Hello again everyone! I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday or winter season so far. Despite my initial intentions to attend Memphis Regionals, I was unable to swing things at the last minute. I received a difficult project to complete right around that same weekend and did not end up being able to make it work.
I am not too disappointed that Memphis had to be one of the events I ended up missing, as it would have been an incredibly daunting undertaking. Some huge congratulations to everyone who performed well there with most notable mentions going out to our very own Pablo Meza and there current reigning and undisputed “Best in the World” Michael Pramawat. It goes without saying that both players have had tremendous seasons so far and their efforts (and the efforts of many others) continue to raise the bar higher and higher.
Something that I have come to realize over the past year two as my involvement in the game has continued to grow sparse is that there is an absolute separation between the players who attend almost every regionals and those who can only make it to a few. That is, I think that it is almost impossible to compare players (in terms of skill) if they are not on a similar path.
Historically, it was much easier to analyze someone’s merit as a player because there were much fewer events one could attend. When I first started, there was only one Regional that you could possibly go to and so after City and State Championships, there was basically nothing. With less and less time to playtest and an astronomical increase in events, it seems to me that the players at the very top succeed because they are not awarded the luxury to stop playing or stop thinking about the game.
PokeGymSpeaking on a personal level, I have recently struggled a lot with my own merit or worth within the game. Am I still good? Or perhaps more accurately and egotistically, does the community still think I am any good? The answer to both these questions is somewhere between a no and a maybe and that’s absolutely okay with me! It has taken me a minute to get to this point and I feel much better now that I have somewhat accepted that I really have no reasons or means to compare myself to players anymore until I start playing again.
Using running as an analogy has always done wonders for me when trying to think of anything “skill-based” and thus to put Pokémon into these terms, it ought to go without saying that you cannot run a marathon without preparing. Runners who have run many marathons are going to be better and more experienced than someone who has not run a marathon in years. It might be true that someone used to be one of the fastest but without proper training and conditioning, any amount of experience and skill goes away eventually. I have not ran in almost a year so why do I think that I can keep up with someone who is running every weekend?
A lot of this thought is mostly personal musings on my own part and trying to accept my current place in the game (and motivate me to continue to put in work before expecting results) but I have also seen a lot of argumentation and disgruntled players continually engaged in verbal combat over which players are the very best. Regardless of how you end up siding on these arguments, I think it is important to put an emphasis on yourself rather than get heated about someone else. Where do you want to be in the game? What do you want to achieve? What do need to do to see these kinds of results?
These questions allow you to use the results of others to weave your own narrative rather than just seeing the success of others and immediately want to jump to bold conclusions like “well they’re obviously cheating” or “X is actually a top 5 player and Y is not even in the top 10, you fool.”
I know that I am far too guilty of diminishing someone’s accomplishments with any sort of negative qualifier, and I guess what I am trying to say here is that I am tired of it. I am tired of using the successes and triumphs of uses to fuel my own negative instincts and impulses.
By seeing fellow players as being beyond my own capacity, I am motivated to turn their successes into something that I can use and manipulate to help me reach a new and even better place in the game. What do you want to work on or improve for yourself within the game for the following year?
Bulu and Back Again
My play for Memphis had I attended would most likely have been Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu-GX. It may sound strange, but I was trying to predict a curve in the meta-game and stay one step ahead of it. Gauging from the results and buzz I had ascertained in the week leading into Memphis, I could tell that many top players were hopping on board the Lycanroc-GX hype train. Instead of joining them, I knew that I wanted to counter them.
Greninja seemed like one of the best ways to do this but I believed that many top players would already be playing this as the deck (when consistent) already beats Gardevoir-GX and most of the Zoroark decks. Tapu Bulu-GX, in theory, should have been favorable against Zoroark-GX decks, should be Greninja’s worst matchup and should be okay-ish against Gardevoir. At the time, I believed that I would be able to attend Memphis and I started to put in as many games as possible with the deck, read every article I could find on the deck to try to get the list in the right place and by the end of it all, I was feeling fairly confident. Here is the list that I had sleeved up the Thursday before Memphis Regionals:
Pokémon – 14
1 Mew FCO
Trainers – 35
Energy – 11
The list tends to be par for the course. A lot of the choices for Vikavolt seem to be universally agreed upon by the big proponents of the deck, with the biggest point of contention being over whether to play Puzzle of Time. I spent a good deal researching why players want to include this card in the list and could not find any great justification for it. Largely, it seems to be just a John Roberts II special. I think that JR2 is a great player, but he has made a name for himself by making unorthodox choices that often seem to go against the grain of conventional deckbuilding for the sake of being different rather than being a deep revelation to something new and better.
Puzzle of Time works in Zoroark-GX because you play minimal draw supporters and simply draw through your entire deck by using Trade over and over. Putting Puzzle of Time into this deck seems slow and awkward without a way to search or draw into them, and I think if the card was so universally powerful, we probably would have made it common place in almost every archetype rather than just Zoroark-GX decks and a select few Expanded decks. The only new card that this deck received was Xurkitree-GX, and I think it is incredibly good in here.
There were a few Vikavolt in Day 2 in Memphis, but I have yet to see any of their lists so I do not know if Xurkitree-GX was featured in either of them. I think it is a necessity and may be a huge difference in my list versus anyone else’s. Xurkitree-GX is not a great attacker (though I used its GX attack far more than I thought I would) but its Ability can essentially wall Zoroark-GX for an entire game. They do have many Gust effects to get around it, but with proper bench management, I think you can use Xurkitree-GX to stall and then finish the game in a matter of turns through consecutive Tapu Bulu-GX.
Vikavolt’s largest enemy in my eyes has always been Garbotoxin, and with that deck dwindling in numbers, I do not think it is much of a threat. The deck also receives a nice boon by dodging many of the popular “anti-meta” cards like Enhanced Hammer and Greninja. Parallel City is an annoyance, but you can work around it somewhat with Mew and your two copies of Field Blower. Outside of that, I do believe that this deck should have many of the answers to the current meta-game. I do imagine that the Volcanion matchup is pretty difficult simply because getting through 3-4 baby Volcanions will take a lot of resources and Fighting Fury Belt neuters many of your OHKO options should you fail to find your Field Blowers at the right time.
The final idea I toyed around with was trying to include a 1-0-1 Decidueye-GX or 1-1 Lurantis promo into the list to further help with the math of the deck. With Gardevoir-GX being the largest threat at 230 HP, any way to get that extra damage for Tapu Bulu-GX seems important, and I do not think that consistency would be much worse to fit these in. With Gardevoir-GX decreasing in popularity, I am is likely unnecessary to include either of the cards, but it is an idea that I will keep with me depending on the shape of the metagame in the last couple League Cups I have this quarter.
I have taken the time to highlight my usage of “should” in each above instance because such a word is incredibly loaded in this context. “Should” merely implies a direction of probability and never a certainty. Professor Sycamore draws you seven cards each time and should yield you the right cards at the right time given the appropriate probability but we all know what it is like to be at the bad end of some probability.
I truly do believe that this deck should beat Lycanroc-GX/Zoroark-GX and Buzzswole-GX/Lycanroc-GX but it certainly needs way more resources to do this. The sheer power of these Stage 1 decks is that they need so very little to succeed and win games very fast. If Vikavolt fails to get a Stage 2 out within the first three turns or so, it likely will lose and so there is far more pressure for it to draw well than either of these opposing threats.
Apply this same logic to the limited, and difficult nature of swiss 50+3 and it is no surprise that the Zoroark deck dominated in Memphis while most of the Rare Candy decks struggled to even make it into Top 32. Gardevoir-GX undoubtedly suffered in Memphis for very similar reasons, but now that we have a brief break until a Standard Regionals again, I do think that it would be foolish to completely ignore these decks as possibilities for any tournaments in the next few weeks.
I am highly considering Vikavolt for the rest of my tournaments, and while I am somewhat shaken by its lack of results in Memphis, I know that I can maybe make a difference by putting more and more games into the deck. There is nothing to be lost in practicing more, and as I touched on above, I want to put in work for 2018 before I start expecting results, so I’m sure you can expect a Bulu update from me in my next article.
Night March Beatdown
With Dallas being the next big Regional Championship and an Expanded one at that, it is time to shift our focus towards the looming threat of dealing with Night March once again. This deck has always been a pain in my side, and while I have (mostly) come around from considering it a cheap deck enabling subpar players to achieve stellar results, I have never been a fan of what it has meant for the game.
I think the deck itself is in a great spot in terms of the skill it takes the navigate, as playing the deck perfectly while having to play around the “counter cards” like Karen and Oricorio is easier said than done. In San Jose, this deck came out on top once again, with three of the top four decks being the exact same 60. I do not think it is reasonable to expect any sort of shakeup in terms of a ban for Expanded, but perhaps with one more tournament of it dominating and we might be able to finally retire these pesky critters once and for all.
In the past, I have historically pointed the finger at Battle Compressor as being the bigger problem card in the deck. This card has always allowed players to play a “non-game” in terms of the strategy they need to execute. Playing against Night March often became a simple matter of “how many Battle Compressors did my opponent find on their first turn?” which is no fun to play against. Most decks have the power to beat Night March if they only hit you for 60-80 on the first time, while next to nothing can deal with a 180+ on the first turn.
While this tends to still be the case on many occasions, I think that the most egregious card is currently Puzzle of Time. Puzzle of Time enables Night March (and many other decks in Expanded—and, recently, even in Standard) to be far less conservative with resources and instead be much more concerned with drawing everything through Trade. Puzzle of Time becomes a soft cushion that encourages poor resource management. Instead of treating every card in your deck equally, you simply need to hold Puzzle of Time and just discard everything else.
I am currently uncertain if this card is “broken” or problematic, but its removal would neuter many decks at once while not eliminating any of them. Between Night March, other Zoroark-GX decks, Wailord-EX, Sableye/Garbodor, Puzzle of Time is seeing more play than ever before, and I think it is definitely something that TPCi ought to keep their eye on. Between San Jose and Memphis Regionals, 14 of 16 decks in Top 8 played four copies of Puzzle of Time with these numbers being much more if you expand the scope to the entirety of top 32.
Lysandre’s Trump Card was removed from the game because it allowed and encouraged players to endlessly drawing through your deck with “minimal repercussions” and the “repeated use of powerful cards.” Puzzle of Time is certainly much smaller in power than Lysandre’s Trump Card ever was, but the two seem to share much more in common than I had initially realized. Zoroark-GX may be the sole contributor to its rise in prominence, but until something does happen, we must focus on beating or joining it.
I will not spend time today discussing Zoroark-GX in Expanded, as there is a good amount of information out on the deck already and I’m sure my fellow writers will continue discuss it for San Jose. However, it should be said that the Zoroark-GX/Seismitoad-EX that saw success—one placing in Top 8—does have a favorable matchup against Night March/Zoroark-GX.
Night March’s biggest star Michael Pramawat tweeted that “all he wanted for Christmas is for Night March to beat” the deck, if that gives you any indication. The main question is does anything else beat it? I think there are a few routes worth exploring when trying to counter Night March, but the addition of Zoroark-GX to the deck makes things much, much harder. I would imagine that a tried and true Seismitoad-EX/Crobat deck would likely still have a positive matchup against the deck, but Zoroark-GX seems like an absolute pain to deal with. The main solution that I have concocted today calls for us to give an old friend a much needed visit:
Pokémon – 28
Trainers – 24
Energy – 7
The list draws most of its inspiration from Andrew Wambolt of the Charizard Lounge who saw some success with the deck at the Daytona Regional Championships much earlier in the year. The biggest difference between the two is that I do not play Tropical Beach. I think this decision is largely justified on my part, as without any way to search the card (Andrew also opts for Dowsing Machine), you must draw into it for it to be useful. Tropical Beach in this deck is mostly just for a first turn use, and with only two copies, you’re lucky to see it that early. Thus, I have removed the card from the list in favor of several other choices.
One of the interesting parts of this deck is its flexibility. I have been testing this list with a fair amount of success, but could see many of the choices going in a different direction. Instead of Oranguru, I have also toyed around with a 2-1 Octillery line and think some other cards could be adjusted to stick a 2-2 Zoroark-GX into the deck as well (which would also been a big boon if Trevenant chooses to show its face again).
Like Night March, the main focus of this deck is simply to discard lots of Pokémon in order to do lots of damage but it is a little trickier to use as it is a turn slower than Night March. It makes up for this turn of slowness by having more options down throughout the game and has good, abusable typing between both attackers to get around decks like Wailord-EX (which is very favored against the Zoroark-GX/Skyfield lists) Seismitoad-EX and Archie’s Blastoise. Without Zoroark-GX, Karen is harder to deal with but it is far from unmanageable.
Beating Night March is tricky but has always been doable for the archetype since its inception several years ago. The key is to be less reliant on any of your EX/GX Pokémon and trying to steal any KOs you can on an opponent’s Shaymin EX or Tapu Lele-GX. Parallel City can mitigate this as a strategy for your opponent but the big swing turn in the matchup is using Shaymin-EX to KO a Joltik. Fighting Fury Belt is practically non-existent in Night March anymore, so this should be much easier to achieve, not requiring a Field Blower.
I have a small history with Vespiquen/Flareon in Expanded and I was happy to give it another look in this article. I do think the deck is well-positioned in the meta-game I predict for Dallas Regionals, but it is highly possible that there are better counter decks worth considering. I look forward to continuing to practice Expanded in the coming weeks and think that games are fun and skill intensive even if the top decks do a lot to squeeze everything else out of contention.
I truly hope that I will be in Dallas this January and believe that I should have no trouble making the event. I acknowledge that my track record for attending things that I say I will attend has not been great recently but its time to get back in the race. 2018 will hopefully be an interesting and worthwhile year for my Pokémon career and I cannot wait to compete with every one of you! Until next time.
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