This weekend I went to my first VGC2017 tournament: San Jose regionals. For those unfamiliar, VGC is the official competitive Pokémon format, featuring double battles in which you select 4 pokemon out of your party of 6 to bring in each game. If you look for competitive Pokémon online, you'll find references to "tiers" like Ubers, OU, UU, RU and so on. These don't have anything to do with VGC, and instead refer to the unofficial, but very popular, single battle formats maintained by Smogon.
This was the first time I really decided to take competitive Pokémon seriously, and more or less all of my preparation was playing on Battle Spot in the few weeks before the tournament. I started out by trying a team based on Lilligant, Torkoal, and Oranguru, but the results were only okay and not great. After deciding to try a more standard team, I played with something similar to what I took to the tournament. After trying a few variants, I actually ended up with a team very close to the original version, with only minor tweaks.
Ninetales-Alola @ Focus Sash Ability: Snow Warning Level: 50 EVs: 4 HP / 252 SpA / 252 Spe Timid Nature - Blizzard - Freeze-Dry - Protect - Aurora Veil
Alolan Ninetales is a very strong Pokémon in its own right, and serves as a good lead that can set up aurora veil while also providing a decent threat and the utility of turning off opposing weather. Ninetales is by far the fastest weather-setter, so if you and your opponent both lead weather then they'll get it for turn one, but this can often be worth it against Pelipper teams because freeze-dry brings it down to the sash.
When you're looking at running Ninetales, blizzard, protect, and aurora veil are almost given, as is the focus sash because hail will likely be breaking the sash for any other Pokémon on the team. Timid is also more-or-less given to outspeed Garchomps, which are usually going to be running Jolly. So your only real choice is between freeze-dry and moonblast for the last attack. I think freeze-dry is superior because Gyarados, Pelipper, and Gastrodon are all very common Pokémon to see, and moonblast is mostly redundant with blizzard.
Muk-Alola @ Mago Berry Ability: Gluttony Level: 50 EVs: 244 HP / 252 Atk / 12 Spe Adamant Nature - Protect - Knock Off - Poison Jab - Shadow Sneak
Alolan Muk has to be one of the best pokemon in the format. It's naturally bulky and Gluttony combined with the new pinch berries make it stick around through most attacks other than Z-moves. Knock off is also has very valuable targets: leftovers on Celesteela, eviolite on Porygon2, thick club on Marowak, and so on. Shadow sneak is a flex slot with lots of players choosing different directions. This choice was one of the last tweaks I made, and it fit my team much better than more defensive moves, and it paid off during the tournament.
The 12 speed EVs are there to outspeed Marowaks that do the minimum to outspeed Muks (like mine), but most Marowaks were actually much faster than that in order to outspeed Celesteelas, so going forward I would either have significantly more speed or none at all.
Araquanid @ Waterium Z Ability: Water Bubble Level: 50 EVs: 252 HP / 252 Atk / 4 Def Adamant Nature - Liquidation - Wide Guard - Leech Life - Protect
Araquanid started out on the team as a "let's see how good this guy is" and quickly became one of my favorites on the team. Water bubble doubles the power of water moves, so liquidation and the corresponding hydro vortex hit extremely hard. Wide guard can easily turn games around in just one turn if you can catch a critical attack from your opponent with it. Leech life is honestly mediocre but you do want to have a non-water type move with the prevalence of Gastrodon.
Marowak-Alola @ Thick Club Ability: Lightning Rod Level: 50 EVs: 212 HP / 252 Atk / 44 Spe Adamant Nature - Protect - Shadow Bone - Bonemerang - Flare Blitz
Alolan Marowak is similar to Araquanid in that it hits really hard and functions as a threat to most Pokémon on the field. It's also my main check to Celesteela, resisting heavy slam and threatening a one hit knockout in return with flare blitz. Most Marowaks actually run significantly more speed than this (around 172 EVs) in order to outspeed uninvested Celesteelas, and going forward I would definitely consider that as well. Outspeeding Celesteelas is a big benefit, but so is outspeeding opposing Marowaks, as shadow bone is enough to take one out.
Bonemerang seems like a straightforward inclusion because ground type gives you good coverage against the very common electric types, but it turns out that flare blitz can already take out most of them. The runner-up Enosh Shachar figured this out and was running perish song instead. Perish song gives Marowak a different style of play to work with, and could be a strong choice going forward.
Garchomp @ Groundium Z Ability: Rough Skin Level: 50 EVs: 12 HP / 240 Atk / 4 SpD / 252 Spe Jolly Nature - Rock Slide - Protect - Poison Jab - Earthquake
The first team I tried on Battle Spot was almost completely dead to any Nihilego, so I had Garchomp on the team from the start as an answer to it. I started out with assault vest so that Garchomp would always be able to take a hit, but I found that I kept losing to Nihilegos that could protect on turn 1 while their partner chipped at Garchomp, allowing hidden power ice to pick up the knockout on turn 2.
The HP and special defense EVs allow Garchomp to always survive an unboosted hidden power ice from a timid Nihilego (and you'll outspeed any modest ones). Furthermore, Groundium Z allows you to KO the Nihilego through protect, and combined with hail even focus sashed Nihilegos will go down. If you do run into a Nihilego with a boosting item, Ninetales outspeeds and can set up aurora veil, so you'll usually have a pretty safe lead.
It was also brought to my attention afterward that I can get a free defense point by having 236 attack EVs and 4 defense EVs. That's clearly better and something to make sure I don't miss in the future.
Tapu Bulu @ Life Orb Ability: Grassy Surge Level: 50 EVs: 252 HP / 252 Atk / 4 Def Adamant Nature - Wood Hammer - Horn Leech - Stone Edge - Protect
Finally Tapu Bulu was in the team to shore up some weaknesses. Bulu deals well with Gastrodon and Golduck, but you do need to deal with the Pelipper before trying to use Bulu as the answer to Golduck. It also gives you grassy terrain which can remove opposing terrain, reducing damage from a Tapu Lele or Tapu Koko, as well as reducing earthquake damage (although this also applies to the Garchomp on this team!). Life orb allows you to pick up an OHKO on Oranguru with wood hammer almost every time, even if Oranguru is fully defensively invested. Going forward I might choose a different item because Oranguru is almost completely absent in a tournament setting, and the life orb damage is a real downside.
Feelings going in
I would describe this team as an offensive team, though I would hesitate to assign it the label hyper-offense. The team overall is rather slow, so while the focus is generally on KOing enemy Pokémon, it doesn't try to deny the opponent turns by moving first while doing so. Two Z-crystals might sound a little odd the first time you hear it, but after playing with the team in this form it felt like the right choice. In my time playing on Battle Spot, I was hovering in the 1600-1650 range, but a lot of losses were due to misplays on my side rather than problems with the team.
I don't think there's any team in this format that doesn't have some sort of weakness or counter. My team has five physical attackers, so intimidate could be a big issue, especially teams with two intimidates. I also only had one real check for Celesteela, so I'd have to be careful in those games to avoid 1v1s at the end as Celesteela can win those with either a leech seed active or a substitute up. I did have a small backup plan with Araquanid, but that mostly relies on hydro vortex being still available and predicting the leech seed turn.
The first round of the day and I was feeling pretty nervous and had a bit of an upset stomach. The early starting times for live tournaments usually does that to me and I had pretty much the same feeling at Magic tournaments in the past. My opponent had a pretty clear trick room mode on his team and Gigalith can cause problems for me by turning off hail and having good attacks against a large portion of my team.
In game one I decided to lead off with Ninetales and Garchomp against his lead of Incineroar and Vanilluxe. He led with a fake out on Garchomp while I went for blizzard, but Ninetales couldn't do a whole lot against the lead. I don't have great notes about what happened this game but I remember losing a Pokémon to a malicious moonsault that I really should have seen coming.
In game two I decided to change it up and led Araquanid and Marowak, and he also switched it up to lead Mimikyu and Incineroar. This time I did predict the moonsault and took only a little bit of damage on my Marowak, but Mimikyu set up trick room in the meantime. I knocked out Incineroar with a liquidation eventually, but I think he made some switches and knocked out two of my Pokémon so I ended up with Araquanid and something else against Drampa and Gigalith. I hadn't shown wide guard yet, and knowing that rock slide and hyper voice were both common moves I tried to catch him off guard to get myself back in the game, but he wisely went for a stone edge and draco meteor instead.
I definitely could have played the match better and I don't think that my team is disadvantaged when played properly, but I also didn't take it too hard because I didn't have any real expectations going into the day. A trip to the bathroom helped my upset stomach and I felt a lot better going into round 2.
Result: Lost 0-2, 0-1 overall
This is a pretty standard-looking team, and the Celesteela and Porygon2 stood out to me. Celesteela more or less forced me to bring in Marowak in all three games, and while I didn't expect my opponent to go for trick room, it was an option to keep in mind.
In game 1, I chose to lead Ninetales Muk and he led Celesteela Garchomp. His Garchomp protected and my blizzard got a lucky freeze on Celesteela, which then got hit by a knock off from Muk. The game wrapped up pretty cleanly with me seeing Tapu Lele and Marowak from his side, without showing the other two from my side.
In game 2 I went for the same lead while he went for Celesteela and Porygon2. I don't remember much about the game overall, but I do remember feeling afterward that I played it too softly and predictably. His backliners included Gyarados and Marowak this time, and he was able to take it.
Game 3 I decided to switch it up and led with Araquanid Muk to have less of a vulnerability to a Celesteela lead. He led Celesteela and Tapu Lele and I have written down that he started with a psychic and a heavy slam into Araquanid, but I don't remember what happened other than that. I did take this game, and took my first match win of the tournament.
Result: Won 2-1, 1-1 overall
The Aerodactyl on this team is pretty scary. It can outspeed my whole team and use either sky drop or rock slide to throw wrenches into my plans. The Celesteela also means that I'll be bringing Marowak for the most part, and I need to make sure to not lose too many Pokémon before the endgame.
In game 1, I led with Ninetales and Muk against his Celesteela and Aerodactyl. To be honest, at this point I wasn't really sure what the Aerodactyl's moveset would be, but he went for a sky drop and a heavy slam (I don't remember the targetting). On the next turn his leech seed missed Muk, and I was able to get good damage on the Aerodactyl with a blizzard. Muk was then able to get the Aerodactyl down with shadow sneak while I set up aurora veil, and I was able to clean up his backline of Porygon2 and Tapu Lele.
Game 2 I went for the same lead, but this time he led with Aerodactyl and Garchomp. I went for a blizzard with Ninetales figuring that I would be okay against either sky drop or rock slide, but his rock slide flinched Nintales and the earthquake from Garchomp took out both of my Pokémon without any damage in return. The game was over quite quickly from there.
Game 3 I tried to hedge better against both sky drop and rock slide by leading Ninetales and Araquanid. On turn 1 I went for a blizzard with Ninetales and a protect with Araquanid, in order to make sure that Araquanid couldn't just get wrecked by a sky drop (looking at the range now, I didn't have to be quite so worried, but I didn't know that at the time). He chose to switch Aerodactyl into Gastrodon instead and heavy slam the Ninetales, bringing it to the sash. My freeze-dry was able to knockout the Gastrodon with a crit that might have mattered, depending on its exact EV spread. My memories of the game are a bit fuzzy, but shadow sneak was able to take out Aerodactyl again at a clutch moment, and after killing his first three pokemon he sent in Garchomp against my remaining Marowak and Muk. I had aurora veil up, so Marowak lived through the earthquake with 7 hp remaining from the 96 it had after flare blitzing Celesteela, and I was able to take the game by a hair.
Result: Won 2-1, 2-1 overall
This round was sort of a half-mirror, which amused me as it meant that I knew how his team would play pretty well. Game 1 started with Ninetales Marowak against Tapu Bulu and Ninetales. I almost couldn't have asked for a better start. I went for a blizzard and a flare blitz while he went for an aurora veil and a stone edge which crit my Marowak and took it out. "Do you think that mattered?" he asked (answer: it did). I was able to recover pretty well though, predicting his hydro vortex from Araquanid with a Muk protect, and clean up his backline of Drampa and Araquanid. We did end up in an Araquanid vs Araquanid endgame, but mine was at full and still had hydro vortex available to his half hp.
Game 2 started a bit differently, with me leading Ninetales and Araquanid against his Tapu Bulu and Mimikyu. I went with a blizzard and a hydro vortex into Mimikyu, which worked perfectly as he protected Mimikyu and went for a stone edge on Ninetales. The hydro vortex went through the protect to break the disguise, leaving Mimikyu vulnerable. At this point I went for a freeze dry on Bulu and a liquidation on Mimikyu, while he protected Bulu and set up trick room. He switched in Araquanid and went for a multi-protect with Bulu which failed, so I was able to pick up the first KO. Switching in my own Bulu, I caught his hydro vortex with a protect on my own Araquanid, and from there I was able to take out the rest of his team including the Drampa again with the help of my Ninetales that I had kept alive.
Result: Won 2-0, 3-1 overall
Halfway through the event, I'm completley amazed that I'm 3-1, and feeling like I could make a real run at it, although my tiebreakers were likely terrible from losing round 1.
Against this team I'm hesitant to bring in Araquanid because of the Gastrodon, and Arcanine is more likely a support regardless. Marowak is great, having good matchups against Celesteela, Whimsicott, Arcanine, and Xurkitree, but I need to make sure I keep an answer available for Gastrodon.
Game 1 starts with Ninetales and Garchomp leading against his Whimsicott and Tapu Lele. Whimsicott was a bit of an unknown to me, but I knew it would be some sort of support. I led with a blizzard and a protect against his protect and tailwind, which is prefectly okay with me because his team is mostly faster than mine regardless, and tailwind is only four turns. I switch Garchomp out for Muk and go for another blizzard as he uses helping hand and dazzling geam. Works out great for me. Xurkitree comes in for the fainted Whimsicott.
I protected Ninetales and went for a poison jab on Tapu Lele, and he shows me twinkle tackle out of his Xurkitree. The next turn I set up an aurora veil and protect Muk before Ninetales gets taken out, but Garchomp comes in. A tectonic rage takes out Xurkitree despite Lele switching to Arcanine. In the end, he brings me down to just Garchomp, but my Muk poisons Lele right before going down so Earthquake is dealing single target damage to Arcanine, and he has no outs.
Game 2 opens very differently, with me starting Tapu Bulu and Garchomp against his Celesteela and Arcanine. Tapu Bulu is not happy at all about this lead, so I switch in Marowak. I consider my options for a while on Garchomp before finally deciding on rock slide. It works out in my favor, as he went for a will-o-wisp into the Tapu Bulu which is now Marowak, and the Celesteela flinched from rock slide, although Arcanine did dodge it. On the next turn I KO the Arcanine with a tectonic rage (my opponent was caught off guard by it killing despite the intimidate), while Celesteela protects.
Tapu Lele comes in between turns, so I protect and poison jab it, which does just under half. Celesteela gets a substitute up, but I'm content to let Celesteela do its thing because I can switch my Pokémon around to avoid leech seed and I have the materials to break substitute in the endgame. The game goes on for a while and we end up in the end with Ninetales and Marowak against Celesteela. Normally this would not be close at all, because Ninetales can break substitute and Marowak can KO with flare blitz, but the hail is down, so Celesteela is constantly healing, and Marowak was very low from previous flare blitzes, so I couldn't just blindly flare blitz every substitute. After I switch to shadow bone to conserve HP, he goes for the leech seed on Marowak, but the shadow bone on that turn did pick up the knockout in conjunction with Ninetales's freeze-dry, so I was able to take the game.
Result: Won 2-0, 4-1 overall
This is the first team I'm facing with the powerful Pelipper + Golduck combo. My team doesn't have a straightforward answer to it, but I do feel that I'm well equipped for the rest of the game if I can deal with the Golduck, and dealing with Pelipper also leaves Golduck rather vulnerable.
Game 1 starts with my lead of Ninetales and Araquanid against his Golduck and Pelipper. I go for a freeze-dry on Pelipper and a hydro vortex on Golduck. He chose a hydro vortex on Ninetales revealing the focus sash, and a hurricane on Araquanid from his sashed Pelipper. Sadly, the hurricane got a critical so I lost my Araquanid on turn 1 and was left without really being able to deal with Golduck. I tried bringing in Tapu Bulu but hurricane just took it out as well and the game ended quickly. Araquanid's hydro vortex does take out Golduck in the rain, so looking back I think my strategy in this game was pretty reasonable. Moving forward, I actually forgot that the hurricane was a critical, so I thought that Araquanid was just getting one shotted from hurricane and I tried to come up with a different plan.
Game 2 I led with Ninetales and Muk against his Golduck Pelipper combo. This time I went for a double protect while his Pelipper protects and he just goes for a scald into the Ninetales. At this point I get shadow sneak and freeze-dry on the Pelipper to pick up the KO while he gets his own KO on Muk with a hydro vortex. I bring in Tapu Bulu and he brings in Tapu Koko, with the grassy terrain coming up. I double protect again to scout, and he shows ice beam on Tapu Bulu and a dazzling gleam. My records are a bit sparse at this point, but I get a horn leech on Tapu Koko as he goes for a thunder on Ninetales and a poison jab on Tapu Bulu. I have Garchomp in the back and get a tectonic rage on muk while his Koko protects, allowing me to take the hard-fought game.
Going into Game 3 I went with the same lead, but figured he wouldn't protect Pelipper again to avoid the same situation as game 2. He went with Pelipper and Muk instead of Golduck. I went with the double up on Pelipper immediately hoping he would go for a tailwind, but instead he just switched in Tapu Koko, which does survive the double up. I switch in Garchomp as he protects Koko and sends a knockoff into the Garchomp slot. He switches Koko back out to Pelipper which takes the shadow sneak, and my Garchomp gets a flinch on his Muk with the rock slide. Unfortunately, the next rock slide misses Pelipper, and his scald KOs Garchomp with a crit (not sure if it mattered). We get into a reasonably close endgame where I have Muk and Ninetales with hail on the field, and Tapu Bulu in the back. Meanwhile, he has Muk and Golduck on the field, with Pelipper in the back. His Muk is pretty low, so I go for a blizzard and a poison jab into the Muk slot to catch any Pelipper switch, but unfortunately Muk lives through the blizzard with a sliver of HP, so instead of getting half of Golduck's HP, I get nothing. In the end, I had to go for five protects in a row on Bulu to stall out rain and then hope for a hurricane miss, but of course this fails.
If I had gotten the kill on Muk with blizzard, the game is by no means won. He still has hydro vortex available on Golduck, but Pelipper is in kill range from Muk, so it becomes close to a 50-50. I need to protect when he goes for hydro vortex, and I need to not allow a hurricane to hit Tapu Bulu, but if he chooses to not go for one or both of these moves, then I have an opening to sneak in the one KO I need to get a winning endgame. If he goes for hydro vortex and hurricane immediately, and I correctly double protect on my side, then I get to go for a multi protect on Tapu Bulu while targetting down one of the two of his Pokémon, probably Pelipper. Depending on exactly how the predictions play out, I would have potential paths to either 2v1 endgame, or a 1v1 with Pelipper against Muk where Muk should be able to pick up the win.
Result: Lost 1-2, 4-2 overall
This was a great and tough match, and my opponent said he was impressed by the way I played especially considering how new I was to competitive Pokémon. He had made top 4 in a couple tournaments in the past, and made top 4 in the end at this tournament, so it was definitely a tough opponent to go up against. We talked a bit about the decisions throughout the game and it was an awesome experience.
At this point I figured my hopes of making the top cut (16 for this tournament) were pretty much over, but I wanted to play out the whole day and see how it went. As luck would have it, I got paired up in round 7 to go against a 5-1 opponent, which was a good sign for my tiebreakers.
Exactly the same team as I faced in round 6, so I decided to go with the same plan that I used in games 2 and 3 of the previous round. I also had spent a good amount of time trying to figure out whether the Muk had shadow sneak and figured that it didn't (eventually I found out from top 16 coverage that the last move was curse), so over the course of this match I made a couple plays assuming that Muk didn't have shadow sneak.
Game 1 leads Ninetales Muk against Pelipper Golduck. I go for a protect and freeze dry, catching the hydro vortex on Muk with my protect. Pelipper switches to Muk, avoiding the KO from shadow sneak, and hydro pump crits my Muk picking up the knockout, but this allows Tapu Bulu to come in without threat from the Pelipper. My opponent switches Golduck out for Koko and poison jabs Ninetales as I double protect, and then the next turn she goes for a thunder on my Ninetales but I chose to switch in Garchomp, which worked great. Protect + Earthquake took care of the Koko as it tried to volt switch on my Ninetales, and in the end I was able to take the game with a freeze-dry and a tectonic rage on Muk. I debated for a bit about whether to show the tectonic rage, but I decided to go for the safest game win in the end.
Game 2 starts similarly, but this time I get the first turn shadow sneak + freeze-dry on Pelipper, and Golduck merely goes for a scald on Muk. Tapu Koko comes in and I choose to double switch to Tapu Bulu and Garchomp, which turns off electric terrain and catches a scald with the Tapu Bulu, but a dazzling gleam from the Tapu Koko leaves both my Pokémon extremely low. Neither Ninetales nor Muk really wanted to switch in at this point, so I go for two consecutive double protect turns. In the end, Bulu gets the second protect while Garchomp doesn't, and I bring in Ninetales, turning off the rain for good. I get an aurora veil, but Tapu Bulu goes down to an ice beam before getting its hit off. My Muk comes in, and I get Koko with a poison jab. In the end, Ninetales and Muk don't quite get there, and we head to a game 3.
Once again, we lead Ninetales and Muk against Pelipper and Golduck. I choose to double protect, and we see a hydro vortex onto the Muk and a tailwind. The tailwind means that Pelipper is very fast, but Golduck was outspeeding my entire team regardless, so I felt that this was only a mild disadvantage. I bring in my Araquanid for the first time in the match, which gets two scalds that were heading for Ninetales. I go for a poison jab on Pelipper and a protect, but my opponent chose to protect Pelipper and hydro pump Muk, so my play fell right into her plan. Muk did squeak out with 10 hp, allowing it to eat its berry and keeping me in the game. Araquanid switches back into Ninetales. Hydro pump misses Muk, and hurricane hits Ninetales and confuses, but a poison jab picks up the knockout on Pelipper.
Tapu koko comes in and I lose both my pokemon on the next turn to a dazzling gleam and a scald, so Araquanid and Garchomp are in at the end against Golduck, Tapu Koko, and an unknown Pokémon in the back. I go for a protect on Garchomp and a hydro vortex into Golduck, which works great as Koko switches out for Bulu and Golduck merely tries to ice beam the protecting Garchomp. At this point it's an Araquanid and Garchomp against Tapu Koko and Tapu Bulu, but I've seen that the Tapu Koko's moveset is Volt Switch, Thunder, Protect, and Dazzling Gleam, so the only move that can hit Garchomp is a spread move. The time is ripe for a wide guard, and it does in fact catch the dazzling gleam as Tapu Bulu went for the horn leech onto Garchomp, allowing the poison jab to connect. After the drain and rough skin damage, Bulu was in earthquake range due to electric terrain being up rather than grassy terrain, and I had the endgame locked up. Wide guard on Araquanid prevents Koko from hitting Garchomp, and the earthquake can knock out either Tapu that doesn't protect. Koko KOs Araquanid with a volt switch, but in the end I have Garchomp against a low Tapu Bulu, and poison jab takes the game.
Result: Won 2-1, 5-2 overall.
I got paired up again for the last round, so if I won I was hopeful for my tiebreakers somehow coming back to get me into top 16. My opponent's team was quite different from anything I had seen otherwise, but I honestly felt like I had a pretty solid matchup here.
Game 1 leads with Muk and Garchomp against Arcanine and Magnezone. Tectonic rage hits a protecting Arcanine, as Magnezone switches to a Gastrodon which takes a knock off and reveals a maranga berry. I go for a protect and earthquake which works well as he chooses to attempt a will-o-wisp on Muk and a scald on Garchomp. After thinking for a bit, I go for a rock slide and a poison jab which KOs Arcanine, but Gastrodon gets its recover. Politoed comes in. He scalds into his own storm drain (I honestly do not know if this was an accident or if he wanted the special attack boost on Gastrodon), but ice beam goes into my protecting Garchomp, so I get a poison jab onto Politoed.
After thinking for a while about a possible earthquake, I go for a rock slide and poison jab and get a lucky double flinch, much to the chagrin of my opponent. I chose to protect and earthquake the next turn and I hear "Why...?" as my opponent switches Magnezone in on it, but gets the ice beam to KO Garchomp. In the end, I pick up the game with a freeze dry onto Gastrodon and my opponent forfeits when we get to a mostly simple endgame.
In game 2 I play to be affected a bit less by intimidate, so I lead Ninetales and Muk. He leads Arcanine and Porygon2 this time, getting the attack boost off download. I blizzard and knock off into the Porygon2 slot, but it switches into Magnezone as Arcanine snarls. I then switch Ninetales out for Garchomp and knock off Arcanine, but a will-o-wisp burns Muk and flash cannon hits Garchomp. On the next turn, I earthquake and knock out my own Muk as Arcanine switches for Porygon2 and Magnezone goes for a protect. The turn looks odd, but a burned Muk doesn't do much at all with the moveset that I'm running, and two of the items have already been knocked off.
Ninetales comes in, and I go for another earthquake with an aurora veil on the side, but Magnezone switches out for Politoed and Porygon2 sets up trick room. At this point I feel that stalling out trick room is probably sufficient, so I double protect and see ice beam into Garchomp and scald into Ninetales. Figuring that the same turn will come out, I switch Ninetales into Tapu Bulu and go for a multi protect on Garchomp, which succeeds. From the grassy terrain healing order I notice that Tapu Bulu actually underspeeds Politoed, which allows me to get a horn leech on it and a tectonic rage on Porygon2, which sadly doesn't get the knockout. One more double protect stalls out the trick room after Magnezone comes in, while Porygon2 gets the recover. Earthquake knocks out Magnezone and wood hammer knocks out Porygon2, so we're left with most of my team against a lone Arcanine and my opponent quickly forfeits.
Result: Won 2-0, 6-2 overall
I think it's undeniable that I got some good luck in round 8, with the double flinch keeping my Garchomp alive for a crucial turn, along with the multi protect in the second game. On the other hand, if you look at the tournament as a whole, you'll find that I had a pretty usual mix of good and bad luck. I got the freeze in round 2 to help me to my first victory, but then a turn 1 flinch in round 3 and a turn 1 crit in round 6 give me my share of bad luck as well.
In the end, I ended up 28th, which was in the bottom half of the 6-2s (8 made it into top 16). It was a great showing for my first event, and two of my opponents (round 6 and round 8) did make it into the top cut. The round 1 opponent ended up going 5-3, so even that wasn't too terrible. The bad tiebreakers came from my round 3 and 4 opponents who each went 2-4, but that's a side effect of losing round 1. I've heard that a lot of players dislike the player-based top cuts and would prefer that regionals switch to a system where every X-2 cuts, so that tiebreakers aren't important, and I think I agree that that would be a change for the better.
I think the team I used is pretty solid, but obviously it's far from perfect. The Pelipper+Golduck combo poses a threat, but as I saw from my own results, the games are still winnable. On the other hand, the team doesn't pick up a lot of free wins (mostly coming from blizzard freezes), so doing well with it is going to involve constantly being on top of predictions. On the plus side, the games went fast so I had a lot of time to decompress between rounds. The teams from the top two competitors looked very interesting, and a massive departure from the rest of the field (the winner didn't have a Tapu at all!), so I might try a team more in that direction moving forward.
The teams I faced were all pretty standard. Notably, there were no Smeargles and no Lilligant+Torkoal combos. There were also no Nihilegos, but the Groundium Z came in handy in plenty of other matchups as well. I also ended up not losing any matches to Celesteela, despite it feeling like a weakness. I think that as the season progresses Celesteela will take more of a back seat, as most teams will have mutliple answers for it. Tapu Koko was still the most common Tapu, but Fini and Bulu saw a ton of success, so we might see those getting more popular as well. VGC is a ton of fun and while I have no plans to try to travel and try to qualify for worlds this year, maybe it will be something that could happen in the future. At the very least, I will definitely try to make it to the large tournaments when the come back to San Jose.