Hello everyone! Travis Nunlist here with a piece fresh off of my attendance at the San Jose Expanded Regional Championship. During my last piece I explicitly stated that I would not be attending the event, but ~1 week before the showdown I found out that attending was a possibility! As a result I scrambled together a ride, hotel, and began testing immediately.
I was initially set on playing Sableye/Garbodor after talking with our own Jimmy Pendarvis and after playing a few games with the deck I was really enjoying it. However, I felt that leading up the event the deck got a lot more hype than I initially expected it to get, which made me lose a lot of confidence in the archetype, as I believed it to be much worse with players prepared to face it.
This lead me to begin exploring other options. I expected the meta to be comprised mostly of Night March, Gardevoir-GX, Zoroark-GX variants, Golisopod-GX variants, Garbodor Toolbox, & Sableye/Garbodor. As a result of this I wanted to play a deck that I thought had the best match ups against the expected field and could handle any fringe archetypes that may pop up.
Choosing Greninja (Self Sabotage)
After a bit of testing I had narrowed down my possible deck choices to: Greninja, Trevenant, and Fighting/Bats. The first two decks I liked because I anticipated Giratina Promo to be cut from a lot of decks due to the rise of Zoroark-GX. This would scare all of the Trevenant away, and the consistency issues of Greninja keep a lot of people away from it in Expanded. The Fighting Bats deck was essentially just a remake of the Landorus-EX/Bats deck that found success in previous formats with some new additions. The logic was that Fighting type attackers should give it an edge over Zoroark-GX, and Bats/Spread should be great against Night March and anything trying to evolve. However, the speed, consistency, and raw power of Zoroark-GX/Sky Field as well as the addition of the BW Zoroark proved to a bit more difficult to solve than simply playing Fighting Pokémon.
I eventually decided to chase the dragon and roll the dice with Greninja. I’ve always liked Greninja as a deck, and largely believe the ‘Greninja hands’ meme of inconsistency to be heavily overblown. Of the expected decks, I believed to have favorable matchups against everything except Golisopod-GX variants, which I believed would be a bad play for the event due to Night March, Gardevoir-GX, and the Sky Field Zoroark decks—all of which can easily 1HKO Golisopod. I, along with a few other friends, including our own Kenny Wisdom, decided to sleeve up the frogs and take our chances. We believed with a list dedicated to consistency we could take down San Jose Regionals. Here is the list we played for the event:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 32
Energy – 10
We tried very hard to commit to consistency, with the only cards that didn’t aid consistency being the 2 Field Blower & 2 Muscle Band. As a result, the deck was a bit more linear, but came with a much higher chance of actually getting to the place we wanted it to go. My day went like this:
San Jose Regionals 11/25/17 – Greninja
R1 Zoroark-GX/Sky Field/Alolan Muk (Kenny Britton) WW
R2 Gardevoir-GX (Keegan Bonabian) W
R3 Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX (Caleb Gedemer) WLT
R4 Night March (Irving Garcia Garcia Aldana) WLW
R5 Night March (Azul Garcia Griego) WLT
R6 Gardevoir-GX (Ravyn Pollock) WLT
R7 Golisopod-GX/Seismitoad-EX (Jun Kwon) LWT
R8 Golisopod-GX/Zoroark-GX (Carlos Machado-Navarro) LWL
R9 Turbo Turtonator-GX (Zoe Stern) WW
16 Points, T128
This was definitely one of the most interesting tournament experiences I’ve had in a while, with my ties in Rounds 3, 5, & 6 all resulting from a spat of bad luck. In Round 3 I was hit by a paralyze flip that prevented me from winning G3 during Turn 3-of time, and in Rounds 5/6 I won a very long Game 1 only to lose a very short Game 2 due to getting donked/not finding enough Pokémon to survive. I know a lot of players will default to “That’s Greninja for you!”, but I find it increasingly hard to believe that things like opening Basic/pass and prizing 3 Frogadier are exclusively Greninja problems, and any such run of issues by any other deck would be chalked up to variance.
Alternatively, maybe I am just being suckered into the rabbit hole that is Greninja. I’ve always advocated for the deck, but I could easily just be a victim of being annoyed by specific in-game consistency problems when they arise instead of just accepting that the deck has too many moving parts as a whole. With a 4-4-4-3 line of Greninja you accept that prizing pieces is inevitable, and are generally okay with access to a 3-3-3-2 line throughout the game.
The real issues come with prizing multiple of one certain piece. It doesn’t really matter if you have access to 4 Greninja if you have 2 Frogadier prized, 3 BREAKS is much less useful if you only have 2 Greninja in deck, and the list goes on. Gladion feels like a poor solution to the problem, as it is a bit too slow and difficult to access early game, when you want to be drawing and digging for evolutions. It’s not that the odds of prizing 2-of one piece are exceptionally high; it’s that prizing 2-of ANY part of the line (in addition to part of the Starmie line) can cause issues in setting up, and the combination of all of these possibilities does provide a slightly higher range of things that can go wrong than most other decks.
Moving Forward & Talking Texas
With Memphis off the table for me due to schedule conflicts, the next Regional I’ll be attending will be Dallas, which is also expanded! As a result I’ll be focusing on this format a lot more than Standard, and will only be dabbling in Standard a bit for League Cups. To prepare for Texas we’ll have to first look at what ended up taking the top spots at San Jose, which ended up being 3 Night March, 3 Zoroark, 1 Wailord, and 1 Gyarados decks:
Night March – Azul Garcia Griego
Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX – Eduardo Gonzalez
Night March – Michael Pramawat
Night March – Rahul Reddy
Gyarados – Ahmed Ali
Zoroark-GX / Alolan Muk – Bodhi Tracy
Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX – Simon Narode
Wailord-EX – Drew Kennett
The meta essentially shook out how I thought it would, with Wailord and Gyarados being the surprise decks of the weekend. Gyarados seems like a functionally similar deck to Night March, but is less vulnerable to Karen/Oricorio at the cost of evolving. Wailord functions as a disruption focused deck similar to Sableye/Garbodor, but without a lot of the same weaknesses people were looking to prey on to defeat Sableye/Garbodor. The biggest takeaway from the tournament: Night March is the undeniable BDIF and is very capable of defeating the ‘counters’ of Oricorio, Karen, Seismitoad, etc. The second big takeaway is the emergence of Zoroark-GX/Sky Field as a very legitimate contender, capable of defeating its own counters like Sudowoodo GRI through cards like Alolan Muk and/or Lycanroc-GX.
So, when preparing for Dallas, my initial reaction is to want to play something that is capable of crushing both decks, or play one of them that is teched very heavily to defeat the other & have an advantage in the mirror match. Something interesting to note is that every deck except for the Wailord deck essentially relied on DCE as their only energy, with the exception being the Lycanroc variants that played 2-3 F Energy. Heavy Special Energy hate seems very powerful moving forward with this knowledge. Today, I’m going to review the two big BREAK decks and how they can be adjusted to focus on the dominance of Zoroark-GX and Night March, and we’ll also review the Zoroark-GX deck we saw break out at the event.
At the risk of sounding like I’m beating a dead horse, I still think that had one of us been able to make Day 2 with Greninja then it would have won the event. Outside of the 1 or 2 Golisopod-GX decks that made Day 2 I believe that Greninja was very favored against everything else, especially the Zoroark-GX & Night March decks. Instead of reposting the same list as above with a few changes, I’ll talk about some adjustments that could be made to hedge the deck toward these matchups.
Espeon-EX, Tapu Fini-GX – These two cards have the most potential in the Zoroark-GX matchup. Espeon-EX can help us remove all threats from their board at the same time by allowing us to ping 60 damage on each Zoroark and devolve instead of trying to bull through a couple of 210hp behemoths. Tapu Fini-GX can help out shuffling a threatening Zoroark back in, but is much less effective because it only neutralizes one threat and can be KO-ed with a responding Zoroark pretty easily if they have a benched Zorua due to regaining abilities.
4th Brooklet Hill, Rough Seas, Silent Lab – More stadiums in general would be very helpful against both decks. The only game I dropped to Zoroark on the weekend was one where I went 3 turns without being able to bump their Sky Field. Bumping Dimension Valley is important against Night March as well because it hinders the use of Pumpkaboo in the matchup, which can be annoying due to the 60 HP if you miss or are not playing Muscle Band. 4th Brooklet Hill & Silent Lab are probably the best options against these two decks because they can help increase your consistency and/or slow them down by preventing Tapu Lele-GX, Shaymin EX, Exeggcute PHF, and even stopping the random Giratina Promo.
Enhanced Hammer – This is a card we all agreed would have been very strong all weekend if we found the space for it, but finding the space is the issue. Having to cut into consistency for disruption is something I want to avoid due to the ever present consistency issues, but the straightforwardness of our list meant that we had no way to slow our opponent down while they were pressuring us leaving our only out to simply evolving and catching up to stop the pressure. There is no lack of targets for the card in Expanded, so I’m sure it should be included to some capacity.
Bursting Balloon – This tool is something that I’ve come to both love and hate at the same time. While I’ve always been an avid fan of it in Trevenant decks, I’m not sure how much I like it in Greninja. Trevenant has the added bonus of Item lock to stop tool removal and ensure your opponent has to deal with it by attacking into it, passing, or playing a Lysandre/Guzma to get around it. In Greninja your opponent has a lot more options to deal with the pesky tool, but it gives the added bonus of dealing more damage and protecting the most important Greninja piece from an inconsequential knockout.
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 35
3 Dimensional Valley
Energy – 8
Trevenant with Counter Energy was something I heard a bit about leading up to the event, and it seemed right up my alley, as I love both Trevenant and Counter Energy. However, I had very little time to test this variant before game time so I ended up shelving it due to lack of confidence in the Counter Energy stuff. The idea is that since you’re always behind due to the spread/disruptive nature of the deck, you should be able to utilize Counter Energy pretty effectively. This gives you access to easier Tree Slam/Silent Fears and a couple of neat tech attackers.
Spiritomb STS has the exact same attack as the Tapu Lele promo we still have not received (and at this point, may never will), and Terrakion NVI should ideally give us a better shot against Zoroark-GX. My initial takeaways are that the Zoroark-GX matchup is much closer than it initially appears. Their dark typing and ability draw are certainly a problem, but their reliance on DCE as their only energy gives us an out to work with. Item lock and a generous amount of Energy removal can go a long way in disrupting their strategy, and Zorua only has 60 HP which puts a lot of pressure on finding evolutions ASAP.
Espeon-EX – This card is proving to more and more powerful the longer it sticks around. In a format with a reasonable amount of evolution Pokémon it seems like a perfect fit, and the spread strategy of Trevenant makes it even more viable. On top of that it can attack for free if Dimension Valley is in play! This card seems like a no-brainer with evolutions in the format, and will almost certainly find its way into the deck eventually.
Wobbuffet PHF – This is a card that felt like more of a staple when Archeops DEX was still a threat, but has lost a lot of potency since the bird ban. The attack is still very strong with Dimensional Valley or Counter Energy and can serve as a great cleanup attacker after a few uses of Silent Fear. It can also shutoff Trade at clutch moments increasing the potency of an N late game, giving the deck the option to use Item OR Ability lock.
Level Ball, Nest Ball, More Search – I admittedly haven’t played with this deck nearly as much since Tapu Lele-GX was printed as I did before, but pre-Tapu Lele-GX I was always a huge fan of Level Ball because it could grab Jirachi-EX. With Tapu Lele-GX existing we don’t really have a reason to run Jirachi anymore, but I have still missed the additional search outs to getting Phantumps early. I don’t think playing Brigette is really an option because of wanting to use Wally T1 every game, but some extra search would be nice.
Trainers’ Mail – I’ve never really enjoyed this card much in Trevenant, but I get why some players tend to gravitate toward it. Having more outs to digging for the T1 Wally is certainly appealing, and Trainers’ Mail has always been very good for helping to smooth out what can be awkward draws in a format focused on the early game. Including this would essentially force a lot of the cute Counter Energy stuff to be cut back, but can help ensure the deck is able to T1 lock as consistently as possible.
Pokémon – 20
1 Zoroark BW
2 Exeggcute PHF
1 Alolan Grimer GRI
Trainers – 36
Energy – 4
I believe this is the exact 60 that Bodhi Tracy piloted to a 6th place finish at the event. I chose to focus on this version instead of the Lycanroc version because our own Pablo Meza actually covered that deck in an article last week, so check that out here! I believe the first time I saw this deck appear was when it was piloted by Robin Schulz at an Expanded European event. The inclusion of Puzzle of Time seems incredibly powerful with Zoroark-GX’s Trade ability, as demonstrated by Tord at the EUIC. With Puzzle and VS Seeker it’s hard to imagine this deck ever running out of resources, and the inclusion of Exeggcutes over a couple of the Alolan Grimer seems very fine. It only makes answering Sudowoodo GRI / Volcanion decks harder if you cannot find the pieces quickly enough or chain your Hex Maniacs with Puzzle/VS.
Oricorio GRI – This is probably the only other hard tech for the Night March matchup that the deck could fit, and it would conflict with the Karen/Seismitoad strategy. Considering Night March decks are all running Tapu Lele-GX and Zoroark-GX as alternate attackers so it might be better to switch to something a bit more offensive oriented to handle the deck, but having a lot of options against the best deck is certainly a good thing.
Enhanced Hammer – As mentioned earlier this card is never bad and has targets against most decks in the game. When the two most recently successful decks both relied on DCE as their only energy removing one from play can be a huge tempo swing.
I’m honestly not sure what else the deck could play to accommodate mirror & Night March, but I’m certain there has to be some spice around somewhere. I’ll have much more time to prepare for Dallas than I did San Jose, so hopefully I can come up with something good.
I’ve always really enjoyed the expanded format and I’m hyped to have a decent amount of time to try and flesh out options for the next event. With such a massive cardpool and more time to prepare it’s hard to imagine the meta will remain the same going into Dallas. Night March will continue to be the constant that everyone should prepare for, and seeing it dominate despite a slew of techs against it is continually frustrating. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like Giratina-EX making a comeback, because 7/8 decks in Top 8 relied on DCE and the 8th didn’t play any energy at all!
Only testing will show if the beast is conquerable while remaining competitive against the rest of the format. Until next time!
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