Player Spotlight #3: Pre-ECC Interview with Niklas and David
Hey everyone! This is a new edition of "Player Spotlight", where we would like to introduce the current top players from all over the world. We’re close to the European Challenge Cup – the biggest tournament in Europe. In the run-up we’re going to interview some of the title contenders!
CARD LEADERS: We’re here today with Niklas and David, two top players from Germany who performed really well at last year’s ECC. For those who don’t know you, would you please introduce yourself in a few words?
Niklas: Hey everyone. My name is Niklas, I am 19 years old and currently living together with David in Hürth near Cologne. I started playing the Pokemon TCG near the end of 2011 where I participated in my first tournament, which was actually a Regional Championship.
For my favorite deck I have to pick Virizion-EX / Genesect-EX. With that deck I achieved most of my accomplishments including the ECC win in 2015. I just like its versatility, its consistency and the ability to outplay your opponent in certain spots.
David: Hey guys! I am David Hochmann, a 19-year-old Math student living near Cologne together with Niklas. I started playing in 2009 and saw my first huge success in 2011, when I made multiple top cuts at regionals. I also had my Worlds invite every year since 2010, but I only participated in 2014 and 2015.
My all-time favorite decks would be Darkrai-EX / Mewtwo-EX and Virizion-EX / Genesect-EX, as they brought me to the finals and semifinals of the ECC. They were very consistent and straight forward but left place for skill. I usually like those kind of decks, also Night March is a pretty cool deck for the same reason - even though the skill part is lacking a little bit in the current format. My favorite format to play in was MD-on with Dusknoir DP finally being rotated and Flygon LV.X being out classed by everyone and their grandmother - two of my most hated cards! But you had still most of the cards I liked during DP-on, like the SP stuff, Uxie, Azelf, Spiritomb and Gyarados, which made everything thrilling and you had to think a lot.
CARD LEADERS: How do you like this season so far, especially with the swinging between the Standard and Expanded format?
Niklas: Well, I haven’t played that much this season mostly due to the fact that Poker eats a lot of time. But I plan to make my “comeback” at the ECC this year and really try to make the impossible possible of becoming back to back European Champion. So don’t count me out guys! According to the few games I played so far, I like Standard more because there is still room for a lot of creativity since the format is not “solved” yet. And as you may know David and I are pretty known for having a little twist in our decks, haha.
David: I barely played any tournaments. I went 5-1-1 at the Boston Open and bubbled, and I played Entei at a Regional in the Netherlands and went 4-3. I struggled a little bit with coin flips there. The other tournaments I went to, I either judged or did commentary, like at the Arena Cup in Berlin.
I also prefer Standard as it leaves space for creativity. In Expanded there is an arguably best deck for each "deck type", like there are super consistent "OHKO decks” like Night March, Flareon and Blastoise. There are powerful Lock decks like ToadTina and Sableye. Here and there you see Yveltal being played, but these decks are so strong already that there isn't a lot change with each new expansion. About the Standard format itself, I also think it's very healthy. You don't have decks that just require luck (if you don't count in Entei and ToadTina, but I think even these two are skilled decks) and everything is consistent enough.
CARD LEADERS: How did you prepare for last year's ECC, where you came 1st and 3rd with similar decks?
Niklas: During Citys, David had the idea of playing Golbat / Crobat PHF in VirGen because it gives you a lot of options in mid to late game. So he tested it a bit by himself and after spending a bit of time to find a good list, he wasn’t really convinced at all and leaned more towards playing Donphan PLS. I picked up his idea and played around a bit more with the deck and I really liked it because it was very versatile and still super consistent. Also having a free retreater / Non-EX was so good that I saw a lot of potential in this addition to the VirGen core. So I talked to David and couple of other guys (Philipp L and Tobias S, two incredible players / minds in the game right now) about the deck again. After a fair bit of discussion, thinking and testing we were all convinced that this the right play for the ECC.
The last few adjustments to the deck were made during a testing weekend with David, Marc and Philipp H, who used my Yveltal list to win the ECC in the Seniors Division. We obviously tested all the other decks, but the thing I liked most about VirGen was the good matchup against Seismitoad-EX and the invincibility against Hypnotoxic Laser. To put this all into a nutshell, we put in a whole bunch of work and it worked out pretty well for both of us.
David: I had this idea to play 2-2 Golbat in VirGen and I don't know how it popped up. I was testing against Donphan and there was something about Deoxys-EX that bugged me. I was like "okay, Golbat does pretty much the same". I added the Golbat, which had almost no impact on the Donphan matchup, but a lot of other match ups were better.
A lot of potential from the deck came from it being weird. One of my opponents discarded Spiritomb LTR - the Bats line was good against Spiritomb because you could KO it with Virizion-EX. When I started with Zubat, two of my opponents asked me if I played SSU or not. So no one knew what they were playing against and thus did a few little mistakes from time to time. So a lot of thought was spent into the deck and a lot of good players worked on it!
Image courtesy of 60cards.net
CARD LEADERS: The ECC is the biggest Pokémon TCG tournament in Europe. Can you describe that special feeling of competing there?
Niklas: The feeling is pretty insane to be honest. The best players from all around Europe gather all together to this rather tiny city in the Netherlands to find out who is the best of them. Every round you play against a very good player and it is just a very tough grind to the top. Playing nine very tough rounds on the first day to secure yourself a seat in the Top 32 where you have to play five even tougher rounds to hopefully get yourself a seat in the Top 8 in which you still have to play three more rounds against exceptionally good players is just extremely exhausting. But it is still super fun. So if you want to compete with the best of the best in Europe over two crueling days to find out who is the best, the ECC is the tournament you have to attend!
David: It's just great, I recommend coming to the ECC! It's not like Worlds - or US Nationals I suppose - because we have no live stream, no coverage and it doesn't look premium. But it's the biggest tournament in Europe and you'll meet a good amount of players who are way better than you, which is what a competitive player is wishing for.
CARD LEADERS: Niklas, being the reigning champion leads to high expectations. What is your goal for this year?
Niklas: I definitely want to make a deep run at the ECC and Nationals again. I absolutely don’t think that I am a favorite to win the ECC this year. There are a lot of players who would deserve this title a lot more than I do this year. But I will definitely fight to defend this prestigious title. Some people asked me if I would go for Top 22 again and my answer is pretty clear here: no. If I happen to win the ECC again I will definitely go for it again, but it takes just too much time without the 500 CP you get from the ECC win.
David: Maybe we manage to become 1st and 2nd this year! But my goal is just to make the cut, as I cannot test like I used to because of university.
CARD LEADERS: Are you two playing similar decks again?
Niklas: It is probably very likely that we will play the same deck again or at least a similar deck I think. We test together, talk about Pokemon a lot and we have a pretty similar opinion about what is good and what is not so good in the current meta.
David: I have no idea what to play at the moment. But I suppose one of us will convince the other one playing a certain deck. But I hope we'll find something crazy again!
Image courtesy of pokemon.com
CARD LEADERS: Worlds are in San Francisco this year - do you plan on participating there?
Niklas: I do plan on participating. Worlds is such a fun experience and I don’t want to miss out on that. And on top of that, San Francisco is a city I would really like to visit. So there is pretty much nothing that speaks against a trip to San Francisco this summer! Hope to see you all there.
David: The chance of seeing me at worlds this year is very low. I neither have the money for the flight nor do I have time to get my 300 CP. Winning Nationals will be a tough one if I even compete. But Worlds is super cool. Cool event, cool location, cool people and just the feeling of being there is wonderful - even though the 300CP invite makes everything a lot less prestigious. And even with an ECC win, I would still need to win nationals for enough points for top 22.