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Pokémon’s European International Championship saw a dramatic David and Goliath showdown in the TCG’s competitive scene

An unproven deck faced near-unbeaten consistency amidst the first mid-season rotation in over a decade.

Image credit: The Pokémon Company

The Pokémon TCG’s European International Championships have come and gone, and with it, so have some surprising results.

For the first time since 2011, the Pokémon Trading Card Game saw a mid-season rotation. This time, it was to align the global format closer to the one Japan and Southeast Asia plays. Because of this, many players were left guessing how this pillar of the Championship Series would shake out. Thankfully, some of the top players knew to look to Japan’s large events like Champions League Miyagi to see some preemptive results.

Thanks to the folks at RK9, an online tournament software company, we’re able to see a breakdown of what the most popular decks were at EUIC:

  • Lost Zone Toolbox - 308 players (20.3%)
  • Lugia VSTAR/Archeops SIT - 274 players (18.1%)
  • Gardevoir ex - 179 players (11.8%)
  • Mew VMAX - 176 players (11.6%)
  • Giratina VSTAR - 134 players (8.8%)
  • Hisuian Goodra VSTAR - 117 players (7.7%)
  • Other - 329 players (21.7%)
A PSA 10 shiny Charizard is put to the ultimate testWatch on YouTube

With 1,517 players, EUIC was the second-largest Pokémon TCG event ever seen outside of Japan. Players had to be at the top of their game in order to push through the global elites like Pedro Eugenio Torres, Pablo Meza, Piper Lepine and Natalie Millar. Two players, both “elites” in their own rights, were able to fight their way to the finals: Alex Schemanske and Tord Reklev.

Schemanske is a US-based player known for his expressive deck-building and gameplay. Prior to making Top Cut at this event, he had a record-holding 13 Top 8 or better finishes without a Champion trophy since the “Modern”-era of the game began in the 2016-2017 season. For this event, he chose to pilot an interesting amalgamation of Arceus VSTAR, Duraludon VMAX and Alolan Vulpix VSTAR.

The deck hadn’t seen much success in Japan, making it brand new on everyone’s radar for the EUIC. Arceus VSTAR is a powerhouse in its own right, allowing Schemanske to deal a whopping 200 damage every turn and accelerate three basic energy cards from deck - not to mention its added consistency engine of being able to search out any two cards whenever Schemanske felt like it with its Starbirth ability. Duraludon VMAX is the main target to accelerate these energies to.

Alex Schemanske's deck used a fresh combination of cards, including the likes of Arceus VSTAR. | Image credit: The Pokémon Company

Thanks to its Skyscraper ability, Duraludon VMAX walled out Lugia VSTAR decks and any other decks that relied on special energy, giving Schemanske positive matchups against nearly 20% of the field right off the bat. He decided to play to his odds by including Alolan Vulpix VSTAR as a tertiary attacker, which had a similar blockading effect versus ability-reliant decks, such as Gardevoir ex. If this wasn’t enough, all three attackers featured colossal HP - to the point of being nearly insurmountable for Lost Zone Toolbox decks.

Schemanske's deck hadn’t seen much success in Japan, making it brand new on everyone’s radar for the EUIC.

Without much effort, this deck brought Schemanske to positive matchups against just over 50% of the meta, allowing his skill as a player to shine in the other 50% of decks. Starting with a 6-0-1 record, Schemanske was one of the first players to punch their ticket from Day 1 to Day 2 of the event, meeting the required 19 match points. (Wins count for 3 match points, losses zero and ties one.) This left him with two rounds on Day 1 to try to gather as many match points as he could in order to improve his chances of making Top 8 of the event.

Unfortunately, there are times where you risk it and it doesn’t pay off - this was one of them. Schemanske would suffer crushing losses over those two rounds, leaving him with a record of 6-2-1 at the end of Day 1.

Due to the mass amount of players, Schemanske knew he would have to go undefeated Day 2 to ensure his Top 8 placement and his first chance at victory on the big stage. That’s exactly what he did. Pushing through some notable players like Riley Hulbert and Vaughn O’Brien, Schemanske managed to find himself on a win-and-in against Trevore Read in the final round.

Read, with a record of 11-1-2 and sitting on 35 match points compared to Schemanske’s 11-2-1, knew that a tie would lock him into Top 8 and put Schemanske on a precarious bubble where he might not make it in due to tiebreakers like opponent’s win percentage. This left Schemanske with one choice: win. Not only did Schemanske win, but he delivered a thrashing, beating Read’s Lugia VSTAR deck in a decided 2-0.

After locking in his 14th Top 8, Schemanske found himself against Robert Kinbrum’s Miraidon ex deck. Beating this, he then faced Pedro Eugenio Torres and his Lost Zone Toolbox deck. After 40 minutes, Schemanske would find himself with his best finish to date - finalist at an International Championship. One player stood between him and the victory he so longed after: Tord Reklev.

Reklev is a name that speaks volumes in the competitive community. He had 11 Top 8 appearances at Regional Championships, with three of those being wins. In addition, he had another 10 Top 8 appearances at International Championships prior to this event.

The first game between Tord Reklev and Pablo Meza was a true showmanship of skill in the TCG.

Ever-known for his focus on consistency-based decks, Reklev, a Norwegian local, opted to pilot the brand-new Gardevoir ex deck. Centred around the titular card, the deck aims to discard Psychic Energy rapidly with any effects available, but mainly Kirlia SIT, which features the same ability of “discard 1, draw 2” that’s earned Reklev many of his accomplishments in the game. With a load of Psychic Energy in the discard pile, the deck then uses Gardevoir ex’s Psychic Embrace ability to load up powerful attackers, such as Gardevoir CRE, Zacian V CEL and Mewtwo V-UNION.

Reklev started his tournament run with a solid 2-0 before taking his first loss in round three. He didn’t let this shake him up though, as he continued with win after win following that. Later, he beat Noah Yoshida’s Lugia VSTAR deck, locking in his Day 2 status and eventually ending Day 1 at an impressive 8-1-0 record. Reklev would continue his path of destruction, winning the next three rounds, until facing Trevore Read and Pablo Meza in round 13 and 14, respectively.

Another Top Four match from this year's European International Championships: Tord Reklev versus Pablo MezaWatch on YouTube

Going into round 15, Reklev was in a precarious situation with his 11-3-0 record. He only could cinch his 11th International Championship Top 8 appearance by winning exactly this round. After a couple of quick games, Reklev would seal the deal, moving forward in the event.

As standings were posted, Reklev realised his side of the bracket would not be an easy one. His first opponent in Top 8 was a rematch against Read’s Lugia VSTAR deck. In a gruelling 75-minute match, however, Reklev would pull through 2-1 over Read. The Herculean trial wasn’t over though, as he would have to press on through Meza’s Mew VMAX deck in Top 4.

Game 1 has been regarded by many as a true showmanship of skill in the game, resulting in Meza taking the lead 1-0. Luck would not be on Meza’s side for long, as his deck shut down in front of him and his tournament came to a close. Reklev would enter his sixth International Championships Finals appearance, with an 80% win-rate in such instances.

Tord Reklev piloted a deck built around the new Gardevoir ex. | Image credit: The Pokémon Company

Although his opponent, Alex Schemanske, had Alolan Vulpix VSTAR to shut down almost all of his deck, Reklev had one small trick up his sleeve: Ralts SIT. This quiet inclusion may not seem like much, but was a critical part of Reklev’s strategy in beating Schemanske.

The quiet inclusion of Ralts SIT may not seem like much, but was a critical part of Reklev’s strategy in beating Schemanske.

For a single Psychic Energy, Ralts could prevent Alolan Vulpix VSTAR from using any given attack on Schemanske’s next turn, preventing its Snow Mirage attack. This meant that on Reklev’s following turn, he would have a one-turn window to attack into Alolan Vulpix VSTAR for the KO. Without any recursion in Schemanske’s list, he would be done for, and Reklev could steer a clean path to another win. In what seemed like a David-versus-Goliath matchup, the odds were stacked against Schemanske.

After the players had a refreshing evening, they re-entered the venue on Championship Sunday, ready to throw down, both incredibly cool, calm and collected. They watched the TCG Juniors and Senior divisions finals in the audience; Reklev with his girlfriend, and Schemanske with his mother while his older brother stood off to the side. Seniors TCG wrapped up, and the production team whisked away both TCG finalists. The players sat down and got set up to begin.

See Alex Schemanske and Tord Reklev's decks in action during the European International Championships finalsWatch on YouTube

Reklev started by amassing a large bench, primed to follow through with a flurry of quick evolutions. Schemanske answered by launching with Arceus V’s Trinity Charge on his first turn. Reklev took the first KO in response, but Schemanske couldn’t stabilise and quickly conceded. Reklev 1-0.

Game 2 began with Schemanske quickly setting up his Alolan Vulpix VSTAR and entering the Snow Mirage lock. Reklev attempted to respond with Ralts SIT’s Memory Skip, but it was too late, and Schemanske was able to draw into the cards he needed to wrap up the game. Tied 1-1.

As players set up for Game 3, production flashed the six cards each player had in their Prize cards. Schemanske: Metal Energy, Escape Rope, Professor’s Research, Double Turbo Energy, Arceus V and his lone Alolan Vulpix VSTAR locked away at the very top. Reklev: Kirlia, Pal Pad, Roxanne, Psychic Energy, Manaphy and his only Ralts SIT. Both players prized their direct answer to each other. Both players thought they were the ones who got unlucky.

A look at the game state towards the end of the final between Schemanske and Reklev. | Image credit: The Pokémon Company

We had a brawl. Schemanske benched his Alolan Vulpix V early on, which Reklev quickly KOed. In doing so, however, Reklev discarded his second copy of Zacian V, a critical error that would cost him dearly. He would proceed to whiff a clean KO his following turn, allowing Schemanske to go up in prizes. Reklev still couldn’t stabilise, being pinned between Schemanske’s Arceus VSTAR and Drapion V. Schemanske hurriedly promoted his Drapion V and slammed down Boss’s Orders to bring up Gardevoir ex, using Dynamic Tail to take his final KO and finally claim his seat on the throne.

After 13 Top 8 appearances, Schemanske finally had a Champion trophy, fighting through not only some of the best players globally, but through one so prolific that many joke he has “plot armour”. Schemanske and his mother quickly got their pictures taken so they could catch their flight in time.

Pokémon TCG European International Championship 2023 Decklists

Alex Schemanske

Pokémon (17)

  • 4 Arceus V BRS 122
  • 3 Arceus VSTAR BRS 123
  • 2 Duraludon V CRZ 103
  • 2 Duraludon VMAX CRZ 104
  • 2 Drapion V LOR 118
  • 1 Alolan Vulpix V SIT 33
  • 1 Alolan Vulpix VSTAR SIT 34
  • 1 Lumineon V BRS 40
  • 1 Radiant Gardevoir LOR 69

Trainer (30)

  • 4 Professor's Research SVI 189
  • 3 Colress's Experiment LOR 155
  • 3 Judge SVI 176
  • 3 Boss's Orders BRS 132
  • 1 Cheren's Care BRS 134
  • 1 Raihan CRZ 140
  • 4 Ultra Ball SVI 196
  • 4 Nest Ball SVI 181
  • 1 Switch SVI 194
  • 1 Escape Rope BST 125
  • 1 Choice Belt BRS 135
  • 4 Lost City LOR 161

Energy (13)

  • 4 Double Turbo Energy BRS 151
  • 4 Metal Energy 8
  • 3 Fighting Energy 6
  • 2 Water Energy 3

Tord Reklev

Pokémon (18)

  • 3 Ralts ASR 60
  • 1 Ralts SIT 67
  • 4 Kirlia SIT 68
  • 2 Gardevoir ex SVI 86
  • 1 Gardevoir CRE 61
  • 2 Zacian V CEL 16
  • 1 Cresselia LOR 74
  • 1 Mew CEL 11
  • 1 Radiant Greninja ASR 46
  • 1 Manaphy BRS 41
  • 1 Lumineon V BRS 40

Trainer (30)

  • 4 Professor's Research SVI 189
  • 1 Judge SVI 176
  • 1 Roxanne ASR 150
  • 1 Worker SIT 167
  • 1 Miriam SVI 179
  • 1 Boss's Orders BRS 132
  • 1 Penny SVI 183
  • 4 Battle VIP Pass FST 225
  • 4 Level Ball BST 129
  • 3 Fog Crystal CRE 140
  • 3 Ultra Ball SVI 196
  • 2 Rare Candy SVI 191
  • 1 Pal Pad SVI 182
  • 1 Sky Seal Stone CRZ 143
  • 1 Temple of Sinnoh ASR 155
  • 1 Collapsed Stadium BRS 137

Energy (12)

  • 12 Psychic Energy 5

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