Just a couple of years ago, we were introduced to the brand new Expanded format. I remember everyone was ecstatic for it! All of our favorite older cards like Eelektrik were going to stay usable, and it would bring a whole bunch of new strategies to the table with such a large card pool. There were huge debates about whether or not this original Expanded format was going to be healthy. Recently, I’ve heard a lot of people griping about the health of the current Expanded format, and whether or not you think it is healthy, I think we can all agree that it has some problems.
The first predicament is the ridiculous power of Ghetsis when going first. With the incredible reliance on Item cards for consistency in this format (Ultra Ball, VS Seeker, Battle Compressor, etc.), Ghetsis can take an opponent out of the game before they even get a chance at setting up. The second concern I’ve heard expressed is how matchup based the current format has become. The Expanded format allows for a whopping 26 sets of cards to be playable, and because of that, we are obviously going to have a wide variety of decks. Now, that doesn’t mean that all decks are created equal.
I think we can all agree that Yveltal is the undisputed best deck in Expanded, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a wide array of decks available that can do well. Every deck (perhaps barring Yveltal) seems to have a bad matchup against at least one relevant deck, and perhaps that is what makes Yveltal such a popular choice! With the right amount of skill, it has the potential to beat every deck. However, if you’re not playing Yveltal, it’s likely that you will have at least one bad matchup lurking in the field. So it seems like the only way to do well is to hit the right matchups. Imagine playing Night March at a tournament, expecting Yveltal to keep Trevenant in check, but you end up playing against THREE Trevenant decks throughout the day. I wish I could say that hasn’t happened to me.
But instead of sitting back and accepting what comes, today I want to focus mainly on strategies for overcoming this matchup-based format and preparing for a diverse field.
Meta Focus: Re-Emphasizing Matchups and Teching
Way back in my first article for SixPrizes Underground, I actually wrote about the difference between metagaming and teching. It seems like these concepts are even more important today, and so I want to re-emphasize these ideas as well as expand on them.
When preparing for a tournament, it is absolutely vital that you take into consideration the potential matchups that exist within your area. This is of course easier said than done, especially when playing in a tournament as big as Regionals. And with the new tournament structure, Regionals are sure to be bigger than ever! Phoenix Regionals is in less than two days, and it is bound to have a huge turnout considering it is the first Regional tournament of the brand new season! I’m absolutely positive that we’ll break the required turnout of 227+ players to have Day 2 Swiss.
Because of how big Regionals are, it has gotten increasingly difficult to predict the matchups you could face. Having said that, plan your deck choice around the matchups that you expect to play against the most. As Sorina said in her recent article, the West Coast loves Yveltal, so heading into the tournament, I want to play a deck that can beat or have a favorable matchup against the dark menace. This is an example of metagaming to set yourself up for success against the expected decks that you’ll play against at the tournament. However, this isn’t the only thing to consider when planning your deck choice.
Considering that Yveltal, Trevenant, and Night March are the most popular decks in Expanded right now, I want to try and pick a deck that’ll have a favorable matchup preferably against all three, but at least against two. Once you have a deck choice that feels comfortable going against the biggest decks in the format, the next part is teching. If I’m playing a deck like Rainbow Road, I’ll have a close to favorable matchup against two of the top decks, but to mend my lackluster Trevenant matchup, I want to use teching. You should tech for whatever matchups that you believe to be relevant, but not as prevalent. Rainbow Road struggles against Trevenant, a deck that you could bet seeing at least once in a tournament, if Yveltal doesn’t scare it off completely. You might tech in a 1-of Latias-EX to mend this problem. Trevenant can’t touch it at all unless they bring out Mewtwo-EX or Wobbuffet, but more on that later.
All in all, choose your deck based on the matchups that you expect to go against the most, and tech your deck to deal with your bad matchups that you may see throughout the tournament.
Following this practice will maximize the amount of good matchups you could play throughout the day while minimizing the number of bad ones.
Tech Decks: The Options with Options
This format is extremely good for taking advantage of inherently good matchups while padding your worse matchups with techs. There are three major decks that you want to look out for (4 if you expect Rainbow Road to have a big showing), and so your deck choice should be chosen to ensure a good matchup against these. While there are only a few top decks, in the diverse Expanded format, teching for scarcer, bad matchups is the real challenge.
Made popular by Sam Hough at the 2016 World Championships, I think that Vileplume Box can make a nice transition into the Expanded format. The combination of Jolteon-EX and Vileplume is extremely powerful against a wide variety of decks. The same cards and strategies you use against the top decks can also be used to combat outlier decks that people may bring also expecting to counter the metagame. For any other matchup, it’s easy to splash in 1-of tech cards that can easily turn the tide.
Pokémon – 21
Trainers – 29
Energy – 10
This deck is the epitome of “techy.” It has good matchups against the field solely because of the amount of techs that it’s comprised of. There is an answer to nearly every deck out there and of course the constant of locking opponents out of Item cards to prevent the reuse of VS Seeker for Pokémon Ranger, Lysandre, or Hex Maniac.
Against Yveltal, you can forgo getting Vileplume right away and focus on prioritizing a Jolteon-EX. This is of course assuming that Yveltal decks don’t start incorporating Pokémon Ranger as an out. There is also the threat of Gallade, so Mewtwo-EX is also included to help deal with it if they get it out before the Vileplume lock is established. Jolteon is going to be your bread and butter in this matchup, so much so that you could even consider playing 3 copies. Regice and Aegislash could also be used, but Jolteon is the superior Pokémon here.
This deck deals with Trevenant in the same exact way that Sam dealt with it at Worlds. Yveltal-EX and Magearna-EX work together to provide a great mix of offense and defense. Yveltal-EX can 1-shot anything the Trevenant player has, and Magearna-EX provides the protection against Silent Fear. Darkrai-EX is also included in the list mainly as a way to retreat Vileplume and others if needed, but it also serves the dual function of being a great attacker against Trevenant. Darkrai’s Psychic Resistance comes in huge whenever they try to attack with Tree Slam or Psychic Assault, and it can be easily powered up through Ninja Boy.
Additional Techs: Latias-EX
Vs. Night March
Again, Jolteon-EX is your go-to attacker here. Jolteon can easily 1-shot anything Night March plays down, so long as they don’t get any Fighting Fury Belts down before you have your lock established. Aegislash-EX is another great option to have here since Night March will have trouble accessing Hex Maniac under Item lock. Even if Night March manages to get an incredible setup before you evolve into Vileplume, they can still be stopped in their tracks by a Ninja Boy into Jolteon or Aegislash.
Two other matchups that are a concern for this deck are Mega Rayquaza and especially Primal Groudon. Luckily, these can both be kept in check with Regice AOR. Both of these decks have a heavy reliance on Pokémon-EX, making them highly susceptible to a Regice lock. Now, it’s more than likely that both of these decks will be packing Pokémon Ranger to deal with this shortcoming, but with 2 Regice to fend off under Item lock, I don’t think they’ll have such a good time.
Next up is a deck that was severely hurt by the introduction of Trevenant BREAK into the format, but has since started seeing a rise in play. I’m a huge fan of Flareon, so I’ll try and make it work any which way I can. As Yveltal has gotten more and more prevalent and lists have gotten more refined, Trevenant has seen less play, allowing Vespiquen a shot at becoming the powerhouse it once was before BREAKpoint was released.
Pokémon – 27
Trainers – 26
Energy – 7
The Yveltal matchup is inherently easy for Vespiquen due to its natural speed and use of non-EX attackers. The main way that Vespiquen players find themselves in a pickle in this matchup is when they try to go through their deck too quickly and bench too many Shaymin-EX. I’ve seen it happen many times where an Yveltal player makes a quick comeback through the use of Yveltal BKT and some easy knockouts on Shaymins. My advice for this matchup is try not to play down your Shaymin, but if you absolutely have to, spend the early game trying to Sky Return them back into your hand. I also play a copy of Parallel City, so if you do play down those Shaymin, you can easily remove them from play.
Ah, the bane of the Expanded format. Item lock provides a real thorn in Vespiquen’s side as Items are the lifeblood of the whole deck. This matchup isn’t a total loss, but it certainly isn’t favorable without the right techs. Unfortunately, the techs for this one are a little lackluster but can work given the right scenario. Without my additional techs, I suggest trying to find your Lysandre as quickly as possible to relieve yourself from the incessant Item lock.
If you are really worried about this matchup, you can try out a copy of Umbreon DEX 60. I know Aaron Tarbell bashed this tech in his latest article, but I certainly see some of its merits. His main criticism was that it is extremely susceptible to Energy denial, and while I completely agree, I also think that Energy denial is not the main focus of Trevenant decks in the Expanded format. The main threat of Trevenant decks is Yveltal decks, and that matchup is made better either through the use of Bursting Balloon or Weakness Policy. I don’t see Crushing Hammer variants being very popular in Expanded, but I could be wrong. Umbreon deals a respectable 60 damage while also healing that amount for a mere Double Colorless. Because of this, I certainly see how Umbreon could be a viable tech to squeeze out a win from an otherwise terrible matchup. Zebstrika is also an option as it hits for a perfect 110 damage due to its Fighting Resistance.
Vs. Night March
The relationship between Night March and Vespiquen has always been an interesting one. They both try to achieve basically the same thing but are also inherently different. Night March is much, much faster but also much more fragile. It gets hit harder by Item lock while also not having the advantage of carrying a Grass-type Pokémon to deal with Seismitoad-EX. Vespiquen/Flareon also has the added stability of the Blacksmith engine, although with Special Charge, it may not be as needed.
Anyway, this matchup should be taken very cautiously. Be very careful not to overfill your Bench with Shaymin-EX, but if you do, make sure to either get rid of them with Parallel City or use Sky Return on their Joltik. Another strategy I employ for this matchup is purposefully overflowing your Bench with non-Pokémon-EX. It is more than likely that Night March plays a Target Whistle to tip the non-EX matchups in its favor and so using Unown and other Basics to keep your Bench constantly full prevents them from ever having the opportunity to Target Whistle a Shaymin-EX and Lysandre it.
Additional Techs: 2nd Jirachi Promo, 2nd Lysandre, Swellow ROS 72 (I know it seems gimmicky, and that’s because it is. But don’t discount its ability to take 2 Prizes off a Joltik or 3 Prizes off a Shaymin-EX with a Silver Bangle and Jolteon AOR out.)
Last but not least, we have the newcomer to the party. Rainbow Road was a fringe deck that certainly saw success when piloted by the right player, but now it has much more potential thanks to Ninja Boy. This deck has a great Yveltal matchup and the option for techs that can make other matchups, like Night March and Trevenant, even better.
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 36
Energy – 9
The real draw to this deck is the amazing Yveltal matchup that it has. The ability to do such heavy damage with a Dark-resistant non-EX attacker that can potentially have up to 160 HP is way too much for Yveltal to handle and it quickly gets run over. I can see little outs that Yveltal can utilize such as spamming Parallel City or Silent Lab, or using Yveltal BKT to strand a Keldeo-EX or Hoopa-EX in the Active Spot, but it still seems favorable to me. The addition of Jolteon-EX makes this matchup even harder for them, although this time we don’t have the luxury of Item-locking them on top of using Flash Ray. This opens up more room for them to use Pokémon Ranger or get out a Gallade, but the Jolteon is still a good attacker in this matchup.
This is one of the biggest trouble matchups that Rainbow Road has. Not only is Trevenant locking you from playing Items, but they’re also taking advantage of your big Bench size by spreading the damage all around. Your two best cards against this matchup are Yveltal-EX and Latias-EX. Latias-EX is such a good card against Trevenant especially when combined with Ninja Boy. Normally, Trevenant whittles away at your Yveltal-EX while you’re powering it up, but through the power of Ninja Boy, we can take advantage of Latias-EX’s Bright Down Ability to prevent all effects of attacks, including damage done from Trevenant, and then Ninja Boy into Yveltal-EX when it’s ready to start attacking. Since we don’t run Prism or Rainbow like the Vileplume Box deck, we can’t take full advantage of Magearna-EX. Latias-EX is the next best thing and also provides a Dragon-type to put on the Bench to fuel Rainbow Force.
Vs. Night March
This matchup is also a struggle but can be teched for to increase your chances of winning should you run into it. Jolteon-EX is once again here to save the day against Night March. Just as in Vileplume, Jolteon-EX can take knockouts on anything they have without a Fury Belt while completely preventing their attack damage. The main downside here is that we don’t have the Item lock to pair with Flash Ray, so the Night March player could respond with a Pokémon Ranger and knockout pretty easily. The game plan here should be to attack early with a Jolteon-EX with a Fighting Fury Belt attached. This will force them to overextend early game to reach 200 damage and a Pokémon Ranger to get the knockout. After they do that, they are extremely susceptible to N. Try to N them every turn while trading Xerneas and Shaymin-EX with their Pumpkaboo and Joltik, respectively.
If you tech in an Yveltal BKT, this can also allow plays where you can Sky Return into Yveltal BKT to Knock Out a Joltik, even one with a Fighting Fury Belt attached. Delinquent is also a good addition for this matchup, so you can attempt to rid them of their entire hand should they ever go below 3 cards, while also getting rid of their Dimension Valley. Overall, it’s an uphill battle, but you certainly have the means to pull out a win.
The Expanded format is incredibly diverse with a few decks reigning supreme. This style of format lends itself to maximizing good matchups while minimizing bad ones. For any of you going to Phoenix Regionals, take into consideration that your deck not only has good matchups against the most popular decks, but some tech cards included to deal with the fringe ones. While there will be a lot of people playing the top three or four decks, that doesn’t necessarily mean those are all you will be matched up against. All in all, just be prepared for the most likely matchups that you could possibly face and be comfortable in your deck decision.
I am so excited to kick off this Pokémon season in my own home state, and I am even more excited that Phoenix is the only Regionals for this weekend, meaning that I am going to see a ton of people from all over the country itching to start earning those precious Championship Points. I know I for one am ready to get a move on reaching that 500-point mark!
Thank you all so much for reading, and for those of you traveling, I wish you the best of luck at Phoenix Regionals!
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