Normally, the beginning of the season is a good time to observe and reflect on where the game is headed and what decks are going to be strong as smaller tournaments start up. It’s a brief window during which the dust is settling – players are trying new things out, deck lists are being carved and chiseled, and everything is finding its order.
This year, however, there’s a great deal more dust floating in the air. With the introduction of the “Expanded” format, players are being asked to work twice as hard at finding what works. Imagine – a player at Fall Regionals might succeed in making it to the top cut one day, then bomb the next because they weren’t familiar with the format.
For what it’s worth, I’m a big fan of the new dual-format system. I think it places a skill-intensive challenge on players and introduces something refreshing and new to the TCG scene. While the Expanded format isn’t quite Unlimited, it is a healthy step in that direction, something Organized Play has severely lacked for years. And though I realize this mostly applies to Regional Championships, it seems the Expanded format can apply to tournaments “of all sizes.”
For this article, I want to explore these two formats in-depth, looking at what we definitely know about each and poking holes in the basic strategies these formats present. I am going to talk extensively about Expanded, reintroducing cards we have not seen for a long time.
I know Brandon Smiley did some of this with his latest article, but I aim to take it one step further. I am also going to cover some ground with Standard, addressing what most players already know, then taking that knowledge and doing something with it (e.g. if Seismitoad-EX is going to be popular, what counters are available to deal with it).
First things first though, I’m going to respond to Brit Pybas’s last article in which he responded to my idea of “smart mistakes.” Should be fun!
Remember to click on the link in the table of contents to go directly to that part of the article.
- On “Smart Mistakes” Again
- What We Know About Standard
- “Strategic Dissonance”
- Did Next Destinies Just Get Released?
- Responding to Standard
- What We Know About Expanded
- Expanded Tricks and Tips
In Brit Pybas’s latest article, he addressed my notion of “smart mistakes,” highlighting a couple of areas where he felt my logic was misguided. I’m actually glad he spent a portion of his article on this, since it helps open discussion on the idea. If parts of it are misguided, it’s better to have considered it first and see where it doesn’t work than just blindly follow what everyone else is doing. With that said, I want to address some of the items Pybas brought to attention. First, though, I’d like to give him credit where it’s due: from his own testing and explanation, it sounds I was off with the whole “three vs. four Yveltal-EX” thing, at least in Yveltal-EX/Garbodor LTR decks.
Pybas is correct, I played Yveltal-EX/Raichu XY at Nationals this past season, which accounts for why I felt less than four Yveltal-EX made more sense (at least in my deck). While I did test Yveltal-EX/Garbodor LTR, I didn’t test it enough to really understand the importance of four Yveltal-EX. With that said though, there are some things Pybas mentions that I want to address:
“For one, including four copies of a Pokémon in your deck indicates that you want the highest probability of starting with it in your opening hand.”
Here’s a counter-counter argument for this in one single card: Emolga LTR (or Dedenne FFI). Now, I know this isn’t a popular card, and it doesn’t show up in tournament-winning decks, but check this out: this card is nearly the epitome of being a card someone would want to start with, and in any deck list it’s been put in, it’s almost always included as a two or three of (seriously, I checked through the 6P forums and found multiple examples of this). Why?
I think the answer is that Emolga LTR is largely useless after the first couple of turns. I might start with it more often, but then what? This cannot be said of Yveltal-EX, and neither can it be said of Virizion-EX. The important thing to remember is that every card has to be considered in context. Virizion-EX, for instance, really feels like an automatic “four of” to me, as the strategy of the deck is so central to performing that attack. Consider, though, if Virizion-EX were paired with a Pokémon that had no Retreat Cost. The context here might allow for three Virizion-EX rather than four.
“Having four Yveltal-EX also helped the deck function under the framework that one needed three Yveltal to win any given game, and so playing four reduced the risk of losing a game based on Prizes.”
In decks that rely largely on one attacker, I agree that four copies of that card make more sense than three. In my Yveltal-EX/Raichu XY deck, I had the option of attacking with many different Pokémon (including Darkrai-EX), so the need for more copies of one attacker diminishes. We may see this need diminish even further if a card gets released that lets us get Pokémon out of the Prize cards (sort of Iike Azelf LA did).
There is a difference here, that I agree with. Is it “a world” of difference though? I personally think it depends on the deck. I played with two Yveltal-EX, two Darkrai-EX, and a Super Rod at Nationals this past season, and I personally didn’t face any problems with keeping Yveltal-EXs (or Darkrai-EXs) in play. I know a lot of players will read that very sentence and think I must somehow be wrong, but again, consider the deck. With Raichu XY everywhere, I didn’t want to attack with Yveltal-EX as much, pushing attention to my other attackers. Given that context, I would make the same play again if given the chance. So, yes, Pybas is right that my deck choice is more than likely the reason for this disagreement.
Understand that I too see the concern with equating Super Rod with other Pokémon – it really isn’t the same in most cases. Try it out though if you think it might work! Too often, I talk to players who dismiss an idea without ever actually playtesting it. I don’t want to hear why you think it won’t work, I want you to tell me what happened in testing, because there are often things we don’t account for until we sleeve it up and give it a try.
“While it may be true that some decks do not need to play four copies of Ultra Ball since they do not have any Evolutions or play a low number of Basic Pokémon, it is important to remember that Ultra Ball does much more than just fetch Pokémon.”
I don’t want to disagree here with Pybas’s logic, as it’s fairly sound, but I do want to call attention to what can be gained by dropping a potentially unnecessary card here or there. When I dropped an Ultra Ball from my Darkrai-EX decks in the past (from four to three), it was to make room for techs I used to counter the metagame – Enhanced Hammers or Potions that helped me prepare for certain things I saw people playing. Does the advantage I gain from adding those cards outweigh the potential problem I create of not being better prepared for a late-game N? I think that’s the question to ask!
For what it’s worth, I performed only fairly well in the past with Darkrai-EX, so maybe my choice of dropping the Ultra Ball wasn’t the best. I never really had an issue with drawing dead late-game though, so it’s a hard question to answer.
Perhaps we can answer the question a better way: what if you were allowed five Ultra Ball in your deck? Or what about six? Seven? At what point would you declare the notion of “discarding unneeded cards” arbitrary? Yes, I like the idea of using Ultra Ball (and other cards that discard things) to help streamline your deck for the late game, but it really needs to be weighed against the cards that you’re replacing them with. It really is a hard question to answer.
The last thing I want to say here is that you should check out Brit’s article if you haven’t done so. It’s wonderfully written and really causes you to think, which is one thing I’ve come to enjoy about his writing. Of course, the questions we raise can (and should) be discussed more openly. If I had the time, I would test two Yveltal-EX decks – one with four Yveltal-EX and one with three – against the same deck repeatedly until we could establish which one makes the most practical sense!
At this point, the new season has officially begun. While we are still in critical short supply of information from TPCi (Where is Worlds in 2015? How many Championship Points do I need to earn an invite to Worlds? What are tournament structures going to look like this season?), that will not stop people from attending tournaments.
As League Challenges start running with the new format(s), there are a few defining features that seem to be surfacing. Rather than talking about just cards, though, I want to paint a picture of what the Standard format is all about, at least currently. Let’s look at some key features of this year’s Standard format:
Stage 2 decks are becoming severely disadvantaged. With the rotation of Tropical Beach, Stage 2 decks took a hit. Even more devastating, however, is the dilemma presented by Seismitoad-EX, a card that can achieve an Item lock with just two Colorless Energy. Whether or not you believe the damage output to be that great, Seismitoad-EX can completely shut down any Stage 2 deck that wants to run like a typical Stage 2 deck (you know, with Rare Candy).
Stage 1 Pokémon feel more playable. Maybe it’s because of the hit Stage 2 Pokémon are taking, or maybe it’s because people are tired of playing Basic Pokémon. Whatever it is, cards like Eeveelutions, Donphan PLS, and Dragalge FLF are actually being talked about for once. Whether this sticks or not remains to be seen.
Basic Pokémon-EX are running the show perhaps even more now. We all knew that Pokémon-EX would still be the heavy-hitters in this format, but it almost seems they’re enjoying even more of an impact on the game. With cards like Landorus-EX doing incredible amounts of damage and Seismitoad-EX achieving Item lock on the very first turn, I don’t expect this to change much at all.
This format, at least for now, is going to focus heavily on counters (and counters to those counters). Furious Fists was in many ways a simple set. It gave support to Landorus-EX, an uncomplicated card, and introduced Seismitoad-EX. Because of this, players already have a good feel for those major archetypes in the format, meaning that many will look to build counter decks right away. I’ll talk about this a little later on.
There’s some “strategic dissonance” going on currently. I’ll explain this more later as well, but for now, let’s just say that the more effective decks are packing two or more main strategies in them.
So here’s the thing: Standard right now is not hard to figure out. Landorus-EX is strong, Seismitoad-EX is incredibly dangerous, and many Stage 2 decks are getting axed. That does not mean, however, that we should throw our hands up in the air and focus all our efforts on making the best Seismitoad-EX deck possible. Rather, the simplicity of the format puts us in a unique position. Let me elaborate.
When Flashfire had just released, there was much talk on whether the cards in the set themselves were any good. It didn’t seem clear at the time, for instance, how powerful Pyroar FLF was. Consider Charizard-EX FLF 12, which many players – myself included – wrote off. For Furious Fists, there just doesn’t seem to be this lively discussion on cards like Seismitoad-EX and Strong Energy. Rather, we all seem to know which cards are “bad” and “good” up front (there are a few exceptions to this – the Electivire FFI and Magmortar FFI spring to mind – but for the most part, Furious Fists made things very simple for us).
With this work of figuring out the set already done for us, we are already at the point of figuring out how to counter the set. I’ll get to this later, but understand that if you’re trying to figure out whether or not Lucario-EX or Landorus-EX are good cards, you are already behind. Right now, you should be thinking about how to counter Landorus-EX or how to counter those who want to counter your Landorus-EX deck.
No term really existed for this, so I made one up! Strategic dissonance occurs when decks aim to achieve win conditions using more than one primary strategy. A good example of this is the addition of Gengar Prime and Lost World to old Gengar AR/SF decks – a win condition could be met by KOing six Pokémon or by getting six Pokémon in the Lost Zone. As such, many players found themselves split over which strategy to use, a factor that slightly diluted the deck’s effectiveness in some cases (unless, of course, you knew what you were doing).
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 35
Energy – 11
While this list isn’t downright bad, it moves in a direction that leaves one susceptible to Stage 2 decks (particularly Empoleon PLF). The easy answer to any Stage 2 deck, of course, is Seismitoad-EX with a Double Colorless Energy, and guess what? That is really easy to fit into a Landorus-EX deck. Having an instantaneous way of shutting down nearly any Stage 2 deck is too attractive to ignore, so why not throw it in as well?
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 37
Energy – 12
This blending of strategies might seem unnatural at first, but it’s extremely effective if done right, and with the cards in the format right now, it’s possible. Consider how a 2-2 Pyroar FLF might aid in your matchups or what a Dusknoir line might allow you to do. In many ways, this might be a defining feature of the game this season.
With all the talk about the format this season, I could not help but notice an amplitude of similarities to the game as it was when Next Destinies had just released. Just before the release of NXD, there were a variety of Stage 2 decks that had found success (Chandelure NVI, Vanilluxe NVI); afterwards, everything got “pushed down” to Basic Pokémon and their supporting Stage 1 Pokémon (Celebi Prime/Mewtwo-EX/Tornadus EPO, Zekrom BLW/Eelektrik NVI). The release of NXD also presented simple choices in what to play (Mewtwo-EX, Mewtwo-EX).
Simply put, this is where Standard is right now. What we had in Stage 2 decks is being punched away by Furious Fists. We also have clear choices in what to play, and even a Bronzong on the horizon willing and ready to become the new Eelektrik NVI.
Thinking about this helps us frame where the game is headed. If pattern proves true, this season will focus heavily on Basic EX decks – some with a supporting Stage 1 – and elaborate Stage 2 decks designed to achieve some sort of lock (think of the crazy decks that popped up at Nats in 2011 like Yanmega Prime/Mew Prime/Vileplume UD/Muk UD/Scizor Prime, and other stuff??). A Stage 2 deck will only be worth playing if it can achieve some mind-bending lock.
While I certainly don’t have all the answers for Standard, here are a few guiding principles for you to consider:
If you’re running Stage 2s I feel bad for you son, I got 4-3-4 lines… Yeah, so rather than just accepting auto-losses to every Seismitoad-EX you face, change things up by beefing up the Stage 1 line. In all honesty, you might put up a good fight with Seismitoad-EX, since it’s not pumping out a lot of damage to begin with. And once you break the lock, you might be sitting in a really good place.
Don’t underestimate the power of Eeveelutions. I know, I know, with every Eevee/Eeveelution released, there are hoards of players trying to make those cards work. Looking at a card like Leafeon PLF, however, it’s easy to see how effective these cards might be this season. Plus, the new Eevee FFI makes evolving to those Eeveelutions that much easier.
Be prepared for an ultimate lock from Seismitoad-EX. I’m not sure what this looks like, but I imagine it might involve Dusknoir BCR/FLF, lots of cards to bring out the opponent’s Bench, and maybe Dragalge FLF. These types of decks are impossible to get around if you’re not prepared, and I see this as being the next Gothitelle LTR/Accelgor DEX.
Cobalion-EX. This card’s first attack can be critically good this format. It automatically discards a Special Energy, having the potential to disrupt Landorus-EX and shut down Seismitoad-EX. If you go this route, I would suggest playing Max Potion to keep Cobalion-EX alive long enough to do what you need.
Max Potion might just be the card of the season. In order for either Landorus-EX or Lucario-EX to achieve a OHKO, they need a lot. Until then, they may be doing enough damage to get a KO in two hits, but a well-timed Max Potion can completely disrupt your opponent’s tempo and buy you turn after turn. Plus, with Yveltal-EX weakened because of a lack of Dark Patch and Rayquaza-EX (and Black Kyurem-EX PLS) out of the picture, OHKOs will be harder to come by, meaning you’ll find more and more opportunity to play Max Potion.
To me, these are some of the best tips I can give you concerning the start of the season. I think we will get a clear indication of just how powerful certain decks are just before Phantom Forces drops, then things will be shaken up once again.
The Expanded format presents a whole different ball game to players. Even though many of the cards from the Black & White era sets have been reprinted (most notably in a Legendary Treasures), there remain a few game-changers out there, cards that have the potential to redefine the game.
Still, there are some easy-to-acknowledge standouts that will definitely be present in any Expanded format tournament. They are as follows:
Eelektrik NVI. It’s easy to see why this card will be popular in the Expanded format. As soon as this card was released it saw heavy play, first with Zekrom BLW, then with Mewtwo-EX, and finally with Rayquaza-EX. Energy acceleration of this caliber on a Stage 1 is unavoidably good. Its biggest fear, of course, is Landorus-EX, but even the combo of Tynamo NVI 38 and Victini LTR might be enough to quell it.
Tropical Beach. Obviously, one of the biggest differences between Standard and Expanded is the inclusion of Tropical Beach. Tropical Beach is the oil that makes any Stage 2 deck noticeably better, and with it around many cards gain an instant boost.
Klinklang BLW. I’m unsure about how effective this card is when you factor in things like Landorus-EX and Seismitoad-EX, but I’m reminded of how well a Klinklang PLS/Aromatisse XY deck did this past season (snatching a Texas States win).
Sableye DEX. The thing about Sableye DEX is that it’s always one good Item card away from being broken. While I’m particularly happy to have it leave Standard, it enjoys a really powerful spot in Expanded, taking advantage of any newly released cards.
Trainers (Recycle, Super Rod, Level Ball, Heavy Ball, Skyarrow Bridge, etc.). There’s not a whole lot to say about this that isn’t already apparent. The addition of some cards like Level Ball give certain decks more consistency, while others are just matters of convenience. If so many cards had not been reprinted (Max Potion, Rare Candy, and so on), it would be a different story completely.
The Expanded format is currently a bit murky, and if anything, I think we will see a fairly wide open metagame develop with Expanded. When you can pick from anything BLW-on, it’s hard to choose, and while some obvious archetypes will develop (Yveltal-EX, for instance will remain a strong card), I think it’s a format that will be all over the place, especially as new sets get released.
Figuring out the Expanded format can be tricky, and there might be some combos out there that you’ve glanced over. Before we get to that, just understand that Expanded is a monster that will continue to grow. Every set released will highlight old cards just waiting to see play. And remember, the sets that just rotated for Standard are now being dumped into Expanded. We aren’t used to these cards being out of the Standard format (unlike BLW-NVI), but now they are.
If I were you, I would be sure to keep track of these cards in some way. When a new set releases, search for any new combos that might exists. Here are some intriguing combos you might have missed out on if you haven’t started doing this yet:
Pokédex + Ether. When Ether was first revealed, there was a ton of discussion on how powerful it was. Most found out how hard it was to pull off when they tested the card out. I’m not here to say it’s gotten any better, but I will say that it exists as another form of Energy acceleration that shouldn’t be forgotten about, especially if you’re running a deck that has lots of Energy in it. Pokédex can also combo well with things like Bicycle/Electrode PLF and potentially Trick Shovel (if there’s a card you’re trying to get in the discard).
Gothorita EPO 46. This is a neat card that a few players have tried to make use of before, matching it up with Gothitelle LTR and Celebi-EX. With a new Gothitelle in the format (Gothitelle FFI) and a Psychic-exclusive Stadium on its way, this card might be the center of some really wicked combo.
Conkeldurr NVI 64/Milotic FLF/Dusknoir FLF/Training Center. I like this combo a lot, though my biggest reservation is how easily a Mewtwo-EX can take Conkeldurr down. Finding a way to get rid of the Weakness is imperative, and I don’t have an easy answer for that. Most decks that run Mewtwo-EX will also run other Stadium cards, so Plasma Frigate won’t work. Lots of decks with Mewtwo-EX also run Garbodor LTR, so even something like Leavanny LTR might not work.
Durant NVI. The card everyone loves to hate, Durant NVI has some decent support in the Expanded format, most notably Klinklang PLS and Pokémon Fan Club. Or, try Life Dew with Recycle. Or perhaps Trick Shovel and Sableye. My point is – there are a lot of ways a Durant NVI deck can be built. I’m not saying they’ll all be able to deal with a Landorus-EX getting ready to land a OHKO, but maybe something will stick. At the very least, any disruptive cards released in the future will always be looked at through the Durant NVI lens.
Accelgor DEX. This card now gets tossed into Expanded, but that means it no less powerful than it was before. We all know the combos that exist with this card – Trevenant XY, Gothitelle LTR, etc. – so just be ready to see it surface every now and then in an Expanded tournament.
Fossil Pokémon + Twist Mountain. Fossil Pokémon have struggled to find success, despite having some serious power. While Fossil Researcher is the clear go-to for getting Aurorus and Tyrantrum into play, Twist Mountain can provide a bit more setup power if needed.
Excadrill DEX 56 + Focus Sash. Dig Uppercut is a pretty nifty attack, especially when you can recycle cards like Focus Sash, Life Dew, Gold Potion, etc. I don’t know what the magical combo is here, but I can see this card being paired with Dusknoir FLF and using an infinite supply of Focus Sash to keep Excadrill alive. Just don’t forget Virizion-EX and Rainbow Energy to prevent the surprise KO with Hypnotoxic Laser.
Blend Energy. I have always been a fan of the two Blend Energy we got with Dragons Exalted, even if they never saw much play. While Rainbow Energy is a solid replacement, I can still see these two cards finding some use with the Expanded format (particularly with Plasma-based decks).
In addition to these fun ideas, I think there are some cards that now fall into Expanded territory that may one day find a solid place in the game, cards that have always been on the cusp of success without ever finding it. Here’s my list of those cards:
Amoonguss NXD. Sporprise is an interesting, if oddly-named, Ability that is just waiting for the right time to become insanely good. Yes, I know Hypnotoxic Laser exists, but I think it will be used in conjunction with HTL to create havoc, especially since Sporprise doesn’t require any Energy to pull off.
Cofagrigus DEX. Chuck can be a devastating attack, but it’s never really taken off. With the Dimensional Ravine Stadium card coming out in our next set, Chuck requires only a single Energy attachment, meaning that searching out the Double Colorless Energy to pull off the attack doesn’t become an imperative. I think this card can be really powerful given the right combination of cards.
Ninjask DRX/Shedinja DRX. Sacred Ash has already given these two cards a boost, not to mention the fact that Super Rod still exists to help cycle Pokémon from the discard pile into the deck. I like these two Pokémon, but the damage output might be too low to really matter (not to mention how harsh a well-timed Max Potion can be for this deck.
Aggron DRX. This card has actually seen limited success here and there, but I think many people don’t know how to run it properly. It’s one of those decks that sounds good in theory (and probably works well in practice too), but the strategy is so unconventional that it doesn’t seem it would do well. Here’s the list for an Aggron DRX deck that Tanner Menzel won a League Challenge with recently:
Pokémon – 18
4 Aron DRX
Trainers – 37
1 Pal Pad
Energy – 5
Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help you develop an idea of how you want to approach the Expanded format. I’m personally looking forward to the two formats, as I think it will lend itself nicely to a heavier requirement of skill on the player’s part.
I don’t have a lot to say here, other than good luck this season figuring it all out! Hopefully, this article gave you some perspective on how to properly approach the Expanded format, as well as what to expect with Standard. I for one cannot believe that I’m writing about two completely separate formats with the Pokémon TCG – it’s something I thought would never happen.
Feel free to reach me on the Underground forums and let me know what you like and what you’d like more of! I’m thinking about spending my next few articles addressing in-game skill, something that will require a lot of research and playtesting. If you want to see this, please let me know. Also, don’t forget to “Like” this article if you found it valuable.
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