Once again, the TCG tournament series is off and running. With the first major event of the season now in the history books, I think we’re going to find very quickly that keeping current on one format — let alone two — is going to become a full-time exercise. This past weekend began a stretch that will see a Regional every 2nd or 3rd weekend from now until Georgia on January 14/15. We’re sure to see the metagame evolve and transform like never before as near-constant large-scale tournament results are circulated throughout the community.
I and around 550 other TCG players began the year in Phoenix this past weekend. Overall, I can only say that it was a forgettable affair — both in terms of personal performance and the event itself. Of course, congratulations are in order for the weekend’s top performers, but in general, I believe most of the players aren’t sorry to be back home right now.
Today, I’d like to briefly go over my experience in Phoenix. Unlike most of my tournament discussions, there really isn’t much to take away from my experience other than general musings on Expanded as a format itself. I played Night March this weekend, and as you may have heard, it’s soon to be relegated to a very insignificant role in the format, so I won’t dwell at length on it.
Afterwards, I’m going to take a bit of time to examine Karen’s impact on the format in light of what this weekend showed us about Expanded. Then, I’m going to offer a few of my initial considerations for Philadelphia. I have nothing to offer as of now on a post-Karen Standard format, as all of my energies were previously dedicated to Arizonian Expanded, so I’m going to leave that to my colleagues. Between Grant’s article on Friday and Ryan’s on the 11th, I’m confident we’ll have Standard well covered in advance of Florida.
Sand Trap: Phoenix Regionals Recap
Like I discussed in my last article, I’ve known for a while that I’d be playing Night March at this event. For one thing, my time to test started to evaporate after that piece was published, but more critically, nothing arose that encouraged alteration of that decision. While I disagree fundamentally with the “Night March is all anyone talks about” stance, I’m just as ready to be done with it as everyone else, so I’m going to forgo too much justification for the choice and point back to my last piece to cover that point.
Pokémon – 17
1 Mew FCO
Trainers – 39
Energy – 4
I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that I have this list committed to memory in a very obsessive-compulsive, alphabetic form, but I’m glad that it will soon be of significantly reduced importance. If this looks familiar, that’s because it’s one card off from my T4 Edmonton list from last spring (and ~3 off of my Madison list, and only 2-4 off my published list from May). Captivating Poké Puff is an essential inclusion in my mind, as it makes the mirror match so much more bearable — no more effortlessly-safe Sky Return on Joltik plays. Cutting the Pokémon Catcher for it wasn’t super ideal, but it was the best cut.
I don’t believe Ranger does enough in this to turn a Toad matchup, and didn’t think Jolteon would see play outside of Vileplume (where Ranger is at best a gimmick requiring insane luck), so it wasn’t worth playing. Special Charge was definitely the 61st card, but I didn’t believe it added enough to be worthwhile. In hindsight, I might try to make space for it, but I really don’t know what the cut would be.
Phoenix Regionals // 459 Masters
R1 Pyroar BREAK (2-0)
R2 Primal Groudon (2-1)
R3 Yveltal-EX/Silent Lab (1-2)
R4 Yveltal-EX/Silent Lab (0-2)
R5 Night March (2-0)
R6 Accelgor DEX/Wobbuffet PHF (0-2)
R7 Speed Darkrai-EX BKP (2-0)
R8 Darkrai-EX BKP/Giratina-EX AOR (2-1)
R9 Seismitoad-EX/Crobat PHF (0-2)
Final: 5-4-0 // 65th+ place
As I joked on Facebook during the event, I’ve played in World Championships that didn’t feature as brutal a selection of opponents as this tournament. Ross Cawthon got his revenge for Edmonton (R6), and I got a taste of Yveltal that beats Night March in the form of Israel Sosa’s and Liam Williams’ lists (R4 + R3).
I don’t regret the choice, particularly as my 2nd choice, Wailord, would have had enough trouble getting out of Round 1, let alone attaining 19-21 match points to advance. Round 9 stung, though, as coming close to making something of that day before falling out of top 64 contention at the last opportunity was disappointing. More than enough space will be dedicated internet-wide to discussing the operation of Phoenix Regionals, so I’m going to limit my commentary to this: my advice to anyone going to Regionals this year is to pack patience. Some will be better than others, but all will be long days.
If you have any other questions about my individual experience, I’d be happy to answer them. Aside from that, very briefly, I want to commentate on the top-finishing decks. Greninja and Trevenant were the obvious big winners of the weekend, while Yveltal failed to crack the top 8 at all. We saw ingenuity in the form of TJ Traquair’s Sableye/Garbodor top 8, a crazy M Diancie-EX deck making waves, and, of course, Greninja’s robust showing. I don’t believe that these specific results are anything particularly paradigm-shifting. Rather, I would say that, heading into Philly, we simply add to Greninja to the “keep-in-mind” category. In my mind, it’s unlikely that Greninja repeats these results in Philadelphia.
Three Main Takeaways
- Variety Reigns: Outside of the heavy slate of Dark, I didn’t play any archetype more than once in my 9 rounds. Even among those Dark lists, there was significant variation in all but two. Whether this is a good or bad thing is a debate that will rage forever, but it’s clear that Expanded isn’t dominated by a small group of decks — let alone a single deck. Many friends asked me this weekend to describe “the field” in Phoenix, or to name the top deck present. I answered the first question with some derivative of “everything” and largely refused to comment on the second, as there simply wasn’t a single deck dominating the day.
- Ingenuity Rewarded: We’re in uncharted waters. I’ve lost count of the number of legal sets, but pkmncards.com tells me there’s well over 3,000 legal cards. From time to time, we’re going to see innovation alter the format, but I believe the fundamental metagame is likely to remain the same in the long term. I want to caution against reading too much into one event’s results. A single player’s performance at one event is rife with variables. For example, while I applaud TJ’s run this weekend, I’m not going to stress much about beating that deck in Philadelphia. In contrast, the fact that 3/3 top 32 Greninja players made top 8 before finishing 1st/T4/T8 means Greninja is officially something to keep in mind.
- Grind On: Events this year are going to be, in a word, long. I believe this weekend’s attendance is as low as we’ll see until San Jose in December. If not for London the weekend before San Jose, I’d push that estimate back further to Athens in January (if only because the airport situation in Athens is appalling). Basically, expect large events. In a way, this is almost something to consider in your deck choice. I don’t think 20 points is going to miss top 32 at an event this year (with possible exceptions being Fort Wayne and Dallas if attendance is truly off the charts), but 19 isn’t going to be stable. A deck that takes ties isn’t necessarily going to be the worst thing ever in that environment.
With that, I’m going to move on to looking at the impact of the major change in Expanded as we move from Phoenix to Philly: Karen.
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