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:
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