By Jason Krell
The best VGC players in the world are often seen as the ones that win. Becoming the World Champion is an obvious indicator of skill, but even winning a Regional Championship helps players establish themselves. Considering that, though, how is the community to judge Enosh Shachar? In more than six years of competing, he has yet to win any major events.
Of course, just because Shachar hasn’t sealed the deal doesn’t mean he hasn’t come close. In fact, he’s been incredibly close so many times. He finished in the top four at Philidelphia Regionals from 2012 to 2014 and came second in Virginia (2014), Massachusetts (2016) and San Jose (2017). To top that off, he placed second at US Nationals (2013), made top four at the 2011 World Championships (seniors), top eight at the 2013 World Championships (masters) and finished 12th at Worlds 2014.
Suffice to say, Shachar is a player who has proven himself to be one of the best battlers and team builders in the United States. His peers recognize this too, and the list of players he’s worked with before events goes on and on. This recognition has helped him maintain a positive outlook on what he has yet to achieve. He happily refers to his repeated near-wins as a running joke among his friends.
“I’m fine with not having this win yet,” Shachar said. “But it’s a win ‘yet’. I think it’s bound to happen eventually. Maybe my tenth top four will finally be the win. Until then, I’m going to keep trying to come up with interesting teams and come up with interesting strategies that I enjoy playing with.”
Tipping the Balance
In examining why he seems to fall short, Shachar has numerous reasons. For one, he doesn’t like running into teams that are similar to his. While he believes in himself as a player, he has an aversion to playing mirror-matchups. The matchup between two good players in that scenario, he explained, is too close for his taste. As a result, he strives to build teams that tip the scales in his favor.
“From a purely theoretical perspective, the mirror is a fifty-fifty,” Shachar said. “I like to take the gamble and change the mirrors into a sixty-forty, if I can. Sometimes that’s by changing the sets, changing the Pokémon, or doing something completely different.”
Often times, this experimentation leads to some of Shachar’s best teams. A recent example of this is his San Jose team, which used a Pokémon that many in the VGC community had written off before even trying it; Tapu Fini. By placing second with a team he built to be different, he almost singlehandedly shifted the metagame.
At the same time, though, his performance inspired others to use similar sets, which forced him back to the drawing board. Then, when he competed in Dallas with a Smeargle/Trevenant team it wasn’t the right call. That was Shachar losing the gamble he likes to take.
“I don’t always pick the best six [Pokémon],” Shachar said. “That’s definitely true and I think that has held me back. But I do think that sometimes I do get those moments where I pick a fantastic six and I do really well at that tournaments.”
What can be more frustrating than picking the wrong team, according to Shachar, is when he doesn’t play up to the team’s potential. San Jose, where he lost in the finals to Gavin Michaels, is a prime example of this from how he tells it.
“My team was just a very good call for everything that showed up,” Shachar said. “I was undefeated in Swiss and I felt I had a good matchup against Gavin. [But] he played out of his mind, and I felt as though I didn’t do the team justice in the finals.”
There is another likely reason for his struggles to clinch even a Regional title despite having attended so many. Simply put, Shachar came up during a time when VGC was an entirely different circuit than it is now.
For the most part, the relevant differences between past and present concern qualifying for Worlds. Before the modern system of championship points was introduced in 2013, most players qualified for the year’s biggest tournament with a good finish at the National Championships.
The consequence of that meant Regionals were largely for practice, especially since prizes weren’t as enticing as they are now. Knowing that, Shachar utilized the opportunity for experimentation to the fullest.
“Back when regionals didn’t count for anything, we had this saying that they didn’t matter,” Shachar said. “Regionals were just the metagame developing … It’s where you start trying things out.”
That mentality has carried over to the modern VGC circuit, where Shachar focuses more on using the lessons learned at Regionals to inform his decisions at the more important events. In effect, he spends all year laying a foundation that will support the team he takes 100 percent seriously.
It’s also why some of his teams look like a hodge-podge of archetypes. Shachar often takes pairs of Pokémon that work well together but are good with anything. He then slaps them together and has a much deeper set of options than his competition. Some players struggle to perform well with teams that have two archetypes, but Shachar has a reputation for succeeding with teams that seem all over the place to others. According to him, they just work.
“Over the years, there have been so many ‘Enosh teams’ where people look at it and think ‘this is a really weird team,’” Shachar said. “They’ll sort of get how it works, but their opinions fall into two categories. They either aren’t going to use it at all or it doesn’t work for them.”
Still, other players from the early years of VGC aren’t always as versatile as Shachar. To understand why requires examining the ways in which the game of Pokémon itself was different back when he started playing.
For one, VGC didn’t always have a team preview and players were forced to go blind into matchups. On top of that, there were no battle boxes. Players were still forced to use the same six Pokémon on their team, but they could shift around their items in between rounds and even in between games in a set.
This changed in 2011 with the release of Pokémon Black and White, but Shachar started in 2010. He was forged in that chaos and adapted to survive. He learned how to play with every single archetype because he had to understand the different ways a given team could function.
“There were completely different ways to hide information back then,” Shachar said. “It was a different game. But what I mostly got out of starting in 2010 was that it defined my playstyle going forward.”
When it comes to Nationals and Worlds, what keeps him from winning is much different. According to Shachar, he’s usually thwarted by the people who go on to win the entire event. This happened at Worlds in 2011 with Kamran Jahadi and at Nationals in 2013 with Gavin Michaels.
He plans for things to be different in the One Nation of Gamers Invitational, though. Shachar said he was hungry for the win and the chance to show that he’s relevant enough to come up with idea that can go all the way.
“Winning would be amazing because I haven’t actually won a tournament I feel passionate about… I feel like that would finally establish myself as one of the best. That’s something I’ve always felt I was, but I haven’t had the results I wanted to prove it.”
Shachar added that he’s already cooking up a classic “Enosh” team to bring to the tournament, which raises all kinds of questions about his play. Will he make the right call on which Pokémon to bring? Will he play up to the team’s potential? And most importantly, will this be the tournament what cements him as one of the game’s best players?