarona over Incineroar in team preview. Without the Intimidate drops, positioning would be a lot easier, and the only other source of damage into Necrozma was Regieleki. I wasn't completely right about that, as Close Combat came out for 50% damage, but dropping Volcarona turn 1 was still worth it. Protect over Trick Room came into play on turn 2, giving me the positioning I needed to deal fatal damage into Zacian and secure the match.
I decided to keep Necrozma in the back for the second game, to avoid taking any full powered Close Combats. I KOed Volcarona turn 1 again, and Incineroar + Necrozma was everything I needed to close out the game.

Record: 3-0

Week 5 vs Serapis

Ohio, 2016. It's been a tough season. The influx of new players that came with the release of Pokemon X/Y has thinned out, leaving only the more dedicated challengers. Regionals that had 500 players in 2014 barely cleared 100 this year. Despite that, I'm feeling good about my Nationals run. I'm 6-2, coming into the last round of the day. This is the make or break round, winning here will get me to day two. The is my chance to prove I'm a great player.

I first met Serapis when he was just starting VGC. I was a tutor at the time, which largely consisted of teaching the basics to new players. But Jeremy was already an excellent player (maybe even already better than me), and has gone on to be one of the best. He's an expert at positioning and I knew there was no way I could overcome a balanced team with offense alone. I had a feeling he'd bring a Zacian Balance team like the week before, and I already had a honed Eternatus team that I felt had a slightly positive matchup. So I knew day 1 of the week what I was going to bring, and knew it would all come down to actually making the plays.
:Eternatus: :Volcarona: :Suicune: :Rillaboom: :Thundurus: :Landorus-Therian: vs :Zacian: :Rillaboom: :Incineroar: :Regieleki: :Landorus-Therian: :tapu fini:
Turn 1 was a little bit of a mistake. Bulky Landorus-T was pretty new to me, and I was expecting to KO with Meteor Beam + Rock Slide. If I had anticipated that choice and gone for Protect + Earth Power, I would have had a much stronger start. Regardless, I was able to use Thundurus to conserve Eternatus and get the most out of its low health. Being able to deal critical damage to 3/4ths of the opposing Pokemon gave me two wincons to finish the battle, Volcorona or Landorus. After a clutch Flame Body Burn, I had everything I needed to close with Landorus.
I got a little too switch happy this game, and I don't think I effectively used Eternatus. After Volcorona took too much damage turn 1, and Eternatus went down without dealing enough to Zacian, I didn't have a ton of win conditions. After getting punished for the safe Protect on turn 9 (I wish I had gone for a read here, I was too far behind for safe plays), the game was sealed.
I had a feeling that Serapis would leave Regieleki on the bench again, as Tapu Fini gave him a lot of security against random burns. So my adjustment was to bring out Suicune for more damage into Incineroar and Landorus. I made a hard read turn 3 that Zacian would switch out in front of Scarf Landorus and decided to pin the other slot. Either I'd pick up a KO on Incineroar, or put Landorus in the range of Flamethrower. My biggest turn was the turn 6 read into Tapu Fini Protect, picking up a free KO on Incineroar meant everything else on the team could be outspeed and OHKO'd by Eternatus. I was able to make safe plays till the end.

Record: 4-0

Week 6 vs Deishu

Virginia, 2019. I put on the white noise headphones and settle into the chair on stage. There is a lot riding on this match, the final round for two X-1 players. The winner secures top cut, loser has to hope for a high resistance. But more than that, this is my first ever match on stream. My plays will be analyzed by the commentators, and picked apart by the audience. Any throws here will be seen by everyone. I take a deep breath to calm my nerves, and lock in my Pokemon. This is my chance to prove I'm a great player.

Deishu was on my radar from the preseason as a fantastic teambuilder, and I was not looking forward to the matchup. This week was the opposite of the previous one: where I had a good guess as to what Serapis would bring and knew the match would be decided by plays, I had no idea what team Deishu would bring and knew this match could be decided in team preview. The Groudon team he brought in week 5 was very scary, and I wasn't sure if he would bring it again or not. I ended up reusing my Scarf Calyrex team from week 3, mostly because I couldn't find anything I liked better. I almost made some tech decisions for Groudon, but decided against it (bad decision).
:Calyrex-Shadow: :Rillaboom: :Urshifu: :Incineroar: :Regieleki: :Whimsicott: vs :Groudon: :Venusaur: :Tsareena: :Ditto: :Nihilego: :Talonflame:
I had very little damage into Groudon on this team. I almost changed Moonblast to Grass Knot on Whimsicott and Knock Off to Wood Hammer on Rillaboom, but I was too afraid of jeopardizing other matchups. Turn 1 Urshifu for Talonflame trade was a bad move. Turn 4 not covering for Payback Tsareena was a bad move. Got outplayed hard.
Grabbing a double KO turn 1 put me in a much better place this game. I went for the safe play turn 2, which I regret. I knew the switch into Rillaboom was super telegraphed but I didn't want to risk losing Incineroar without getting Intimidate into Groudon. In hindsight, I think the endgame would have been easier with Rillaboom, even if I had lost Incineroar that turn. Anyways, the big mistake was Fake Out into Ditto instead of Groudon, as that opened me up to a 2HKO if Pblades connected with Incineroar and Calyrex-S. The odds were actually against me here, about 60/40, so not covering for this option was a mistake.
Turn 1 was almost game deciding here. I over predict a switch back to Tsareena, and don't cover at all for the all out offense option. If Pblades connected there, it would have been over. Turn 3 I don't predict the switch bade to Tsareena and lose Rillaboom. Turn 4 I'm bailed out by a High Jump Kick miss. Turn 5 was a little bit of a throw for my opponent, I'm guessing he didn't clock my Calyrex as scarf. Leaf Storm -> Calyrex would have been a lot safer play, but his play makes perfect sense against a Substitute set. Finally, I win the scarf coinflip to win the set. It doesn't feel great to win with so many crucial lucky breaks, and honestly I was a little frustrated with myself this week, but I was happy to take home a win for the team.

Record: 5-0

Week 7 vs Shadowmonstr7

Virginia, 2019. My first top cut since 2014. My first significant tournament run since 2014. There were a couple years where I thought I might be done, completely washed up without ever having been notable enough to be considered washed up. But this proves I'm not done. If I can take this match, I can break my previous peak of Top 8. If I go all the way to the finals, maybe its not too late for my first Worlds invite. This is my chance to prove I'm a great player.

I didn't have a strong read on my opponent this week. I wanted to prepare for a variety of more offensive teams, so I put together a Lunala team I'm pretty proud of. It had a solid matchup into Kyogre, Calyrex, and Groudon (I was very wary after my near loss from week 6). The Zacian matchup was okay, fairly neutral, maybe a little negative against some builds. But a workable matchup, and I felt ready for anything.
:Lunala: :Amoonguss: :Incineroar: :Urshifu: :Stakataka: :Tsareena: vs :Zacian: :Urshifu: :Incineroar: :Rillaboom: :Regieleki: :landorus:
Seeing Zacian in team preview was a little scary. I was really hoping to coast on some flowcharts, but I knew against a balance team I'd have to improvise and consider my moves carefully. Which I did not do. Obviously the turn 1 Meteor Beam miss hurt, but I felt I had it coming after the previous week. What I should have done was conserve Stakataka, because without Meteor Beam I needed Body Press for damage into Incineroar. Switching into Behemoth Blade was a bad mistake, compounded by wasting a Spore into Safety Glasses. I should have brought Incineroar out here; even without Intimidate into Zacian, I could have sacrificed it to break the Substitute. After Stakataka went down, I didn't really have a path to victory.
Yeah turn 1 was dumb. The Meteor Beam was telegraphed, and I got punished for it. I should have gone for a pin move, Meteor Beam + Spore into that slot, but I was still a little tilted from game 1. Turn 3 I should have split my damage some, catching Incineroar on the switch would have been big and I needed to make some plays. But my specialized Stakataka set was able to mount a comeback. Life Orb Relaxed with Heavy defense investment, it took that Close Combat like a champ. I make the turn 11 read of a Landorus attack, survive Drum Beating with plenty of HP to take Grassy Glide, and.... get crit for the game. It really hurt to lose on a roll like that, but I felt I really couldn't complain. I settled my cosmic luck debt from week 6, and moved into the finals ready to do better.

Record: 5-1

Semifinals vs Serapis

Pokemon Showdown, 2020. Okay, so this isn't a regional or an official event. But the Fall Scramble did have a sign up list of over 300 players, and I did make the top cut. As much as I complained about having to face a great player like Aaron Traylor round one, I was also looking forward to the opportunity. No better way to validate your skills than to play against the best. This is my chance to prove I'm a great player.

I made a very questionable decision with my team this week. I knew Serapis would switch up teams after my win earlier in the season, but I had no idea what he would run. I guessed he would bring something balanced, maybe a different Zacian build, with adjustments for Eternatus. So I built a weird bulky Calyrex team with a pretty strong matchup into a couple different Zacian teams. The Calyrex mirror was a little stressful, but I figured between Sucker Punch, Electroweb, and Incineroar I could manage.
:Calyrex-Shadow: :Incineroar: :Urshifu: :Rillaboom: :Regieleki: :Dragapult: vs :Calyrex-Shadow: :Urshifu: :Entei: :Indeedee-F: :Whimsicott: :Nihilego:
Calyrex mirror, with Tailwind and Indeedee. Yikes. I knew I had 2 win conditions: 1) Deny Tailwind and get off an Electroweb, 2) KO Indeedee and get off a Sucker Punch. Turn 1 losing Dragapult was bad. Turn 2 I should have used Thunderbolt into Whimsicott (probably still wouldn't have KO'd, but I should have tried). If I had Substitute here, I still could have pulled it off, but I removed it for Taunt to help against Xerneas (another poor decision). As it was, I had nothing to stop Calyrex.
I had an okay start here, denying Tailwind was big. But not calling Helping Hand on turn 3 was game losing here. I should have realized that Calyrex was not my win condition here, gone for a Protect + Throat Chop, and relied on Dragapult to finish the game if Throat Chop was redirected. Despite my team disadvantage, this was a winnable match if I had played stronger.

Record: 5-2

Finals vs Memoric

Smogon dot com, 2021. This season has been way more than I expected. I was just hoping to play a couple weeks, and ended up playing almost all of them. While I couldn't hold on to my early undefeated streak, a win here will keep my towards the top of the standings, and more importantly give my team a crucial win in the finals. This is my chance-.

I had a great Groudon team ready for this week. I had laddered it up to top 20 on the Showdown ladder, which is a personal record for me. But I was really concerned about getting a poor matchup here, and this team struggled against Taunt Tsareena and Meinshao. So at the last minute, I changed to Cyan's take on the AuraRayquaza 6. I figured this would put the fate of the match entirely on skill, and remove the chance of a hard matchup.

:Zacian: :Incineroar: :Urshifu: :Rillaboom: :Tapu Fini: :Landorus: vs :Calyrex-Shadow: :Incineroar: :Rillaboom: :Urshifu: :Nihilego: :regieleki:
Standard Zacian vs standard Calyrex. A solid neutral matchup, one where the best player should win. And in this case, that was not me. My turn 1 was a little weak. I was afraid of Astral Barrage + Flare Blitz into Zacian, but missed the safe Fake Out + Behemoth Blade play. I fight for positioning the next couple turns, make some good plays and some bad. Turn 6 I make the mistake of finishing Rillaboom instead of trying to KO Urshifu. I think I have a double KO setup for turn 7, but the surprise Sash Urshifu ends the game. Without team knowledge, I'm not sure what I could have done different this turn, as attacking into Protect from Calyrex would have been just as bad. But the turn 6 mistake was to blame for the sub-optimal positioning here.
I have a much better opener here, and by turn 3 I think I've put myself in a great position. The turn 4 Surging Strikes into Calyrex was very obvious however, and I think I should have preserved Urshifu for the endgame. Losing the scarf was pretty big here. Turn 5 I again make the mistake of attacking Rillaboom when it is not much of a threat, I should have doubled into Incineroar I think. Turn 6 was a worse throw, I thought Urshifu could take Astral Barrage and pin Calyrex but actually I don't think the crit mattered. I should have thought that endgame through more, and been more careful. After Calyrex got that boost, it was over.

Record: 5-3


I know it shouldn't matter to me if I'm a great Pokemon player or not. I have a lot going on in my life, I don't need to be great at playing a children's monster collecting game competitively. But honestly I do care, I care a lot. When I hit my 10 year milestone this summer, the first thing I felt was disappointment. I've been playing this game for 10 years and I haven't gotten an invite to Worlds, I haven't won a regional, I haven't even cracked the Top 4! But that's really a terrible attitude. I can either wallow in self pity, quit, or try to get better. And that's where I'm at now, just trying to improve.

Overall, I'm proud of my results this season. I wish I had been able to hold on to my undefeated record and it hurts to go out on 3 consecutive losses, but 5-3 is a lot better than I thought I would do. I don't have a great history of draft leagues, and I didn't want to embarrass myself with a 0-2 showing. I'm even more proud of my team though. We were one of the most underestimated teams in the pre season predictions, and we finished first in the regular season and second overall. We came together as a team, hyped each other up, and really made a mark in the Premier League. This has been my favorite draft league experience, and a great start to another decade of competitive Pokemon!


zeefable Jashsmash Netherious: thank you all for running this tournament! What a great start to Smogon's official VGC draft league, and I can't wait to play next year.

Borghi and Aldrich: I didn't end up playing for you guys, but I appreciate the draft nomination. I don't think I would have been able to play otherwise.

Deathstroke and Mattadome02: I'm so glad you guys decided to trade for me, and believed in me enough to play me so many weeks! I'll try to bring home even more wins next year if you keep me around!

To all the Politoeds: you are all awesome, seriously. So many good players, so many underrated players. I would love to be on a team with any of you in the future!

The last shoutout is reserved for my beautiful wife! Thank you for your advice, your support, and your love. You're the best partner in crime and my best friend <3


is a Site Content Manageris a Top Social Media Contributoris a Forum Moderatoris a Top Tiering Contributoris a Top Contributoris a Senior Staff Member Alumnusis a Community Contributor Alumnusis a Smogon Media Contributor Alumnusis a defending SCL Champion
It's been a pleasure to have you around recently, Ace, and I really enjoyed reading through this report. The way you weaved in your irl event experiences coming up is something I can very much relate to, just feels like we keep pushing that ceiling higher and higher. Congrats on your run and hope to see more from you!

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