What’s up, everyone! I think it has been exactly a month since I was with you, and what a month it’s been. My last article, the last in our marathon blitz, talked about Greninja, and why I thought it was a good play for Nationals. It was so good, in fact, that I played it at Nats, and then whiffed my invite — bummer!
Worlds is almost upon us, and I’m sure you’ve read some of the awesome pieces put out by our other writers. This past Saturday was the first time I touched any Pokémon cards in any meaningful way since Round 9-of NAIC, so I have literally nothing to offer you in terms of value on that front. Quite frankly, the only thought I’ve dedicated to Worlds is with regard to which top player I plan to beg for a list to play at the Anaheim Open, if I end up going.
The nature of this piece will be a little more somber than most of the articles I’ve written. I’d like to shed some light on the recent changes to the Expanded ban list, touch up on my initial findings from playing some BKT-on, and close with a reflection on my season and why it was such a tremendous disappointment.
Current Events: Expanded
I’ve been relatively shy about my thoughts on Expanded, keeping quiet while the discussion on the format (and the game in general) raged this past season. I personally felt that Expanded was a diverse and healthy format–
Expanded has been an absolute dumpster fire of a format and I freakin’ hated it with a seething passion. It was abject trash and anyone who thought otherwise was, quite frankly, wrong. Then, this past week, TPCi published an update to Expanded’s banlist, finally making due on their ancient promise of actually monitoring that format for unhealthy combos. As I’m sure many of you remember, the very first card that was banned from the format was Shiftry NXD, due to its ability to win the game before your opponent could draw a card. Back then, I (and many others) felt that the Shiftry ban was stupid, and that it was actually Forest of Giant Plants that was the unhealthy enabler of that combo — Shiftry NXD seeing literally no competitive play prior to its release should have made that clear. Unfortunately, it took two full years before TPCi got around to addressing the actual problem card, and here we are.
Forest of Giant Plants and Archeops NVI are the two newest additions to the ban list, hopefully permanently joining Lysandre’s Trump Card and overturning Shiftry’s wrongful conviction. It’s about time. Forest sucks and so does not being able to play a card in your hand before you even draw a card. It’s interesting that it took TPCi a full three years to address Archeops, a card that stops the central design pillar of the entire Pokémon franchise. For a long time, the idea of evolving your Pokémon was so abhorred and powerful that it had to be stopped, at all costs, before your opponent can draw a card. Now it can’t be! How cool is that. It’d be a lot cooler if it happened years ago, but beggars can’t be choosers. Were these two cards the most oppressive cards in Expanded that limited deck creativity, and will the format finally be the diverse utopia some had hoped?
No, and then a slightly lesser version of no. It’s honestly hard to tell which is card is more oppressive to the format. My vote goes to Battle Compressor, as every other degenerate combo is helped, either partly or completely, by Compressor’s existence. Some people say Ghetsis, others Trev, others Archeops, Wally, Forest, winning the coin flip, … the list goes on. Forest rotating means that Item lock rush simply switches over to Trevenant, which I believe has a greater chance of pulling off the lock than Vileplume did anyway (though was hated away because one-sided Item lock often loses to two-sided lock, among other things). Archeops rotating means that Yveltal finally fades from the spotlight, but Turbo Dark will likely replace it as the dominant Darketype. The decadence of Expanded is so vile that the banning of any small combination of unhealthy cards doesn’t alter the fundamental nature of the format to any serious degree.
In spite of all of this, Expanded is going to change dramatically regardless, though this is in part to something players are already very familiar with: Garbodor GRI. Every decklist in Expanded starts with 60 items and then cuts some to make room for a couple of Shaymin and some Double Colorless, but Garbodor will change this in a flash, just as it did for Standard. Conventional deckbuilding will, once more, be flipped on its head. The release of Lele is another powerful addition that goes part and parcel with this. Vileplume likely would have been less powerful in general with every deck having the target search of Hex Maniac (and therefore being able to spam Compressor/other items to execute their strategy flawlessly), as would Archeops. These two cards being banned seems like reinforcement of these changes, not their catalyst.
It is welcome that all of these factors occur at the same time, instead of incrementally as we seem to be used to. Trevenant will replace Vileplume, and now Tool Drop/Garbodor will be the other deck to beat. The rest of the format will revolve around the push/pull that these two have, and we’ll have to wait and see what else lurks in the shadows of Expanded’s cavernous depths.
Will the format be better? On average, yes.
The promised quarterly updates to the ban list mean that Trev could likely be out the door soon, meaning we will have a format that is quickly and aggressively being purged of its most degenerate combos, which is comforting to think about. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least mildly interested in the possibilities this new format offers, though we’ll have to wait and see what actually — I’ve been very, fantastically, optimistically wrong on virtually every future format prediction I’ve made since writing for Underground, so this could be way off the mark.
Rotational Racket: Thoughts on BKT-On
As I mentioned in the intro, this past Saturday was the first time I picked up a real deck of cards and played since Nationals concluded. My disillusion with the game and myself should come as no surprise to those who know what happened, and is the reason I took the break from writing that I did. As none of my personal team had plans to attend Worlds and were all reentering the game with serious intent for this upcoming season, we decided to do something I normally preach against, which is future metagaming/testing for a format when major tournaments still exist for the current one. Metas are defined through collective community exploration, and a small testing group of friends cannot accurately predict what will shape the unknown.
The announcement of BKT-on wasn’t a particular surprise to myself and others, and at a glance, it doesn’t seem like many of the top decks from NAIC or Worlds will be leaving. Shaymin-EX is finally rotating, though this card has seen a dramatic reduction in play since Lele’s release, as has Trainers’ Mail. VS Seeker rotating is the only thing of note, and what a welcome rotation that will be. No VS Seeker means that you’re only going to have 4 N and 4 Sycamore. I’ve been playing since 2008, so the majority of my time in the game has been without VS Seeker being a crucial component of deckbuilding. So how does one go about cutting VS Seeker out of their life, cold shoulder?
The easiest starting place was rooted in the current format. A lot of the perceived top decks for next format already exist in today’s game: Volcanion, Gardevoir, Metagross, Turbo Dark, Vikavolt, Decidueye, and Greninja, to name a few. Throw in possible niche decks like Kingdra, Noivern, Necrozma, and Marshadow, and you start to create a picture that should give a good idea of what the new meta will be, or at least close to.
Lists are coming out for a lot of these decks for the Worlds format, which is a great foundation for new format. Shaymin and Trainers’ Mail, two of the three biggest losses of rotation, are already seeing minimal/no play, meaning adapting the lists to go VS-less shouldn’t be that hard: bump up the hard counts of Sycamore and N to four each, throw in some Lillie, play no less than three Guzma, and you should be good to go.
This works in theory but practice felt much less sound. The last time we played a game without VS Seeker, a lot of decks were either basic oriented or had access to Tropical Beach (allowing Stage Twos to exist), which is a consistency option that does not exist for us. When Beach finally rotated, Seismitoad entered the game, immediately killing off every Stage Two deck concept. This will mark the first time that we’re playing big evolutions, without VS Seeker and Beach, in quite some time. Luckily we’ve still got Lele, but it’s a weird path to explore. The thing I found most difficult when constructing these decks was knowing which tech supporters – and how many – were worth running.
In the past, running numerous different 1-of supporters was normal. Doing so now is a much riskier proposition. How important is Kukui to your deck, and what numbers must you hit? Needing that damage boost requires running multiple copies of the card, but you can’t know that until you know what decks are seeing play, which you can’t know until the format is explored by the community at large. A cute supporter like Acerola has a great ability, but it would likely only be used in decks that are abusing some sort of tanking strategy and can reliably afford the constant pickup; it isn’t like AZ, where you can use it at any time. Knowing the potency of this niche/tech supporters is crucial, but so is determining just how important they are to your deck. One bad Sycamore could end up really biting you later, if you’re relying on a single trigger of one of these supporters.
This comes off as fairly obvious if you’re mildly intuitive, but actually picking up the decks and playing them is another story. In one of my matches with Volcanion, I ran a lone copy of Acerola, as it was based off a Worlds list. The card could be useful at Worlds, where Acerola can be freely discarded and still accessed at a crucial point much later in the game. Come September, though, this situation won’t exist, making Acerola a much weaker play. As I said, it’s hard to know exactly which utility supporters will have merit enough to play in multiple copies, but my testing generally obeyed the “play [X+1] to get [X]” philosophy.
None of this rambling takes into account the existence of either Octillery or Lele. Octillery has continued to be pretty mediocre, other than when paired with Gallade (for obvious reasons). Drawing to six with Magnezone’s Magnetic Draw was incredible, and drawing to one less is pretty painfully average, in my experience. Octillery will likely find a place in many decks as either supplementary or primary draw, because the draw is still good as the game goes on, but in the early/midgame, I think it really kinda… sucks. Conversely, Lele’s contribution to consistency needs no discussion, of course.
Armed with this knowledge of how to approach the consistency of decks, what did I actually play? Well, I took Travis Nunlist’s most recent Gardevoir and made a few changes, ending up on this as the starting list:
Pokémon – 21
Trainers – 27
Energy – 12
This looks fairly similar to his list as is, without the VS Seeker. The deck still operates well from a consistency standpoint, utilizing thick natural counts, Lele, Octillery, and Sylveon. The format is progressively getting slower as time goes on, which only spells great news for Gardevoir. The more time you give this deck, the stronger it will become. I opted to continue running Sylveon in this, for one reason only: there are only four copies of N that can be played. Every time your opponent uses their Lele to N you, that’s one less N they have. If they N you out of your first two Magical Ribbon searches, that means that later in the game, when you’re bashing their head in with a couple of massive Gardevoir, they’ll only be able to try and slow you down twice. This is not something that should be overlooked at all, and will likely play a role in Sylveon’s possible rise as a card in other decks.
Here’s a beginning take of mine on Volcanion, to give you an idea of another top deck. This one was inspired loosely by the Worlds list in Brit’s most recent article:
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 32
Energy – 14
This list, again, doesn’t seem that out of place. Thicker counts of supporters, specifically Kiawe, increase your odds of getting use out of them. Three Kiawe may be excessive, but the logic was that I wanted to have it in my opening hand, so I could use an Ultra Ball and fish for the attacker I wanted to charge; in one game, I opened Kiawe and Ho-Oh, which is the perfect T1 opening (I still lost this game!). Kiawe is almost detrimental past the first turn, so having the higher count hurt to draw off of low Ns, but Starmie goes a long way in pitching useless cards. The rest of this should be self explanatory, and Guzma is absolutely sick with Volcanion.
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 33
Energy – 11
This is the first deck of the new format I constructed “on my own”, or without basing it off a top tier current-format deck. I can’t attest to how good this deck actually is, but in my few testing games, at least it set up! I even beat a Volcanion in one set 2-0, through some dead-draws on their part Game 1 and some extremely crafty Lele plays Game 2 (though that matchup is still solidly near auto-loss territory for us). The origin of this deck is my desire to play a Crash-n-Burn style of Metagross, hearkening back to the old days of Metanite. The deck still plays a complement of Metal energy, so attacking with Metagross is possible if necessary, but the goal is to just blow stuff up with Necrozma as you cruise to victory.
You’ll notice this is also the first decklist I created that’s starting to branch out into the new style of deckbuilding. I’ve added in three copies of Lillie to the deck, as this list does not run Octillery and is not a basic-rush deck. Lillie has been very good in the midgame, where I don’t need to hit a lot of cards but would like to get some supplementary draw, and is another good card to hit off low Ns.
I run a single copy of Heavy Ball, because it can fish out Metang and the Metagross (and Giratina promo), and just seemed like a neat additional search card. I run a lone copy of Skyla, which is contradictory to what I mentioned above. Skyla isn’t crucial to the strategy at all, and when constructing this, I didn’t know all the cards to put in so I just threw it in. It had its uses but I didn’t feel hurt discarding it any games either. The Giratina promo is in the deck because… I needed a 60th. I have no idea, cut this card for something better if you actually want to test this deck, because Metagross’s issue with Greninja was never Giant Water Shuriken anyway.
Just as I was the first to officially post a list for Metagross way back when GUR released (and therefore credit for the archetype should actually go to me), I am the first to post a list for Metacrozma (Necrogross?), and therefore the archetype should be considered henceforth a creation of mine and no one else’s. This deck is really cool, even if it isn’t good. The testing session was more just an opportunity for me to hang out with friends, and with none of us going to Worlds, this was the best way for us to expend some pent-up Poké-energy.
Neither of these lists, or any of the others I constructed are optimized in any way. I wouldn’t be surprised if these lists actually turn out to be plain bad and not well adapted to the transition. I can’t know what the format will be, so all I’m doing is using my prior experience in dealing with significant format transitions to try and put these lists together.
The format itself feels a little more color-based than I’d like, though this may be because of the deck choices of my friends and I, and not necessarily wholly indicative of what the format actually is. Volcanion is quite good, Gardevoir is quite good, Metagross and Kingdra are quite fun, and there’s still a lot of decks I want to test. Adjusting to VS Seeker is not just about deckbuilding, but about conserving resources efficiently. I think this format is rapidly going to start highlighting innovators and not just followers, which is a welcomed change.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this casual dive into the upcoming BKT-on format! I cannot stress enough that this is just my initial foray into that world and not to take any of these lists/thoughts as anywhere near final, but it was actually kinda fun partaking in an activity that I’ve often derided as being useless and counterproductive (which I still believe, but Pokémon sucks for me right now anyway, so why not). I’m wholly uninformed of any and all Worlds-related dealings, so seek out any of our other writers (literally any of them, every other writer has an invite to Worlds but me) for clarification there.
For me, the Anaheim Open is a possibility, but my eyes will eventually settle on the first Regional of the new season, whenever that may fall. Let me know what you guys think and what ideas you’ve found for BKT-on, if you’ve done any exploring. As always, have a great day, good luck at Worlds, and I’ll see you around!
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