The Lay of the Land

Podcast Update, League Cup Strategies, Expanded Overview, and a Case Study in Deckbuilding

Hey all! I hope you are enjoying the holidays as much as I am. It has been awhile since my last article and a lot has changed! We have had a Regional in each format with a couple of the best players in the world taking home the titles, Zoroark has reared its head in both formats, and my queen Gardevoir has been dethroned as the best deck in the format. While I have not attended a major tournament since Hartford back in October, I have been attending League Cups and helping others prepare for the larger events. I am excited to head down to Dallas in a month so I can finally compete in another Regional. Today I would like to discuss a bit how I have found success at League Cups so far before discussing the Expanded format.

But, before all of that, I have an exciting announcement! After talking with Christopher and Alex a bit, I will be taking over the SixPrizes Podcast. Running a podcast has been something I have wanted to do for a while, but thanks to the encouragement of some of the players I talked to the past few weeks, I decided to run it by the higher-ups here at 6P and was well received. To give you an idea of where my head is at, here are some of my current goals for the podcast:

  • Two episodes a month
  • Have 1-2 other 6P writers on each episode as rotating co-hosts, while also inviting 1-2 other players each episode
  • Discuss the state of the metagame, focusing on whichever format is more relevant at the time
  • Try to highlight 1-2 cards, decks, or matchups that are of particular interest or contention in the current state of the game
  • Discuss any relevant news or non in-game topics
  • Answer a few questions from readers/listeners each episode

All that said, I would love to hear from you all about what you would like to see in the podcast. We are doing this for the benefit of our listeners, so any suggestions and feedback will be taken seriously. Please leave any initial thoughts in the comments of this article or message me on Facebook or Twitter.

League Cup Success

For many of you reading this, doing well at a Regionals might seem daunting. A much more reasonable goal may be to top cut and perform well at a League Cup. Over the past eight months or so, I have surprised myself with how efficiently well I have done at League Cups. This season in particular has been kind to me. Let’s take a look at a quick recap at my 2017-2018 League Cups:

  • Quarter 1
    • League Cup 1: Top 8 with Golisopod/Garbodor
    • League Cup 2: 1st with Gardevoir/Sylveon
    • League Cup 3: 1st with Gardevoir/Sylveon
  • Quarter 2
    • League Cup 1: Top 8 with Brokenvoir
    • League Cup 2: 1st with Night March

The way I see it, you can have one of three major goals going into a League Cup:

  1. I want to win the Cup.
  2. I want to get solid testing done by playing in the Cup.
  3. I want to try something wacky and have fun.

Now, these are obviously not mutually exclusive. However, by picking one of these goals as your primary focus, it can help steer your decision making on how you choose a deck and build your list.

My focus recently has been winning. I knew that I could not attend a ton of Regionals this year and every time I play in a League Cup I am missing a day I could be spending with my girlfriend (who I can only see on weekends) or doing something else with friends. My approach has been quite simple, really: decide on a tier one deck a week or two in advance and get games in with it in the week(s) leading up to the event.

For my first cup, I decided on Golisopod/Garbodor after playing it in Fort Wayne. I ported it to Standard, talked with my friend/one of the top EU players Mees a bit about it, and ran with it. After losing to Gardevoir in Top 8, I knew I had my deck for the following tournament. I have continued with Gardevoir since then, as you know if you have been following my articles, believing it to be the best deck in the format. Going into the most recent Expanded League Cup, I saw little reason to play anything except Night March. I have a ton of experience with Night March from the last three seasons, playing versions of it ever since the cards came out. I played a dozen games on PTCGO with the new list and ran with it to much success. My lists have been very straightforward, just wanting to set up and do what the deck is supposed to do.

Toward the end of last season, I was talking to Michael Pramawat a bit about the ARG event he had competed in. He played Vespiquen in the team tournament and Decidueye/Vileplume in the singles tournament (or vice-versa, I forget exactly). He did this so he could get practice with each of these decks in a tournament setting before the World Championships, as these were both decks he was considering. I have spoken with many other notable players that sometimes take a similar approach to League Cups leading up to Regionals.

Though they obviously want to do well and will do everything they can to win, their primary focus is to try a deck out to see how it feels and if they would consider it for a bigger tournament. This drives not only their deck decision, but also the contents of their deck: for example, one might try dropping the 4th Max Potion in Gardevoir for a League Cup to see if it makes a difference, while adding a tech card to see if it swings a specific matchup they expect to see.

If you are going for the third option, I do not have much advice for you: just do you! Pokémon is a fun game at its core, so I can’t knock anyone for just wanting to have fun. However, do not necessarily expect to do well if your goal is just to have fun.

Overall, be mindful about what you are trying to accomplish in a tournament. If you want to win, I would recommend just playing one of the top two or three decks in the format, as they are the best for a reason. You can change a couple cards from the popular lists to keep your opponent’s guessing, but do not change cards just to change cards: change them with a purpose. Though these are smaller tournaments, practicing before them can make the difference between making top cut and not. The margin for error is actually smaller at events like these, since Swiss is only one game. You can afford to play a bit slower, as you have more time per game. Take your time, keep calm, and think your plays through.

The Downfall of Gardevoir

pokemon-paradijs.com

Though I do not want to spend a large amount of time on it, I would be remiss to not briefly discuss the downfall of my beloved Gardevoir. Going into Memphis, the deck had incredible hype. Even with it being the most played deck in the room (thanks to RK9 Labs for the stats!), it had a meager two showings in Day 2. Though one of them just bubbled out of Top 8, this is still a severe underperformance for the supposed best deck in the format. What happened? Let us analyze a bit:

  • Very few top players piloted the deck. Almost everyone I spoke to opted to play a different deck than Gardevoir, with most of them on Zoroark variants or Buzzwole variants. This will always have a significant impact on the performance on a deck.
  • Lists were known. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised the lists that did do well deviated fairly significantly from what was accepted as the standard. This gave these players the element of surprise when their opponents had practiced against the same list quite a bit.
  • Zoroark/Lycanroc and Buzzwole/Lycanroc were the next two most popular decks after Gardevoir. Both of these decks seek to be huge aggressors against Gardevoir and can easily win the game before Gardevoir gets enough evolutions on the field. Though Gardevoir wins a lot of the games against these decks (I believe neither matchup to be worse than 50-50), I can see less experienced Gardevoir players making small mistakes while under the pressure of these decks. Small mistakes against aggressive decks are much more punishing than against other slower decks, as one small mistake can lead you to very suboptimal board states.
  • Gardevoir is a Stage 2 deck. With nearly every other deck gaining Zoroark as consistency, these other decks’ consistency might be enough to really give them an edge over a long tournament.

We have seen this effect before. Most recently, at Dallas Regionals last year, we saw Yveltal/Garbodor go from the undisputed best deck in the format to nearly non-existent. I still think Gardevoir will continue to be a strong deck, just as Yveltal was. Lists may need to adapt again.

The Sylveon version is almost certainly better against Zoroark/Lycanroc, as Max Potions do not do much in the matchup. That deck looks to take two easy prizes on Ralts/Kirlia/Octillery, blow up a Gardevoir with Dangerous Rogue-GX, and take 2 Prizes on a Tapu Lele at some point. Sylveon will aid in the set up process while giving you a potential wall in the early game. Max Potion would be missed in other matchups, but maybe it is fine. There is also the possibility of a hybrid version. Though I will not be attending Australia, I will likely work on the deck to help some of my friends attending.

Expanded Metagame

Suddenly, everywhere.

With that taken care of, let’s turn to Expanded. The next—and my next—major tournament will be Dallas Regionals at the end of January. Despite only a few major tournaments this year, Expanded has gone through some significant transformations since the beginning of the season. Big EX and GX decks took the forefront in Fort Wayne, Garbodor stole the show in Daytona, and Zoroark molded the metagame around it in San Jose.

The only deck with consistent results throughout has been Night March, which should be the de facto best deck in the format. Night March is an incredibly difficult deck to play perfectly, however, so proceed with caution. Many of the same principles of playing Night March have remained over the years, so referring back to old articles on the deck could prove useful. In addition, look out for the first episode of the new SixPrizes podcast in a few weeks, as it will contain a wealth of information on the current iteration of Night March.

Despite Zoroark (with Alolan Muk/Seismitoad, Lycanroc, or Golisopod) and Night March dominating San Jose, Expanded has a ton of potential decks. I want to touch on the state of the tier two and three decks before exploring one concept that is under the radar, but will surely make waves soon.

  • Wailord – The big whale is an interesting position in the format. It boasts an almost unlosable matchup against any Zoroark-based deck, which automatically makes it appealing. In its current iteration, it has a rough matchup against Night March, but with some tweaks I am sure it could bring the matchup to at least even. Other than that, Wailord has pretty solid matchups and a few auto-losses (Golisopod/Zoroark with a Hex Maniac should be all but unwinnable for Wailord, for example). The big thing keeping Wailord from being more popular is that it requires multiple Tropical Beaches. Also, I am sure it is a grind to play Wailord every single round at a tournament.
  • Gyarados – The other deck to make Top 8 outside of Night March, Zoroark, and Wailord was Gyarados. With the ability to easily hit 210, Gyarados should beat most Zoroark decks and with Oricorio and four Rescue Stretcher, it boasts a pretty strong Night March matchup. Going forward, Gyarados still seems like a strong play as long as Trevenant or other spread decks don’t pick up in popularity.
  • Trevenant – Trevenant went from super hyped going into Fort Wayne and not performing there, to being off the radar and getting second in Daytona, to falling off the radar again and securing no Day 2 spots in San Jose. Trevenant’s wild ride this year will certainly continue in Dallas, where it could fall on its face again or see a resurgence. The list I currently like is similar to Limitless TCG’s Robin Schulz who wrote an article about it. Four Enhanced Hammer and Espeon-EX gives it a shot at beating Zoroark decks and its only other difficult matchup, Darkrai-EX, has seen a significant downturn in playability.
  • Seismitoad – The metagame has not been kind to Seismitoad decks this season. Grant Manley’s Toad/Viper list seems to be the only way you can build a deck around Seismitoad right now. Toad/Bats and Toad/Decidueye of years past just do not do enough damage for their cost and Seismitoad’s 180 HP isn’t what it used to be. Zoroark-GX is a strong card against any Toad-based deck, but maybe with heavy energy-removal Toad could become a contender once again.
  • Garbodor – Garbodor made a small splash in Fort Wayne, then absolutely dominated Daytona, only to fall flat in San Jose. In parallel with its fall from power in Standard, Garbodor decks are inherently weak against Zoroark-based decks. The options the Garbodor toolbox deck can pack still may make it an appealing play for some, but these deck will need to find a way to beat Zoroark. Perhaps Necrozma-GX + Espeon-EX could be enough, but the Zoroark player would have to walk into such a play. For now, I am skeptical this has much of a place in the metagame.
  • Gardevoir – Despite my love for Gardevoir in Standard, I was pretty skeptical of the fairy queen in the Expanded format. Though it could boast a decent matchup against Zoroark decks, it was never able to beat Night March. I don’t think any Night March counter (Oricorio or Karen+Toad) in the deck could swing the Night March matchup more than a few percentage points, and with Zoroark in Night March now, this seemed even more unlikely. Going forward, I still would not touch Gardevoir in Expanded as it just isn’t quite as broken in a format of inherently broken decks. It also has a tough time with any form of Item lock, if that becomes prevalent again.
  • Stoutland – Stoutland, or “Shock Lock” as it has come to be known as, is the rogue deck Ross brought to Daytona. Though I only contributed minimally to its creation, I followed the evolution of the deck leading up to the tournament. Since then, it is something I have continued to think about. With Garbodor seeing a huge decline, we can probably drop the clunky Goodra line, free up some space, and take the L to Garbotoxin. With that space, we can play some new tools like Gladion and Counter Catcher to help other matchups. Zoroark decks are running zero or one of the Stand In Zoroark, which means we can effectively lock those decks. Though I probably won’t end up playing this in Dallas, I see few reasons why it is a bad play.
  • Sableye – Sableye, like Trevenant, has gotten a lot of hype throughout the season. Igor Costa and Jimmy Pendarvis have done pretty well with it, but not as well as they would have liked, I’m sure. The deck has suffered recently with the re-inclusion of Ghetsis in many lists in addition to 1-of Seismitoads being jammed in decks like Zoroark to help counter Night March. I don’t think the deck has changed much, in its matchups or its decklist (though Gladion and Counter Catcher seem like good new tools to include). This is another deck I would not recommend playing, as it requires a lot of practice and will bring you through a really grindy tournament. I would play Wailord or Stoutland before I played this.
  • Darkrai, Fire – I am lumping these decks together as they play fairly similarly: get big EX/GX-Pokémon on the field, cheat a lot of Energy out, and hit for big damage. These types of decks have not been super effective since Daytona. Night March always had a good matchup against these decks, then Garbodor further pushed them out of the forefront of the metagame, and now Zoroark has a good matchup against them as well. Zoroark having just a bit more HP – thus allowing it to more easily stay alive from one big attack – in conjunction with its ability to hit 210 for a simple DCE and reach 1HKOs on things like Darkrai-EX and Turtonator-GX make the matchup so difficult for the basic decks to keep up. Some people will continue to play these decks, but I will not be one of them.

Metal: A Case Study in Deck Building

With that as our context for the current state of Expanded, I would like to explore Metal as a concept for Expanded. The archetype might not be quite strong enough for Dallas (though it might yet be!), but with all the Metal support coming out in the next few months, I think it will be worth the time to think about all the current Metal options and then see how the new cards will fit into the existing mold. This is just a starting place for building this deck, but I hope reading through the process can help you become a better deck builder on the whole.

My interest in Expanded Metal was piqued at the last League Cup I attended. Both in Swiss and in the finals, I played against Solgaleo/Bronzong piloted by a local player, Joe Venuto. Going into the matchup, it seemed incredibly free for Night March. However, in Swiss, I drew a bit awkwardly, he got two Bronzong and two Solgaleo-GX up and running within the first few turns, and I soon found myself in a position where I could never take a 1HKO without overextending so far into Oricorio that I would immediately lose the game. I took a loss there, but then swiftly beat him 2-0 in the finals. Game 1 saw me go first, hit him with a Ghetsis, and win on turn two. Game 2 he got set up, but I had an amazing start. I was able to target down all his Cosmogs before they evolved up and I eventually won the game.

In any case, this got me thinking. The deck should have an inherent advantage over Zoroark decks, as they cannot reach the 1HKO while you consistently 1HKO them back. Wailord is an auto-win if you play Muscle or Choice Band, as you recycle Energy and can hit for a 1HKO (Hoopa could prove annoying, but we can attack with Bronzong). Gyarados is probably tough as they can hit for 250, but they need a lot to do so, and if they whiff the 1HKO, you can Max Potion the damage away. Joe had beaten a Gyarados in Top 4 at our Cup as well.

Trevenant, if necessary, could be teched for with the other Bronzong. Garbodor falling off makes the deck less worried about getting Ability-locked, Fire has fallen off, and Gardevoir is the matchup we really love to see. Of course, the biggest issue with a deck like this is its consistency. If we can make a list that sets up consistently enough, while finding space for cards to help in trouble matchups, we could have a real winner on our hands. Let’s explore.

Let’s start with a core:

Pokémon – 14

3 Cosmog SUM

1 Cosmoem SUM

3 Solgaleo-GX

3 Bronzor

3 Bronzong PHF

1 Tapu Lele-GX

Trainers – 20

6 Draw Supporters (Sycamore/N/Colress)

1 Brigette

1 Guzma

1 Teammates

 

4 Ultra Ball

3 VS Seeker

3 Rare Candy

1 Computer Search

Energy – 9

9 M

17 spots available

Though many of the above counts likely need to be beefed up, 17 spots are a lot to work with in a deck that one would think is tight on space. Let’s see what we can do with these spaces:

  • Beef up Pokémon lines. While I think 3-3 Bronzong is sufficient, we probably want something more like a 4-2-3 line of Solgaleo-GX, as it is our main attacker. Solgaleo also provides an alternate way to get Energy on the field via its GX-attack. As mentioned before, a single copy of Bronzong FCO could be played if we want to tech for Trevenant and Greninja. A second copy of Tapu Lele-GX and/or a copy of Shaymin-EX would provide some extra consistency to the deck.
  • Tech Pokémon. Most notably, we should consider cards like Oricorio, Seismitoad-EX, Giratina PR, and Sudowoodo. These all serve specific purposes against specific decks, but do not provide much utility in other matchups. The exception to this would be Seismitod, who can be good during the early game in many matchups. By slowing the opponent down with Quaking Punch, you can buy yourself more time to get your field set up.
  • Metal backup attackers. There are a lot of potential basic Metal attackers we could consider:

Non-EX/GX:

EX/GX:

I am unsure if any of these are good enough to make the cut, as our primary attacker will still be Solgaleo-GX. If we wanted to cut Solgaleo and run just Bronzong, we would be looking more closely at these Pokémon. The most appealing of these to me is Genesect-EX, as it provides another, easier to set-up, Pokémon that can take 1HKOs. Magearna-EX is also quite noteworthy, as it would help a lot against Trevenant. Aegislash-EX is also super useful against the plethora of decks that just DCE in the format, but Hex Maniac is often included in these decks as well.

  • Supporters. More draw cards, an extra Guzma or Lysandre, an extra Brigette, Skyla, Karen, Xerosic, Ghetsis, Hex Maniac, etc. We probably want to play at least one or two more Supporters in here, but only testing and filling out the rest of the list will truly inform what we should include in these spots.
  • Item Search – Since we have so much to set up, extra search is welcome. Heavy Ball is a natural inclusion in this deck, as it can find Bronzor NXD, Bronzong, Cosmeom, and Solgaleo-GX. Level Ball is also considerable, as it searches out everything except Solgaleo-GX. Even Pokémon Comunication could be considered. Battle Compressor is another pseudo-search card that hs synergy with Bronzong, and is just an incredible card overall. The final list will probably include 2-4 of these cards.
  • Recovery – Since we have Bronzong, the deck does not need much in the way of Energy recovery, so Rescue Stretcher should be our go-to here. If we play Karen, this might not even be necessary.
  • UtilityMax Potion is the number one card in this category that we probably want. The appeal of Solgaleo is its huge HP and Max Potion can effectively make one Solgaleo last an entire game. Field Blower would also be nice to have, but if we want to accept the loss to Garbotoxin, we can probably omit the card from the list. A single copy would only go so far and two might be difficult to fit. Float Stone and Muscle/Choice Band are considerable as well. Float Stone is less appealing since we have access to Ultra Road, but playing one of the Bands allows us to hit 250/260, which would be good against something like Wailord.
  • Stadiums – Though no Stadium really jumps out as “you must play this,” the two I am considering right now are Tropical Beach and Sky Field. Beach is just a great consistency card in a slower deck and Sky Field allows us more flexibility in our set up process. One of the issues with this deck is bench space, as you want two each of Solgaleo and Bronzong, but often need to bench more to ensure you get them evolved. Sky Field might be extra, though, as Zoroark runs the card for you.

Now that we have identified our potential inclusions, we need to weigh the metagame into how we build out the rest of our list.

  • Our deck does not inherently beat Night March so we need to specifically tech against it. The game plan against Night March will be to leverage our techs so we can get to a board state of two Solgaleo and two Bronzong, taking 1HKOs on their 2-Prize Pokémon (Zoroark, Shaymin, Tapu Lele, Marshadow) and taking cheap prizes on their Marchers if need be. Seismitoad + Karen seems more effective than Oricorio in helping us achieve this win condition.
  • Zoroark decks should have a tough time dealing with us if we just set up. Max Potions can help just one Solgaleo take all 6 Prizes, so if anything, we should play Max Potions for this matchup. More search and set up cards will be the main thing that aids these matchups, though.
  • Wailord should be beat as long as we include a copy of Muscle/Choice Band, provided we do not prize it. Other stall decks like Sableye and Shock Lock are unwinnable without significant space devoted to beating them, so it probably is not worth wasting spots on trying to beat decks that we will encounter 0-1 times over the course of a tournament.
  • Gyarados will be a tough matchup no matter what we do. Gyarados can hit 250 damage if it gets two Bands on a Gyarados, which is our worst nightmare. The current popular list does not run a Hex Maniac, so Aegislash could effectively wall them. Seismitoad might help slow them down and take some cheap prizes on Magikarps. Finally, it might be difficult for them to recover their Choice Bands after the initial Gyarados goes down, so this matchup is still certainly winnable. Because of this, it does not seem worth teching for overall.
  • Garbodor decks will prove almost impossible unless we include two Field Blower. Even with them in the list, I imagine the matchup would still be slightly unfavorable, so it probably is not worth watering down the list with these cards. I would rather use those spots for more consistency in the form of search or Stadiums. Gardevoir, on the other hand, needs no techs – we are Metal, they are Fairy. Now, Gardevoir can certainly overcome that, but there is obviously no need for us to warp our deck to do anything different against Gardevoir.
  • Big basic decks like Darkrai and Fire will likely be too fast for us. Fire, in particular, is a clear auto-loss. Darkrai is probably winnable, as we can get out of 1HKO range and hit them back for 1HKOs. Watch out for Dead End-GX – we will want to establish two Solgaleos ASAP. Trevenant can just lock us out of the game, but we can play cards to help the matchup.

With all that in mind, here is one potential version of a final list:

Pokémon – 19

4 Cosmog SUM

2 Cosmoem SUM

3 Solgaleo-GX

3 Bronzor NXD

3 Bronzong PHF

2 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Shaymin-EX

1 Seismitoad-EX

 

Trainers – 32

3 N

3 Professor Sycamore

2 Guzma

1 Colress

1 Brigette

1 Teammates

1 Karen

 

4 Ultra Ball

3 VS Seeker

3 Rare Candy

3 Max Potion

2 Heavy Ball

1 Level Ball

1 Muscle Band

1 Computer Search

 

2 Sky Field

Energy – 9

9 M

Another list I like right now has:

-2 Sky Field
-1 Shaymin EX

+2 Battle Compressor
+1 VS Seeker

These changes show how changing one card affects how other cards are included in your list: with Sky Field, Shaymin becomes stronger and with Battle Compressor, the 4th VS Seeker becomes stronger.

I will be iterating on this list in testing over the next few weeks and will be considering it for Dallas. As I mentioned at the beginning of this, however, I think a lot of the value in this process will be when the next set comes out. The new Solgaleo-GX is a truly incredible card and could make this archetype even stronger. Solgaleo Prism will also be an amazing card in Expanded and some of the other Metal support will certainly make its way into some type of successful Expanded deck.


That’s all I got for today. I hope you enjoyed the article and I hope you will tune into the podcast. As always, please shoot me any comments, questions, or suggestions at any time about the podcast or my article. Till next time!

Mike


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