Life’s full of twists and turns — me writing for you today is one example. Me re-writing part this after the Shiftry ban is another. The rest of the 2015-16 season is shaping up to be full of twists and turns as well. Unlike this year, where we played Expanded only in a small minority of the tournament structure, it’s likely to end up being the format of the majority of tournament games this season.
By the time we get to Worlds 2016, players will have played CP-yielding matches in 9 different formats (pre-rotation LCs, ×2 each for Winter and Spring Regionals due to the set legality rules)! More than ever, it’s going to be necessary to be well versed in a staggering number of decks all at the same time.
When I was with you last month, I covered lock-deck concepts to keep in mind for the upcoming season. Unfortunately, as I’ve tested more and more, the format is seeming a bit too fast for such trickery, but they’re still something to keep in mind. The format is ever evolving, and Accelgor DEX has always seemed to find a way to keep itself relevant.
Today I was going to start off with some discussion of how Shiftry was going to work, but that is no longer. Instead, we’ll take a look at why this may not have solved the problem. Additionally, due to a troubling trend of TOs choosing to schedule Standard LCs, we’re going to briefly go over some principles to keep in mind when building your decks for an otherwise-dead format.
Then, we’ll take a look at one of the major new players out of Ancient Origins, Vespiquen, which figures to zig and zag its way to the top of the competitive scene fairly quickly. Then, in lieu of the originally-scheduled mailbag, we’ll take a look at my current Night March testing list. Misty would not approve of the agenda’s bug content, to say the least.
T1 Champions: Shiftry & Forretress
It is a good thing that Shiftry NXD has been banned from the format. I had come to the conclusion that a traditional Shiftry variant was not a world-beater, but that it was likely to steal events by simply running extremely hot. Nothing could beat it when it went first and ran well (barring a very optimal opposing start), and when built correctly, it could win against its counters and going second alike.
Frankly, despite the odds, it wasn’t something I was terribly excited with taking to Regionals. However, a game I played on TCGO against a Manectric-EX deck made me wonder: What if Shiftry was more playable in a different form? What if Shiftry was used as a defensive measure to keep your opponents’ attackers off the board while you used an attacker of your own in an attempt to take 6 Prizes? I was led here:
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 37
Energy – 4
I won’t dwell too long on this since it’s no longer relevant, but the main strategy was to use Lugia-EX and its second attack to steal Prizes while your opponent was constantly set back with Giant Fan. It was a very early list and idea, but between Forretress and Shiftry, the donk factor was still a very real thing. It was meant to be a hybrid approach to balance out the realities of luck. For better or worse, it won’t matter.
While the Shiftry ban is a good thing for the game, it is not a good thing that we are left with its unimpeded younger cousin, Forretress FLF. Simply, Forretress is not the same issue as Shiftry, but it’s much the same degree of problem. It has the ability to consistently swarm your field with ~80 damage on Turn 1, and when coupled with Absol and Latios-EX, that can cause problems. I haven’t tested it much at all because I believed it was inferior to Shiftry (and believed Shiftry was rather unlikely to be banned), but this is where I plan to start:
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 40
Energy – 4
This is going to have a decidedly hard time beating decks running high counts of bulky EXs, but if you think about it, those are actually few and far between compared to past years. Manectric is the most significant occurrence by far.
This should have an inherent advantage against Vespiquen and Night March for sure. Night March will be hoping to go first and get Archeops DEX, or it will have a hard time. This isn’t nearly what Shiftry was, but I could see it having some level of success.
I’d like a 3rd Latios-EX and 3rd Absol, but there simply isn’t the space and the need isn’t that pressing. I think you need to run a certain level of hot in order to win in the first place, so I’m not too compelled to go to great lengths to make sure I “easily” can draw into Latios, and I’m not sure Absol is necessary in a count above 2. A 3rd Absol would definitely be the bigger priority.
The AZ may be very unnecessary, but it’s something I want to test. The additional ability to reuse either Absol or Forretress could serve as a significant factor in any given game. However, I understand that Professor Juniper is often the most desirable Turn 1 Supporter, so this is going to require further testing.
The lone Hypnotoxic Laser is meant to serve as a PlusPower with the added ability to add damage to their field after their Turn 1. Speaking of PlusPower, it’s something that may be worth exploring. I’m choosing to not include it in this list because I think there aren’t enough occasions that PlusPower will make the Turn 1 win a reality.
Overall, this clearly isn’t Shiftry, but I do think it will see a degree of success. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see someone make an effective strategy out of Forretress, even if isn’t the all-out donk approach.
Meanwhile, my mailbag didn’t go over so well this time. You may remember that the mailbag feature in my June article tackled your pressing questions about the upcoming National Championships. I only got one answerable reply by press time, and it dealt with Shiftry, so we’re going to tackle it here instead of its own dedicated section:
Q: Now that Shiftry is banned, to what extent do you think the other decks that abuse Forest of Giant Plants will be played (Vileplume, Forretress, Accelgor, etc)?
CS: I believe that Forest of Giant Plants will see play for a long time to come, but in general, they won’t have the same level of format-defining influence that Shiftry would have had. I believe Vileplume AOR’s playability will be very dependent on the metagame, but it has been greatly helped by the Shiftry ban, because Wobbuffet PHF will no longer be as well represented.
In a metagame where it’s expected, Vileplume would struggle because of techs like Wobbuffet and high Lysandre count. I don’t believe Vileplume/Exeggutor PLF has enough of a punch to win games. By the time you manage to kill something with the 10 damage (or 30 with Ariados’ Poison), I believe the opposition will have managed to build up a significant enough board to simply sweep through Exeggutor en masse.
The strength of Exeggutor PLF in our prior season was that it could play Crushing Hammer and other disruption cards to help set back the opposing setup. That’s not possible now, and that’s what I believe will be the undoing of Exeggutor.
I believe I’ve touched significantly on Forretress, so I won’t unduly exaggerate, but in short I believe it’ll have a role in the metagame. That much raw damage is inevitably going to find a home somewhere.
That’s all I have to offer on Forest of Giant Plants fiends today. I’m certainly surprised by the ban of Shiftry NXD, but overall believe it’s for the betterment of the game. Hopefully decisions will be made in the future to help preserve Expanded as a reasonable format for as long as they insist on it being a significant part of the tournament structure. More than anything, I’m encouraged by the fact that they were willing to go out on a proverbial limb and make a decision. This sets a good standard for the future.
Standard Standards: Deck Building Principles for a Ghost Format
Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I have been critical of wasting their on XY-AOR. Simply, the format only matters for League Challenges with organizers that feel like choosing it. Why anyone would make such a decision is beyond me, but a quick perusal of the Event Locator unearthed ratios in the area of three Standard events for every Expanded tournament, so there are clearly a number of Standard League Challenges to be had.
Unfortunately, League Challenges makeup a grotesque amount of the potential CP pool, so it’s worth (begrudgingly) thinking about XY-AOR just a little bit. Here’re some general things to keep in mind when building Standard decks.
1. Draw is at a premium.
Those who’ve been around a while will remember the brief days in which we played Cheren and Bianca. Dark days indeed. Perhaps, even darker ones lie ahead. Colress and N have bitten the dust, leaving us only Professor Sycamore from last season’s mainstays. VS Seeker is going to help alleviate this to some degree, but it immediately seems that decks that can afford to fit copious amounts of Shaymin-EX and Battle Compressor will have the upper hand. Sycamore is simply another tier of draw compared to Tierno, Shauna, and Professor Birch’s Observations.
2. Speaking of Shauna … simply, Birch averages more cards.
I understand that some folks want to cling to the “safety” of a solid five cards, but the ability to “go-off” with seven at only the cost of one card in the event of a poor flip outcome makes Birch the better play. This principle is even more exaggerated by the presence of Shaymin, as even in the event you must settle for four cards, an Ultra Ball for Shaymin quickly turns that into a new hand altogether. The potential for seven cards well outweighs the risk of four. Shauna’s stagnant five is simply inferior.
3. Tierno isn’t to be completely ignored.
Tierno is one interesting trend I’ve noticed looking around Diarynote for Japanese decklists. It’s definitely seeing inclusion in a number of lists, which may seem weird on the surface, but when you think about it, a Supporter lineup containing 4 Sycamore, 4 VS Seeker, and 4 Professor Birch is simply too few draw cards. Before you ask: Does more than 4 of the Shauna/Birch suite sound at all attractive to you? Me either. That leaves us with Tierno, and with N no longer in format, it may be a solid option. Keep in mind that cards like Mary’s Request have seen play in the past, so it’s not unprecedented for “Draw 3” to see play.
4. Bronzong is about all there is for Ability-based Energy acceleration.
Expect it to be usable in both your typical Metal variant and with Colorless attackers alike.
5. If for some reason you don’t already own 4 Shaymin … you should correct that problem immediately.
Its price can only skyrocket as we get further and further from Roaring Skies’ release. Once Standard becomes a mainstay in November, I can only see it going up in necessity — and price.
With those tenets in mind, let’s take a look at Vespiquen in the Standard Format.
The Langstroth Hive: Standard Vespiquen
Vespiquen is one of the new forces out of Ancient Origins, and it’s seen a good bit of hype already. Shiftry’s ban figures to open the door for Vespiquen even further, as the format won’t be diluted by its presence. Flareon PLF’s main weakness was Seismitoad-EX variants, and between Grass typing and a general movement away from Seismitoad, Vespiquen AOR solves that problem. It’s a deck that can afford to tech for matchups, which is something that hasn’t been possible on a deck-wide scale in a long time. It’s certainly poised for success.
Here’s where I’m at with Standard Vespiquen right now:
Pokémon – 24
Trainers – 29
Energy – 7
To say I feel light on draw would be an understatement. Unfortunately, I do feel like this is the best approach to take, as Professor Birch’s Observation is simply lacking. I’ve elected to play the Archie’s Ace in the Hole/Swampert combo to enable easier chaining of Vespiquen and make Unown worth something.
One of the bigger threats in the format, without a doubt, is going to be Colorless M Rayquaza-EX. It’s possibly the most efficient ultra-high damage attacker in the game’s history, and a card like that will always find a way to remain relevant. As such, Jolteon AOR will be a wise inclusion. Notably, it has free retreat, so it makes for a solid promotion target after a KO.
Flareon AOR isn’t the auto-inclusion that Jolteon is, but it’s in the same ballpark. Between the likes of Aegislash-EX/Metal types and M Sceptile-EX, Fire figures to be an advantageous type to have. It also opens up the avenue of Blacksmith for Energy acceleration. Definitely not an unwise inclusion.
There’s absolutely no reason at this point to include Vaporeon AOR in a deck. The most playable Fire-Weak Pokémon is Camerupt-EX. That should be saying enough on its own for the time being. This may change in the future, but for now, there is absolutely no excuse for wasting a slot in your deck for Vaporeon.
Regarding Eevee itself: The amount of times Energy Evolution will prove useful will pale in comparison to the number of times the extra 10 HP proves helpful. Thus, Eevee AOR is best choice. It’s simply not worth it to suffer through a Golbat + Crobat drop KO for a rare, if not nonexistent, feature.
To be honest, I really don’t like this card very much. A 1-for-1 trade is rarely going to greatly affect the game, and it’s something I’m not going to be trying to play four of. I’d rather thicken my other Pokémon lines and discard the excess of them with Battle Compressor than play four of these. I will never go below one because of the option to Level Ball for what basically serves as a PlusPower, but I will also probably never advocate for playing four in nearly any deck.
This is the caveat to my preceding rant about Unown AOR. If I were to play this, I would probably consider maxing Unown to take advantage of the Computer Search-like capability. This combo would require a shift in strategy. Unown would no longer be the instant-discard goat, but instead would have to be used at targeted intervals to best maximize Swampert’s value. Now that N is gone, it’s also not completely unrealistic to simply choose your topdeck every turn, so Swampert may have real validity.
The biggest problem with this combo now is that Archie’s Ace in the Hole has gotten much more difficult to play with the rotation of Computer Search and Jirachi-EX. Additionally, Swampert’s Retreat Cost of 3 is rather debilitating. If I were to play this, I’d be contemplating playing Water Energy to take advantage of Alpha Growth for a surprise attacker, but such a concept would probably be discarded fairly quickly in favor of other Energy Acceleration methods.
I elected for Blacksmith as the Energy accelerator of choice because of the added consistency of Swampert. I have a hard time deciding between the 3rd Eevee and 2nd Flareon, but I tend to want to protect against Prizes since there’s a serious number of people that like M Sceptile. I personally don’t think M Sceptile is very good, but given that League Challenges are micro-metas, I expect you’ll see some.
This is the alternative to Bronzong-based Energy acceleration. Flareon AOR provides its Fire typing to Vespiquen, meaning we can now use Blacksmith in lieu of a Double Colorless to use Bee Revenge. Given the limit of Double Colorless, it’s a combo that I believe will be necessary at least once per game. VS Seeker obviously enables its re-use from the discard, so once I’ve met my Pokémon quota, it’s probably a quick Battle Compressor target to enable easier use in the later stages of the game.
I’ve chosen Acro Bike as my Item draw in a similar vein, as the synergy with Smooth Over — erm, Diving Search — is evident. The ability to draw any card in your deck up to eight times per game is staggering. It wasn’t great in BCR-on, but in a format devoid of drawpower, it may be worth testing.
Acro Bike is typically favored because it can help discard Pokémon, but it also carries inherent risk of discarding resources. This is a deck that relies on a few resources rather heavily, so that risk is definitely worth keeping in mind.
It may also be worth considering Trainers’ Mail to aid in getting Archie’s Ace in the Hole off. Trainers’ Mail has the ability to serve in a similar function as Acro Bike in regard to Diving Search, but it’s obviously inferior in terms of getting DCE or Vespiquen. In any event, both are definitely solid inclusions, but I trend toward Acro Bike because it allows me to use Swampert to search for a Double Colorless — or simply dig for the DCE on its own.
As is fairly obvious, you only get 4 Double Colorless Energy. As such, it may be valuable to include Bronzong as a form of Energy acceleration. This also allows you to consider techs like Heatran PHF, which would allow you to use a higher-HP attacker to hit into something like a M Pokémon-EX that is out of 1-shot range. If Fairy were to become a big player in the format somehow, it could be something useful. I’m not advocating for Heatran, to be clear — I just want to point out the different options brought by adding different types of basic Energy. The major drawback to Bronzong is its Retreat Cost. Be sure to include sufficient switch cards when playing Bronzong.
This was the Pokémon drawpower of choice in Flareon during Cities and States of the prior season, but the loss of Float Stone figures to hamper its playability significantly. Drawing one card is simply not as good as drawing two, to state the obvious. I could see playing a thin line of it for the supplemental draw, but I’m not sure it’s valuable enough to feature prominently at this stage.
This serves as a recovery option, and while I understand the premise behind it, I don’t think you can afford to waste the turn spent attacking with Bunnelby. I would rather devote my deck space to things like Blacksmith and Bronzong that consistently help recycle resources than a tech that I may or may not ever get to use. I would expect my use of Burrow to approach a number nearing 1% of games. Simply not worth the space for what it can provide.
It’s certainly not near the top of my potential-inclusions list, but with XY-on appearing to be a slower format than the one we came from, Call for Family may again have a niche. The second attack’s potential 60 damage can be helpful against non-EX mirrors, such as Night March. In most cases, it can serve as a good discard goat.
Similar to Skarmory in that the format slowdown may create a niche use. Without N, there may be validity in just attempting to stockpile your hand.
Agh — quite frankly, you don’t want to play Birch. At most, I’d play one or two.
It’s essential in Expanded, but may not be so in Standard. There aren’t any Abilities that are debilitating short of Vileplume, and while Vileplume makes me want to play one, I’m still not sure how much play Vileplume is going to command. The combination of Vileplume and Giratina-EX is the most commonly mentioned Standard combo, and it’s admittedly one that could cause Vespiquen grief. I’ll probably be playing one in a good number of circumstances.
Trainers’ Mail is good for reaching for Ultra Ball or Battle Compressor, so it’s definitely something to consider. As for Roller Skates, I’m probably from the only part of the country where this wouldn’t be laughed into oblivion, but with a bit of luck, it can provide the extra edge. All are viable in different ways and it’s likely worth testing around different mixes to see if any particular provides an edge.
Faded Town and Forest of Giant Plants are the two legitimate Stadium options. I’d lean toward Faded Town for the boost in taking down Megas, but I also can understand the argument for Forest of the Giant Plants. Since Forest of Giant Plants only benefits Vespiquen in most variants, Faded Town is probably the better play. It’s also a legitimate option to completely omit Stadiums. Stadium war isn’t especially relevant against most decks, and there aren’t a plethora of Stadiums that cause harm. Silent Lab is the worst, and it sees marginal play at best.
Different Basic Energy
This is going to depend on your choice of acceleration/other techs. Typically it’ll either be Fire or Metal, but if you happen to have a brilliant tech that uses a different type, that’s obviously what you’ll be playing.
Royal Jelly: Expanded Vespiquen
On the other hand, Vespiquen in Expanded is an entirely different animal that will have to contend with a very nationalized, very centralized metagame. The wealth of options to tech out Vespiquen is far greater than the list of Standard options above, but it’s also inclusive of all of those options.
Pokémon – 25
Trainers – 28
Energy – 7
If it looks like a mess, that’s because it is. Your first priority in every game is going to be to identify which of your tech Pokémon is going to be useful. If Tynamo is prized against Colorless M Rayquaza-EX, it’s probably not your biggest priority to keep the Eelektrik in the deck, but if Night March is the foe, you probably want to do so.
The original Fire attacker. I originally was running Flareon AOR in addition to Flareon PLF, but have since shifted my thinking to believe a pure PLF focus is the superior option. Having the 6th or 7th Vengeance attacker removes the need to include Sacred Ash, which is a definite benefit.
1-1 Eelektrik NVI
In Dylan Bryan’s article last week, he featured Bronzong as an Energy accelerator for Expanded Vespiquen. I agree with the premise of playing Bronzong, but I feel that Eelektrik is the superior option. Aside from the 10 HP sacrificed from Bronzor to Tynamo, the Eelektrik line is simply superior. Eeletrik’s 2 Retreat makes it a DCE from being out of the Active position, while Bronzong is a bit heftier at 3 Retreat. Tynamo NVI 38 provides a disruption attack that’s the envy of pre-evolutions everywhere. Unless I had a very good reason for playing Metal Energy, the Eel of old would be my first choice.
Like Flareon decks of past, this is simply unparalleled in utility due to its ability to allow you to play Ultra Ball and the like from small hand sizes. Not a staple, but relatively close to it.
This is a card Dylan Bryan had in his list on Friday, and it’s something I increasingly swear by in most of my decks with Battle Compressor. With VS Seeker, it becomes a searchable (and recyclable) switch-out, which is something that’s almost always going to be beneficial at one point or another in a tournament. You probably won’t be doing much tanking, but the switching utility more than justifies an inclusion. It’s also helpful for removing Shaymin-EX from the board before it can become a 2-Prize loss — and can act as a draw card by recycling Set Up.
In Expanded, this takes on the additional purpose of turning off Archeops, and I’m pretty sure it’s evident why that’s a good thing.
Increasingly, I’ve wondered about playing Dowsing Machine in this, but have never been able to convince myself that it’s for sure the right play. The ability to recycle a low-count Stadium or 1-of Item is certainly attractive, but it’s also not the most reliable. In most cases, it seems that Computer Search’s consistency boost is the more compelling case.
Let’s look at the other options Expanded provides us for Vespiquen.
Formally a must-run due to Shiftry, it may still not be an awful choice to counteract Forretress FLF. If for some reason after Week 1-of Regionals Forretress is making rounds, I’d be seriously considering this for Week 2. It probably won’t be big enough Week 1 to matter though.
This one’s a bit out there, but if you elect to also play Forest of Giant Plants, Roserade makes for an excellent addition. Unlike Slurpuff or other Pokémon draw effects, Roserade’s ability to search any card at any time can make it a game-changer. It started out in my original list, but has since fallen out of favor due to my preference to omit Forest of Giant Plants. Nonetheless, it’s definitely a card to keep in mind due to its unmatched versatility.
This is very much a card that has seen hype in the community, but has only seen minimal competitive success. I don’t much like the card; its status as a reactive utility serving as a negative in my eye, but I can understand the argument for it. Much like my affinity for Swampert in Standard, the need to search out individual cards as a byproduct of the many moving pieces in the deck is a compelling one. I just think I would rather spend my deck space on more outs, whether via Item draw or otherwise, to drawing those cards without also precluding myself from using a game-winning Lysandre.
Another card of old that would technically make a bit of sense here. Unlike my other old-turned-new ideas, this is one that I just can’t see being worth the space. While it seems nice on paper to swap a Pokémon at “no” cost, it’s preferable in a deck like this to either use Ultra Ball to discard extraneous Pokémon or simply to use Level Ball to get free search. A no-go for me.
So, this is about where I intended to start the mailbag, but as I mentioned earlier, that went almost nowhere. Instead, we’re going to take a brief look at the Night March list I’m working with in testing.
Tik Tock: Expanded Night March
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 35
Energy – 7
Archeops is too good not to play from my perspective; Vespiquen has to jump through hoops, Mega Evolutions no longer hit the board, and so forth. It’s simply an overpowered effect that’s remarkably good at countering the other over-powered effects we’ve been graced with recently.
I’ve recently been playing a lot of PTCGO for the first time, and this is by far my favorite deck to play. Vespiquen may be the more-rounded deck, but it’s hard to argue with the speed and simplicity when most of your playing is being done at late hours of the evening. In a similar vein, it may be a strong choice for those who are worried about ties; Flareon wasn’t slow by any means, but the odds of tying with it were much higher than when dealing with a Night March player.
3 Acro Bike and 3 Trainers’ Mail have proven to be a good balance in getting the Turn 1 Maxie’s. The Revive is probably the 60th card, but I do like the idea of being able to overextend for a KO only to charge back into the game next turn with a resurrected Night Marcher.
A decision that would definitely raise eyebrows that I’ve been considering is cutting my 2nd Mew-EX. I’ve increasingly found myself trying to avoid attacking with the Pokémon-EX against all decks, but especially Vespiquen and Night March mirror. The main reason I choose to keep it is the ability to use basic Energy for an attack.
I’d be intrigued at the results of cutting 1 Archeops and 1 Mew-EX for a 1-1 Eelektrik NVI under similar principles as in Vespiquen. Archeops is often completely unnecessary in the matchups where you’re likely to have an Energy issue, and it’s not like Eeletrik’s Retreat Cost is any more cumbersome than the already-played Archeops. Either Archeops won’t be set up or Eelktrik needs to hit the field first. Discernment based on matchup would be required.
Despite my praise for AZ in Battle Compressor decks above, I stick with Escape Rope here to avoid having to AZ my Archeops. I’m not terribly comfortable with the lone, unsearchable switching out either, but it does seems superior to picking Archeops back off the board. I’m definitely not completely sold either way on this, and almost put the AZ in the list above.
I think that’s all that bears special explanation. Night March is typically the same 52-54 cards with a few variances, and I expect most readers are readily familiar with that skeleton. If there are any more issues that need clarifying, the comments section is the best place to ask and always feel free to PM me on the forums.
We’re already ahead of last year in the respect that we know most of the CP structure and that the format for most of the year’s events. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know the World Championships’ qualification structure; only knowing that’s it’ll span two days similar to this year. I expect it’ll be roughly the same, if not identical, to the 2015 approach, but it’s certainly uneasy to not know. Hopefully by the time the first weekend of Regionals rolls around we’ll have some solid information.
Keep in mind that Regionals is a long haul. Most of the events, though not all, will feature 9 rounds + T32 Swiss, so making Top 8 will require records in the area of 29-30 match points — no small feat. It’s in that vein that I implore you to build your deck accordingly: Is that 1-1 tech going to matter over those 14 rounds enough to push you in? Or would the consistency boost of more draw cards have a more pronounced effect?
I’ll be in Houston and Ft. Wayne for their Regionals, and I hope to see you there! Fort Wayne was the largest Regional of the season last year, and while that attendance may be trending down recently, all of the events figure to be a dogfight. It only takes one deck like Donphan last year to turn the metagame on its head. Good luck!
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