A puzzle: What do the following cards have in common?
Hint: There’s more than one answer.
Indeed, one answer is that they were all found in Portland’s Top 8. They were also all found in top cuts throughout last spring’s Regional Championships. And before that, the prior spring’s Regional Championships. An observant player noted to me that it was as if Portland’s results were straight out of a time machine that Darkrai-EX BKP and Tauros-GX got caught up in. Even some minor presences in Top 32, like Accelgor, Sableye, and Vespiquen/Flareon, fit the bill.
But, Christopher: Sun & Moon had a bunch of cards hyped to high heaven. Yeah, it did — that’s what makes this weekend so particularly remarkable. After the sun set in St. Louis, where we saw Lurantis-GX, Decidueye-GX, and others make remarkable impacts on the Expanded format, we landed in a complete throwback devoid of not only Sun & Moon influence, but of any appreciable change from a year ago. What gives?
The answer to that question is complicated and, inherently, imprecise. It’s an important question because it provides an indication of how the future might look for the Expanded format, and yet the answer is an enigma that won’t ever quite be pinned down. It’s important enough to try, though, so I’m going to take my best shot at it today.
Round of Applause / The Meta Shifts
Before we get too far, I want to highlight Portland’s Regional for sheer excellence in execution. The event was fantastic, and in a sea of Regionals-related commentary that is often (rightfully, most of the time) negative, it’s important to be positive where warranted. This weekend certainly warrants such appreciation. Day 1 was finished — and by that, I mean I left the hall after lingering around standings for a good while; not when time was called on Round 9 — well before 9:00. It was truly a job well done.
In any event, back to that Expanded conundrum: As I’ve previously observed, the metagame is shifting this year in ways that previously were beyond imagination. Where the old Week 1 to Week 2 and Week 2 to Week 3 shifts during a Regionals set saw fairly straightforward progression (meaning a deck with a big Week 1 showing could be expected to be have a large presence during Week 2), this year has been far more cyclical (and volatile).
By conventional wisdom, Decidueye/Vileplume should’ve been heavily played this weekend after John Kettler’s run in St. Louis, as should have M Rayquaza. Instead, we saw swaths of decks like Speed Darkrai-EX BKP and Darkrai/Giratina, which aimed to capitalize on the counters to the original counters.
While I say that there was a lot of those two Dark variants, it’s unfair of me to not recognize that the room was as diverse as any other Expanded tournament. There was certainly some centralization surrounding Dark, but as we’ll see in a few moments, my day was testament to the sheer spread of decks found in the room. This is true in both formats to a degree, but the size of Expanded’s card pool makes it a natural (and more pervasive) truth in that environment. It’s particularly notable that even though Portland’s attendance was the smallest we’ve seen in the US this year (302 Masters), this diversity held true — meaning it’s not a mere function of tournament size, but a result of the format’s dynamics themselves.
None of that was really all that surprising given the patterns this year has offered. I’ve dedicated more than enough words to the exact workings behind the cyclical metagame that’s evolved in the past, though, so I’ll dispense with any more at this time. So, today, I’d like to review my personal Portland experience, analyze the results a bit, and make some predictions for the final Expanded event of the year in Toronto. Finally, I’ll spend a bit of time looking at the more readily-meaningful prospect of Standard, as Salt Lake City is coming up at a(n alarmingly) fast pace.
In my view, the biggest decks in Portland were going to be Groudon, Speed Dark, and M Rayquaza. I was fairly unconcerned with Decidueye, as my Expanded testing found it to be a dreadful deck, but I did consider the notion of a deck with Wobbuffet somewhat attractive in case it had any residual presence in the room.
As a general policy, I tend not to play Maxie’s/Yveltal because I find too many of its matchups to be dependent on minuscule things, and its tendency to be somewhat inconsistent generally concerns me as well. This weekend, with the benefit of hindsight, it was obviously a brilliant call. Instead, though, I landed on Primal Groudon. Along with Groudon, Night March and Trevenant were my final considerations. Night March is simply broadly good against a wide portion of the gamut that usually comprises Expanded, while Trevenant seemed primed to capitalize on things like M Rayquaza, Accelgor, Groudon, etc. that could’ve made up much of the metagame. Obviously, given how big Dark was, it was the right call to leave the Trees in a box.
In another nod to the throwback nature of the weekend, my Groudon list is eerily similar to the one I played for Kitchener Regionals in the spring of last season. Simply, not much has changed for Groudon over the past year. The list was as follows:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 38
Energy – 9
Since May, I’ve dropped the Ultra Ball for a Nest Ball, Battle Compressor for Bunnelby, and Healing Scarf for Weakness Policy. Nest Ball, while being unable to fetch Primal Groudon, makes the task of finding Wobbuffet or other extraneous Basics off Korrina a far less costly affair. Weakness Policy was a nod to the presence of Lurantis and Decidueye in St. Louis, but it’s also useful in the Accelgor matchup. With a combination of Center Lady, Olympia, VS Seeker, and Puzzles, Accelgor becomes a very intriguing matchup decided by razor-thin margins.
Otherwise, it’s the same list that brought me an unremarkable 5-3 finish in Ontario almost a year ago. There, I took losses to Yveltal, mirror, and a Toad/Bats with Lugia. I wasn’t expecting much Yveltal or Toad/Bats this time around, but mirror was certainly still a realistic possibility.
Day 1: Good, Good
This time, my Day 1 went as follows:
Portland Regionals // Day 1 // 302 Masters
Round | Deck | Series Margin | Opponent’s Final Record
R1 Greninja BKP (1-0) [4-4-1]
R2 Darkrai-EX BKP/Giratina-EX AOR (2-0) [6-3]
R3 Speed Darkrai-EX BKP (1-0) [5-2-2]
R4 Volcanion-EX (2-0) [6-3]
R5 Speed Darkrai-EX BKP (0-2) [6-2-1/8-5-1]
R6 Primal Groudon-EX (1-0) [6-2-1/7-5-2]
R7 Yveltal-EX/Maxie’s (1-2) [6-1-2/12-2-3]
R8 Accelgor NVI/Wobbuffet PHF (0-1) [6-3]
R9 Speed Darkrai-EX BKP (2-0) [5-4]
Final: 6-3-0, 30th Place
After I escaped Round 1 — somehow — the day was pretty decent. After Round 5, I was getting more than a little nervous that the weekend throwbacks were getting a tad extreme — the last time I played Groudon, it began a set of three weekends in which I went 12-0 in Rounds 1–4, but 1-5 in Rounds 5–6. Fortunately, this time Round 6 went the right way.
Rounds 7 and 8 did not, though. In contrast to the East Coast Yveltal lists of mid-2016, Israel Sosa was well prepared with an army of Silent Labs to aid him in the Groudon matchup. Fundamentally, the Groudon player needs to preserve an undamaged Primal in order to win a game, but Yveltal BKT is excellent at preventing that condition from occurring. Mr. Mime isn’t much use in the face of Silent Lab, so Israel won 2/3 fairly easily.
In a pretty weird twist, just under half of my Day 1 games only finished one complete game. I’ve only tied ~10 times in the last calendar year, so it surprised me a bit, but there’s no denying that Groudon isn’t exactly a speed demon as strategy execution goes. Some of my opponents did nothing to aid their own cause in that regard, though, by either physically taking excessive time to make decisions or simply being too passive in their play.
As a Primal Groudon player, with things like Max Potion, Scramble Switch, Wobbuffet, Robo Substitute, Xerosic/Enhanced, and Puzzles to reuse it all, it’s not especially difficult to drag a game out naturally. Moveover, while I made zero alterations to my own pace of play in pursuit of 1-0 decisions, I wasn’t about to encourage my opponents to speed up when theirs lagged either.
When playing a deck like this, part of the art is using legal gameplay maneuvers (like Robo Substitute) and specific strategy (such as comprising your own board in the long term to remove your opponent’s biggest threat in the present) to simply prevent the opposition from picking up a Game 2 win. There were at least two other matches throughout the weekend where I felt I was going to take the 1-0 decision, but the pressure of time forced my opponents to make suboptimal or risky plays to have any chance at salvaging a match point from the game. Bunnelby is deviously effective in such situations.
I don’t normally list my opponent’s records in these recaps, but I was pretty amused with the outcome and thought them worth sharing. I’m fairly sure this is the first time I’ve had every one of my opponents complete every round of a Regional. Not only did they manage that, but in shockingly effective fashion. It turned out to be extremely beneficial, as it allowed me to bubble into Day 2, so thanks guys!
Day 2: Nearly There!
Day 2 went as follows:
Portland Regionals // Day 2 // 32 Masters
R10 Darkrai-EX BKP/Giratina-EX AOR (2-0)
R11 Night March (1-1)
R12 Seismitoad-EX/Garbodor BKP (2-1)
R13 Speed Darkrai-EX BKP (1-2)
R14 Speed Darkrai-EX BKP (2-0)
Final: 3-1-1, 9-4-1 Total, 11th Place
It certainly wasn’t what I had in mind when I saw a litany of great matchups in Top 32, but to end up on the bubble of Top 8 isn’t half bad. There wasn’t anything especially remarkable about any of my series, except that I picked up my first tie of the tournament! In hindsight, the better play in Round 13 would’ve been to utilize Robo Substitutes and Wobbuffets to eat the last two minutes of the match instead of going for the win as I did, but at the time, I had no idea that the bubble would take the shape that it did.
In retrospect, Groudon does play well in a field where it’s unexpected and players are unfamiliar with it. I had a lot of people reading cards in my deck, and the number that tried to Lysandre a Primal Groudon or Regirock was not small. Certain matchups definitely went better than they could’ve due to my opponent’s lack of familiarity with the situation. While it’s not ideal to rely on opponents making iffy decisions to win games, I’m not about to complain either.
Had I tested the Speed Dark matchup more than I had (i.e., more than “not at all”), I probably would’ve been dissuaded from playing Groudon. Whether or not that conclusion would’ve been right is another issue. While the Scramble Switch variant has a far better time than the Computer Search variant with the matchup, if Dark is ever able to Delinquent to zero (which it has a fairly decent time managing), the game gets very sketchy.
While I firmly disagree with the notion that Delinquent is some sort of magic incantation that makes Dark simply steamroll Groudon, in a suite of disruption, the speed Dark offers can become overwhelming. Regardless, most Dark lists weren’t playing Delinquent anyway, so what gives?
Perhaps mosts lists weren’t, but I was pretty sure that the good ones would be. I went 3-2 against Speed Dark over the course of the event. One of those losses featured a pair of games where I was benched in short order in back-to-back games. The other was Round 13 to Sam Hough. Game 1 came down to a critical juncture where I could either retreat/Max Potion/Tropical Beach or KO his Yveltal XY. I elected to take the Prize, digging for a Puzzle (or one of the three switch outs I’d prized that game!). I’ve thought about it over and over, and really don’t know which play was correct. If I’d hit the Puzzle off the Prizes, it’s an easy call, but I didn’t, which makes it cloudier. Game 1 didn’t have much more in it after that.
I think Sam would agree with me that some subpar choices on his part led to my ability to mount a comeback in Game 3 — mainly, a turn spent digging for an Escape that never materialized. The resources sacrificed in that effort almost came back to bite him, but, thanks to Dowsing Machine, he was saved. I do believe that, had he been more conservative with resources, I’d have had a very difficult time making the game as close I did. It’s probably one of the more predominant examples of a matchup where player action takes a direct role in determining game outcome. In fairness to Sam, I was also far from flawless — my choice in Game 2 to put N, instead of a F Energy, on top of my deck with Puzzle of Time, is a mystery.
In any event, that’s enough words dedicated to Groudon. The big winner of the weekend was clearly Yveltal/Maxie’s. I’m certainly not going to make an effort to provide a list here, because for the seemingly the umpteenth time, there’ll be a wide selection available on Pokémon.com in short order. It capitalized on the foggy metagame in a way that only Yveltal seems to be able to consistently muster. I didn’t quite hit a different deck in every round of Day 1, but the diversity in the metagame was undeniable.
Toronto and Expanded Ahead
Moving forward, I expect Toronto will have a lot of Yveltal. While I did just get done rambling about the metagame being very cyclical this year, Yveltal is unique in its role as many players’ “comfort” deck. Soon, we’ll have Juniors that weren’t alive when Dark Patch began its reign. Its omnipotence over the last several years speaks for itself. So, while I could be wrong — people may continue in the cycles I’ve previously written about — my gut leans more toward Yveltal/Maxie being a big part of Canada’s Regional.
Furthermore, in response to that expectation, I expect a solid number of players to default to Speed Dark (like we saw this weekend). It’s a solid deck with solid damage output: nothing less, and often more. I know a solid contingent of people that feel it beats Yveltal/Maxie’s with decent regularity. I cannot endorse that view in any way, but I can’t deny its existence either. Accordingly, in this early stage, they’re easily the two decks I expect to be the biggest in Canada.
Accelgor is a natural response to such a metagame, but I caution that it’s a deck layered with inherent instability. Things can be going perfectly, but if you miss a DCE on a key turn, the entire game can come crashing down. I feel its tendency to experience such problems is more pronounced than something like Groudon, and when it plays a slow game as it is, such stumbles are often unacceptable. I’m just not sure it’s something I’d want to navigate through 14 Rounds.
Now — if it becomes apparent that Toronto somehow is primed to miss the Day 2 Swiss barrier, it might be a different conversation. Trying to run hot over eight rounds is a very, very different thing than trying to do it over 14. However, I feel that Salt Lake City and Seattle are the only two Regionals at risk of falling short of 227, so it’s probably a non-issue.
. . .
Currently, I believe that anything with the ability to capitalize on the mostly-Basic nature of the format we saw this past weekend could succeed. Vileplume/Jolteon could be primed well, but I’ve always hesitated in Expanded due to Archeops (among other issues). Trevenant wouldn’t be all that bad if it didn’t suffer a brutal Dark matchup. As it is, it’s probably best to leave the Trees at home with your Frogs.
On the other hand, it may be wise to bring your trash bags and … mongoose? (Mongeese?!?)
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 42
1 Life Dew
Energy – 6
Ah, yes, everyone’s favor mill/lock deck, and my second choice for Portland. Sun & Moon gave it Team Skull Grunt and Rotom Dex, which both aid the deck immensely in my view. I’m pretty much the only one under the sun that currently has Gumshoos in the deck, though, and I’m not yet quite sure it’s needed. In theory, it’s useful in determining which exactly of your broken Supporters you should play on a given turn. In addition, Gumshoe Chance-GX offers a way to help against decks whose strategy would be to set up a single attacker to sweep — such as Primal Groudon.
Its conflict with the deck is more in terms of Ability lock. Obviously, there are matchups where Garbodor is quintessential to achieving a final lock. But, in others, there are situations where Garbodor doesn’t end up proving quite as useful — these are where I envision Gumshoos having a potential role. It might still be bad, but it was in and out of my list during my final testing before Portland.
On Learning the Deck
I don’t believe the deck has quite the skill gap that it’s reputed to, and I feel the most important part of a player’s success with the deck is matchup experience rather than inherent “skill.” Once you develop a familiarity with individual matchups (and even just matchup genres, like rush decks, lock decks, etc.), it’s not all that thought intensive to execute the same strategy on loop. If it’s something you’re at all interested in playing, I’d take the lengthy amount of time we have before Toronto and play a few games against common decks like Yveltal and Darkrai. I’d then move onto more nuanced matchups like Accelgor. If you’re feeling the deck at that time, I’d definitely say it’s something to keep in mind as a play option.
On the other hand, if that testing leads you to despise the deck and everything it represents, you’ll have won half the battle with Sableye: understanding how it works. Too often I watch players, against mill decks of all kinds, make unnecessarily aggressive plays that end up costing them in the long run. With some experience playing Sableye against a competent opponent, it gives you an additional perspective to work from when playing against the deck yourself. Either way, it’s a win-win. I have a hunch that Sableye will be a fairly popular choice in Toronto, so it’s something I’d suggest being aware of.
Moving to Standard, Salt Lake
While I’m more excited about Expanded at the moment, I can’t deny the greater importance of Standard. We only have a handful of days until Salt Lake City, so it’s certainly the more pressing concern. Xander offered a preview of the format earlier this week, and I want to make clear that I’m super intrigued by Lapras-GX. I’ve not tested a single game with it yet, as I’ve been preoccupied with Expanded in St. Louis and Portland, but it seems as though it’ll be a solid choice. I’ll be intrigued to see if it does well at the Special Event in Puerto Rico this Saturday.
Outside of the decks that Xander covered, I’m very intrigued by the idea of Yveltal/Garbodor. Like Expanded was before Portland, it seems like Standard is in a foggy place; awaiting a dominant performance to clarify the format. Yveltal, as we’ve observed, has played that role well over the years. Currently, Standard is littered with Mega Evolutions, Vileplume variants, and other bastions of inconsistencies. Of course, Yveltal is the king of capitalizing on such an environment.
Yveltal BKT is among the best non-EXs to be printed in the last few years, and its history of tormenting Mega Evolutions is well documented. While Dark Patch is an entirely new level of depth to the strategy of Yveltal, the success it saw in Standard earlier this year with Max Elixir alone proves it’s possible.
Particularly given the cloudiness in Standard at the moment, the sheer damage output and suite of options Yveltal/Garbodor offers makes it highly interesting to me. Furthermore, when considering the fact that Salt Lake City looks primed to either miss Day 2 Swiss altogether, or only very-barely get there, the situation muddies. I would play Yveltal in a heartbeat if I could guarantee ~230 players in the room, meaning 6-3 would easily make Top 32. But, if we fall short and only have a Top 8, Yveltal isn’t really the deck I want to be playing if my eye is on a win: going 6-1-1, or more ideally, 6-0-2 is a very different task than trying to navigate a 14-round event.
I don’t mean to be overdramatic: it’s not a huge change in the deck’s validity for consideration; only minute. It’s these small things that I often wonder about the importance of: do I spend too much time thinking about them? I generally don’t think so, but it’s very possible that I do. I caution everyone against getting too far into the weeds, myself included.
Without further ado, here’s my current thought on a list:
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 35
4 VS Seeker
3 Fighting Fury Belt
Energy – 13
The list isn’t far off Michael Pramawat’s London list, but the new sets haven’t offered much in the way new things to add to the deck since then, so that shouldn’t be surprising. Wobbuffet and the 3rd Lysandre are a nod to the current importance Vileplume plays in the format.
Something I’m considering is a 4th Float Stone. With things like Wobbuffet in the deck, Float Stone is especially useful as it is. Mobility is one of the deck’s greatest draws, but on the other hand, Fighting Fury Belt is really important to the strategy — and 7 Tools is generally a weird idea in a deck with 11 Basic Pokémon and a format with 0 Tool removal.
I dislike playing only Parallel City, but don’t really love anything else in the format as an alternative statement. Delinquent helps with that effect to some degree, but it’s still not exactly ideal if your opponent is able to drop the Turn 1 Parallel. But, in a lot of matchups (like M Rayquaza), Parallel City + Garbodor is a great way to shut down a game, so I can’t see playing less than 2. There’re simply too many good things to fit all of them into the deck.
Cards I really like, but might be able to see cutting if space demands it: Pokémon Center Lady, Wobbuffet, 3rd Fury Belt. The 2nd Garbodor is admittedly sorely missed in here, but cuts have to come from somewhere. I wouldn’t be surprised, though if I find it necessary with future testing. The 4th Yveltal is really nice, but may not be necessary either. Max Potion is something I’ve always really liked in Yveltal, and Dark in general, but it probably isn’t exactly a right fit in here.
Yveltal is truly my first choice for SLC at the moment, and while I think Alex will try to pitch Decidueye to me, I’m not sure I can see being a buyer in that transaction. I think Decidueye will have a decent shot, but the target on its back seems very questionable to me.
In finality, I hope you’ve taken something useful from today. I’ll be in SLC and Toronto, so we’ll see if I can back up my musings with anything substantial. If you have any comments or questions for me on this article, about the site, or in general, feel free to let me know as always. If not, perhaps we’ll run into each other at an event sometime soon.
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