NPA9: Recap and Thoughts

With NPA9 coming to an end, players and spectators alike may find themselves wondering: what were the greatest storylines of the season? What are the must-watch sets? And how inaccurate were those power rankings, anyway? Read on to find out!

Team-by-team Recap

Snowbelle Blizzards

Actual ranking: Champions [3]

Predicted ranking: 5

Despite their humble beginnings as a team for players who’d been looked over during the NPA draft, the Blizzards took NPA9 by (snow)storm, eventually being crowned champions. The team’s top players included the British duo of JonoTv [5-3] and AuraRayquaza [5-4], as well as Belgian Tega [5-4]—none of which should come as a surprise, as the Blizzards invested most of their funds in these three players. However, their main standout player record-wise turned out to be Austrian SaltySylveonVGC [6-2], one of their cheaper drafts. Also worth noting is their midseason pickup, Canadian Tiddvicious, who clinched the championship for the Blizzards and finished the tournament 5-0 (including his two playoff sets).

Seafoam Islanders

Actual ranking: Finalists [5]

Predicted ranking: 10

The Islanders took me by surprise—but, having spoken to their players, the team’s success makes quite a bit of sense in hindsight. What I’d initially assumed was a planless draft was in fact an effort to draft players who are known to work well together, which had completely passed me by during my initial power rankings. This allowed the team to foster a fun atmosphere, and their success undoubtedly reflects that. Their top players include Korean Spring [8-2] and US-based JoeUX9 [7-3], but also Canadian StarRaikou [6-2] and Australian Mastodon [4-2]. It is worth noting that the Islanders appear to have had more sellbacks than any other team, which makes the fact that they made it to finals all the more impressive.

New Bark Loud Puppies

Actual ranking: Semifinalists [1]

Predicted ranking: 1

The Puppies were very dominant in the regular NPA9 season, finishing in 1st place—with both the best set and match record in the league, to boot! Unfortunately, history has a habit of repeating itself, and so they once again lost in semifinals of the playoffs (much like in NPA8). Their top-performing players included Irish MattieMoo [8-2], French RadiumH3 [7-4], Filipino Leimin [5-1], as well as US-based NamukoPro [7-4] and Jumplufftcg [5-4].

Slateport Cruisers

Actual ranking: Semifinalists [2]

Predicted ranking: 11

The Cruisers surprised me more than any other team: having started the season by trading away their highest-value player, things did not seem to bode well for them. However, the team managed to make a complete turnaround, with Spanish player Rahxen [9-2], US-based Sohaib [7-3], and Australian ResidentUnleashed [4-2] being some of their standouts; their German duo of eimagi [5-3] and iamtim [6-4] also performed very admirably. What ultimately led the Cruisers to the playoffs was surely their dedication to hard work.

Goldenrod Rollouts

Actual ranking: Playoffs, Wildcard round [4]

Predicted ranking: 2

The Rollouts’ roster turned out to have remarkable depth, which was surely a deciding factor in the team making it to the playoffs; unfortunately, however, they did not make it past the Wildcard round. Their standout players included German Viper [7-4], Italians NikyuAlex [6-2] and lucalucario [5-3], Spanish riopaser [5-2], and US-based kingdjk [5-3], as well as Canadian-Chinese yihuivgc [4-2]—quite the variety!

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Malie City Monarchs

Actual ranking: 6

Predicted ranking: 4

The Monarchs had a very tough start to the season, losing 3 times in the first 4 weeks, but managed to pick up more wins afterwards and finished NPA9 in a quite respectable 6th place. Their best-performing players included emforbes [7-4], Pokebeys [6-3], and maovgc [6-4], all US-based. While a far cry from their dominant NPA8 season, it is clear the Monarchs are nevertheless still a threat to be reckoned with.

Snowpoint Stargazers

Actual ranking: 7

Predicted ranking: 9

The Stargazers had a strong 2nd half of the season, putting them in contention for playoffs; unfortunately, they were stopped at the final hurdle by the Rollouts. Their top-performing players, Brazilian Agati [8-3] and Australian vivalavlade [8-2], were undeniably some of the very best in the league, with both managing to nab 8 set wins each. While they were the only Gazers with a positive set record, many others managed to go even, with Malaysian Ismat [4-4], Italian marcofiero [4-4], and American Maxdeese [4-4] deserving honorable mentions.

Aether Paradise Symbionts

Actual ranking: 8

Predicted ranking: 12

The Symbionts started the season relatively strong, but struggled to pick up wins later on. Perhaps most curious is the team’s post-midseason transformation: by drafting two additional Italian players in Polpolpo and Shabarai, the Symbionts ended up with a whopping 5 Italian players, all of who were fielded in the final 4 weeks of NPA9. Their initial Italian trio made up their strongest players: peppemusicco [9-2], Grima [5-5], and Dynamoon [5-5].

Ballonlea Mad Hatters

Actual ranking: 9

Predicted ranking: 7

The Hatters started the season with an amusing 4 draws in a row, before finally nabbing their first win against the Islanders in week 5. They were in playoffs contention until the very last week, where their loss against the Birds sealed their fate. Their strongest players included Italian duckpond [7-4], Argentinian Juan Salerno [6-5], and US-based players casedvictory [5-3] and Weeblewobs [6-2].

Postwick United

Actual ranking: 10

Predicted ranking: 8

United aimed for personal improvement as a team rather than trying to win the league, and so placing high wasn’t necessarily the only goal in mind for them. The team was perhaps most notorious for their number one fan, Saint Angelo, who cheered them on throughout the whole season with rallying cries of “baba wooloo”. Their standout players at the end of the season included German Fevzi [8-2], as well as Australian HobbitVGC [5-3] and the Italian duo of Yuree [5-4] and Alek97 [5-4].

Fortree Brave Birds

Actual ranking: 11

Predicted ranking: 6

The Birds performed worse than expected, and it seems the likely culprit was the team’s discontent with an activity loss handed to them relatively early in the season (which ultimately resulted in a change to the NPA ruleset). Regardless, the team put on a good show, with standout players including US-based Mudhiman [6-3], MikotoMisaka [5-3], and LightCore [5-3], as well as Italian GeniusVGC [6-4]. The Birds beat both the Puppies, who finished first in the regular season rankings, and the Blizzards, who ended up winning NPA9, during the regular season—no small feat! Despite taking a fairly lax approach to the latter half of NPA9, they nevertheless managed to deliver some excellent games of VGC, and finished the season on a high note with a win.

White Forest Hams

Actual ranking: 12

Predicted ranking: 3

Despite what seemed like a promising draft, the Hams struggled greatly in NPA9. It’s rather difficult to pinpoint why, as their roster includes many accomplished players. Regardless, the Hams had the honor of having the singular most impressive NPA9 player in the league on their team: Japanese player Snowpokepoke’s NPA9 record is nothing short of legendary. With an 11-0 set record and a 22-1 game record, he had an astounding game winrate of 96%. Other noteworthy Hams players included US-based MunkeyVGC [5-3] and SudokuMasta [5-6], who both netted the team 5 set wins each.

Trivia: Did you know?

  • The 5 playoffs teams (Puppies, Cruisers, Blizzards, Rollouts, and Islanders) were the only teams to win a majority of their battles.
  • NPA9 was one of the most diverse iterations of NPA region-wise yet, as only 4 of 12 teams had a majority of American players. For comparison, in both NPA8 and NPA7, it was 6 out of 12; in NPA6, it was 7 out of 12.
  • NPA9 was notoriously close, with only 6 points separating last place from playoffs (20 versus 26). There was, further, a three-way points tie for 7-9th place, at 23 points.
  • Both the wildcard match and the two semi-finals matches went to a 7th set, with each of these sets then going to a game 3. What’s more, they were all 1-3 to 4-3 upsets. Tense!

Must-see Games

As always, NPA has given rise to some of the most intense sets of VGC in the VGC20 format. Here are some of them:

Finals: JoeUX9 [Islanders] vs Tiddvicious [Blizzards]

G1 | G2 | G3

A must-see games list wouldn’t be complete without the set that crowned the eventual NPA9 champions. After losing game 1 due to struggling to set up Trick Room in the face of both Taunt and blind Hypnosis, Tidd made the proper adjustments in the next two games for a comeback. Notable plays include his Togekiss just barely surviving Steelspike in game 2, allowing it to redirect the Taunt so that Dusclops can set its TR, and an unfortunate TR-reversal misclick by Tidd in game 3, which (amusingly!) ended up not changing much as JoeUX9 chose to Taunt the Dusclops the same turn.

Semifinals: Chef [Islanders] vs Feis [Puppies]

G1 | G2 | G3

Chef vs Feis was one of the three playoffs matchups which went to a game 7, meaning the result of their set would determine which team advanced. Knowing Chef’s favored team, Feis brought what appeared to be a counterteam; however, Chef nevertheless managed to bring the set to a game 3. The last few turns of said game 3 turned out to be a series of nerve-wracking Sucker Punch mindgames—a situation perhaps more familiar to Singles players than VGC players.

Semifinals: Rahxen [Cruisers] vs AuraRayquaza [Blizzards]

G1 | G2 | G3

Yet another of the three decider sets from the playoffs. In a bit of an amusing twist, Rahxen brought the very team AuraRayquaza had used for most of the season against him, while AuraRayquaza instead brought an unusual-at-the-time Diggersby team. Game 2 of this set has a particularly tense endgame featuring everyone’s favorite move: Ally Switch.

Wildcard Round: JoeUX9 [Islanders] vs KingDJK [Rollouts]

G1 | G2 | G3

The third decider set from the playoffs, this time for the Wildcard round. After losing the first game to DJK’s immediate-pressure Charizard / Primarina lead, JoeUX9 adapts well in the next two games and demonstrates just how well he knows his calcs. Game 2, in particular, has some good examples of so-called “invisible Focus Sashes”.

Week 2: Snow [Hams] vs Tega226 [Blizzards]

G1 | G2 | G3

A set involving NPA9 legend Snow, this one is particularly noteworthy due to featuring his one and only game loss for the entire season in G2—and it’s a real rollercoaster of a game, too, where Tega claws his way back despite some bad luck.

Week 10: Emforbes [Monarchs] vs Lukamir [Hatters]

G1 | G2 | G3

Emforbes and Lukamir mostly play a careful, positioning-based game, with some key reads occasionally swinging the games in favor of one player or the other. Game 3 has a particularly interesting interaction, where Emforbes stays in with a Yawned Lapras against a Toxtricity and avoids being put to Sleep thanks to the side-effects of G-Max Stun Shock.

Week 5: Blckkkkk [Symbionts] vs Leimin [Puppies]

G1 | G2 | G3

Another slower set with some curious interactions, with some of the more interesting ones including Leimin using Phantom Force with both Dragapult and Mimikyu to completely avoid being affected by Lapras’ Perish Song in G1, as well as a CB Double Edge-locked Snorlax vs Dusclops endgame in G2.

Week 11: Agati [Gazers] vs KingDJK [Rollouts]

G1 | G2 | G3

A back-and-forth set between two strong players using very bulky teams. One noteworthy play is Agati making the decision to Dynamax his Coil Milotic on the same turn DJK switches into his Arcanine in game 3, allowing him to easily get rid of a major threat in Conkeldurr.

Thoughts: predicting “star players”

In my NPA9 power rankings article, the term “star player” came under much scrutiny, and understandably so. My intention was for it to refer to players whom teams would rely on for a majority of their set wins, but that may not have come across very well. With NPA9 over, I would like to suggest a proper definition:

A star player is a player who an NPA team fields in a majority of weeks and who, in turn, wins a majority of their sets.

Naturally, it’s impossible to say with complete certainty whether or not someone will actually end up as a star player in a given NPA season, so the players I pointed out in the power rankings article were simply predictions (and you will, of course, find that many were completely off). When predicting how a player might perform in a given NPA season, I tried to assess the following, from most to least telling:

  • Performance in recent NPA seasons
  • Performance in non-NPA tournaments (official circuit or grassroots)
  • Performance on ladder

The first is the most telling factor for obvious reasons: after all, if a player has performed well in NPA relatively recently, there’s a good case to assume they should be capable of doing so again. But why do some players do well in the official circuit, yet struggle to perform in NPA? There may be a variety of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Team tournament pressure. Some players may be able to keep their nerves in check during live tournaments as the only tournament run on the line is their own, yet buckle under the pressure of having to save a week for their entire team.
  • Having to adapt to a new format. As NPA tends to start right at the beginning of a new VGC season, players who have done well in past formats may find that the new format doesn’t speak to them and, as a result, perform poorly.
  • A preference for cart over Showdown. Some players find it easier to focus when playing on cart and may perform worse in Showdown tournaments as a result. While the occasional NPA sets are still played on cart, the vast majority are on Showdown.
  • Lack of flexibility in team choices. Scouting and the possibility of counter-teaming means many NPA players feel the need to change their team up each week. Players who prefer to stick to the same team in live tournaments may find this difficult to adapt to. Curiously, players who only change up their team on occasion—if at all!—can still perform very well in NPA; counter-teams aren’t quite as common as some players might think, but the looming threat of one is enough to force many outside their comfort zones (sometimes for the worse). Snow’s success is a good example, as he at one point used the same team 4 weeks in a row.