Championship Sunday may not have had quite as many surprises as the first day of the One Nation of Gamers Pokémon Invitational, but that didn’t make it any less exciting. Aaron Zheng, Sejun Park, Markus Stadter and Shoma Honami started the day off still looking for a shot at either aDrive or Enosh Shachar, but only one of the six was left standing by the end.
In a finish that many familiar with VGC found unsurprising, 2015 world champion Shoma Honami took the first place prize home on the back of incredible play. But before getting too much into how he won the first ONOG Invitational, let’s see how he, and the rest of the field, ended up where they did.
Aaron Zheng v Sejun Park (2-0)
Day two started off, coincidentally, the same way as day one. Aaron Zheng faced off against Sejun Park in a rematch, though one with much more significance. Whereas both still had a chance to make the playoffs at the start of the tournament, the loser of this match would be knocked out entirely. For Zheng, it was about using the information he learned the day before two take another victory. For Park, it was a chance to better utilize his team’s techs and get revenge for his earlier defeat.
Park led with his Bulldoze Goodra and Weakness Policy Metagross, but likely didn’t enjoy the Tapu Fini and Arcanine he had to face down. To avoid a Flare Blitz into his steel type, Park brought out his own Arcanine and launched a Sludge Bomb into Zheng’s Fini. However, whether he feared a Bulldoze or simply wanted to scout, Zheng protected both of his Pokemon. That gave Park the ability to apply more offensive pressure on the next turn as Zheng repositioned. With a Wild Charge and Sludge Bomb, Park brought down the Fini at the cost of his Arcanine’s pinch berry.
At the same time, the focus on Fini let Zheng safely switch into Garchomp and also bring in Muk. With no safe ground type switch-ins, Tectonic Rage easily handled the Goodra. Arcanine, Meanwhile, was just in range for a Poison Jab to finish it off after the previous damage it took. Suddenly, trading one Pokemon for two didn’t seem like such a good deal. With just Lele and Metagross across from two opponents that hit them for super effective damage, game one easily went to Zheng
Park mixed his leads up with Ninetales in game two, but Zheng decided to stick with what worked. The goal for Park, it seemed, was to set up an Aurora Veil and sweep with Metagross. However, while the first part worked, the second did not. A Flare Blitz from Arcanine and Muddy Water from Tapu Fini was enough to knock it out, robbing Park of his main win-condition. He tried to bring it back with his own Arcanine and Tapu Lele, but it wasn’t enough. Zheng advanced to play Enosh Shachar in the first playoff match.
Shoma Honami v Markus Stadter (2-1)
While the next set was much closer, it did signal the begin of Shoma Honami’s march to victory. All three games saw players opting for similar strategies. Honami led with Tapu Lele and Drifblim all three times, using the duo to apply pressure with speed control and raw damage output. Stadter, meanwhile, used his Parting Shot Persian and Volt Switch Tapu Koko to escape dangerous situations as best he could. Both players were able to execute their strategies well, but everything came down to information in game one. Stadter had just switched in his Persian in front of a Pheromosa with one HP left. A Fake Out would easily remove an extremely threatening Pokemon from the field, but Pheromosa had yet to reveal Protect.
If it had the move, Honami would be able to preserve his heavy hitter long enough to take another KO. If it didn’t have the move, Stadter could slide the advantage heavily into his favor and likely take the set. Unfortunately for Stadter, he lost the gamble and eventually the game. The important thing to note, however, is that it was not clear whether Honami had Protect and decided not to use it or whether that was even an option at all.
Stadter was able to position himself a bit better in game two, and capitalized on some big plays to build momentum. In the first, he launched a safe Moonblast from a Calm Mind boosted Tapu Fini into Honami’s Tapu Lele — but it switched into Garchomp which immediately fainted. Then the next turn, Stadter predicted that Lele would go for Psychic into Arcanine and switched in his immune Persian. But once again, the deciding factor came down to whether Pheromosa protected against Persian’s Fake Out. In this game, Stadter went for it and was able to eventually close out the game.
Game three was not quite as clean from Stadter’s end. For one, a bit of RNG made his situation increasingly precarious, but he also had some switches that didn’t pan out. Honami kept playing to his strengths, which meant keeping his speed control up and using Drifblim’s partner to apply offensive pressure. Eventually, it came down to Gyarados and Tapu Lele in Tailwind against Persian and Arcanine. There was nothing Stadter could do to save himself from elimination.
Aaron Zheng v Enosh Shachar (3-0)
With the playoffs decided, Zheng and Shachar were the first to decide the first slot in the finals. It was also the first best-of-five match in a live event, which was intended to add a new dynamic to the set. However, Zheng was able to perfectly leverage his Trick Room option to play around Shachar’s trick-heavy team.
In game one, Zheng realized that Trick Room was his win-condition fairly early. And once Trick Room went up, not even a surprise Guardian of Alola Z-move or Toxic was able to stop Zheng. He lost his Tapu Fini, but all he needed was for Muk and Porygon2 to do their jobs. Shachar didn’t make it easy for him though, since he did his best to prevent or reverse Trick Room from going up whenever possible. He even almost had Zheng in the final turns, but Shachar expected his opponent to go for a Trick Room which he planned to reverse. When Zheng didn’t make that play, Shachar simply set himself up to lose.
Both players adjusted in game two, but Zheng was able to play fairly well around Shachar’s tricks. An early Substitute reveal on his Kartana didn’t amount to much, and a Tapu Fini switch-in stopped Porygon2 from taking a potentially game-changing Toxic. And once Tapu Fini was in, Shachar found himself in a hard position with no good switch-ins for a Muddy Water. With Arcanine pinned, Zheng took the opportunity to start setting up Calm Minds with Fini instead and get up a final Trick Room. By that point, Zheng had also taken down Shachar’s own Porygon2, which meant there was no way to stop Fini from finishing up the game.
Game three was Shachar’s last attempt to adjust, but Zheng stayed one step ahead of him. On the first turn, Zheng covered a Garchomp switch-in from Shachar with an Ice Beam and Tectonic Rage, removing a major threat to his team. After that, he managed to set Trick Room up and started whittling away at Shachar’s team. Once again, while Shachar fought back with every tech on his team, he was too battered by the time the speed advantage swung back in his favor. All Zheng had to do was play safe and he closed out the set without dropping a single game.
Shoma Honami v aDrive (3-0)
Finally, it was time for the tournament’s dark-horse to play again. The audience had been clamoring for aDrive since he defeated Wolfe Glick and Aaron Zheng the day before, and many were curious whether he’d be able to topple another world champion. While we know the outcome was decisively in Shoma Honami’s favor, aDrive showed the same flair for VGC that he demonstrated in day one.
Game one seemed to start off fairly well for him, with a critical hit Hydro Pump taking out Honami’s Tapu Lele. Honami was able to set up Tailwind and get a free Garchomp switch-in, but aDrive followed up his turn one with another Hydro Pump knock out onto Drifblim. With only two Pokémon against four, it seemed like Honami was in trouble. That being said, he’d managed to set up a Swords Dance on Garchomp and flinched Tapu Fini on turn three. That helped him set up a Dragon Dance on Gyarados, allowing him to sweep through aDrive’s whole team to take the game.
In game two, aDrive realized that his Togedemaru might actually put in some work against Honami’s team. Fake Out and Encore could come in handy, and Zing Zap could hit Gyarados and Drifblim for super effective damage. Putting that hypothesis to the test, aDrive was indeed able to knock out Drifblim turn one and prevent Tailwind from going up. However, he lost his Air Balloon in the process, and that made Togedemaru very vulnerable to Garchomp. aDrive came prepared with a Gyarados switch-in, but Honami predicted it and nailed the flying type with a critical hit Rock Slide. After that, Dazzling Gleam was able to pick up two big knock outs and put aDrive behind the ball. With Togedemaru basically dead weight, his Garchomp would have to get at least half a dozen flinches in a row to win the game. He did get one, but that was it.
Now he was down to his last game, and aDrive had to come up with something to stay in it. That’s when he tried to bait the world champ into switching out his Tapu Fini by leading with Muk. Honami either wasn’t scared or wasn’t falling for it. He simply set up Tailwind and did massive damage with a Dazzling Gleam on aDrive’s Gyarados switch-in. The next turn, Gyarados went down to a Shadow Ball and another Dazzling Gleam as aDrive continued switching in hopes of finding a better position. Unfortunately for the fan favorite, he never got there. Garchomp came in once Tapu Lele went down and mopped up the rest of the opposing Pokemon, ending one of the most exciting runs in VGC.
Shoma Honami v Aaron Zheng (3-0)
The stage was finally set for the finals, and everyone was hoping for it to go past game three. While Honami’s dominate play made that not the case, it was still a tense set to watch. Zheng fought fiercely to adapt to the situation and almost found his way a couple of times.
As often seemed to be the case, game one started well for Zheng. His lead of Arcanine and Tapu Fini threatened Honami’s Magnezone, which finally made an appearance. On top of that, Zheng correctly predicted it to switch out, however Gyarados’ Intimidate helped Lele survive with a sliver of health. This costs him the Arcanine, but it gives him an opportunity to bring in Porygon2 and set up a safe Trick Room. But soon, things took a turn.
Zheng was content to ignore the Tapu Lele at that point, which was at -1 special attack thanks to a Moonblast. Instead, he was concerned about keeping his Porygon2 healthy and dealing with Gyarados. However, Honami recognized the Lele was dead weight, and used Earthquake with Gyarados to give himself a free switch. With Magnezone on the field, it caught Zheng off guard with a Gigavolt Havoc into Tapu Fini. From here, Honami has put Zheng in such a hard position that game one was all but assured in his favor.
In game two, Zheng showed confidence in his previous lead decision, and Honami did the same. It’s hard to say whether Zheng thought he could win with the same game plan now that he knew about the Z-move, but he did at least exchange Muk for Gigalith in the back. Regardless, this first turn plays out differently than it did before. Instead of doubling into the Lele predicting the switch, Zheng Flare Blitzes the Magnezone and finishes it off with a Muddy Water. Lele once again deletes Arcanine with a Psychic, completing the trade between players. However, while it seems like a fine option, it puts Zheng at a disadvantage.
As he did often throughout the tournament, Honami used the fainted Pokémon to bring in Garchomp. Zheng brought his Porygon2, but he was then in danger of fainting to a Tectonic Rage and Psychic. To avoid it, Zheng tries to burn Honami’s Z-move by switching into Gigalith. That costs him his Pokémon, but he must have thought he could win with Tapu Fini under Trick Room. Unfortunately for him, Honami sees right through Zheng’s plan and Swords Dances instead of attacking into a Tapu Fini Protect. Porygon2 waits to set up trick Room and opts to soften Tapu Lele up with a Tri Attack so that Fini can, on the next turn, survive an Earthquake and KO the slower Lele before Trick Room goes up. With his plan foiled, Zheng’s back is firmly against the wall. His last ditch double Protect attempt fails, and Garchomp is able to clean up the remainder of Zheng’s team.
For the final game, a lot actually came down to the first turn. Zheng lead with Arcanine and Garchomp into the same lead from Honami. That lead from Zheng is just begging for Honami to switch in his Gyarados, which Zheng is fully expecting. The rub here is he needs to correctly predict which Pokémon will switch out. Unfortunately for Zheng, he predicts wrong and loses his Arcanine to Psychic for the third game in a row. From there, Honami has Zheng in a corner. While Zheng can set up Trick Room, Honami can simply wear it down with a big Psychic and Waterfall. Plus, even if Zheng did get his speed control up, it would make his Garchomp the slowest and most vulnerable Pokémon on the field. As a result, Zheng is decides to preserve his Garchomp and bring in Gigalith. Honami, correctly realizes that Porygon2 is the real threat, and finish that off with ease. Now stuck with Gigalith and Garchomp, Honami is able to simply use his Garchomp and Gyarados to become the champion.
So, despite almost getting knocked out of the tournament altogether, the 2015 world champ was able to hold on and take the title. Some are already calling it a return to form for Japan after their lackluster performance at Worlds 2016, but Honami was likely happy enough to remind everyone why he’s a considered one of the best in the world.