Revision Accepted

Looking at New Realities for Old Favorites in the Expanded Format, Raikou/Eels for Fort Wayne, and Final Thoughts on Anaheim

Today, we stand just over 4 days from TCG Players locking in their deck selections for the 2017 World Championships. In a bit of a reversal from the norm, the last minute panic attacks on deck choice, that 60th slot, and more, are relegated to Thursday night. With this in mind, our last article this week will be Wednesday, instead of Thursday. In theory, this may lead to some more sleep for the world’s best, but I think in practice it’s also going to lead to a lot of agony.

This was previously attempted in 2014, but the Thursday evening, post-LCQ Player’s Meeting in D.C. was cancelled in favor of the Symphonic Evolutions concert when the LCQ ran late. That year, I had my play mostly locked in well in advance of the tournament—if memory serves, Wednesday or so! That was by far the most solid I’d felt about a deck choice in a long time. It ended in a R9 heartbreak, but I wasn’t exactly freaking over the early submission then.

This year, on the other hand, I’m definitely not anywhere near a final pick. There are so many options, there is so much uncertainty, and things are generally an all-around mess. I started my Worlds testing a good bit behind some others, with a hectic July and early August, so while I’m reaching some level of clarity on some of Burning Shadows’ most hyped, there’s still some work yet to be done.

With that said, me sitting here and telling you about Volcanion or Greninja for the nth time is probably not helping anyone at Worlds this year. Hopefully, if you’re a lucky one, you’ve already solidified a pick for Worlds. I do seem to be talking to more players than normal that have already solidified their thoughts and are either down to a few choices, or have already locked one in. Obviously, things are always changing in the community, but at large, there seems to be a bit of fatigue in the deck department this year.

With that in mind, I’m going to talk a bit about the ARG Invitational that we saw this past weekend today, but most of my discussion is going to be on Expanded. We only have 3 weeks until the kickoff of 2017-2018 in Fort Wayne—before you know it, it’ll be upon us. Michael Slutsky preempted me a bit yesterday, looking at some of the recent Standard favorites that have yet to translate to Expanded. I’m going to kick off with the Expanded, then look at what are currently my Worlds favorites in light of the ARG event.

My recent guilty pleasure has been playing Expanded when I know that the proper thing to do is grind more games with or M or Drampa or…you get it. I’m among the (minority?) group of players that generally enjoys Expanded, and, furthermore, among the sick group of souls that enjoys playing Primal . What can I say? I clearly hate fun. (Unfortunately, it’s just not there as a play in Standard.)

As such, I’ve developed a bit of an idea as to the workings of the format. It’s been pretty clear to see all along that Expanded was desperately in need of a shakeup, and while I don’t actually think Guardians Rising or Burning Shadows did much to that effect, the bans of Forest of Giant Plants and Archeops NVI certainly do. For example, I think the Espeon/ variant is pretty much the only way that Garbodor GRI is going to see solid play in Expanded. Michael did a good job discussing the implications of the bans and the few things those sets might offer yesterday, so today, I want to talk a bit more about what the bans mean for the archetypes of old.

Out with the Old…Old: Expanded Bans

We’re headed for a gathering of refreshed ideas.

I, for one, will not miss the influence that Archeops had on this format. While I do find the bans somewhat generous toward Trevenant XY (not that I believe it should’ve been banned, though I might’ve appreciated that—just that Archeops’ removal probably puts it in an even better position), that outcome is preferable to something that required copious teching to make an entire class of decks playable. I’m sure the Yveltal/Maxie’s players of the world are not as pleased as I am, though.

Here’s a tally of the decks that made Top 32 at the 3 BLW-SUM Regionals last season. This spans from St. Louis in early March to Toronto in early May:

Seismitoad-EX 11
Darknessrai-EX/Dragons 11
Yveltal-EX/Maxie’s 9
Primal Groudon-EX/Wobbuffet PHF 9
7
Darknessrai-EX 6
Lurantis-GX/Vileplume AOR 5
M-Rayquaza-EX 5
Volcanion-EX 5
M Gardevoir-EX STS 4
Trevenant BREAK 4
AOR/Flareon PLF 4
Decidueye-GX/Vileplume AOR 3
Accelgor DEX/Wobbuffet PHF 2
Aerodactyl FCO/Talonflame STS/Maxie’s 2
Carbink BREAK/Zygarde-EX 1
Eelektrik NVI/Raikou BKT/Mewtwo-EX 1
Greninja BREAK/Talonflame STS 1
M Rayquaza-EX 1
Rainbow Road/Ho-Oh-EX 1
Sableye DEX/Garbodor BKP 1
Vespiquen AOR/Vileplume AOR 1
Yveltal-EX/Darknessrai-EX 1
Zoroark BKT/ 1

Of this list, really, only a few decks have been negatively impacted by these bans. Obviously, Yveltal/Maxie’s, stalwart of the Expanded format since its beginnings, is the biggest loser. Yveltal used to be able to keep up with the damage posed by evolution decks by simply preventing that evolution (0r, by making it extraordinarily difficult at minimum). Without Archeops, that’s no longer a possible reality. It seems as though the big bird’s time in Expanded may be coming to a similar end as its Standard show, but Dark always seems to find a way…

The other big losers are Vileplume decks, which likely fade into utter unplayability at this point. With the Archeops check removed, this was probably a necessary move. On the fringe, this will affect some Vespiquen and Accelgor lists, as Forest could be utilized there in low counts as well. But, the headline here is absolutely the demolition of Vileplume. Oh—and the fact that Alex Hill probably only has one shot left (Worlds) at playing Decidueye-GX to any real use.

The winners from the bans are really more those that were impacted by Archeops than Vileplume’s Item lock. In reality, Item lock is probably going to not miss a beat, with Trevenant XY as its standard bearer. In a way, I expect this to have a negative impact on evolution decks that Archeops would’ve checked as well, as Trevenant BREAK preys heavily on those evolving Basics that’ll probably be left exposed by Item lock.

But, even with that in mind, there are some decks here that I think could be headed for higher places. One that immediately comes to mind is Eelektrik NVI/Raikou BKT. With a potential suite of attackers as diverse as any, plus some cute new options from the last few sets, I think this is definitely a deck to keep an eye on now that Archeops is officially retired. The bad news is that Trevenant is not a friendly guy, but this deck had a bit of a quasi-answer in Rough Seas+Seismitoad-EX as it was.

My friend Primal Groudon is likely to appreciate the weakening of Yveltal/Maxie’s, which I seemed to be unable to lose to when on the East half of the States, but unable to beat while in the West. In addition, it’s good to see Vileplume retire to a local bulk pile, even if the Lurantis variant was surprisingly more winnable than I expected. Probably not a fan of Trevenant’s resurgence, though, unless you like playing Healing Scarf.

probably isn’t going to be messing around in the new format either. I’ve seen some folks try to cram it and Garbodor GRI into one concept; the result seems to be a messy pile of nonsense that doesn’t beat very much. A more conventional Toad/Bats could be a legitimate play. Toad/Giratina, notably, took Toronto by storm. The deck probably should’ve had another Top 8 or two, but it turns out that Groudon coincidentally had a pretty good matchup.

Greninja—enemy of the sane, defier of all things good, lord of the river of darkness—is very excited to see Archeops bite the dust. Who knows: maybe with enough Battle Compressor, Level/Ultra/Dive/Timer/etc. Balls, consistency cards, and who knows what else, Greninja might be consistent enough to play. I know, I’m feeling ill too.

Speed Darkrai-EX hasn’t had any dominating showings anytime recently, but it did make a bit of noise in Portland. I think that story might pick up in Indiana as Dark players look to it over Yveltal and Darkrai-GX joins its sick little game of eating all the innocent pre-evolutions. More testing is required—and I haven’t touched it yet—but I’m starting to wonder if this might be the litmus test by which decks are considered playable or handed back over to the binder.

Finally, Vespiquen is probably pretty happy to see Archeops retire as well. I think it’s probably not a big fan of Trevenant’s seemingly-inevitable rise back to the top of the meta, nor of the reality that Oricorio is real card in this format too. But, I would be surprised if there weren’t a few loyalists bringing Bees in Fort Wayne.

Buzzing to Life: Raikou/Eels

It’s baaaaaack.

The last significant event I can remember this deck making a showing at was Philadelphia Regionals, where Sam Chen piloted it to Top 4 before losing to Mike Fouchet’s Accelgor/Wobbuffet. His list achieved something that many had not: have a shot against Trevenant while also doing a bit of a number on Night March. Karen is something that, as Night March seems to be due to have at least some Marshadow-fueled hype heading into Fort Wayne, probably has to remain from his iteration. Here’s what I’ve been playing:

Pokémon – 16

4 Tynamo NVI 38

4 Eelektrik NVI

1 Eelektross BUS

4 Raikou BKT

2 Seismitoad-EX

1 Tapu Lele-GX

Trainers – 34

4 Professor Juniper

2 Colress

1 N

1 AZ

1 Hex Maniac

1 Karen

1 Guzma

1 Lysandre

 

4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

2 Battle Compressor

1 Rescue Stretcher

2 Fighting Fury Belt

2 Float Stone

2 Choice Band

1 Computer Search

 

4 Rough Seas

Energy – 10

7 Lightning

3 Double Colorless

The deck has actually gained a considerable bit more from the last few sets than I anticipated when I started building it. I’ve varied a lot of these counts in the ~10 games I’ve played, but I think consistency has proven to be king over and over again in these large events for good reason. Losing Evosoda has allowed some new ideas in terms of space, which is definitely a welcome change.

Eelektross PLS used to make its way into lists for a variety of reasons, among them Jolteon-EX, but it was also useful to simply be able to turn one of the Eels into an attacking force. Eelektross BUS takes that another step, being able to swing for 160 out of nowhere. I’ve crammed Choice Band into the list, taking that effect to 190, which is getting to some important numbers. If you were to remove Choice Band, it might be worth going back to PLS to make sure the deck can consistently reach the all-important 180.

For those unfamiliar, Seismitoad-EX is incredibly important to the deck’s Trevenant matchup. In theory, the goal is to reach a game state featuring an Active Seismitoad w/Fighting Fury Belt, minimal Bench, and active Rough Seas. In this situation, the Trevenant player isn’t going to be able to do much damage at all, while Item lock slowly brings their shenanigans to a stop. Like any anti-Trevenant strategy, it does have some drawbacks: mainly, a Turn 1 Trevenant shuts it down as well as anything else. It’s possible that I’ve struck an improper balance in FFB/Choice Band counts, on these grounds, as well.

Giratina Xy184 might be worth considering, but it’s deceptively only mildly useful for the Trev matchup. In many situations, they’d prefer to be using Tree Slam anyway, meaning they’re less likely to evolve to the BREAK to walk into Devour Light. However, by forcing that action, you do keep Trevenant at a 3HKO rather than a 4HKO for Seismitoad/FFB, while also forcing them to have 3 Energy or 2+Dimension Valley to attack. There are a variety of angles from which to approach the matchup, and I think it’s eventually just a matter of picking the right ones before something works enough to be dangerous.

AZ is superior to Acerola because it’s unrestricted and you usually don’t mind (or, may prefer) the Energy in the discard pile anyway. Guzma is a welcome effect for manipulating the Active spot a bit more, allowing us to potentially cheat some extra Dyanmotors onto a Raikou that would otherwise be stuck Active. It may end up that only one of these two can fit, but I do quite like having the extra option—it can even help against Trevenant!

Tapu Lele-GX and Shaymin-EX are, obviously, the two consistency Pokémon to consider in this format. I give Lele the nod here because Mewtwo-EX NXD was a card that this deck previously enjoyed a lot, and being able to combine that attacking force with a consistency out saves us a deck slot. It may happen that the deck needs the extra draw too much to omit Shaymin, but either way, Tapu Lele>Mewtwo-EX.

This is my current favorite for Fort Wayne, though there’s definitely a lot of Pokémon to be played before that. I think it does well against a lot of the off-the-wall stuff we often see at Expanded tournaments, and the sheer simplicity of its strategy and effectiveness of its raw damage means it’s well-positioned to be successful in most metas. The big matchup to watch out for, though, is Darkrai-EX/GX/whatever other Darkrai they’ve printed these days. Definitely a good amount of testing should go into seeing if that matchup can be won before committing to this deck.

Winding to Worlds: Final Standard Thoughts

The countdown to showtime is on.

I’ve written a lot about Burning Shadows. When we conceived this shorter article format, it was made for stretches with Regionals in different formats every few weekends. I don’t think any of us envisioned the fun that July and August would be, but it’s been interesting trying to keep things fresh over the last few weeks (and, event scheduling like next March’s is already giving me headaches). At this point, I don’t have any more inspiration to offer beyond the ARG Top 16 and what we’ve hammered home as a group over the last few weeks. If you’re the listening type, we did a podcast episode yesterday recapping said ARG event.

ARG saw Gyarados come back in spectacular fashion, with a full quarter of the Top 16. The wheels promptly came off the tracks, as none of the quartet advanced beyond Top 4, but it’s an interesting case study nonetheless. Remember, you only need to go 4-2 on Friday. Gyarados certainly doesn’t tie very much, and it has a number of legitimately good matchups, so it could be something some players consider. It’s personally a bit of a consistency/gimmick liability in my mind, but I’d be unsurprised to see it in large numbers.

The other really, really big deal is the lack of Volcanion in Top 16. Kiawe and Ho-Oh were supposed to push this concept into the next stratosphere, but instead it completely bombed this unsanctioned event. I strongly doubt that anyone was “holding” it back or anything, so I’m inclined instead to believe that this meta took serious advantage. I’m inclined to believe that Volcanion is better positioned than what these results show, and moreover, that it’s likely to be a big deck this weekend regardless. I’d love to know that Volcanion wasn’t going to be a factor (spoiler: I’d probably play Golisopod), but I still think it’s likely to be a big enough attraction to cause problems.

It’s really hard to predict how players are going to look at these results. My gut says that not much is going to change, but it’s very hard—bordering on impossible—to say. If I had turned my decklist in this evening, it’d have been a Gardevoir list along the lines of what Travis Nunlist has been offering us for the last few weeks. I believe the somewhat-inconsistency is something that can be mitigated, that Metagross borders between beatable and irrelevant anyway, and that the sheer strength is something that makes it worth playing. There’s still a lot of time and decisions left to be made—if I’d have written this article yesterday, I’d probably be citing a Volcanion list as my probable choice—but I do think Gardevoir is a legitimate pick.

Short of something stellar in Anaheim, the next time I’m here Fort Wayne will be in the rearview mirror and we’ll be onto Hartford’s Standard. It’s shaping up to be another exciting year, and as always, we’re glad to have you with us for it. If you have any questions or commentary on this piece, or on anything else, I’m always available on the forums, @cschemanske on Twitter, or you can find me in Anaheim.

Otherwise, until next time, all the best.

Christopher


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