Shoma “SHADEviera” Honami
The crux of Shoma’s team is his Psychic Seed Drifblim + Choice Specs Tapu Lele combination, which enables him to set up Tailwind to gain the speed advantage for 3 turns, allowing his Tapu Lele, Swords Dance Garchomp, Electrium Z Magnezone, and Dragon Dance Gyarados to put huge amounts of offensive pressure onto the opposing side of the field. Oftentimes this offensive pressure is enough to allow Drifblim to remain on the field long enough to set up a second Tailwind after the first expires, which is usually enough to break down the remaining parts of the opposing team. Thanks to the lack of a common way to prevent Drifblim from setting up Tailwind, Shoma was able to invest heavily into bulk on many of his Pokémon, most notably his Tapu Lele and Garchomp. Both the bulk and, more interestingly, the lack of speed investment on his Tapu Lele were hugely important to Shoma’s success in this tournament, a point that we’ll discuss more closely further into the analysis.
Pheromosa forms an infamous combination with Tapu Lele, whose Psychic Surge helps protect Pheromosa’s weak defences from priority attacks. Pheromosa’s role on this team appears to be to pressure opposing Trick Room setters, most notably Porygon2, whilst also acting as a form of offence that is not reliant on Tailwind to outspeed its opponents. Meanwhile, Garchomp is a sound addition to the existing core of Tapu Lele and Drifblim for a number of reasons. Notably, Garchomp pressures the steel and poison-types that threaten Tapu Lele, whilst also having synergy with Drifblim as it can safely Earthquake alongside it, and Drifblim is able to threaten those immune to ground-type with Will-O-Wisp, even if Misty Terrain should be active. Finally, Magnezone provides valuable offensive pressure against opposing Celesteela and Tapu Fini, both of which may otherwise be difficult for the team to handle.
Notably, this match displays Shoma’s team at work without utilising either the Drifblim or Pheromosa, showing its surprising versatility. Despite not bringing a truly concrete way of preventing Trick Room from going up, nor a particularly slow Pokémon to make use of Trick Room should it be used, Shoma navigates a seemingly tough match up against a world class player.
Aaron “Cybertron” Zheng
On the face of it, many predicted Aaron’s match up against Shoma’s team to be highly favoured, as his combination of Tapu Fini, Arcanine, and Porygon2 would prove difficult for Shoma’s highly offensive team to break down quickly enough to prevent them from gaining the speed advantage and turning the tables. However, a handful of intricacies in the way each team was trained resulted in a much less favourable match up than anticipated.
Firstly, and most importantly, Aaron’s Tapu Fini outspeeds the opposing Tapu Lele. This is notable, as in the event that both trainers leads their respective Tapu, Psychic Surge will activate last, giving Tapu Lele the terrain advantage, as it retains its boost to its psychic-type moves. “So what?”, you might be asking. The most important implication of this is that Shoma can threaten Aaron’s Porygon2 without having to lead Pheromosa, as it is not guaranteed to survive the combination of Tapu Lele’s Psychic in Psychic Terrain + Magnezone’s Gigavolt Havoc. Unbeknownst to Aaron, the probability of this combination picking up the KO on his Porygon2 is as low as 27%, however, he was unaware of just how little investment into special attack Shoma’s Specs Tapu Lele had, so his estimation of this probability may be have been higher. In theory, Aaron could reduce this probability to 0% by switching his Tapu Fini in turn 1 and overwriting the Psychic Terrain, however, though this would technically secure him Trick Room, it would leave him in a position in which his Tapu Fini would be the ‘slowest’ Pokémon on the field, threatened by Magnezone’s Thunderbolt, with little offensive pressure being provided by its partner Pokémon in the form of a low HP Porygon2. Furthermore, this strategy would only be effective if Aaron was willing to take the gamble on Shoma’s Pheromosa not being used as a lead, though this ended up being the case, as Shoma remained confident in his ability to win the match up without Pheromosa, perhaps fearing that Gigalith’s ability to break its Focus Sash with Sand Stream reduced its usefulness.
Another factor hindering Aaron in this match up is his Porygon2’s moveset, particularly its lack of Thunderbolt. The inability to pressure Gyarados with Porygon2 in this matchup has the potential to come back to bite Aaron, as he is left to rely on Arcanine’s Wild Charge and Gigalith’s rock-type moves for effective forms of offence against Gyarados.
This match was a best-of-five, in which each player must win three games to take the match. Both players had played a number of games on stream by this point, and it’s important to bear in mind that both players likely had a fairly good picture of what the opposing team looked like, including speed tiers and tech choices. A few key details were missing, however, as Shoma’s Magnezone had not been brought to a single game thus far.
+ vs +
Aaron opts to lead with his Arcanine + Tapu Fini, perhaps anticipating a lead of Pheromosa + Tapu Lele. Shoma leads with Tapu Lele and Magnezone. His slow Lele is able to underspeed Aaron’s Tapu Fini, setting up Psychic Terrain. Magnezone is immediately threatened by Flare Blitz + Muddy Water, which would KO it through Sturdy before it would be able to move.
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Aaron predicts Shoma to either protect or switch with his Magnezone, and doubles into the Tapu Lele slot with Flare Blitz and Moonblast. Shoma does indeed switch his Magnezone, but into Gyarados, whose Intimidate prevents the double attack from KOing his Tapu Lele, which survives with around 10% of its HP. Despite Moonblast lowering its special attack, Lele is able to KO Arcanine with Psychic due to the recoil damage it took from Flare Blitz.
Magnezone has now left the field, and Shoma has no safe way of preventing Porygon2 from setting up Trick Room. Tapu Fini threatens the KO on Shoma’s Tapu Lele with either Moonblast or Muddy Water, whilst Gyarados cannot deal substantial damage to either Tapu Fini nor Porygon2. Aaron switches in Porygon2 to replace his fainted Arcanine, and Download provides Porygon2 with an irrelevant attack boost.
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Shoma opts to use Waterfall onto Porygon2, which lands a critical hit, dealing around 40% damage. Aaron chooses not to KO the Tapu Lele with Muddy Water or Moonblast but instead to set up a Calm Mind with his Tapu Fini. The aforementioned Lele uses Psychic on Porygon2, which, thanks to the prior special attack drop, leaves Porygon2 with around 30% of its HP remaining. Porygon2 doesn’t flinch from the Waterfall, and sets up Trick Room.
At this point, Aaron has recognised that Shoma’s -1 special attack Tapu Lele is not a threat, and leaving it on the field whilst setting up and dealing with its partner is a viable line of play. Gyarados is the fastest Pokémon on the field, and will, therefore, move last in Trick Room. However, thanks to its Sitrus Berry, +1 Moonblast from Tapu Fini is not a guaranteed 2HKO.
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Porygon2 uses Recover, restoring itself to around 80% HP. Tapu Lele launches yet another weakened Psychic into the Porygon2 slot, negating much of that recovery, whilst Tapu Fini goes on the offensive with Moonblast into Gyarados, activating its Sitrus Berry. Gyarados uses Earthquake, dealing minor damage to both Porygon2 and Tapu Fini, and knocking out its partner Tapu Lele.
Shoma displays the fantastic game awareness that got him this far in the tournament by recognising that Aaron is indeed correct about Tapu Lele being more of a hindrance than a help to him at this point, as it is preventing him from bringing in his Magnezone to threaten the opposing Tapu Fini. Rather than hoping Aaron naïvely KOs it for him, or risking taking a +1 Muddy Water and potentially getting his accuracy dropped by switching in Magnezone, he chooses the safest possible option; knocking out his own Lele with Earthquake. This allows him to bring in Magnezone safely, which he promptly does.
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Porygon2 again opts to use Recover, restoring itself to around 85% HP. Shoma is able to capitalise on the fact that he hasn’t revealed his Magnezone’s set in any prior games, catching Aaron off guard by using Gigavolt Havoc into the Tapu Fini slot, which KOs despite the +1 special defence boost from Calm Mind. Shoma then uses Dragon Dance with Gyarados, despite the fact that Trick Room will be active for 2 more turns.
Aaron’s lack of knowledge of Shoma’s Magnezone’s item costs him here, as protecting would ensure that Tapu Fini would survive not only the Gigavolt Havoc, but would also be able to survive a Thunderbolt the following turn. Porygon2 is starting to look increasingly like dead weight on the field, as neither its Tri Attack nor its Ice Beam threaten Gyarados or Magnezone with much damage, particularly with no special attack boost from Download. Aaron brings in his final Pokémon; Muk. With Magnezone at full health, and lacking an item to boost the power of Knock Off, even a double attack from both Porygon2 and Muk in the final two turns of Trick Room would fail to KO it. Had Aaron’s last Pokémon been Gigalith, he may have been in a considerably better position at this point.
Shoma is now in a commanding position and is almost guaranteed victory provided he doesn’t make any careless mistakes. With Gyarados teetering on the brink of being in range of Poison Jab + Tri Attack, Shoma makes the safe play and opts to use Protect. Both of Aaron’s attacks land on the Protect, which, though a seemingly poor play, was still possibly his best line of play, as relying on a mistake from Shoma is now his primary win-condition. Shoma’s Magnezone uses Thunderbolt on Porygon2, putting its HP around 50%.
There is now 1 turn of Trick Room remaining, and Aaron’s Porygon2 is lingering around half HP. If he is to have any chance of winning, his Porygon2 will need to survive the next two turns and set up Trick Room once again. As such, Shoma’s main goal is now to prevent this from happening. Though Shoma’s position is solid, the game is far from decided.
Porygon2 uses Recover, restoring itself to full health in an attempt to get into the position to survive the next two turns. Muk uses Poison Jab onto Gyarados, leaving it with around 20% of its HP, and, crucially, not getting the poison. Magnezone continues to pressure Porygon2, targeting it down with yet another Thunderbolt. Gyarados sets up a needless second Dragon Dance, which is almost certainly a misplay, as two +1 Waterfalls would deal more damage to Porygon2 than one +2 Waterfall. Trick Room ends.
Shoma almost lets Aaron back into the game in this turn. Aaron’s Porygon, after recovering to full HP, is required to survive two Thunderbolts from Magnezone, plus, thanks to Shoma’s line of play, a +2 Waterfall from Gyarados. The probability that Aaron’s Porygon2 will faint to this combination of attacks is, in fact, 47.66%, and though the possibility of a critical hit or flinch from Waterfall technically helps the probability of the combination preventing Trick Room from being set up once more to reach over 50%, going for Waterfall rather than Dragon Dance would guarantee it instead. Furthermore, if Aaron’s Poison Jab had poisoned the Gyarados, it may well have been in range of Shadow Sneak. If this would occur, then neither line of play would prevent Trick Room from going back up, but by opting to use Dragon Dance again, Shoma opts not to cash in the damage while he can, which would have allowed Porygon2 to potentially set up Trick Room with enough HP to spare that it wouldn’t have to use Recover on the following turn, allowing it to make better use of the Trick Room turns.
Shoma’s inefficient line of play goes unpunished, as his +2 Waterfall and second Thunderbolt manage to overcome the shaky odds to pick up the KO on Porygon2, all but sealing the game in Shoma’s favour. Aaron then makes a curious play, opting to use Knock Off on the Magnezone rather than KOing the Gyarados.
By doing so, Aaron ends up not forcing Shoma to reveal his final Pokémon, and though picking up the KO wouldn’t have helped Aaron to win this game, knowing whether Shoma had chosen Garchomp or Pheromosa as his last Pokémon may have helped Aaron to better plan for future games. Despite this, Aaron has the chance to amend this in the final turn by KOing Gyarados. Bearing this in mind, Shoma’s optimal line of play is to Protect Gyarados and Thunderbolt the Muk, as this will put it in range of +2 Waterfall without having to activate its Iapapa Berry, which would otherwise allow it to survive and KO Gyarados, forcing Shoma to reveal his last Pokémon.
Shoma opts not to Protect his Gyarados, but instead uses Waterfall, landing a critical hit which KOs Muk through its Iapapa Berry anyway, allowing Shoma to keep his final Pokémon hidden.
1-0 to Shoma Honami
Despite an uncharacteristic sub-optimal play on turn 6, Shoma is able to snowball the advantage he gained in the early turns into a solid victory without even having to reveal his final Pokémon. Aaron now has the knowledge of Shoma’s Electrium Z Magnezone and must now adapt accordingly to swing the match back in his favour.
+ vs +
Both players choose to keep their leads the same, though Aaron chooses to bring Gigalith in the back instead of Muk. Magnezone is once again threatened by the potential Flare Blitz + Muddy Water combination, whilst Arcanine is threatened by Tapu Lele’s Psychic.
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Shoma opts not to switch his Magnezone out this time, acknowledging the threat of Wild Charge from Arcanine, while also perhaps valuing the safety of Gyarados over that of Magnezone. Aaron capitalises on this, as his Arcanine’s Flare Blitz brings Magnezone down to sturdy, and Muddy Water is able to connect to secure the KO, whilst also dealing some damage to Tapu Lele. Shoma’s Tapu Lele once again uses Psychic on Arcanine, easily picking up the KO.
Despite winning the 50/50 call, Aaron is forced to trade one Pokémon for another. The removal of Magnezone greatly reduces the pressure on Tapu Fini, which may now look to set up Calm Minds without fearing the Gigavolt Havoc. Aaron replaces his fainted Arcanine with Porygon2, which once again receives an unimportant attack boost from Download, while Shoma brings in his Garchomp. Porygon2 is immediately threatened by Tectonic Rage + Choice Specs Psychic, the combination of which would be able to knock it out.
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Acknowledging the threat to his Porygon2, Aaron switches it out into Gigalith. This is hardly ideal, however, as the Tectonic Rage directed at Porygon2 promptly OHKOs the Gigalith as it enters the field. Though Tapu Fini is able to set up a Calm Mind, the Psychic that was likely directed at the Porygon2 slot is redirected into Fini, taking off as much as 60% of its HP.
Porygon2’s lack of Protect provided Shoma with a completely safe play this turn, as he is able to shell out huge damage and leave Aaron with a just his full health Porygon2 and Calm Mind boosted Tapu Fini with around 45% of its health remaining after Leftovers recovery. Porygon2 switches back in, once again receiving the attack boost from Download. Though he can now set up Trick Room safely, doing so no longer gives Aaron much of an advantage, as his Tapu Fini would simply be outsped and knocked out by the opposing Tapu Lele.
Tapu Fini now uses Protect, as Shoma’s Garchomp, despite being under threat from the +1 special attack Tapu Fini, uses Swords Dance. Tapu Lele’s Psychic is blocked by the Protect, whilst Porygon2’s Tri Attack deals some damage to the Tapu Lele, bringing it below 50% health.
Shoma once again displays fantastic game awareness in this turn. To help us understand this, lets talk about why Aaron’s play makes sense here. By using Protect with Tapu Fini and Tri Attack onto Tapu Lele, he is putting Lele in range of a +1 Moonblast. Given that (unless it uses Swords Dance), Garchomp won’t be able to threaten the KO onto Tapu Fini on the following turn (as it doens’t know Poison Jab), he is setting up for a Moonblast onto Tapu Lele and Trick Room on the following turn, which would allow him to swing the game back in his favour. This play was smart, and could easily had won Aaron the game had Shoma walked into it, but he didn’t.
Now lets assume that we know that Shoma is going to use exactly Swords Dance and Psychic onto the Tapu Fini. Porygon2 cannot KO either Pokémon from the range they are at, and setting up Trick Room is not safe with Tapu Lele still on the field, as it will survive the Tri Attack on the following turn, and KO the Tapu Fini as it will outspeed it in Trick Room. Tapu Fini has four options. Option #1: Protect. By doing this, Porygon2 is left to either fail to KO Garchomp, or to set up Trick Room. Either way, Tapu Fini will be outsped and KOd on the following turn (provided its double Protect fails), and Porygon2 will lose the subsequent 2v1. Option #2: Calm Mind. If Tapu Fini is able to set up a second Calm Mind and survive the Psychic while Porygon2 uses Tri Attack on Tapu Lele to put it in range of a second Tri Attack, then Trick Room + Protect on the following turn would technically be a safe play. However, as sandstorm activates before Leftovers, the probability that Tapu Fini will survive the second Psychic after it sets up another Calm Mind is only 2.7%. Option #3: Moonblast into Garchomp. As discussed, this would result in a 1 for 1 trade, leaving Tapu Lele and Gyarados alive for Shoma, allowing him to win the 2v1. Option #4: Moonblast into Tapu Lele. This would miss the KO 100% of the time, and Lele would move before Porygon2 is able to finish it off.
Unless Aaron catches a lucky break with a freeze or a critical hit, there is no line of play he can pursue that would prevent him from, at the very least, needing either a double Protect on his Tapu Fini at some point in the next few turns, or an extremely favourable roll. Whether or not Shoma considered all of these options I cannot say, but in any case, this turn was extremely well played, and put Aaron in an incredibly tough spot.
Shoma does indeed switch his Tapu Lele into Gyarados and use Earthquake, which KOs Tapu Fini as its double Protect fails. Porygon2 then sets up Trick Room.
Despite Shoma’s great play in the turns leading up to this one, Aaron would have been right back in the game had his double Protect succeeded. As it failed and his Tapu Fini was KOd, his hopes of wresting this game back disappeared, and Porygon2 now stared down a 3 vs 1 deficit.
Porygon2 uses Ice Beam on Garchomp, which fails to pick up the KO, and Porygon2 goes down to another Earthquake.
2-0 to Shoma Honami
Shoma remained in control of this game from turn 1 and managed to avoid potential disaster as Aaron’s late double Protect failed. He now goes 2-0 up, and has 3 games with which to pick up the final victory. Aaron’s adaptations failed him, and he has to go back to the drawing board and try to figure out a way around Shoma’s great play.
+ vs +
Aaron finally mixes up his lead, forgoing Tapu Fini altogether in this game. Shoma once again remains resolute with his Magnezone + Tapu Lele lead. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Aaron’s lead here invites the Gyarados switch, as Intimidate would cripple both of his physical attackers. Calling which slot it will switch in is crucial, however, as either Tapu Lele or Magnezone will be able to KO Arcanine should he call it wrongly.
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Shoma switches his Magnezone out for Gyarados, and Aaron uses Poison Jab and Wild Charge onto the Tapu Lele slot, which survives with around 30% of its health remaining, and for the third consecutive game, KOs Arcanine with Psychic on turn 1.
Aaron’s incorrect call on which slot the Gyarados will switch in proves costly, as his Arcanine lasts only 1 turn for the third game running. By using Poison Jab and Wild Charge, he does manage to prevent the turn from being a total disaster, as he is able to put the Tapu Lele in range of another Poison Jab. Aaron could have given himself a chance to pick up the KO in a safe manner here by using Tectonic Rage and Wild Charge on the Tapu Lele slot instead, which, though only a 70% roll to KO after Intimidate, may have proven to be a better option. He opted not to however, perhaps for fear of wasting his Z move on the switching Gyarados. His other option of Flare Blitz + Tectonic Rage onto the Tapu Lele would have guaranteed the KO through Intimidate, but would have gone horribly wrong if Gyarados had switched in on that slot instead. Porygon2 replaces the fainted Arcanine, yet again receiving the attack boost from Download.
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Aaron opts to use Earthquake with his Garchomp, attempting to catch the Magnezone switching back in. In doing so, he just fails to KO the Tapu Lele, and takes off around 20% of his own Porygon2’s HP. Waterfall and Psychic both go into the Porygon2 slot, which survives with a sliver of HP and sets up Trick Room.
Another read goes awry for Aaron, and he is left in a tough position. His Porygon2 is almost doomed in this position, as there is nothing it can do to prevent itself from being KOd should Shoma double into it on the following turn. His Garchomp, meanwhile, is now the slowest Pokémon on the field while Trick Room is active.
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Aaron switches his Garchomp out for Gigalith, setting up the sandstorm, and uses Recover with Porygon2. Shoma makes the safe play, doubling into the Porygon2 slot and KOing it with Psychic and Waterfall. His Tapu Lele then faints to sandstorm damage.
Aaron is now in a dire situation, though both of his remaining Pokémon are at full health. Both players switch in their Garchomps.
Aaron’s makes a peculiar play here, opting to use Continental Crush on Shoma’s Garchomp, which deals around 50% damage. Shoma’s Garchomp responds with a Tectonic Rage, KOing the Gigalith, whilst Gyarados attacks Aaron’s Garchomp with Waterfall. Aaron’s Garchomp moves last, attacking the opposing Garchomp with Fire Fang.
Aaron’s best option here may have been to Protect with Gigalith and used Tectonic Rage on Shoma’s Garchomp to put it in range of Rock Slide. Alternately, if he had feared that Shoma would use Tectonic Rage + Waterfall onto his Garchomp slot, he could have tried to flinch the opposing Pokémon with Rock Slide, and either use Swords Dance or Tectonic Rage onto the opposing Garchomp. Regardless of what he was predicting, it’s hard to see the logic in Aaron’s play here. Perhaps it was just fatigue from having already played a number of games leading up to this one.
Shoma’s Earthquake + Waterfall KO Aaron’s Garchomp.
3-0 to Shoma Honami
Shoma “SHADEviera” Honami takes the invitational in convincing 3-0 fashion, taking down Aaron “Cybertron” Zheng with an interesting team and excellent play. His slow Tapu Lele and Electrium Z Magnezone proved crucial to his final victory. Congratulations to Shoma on a fantastic tournament run!
Aaron’s initial lead of Tapu Fini and Arcanine proved ineffective, primarily because it didn’t offer enough pressure on the opposing Tapu Lele, which could survive any double attack if Shoma switched Magnezone out for Gyarados. This lead to obnoxious guessing games, and despite calling the 50/50 correctly in game 2, Aaron still ended up having to trade his Arcanine for the opposing Magnezone, and went on to lose the game. Sticking with this lead in game 2 was a questionable decision, as Aaron had other options available to him, such as Arcanine + Porygon2 or Arcanine + Garchomp.
Aaron’s lead in game 3 attempted to remedy this but was stopped in its tracks once again by Intimidate. Shoma once again threatened the switch into Gyarados on either slot and the KO on Arcanine with either of his other Pokémon. Aaron had to nail his prediction on turn 1, and had a number of ways to play the turn. His first option would be to predict which slot was switching out and KO the other Pokémon. In reality, he opted for a “soft read”, that would either punish the switching Gyarados or cripple the Tapu Lele should the other slot be the one switching. Had he gone for Tectonic Rage and Flare Blitz into the Tapu Lele instead, he would have picked up the KO, though this is obviously incredibly risky as a Gyarados would switch in on that with ease. Tectonic Rage + Wild Charge would be another mid-ground play, but would only be a 70% roll to KO the Tapu Lele after an Intimidate. His other option is to read which slot the Pokémon that stays in will attack into, and Protect that Pokémon. Had he made this prediction and Protected his Arcanine whilst using Poison Jab on Tapu Lele, he would have been able to threaten a double KO on Shoma’s Tapu Lele and Gyarados with Tectonic Rage and Wild Charge respectively, giving himself the momentum for just about the first time in the match. Had he been predicting Shoma to attack the Garchomp slot instead, Flare Blitz into Tapu Lele + Protect would also have achieved this position. Though there are, of course, options on Shoma’s end to punish each of these plays, this more defensive approach to the opening turn may have been worth considering for Aaron.
Conversely, Shoma’s Pokémon selection proved perfect throughout the series, as he identified his most effective four early on, and made use of his bulky Tapu Lele combined with Intimidate and Psychic Terrain to consistently put Aaron in tough positions. Tapu Lele picked up the turn 1 KO onto Arcanine every game without fail, limiting Aaron’s switches as he then struggled both to set up and to utilise Trick Room effectively. Though there were moments when Aaron could have punished Shoma’s play, his reads were almost always on point, and even when he did take a risk, he never let it become game-deciding should he get it wrong.