ebay.comTime’s a funny thing. While it feels like an eternity since I last was with you, it’s simply been a matter of landing on the earliest March date and latest April option. Meanwhile, even though it feels that States have only just finished, we’re already at the halfway mark between their conclusion and the onset of Spring Regionals.
I had an up-and-down States season, attaining points with a W1 T16 in Maine, having a rough weekend in New York, coming up a win short in Indiana, but finishing on a high note taking 2nd in Massachusetts. Perhaps you’ve already seen the breakdown from Alex Hill earlier this month, but if not, I encourage you to take a look. I’m going to talk a bit more about my States experience later through a bit of discussion about collaboration in Pokémon.
With States in the rearview mirror, it’s high time to start preparing for Regionals. Since we started having multiple seasons of Regionals per year (originally there was only one), spring’s Regionals have been particularly interesting to me due to the inherently more diverse card pool. In the past, the card variety was achieved simply through the normal release of sets following August’s yearly rotation; now that effect is even more exaggerated by the advent of Expanded.
What’s significant about the card pool size? To me, Spring Regionals has typically been the embodiment of the right balance between too few and too many sets. By Nationals and Worlds, the card pool usually seems to have either turned stale or have one too many archetypes to get a good handle on.
Last year featured Exeggutor as the proverbial deck-to-beat heading into Spring’s Week 1, and while I personally despised that particular aspect of the format, there was a delicate balance to be achieved between teching and losing to Exeggutor. In 2014, Virizion/Genesect and Yveltal-EX were (yes, even then) all the rage. I misplayed my way out of Top 4 of that season’s Ontario event, but it was a format that was ripe for countering, as shown by the Emboar variant that ended up taking that particular event out of nowhere.
Why does this all matter? I presently believe this format is ripe for innovation. While my argument about expansion overload doesn’t really apply to the current Expanded pool, we’re in a unique spot having already had a batch of events in the BLW–BKP format (Week 3-of Winter Regionals). Given the sheer expansive nature of Expanded’s options and the metagame already established by Winter Regionals (and, to a degree, States), I’d argue there’s not going to be another format as ripe for the taking as Week 1-of this upcoming set of Regionals.
With that in mind, we’re going to cover some unconventional ideas in today’s article. The most frequent criticism I hear of Underground is a lack of “new” ideas, and while I tend to believe that’s the bias of those who haven’t actually read our pieces in their entirety, I also believe it’s the result of each writer trying to provide the very best knowledge they can at a given time.
I generally try to make my content have as lengthy a “lifespan” of usability as possible — one way of doing that is my tendency to discuss lists for major archetypes, justifications for parts of those lists, and ways to adjust them. However, today, it seems to me that we’re playing in an environment absolutely saturated with lists for the major archetypes. Between my fellow writers’ efforts — particularly Ryan on Tuesday — and Pokémon.com’s treasure trove of Winter Regionals content, I don’t know how much I can add to the discussion of Trevenant, Yveltal, or Groudon.
With that said, I’ve also found myself dreadfully bored with the aforementioned decks. Coupled with my feelings regarding the Spring format, I’ve been led to test a variety of concepts that would certainly fall outside the mainstream. Some of those concepts have deplorably terrible, but there are a few that intrigue me, and those, obviously, are the ones we’re going to look at today.
Pinky & the Brain: M Gardevoir/Aromatisse
Right away, this deck is one of the reasons I’m taking this approach today. Last spring saw me come painstakingly — literally, less than a second — from achieving a Top 8 with Gardevoir in Salt Lake City. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, as I tied my way out of contention by the margin of time it took my opponent to move his hand from promoting a new Active to drawing a card, leaving myself with a millisecond-long Turn 0. Nevertheless, the deck was a gutsy meta call then — I knew my chances of beating Night March and Flareon, both significant factors in the format at the time, were minuscule (and I dropped both opportunities I had against them) — and will continue to be now. I dropped exactly two games in six matches against non-Night March/Flareon opponents, which is exactly what the deck was designed to do.
The significant difference between Standard and Expanded right now is the rate of 1HKOs. Standard matches are primarily defined by Night March’s blazing speed or Item lock’s icy confines, while Expanded tends to feature more intricacies, whether it be Yveltal mirrors or the chip damage of Raikou BKT or Virizion/Genesect. That difference opens the door for Fairy’s healing tactics to potentially gain some traction in the format. I believe that, as long as the likes of Night March remain relatively quiet, this is a concept that can see success.
I’ve played around with both M Gardevoir and multitype toolbox concepts, and while both are intriguing, I’ve consistently found myself underwhelmed with the toolbox’s ability to achieve and preserve board state. The Expanded format may not be as 1HKO-focused as Standard, but it still remains difficult to get significant numbers of Rainbow/Prism Energy into play. For that reason, I’ve concluded the Gardevoir variant is likely simply the superior option. Here’s my current list:
Pokémon – 16
3 M Gardevoir-EX
Trainers – 34
Energy – 10
You couldn’t get too much more straightforward than this, and that’s a necessity in a deck that’s trying to replicate the same, complex board position game in and game out. I’d like to increase the Supporter line — when isn’t that a noble pursuit? — but there’s a lot to fit in the confines of 60 cards.
Max Elixir is a nice boon to the deck. Surprisingly, it’s not as useful as you’d think in achieving a quick rain of Energy onto the board — the reason I include it is to up the odds of achieving Geomancy ASAP. Whether that’s a matter of getting an Energy on board to move with Aromatisse or compensating for the fact that T1’s attachment went to the Active Spot in an effort to retreat, that extra Energy with Max Elixir can easily turn into 3 Energy with Geomancy. With this mechanism to help increase T1 Geomancy odds, you’re able to cut things like the 4th Xerneas or extraneous switching outs out of the equation. When you replace those one-dimensional cards with multi-utility options Max Elixir, it’s the kind of transaction that can move a deck into another echelon of playability.
Here are some tech options to consider:
Spiritomb LTR: Yes, it’s already in the list, but it definitely belongs in this category because it fits a theme you’ll see a lot here — individual matchups will dictate the proper tech cards for this list. Metagaming, as with all of the decks I’ll talk about today, will be paramount. Spiritomb obviously helps against Virizion/Genesect, but it makes its way into the list today because it also sees use against any ACE SPEC/Puzzle of Time combos that might make their way into reality. Imagine Primal Groudon with 3 Scramble Switch/Max Potion combos. Or Seismitoad-EX with 3 Rock Guards at its disposal. Ugly thought, isn’t it? Right now, it’s the extra utility against ACE SPECS in general that makes me give it the nod.
Regirock XY49: Omega Barrier has obvious utility in this deck as a safe place to store Energy. Lysandre, Crushing Hammer, and other potential issues are no more. It currently doesn’t find its way into my list because Genesect-EX, one of only a few ways to get around Regirock’s tricks, is among the preeminent forces of the format. Moreover, I often find that it’s simply a safety play or made obsolete by wise Energy management. When you consider Hex Maniac’s presence in the format, it can be a bit unwise to set all of your Energy on one Pokémon, let alone one that can’t even attack. Still, something to consider, especially with …
Exp. Share: This couples especially well with Regirock because of the relative immortality it gains while attached there. This is your out to beating decks like Primal Groudon or any sort of M Mewtwo variant — they can 1HKO you, but oftentimes it’s a slow enough process that you’re able to achieve critical mass of Energy in play and still have a fighting chance. Exp. Share is focused on maintaining that critical mass long enough for you to win back the board state. Getting 8 Energy in play is the easy part; keeping it in play is where things get difficult.
Florges-EX: When I played this deck last year in Salt Lake City, the only reason it was viable was Florges. With Shaymin-EX not yet released, the only other consistency option available in the format was Jirachi-EX, which didn’t really do enough for the deck for me to justify dropping two free Prize cards on the Bench. Florges may seem like an inferior Jirachi at first, but it’s hard to ignore the added utility of a Basic attacker. It’s not a consistency-first option; it’s a consistency-plus-more choice. The deck is even more capable of swallowing the pill of a turn spent on Lead now that Max Elixir is around.
Klefki FFI: One card to make Darkrai-EX BKP or Yveltal-EX take one more Energy to take any sort of knockout is something to consider playing in my book. It also reduces Yveltal XY to a means of Energy acceleration without damage, which saves you Max Potions for later in the game. I don’t readily include it in the current list because of the one-dimensional utility, but I’m definitely considering the possibility that there’ll be such a saturation of Dark variants that this could be a justified inclusion.
Tool Scrapper/Xerosic: Your Sableye matchup isn’t as terrible as you might initially believe. Energy acceleration with Stadium-based free retreat is a powerful thing that Sableye isn’t necessarily a huge fan of. The key to the matchup is to disrupt the Time Puzzle + Life Dew combo in any way necessary. A well-timed Lysandre on Garbodor while dropping Spiritomb is one such way to achieve that end. But, in the event you find yourself needing to disrupt Garbodor for the short term in the interim, these options would be the ways to do it. Also useful for removing Fighting Fury Belt, which can range from a minor annoyance (170→210 only requires one extra Energy) to a troublesome trend (180→220 requires two).
Jirachi XY67: Special Energy is a staple part of the format. In a perfect world, once you achieve your setup, you don’t really care about your opponent’s board unless it’s capable of OKHO’ing M Gardevoir. The more invaluable utility of Jirachi here is buying an extra turn to achieve that setup while forcing your opponent to devote resources to achieve the same board they entering your last turn.
So many techs, so little space. I’ve only really scratched the surface here, as things like Sylveon-EX and Xerneas-EX are also worthy considerations, but for the sake of time, the aforementioned options are the ones I see as most likely to be worthwhile. As far as cuts to consider, the 3rd M Gardevoir, 2nd N, 3rd Max Potion, 4th VS Seeker, and 4th Fairy Garden are among the options. Obviously, those aren’t all compatible — cutting the 2nd N would preclude the 4th VS Seeker from leaving and vice-versa — but it’s my (painful) starter list of things I’d think about if I needed space. The key to making any of these cuts is to make sure that the addition will outweigh the cost of the loss.
Cutting Max Elixir in general is something to consider as well, but if that were to be done, it’d pretty much necessitate Exp. Share and probably Regirock. They aren’t even close to fulfilling the same function, but those would be accommodations necessitated by the loss in early-game versatility Max Elixir offers. I’m not sure that the tradeoff would be worth it very often.
As a whole, this is definitely one of my favorite options at the moment. Max Elixir makes it surprisingly effective, and the combination of healing, free retreat, and Energy acceleration is one that can form a recipe for success fairly often. I definitely encourage you to try the deck out.
After the States finishes my friends and I saw with Vileplume, I’m definitely interested in trying to develop a way to play it in Expanded. The following are the two options I’ve looked at.
This was a concept I spent a lot of time on in the immediate week before St. Louis Regionals. In the end, it could’ve gone no worse for me than my eventual choice of Vespiquen did, but I just couldn’t convince myself it worth the risk.
Fast-forward to the end of States, and with my group having just had quite the run with Vileplume in Standard, I was once again eager to try this concept out. Moreover, it was brought to my attention that Austen Vance had made Top 8 in South Carolina with Yveltal/Vileplume in Standard. My testing had shown Darkrai-EX DEX to be an integral part of the deck, so if it was able to function so well in Standard without it, where did the possibilities end for Expanded?
Here’s what I’m working with right now:
Pokémon – 22
Trainers – 27
Energy – 11
If it looks crazy, that’s because it is. Basically, your strategy is to get out Vileplume ASAP. If you achieve that goal early enough in a game (i.e. T1), you’d be surprised how often the game simply ends. For better or worse, that often doesn’t happen, so instead you utilize your heavy-hitting attacking corp to simply overpower your opponent.
3 Lysandre is a key component of the list, as it allows you to have infinitely more control over the game than your opponent — particularly as lists trend toward playing only a single copy and relying on VS Seeker for more. From a stall tactic to being able to pick off any threat before it reaches the Active, Lysandre’s utility might be even more pronounced in this deck than in most.
Otherwise, the list is simply built around achieving a Vileplume and setting up attackers. I’ve found that a key issue in the deck can be Bench-space management. It goes without saying that Darkrai-EX DEX is nearly essential to have, Vileplume is a must, and Shaymins tend to fill space up sooner than you’d think. That doesn’t leave much room for error, and there have been times I’ve had to choose between missing the T1 Vileplume or dropping that 3rd Shaymin. Both choices have the chance to lose you a game, but I tend to err on the side of not sacrificing that extra Bench space unless it’s a matchup (like Night March or some other low-HP fodder) where Sky Return figures to be usable to decent effect.
Some things to consider in the deck include Malamar-EX, more Items, and a thicker Vileplume line. Malamar can both fuel Darkrai-EX BKP’s more Energy-efficient attack and serve as a disruption utility when such a need arises. Trainers’ Mail, Acro Bike, and even Great Ball can serve valid purposes in furthering the goal of attaining Vileplume. Personally, I tend to believe that it’s not worth crippling the deck’s mid game by including more Items, but I can see the argument. More Oddish/Gloom = better odds of Vileplume. However, unless I saw a compelling case, I’d stick to simply adding more search.
One other option I’ve thought about is Sharpedo-EX. Hunt provides another out to that “Gust of Wind” ability that is so key in this deck, while Jagged Fang allows you to set their board state back while likely achieving a 2HKO. My concern with Jagged Fang is that it also diminishes your Energy in play, which is a crucial issue in a deck like this. I’ve honestly not tested it yet, but it might be something to consider.
If you want to add any of the above options, or something that I perhaps haven’t thought of, I’d identify the 3rd Yveltal XY, Darkrai-EX BKP, and 2nd AZ as prime candidates to be cut. If you were adding Trainers’ Mail or something of that nature, you could also consider adjusting the count of Pokémon Communication, but I’ve found that to be a slippery slope in my testing thus far.
Vileplume is a powerful option, and while I believe Dark is probably the best partner for it in Expanded, I’d also like to offer the following as a more defensive-minded approach to Vileplume as well:
Icy Forest: Vileplume/Regice
Pokémon – 21
Trainers – 27
Energy – 12
Much the same idea as the Dark variant, but with a more defensive mindset. Regice has the ability to simply lock up games against some of the Dark variants that’ve seen play while forcing other decks to dig out counters under lock, and Miltank still provides decent, cheap damage. Manaphy allows the deck to flow infinitely better, and Glalie/Kyurem provide nuanced attacking options. I’ve also considered Gyarados-EX, though it’s simply such a terrible card that even the notion of Item lock isn’t enough to bring it to playability in my mind.
Otherwise, the list’s justification is much the same — and the techs that can be tried in terms of setup are much the same as well.
In fact, a worthwhile alternative might be a M Mewtwo-EX BKT 64-centered approach with Regice as an auxiliary attacking option. Such a concept could also find its way into the Dark shell, but I prefer it in theory with Water because of the number of bases that could be covered — strong attacker, “Safeguard,” Special Energy disruption. Vileplume provides decent cover for the Mega Evolution to happen, and once M Mewtwo is set up, there aren’t many things that are going to stop it quickly. Moreover, Expanded offers Mewtwo-EX NXD, which means you can attack even without the time spent on the Mega.
I’ve not tested a M Mewtwo variant, so I don’t have a list to offer, but it’s definitely something that I’m going to attempt to take a look at prior to Week 1-of Regionals.
Bzz … Bzz … We’re Back: Vespiquen
Pokémon – 26
Trainers – 30
Energy – 4
It’s really only a formality that I provide a decklist, as there are so many different ways to take this sort of concept. The primary focus here is on beating the likes of M Manectric, Raikou/Eels, Virizion/Genesect, Yveltal/Darkrai, and Primal Groudon. Unfortunately, there probably isn’t a great way to salvage the Trevenant matchup, which makes this into a meta call.
The key in many of those matchups is Gallade BKT, which is why things like Puzzle of Time and a modified Supporter engine make their way into the list. Moreover, things like Silver Bangle allow Gallade to hit important numbers (with Giovanni’s Scheme) and can be attached painlessly to reduce a hand to something Maxie’s compatible.
The miniature Eevee line is to both provide additional type coverage and provide extra attacking options to the list. Simply, I don’t believe it’s necessary — or advisable — to dedicate as much space to the Eevee scheme as Winter lists did.
In exchange, this list gains a number of weird options. Exeggcute fell out of favor toward the end of the BLW–BKT format, but I believe it’s a key part of the Maxie’s equation here, so I choose to include it. Wobbuffet was fairly standard last time Vespiquen was big in Expanded, and it remains here as an answer to Archeops.
The biggest surprise is probably Garbodor. It’s not a key part of your strategy, or even anything you want to use in every game. It offers the ability to permanently disable Archeops, eliminate Darkrai’s Dark Cloak, or even disable Trevenant’s Item lock. Obviously, the likelihood of the latter happening is low, but Garbodor adds a layer of options to the deck that’s unparalleled.
With that said, the options, particularly with that 1-1 Garbodor line, are limitless. More consistency is always something to consider, but the likes of Banette ROS 31, Zebstrika BKP, Slowking BKP, Mismagius BKT, Octillery BKT, Swellow ROS 72, and Zoroark BKT are among the laundry list of options I’ve considered. Obviously, the usability of each varies, but depending on your read on the metagame, each one could have use.
The Supporter line is lacking options like Xerosic and Hex Maniac, and while I’d definitely prefer that not be the case, there isn’t really a good way around that reality. You could argue for cutting some of the tech Pokémon, but the deck does still need to be capable of reaching important numbers with Vengeance.
Overall, this is something super attractive to me. Garbodor, and this exact list, might not be the end-all answer to the format, but I’m very intrigued by the ability to hit for a variety of important weaknesses. If Trevenant seems to be taking a back seat, this is something I’ll be very inclined to look at.
Shuffle Shuffle Shuffle
As you’ve surely noticed, it was asked that all of our April writers briefly detail our shuffling habits. The following video (thanks to Ryan Alperstein) displays what I’ve always done:
(Starts at 17:07. I’m on the right with purple sleeves.)
Basically, I do the following:
- Pregame: Pile shuffle. Usually 6 out of desire for ease and symmetry. I don’t buy into the need for an “odd” number since I don’t hold there to be any relevancy added by the routine — more on that shortly.
- Midgame/Post-Pile: Mash shuffle around 7 times, or, in the case of N or pregame, until my opponent is done. I perform the physical shuffle very, very quickly, so it’s usually not them waiting for me. 7 is generally mathematically accepted as the correct number of riffle shuffles to achieve randomization in a 60-card deck, and this form of the mash shuffle is basically a sideways riffle.
It’s not necessarily the most sleeve-friendly method ever, and for that reason, Dragon Shields (particularly the now year-old matte versions) are my sleeve of choice. Ultra Pros, on the other hand …
But, with that said, pile shuffling is one part of the routine I wish I could omit. I’m not sure what exactly the obsession is, but the community as a whole generally frowns upon choosing to not pile shuffle between games and looks upon it as a necessary part of randomization. Such a notion is simply nothing more than fallacious fluff — pile shuffling itself achieves nothing in terms of randomization, only even distribution. Perhaps, then, it’s no coincidence that a player believes pile shuffling achieves a desirable outcome, but it is not a random one.
Achieving randomization is about the rifle/mash shuffles that a player does, not the pile shuffling — and, really, the overhand/hindu/etc. type of shuffle isn’t much for efficient randomization either. It’s imperative that any hypothetical card be equally likely to end up next to any of the other 59 cards in the deck. For that reason, feel free to pile shuffle, but make sure to follow it up with a method that actually achieves randomization.
To finish off today, I’d like to walk through my thought process heading into this Spring Regionals season. As I’ve said, I’m very intrigued by the possibility of a rogue option heading into Week 1. At this point, I’ll be dedicating my time to testing the concepts I’ve outlined here against the preeminent forces from Winter’s preview of the format: Primal Groudon, Trevenant, Dark, Eelektrik, and Virizion/Genesect. Simply, these are the decks that are most likely to see significant play in the early portion of Spring Regionals.
With that said, it’s impossible to count out foes like Greninja BREAK, Night March, and Vespiquen. Vespiquen tailed off in Florida and Oregon in favor of the hyped decks coming out of BREAKpoint, but its ability to cover various types and make effective use of non-EXs make it an inherently strong threat in any format. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see it resurge. Greninja saw a tad bit of play in Florida/Oregon, but with so little time for that metagame to develop, I’m not convinced the first events we saw in this format are that of a barometer of what’s truly effective in this format. With a ton of momentum out of States, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Greninja or Night March start to pick up heading into Kitchener and Seattle.
Groudon and Trevenant swept the final table in both Orlando and Florida, but I’m not convinced that either will return to that throne this Spring. Trevenant enjoyed the benefits of a large segment of the player base being ignorant of the Darkrai-EX BKP/Elixir/Dark Patch concept that is now becoming the accepted way to play Dark in Expanded. Groudon was able to capitalize on a scrambled metagame, and I believe it’s the better poised of the two to ride its momentum into the spring. I’d be leery of assuming that these two decks will be the ones to beat. Instead, my eyes are currently focused on the Dark engine that’s been around for years now — there’s a reason there have been a litany of “black is back” punchlines in UG articles over the last few years.
In preparing for the oncoming storm, oftentimes nothing is as useful as a reliable set of testing partners. The cooperation between Alex Hill, me, and the rest of our group is fairly well documented at this point. It’s been a long road with a lot of decks in the history books, but one of our guiding principles has always been that if I can’t convince him of a tech or deck’s merit, it probably isn’t worth me trying to play either. While it’s somewhat of a mental heuristic — there’s only so much time in the day — I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve fielded 5-6+ of the exact same list for a given event and seen a solid percentage of success.
I suggest that you keep that principal in mind as you prepare for Regionals. There’s literally almost never harm in cooperating with a group of peers going into Regionals, and almost all of the high-level players engage in arrangements like ours to some degree. The worst that happens is you play an awkward mirror in a key situation — but, at least you did enough to get to that situation in the first place.
Ironically, as I’m preaching this ideal, I do also want to caution: don’t be afraid to avoid going down with the ship. If an idea isn’t feeling good to you, don’t hesitate to make that feeling known to your teammates or be afraid to come up with a backup plan.
At Worlds this year, Thursday afternoon saw much of my group set on Primal Groudon for Day 1. I, however, was less than convinced and after discussion and further testing, eventually we came to the group conclusion that Trevenant/Gengar was the superior play. This was a case of this principle in reverse: I couldn’t be convinced, thus, we kept looking for a better option.
Now, I wasn’t necessarily a full-fledged Trevenant fan either, but I was much less opposed to it — and oftentimes, that’s as good as it gets. And sometimes, we’ve seen success even when homogeneity isn’t achieved: my brother’s T16 at Worlds this year came not with our Trevenant list, but M Rayquaza/Bronzong. I broke ranks a few times during States in a lesser manner, as my Week 3 Vileplume list was a few cards varied from what the rest of the group played. It didn’t see me do any better than the others with the list, but we did transition to my changes for Week 4 — and while Alex Hill/Sean Foisy pursued Regirock AOR as an option for Vileplume, I wasn’t hearing anything of it.
All of this is to say: there’s significant value in teammates, and in veracious discourse with those teammates — as a guiding principle, we do try to make sure that each believes in an idea before fully pursuing it as a deck or tech choice. However, it’s important to realize that it’s not a failsafe — sometimes people are wrong en masse — and it can be equally important to jump off the train before it plunges over a cliff.
I hope you’ve gained insight from the various topics covered here today. If you have any questions on any of the decks or anything I’ve said here in the later portion of the piece, feel free to reach out in the forums. Otherwise, I’m sure I’ll see some of you at a Regional sometime soon.
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