1. watashi vs. 16. Expulso - I'm not gonna lie, watashi, I almost bolded Expulso here. I just have this gnawing feeling that you're ready to go right now with what you have chilling in the team builder, whereas Expulso and his gang are carefully dissecting your games, which were all played publicly, and your teams down to the very last EV. The thing is, Expulso still needs to take 3 games off watashi and I just don't think he can bridge that gap in the team builder alone. Especially when you consider how capable watashi is in the outlier tier, LC, too. In fact, watashi is the most winningest LC tournament player in history. He's won PU Open as well and I don't even think his LC nor his PU is as good as his best tier, NU.
The question to me is, how good has Expulso become in recent months? I know he's very active, very dedicated and watashi has a habit of being lazy when it comes to prep and building. We could very easily see a team building error like incorrect abilities, natures, Earth Power instead of Earthquake on Rhyperior, etc. etc. There's nobody in these playoffs that's better at playing these 5 metagames, though. Nobody. watashi's LC experience and comfort makes for a huge, huge advantage in particular. I've teamed up with Expulso myself for the NU Snake Draft tournament and he ended up getting benched after a few shaky games, so until I've seen more I just think the difference in skill is simply too big. watashi has played countless big games and playoff series before, not to mention that this isn't even the first time he's secured the #1 seed for Slam. If Expulso gets the prep exactly right, I could see the upset happening, but I can't see it going his way three times right now.
2. Punny vs. 15. TDK - Good lord, what a banger for this first round we have here already. I'm predicting the 'upset', though I'm not entirely sure how much of an upset it would even be. It has taken some getting used to for a lot of us, but 2021 TDK is apparently good again. After a period of barely being capable of beating the first gym leader, TDK showed up immensely big this SPL and has continued his excellent form through both Grand Slam and various subforum team tournaments. I team up with TDK regularly, and this year marked the first time in years he was actually worth buying in UUPL. He farmed in RUPL as well and is currently 6-0 in NUPL, too. I don't know what it is or how it happened exactly, but he's unironically winning a lot again nowadays. He's also a very capable team builder in the various SS lower tiers, especially when a Pokemon doesn't necessarily need its item, so I'm placing my faith in the least useful co-manager I've ever managed an official team tournament with.
Punny, meanwhile, has gradually shifted towards lower tiers the last few years. He's won back to back RU Opens and was extremely dominant in the bo3 slot during RUPL as well, handily disposing of yours truly (twice..) on his way to a stellar 8-2 finish. Punny might just be the only one that matches TDK's dominance in the subforum premier leagues this year, though he's also been playing old gen tiers in a few of them. All in all this is an extremely closely contested series that I could see go either player's way. Punny is very good at beating players worse than him at a consistent rate, though at the same time, one of those two aforementioned losses in RUPL was against this week's opponent, TDK. I doubt Punny could've drawn a more challenging opponent to start his playoffs run off with, as TDK shows up big against the big names, beating all of ABR (36k (twice (with considerable ease (two of ABR's seven (!) total losses, btw)))), Fear (30k) and FOMG (27.5k) in this year's SPL, for example. This is the series I'm looking forward to the most and I wish you both good luck. A series worthy of a final, without a doubt.
3. Osh vs. 14. Eeveeto - I do not envy being Osh right now, not gonna lie. I doubt anyone wants to face Eeveeto in a bo5 of various lower tiers, given the complete nonsense you might just run into and certainly cannot prepare for. Osh, however, is one of the best Grand Slam players of all time. He's qualified as the #1 seed twice already and is now the #3 seed with a very high point total again, too. He simply has this format on lock. He'll have a huge advantage in LC and has a lot more experience playing lower tiers at the highest level than Eeveeto does. I'm going to say this a lot throughout this post given the qualifying field, but the upside of LC familiarity and experience is huge to me. Eeveeto is also the type to drop Pokemon like Mienfoo, Vullaby and Diglett, simply because he doesn't like them on that given day. I don't think LC is particularly forgiving in that sense and Osh's all-round experience and consistency in this tournament make me think he'll take this one home.
That said, I do want to take a moment to recognize what Eeveeto has done, because Eeveeto is built different. Not only did he build all of his teams for all five metagames himself, which is absolutely insane in and of itself, but he also posted the replays of his games across all of his wins starting from Round 1. Seriously, process what you just read for a moment. Most people approach tournaments like Grand Slam by forming groups with friends that specialize in the various metagames to gather good teams, use them throughout the Opens by playing either hidden on main or at the very least unlisting their replays on Smogtours. There is no way anyone has flexed this hard qualifying for Grand Slam, ever. The fact he prepared with essentially no help, used nobody else's teams, learned all of these tiers to a point where he could qualify using only the teams he himself had built is genuinely one of the most impressive things you can achieve in tournaments in my opinion, even without posting all of your replays every round. Props to you, Eeveeto, and good luck. I'm a fan of both users, and while I believe Osh will take the series, Eeveeto would definitely be one of my favorite winners among this entire group given how he got here in the first place.
4. Eternal Spirit vs. 13. Charmflash - Well then, these two are gonna bring some ungodly teams for sure. I always love watching two creative team builders face off, especially when keeping in mind that both of them have very distinct styles that tend to carry over from tier to tier, too. For Gama, I think the biggest hurdle might be the mental one. He's coming off of a disappointing defeat in Smogon Tour and also has to lead Brazil to the WCoP playoffs this week in a tiebreaker for that tournament. One has to wonder where Grand Slam ranks on his list of priorities right now. Frankly, I don't think it'll matter too much for Gama. He took the loss very humbly and maturely, plus his team builder's been ready for these playoffs for weeks. Just like in Smogon Tour, I think Gama is one of the favorites to win it all in these playoffs as well.
Charmflash is an interesting case and this is actually the second time he's snuck into Grand Slam playoffs with a low seed. Last time, he followed up his RU Open run by playing RU in SSD, as well as having UU experience from the year prior. Charmflash may be more known for playing OU tiers, but he has real experience in this tournament and lower tiers as a whole, too. Whether that's enough to overcome O MAGO, we'll have to see. Personally, I don't think it will be. I think Gama is better in tune with the five metagames across the board and I think his motivation to win this one will be high after losing Smogon Tour. Charmflash is a tricky opponent to prepare for, though. He has a very unique view on the game and will use Pokemon and teams that aren't necessarily 'meta'. Whether or not Charm's creative defensive structures will hold up against Gama's spicy offensive techs is the big question here, and I can't wait to see how this one is gonna unfold.
5. Poek vs. 12. Dflo - Alright, this one should be fun. I have Poek bolded, though I can't say I have done so in full confidence. I might be wrong about this, but I have a feeling Poek kind of stumbled into winning UU Open and qualifying for these playoffs. He used Screens or Veil in every round of UU Open and PU Open I've seen him play, if he wasn't using his opponent's teams against them, that is. These teams are now banned, so I wonder what kinds of teams he'll show up with here. On top of that, his WCoP Round 1 performance felt pretty uninspired. He stole the Aurora Veil team Tricking used in Smogon Tour and used it against Tricking's teammate Niko as soon as the round went up, only to then grab the Sun team he used for UU Open with Garchomp in place of Kommo-o for his third game, securing an 0-3 record in his group. I don't know, man. It's Poek and he obviously has an extensive resume, but I question his motivation and drive heading into these playoffs.
As for Dflo, he's quietly stringing together a nice set of results himself. Prior to qualifying for Slam, Dflo made it to the top 12 of last year's OLT playoffs, too. Dflo also excelled in LC this Slam season, and I'm fairly sure Poek is absolutely clueless when it comes to that metagame, so that's a big advantage. If Dflo puts in the time to master metagames like UU and PU as well, I could definitely see an upset happening here. Until I've seen Poek actually play, I'm going to assume he'll care at least a little bit, which is enough for me to predict in his favor for now. If Poek underestimates his opponent and shows up with half assed cheese, however, I think we could see Dflo swiftly moving on to the top 8. I hope you don't bring teams that are weak to the stuff you've brought yourself, Dflo...
6. Luthier vs. 11. Meru - This should be a closely contested series, I think. I have had my differences with Meru in the past, but his name does consistently feature high up in the standings between both Grand Slam and Smogon Classic. Meru is one of Smogon's most experienced users, too. In fact, my SPL teammate Tace was born in the year Meru signed up for Smogon, I believe. Luthier has the advantage of being an experienced LC player, which is a huge advantage in these playoffs given how foreign of a tier it is compared to the other four. Luthier is also a regular fixture in the various subforum premier leagues, as well as having a lot of past Circuit experience in tiers like RU. I know for a fact that Luthier has very capable support for these playoffs, too.
Something to note, though, is that Luthier is also playing in the WCoP tiebreaker that's ongoing this week. I said this in my predictions for WCoP as well, but I'm unsure as to how Luthier is going to balance preparing for both tournaments simultaneously. Meru, meanwhile, can fully focus on getting ready for these Slam playoffs without having to worry about showing up big for his teammates. I might be overstating the importance of this dynamic, and I suppose time will tell, but Luthier is a notoriously busy (read: time management challenged (tmc)) tournament player and I could see him sitting out the second WCoP tiebreaker series, even if he wins for this first one. Assuming Luthier finds the time to prepare for this series I think he's the better player across the five metagames, and until I've seen evidence implying the contrary, I'm going to assume he will.
7. S1nn0hC0nfirm3d vs. 10. Ninjadog - I'll get it out of the way immediately to not sound too much like a broken record, but I'm sure that mentally Ninjadog goes into this series already up 1-0 due to his LC capabilities. It's just such a big advantage. I do like Ho3n's - which is what I'll be calling him forever - gradual improvement and subsequent dominance in NU a lot, though. Choice Band Mudsdale going brrrrrrrrr is also great to see, even if I didn't necessarily vibe with Ho3n's teams during SSD last year. Clearly, these teams work for him now, so I can only encourage him to keep doing him. That's actually a recurring trend here in these playoffs and something I deeply admire and respect. So many of this year's qualifiers have done so sticking to their own teams, their own beliefs and their own approach to this game, and I think that's really great.
As for Ninjadog, I expect him to just use teams he gets from his friends in UU through PU, while continuing to dominate in LC. The way I see it, that should do it. Considering the LC game a lock, I think he just needs to take 2 from 4 in the other tiers and I think he's a good player that's shown strong general playing ability in recent tournaments. Ho3n should take NU in most cases, but with tko and the gang supporting, I'm sure Ninjadog will show up with a nasty counterteam to Ho3n's NU Open teams, or something to that effect. I'm not sure how comfortable Ho3n is in the other metagames either, or how his team building/prep process will be outside of NU at all, so I'm just going to let the LC advantage and general impression I've gotten from Ninjadog's games being the deciding factor here. I'm curious to see how both players perform outside of their main tiers in this series.
8. TeamCharm vs. 9. CBU - In typical fashion, CBU has thrived ever since he underperformed for my beloved SSD III Rattlers. I'll add this to my ever growing list of personal failures as a manager, as CBU is clearly very capable of stringing together wins in various different tournaments. Not only did CBU qualify for a second Grand Slam playoffs in a row, he also showed up big for Greece in WCoP this year, going 3-0 in a group that also featured OU powerhouse Empo. CBU's distinct style and approach to the game continue to serve him very well, and considering his experience (and elite scheduling skills), I consider him to be the favorite here.
TeamCharm completes our diverse pallet of players this year as a fresh face to many, though not to those that scower Smogon's circuit tournaments like TeamCharm has. Playoff appearances like this one are why I love the introduction of circuit tournaments so much, as we regularly see players make the jump for semi-official to official tournament success like we see here with TeamCharm. I can't in good faith expect too much from TeamCharm and obviously couldn't ever speak to their mentality going into these playoffs, but if their attitude is fearless and they show up using good teams, then I don't see why they couldn't make a deep run. The games I have seen were encouraging and it's great to see new players finding success quickly like this, too. Instinct leads me to side with CBU on account of his experience for now, but I'll be watching this series with an open mind as always. Good luck and enjoy the ride! The months of qualifying won't have been for nothing if you enjoy the moment and take the experience with you from here, even if you do lose in the first round of these playoffs.
Have fun, everyone. Please let us know when you're playing in the tournaments server!