If there’s anything to be taken away from this past weekend, it’s that the more things change the more they stay the same. Consider: Of the 16 spots up for grabs in top cuts, 11 of them went to decks featuring Darkrai-EX or Blastoise BCR. Blastoise will be three years old in November, and Darkrai is already well past that benchmark. After a brief interlude during which Seismitoad-EX ruled the game, the tides have turned once again.
Sure, you can argue with my narrative: Expanded does by definition necessitate the re-emergence of these older cards. In any case, it’s very clear which decks are the big players coming out of Week 1-of Fall Regionals, and as we head into the lone event in Week 2 — Lancaster, PA — these foes will be at the top of every player’s mind.
Of course, that stage is shared by a few interesting concepts to come out of Week 1. Vileplume surprised by stealing a share of the limelight, while Seismitoad continued to hold at least command a bit of a presence in the format. Night March and Vespiquen surprised in a different regard, as both failed to capture significant success.
In a way, you can consider this the first installment of a two-part series between my friend Alex Hill and me. I’m going to provide the “hot take” on the results of the weekend and offer outlooks/techs/tips on those specific decks, whereas on Thursday Alex is going to address the remainder of the decks and how they can be geared to counter the metagame I outline today.
Today I’m going to take a look at the two choices I considered for Houston’s Regionals, and take a look at how the tournament went. Then, we’re going to consider two surprising decks that came out of this weekend. Finally, I’m going to explore a gameplay/deckbuilding principle that’s been on my mind recently that I believe will be good to keep in mind for the Expanded format all year.
- This or That: The Two Winners of Week 1
- Dirty Bird: Yveltal Before & After
- Not-So-Secret Sword: Archie’s Dominance
- Puppet Show: Re-Tooled Tool Drop
- Frosty Flowers: Vileplume/Regice
- Organic Inorganics: Vileplume/Aegislash
- An Aside on Gameplay and Teching Principles
This or That: The Two Winners of Week 1
Leading up to Houston, I, like most other players, was taken aback by the sheer breadth of options in the Expanded format. Before Nationals, I provided a list that I felt was fairly comprehensive of every deck in format, but I don’t even believe that such a list could have been created for this format prior to Week 1. In large part, I believe this is what lead to Yveltal and Blastoise rising to the top — both have the ability to simply overpower other decks. They do it through different means — Archie’s Blastoise seeks to blow other decks out of the water with early attacks, whereas Yveltal can afford to spend its early turns destroying an opposing setup via Hex Maniac and Ghetsis before swooping in — but it’s clear why they emerged from the pack.
Going into Houston, I was fairly sure I wanted to play either Yveltal or Blastoise due to their general strengths in a largely unknown metagame. Unfortunately, I spent far too much time before Regionals working on long-shots like Durant and not enough time on important things like Yveltal, so I was somewhat disadvantaged in preparing on Friday. To cut a long story fairly short, I concluded that I didn’t have the time necessary to perfect my Yveltal list, though I do (still) believe it was the best play for the weekend.
Simply, I felt Yveltal would’ve required too much testing to get the various card counts and techs correct, and with scarce time left, I ended up choosing Archie’s Blastoise for this past weekend. We’re going to get to that list ahead, but first, I want to take a look at my #2, Yveltal.
Dirty Bird: Yveltal Before & After
You may wonder why I’m bothering to go over this — Week 1 is in the past, after all. My goal in presenting this to you is to provide a base for the construction of lists for Week 2 (and we’ll go over necessary techs for this upcoming week later on).
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 37
Energy – 11
As advertised, it’s not yet solid gold. It walks the line between conventional and not, to be sure, but it’s where I had arrived after limited testing. The Battle Compressor engine is something I believe to be very strong in Yveltal, as the synergy with both VS Seeker and Dark Patch takes the deck to a new level. Hex Maniac was underappreciated by a large segment of the player base heading into Week 1, but its strength against Blastoise can turn that particular matchup on its head.
I am not a fan of Yveltal XY, and that hasn’t changed. If it weren’t for the fact that the Blastoise matchup basically comes down to one player using Lysandre to dodge the other’s Active non-EX, I would only play 1. Its strength as a stall tactic in that matchup shouldn’t be underestimated, however, and as such, a 2nd copy made its way in.
The lone copies of Float Stone and Escape Rope may seem a bit frivolous, but as we all know, Dark Patch does not work on the Active Pokémon. As such, it’s necessary to have significant mobility options to prepare for the fairly frequent scenario in which the Active is KO’d, no Energy is left on board, and a Dark Patch is necessary to rebound. Float Stone is here for that purpose especially, and it can also serve in the event that Hex Maniac brings about the end of Dark Cloak’s utility. The Keldeo-EX and the Float Stone don’t have to be coupled together necessarily — though the combo is convenient for sure. Rather, Keldeo is mostly featured for its ability to break Poison/Sleep while under Seismitoad-EX lock.
A 2nd copy of Shaymin-EX would be a luxury worth exploring, but in my time with Yveltal, I found that both deck and Bench space were too tight to afford the 3rd consistency Pokémon. It also doesn’t play well with the notion of a format full of Hex Maniac, which is what we’re heading into next week. As such, it’s probably necessary to reconsider draw options heading into Week 2.
Generally, this is one of the most powerful decks because it has Energy acceleration that isn’t reliant on Abilities, attacks, or other setup. That’s a trait it has all to itself in today’s format, and that trait is something uniquely powerful. It enables you to use and reuse cards like Hex Maniac to disrupt opponents’ setup while not harming yourself to any great degree.
I do believe that the single copy of N is rather unusual, and we’re going to get to that more later in a lengthier discussion of N and its effect on the format, but for now, I ask that you ponder N’s overall effect on games at the moment — is an N to 2 really all that disruptive?
Moving into Week 2, it’s going to be necessary to consider cards such as Hex Maniac in greater counts than before. I believe it may be worth dropping some of the extra switch options in my list in exchange for a second copy of Hex Maniac. Additionally, a 3rd Virbank City Gym would be extremely helpful — I’m just not sure what the cut is at this stage.
The other headline in Yveltal-EX this weekend was Ghetsis. Ghetsis was supposed to be the apocalypse of the game prior to its release in Plasma Freeze, and it fell flat. Since then, it’s seen fringe play, but now with decks emphasizing Battle Compressor/VS Seeker/etc. as a setup engine itself, Ghetsis takes on new life. Archie’s Blastoise and Night March are particularly vulnerable to a T1 Ghetsis, as they both rely heavily on Items for the entirety of their setup.
During Round 13 in Houston, I sat next to a Night March vs. Blastoise match that began with the Night March player using Ghetsis on the first turn of the game. The Blastoise player’s hand was decimated, and he proceeded to draw dead for much of the game. Eventually, the Blastoise player managed to draw something helpful and made a game of it, but Night March prevailed — in a matchup that largely favors Blastoise. Ghetsis is powerful, and it’s something that players have to keep in mind for Week 2. It’ll be risky to play Blastoise in the same fashion it was played this weekend; a single (easily searched) Supporter could well end your game before it begins. Look to add this to your Yveltal lists for sure.
My good friend Alex Hill is going to be covering Yveltal in more detail on Thursday, and there’s much more to get to today, so I’m going to leave it off here.
Not-So-Secret Sword: Archie’s Dominance
I believe that most players would agree that the two biggest decks Week 1 were Archie’s Blastoise and Yveltal. Of those two, I would say that (at least in Houston), Archie had the bigger share of the metagame. It does make some sense, but it’s interesting to ponder how much of that play may have been influenced by Jacob Van Wagner’s success at Worlds. For only the second time in the Nintendo era of the game, there were major events played immediately following Worlds in a format that still had every card that was legal for Worlds. (Last time this happened was 2011.) As such, it’s hard to gauge what, if any, effect Worlds may have had on the metagame.
Largely, I believe that players were drawn to the untempered power of the deck, as it possesses the ability to simply run away with a game no matter the matchup. Depending on the list, a deceptively strong game against Seismitoad-EX is a very compelling factor in the deck’s favor. Additionally, threats like Vespiquen either failed to materialize or, in other cases, were adequately teched for. Couple unparalleled speed with a spread of solid matchups and it’s no surprise that Archie was one of the big decks of the weekend. Here’s the list I ended up going with:
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 34
Energy – 11
“Victini!?!” This was my chosen approach for dealing with Vespiquen, as it turns the odds of hitting 2/3 heads much more in our favor. It was also good for helping take the extra Prize on opposing Jirachi-EXs and other various critters throughout the day (from my day, most notably Ho-Oh-EX). It was intended to be helpful against Night March as well, but I never got to test that theory. Let’s take a look at some specific considerations:
It had some utility over the weekend, but not much. I did use High Breaching occasionally, but in almost all cases, it was to end the game in a situation where I could’ve just as easily searched out a Keldeo for the same purpose. I can see a scenario in which Night March picks up next week in response to Yveltal, but I’m not sure that Wailord is even that good in the matchup. Definitely an option to be cut.
It’s obviously imperative to increase the odds of a T1 Archie by any and all means possible. By definition, this means that Supporter counts have to be slimmed down. The one copy of Lysandre did cost me at least 2 individual games over the weekend, as when you prize your copy in mirror — a matchup defined by who Lysandre’s first — and the opposition does not, bad things tend to happen. Meanwhile, as I alluded earlier, I don’t believe N is worth nearly what it used to be in any capacity, and in a deck that can’t afford to have dead cards, forgoing a second copy is an easy choice in my mind. If I were to take the risk of adding a second copy of one of these two, it would absolutely be Lysandre. Am I likely to take that risk? It’s definitely an option I’m weighing, as the Lysandre is just so critical in mirror.
I chose the 4th Trainers’ Mail over Acro Bike because of the ability to fail Trainers’ Mail, whereas Acro Bike’ing into 2 Water Energy can spell disaster for the pursuit of a T1 Archie. Additionally, Trainers’ Mail offers the ability to dig through double the cards when seeking key Ultra Balls or Superior Energy Retrievals. Of these two, the 4th Trainers’ Mail is definitely better. Additionally, fitting the 8th Item-draw out is definitely low on my priority list. The added yield on T1 Archie’s percentage would simply not outweigh the cost of the deck slot.
By now, I’m guessing you’ve heard that two different forms of Archie’s Blastoise made waves this weekend — those with Tropical Beach and those with Rough Seas. In Houston, I was the only one of the four Top 8 Archie’s players to feature Rough Seas, while the others played Tropical Beach. Personally, Rough Seas was instrumental in my victories over Seismitoad through both days of the event, and I definitely wouldn’t change my choice in retrospect.
I understand the effect that Tropical Beach can have in reseting your hand after using Archie’s on Turn 1, but the ability to make Keldeo or Wailord survive for a lengthy duration is why I was able to take wins against Seismitoad (particuarly with Crobat) during my run.
I’d go so far as to say that without Rough Seas the Seismitoad matchup trends toward significantly unfavorable, and that’s just not something I’m comfortable with. That Michael Pramawat was able to beat similar, if not identical, Archie’s lists featuring Tropical Beach with Seismitoad/Crobat in Top 4 and the Finals is testament to this point, from my perspective.
There are a few things I want to highlight from my Houston Top 8 run, so to start, here’s a summary of my tournament:
R1: Archie’s Blastoise (2-0)
R2: Archie’s Blastoise (2-1)
R3: Ho-Oh-EX/Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX (2-0)
R4: Yveltal-EX/Yveltal XY (1-1)
R5: Archie’s Blastoise (0-2)
R6: Archie’s Blastoise (0-2)
R7: Seismitoad-EX/Giratina-EX (2-0)
R8: Ho-Oh-EX Toolbox (2-1)
R9: Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX/Manectric-EX (2-1)
6-2-1, 26th into Day 2
I ended Day 1 at 6-2-1, with my only losses being to the mirror match. For those who remember Blastoise mirrors of old, I would argue that these mirrors feature even lower quality games. That aside, my collapse in Rounds 5/6 was mostly a result of being unable to set up Blastoise — an important part of the game, undoubtedly. Fortunately, I righted the ship and was able to continue on to advance to Day 2.
My Round 8 match started in a bizarre manner: My opponent was 3-0-4! I immediately defaulted to believe the deck to be Seismitoad due to the high rate of ties, but in a twist, it was actually a Ho-Oh-EX variant. To clarify “toolbox,” well … Regirock AOR, Giratina-EX AOR, Latias-EX, Virizion-EX, Lugia-EX AOR, and Manectric-EX all made appearances — and I’m sure I’m forgetting something! I spent the first five minutes of the match in constant surprise as the different techs rained down, and that effect was only confounded by my inability to set up a Blastoise. Game 1 was lost to a poor setup, and Game 2 was well on that route until I managed a rebound about midway through. Game 3 went more as I would’ve expected; he was simply unable to keep up with the speed of Blastoise. A great match to be sure.
Round 9 began with my opponent telling me how he had just barely escaped with a win against Archie’s Blastoise, which he perceived as his worst matchup. Needless to say, I was delighted at this narrative. Game 1 went as expected, but the wheels began to fall off in Game 2. As I searched my deck with the opening Battle Compressor, I realized that both Blastoise were prized. I manually attached to a Keldeo and managed to grab a Blastoise off of 2 Prizes I got from KOing a Shaymin-EX, and made a game of it despite never actually getting Blastoise out, but it all came down to Game 3.
I detail this match not because I think you should care, but because I want to illustrate the power of Hex Maniac. My Game 3 setup was held at bay for the first three turns of the game due to its repeated use, and that made a matchup that should’ve been a losing proposition for my opponent into a very tight situation. In the end, I was able to come away successful, but it could’ve gone the other way as well. Now, if Hex Maniac did that much in a deck with an absolutely abysmal Blastoise matchup, what can it do in something with a less bad matchup?
I went 3-0-2 on Day 2 to advance to Top 8. Nothing was especially notable about my games games other than that the tie with Caleb Gedemer, who would go on to take 4th, was incredibly close. Both of us prized our outs to winning the game (his 4th VS Seeker, my Lysandre), and as such, given a few more minutes, it likely would’ve come down to someone decking out.
Meanwhile, my Top 8 match was only of mild interest. During Game 1, Jason K. was able to come back from a board position deficit by continually Knocking Out my Blastoise. Eventually, I determined that I simply didn’t have the resources left to produce my 3rd Archie of the game, and we moved on to Game 2. Game 2 began differently, as I produced a Keldeo capable of doing 170 damage on the first turn of the game, and was left with a dilemma. The fundamental principle of the Archie mirror is that one cannot afford to lose the first EX unless it forces the opponent to expend an absolutely exorbitant amount of resources. I was unable to dig up an Articuno and was left with three choices:
- Leave an empty Keldeo Active and risk Jason KOing it, essentially winning the game right there.
- Propagation for an Exeggcute and retreat to it.
- Retreat for Blastoise while ensuring the Keldeo still had enough Energy to 1HKO an opposing Keldeo should the need arise.
Now, of course, the idea that he could Knock anything Out was still dependent on him achieving the Archie and a large Keldeo. While I didn’t hold that to be the most likely outcome, I didn’t want to risk the immediate “loss,” so Option 1 was out. Retreating for Exeggcute would’ve risked an easy Articuno KO, forcing me to produce a Lysandre on the next turn to have any chance at the game. So, I elected to play my hand down to 1 card — a VS Seeker. I Battle Compressor’d all of my Supporters, had only 1 Energy in my discard pile along with 2 Exeggcute, and had an empty Bench space. So, even if Jason managed to get all the necessary resources to KO the Blastoise, I still would be able to revive it next turn as long as I drew any card in my deck except for VS Seeker. Jason wouldn’t be able to Archie and N, so my theory was sound except for the 3 VS Seeker in my deck.
I’m sure you can guess where that went. The Blastoise was Knocked Out and I drew VS Seeker. However, Jason made an error when playing his turn. Rather than Computer Searching for an Ultra Ball for a Keldeo-EX (discarding a Jirachi and Shaymin in the process), he simply grabbed the Keldeo off of the Computer Search. He immediately realized the error when looking back at his hand and commented on it, and it’s actually what allowed me to make a game of the match.
After I replied with a KO on his Keldeo, he was unable to reciprocate. I went down to 2 Prizes, and except for an N that he played on the turn he finally Knocked Out my Keldeo, the game would’ve come down to me needing 2/3 heads on an Articuno flip on the aforementioned Jirachi-EX. Nontheless, an N was played, I drew poorly, and didn’t hit the 3/3 heads I needed on his Active to win. He somehow managed to whiff the Energy he needed to win the following turn, and I got one last chance to dig out a Lysandre (now on the Articuno with 100 damage from last turn) to win the game. I drew an Acro Bike, and … double Water Energy. And thus it ended.
Again, like earlier, I don’t detail this because I think you should care about my particular misfortune: I detail this because I want to point out how much can come down to a single, minute point in any one individual game. Now, of course, I would’ve still had to beat Jason in Game 3 to advance, and that would’ve been a tall order going second. I only wish to point out that at this stage in the game’s history, there’s only so much you can do.
Notably, my Day 1 Round 4 match ended in a bit of a situation that led to my opponent and I agreeing to a tie, however, Game 3 was still very much in the air at that point. I won’t get into details here, but I mention it to make this point: I outright beat everything, with the exception of this situation, that wasn’t mirror. I believe that’s a fair testament to the deck’s strength. Now, with that said, I just got done telling you that there’s only so much that a player can do. Could I have done more? Yes, and here’s how I’d change the list in hindsight/looking ahead to Week 2.
It’s completely going to be a judgement call whether or not Night March/Vespiquen will be a predominant portion of the Week 2 meta. Otherwise, Victini can be a liability in the mirror (opposing Articuno would be ecstatic to see it), and as such, it’s definitely a potential omission.
As I mentioned already, the big whale was rather underwhelming. Again, a decision dependent on how the week unfolds and how large Night March appears.
I wasn’t especially overwhelmed by this, especially as a 1-of. It’s good in mirror for Rush In/retreating to an Articuno on Turn 1, but more often than not it was either discarded or wasted in pursuit of the Archie.
If it appears that Toad will be minimal, this will be a cut I consider. Similar to Supporters in their ability to muck up an opening hand, less can definitely be more.
4th Trainers’ Mail
This had better be for a fairly good reason, truly. I wouldn’t make this cut lightly, but if I were picking the 55th card, this is it.
Absolutely the #1 regret in my list. This unquestionably needed to be in my deck, and I partially blame my poor mirror performance on not including this. It’s a grossly over-powered card, and I’m kicking myself for not using it in my list. This should by in any Blastoise list for Week 2.
Obviously would be great, but again, there’s cause for concern whenever you add a card that harms the T1 Archie odds. Might be necessary, though.
The anti-Seismitoad-EX tech. With Rough Seas, it’ll last a while, and the Seismitoad player is left to either continue throwing Double Colorless away at an alarming rate or concede Item lock. Ideally, you’ll Frozen Wings for 60, they will heal 30, you will Frozen Wings for another 60 (30) and then proceed to Hail Blizzard for the knockout the 3rd turn — while sucking 3 DCE down the tubes, should they even manage to chain three attacks.
Should Vespiquen become big, this will be extremely strong for KOing both Combees and Energy Evolution Eevees. In pursuit of countering Archeops, Eevee FFI does appear to be the predominant choice at the moment, so this strategy may be worth pursuing. Also not bad against Night March.
This would mostly be for mirror, but it also could be useful against Yveltal if the Muscle Band count is upped. Frequently, you approach a place where you have to do nothing if you can’t Lysandre around Articuno or mini-Yveltal in those respective matchups. This would help alleviate that issue while forcing your opponent to figure out how to respond with an attacker of their own. Frost Spear can have utility against Night March as well.
That’s all I’m going to say on Blastoise for today. Heading into Week 2, I’m concerned about the number of potential threats to the Turtle, and believe that Articuno may be more essential than ever for dealing with nuisances such as Leafeon PLF that are sure to emerge. I believe that it’s possible the deck completely falls flat Week 2. If that happens, be on the lookout Week 3 …
Puppet Show: Re-Tooled Tool Drop
Of course, despite my seemingly Blastoise and Yveltal-centered world, there were other decks that saw success in Week 1. Notably, Michael Canvaes and Brandon Cantu both piloted Tool Drop to Day 2 in Houston, and Brandon was one of the last undefeated players to fall on Saturday. I have no external intel on the list, but I did sit next to the two of them enough to garner a bit of an idea of what was going on. Here’s my take on the deck and why it saw success:
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 40
4 Sparkling Robe
3 Head Ringer
1 Life Dew
2 Eco Arm
Energy – 8
Unfortunately, the two representatives of the deck had a rough Day 2. This list is a combination of my intuition and my observation. I can definitely confirm the presence of cards like Sparkling Robe and Mystery Energy; I just can’t positively verify their counts. I’m assuming there were Eco Arm due to the presence of Life Dew, but I may well be incorrect. I did, however, see at least two Shuppet, so I know that count to be the minimum plausible number.
Speaking of Shuppet, it’s definitely the most notable card in the list. Aside from having an amusing attack name, Shuppet’s purpose is to make life difficult for Seismitoad-EX players by turning Double Colorless Energy into a short-term commodity. Mew-EX, while initially seeming bad in a deck appearing to rely on the idea of a non-EX to achieve success, actually makes a lot of sense. With a Sparkling Robe early, Mew is immune to Hypnotoxic Laser shenanigans, meaning it’ll always take off at least two Double Colorless in its lifespan. You either then repeat the trick, or if they have trouble finding the DCE to replace the one you just eliminated, seize the opportunity to place a plethora of Tools.
Sparkling Robe is ingenious largely for that reason. Seismitoad immediately has a harder time. Yveltal variants can no longer try any tricks with baby Yveltal. The amount of plays it can force from your opponent is staggering. Mystery Energy is another ingenious trick that gets around the lack of a “traditional” Tool Drop inclusion of Masquerain by allowing free retreat of all Psychic types in the deck.
Overall, it was an innovative play, but I’m just not sure that it will be well cut out for Week 2. It has a clear, easily teched weakness in Startling Megaphone (not to mention Seismitoad-EX). I believe part of its success was in the surprise factor, which is why it saw such a measure of success on Day 1 compared to Day 2. I expect that players will err on the side of caution and tech against this possibility. Whether or not that teching is justified is the fundamental problem of the TCG: Will Tool Drop see play or won’t it?
I’m inclined to believe that there could definitely be some copycatting due to the relative (odd) quiet that’s surrounded the deck since Saturday, and as such, I’m leaning toward a copy of Megaphone in my lists. The biggest takeaway from the list, though, may be the idea of teching Shuppet into decks like Night March for the added edge against Seismitoad-EX variants.
Moving on from Tool Drop, perhaps the biggest headline of the weekend was the surprise success of Vileplume AOR. I wrote back in August about the potential for a Vileplume variant, but abandoned the concept relatively quickly because of its inconsistency. Evidently, I was hasty in this conclusion, as Vileplume did make an impact this past weekend in both Phoenix and Houston. Let’s take a look at the two variants that captured national fanfare this weekend.
Frosty Flowers: Vileplume/Regice
Let’s just get right into it. For reference, here’s the list that made Top 8 in Houston:
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 33
Energy – 10
I am a firm believer in the importance of source authority, and I’m definitely far from an authoritative source on this concept. For that reason, I’m refraining from my own spin on the list and simply providing this for reference and discussion. Notably, this deck is legal for the Standard format as well. Whether that was intentional or by coincidence is not something I’m privy to. In any event, it’s a complete contrast to my reminiscing of old times earlier in the article while also ironically being the “oldest” concept present (as Vileplume AOR is the spiritual successor to the Undaunted version).
I was somewhat privy to the Top 8 match between this and Archie’s Blastoise, and my observation was that Games 1 and 2 were both decided by deck out, as the Archie’s player elected to use Articuno’s Chilling Sigh as his primary strategy. Interestingly, this was especially present in Game 2 when the Archie player had a Keldeo set up to be able to Knock Out the Regice when it remained Asleep. Really, it was a Sleep flip from being a 2-0 decision, but the series did extend to three games and I have no idea how that third game progressed other than that Archie won.
That particular match is the embodiment of this deck to me: Now that it’s out there, it’ll be played around. During Round 11, I was able to watch it play against another Archie that it utterly destroyed, and my conclusion is that the Archie player just simply drew abysmally. Otherwise, I believe the matchup — which should intuitively be really strong — is rather close. In particular, I believe this concept is likely to suffer at the hands of the Hex Maniac renaissance that’s likely to pervade in Week 2.
As far as the list goes, I will say that the 4 AZ is something I believe I nailed in my August piece: It’s an essential card in high counts in Vileplume. Despite what I said above about my lack of knowledge here, my intuition is to cut Shauna for N or another Birch. Contrary to some discussion that I’ve seen, I believe Professor Birch’s Observations is a very legitimate choice in Vileplume — 4 Standard or not. Plus, Shauna is simply bad.
Otherwise, the single copy of Switch strikes me as a little odd, but with 4 Trainers’ Mail I can get on board. The 1 VS Seeker is an ingenious inclusion with AZ and Hex Maniac at your disposal to enable its use to grab a clutch Lysandre or other Supporter. Notably, there isn’t a Computer Search or other ACE SPEC, which is simply inexplicable: if you’re playing Ultra Ball, one of those should always be a Computer Search because it’s the same card with more freedom.
Overall, it’s interesting, but I don’t know that I can see this deck repeating its success.
Ironically, I think Night March might actually have a competitive matchup here, which is automatically bad news for any deck. If the Night March player gets a turn to play through its deck, I think the game should go its way due to the difficulty of streaming Regice. Should Night March choose to begin playing Hex Maniac in significant counts, all bets are off to an even greater degree. Additionally, Yveltal’s versatility under Item lock due to Dark Cloak makes it more of a threat than it seems, from my perspective. Couple that with disturbing counts of Hex Maniac and it could be trouble.
The other big Vileplume variant of the week was Brandon Smiley’s Vileplume/Aegislash/Miltank. Rather than attempt Safeguard against EXs, Brandon’s deck takes a broader approach of attempting to block Special Energy-based attackers. Given that I just described most of the format in a very broad stroke, that’s something very powerful.
Organic Inorganics: Vileplume/Aegislash
Again, no background knowledge on my part, but here’s an attempt at the list based on the stream and my intuition:
Pokémon – 22
Trainers – 27
Energy – 11
Unlike the Regice deck, this figures to have an excellent Archie’s matchup due to its ability to dish out high damage via Mewtwo-EX. After stopping their setup, there really shouldn’t be much more to do but clean up, and Mewtwo prevents a large Keldeo from running through your board. Aegislash is clearly good against the likes of Night March and Vespiquen, which is a boon for any deck. Miltank FLF acts as an excellent intermediate attacker in all situations.
The notable difference between this list and the Regice approach, besides fundamentally different attacking approaches, is the Slurpuff line. Rather than dedicating a plethora of deck space to Supporters, Brandon seems to have taken a Pokémon-based approach. In a deck that offers a significant wall in the form of Aegislash, this makes sense, whereas Regice needs to chain attackers more frequently.
Pokémon Communication is a card that hasn’t seen much play in Expanded, but it makes a ton of sense in Vileplume. It allows you to empty your hand when using Shaymin by both using the Pokémon Communication and sending a Pokémon back to the deck. It’s good for similar reasons when you’re about to establish Item lock, as it allows you to get it out of your hand for no cost (as you can search out the Pokémon you just placed in the deck). Additionally, it can spare an ugly Turn 1 Juniper by returning a Pokémon to the deck prior to the use of Juniper. Its ingenuity in Vileplume can’t be understated.
In general, I’m not sure this concept’s outlook is much better than Regice’s. The Yveltal matchup would seemingly be fairly poor, and that’s evidenced by Brandon’s Top 8 loss to Israel Sosa’s Yveltal-EX/Archeops NVI. Obviously, the Archeops probably played a role, but I’m not sure that Yveltal wouldn’t have a good shot either way. Mobility under Item lock cannot be understated, and Hex Manaic ought to have a fairly great effect on the matchup. With lists potentially pushing to include a second copy of Hex, I’m not convinced that this concept will be able to beat Yveltal — and that’s a significant concern in my mind.
I may seem pessimistic about our big decks out of Week 1, and to tell the truth, I tend to feel that way about the big surprises out of the week too. Simply, I believe the amount of cards in the Expanded format allows for hard teching in a way that hasn’t been present in years. Want to beat Yveltal? Enough Dedenne or Raichu will put you well on your way. Dead set on beating Blastoise? Hex Maniac is an easily searchable and recyclable solution while Leafeon acts as an offensive weapon. Have a problem with Durant? If you’re truly compelled, there’s Heatmor for that. In fact, a little word about that concept …
An Aside on Gameplay and Teching Principles
Before I let you all go, I’d like to add some notes on teching and the way the game works currently that should fundamentally influence your deck construction now and into the future. For those here mostly for decklists, I encourage you to give this section a read so that you have a better grasp when making changes to those lists. For those looking for some game theory content, I hope to fulfill some of that need today. This is primarily only true of the Expanded format, though Standard still bucks this trend to some extent.
Two Types of Consistency
If you remember back to my May article, there was an overarching theme of a discard pile “engine” I highlighted. Obviously it was an evident trend in game construction, but it’s one that’s only exasperated in the current Expanded format. In the past, there was a term “consistency.” Most players now know it as the ease with which a deck sets up, and in part, that has always been the meaning of the word.
However, another aspect of “consistency” in the past related to the ease with which you had access to any given card in your deck. Claydol GE increased your “consistency” in both regards; Cyrus’s Conspiracy increased consistency in that it allowed you access to any Supporter or Team Galactic’s Invention in your deck. By extension, SP Radar allowed you access to the Pokémon in your deck. For this reason, SP was often considered the preeminent deck in the “consistency” department, which is why it was also regarded as the easiest to “tech” for any given matchup. Josh Wittenkeller’s “The Bible on Luxchomp” is one of my favorite Underground articles of all time because it so well embodies this concept. SP could do anything because it had unparalleled access to nearly every card in its deck.
From Survival to Revival
After the rotation to HeartGold & SoulSilver, the second form of “consistency” took a backseat to the general ease of setting up a deck’s core strategy. The lack of draw so decimated the format that teching became a cumbersome endeavor requiring swaths of deck space that simply didn’t exist. Decks had to run in excess of 15 draw Supporters simply to ensure their survival past Turn 2. That took so much space that squeezing extra lines of different cards in became extremely difficult, and as such, matchups were little more than a rock-paper-scissors match for much of the last few years.
With the advent of XY, this trend began to change. It started cautiously in Black & White series with cards like Computer Search, and techs began to gradually become a thing again in the 2013-2014 cycle, but dead-draws were still all too frequent of a reality. However, an element of skill began to creep back into matchups as the scale between the two meanings of consistency began to start tilting back toward the median. N became less of a staple draw Supporter (that also had use as a comeback card by definition) and tilted toward being primarily for comebacks.
Phantom Forces blew this concept up. Contextually, Battle Compressor is the most broken card in the TCG’s history. In a vacuum, it may seem bad, but coupled with VS Seeker in the same set, and Acro Bike/Trainers’ Mail’s recent advents, it serves as the basis for a majority of the combos in today’s game. Once Shaymin-EX hit the game? Transformation overnight.
Dead Draws No More
As I played this weekend, I made a startling realization: The concept of dead-draws is dead. Outside of very rare occasions, a player will not simply draw poorly and lose quickly. This was commonplace as recent as two seasons ago (and for quite a duration before that). N could end games just because someone dead-drew off of a 2-card hand. Remember when I asked you to think about N and its effects earlier? This was why. I have reached the following conclusion:
The conventional idea of N as a disruption card? Dead.
Maybe that’s hyperbole, but I believe it’s largely true. Multiple times over the weekend I was N’d to a figure of 1 or 2 cards only to draw an Ultra Ball, VS Seeker, or Superior Energy Retrieval and be right back in the swing of things. N is nearly powerless at this point. Exeggcute PLF turns an otherwise-dead Ultra Ball in an N to 1 into a new hand with Shaymin-EX. Shaymin’s effect used to be on a Supporter. If that isn’t the embodiment of how far we have come, I don’t know what is.
How does this all tie together? The idea of the more recent definition of “consistency” has taken a back seat on a very long bus. It’s nearly a foregone conclusion that a deck will set up its strategy, and it will do it quickly. The more frightening conclusion? The second concept of consistency is also approaching irrelevancy: Most decks have access to any card they want at almost any point in the game. 1-of Tools aside, if I got in a time machine and told a Team Magma’s Groudon player that in 10 years he’d be able to search out any Supporter he wanted on Turn 1 with the use of only 2 Item cards, he would’ve rightly scoffed.
What do I say all of this for? Decks that can afford to tech are at an enormous advantage. Yveltal is the embodiment of this concept in my mind. Hex Maniac, Ghetsis, etc. are all nearly effortless to retrieve. Pokémon techs are similarly not difficult to find. Is this phenomena all bad? Not strictly, but in its current embodiment, I believe it may be so:
- Comebacks are nearly nonexistent at this stage in the game due to the inability to properly disrupt an opponent. I did a quick mental tally, and in my Top 8 this weekend, Jason and I played around a total of 18 turns combined between the two games. That’s 1.5 Prizes/turn. Good luck disrupting anything moving at that rate with hand disruption alone — it was moving at that pace for a reason.
- Certain concepts are unviable because they simply don’t have space to compete with the teching ability of things like Archie’s Blastoise and Night March. The key to my theory is this: There are still decks that are vulnerable to the first idea of “consistency,” but they’re mostly unviable for that reason alone. You won’t find any natural Stage 2s (except for Vileplume, which we’ll get to in a moment) in this environment. When it takes less deck space to go faster, who would do otherwise?
- I believe matches are primarily decided at the players meetings, not the tables. What do I mean? In an era where 1-card techs can be summoned easily and deck space is a bit looser, anticipating different matchups and teching properly (Megaphone for Tool Drop, Hex Manaic for Archie’s, etc.) in the moments leading up the start of the event is much more likely to win you games than any amount of in-game skill.
- Now, to be clear: Games can still be lost at the table. I do not, however, generally believe they can be won — with the exception of mirror matches. Mirror matches have generally been considered low-skill endeavors with an interesting exception: SP. They are not parallels, to be clear, but in a mirror in which access to every card in deck approaches being a foregone conclusion, it can feel more like a chess match than a game of Russian roulette.
Thus, my conclusion is that the primary vector of skill in this format is deck building. It’s anticipating the different decks you’ll face, evaluating which techs offer the best trade-off of space vs. matchup improvement, and maximizing the utility of every deck slot.
So, as I asked above: Is this all bad? Probably not. I would rather have a format where matchups are partially decided by the different cards a person choses to run rather than one where TOM has more power than the player. Is it perfect? Very far from it. There’s a line to be toed between both types of consistency, and right now the game is far out of whack on that line. I’d ideally like to see a measure of consistency so that deck space isn’t razor tight, but also not have this level of unprecedented access to every card in the deck. In any event, it is what it is, and understanding the circumstances is the first key to succeeding in them.
The Counter Strategy
The counter strategy to the madness is, of course, to prevent players from using those Items to dig up everything they need. That’s where Vileplume’s place in the format is, from my perspective. If Vileplume can find an attacking suite that can stand up to Yveltal, its disruptive effects may be the key to the Expanded format all year long. It keeps this maddening progression of in-game speed in check. I believe that is why Vileplume was able to see success while other Stage 2s linger on the sidelines.
… Oh, one more radical takeaway? As I alluded to earlier, I’m not so sure if N is a mandatory staple anymore. I only found it useful this weekend as a way to play a Supporter that didn’t involve ditching all of my Superior Energy Retrievals. We shall see, and while I’m not exactly dropping it from my faster lists yet (it will always have a place in Yveltal in my mind), I’d be hard pressed to play more than 1 in quite a few decks.
If nothing else, I hope that I’ve left you pondering after this read. It’s a wild ride, and the best bet for success is to have a grasp on its parameters. I hope to have offered you insight on the five decks we’ve covered today, and left you reconsidering every card in your 60 — perhaps more now than ever, each and every one counts.
See you at Regionals.
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