Hello 6P faithful! I’m here today to talk almost exclusively about the Expanded format, which is something I haven’t really discussed in my previous two articles. My goal with this piece is to prepare you for future Expanded Regionals (more specifically, the Portland Regional Championships during the weekend of March 25th and 26th). Last weekend’s tournament in St. Louis was the first major Expanded event after the release of Sun & Moon, and many of the decks that were successful will continue to win in Portland and beyond. I believe this is because Expanded decks have one of two goals — creating the storm, or weathering the storm. In short, there is no room for the decks of old that slowly adapt their strategy as the game goes on (think: Virizion/Genesect). You must either be the aggressor, or do everything in your power to stop the aggression. Picking the correct strategy depends on the event, but I believe more times than not it is correct to be the aggressor. With the win of a coin flip/die roll to start the game, you are already one whole turn ahead of your opponent, and it is very difficult to catch up in a format containing all the outlandish cards from over 25 different expansions.
Thoughts on St. Louis
I had originally planned on attending last weekend’s Regionals in St. Louis, but unfortunately life got in the way. I’ve had some personal health issues that have made traveling the Pokémon circuit at a rapid pace difficult since 2012, and over the past few years I have chosen to ignore them. My advice to you is to take care of your life outside of Pokémon first! Not only will this make tournaments more enjoyable, but you will likely perform better at events. I will continue to pursue my goal of being invited to the 2017 World Championships in Anaheim, but I do not expect to qualify as I only have 150 CP out of a required 500. I plan on attending two more Regional Championships (Virginia and one undecided) and the US International event in Indianapolis in the summer. Rest assured, I have identified problems with my current lifestyle and I will work tirelessly to make sure I can come back to compete full-time in the 2017–2018 season.
Sometimes, bad situations have a silver lining. I was able to watch both the Sheffield and St. Louis tournament streams this weekend, and I learned many things about the Expanded format. I would have played a Maxie’s Yveltal build almost identical to Mark Garcia’s 1st place San Jose list, as I have a significant amount of experience with the deck. Despite the sheer power and explosive nature of the deck, only two players made it into the Top 32 with Yveltal (Israel Sosa and Andrew Wamboldt). Neither player wavered on Day 2, however, as Israel made the Top 8 yet again, and Andrew finished in the Top 16 (no shame there). I felt as if many players had a solid game plan for the deck — T1 Item lock decks were very popular, and even Night March made a small resurgence. If another Expanded Regionals were to be played again soon (hint: Portland), I would stay away from Maxie’s Yveltal as I believe it does not have the proper tools to deal with extremely aggressive decks like Night March, as well as the slower Vileplume lists that placed well.
Rahul Reddy / Volcanion
This first list comes directly from a fellow player who calls Virginia home, and a player who has been on a tear after back-to-back Top 8 performances in Anaheim and St. Louis. This is none other than Rahul Reddy (of The Chaos Gym), who I have had the privilege to watch grow as a player over the years. Rahul played Volcanion, my pet deck that I have been working on since the start of the season. I must admit that I had never explored the deck in Expanded, and I give props to Rahul for playing the deck in Expanded despite it having many bad tournaments in the Standard format. He also used Starmie from XY—Evolutions, which is a card that fascinated me since its release, but was not viable in the Standard format due to excess amounts of Garbodor.
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 34
Energy – 12
At first glance, this is not your typical Volcanion list. Only 2 Max Elixir are being used as opposed to the usual 4 in Standard, and Trainers’ Mail is not even present! Thankfully, the trusty Blacksmith exists in the Expanded format, and because of this no more than 2 Max Elixir are required. We also pick up Colress in Expanded, creating an even lesser need for Trainers’ Mail. 1 copy of N is also very important to note, as it represents a full commitment to the incredibly aggressive nature of Volcanion.
Moving on to the utility cards, it should also be noted that the regular Energy Retrieval is not included! This is because we have a “Superior” option that allows us to discard 2 cards in order to retrieve 4 Energy from the discard! Exeggcute’s Propagation means that we can use it as a substitute for one card every time, effectively bringing back 4 Energy for 1 discard. Combined with a 1-1 Starmie line, this Volcanion build will never struggle to use all 3 Steam Up Abilities in one turn (provided 3 Volcanion-EX are on the board). It also means retreating a Volcanion-EX with a Fighting Fury Belt attached is no longer as crippling as it was in the Standard format, as we can retrieve all of our Energy back and put them back on via Blacksmith. Of course, having Keldeo-EX to Rush In and retreat for free with a Float Stone attached helps as well!
I am a huge fan of Dowsing Machine in Volcanion, as I feel that many card counts can be lowered when adding in a Dowsing Machine in favor of Computer Search. With the correct resource management, our goal is to have exactly what we need to win (no more, no less). It does not matter if you beat your opponent by 6 Prizes or 1 — a win is a win, and that is all we are interested in. Finally, 12 Energy cards provide the luxury of being able to use Battle Compressor to discard 2 (sometimes 3!) R Energy while maintaining a healthy count of Energy in our deck for mid–late-game Max Elixir plays.
It is no coincidence that 3 players placed with Volcanion in Day 2. Volcanion has the ability to overwhelm the opponent from T1 onward, and Expanded gives Volcanion some much-needed tools required to sustain the onslaught until all 6 Prizes are drawn. Another major advantage that Volcanion decks have over the competition is consistency. More often than not, the Volcanion deck will be attacking for a knockout on Turn 2, creating extreme pressure on the opponent. I like Volcanion as I believe there are not many hard counters to it that will remain competitive the Expanded format (namely Archie’s Blastoise and Trevenant). Volcanion commits to creating a storm impossible for the opponent to handle, and I am a huge fan of the deck as long as Expanded exists in its current state.
Aside on Aggression
Due to the explosive nature of the Expanded format, often one turn of Item card usage is enough in order to set up a winning strategy. However, there are matches where quick-lock decks like Vileplume and Trevenant will set up their Item lock going first, making it extremely difficult to win. Thankfully for Volcanion, the popular Vileplume variants of the utilize Grass-type attackers (Lurantis-GX, Decidueye-GX), so the Fire-type advantage could be enough to win with 0 Items in an entire game. Many aggressive decks have some sort of caveat where they will beat Item lock despite an early shutdown of Items, which is why I believe it is a great idea to pick an aggressive deck like Volcanion or Night March when faced with a tough metagame call.
In the final match of the tournament, longtime veteran John Kettler (Decidueye/Vileplume) faced off against newcomer and already one-time Regional Champ Alex Wilson (M Rayquaza). John got to go first during Game 1, but was unable to set up Vileplume on his first turn! Fortunately for him, Alex had a weak hand, and Turn 2 Vileplume was enough to seal the deal. Alex elected to go first in Game 2, and immediately ran away with the board as he developed a Mega Rayquaza along with a hefty Bench to go with it. Common sense would suggest that John would win Game 3, as he would simply evolve into Vileplume going first yet again. However, John missed the Vileplume after some digging, allowing a repeat of Game 2 (this time, with a Turn 1 240-damage Emerald Break!)
While 3 games is a small sample size, 15 best-of-3 rounds is not. Alex managed to win 13 out of his 15 matches that he played, losing two (both on Day 2) and intentionally drawing his last two Swiss rounds so that he would secure his place in Top 8. John also had a stellar record, finishing in second place at an astounding 12-2-3. Here are the decklists they used to beat out over 700 other Masters:
Alex Wilson / M Ray
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 36
Energy – 7
John Kettler / Decidueye
And John’s list, courtesy of a picture he posted himself on his website HeyTrainer.org:
Pokémon – 24
Trainers – 28
Energy – 8
First, it is important to note that both of these decks are very good choices for the upcoming Expanded Regional in Portland. They maintain a high level of consistency, have very dedicated strategies, and either create a storm (M Ray) or weather the storm (Decidueye/Vileplume). I am going to compare these decks side by side, and explain more about their respective strategies by elaborating on the many differences between the two.
Comparison of Finals Decks
Advantage: Mega Rayquaza ?
I believe both decks are excellent on Turn 1. Both decks have ways to not only explode on the first turn, but can finish their first turn with a restriction on the opponent. Vileplume will last as long as the opponent lets it, as John chose not to include AZ in his deck. This means that it must either be Knocked Out or shut off by Hex Maniac — the restriction of choice that Alex used in Mega Rayquaza. While not permanent, Hex Maniac can slow the opponent down so much that they can no longer catch up to the massive board presence of a full-Bench Sky Field, as well as limit Volcanion’s options significantly.
I give the edge here to Mega Rayquaza, as it only has to evolve one time as opposed to Vileplume’s two. Vileplume will still come out on Turn 1 more often than not, but you can count on occasionally having an extra turn to play Items. In the finals match between John and Alex, John was unable to set up a Turn 1 Vileplume going first in both Game 1 and Game 3! Hex Maniac is much more flexible than Vileplume, and can always be retrieved after a long Turn 1 via VS Seeker.
Advantage: Decidueye/Vileplume ?
The Stage 2 partners in crime do an excellent job holding board control, as there are no single cards that can shut off Vileplume and Knock Out Decidueye in one hit. On the other hand, Mega Rayquaza will sometimes lose the game on the spot to a well-timed Parallel City, reducing Emerald Break’s damage from 240 to 90. I also like Hollow Hunt, as the Decidueye player can recover lost resources as soon as a problem is noticed. This particular Mega Rayquaza list only plays 1 copy of Dragonite-EX and 1 Karen, which can help recover the lost Pokémon to Parallel City, but they do not retrieve another Sky Field to bench said Pokémon.
The Meta Factor
Advantage: Mega Rayquaza ?
If the current downward trend in Parallel City popularity continues, I suspect that Mega Rayquaza will continue to be great against the field. While going first, Mega Rayquaza can completely set up and play a Hex Maniac. Decidueye/Vileplume can get a Vileplume online pretty consistently, but sometimes struggles to get out both Decidueye and Vileplume on Turn 1. It’s not completely necessary to evolve both Stage 2 Pokémon on the first turn, but speed is always effective, regardless of matchup. As shown in Games 2 and 3 of the finals, Alex was able to get almost everything he wanted out in the entire game before John even drew a card. This is the power of the Expanded format, and kudos to Alex for sticking with the Mega Rayquaza deck that won him a Regional Championship last year as well.
It’s very important to note how trends are created in Pokémon. Often, a deck must see success at some level before obtaining widespread popularity. I expect more Volcanion decks to do well at Portland due to the successes it had this weekend, and as a result I like Mega Rayquaza as an answer. Vileplume can prove fatal to Volcanion some of the time, but I believe it will almost always lose when Volcanion goes first, and will still lose some of the time when it goes first.
Peter Kica / Night March
It seems to never go away, does it? Joltik and Pumpkaboo have been decimating the competition since release in Phantom Forces, with Lampent on the side as a damage-boosting companion. One of my good friends Peter Kica (better known as Peter Joltik) always plays Night March for every Expanded event, and he believes it will always be one of the most powerful decks due to its extreme consistency and speed. John Sienkiewicz and Peter Kica both saw success this past weekend, finishing in the Top 8 and Top 16 respectively. Night March often ends up being a good decision for an event, and Peter finished 11th in St. Louis with the following build:
Pokémon – 18
1 Mew FCO
Trainers – 38
Energy – 4
The basic concepts of Night March have withstood the test of time — discard your Pokémon quickly, play 2 Lysandre to pick up cheap knockouts on staples like Shaymin-EX, and have a few tricks to help finish the game off (Startling Megaphone). Night March is very appealing because it only requires one Double Colorless Energy on Joltik (Dimension Valley needed with Pumpkaboo), and the attack cost is still extremely cheap in comparison to other contenders such as Mega Rayquaza. It also possesses the ability to include many 1-of tech Supporters that can help smooth over bad situations, such as Pokémon Ranger. Combined with one of the best Item cards ever printed in Puzzle of Time, Night March gets going early and never lets up until it is victorious.
Alternatives to Mr. Mime
Peter mentioned that Mr. Mime was not as effective as he would have liked, since the Bench protection was mainly for Darkrai-EX (Night Spear). Many Turbo Dark lists opted to play a 3-1 split in favor of the Dark Pulse Darkrai-EX, and Yveltal/Maxie builds were not as prevalent. I wouldn’t cut the card immediately, but I would consider dropping it for something else relevant for Portland. Here are 3 tech cards I enjoy right now, and examples of scenarios where they must be added to the deck:
3rd Dimension Valley
I love having out Dimension Valley, as I never have to worry if I will be able to perform Night March. Not only is this consistency appealing, but Dimension Valley also acts as a counter Stadium, which could be very useful if Yveltal/Maxie builds with Silent Lab return to the metagame. Dowsing Machine can act as a 3rd Dimension Valley, but sometimes will be needed for use on a tech card such as Escape Rope, or the very important Fighting Fury Belt.
- Use to counter other Stadiums and Night March more consistently.
- Don’t use when there are no oppressive Stadiums played, and Night March is not hard to do as it is.
1 Float Stone is an awesome inclusion in Night March, as it allows for one Shaymin-EX to be an easy promotion after knockout. Fright Night Yveltal is only used in Maxie’s Yveltal — Turbo Darkrai-EX and Darkrai/Giratina builds do not favor it. Because of this, a Float Stone can be very useful in transitioning between attackers. I also like Float Stone as it is another out to obtain a T1 Night March when starting Shaymin/Mr. Mime/Tauros.
- Use when Yveltal is not very popular, but compensate for more likely Shaymin starts with the removal of Mr. Mime.
- Don’t use when Yveltal is heavily played. Mr. Mime stays in the deck (Basic count remains unchanged).
Special Energy removal is a very helpful tool against pesky Giratina-EX decks, as well as potential mirror matches that are not expecting it. While not great versus Item lock, many tech options are also ineffective against it, and Peter has mentioned that Hex Maniac does not solve the matchup by any means. Enhanced Hammer can push the opponent back just enough so that you can Night March your way to victory.
- Use when Darkrai/Giratina is the most popular Dark deck, or other players adjust to Night March.
- Don’t use when the metagame remains similar how it is now, where Turbo Dark is the most popular Dark deck. Night March mirror is infrequent, and the card is dead most of the time.
After going through a few of my favorite decks, here is my initial Power Rankings for Portland Regionals. Not only can you use this to find a deck that you like, but it is also an accurate depiction of what to expect other players to bring to the event. Happy metagaming!
Portland Power Rankings
- Mega Rayquaza
- Night March
- Decidueye/Vileplume & Lurantis/Vileplume
Lurantis/Vileplume was another very successful deck this past weekend, with 2 players finishing in the Top 16 (David Richard, Eric Rodriguez), as well as Ross Cawthon making yet another Regionals Top 8 with the deck. I don’t have any of these lists at this time, but I suspect Pokémon.com will post Ross’s Top 8 list very soon. Many of these builds were very similar, using 4 AZ to keep Lurantis alive while Flower Supply returned lost Energy. I think the deck is a very competitive choice for Portland Regionals, but struggles going second when the opponent sets up, and has a poor Fire Weakness against Volcanion. Otherwise, Item lock is as good as ever, keeping very aggressive decks at bay. Expect to play against Vileplume at least twice on Day 1 of Portland.
The key to Expanded is committing to a strategy. You must decide if you want to play Items, or make it so that your opponent cannot play Items. While both strategies sound good, the reality is that there will be times where things go wrong. In my opinion, playing Item lock is less effective than simply playing Items. The format is far from perfect, but it is not broken. Assess the metagame leading up to the event, and pick between the two strategies based on what you will encounter. Certain decks, such as Dark variants, will do better against Item lock than Night March or Volcanion. As always, test the matchups you are unsure of more than those you know, and be aware of last-second changes in the metagame. A few decks, such as Raikou/Eelektrik, do not fit into either category. I would advise you to stay away from these decks, as they do not have as much upside.
Thank you everyone for reading! I feel as if the Expanded format has been figured out already, and it is just a matter of picking the right deck for the weekend of the event. Don’t stress too much, and when in doubt, pick what you know!
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