Fall is upon us and amidst leaves changing color and sudden cravings of all things pumpkin flavored we get to begin our competitive season with Autumn Regionals. The gap between Worlds and Regionals is always a daunting one and I eagerly look forward to reigniting my competitive fire each and every year. This article arrives a bit late in the scheme of the current format and I want to first commend my fellow writers for doing an excellent job in covering events so far. Particularly, recognition goes to Christopher Schemanske for covering the first weekend in such wonderful detail. Excellence thrives when it is recognized and so I cannot help myself in giving a strong nod in his direction for his piece. With this in mind, I will do my best to cover happenings in the community without retreading what has already been said.
Skill Game: The State of Expanded
Cynicism in regard to the mandatory advancement of Expanded appeared to be at an all-time high when the announcement was made over the summer and though many voiced positive views of this change (myself included), we are now able to add evidence to our arguments rather than relying on the anecdotal. So what is the verdict?
I am happy to report that I believe Expanded is one of the most skill-based and intricate formats we have had in years! With the colossal card pool and vast amount of card combinations, possibilities are seemingly endless. Of course, there is still a metagame to consider which is why many decks (Yveltal, Blastoise, Seismitoad, and so on) remain favored over others. The amount of skill required to succeed at Expanded is easily observable in the results from Houston, Lancaster, and Phoenix: Jason Klaczynski versus Michael Pramawat, Jimmy O’Brien (with the most impressive performance since 2006 Nationals clearing the event without a loss and only one intentional draw) versus Frank Diaz, and a fourth Regional win for Israel Sosa. Every single one of these players are amongst the best of the best and it is satisfying to see all of them at the top of the game. If such a notion does not force you to believe that the best players will succeed regardless of format then I am not sure if anything ever will.
It is unlikely that we will ever see these decks removed from the scene but it is my belief that the best combinations are yet to be discovered. I have made this point before and I will make it again but results themselves to not necessitate judgment of the best. What I mean is that results have a temporal constraint to them and so the deck that wins an event is not inherently the best possible deck in the game. Vespiquen may win an event overpopulated by Yveltal and Blastoise but this only makes the deck the best for event and not necessarily every event and thus it is a relative concern. In my view, it is highly probable that there is some combination of cards within the BLW-on card pool (or perhaps any given card pool) that could theoretically beat every deck we consider high tier and the fact that it remains undiscovered is not sufficient to ignore such a possibility.
For instance, if you were to ask Jason Klaczynski about each of his World Championship wins, he would insist that he could have played a better and different deck each and every time. Despite obtaining the most prestigious title in the game, it is always possible to play and build decks closer to perfection. With this in mind, I want to encourage everyone to explore all of your ideas and not limit yourselves to the lists posted here on SixPrizes and elsewhere on the internet.
Rogue Nation: Counteractive Plays for Week 3
As I wrote last time, I had planned on attending Houston Regionals during Week 1 but as a result of some personal issues and plans falling through, I was in a situation where I would have had to make a 10-hour trek alone which I simply could not justify. A teenage Brit would have made this trip in a heartbeat, but current Brit recently reached the old age of 23 and no longer has the energy for such endeavors and sadly I was sidelined for the first weekend.
Had I attended, I was very keen on playing Archie’s Blastoise with a Kyogre-EX DEX to attempt to combat my weakness against Vespiquen decks. To me, the pesky Bee was the only thing I felt threatened by as a Blastoise player and Kyogre’s Dual Splash was the perfect answer to this as Mr. Mime PLF is seldom seen anymore. However, I do not attempt to claim this idea as my own and must cite Sorina and other Northwest players for informing me of this addition to the deck.
Fast-forward to that Friday and I began to hear that Yveltal decks were all the rage and I was not alone in my view that Blastoise was still a very strong play. From here, I believe I would have been inspired to play a Vespiquen deck in Houston and while I encouraged Squeaky Marking to do so, no one took my advice on such a matter. (See image right.) My faith, however, was strongly rewarded with Jimmy O’Brien’s absurdly good performance this past weekend so I’m glad to see that I was not wrong in my assumption about the deck. Yveltal, Blastoise, and Vespiquen have all been covered in far too much detail for me to bore you with anymore words on the matter, so please refer to previous articles for all the insight you need on these dominant decks. My main intent in this section is to exemplify my earlier statement to not tunnel-vision on the established decks and attempt to utilize this giant card pool in order to create something great and unexpected!
Grim Fangdango: Yveltal/Crobat
Pokémon – 22
Trainers – 29
Energy – 9
This is the first deck I began to work on after observing the initial results of Fall Regionals and think that it has the potential to beat the entire echelon of top-tiered threats. I began with the idea of attempting to make Raichu/Crobat once again but with a small Leafeon PLF line to hedge against Blastoise and Seismitoad decks. However, attempting to fit all of that became a difficult and unnecessary task since I could easily add Jolteon AOR to the deck and effectively accomplish what Raichu would without the burden of needing to fit more Pokémon and a heavy count of Sky Field.
The idea is simple enough. Yveltal is a strong and efficient attack that when combined with Hypnotoxic Laser and Crobat damage easily threatens the board for only one Energy. Oblivion Wing scores clean knockouts on both Night Marchers. Leafeon has always been a looming threat to any Pokémon with Grass Weakness and using Crobat and Lasers lets Energy Crush take even easier knockouts. Jolteon, additionally is able to supplement Leafeon (and even Golbat in specific scenarios) in a way that can pose a large threat against an opposing Yveltal matchup.
Furthermore, I believe that since almost all of my attackers are non-EXs, I can manage to trade fairly efficiently against both Flareon and Vespiquen. It’s not the easiest of matchups but it’s far from a loss. Finally, Mega Manectric decks pose the largest threat to this deck as they are able to easily handle your Yveltal and are not threatened by any of your Eeveelutions. I have been paired against it a time or two in my testing on PTCGO and have able to occasionally pull out a win with a well-timed Laser flip or when they attached too many Energy onto their board — allowing Leafeon to hit for massive damage.
I think this would have been a perfect play for Lancaster Regionals, though I am currently uncertain which way the meta is going to swing for the final weekend. Either way, I recommend exploring this list or something similar as you prepare for Fort Wayne, San Jose, and Vancouver.
Dirty Dogs: Manectric/Garbodor
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 35
Energy – 9
It would probably be a misnomer to refer to this deck as “rogue” as it is a concept that has existed since Nationals last year and many have written about the combination of Manectric and Garbodor (myself included) but I still wish to highlight it as I believe it to be incredibly strong.
This list is within a card or two of my teammate Dean Nezam who was able to take the deck to Top 8 in Lancaster losing almost exclusively to Jimmy O’Brien throughout the weekend.
Mega Manectric simply has too many things going well for it to ever be ignored. It has a ton of HP, it’s an efficient attacker, it has type advantage on one of the best and most popular cards in the game (Yveltal-EX), its own Weakness remains unpopular (Fighting), and it is resilient against both Item and Ability denial. When combined with Garbodor, these strengths only become more evident and it coasts to many easy victories. Hoopa-EX further boosts its consistency and by running P Energy, you can potentially use Hyperspace Fury to snipe an easy target on the Bench. I remain on the fence regarding the superiority of Head Ringer or Jamming Net but either card proves useful in hindering opponents and disrupting the Prize exchange by fueling Trubbish’s Tool Drop.
Eye Candy: Sableye/Slurpuff
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 41
Energy – 7
The more popular version of this deck focused on Garbodor instead of Slurpuff and this list is heavily inspired by a Garbodor version I received from Brent Halliburton and his children, but I find Tasting to be a more optimal way to build the deck. Garbodor is obviously very useful, but I think that Hex Maniac helps you accomplish exactly the same things while being smoother at disrupting your opponent. My argument for Slurpuff over Garbodor bears a striking resemblance to arguments from last year about Seismitoad/Garbodor versus Seismitoad/Slurpuff and simply put, I think that drawing more cards better achieves Sableye’s devious goals.
In my testing with the Garbodor variant, I found myself in need of playing Professor Juniper far more often than I would have liked which in turn prevented my disruptive capabilities. By using Tasting every turn, it was much easier to find the Items and Supporters I needed to prevent my opponent from Knocking Out my Pokémon, and combined with using Junk Hunt every turn, I was almost always able to play Lasers and Hammers and a tech Supporter every single turn.
I worry about this deck’s ability to consistently win in the difficult 50+3 format but I believe it is worth looking into, especially if you have favored the Garbodor variant in your testing.
Battle Represser: The Problem of Diminishing Interactions
Thus far, my thoughts on the format are almost mostly positive but not exclusively. I have my complaints about the Battle Compressor-focused decks like Archie’s Blastoise, Night March, and Vespiquen/Flareon. It is perplexing to me to see these decks exist despite Pokémon’s intent on making a fair and balanced game. Recall that Lysandre’s Trump Card was banned because it allowed “repeated use of powerful Trainer cards” and “drawing through your deck quickly with minimal repercussions” among other reasons. Of course it is true that infinite cycling through your deck is no longer a possibility, I wonder if the concerns stated above do not remain an issue.
I believe that Battle Compressor decks remain problematic to the game as a whole because of the lack of interaction they elicit while playing against them. This is not to say that I believe the decks take no skill to play or allow suboptimal players to succeed as some angry detractors may suggest. In fact, I think that there is a lot of skill required to use Battle Compressor perfectly but I still question whether or not such a card is healthy for the game. My intent here is certainly not to vilify anyone who chooses to play these decks. If they happen to be the most powerful option available, then by all means, play them to your heart’s content. I spent the bulk of my last article insisting how I thought Night March was the best deck so I would be a hypocrite if I thought it were “wrong” to play these decks. However, just because it is permissible does not mean that such decks do not hinder the game from its utmost potential.
Rather, I believe that when we play a game like Pokémon, it is at its best when interactions are at a high. Games with as many interactions are clearly the most dynamic because the thought required increases with each possibility.
Concerns such as choosing to Lysandre a threat or hinder your opponent’s setup with something like a Xerosic or Hex Maniac require time and patience to enact perfectly, but Battle Compressor decks seem to have almost no consideration for patience or conservatism and almost always reward a player for digging aggressively each and every turn, which to me bears a striking resemblance for the reason that Lysandre’s Trump Card was removed from the game.
In my assertion that the interaction between decks is conducive to higher levels of play, I think we begin to uncover why older formats are generally revered rather than frowned upon. All too often, I hear seasoned players talk about how much better the game was in 2006 and 2008 and while I did not play back then, I have spent a fair amount of time with older decks and it is easy to conclude that formats of old are much, much slower. The slower the game is, the more interactions there are and when there are more interactions, the weight of each decision is valued at a higher rate.
Is it impossible to interact with the Battle Compressor decks? It is not, but clearly when going second to any of these decks and their first turn consists of playing 10+ Trainers and milling over a third of their deck, there are immediately strategies that you cannot consider engaging with.
In my experience playing against something like Night March, I found that it was easy to assess the favorability of a matchup because all of my games went something like this:
- Game 1: My opponent saw all four Battle Compressors on the first turn and I lost.
- Game 2: My opponent only saw one Battle Compressor on the first turn and I won easily.
- Game 3: My opponent played three Battle Compressor and Maxie and there was no point in ever taking a turn.
At Worlds this past year, I cannot count how many times I heard players assess their chances against Archie’s Blastoise as “If they miss the turn one Blastoise, I will win and if they hit it, I lose.” Matchups should never be this simple! If after the first turn, the only strategy I have for winning is to N them low and pray they continually whiff on a specific resource then there is clearly a problem with these decks.
“Leeroy Jenkins created a strategy that revolved around trying to defeat your opponent in one turn without requiring any cards on the board. Fighting for board control and battles between minions make an overall game of Hearthstone more fun and compelling, but taking 20+ damage in one turn is not particularly fun or interactive.”
This may sound foreign to many of you, but I think much of the terminology is easily replaced with Pokémon and my argument is highlighted even further.
This first objection I foresee to my thoughts here are to suggest that the fact that the decks are counterable proves that they are not overpowered or problematic for the game. If I want to beat Night March, simply play Seismitoad/Crobat or to beat Blastoise, I simply must play a Vespiquen deck.
First: Overpowered and problematic for the game are not synonymous. Overpowered is only an issue when a mechanic is broken and only one way of playing is viable for best results, which we can see from the Seismitoad/Shaymin in the Trump Card era or the hauntings of Sabledonk.
I think this objection is partially true though it does not convince me to still wonder whether or not Battle Compressor should have ever been printed. By creating a game of play the deck or play the counter, we introduce a rock-paper-scissors format, which I think we can all agree is far from the best possible format. The best possible format exists when an incredibly large number of decks have an equally viable chance to win a given event and for that to be the case, I do not think that Battle Compressor decks can be in the equation.
2. Other Cards That Limit Interaction
Next, I can see one arguing that cards like Seismitoad-EX and Vileplume AOR also limit the possibility for interactions within a game, and if Battle Compressor decks are problematic, what removes these from the same concern?
I believe that this objection is easily defeated by noting that playing against Seismitoad or even Vileplume is can be done in the deck building stage. Simply, by acknowledging Item lock as a threat, you can rework your deck to have a stronger chance against a menacing Quaking Punch. Playing more Supporters over VS Seekers or opting to include tech Supporters like Team Flare Grunt or Hex Maniac generally gives most decks a chance against Item lock whereas this is largely impossible against the Battle Compressor decks without becoming a hard counter, which is addressed above. Notably, Giratina-EX AOR also “limits” interaction in a similar way, but not to the degree where it is problematic.
So far, these are the only potential objections I have been able to come up with but I am positive that there are others. If you agree or disagree with me or would like to question any of the decks I have discussed, I would love to walk through your rationale, so please leave a comment and I will attempt to address them as soon as possible.
Looking forward, I will be in Fort Wayne, Indiana this coming weekend for my first big event of the year! I hope that you have found some sort of inspiration in the decks or thoughts that I have gone over today and I look forward to switching back to Standard for the majority of City Championships. Regionals are very hit or miss for me in regard to performance so I hope I am able to report back with satisfactory results. Best of luck to everyone who attends any of the events this weekend and until next time!
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