The Black and the White

Talking Texas, Exploring Expanded, and Synthesizing Sydney Standard

Another Regional in the books… and to say the least, it’s not been my favorite of the recent events. Before partaking in Dallas, it’d been almost two months since I’d been able to play a major event, so I was definitely excited to get back to it. I’m not a huge fan of any of our recent Standard formats, and so far this season, have been more of an Expanded fan. Expanded is more than a bit wild at the moment, but in a way, that means there’re a lot of avenues to doing well.

Or, so said my positive, optimistic self on Friday night.

Now, the positive, optimistic Christopher is generally withheld from this space—and, honestly, from Pokémon altogether. For whatever reason, that was the attitude that came out with regard to this tournament as I prepared. I think a large element of that perspective came from Xander and I’s League Cup runs earlier in the month. We basically brought off-the-wall stuff both days and it stuck remarkably.

I’m now writing this beginning portion from a hotel room in Dallas. Downstairs, the tournament is somewhere around Round 8, and I’ve already eaten and started testing for Sydney (which, by the way, is horrifyingly close to happening). As you can certainly derive from that timeline, it was not a particularly good day.

The good and bad news is that I don’t have a particularly inspiring deck profile or report from Dallas to delve into today. We’ll go over what I played, how it was a misadventure in madness, and where I think Expanded is at right now. After that, I’m going to talk a bit about where my head’s at heading into Oceania.

For better or worse, the turnaround on this next few articles for me is going to be pretty ugly: I’m back next Wednesday with the final article before Oceania. My impression from some analysis I did tonight is that Oceania is relevant to a pretty small portion of our readership, so my plan at the moment is to limit my thoughts on it to today. Then, on 2/7, I’ll offer some thoughts on Ultra Prism as a set. The honest reality: the 7th is too late for most of us going to Oceania to read anything anyway—personally, I will never know the 7th, as I’ll be crossing the International Date Line at the time. So, backed with my highly scientific Twitter assessment, Ultra Prism it is.

When I’m back again on Monday the 12th, I’ll recap Oceania—hopefully it’s a better event to recap than Dallas—and get into Ultra Prism in the context of what happened in Sydney.

Texas Trouble: A Groudon Misadventure

As I start writing this, my brother is sitting on his win-and-in with the Groudon list we both played today, and should he manage to pull that out and get on a run tomorrow, this will sound a lot different than if he loses right now. So that I get the same impression across either way, here’s how I ended up with Groudon:

  • A read that Night March would be big. As it happens, I think this was only a mild miss—Night March was mildly present, but not the overwhelming entity some thought it’d be. I was confident in the Night March matchup. I know people that would debate that with me all day, but that’s one of the few Groupon-related hills I’d actually still argue about in this day and age. It’s a fine matchup.
  • A belief that Expanded could, and would, feature almost everything. At some point, Alex and I discussed trying to create some sort of “catch all” to counter Expanded, but the reality is that such a deck is nearly inconceivable. Rounds 1, 2, and even 3 can feature a high risk of playing against any archetype from the last 5 years—or even things that weren’t actual archetypes! Trying to catch-all in a meta where we can’t even define-all is a pretty tall task. As I believe Groudon can theoretically beat most things, it was an attractive option. Given I needed to hit 7 “good” matchups, I figured it would be worth playing a deck with that trait.
    • Part of why Mill did fairly well in Dallas—and was fairly well represented—is that it embodies this idea without the risk of getting caught off guard. Your strategy is “discard all the cards” no matter what your opponent is playing. Some fringe concepts will be better against your brand of mill than others, but for the most part, it’s a broad art. Shock Lock, in particular—while apparently having issues with Groudon/Bunnelby and Garbotoxin—has a theoretical chance to beat everything.
  • Comfort. Someone asked me if this was a pet deck. Maybe at this point that’s an accurate charge, but if so, it’s because of the previous point. I enjoy playing it. Yes, I can hear the jeers already.

The list was the same as what I played for those Chicago Cups, except that Pokémon Center Lady made its way out in favor of other healing options. I played Super Potion, while my brother went with a regular old Potion. The idea was that PCL wasn’t really an easy find in a deck that didn’t dig much, and with Trevenant out of the picture, it wasn’t entirely needed. Therefore, something that Korrina could grab made more sense.

In both cases, the primary goal is to be able to mitigate a Sky Return, Flying Flip, or something else that added just a bit of chip damage. My brother was insistent that the Energy discard was too big of a deal, but I believed Super Potion+Assault Vest being able to effectively erase a Zoroark’s attack was invaluable. He says the Potion was useful. I’m choosing not to worry about it.

Dallas (EXP) — 1041 Masters
Primal Groudon
R1 Vespiquen AOR/Zoroark-GX (2-0)
R2 Lycanroc-GX GRI/Alolan Muk SUM/Zoroark-GX (1-1)
R3 Golisopod-GX/Zoroark-GX (0-2)
R4 Noivern-GX (1-2)
R5 M Rayquaza-EX (0-2)

Going to file much of that under “things I did not expect to play against.” Until my opponent in Round 4 evolved the Noibat, I wouldn’t have admitted to knowing there even was a Noivern other than the Echolation mess in Furious Fists. I was too busy running through the mental gymnastics of how on earth I was ever going to beat that to consider the fact that I was about to be Item locked. Game 1, then, was a mess as I failed to process what was about to happen. I won Game 2, but then just couldn’t execute enough in Game 3 to pull it out.

The rest… doesn’t really merit discussion. My brother, as aforementioned, took a run through Round 9, but lost a win-and-in at that point. I don’t have his matchups handy, but I know he hit Toad/Seviper at least twice—I wish to have had that experience! I also know he beat Golisopod at least twice, so our belief that it wasn’t a total loss was accurate. One Groudon, Alex Krekeler, managed to make it through to Day 2, but didn’t have a ton of success there. Alas—these weekends happen.

Some of us at 6P managed a good weekend: Jimmy took Drampa to Top 8—and will be here later this week, though I’m not yet completely sure at this point what he’ll be looking at then—and Xander played a Zoroark/Counters deck, that, by my understanding, came from Dustin Zimmerman and our own Travis Nunlist, to Top 32.

Expanded showed this weekend that it’s a wild ride—much of success comes down to variable things like Ghetsis, matchups, and the sort. This can’t be used as an excuse for non-performance, but needs to be used as a lens to guide future preparation. Simply trying to out-metagame Expanded isn’t a recipe for success, and I think a key metric going forward in the format is whether a deck can survive the first few rounds of a tournament—fraught with oddities, strange matchups, and clowns like me clinging to a pet deck after its time.

I’m hoping to work on some statistics describing players’ progressions from early rounds to Day 2—that is, how many Day 2 players started 3-0, how many 0-2 players made climb to 7-2, and so on—as I feel understanding that progression is important to cracking success in the future Expanded format. Success in an environment this volatile will never be formulaic, but I believe there are elements contributing to success that are.

That is, we can make our odds better by emphasizing different stages of the tournament as appropriate. If it happens that you “can’t” make Cut without a highly successful early few rounds, it’s worth playing a deck that has broadly better matchups. If people seem able to dig out of holes, maybe it’s worth a more targeted, polar-spreaded deck. Hopefully, more to come on that.

Moving forward, I’m not upset that I’m not going to touch Expanded again until…maybe Roanoke? Maybe not at all? I’m out on Costa Mesa because I can’t feasibly get back home in time for class Monday, Salt Lake City I’m solidly on the fence for, and Roanoke could turn into the Cancun Special Event—especially if Expanded persists in its current condition. For those Costa Mesa bound, I think it’s worth noting what I wrote above, ensuring you’re comfortable with your deck, and being prepared for mill—whether it’s Shock Lock, Wailord, or otherwise, deck-out isn’t going anywhere.

The Down-Low on Down Under: Standard

Last time I played a game of Standard Pokémon TCG at a level that mattered, my Ralts was meeting an early end against Zak Krekeler’s Registeel in London. Otherwise, I played Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu to a League Cup—I’m glad to report my stance on its terribleness has not evolved—and have one more tune-up Cup this weekend.

I’m probably looking to take something strange to that Cup to see how it works, but beyond that, I’m in the very earliest of my preparations for Australia. I took a few hours out of writing this to play some TCGO and figure out just where things are at, and now believe I have some thoughts to lay out:

1. Zoroark-GX will almost certainly be more than half of Top 32. The other 25%, in my mind, probably will come from Gardevoir, Fire, and the various mill/stall/etc. decks that have recently pervaded the recent metagames in both formats. Vikavolt will probably make some amount of an appearance too, though I am heartened by the fact that recent Australian Cup results indicate a lack of traction there, and it’s never been huge in Europe (speculatively, maybe Bulu as a promo didn’t make its way out there very well?).

2. Speaking of those Mill decks, it’s set to be a “fun” day. There are no shortage of stall/mill/etc. decks in either format right now, which has made for an interesting situation. Both Leipzig and São Paulo Regionals saw mill/stall creations make their way into upper echelon of the final standings, with the Wobbuffet BREAK idea being particularly interesting in Leipzig.

What’s interesting about Wobbuffet BREAK is its status as an unknown, relatively useless promo card whose distribution was probably questionable at best in Australia. This creates an interesting scenario where the deck may be high-strength, but underrepresented due to card access. Personally, I’m the one who may or may not be responsible for a disappearance of much of the eBay supply… before it hit $20.

Even without it, there are things like Regigigas CIN, Xurkitree-GX, Wishiwashi-GX, etc. that make mill more than a bit annoying. I envision we’ll see a number of these decks in Sydney, which makes me all the more cautious of my deck choice heading into the event.

Honestly, the format is at a point where any big Pokémon and the right combination of Trainers can make a semi-compelling mill strategy. Every deck in format has at least one concrete weakness, and most have multiple. I’m floating a number of ideas, including playing mill myself, but it strikes me that Volcanion (or Fire in general) and Garbodor GRI are two of the entities best positioned to weather mill storms in the format.

While Mew EVO has a way to neutralize Evolutions carte-blanche, there’s no counterpart for minimizing Basics’ roles. This means that Volcanion’s Energy Acceleration, lack of reliance on Special Energy, high damage cap, and general simplicity make it ideally suited for dealing with the maze of mill. Many of the mill decks are highly item reliant, which is where Garbodor GRI can make for an interesting game.

A final consideration in this vein is Gardevoir-GX. I’ll need to test this a lot before coming to any “concrete” resolutions, but in theory, it seems like it might be able to navigate the various mill decks—through things like Twilight and the presence of Gallade BKT—while also taking advantage of the other decks that best beat mill.

3. This sort of “being a step ahead” is something the players that do well in Australia will have gotten right. I’m far from sure what that’s going to look like, but correctly balancing reads of what happened across the globe this weekend, what’s been going on in Australia recently, and the results from events like Memphis is going to be a monumental task. That’s probably what’s bothering me the most at the moment heading into the event: I’m not entirely sure where best to start my read on the meta.

This leads to a bit of a predicament where it could be best to avoid making a meta call at all, and simply stick to decks that are proven, consistent forces. Buzzwole/Lycanroc will probably struggle with mill, but it otherwise probably has a chance to win any match. It’s almost like we’re back in Expanded, only in a format where the “real” choices are much less in number.

This sort of broad-applicability vs. targeted metagaming is something the traditional Zoroark variants will be party to this weekend. Golisopod and Lycanroc, the standard partners for Zoroark in the Standard format, aren’t exactly riveting against any of the mill or other unconventional concepts that’ve recently popped up. But, they are certainly the hallmark of consistency, and on that alone, I think we’re likely to see them stick around and be the biggest decks in Oceania. Going into a 9 round tournament where the bar for cut is likely to be 6-2-1, reinventing the wheel is a high-risk move. It remains to be seen whether there’s a concept out there that’s worth the leap.


That’s all for me today, but as mentioned, I’m back very shortly—next week! It’s going to be a hectic bit of time between now and the end of St. Louis Regionals in a few weekends, but on paper these are the kind of stretches some of us play the game for. It’ll be tiring, but hopefully in the end there’s something to be happy about. It’s incredible to contemplate that this day next week will see me on a plane to Sydney—the time to prepare is dwindling quickly!

As always, all the best in your endeavors.


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