Another Pokémon season is officially underway. Fort Wayne kicked off our season this past weekend with the largest tournament in the history of the game (outside of Indianapolis and Columbus’ yearly Nationals-esque festivities), and in a result that surprises nobody, Michael Pramawat took home the event with an Expanded stalwart: Night March. While many had written off Night March heading into the weekend, it doesn’t surprise me at all that we saw Michael take home the event with one of the more polar decks in the history of the game.
For the other 815 Masters that descended on Fort Wayne this weekend, in one way or another, the weekend fell short. For many, it was a deck choice gone awry. For others, Expanded’s sheer diversity saw them hitting matchups they’d never dreamed of, let alone tested. For all, though, it was a good reintroduction into the game’s wider format. Given its prominent role (relative to last year, it’ll play a bigger part) in the game this year, it’s interesting to see Expanded once again in the front of players’ minds.
Like most big events, it wasn’t without its controversies or quirks. This time, though, it’s not largely about anything anyone in Fort Wayne did—but what Seattle did in setting up the tournament structure. TPCi’s prizing dictates that the Top 32 players receive $250 and 36 booster packs with 201+ players. Quirkily, it also calls for all 7-2s, regardless of number, to advance to Day 2 Swiss. The result, 33 players in Day 2, was a perfect storm of chaos.
As a result of the odd structure, the byes introduced meant someone was going to get 33rd, while someone finishing above them was going to literally not win a game all day. That person would also walk home without the elevated Day 2 prizing. Whether this, in your mind, is cause for the reintroduction of Top 64 monetary prizing, reason to ensure all Day 2 players receive the same prizing after a certain point (say, Top 16), or you think the current structure is completely fine, it’s another raging issue for the community to debate.
It wasn’t exactly an interstellar weekend for us at SixPrizes, but after Worlds, we’ll roll with it. Pablo Meza and Jimmy Pendarvis led the group with Top 32 finishes, while I saw a Top 64, and Alex Hill, Xander Pero, and Mike Fouchet ended in Top 256. Considering the enormity of the event, and the nature of the Expanded format, it was a trying time for everyone to say the least. Today, I’m going to highlight the deck that the a few of us played this weekend before getting into the results more as a whole.
Though the next event on many players’ minds is Standard in Hartford, Expanded is still fresh in our consideration. I’d like to take this time to recap what we saw and think about what it means as we look toward Daytona Beach, our next Expanded bout, in early October. I suspect Jimmy will also trend toward Expanded for his article tomorrow, though I can’t confirm that at this point, but think Travis and beyond will take us back into the Standard territory.
It’s going to be a weird year as we try to balance the almost-perfectly-oscillating Regionals schedule (as far as format is concerned) with the challenges of publication, and as always, if there’s anything in particular you’d like to hear about, feel free to contact Alex, I, or any of our writers.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the deck Alex, Xander, and I took our chances on this weekend.
Expanding the Standard: Espeon/Garbodor
As the high of Worlds wore off and the reality set in that Fort Wayne was, uh, imminent, I have to say that I tested more for this event than any other in recent memory. Perhaps, in hindsight, that’s not the best plan in the universe (I played 0 games with Metagross before Madison, and 0 between Portland and my run in Toronto with Groudon…), but it’s important nonetheless to have a grasp on the format’s inner workings. I was excited to get back to somewhat stable ground after meandering through the end of 2016/17’s Standard format, so it’s ironic that I ended up favoring one of last Standard’s most successful decks.
While Espeon/Garbodor didn’t have the NAIC showing some of us might’ve imagined, it did quite well in PRC–GRI Regionals, and certainly left no doubt about its strengths with a few Worlds runs. More than a week before this tournament, I knew for sure that my deck for Fort Wayne was going to include Garbodor GRI if at all possible. The format honestly isn’t that well-conditioned to the Item punishment Garbodor facilitates, and I was pretty confident that I’d be able to take advantage of things like Speed Dark’s insatiable appetite for Item consumption.
I tested multiple variants of Garbodor decks, including ones with Zoroark (both BLW and BKT), Weavile BUS, and Necrozma/Psychic things (much similar to what Azul Griego and Brad Curcio ended up with, though Mimikyu never crossed my mind and is a brilliant addition). Espeon, while persistently underwhelming on paper, was by far the most perseverant in practice. There wasn’t really anything the deck was consistently losing to, and in a total rarity, I was all-but-locked-in on the Wednesday ahead of the event. Here was the list we played:
Pokémon – 18
1 Garbodor BKP*
Trainers – 30
Energy – 12
(*I played BKP. Alex and Xander played DRX. I’m not sure any of it actually matters, but I wanted the status infliction.)
Overall, it’s a bit of a departure from the Standard concept, but I do believe it can be fairly classed as a Standard deck with a few Expanded cards tossed in around the edges to complement the strategy. I firmly believed the first priority in succeeding at this event would be beating Speed Dark, and this deck capably accomplished that goal. That it also could deal well with Night March and at least had a chance of beating Trevenant in any given game made it a highly interesting play. However, the biggest selling point for me was this deck’s ability to go toe-to-toe with almost anything—everything uses Items in one way or another.
Espeon itself isn’t nearly as good as it is in Standard, so we made the cut to two fairly easily. Other than my brother hilariously prizing both Espeon in all three games of one of his matches, I don’t believe the lack of a third copy caused any of us any problems. Expanded does offer some new Eev-olutions, though, and they bear some explanation. Leafeon is very strong against Speed Dark; I often found myself hitting into a Darkrai on Turn 1 with Tapu Lele-GX and following up the next turn with Leafeon to finish the knockout. With the double Rescue Stretcher, it was very capable of making multiple appearances in one game.
Meanwhile, Flareon served an entirely different purpose. In addition to serving as an additional 1 Prize attacker against the likes of Night March, it also was a theoretical soft counter to Golisopod, which we knew was making rounds. Alex and I fought a pretty spirited discussion over whether it should be Flareon PLF or Flareon AOR; in the end all 3-of us played the Vengeance one. I personally regret the choice, as I used Vengeance a whopping zero times during the event (and would’ve greatly appreciated AOR’s effects against Golisopod), but the theory behind it was definitely sound regardless. (Note from Alex: I overestimated the Golisopod matchup and underestimated its presence at the event. What can you do?)
The last Eeveeloution that was considered was Espeon PLF. In fact, my brother forewent the aforementioned Flareon altogether in favor of including Espeon. Espeon can, as soon as Turn 1 (with the benefit of Energy Evolution), drop 80 damage on any Psychic-weak Pokémon your opponent might have. This, of course, is enough to knockout a Trubbish, making it supremely valuable in any sort of Garbodor mirror match. In addition, it theoretically puts in work against any sort of low-HP basics, including Joltik and Combee. I think we were right to ignore it for Fort Wayne, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind as Expanded evolves.
The only other Eeveeloution that you may want to consider—we didn’t—is Espeon DEX. Preventing effects of attacks from reaching any Pokémon with attached Energy sounds like a theoretically-great Trevenant counter, but the reality is that its Psychic Weakness is a pretty significant handicap in that regard. Moreover, Trevenant sorta aims to keep all of your Energy off the board anyway, so it’s a pretty subpar counter.
Facing the Gauntlet: Fort Wayne Experience
Here’s how my day went:
Fort Wayne Regionals — 816 Masters — Espeon/Garb
R1 Speed Dark (2-0)
R2 Turtonator-GX/Volcanion-EX (2-1)
R3 Gardevoir-GX (1-1)
R4 Speed Dark (2-0)
R5 Speed Dark (1-2)
R6 Seismitoad-EX/Golisopod-GX (1-2)
R7 Speed Dark (2-0)
R8 Speed Dark (2-0)
R9 Speed Dark (2-0)
Final: 6-2-1, 57th
While it was short of the Day 2 cut, I can’t be too upset with my performance at the event. We certainly proved the “Speed Dark is a good matchup” theory, as I believe we only dropped 3 series between the 4 players utilizing the deck. Personally, an 11-2 record in individual games is a pretty telling statistic as well.
A few things stuck out from my day. Against Seismitoad/Golisopod, a matchup in which I had zero concept of testing, I won Game 1 against a dead-draw before literally losing both Games 2 and 3 to winner-take-all confusion flips. Supremely disappointing, but in fairness, I was the one who chose Flareon PLF and the one putting his hopes in a coin flip to save the game—it’s just part of what happens. My tie with Gardevoir to Kevin Baxter was nothing spectacular; simply time running out on an indeterminate Game 3.
Rahul Reddy’s Turtonator/Volcanion in Round 2 was the same list Sam Chen piloted to finals, and my understanding is that Rahul was the one who sold the list to Sam in the end. It was an interesting deck to play against for sure, and I believe Rahul finished 6-3 after I pulled out a pretty narrow Game 3.
Losing one match to Speed Dark was not totally unexpected, but still disappointing. My opponent played the matchup entirely differently from everyone else I hit over the weekend, preferring a total blitzkrieg with zero regard for his Item usage to the measured, Item-cautious strategy most players employed. It resulted in him going up 3 Prizes by the end of his second attacking-turn in all 3 games, which left me zero margin for error. In Game 1, I fell short of the comeback, whiffing the Trashalance off an N to 6 to setup a prize race to the end. In Game 2, I successfully pulled off 3 consecutive Trashalances, netting a win. Game 3, once more, came down to that race and I was simply unable to find the Tubbish necessary to keep my field going.
I believe Espeon almost always wins that matchup when the game is drawn out, so I believe there might be merit in my opponent’s approach more generally. Of course, if I hadn’t been forced to promote a Tapu Lele in Games 2/3 (or, hadn’t played into it in Game 1 by naively thinking my 170 HP was safe—he had one Energy on the board!), I wouldn’t have gone 6-3, and might’ve had more of a shot. If the Espeon player misses at any point while under heavy fire, they’re going to lose the game, so it might just be worth exploring whether an all-out blitz is superior to trying to fight the uphill, long-term battle.
Quickly, a few words on that matchup particularly. I believe the key to the Dark matchup is to get 2 Prizes off an EX 2HKO in the early game before trying to swing for four with Trashalanche. Now, this is assuming your opponent tries to play a measured pace with Darkrai-EX BKP and minimal Item usage. Whether you use Tapu Lele, Espeon, or literally any other attacker is irrelevant as long as you’re able to get 2 Prizes out of it. Sometimes, while Espeon isn’t really ideal, it’s good enough to be worth using because it forces your opponent to commit to adding more Energy to their board—which you can generally punish.
If your opponent tries to simply utilize Darkrai-GX to plow through at the speed of 130 damage—an approach I believe superior to the aforementioned—your play is to get out Garbodor BKP and an Espeon to confuse that Darkrai. The math still works out pretty favorably for Espeon in my experience, but I found this sort of approach—which absolutely minimized Items—quite difficult to navigate around. They still have Guzma as an option to get out of that Confusion, but then you still have an undamaged Espeon that, with Choice Band on both ends, can clean up with Psychic the following turn. The only peril here is an untimely Dead End-GX. Still, though, I believe Espeon is favored.
As mentioned earlier, if they abandon all pretense of Item conservation and decide to simply try to blow you out of the water, Espeon-GX is probably the last card you want on your field. I’d recommend trying to attack as often as physically possible with Trashalance Garbodor, intermixing Leafeon PLF where needed so that you have a shot. These games, in my experience, come down to Ns and your ability to get Garbodor GRIs and P Energies off of them. Teammates is absolutely invaluable in this pursuit. I still believe you should win most of your games against this approach, but it raises the heat by a large degree.
That’s about all I want to say on my matchups this weekend. I believe the deck is a generally an all-around pretty decent concept that has a lot of potential in almost any Expanded format. Garbodor is undeniably strong, and there’s a lot of value in any deck that can force its opponents to choose between subpar strategic execution and being walloped by a fairly-bulky non-EX/GX. If this weekend taught us anything, the more Expanded changes, the more it stays the same—and, as it happens, Espeon has a good Night March matchup!
The Horizons: Looking to Florida
This weekend’s Day 2 only affirmed Expanded’s diversity as a format, as we saw a wide gamut of decks do exceptionally well. As we look toward Florida, I’m intrigued by Night March for sure, and definitely can’t ignore the Turtle storm that Rahul, Sam, and crew brought to the Great Lakes. Dark seemingly will never die, and as such, I’d argue it’s still the number one thing you need to contend with heading into Florida (though, Dark Patch prices may threaten that in the eventual future). In addition, I’d note that Sylveon-GX is a strongly interesting concept that seemingly will fall to the same fate as Sableye in most situations: I doubt it ever wins a Top 8 match.
Golisopod-GX was definitely the up-and-coming surprise of the weekend, though, and I expect it’ll see once more see play in droves as we head to Florida. Whether the rise of the Turtles corresponds to cause it trouble I don’t yet know, but I feel as though as list with Oricorio could give Night March enough trouble to make it competitive.
Since I know many’s minds are on CT, a few quick words: For Standard, while I’ve literally never played a game of BKT-on, I definitely think there’s potential for Volcanion to be very strong in the format. It lost Hex Maniac, Vaporeon AOR, and more in the way of counters while not losing much at all for itself. While Gardevoir could prove problematic, I still believe a Stage 2 deck is going to inherently suffer when faced with the speed Volcanion can provide. Past Volcanion, though, I have to say that Gardevoir’s access to a mind-numbing GX attack (in a format where Supporter use is once again brought back into gravity’s reach, it’s a powerful effect to say the least) makes it a compelling concept to test as well. I’ll be back later this month with some additional Standard thoughts—ideally, after I’ve tested my way around the game a bit more.
Until then, though, happy testing, and, as always, all the best.
…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.
After 45 days, we unlock each Underground (UG/★) article for public viewing. New articles are reserved for Underground members.
Underground Members: Thank you for making this article possible!
Other Readers: Check out the FAQ if you are interested in joining Underground and gaining full access to our latest content.