I love the Expanded format. I really do. Playing Expanded over the last season or so has been some of the most fun playing Pokémon I have had since I got back into the game. The card pool is so vast and there are interesting combos lurking everywhere. At heart, I am a deck builder. I often have two, three, four, or more decks that I would like to play in a tournament.
On multiple occasions I have had two decks built and two lists written as the judges come around taking decklists before round one. At Worlds 2015, I sat across my friend Mike Newey and asked him to pick a deck for me. I often think about how tournaments would look different if you could bring multiple decks and play in a best of three (or five!). Or, if I could play the tournament myself with three different decks, which one of me would do best? I enjoy thinking about the metagame, how decks interact, what cards help swing matchups, and what other people are going to play.
All of this is amplified when we have so many cards available to us.
I also understand, however, that it can be a daunting presence, especially for newer players. As a longtime player, I have the past benefit of seeing all of these cards as they came out. This gives me some perspective when new cards come out, so I can evaluate what old cards they might pair well with. More importantly, it gives me perspective on what old decks may have fallen out of favor, but with one or two new cards (or even just a favorable shift in the metagame) could come back into the fold. I enjoy writing about the Expanded for this reason—it seems like the area where I can aid other players the most.
It goes without saying, but I am extremely excited for Dallas this weekend. Today, we will check back into the metagame and look at my top choices.
Despite the vast card pool, the metagame is a bit centralized. Zoroark is clearly a meta-defining card, as it pairs so well with the recovery and high impact cards available in Expanded. I was listening to a Hearthstone podcast recently, and one of the players (Zalae) talked about how the format should be the stalest right before a rotation. His reasoning is that because there are so many cards, there are bound to be broken combinations of cards which lead to some decks just being that much stronger than any other decks. We see this effect in our Expanded format, though it is a bit less stifling than what Hearthstone is currently going through.
With that said, I think it is important to reiterate what the Expanded metagame will look like.
- “BCIF” – Zoroark/(Alolan Muk, Lycanroc, Golisopod, Seismitoad…nothing would surprise me at this point)
- “Little Dudes that Hit Hard” – Night March, Gyarados, Vespiquen
- “Broken Evolutions” – Trevenant, Gardevoir, Garbodor
- “Slow Monsters” – Wailord, Groudon
- “Big Basics” – Darkrai, Fire
- “The Field” – Vikabulu, Metal variants, Sableye/Garbodor, Greninja
Since my last article, I have played at least 5–10 games with every deck on this list, except those under Big Basics and Random Things. This gives me a pretty holistic view of what the format looks like and how decks interact with one another. My fellow writers have done a good job of going in depth into many of the decks listed above—or at least the decks I am considering most heavily going into this weekend. I would like to give my Top 5 choices for this weekend (plus a few honorable mentions), going more in depth into the decks that have been less covered in recent articles. These are roughly in the order I am considering playing them, but take that with a grain of salt: I could end up playing any one of these decks.
First, I would like to plug the SixPrizes Podcast that I have recently taken over. On the latest episode, we talk in depth about Zoroark variants and Night March. Peter Kica—the innovator of many Night March lists—spoke extensively about how the deck plays out in its current iteration and potential tech choices.
Since our episode, I have been continually messing around with Night March. I have spoken a lot with other notable players, such as Michael Pramawat, about what the list should look like going into Dallas. The metagame has become more hostile towards Night March, with Seismitoad seeing an increase in play, along with Karen and Oricorio becoming staples in nearly every deck. That said, Night March will inevitably always prevail. As I have told others, if other decks need to play (otherwise) bad cards like Karen and Oricorio to even have a chance at beating Night March, the deck is absolutely broken. The list must reflect the hate that will rain down upon it and help counter the counters. Here is where my list is sitting right now:
Pokémon – 23
Trainers – 33
1 Pokémon Ranger
Energy – 4
3-3 Zoroark: I have tried as high as 4-4 in this, and while 4-3 is nice, 3-3 is probably fine. The extra 1-1 line of Zoroark compared to the San Jose list ensures that you can reliably get two Zoroarks out in a game. You win most games this happens. This gives added consistency against Seismitoad + Karen as well as giving you more secondary attackers.
Tauros-GX: This spot would be the 4th Zorua, but Tauros is even better against Seismitoad. This card was played in most lists before Zoroark came out and probably deserves a spot with the resurgence of the big frog. Peter talks about this towards the end of the Night March section in the podcast.
AZ: I have been testing this out over the Lysandre for a few reasons: it gives extra mobility in a deck that only has Float Stone and Guzma otherwise. With the addition of Tauros and more Zoroark, it can be helpful to be able to move them without committing an Energy or the single Float Stone. It is also helpful against Hypnotoxic Laser in the Zoro/Toad deck. Finally, it can help against Wailord, as you do not want to start a Night Marcher (especially Pumpkaboo), given you want to attack with Marshadow as much as possible to reliably OHKO the Whale. Lysandre may just be the better card, overall, though.
Pokémon Ranger: Another anti-Toad card, but also insurance against any Noivern, Giratina, or Mismagius that may show up.
Parallel City: Originally as a two-count, the second copy got dropped for the 4th Zorua/Tauros spot. This card helps against Zoroark decks, as you can attack with your own Zoroark if you Parallel them on the same turn. This makes it less likely that they can respond with a 210 OHKO, needing to find another Sky Field and refill their bench. It can also be good in the mirror match (and against lots of decks), discarding Shaymin or Tapu Lele that had to be played down in order to set up.
Night March is still the best deck in the format. It might not be the best play for Dallas, but the best deck usually finds a way to do well despite hate for it. If nothing else, playing Night March a few games for yourself will give you some insight in how to beat the deck, which will be valuable, as you will almost certainly run into this deck at some point in your Dallas run.
Jimmy and Travis have done a wonderful job exploring this deck and explaining many of the potential inclusions. My current list looks very similar to Travis’s last list, with Fighting Fury Belt over Choice Band, a Shaymin-EX over Pokémon Ranger, and a Lusamine over the Zoroark BKT. The heavy Supporter Energy removal is great in the mirror match. The deck feels very strong and reminiscent of Seismitoad/Shaymin/Trump Card. Quaking Punch can just win you games you should not win, regardless of the matchup, which makes this deck choice appealing. I expect this to be a popular choice among top players.
Like many other archetypes, Zoroark gives Vespiquen a whole different dimension to work with. There are many games where decks like Night March and Vespiquen want to take a slower approach, going for 2HKO rather than go all in. Zoroark allows you to do this while providing insane amounts of consistency. It also gives the deck a better Trevenant matchup, which has always been one of Vespiquen’s toughest matchups. This is the latest iteration of the list I have been testing:
Pokémon – 27
Trainers – 29
1 Pokémon Ranger
Energy – 4
We pack a full Zoroark line to a) boost consistency, b) have easier access to attacking with Zoroark early, and c) have more Pokémon for Bee Revenge later on. I have tried both non-EX Zoroarks and think BKT is better in here, but you can consider the other one as well.
Sudowoodo and Oricorio make the cut more easily than in other decks, as they also power up Bee Revenge when irrelevant. Both are necessary to have against the top dogs, as these are your toughest matchups.
Brigette: Brigette has been utilized heavily in Zoroark decks, but not much in Vespiquen. I have found the card to be tremendous in this deck. As you play a bit slower than a typical Bees deck, Brigette is great for ensuring you have a couple of Zorua and Combee on the bench on the first turn. I often will even Brigette for an Unown, helping me see a few extra cards while setting up my basics.
Acerola: I am not sure on this inclusion yet, but again, as a slower Vespiquen deck, this is useful for attacking with Zoroark early on. It allows you to swing for 100-120, take a hit, and lessen the risk of giving up two early prizes.
Pokémon Ranger: Much like in Night March, this deck needs the out to Seismitoad and any Special Energy stopping attacks. Though our Toad matchup is better with Vespiquen as a Grass type, Ranger seals the matchup as favorable.
Field Blower: Also unsure about this inclusion. It is mostly useful against Fighting Fury Belt and Garbotoxin, but I am uncertain how popular these cards will be.
Giratina XY184: Much like Oricorio and Sudowoodo, Giratina more naturally fits in a Bee deck than other decks. However, I feel like our Trevenant matchup is good enough without, so I omitted it.
Puzzle of Time: A deck with such a huge Zoroark line should include Puzzle, right? That is what I thought when I first built the deck, but I just found the space better used elsewhere. We could definitely fit them, though: something like -1 Special Charge, -1 Field Blower -1 VS Seeker, -1 Pokémon would allow us the spots.
Sky Field: I have seen this in some other lists, and in theory it makes some sense: Zoroark can hit for big numbers with a bunch of Pokémon on the bench early on, and then if Sky Field gets bumped, you have to discard these Pokémon and it powers up Bee Revenge.
I played a Vespiquen/Raichu deck a few years back which attempted to utilize this strategy, and it did not go very well. This left a bad taste in my mouth and I have not been too keen on trying it again. I think the strategy itself is fundamentally flawed, as you do not really want to bench so many guys, and if you do but Sky Field doesn’t get countered, you are left in an awkward situation. We may be able to revamp the list to include this, though, as discussed below.
Rescue Stretcher: This has been in and out of the list as a 1-of and I really like it. There are often times where you discard a Pokémon that you do not want to, so Stretcher alleviates that pain to some extent. If I were playing Puzzles I would feel less inclined to include this, but it would probably make my final list. The easiest cut for this would be the Field Blower.
- Vs “BCIF” variants – Slightly unfavorable
- These decks pack a lot of HP and a lot of healing, and often have Karen. The most effective way for these decks to combat you is simply hit with Zoroark for OHKOs on Vespiquen and 2HKOs on Zoroark, utilizing Karen to minimize the change of Vespiquen taking an OHKO on you. With Puzzles, they have more outs to Acerola and can outheal you in the Zoroark war.
- Vs “Little Things That do a Lot” – Even to slightly unfavorable
- Night March has always been slightly favorable against Vespiquen. With the inclusion of Oricorio, the matchup becomes a bit closer, but still difficult. It is actually a bit easier for Bees to OHKO Zoroark-GX, so that is a positive in the matchup.
- Vs “Broken Evolutions” – Favored
- None of these decks match up well against Zoroark or Vespiquen, so the combination of them should be enough to beat these decks most of the time.
- Vs “Slow Monsters” – Hugely favored
- One of the biggest positives of Vespiquen is its Grass typing against these decks. While Night March can have a tough time hitting the numbers to OHKO these big Pokémon, Vespiquen OHKOs with ease. Unfortunately for Bees, these decks are never very popular.
- Vs “Big Basics” – Favored
- Big Basic decks have also always struggled to combat Battle Compressor decks. Both Zoroark and Vespiquen trade even to positive with these types of decks.
Overall, when compared to Night March, Vespiquen has slightly worse matchups against the Tier 1 decks, and much better matchups against the Tier 2 decks.
Another variant of this that I have thought a bit about, but have not tried would look to de-emphasize the Vespiquen line and make this more of a typical Zoroark deck. We would include a thin line of Vespiquen so we could hit for Grass weakness on important things and take big knock outs at the end of the game. From my list above, we would do something like this:
We are net -6 Pokémon, so Bee Revenge becomes much harder to power up, but again, the intention of a list like this is to utilize Vespiquen for its Grass type against cards like Seismitoad, Wailord, and Groudon. In other games, it can hit for big damage for the last two prizes and give you a non-EX attacker. As more of a Zoroark deck, we fit in Puzzle of Time. Alolan Muk is included to keep our Pokémon count reasonable and providing a counter to Sudowoodo. Finally, Parallel City acts as a way to go from 8 bench into 3 bench, discarding a ton of Pokémon and powering up Bee Revenge instantly. It can also be used against opposing Zoroark decks. I will be testing a variant like this in the last days leading up to Dallas.
Travis and Xander have covered this deck pretty well. My list is again more similar to Travis’s build. I am less convinced on the Teammates, Skull Grunt, and Hugh inclusions, instead opting for two Fighting Fury Belt in those spots. Fighting Fury Belt is extremely important in the Night March and Golisopod variants, putting your guys outside of OHKO range, sans a Field Blower. By forcing them to find Blower and potentially reuse it with Puzzle of Time, you threaten their resources from multiple directions. I also still like four Tropical Beach in the deck—it is good for the consistency in an otherwise weirdly inconsistent deck.
I would also like to highlight the double Lusamine in the list: these are super good for a number of reasons. First, it allows you to “do something” on turns where you might not want to do anything. In Wailord, you often want to just pass based on the board state. Lusamine allows you to grab back itself + another card, netting you +1 and providing infinite resources. Coupled with N, it is theoretically impossible for you to never deck out. Getting back Rough Seas and Tropical Beach is really important against some decks’ strategies to beat you, namely Trevenant and Seismitoad.
My list for this is 60 cards the same as Jimmy’s latest iteration. I am not totally sold on the Evosoda, but I’m also not sure what would be better in those spots. This deck is probably the most consistent deck in the format – I am just worried it is also the most consistently mediocre. I also expect this to be a popular choice among good players.
If you asked me a month ago what I would be playing in Dallas, Trevenant would have be at the top of my list. The metagame has shifted, however, and I do not think Trees is in as good a place as it was in December. Zoroark continues to be the most prevalent card in the game, finding its place along Seismitoad and a beefier line in Night March. Trevenant is less under the radar than it was a month ago as well. I still think the deck is strong, but its inherent linear gameplan and inconsistencies have made me shy away from the deck.
Some mixture of “LonZoroark” (Alolan Muk) and Zoroark/Lycanroc seems like the best “straight” Zoroark variant. I would be packing at least a 1-1 line of both, perhaps even 2-1 lines of both. I can’t pinpoint a reason that I haven’t been a fan of these straight Zoroark decks, but I haven’t. Perhaps it is mostly because I think the Toad version is the best Zoroark variant. In any case, this deck will still be popular, and it is an overall safe play for the tournament.
Perhaps the riskiest deck I have mentioned in this article, I have been messing around with some updated Shock Lock lists. It seems unlikely that I will end up playing the deck, as Wailord seems more consistent and better suited, but if I find the right mixture of 60 cards I could see myself sleeving this up. I am not hurting for points right now, so the idea of a high-risk, high-reward play like this is somewhat appealing.
As I said at the beginning, I love Expanded right now. The metagame is relatively diverse and a lot of matchups are decided by skill. Knowing your deck, knowing your opponent’s deck, and knowing the matchup are of paramount importance. I am super excited for Dallas, as it will be my first Regional since Hartford in October. It will also likely be my last Regional until Virginia in May. I am sitting at 245 points right now, which I feel pretty comfortable with going into the last two quarters of League Cups and at least a pair of Regionals left.
Before I leave, another plug for the podcast: look out for another episode before Australia, and then hopefully one before Collinsville. I will be taking a break from article writing in February and potentially March, focusing on the podcast for my Pokémon content. I am also at the beginning of a new job search and a move to a new city, so that will be taking a good chunk of my free time over the coming weeks.
Thanks for reading!
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