Despite my prior discussion lamenting Expanded, I’m making my way to Costa Mesa for yet another ride on what feels like something of a lottery. The good news about Costa Mesa is that it’s looking like it’ll fall short of the recent mega-Regionals trend—so, that’s something players have to look forward to!
I’m increasingly convinced there is no “true” play for Expanded Regionals, barring some specific situations (San Jose, last November, strikes me as the only good example in recent memory—Night March was unequivocally ideal there). The best a player can do is play a deck that consistently executes its strategy, can disrupt its opponent’s strategy, and not take any bad auto losses.
Sounds simple, yeah? We’ve seen the so-called “Scrambled Eggs” variant of Zoroark, we’ve seen Zoroark with Lycanroc, and we’ve seen Zoroark with nearly every other conceivable combination of cards—these decks try to win through consistent, hard damage. We’ve seen Shock Lock, Wailord, and other clever mill concepts try to make their opponent’s strategy irrelevant in their own pursuit of simply decking an opponent out. Night March, Fire, and nearly every other heavy-hitting deck continue their pursuit of simply hitting hard.
Most of the decks that do well in Expanded right now aren’t heavily concerned with how their specific matchups function, but with how inherently strong they are—it’s almost the opposite of a Rock-Paper-Scissors format in that there are no clearly defined triads. It makes picking a deck thoroughly difficult, but quite rewarding when things go well.
So, despite it being against my normal goes when writing, today I’m merely going to run through a number of deck lists I’m considering as we head into Costa Mesa. I seriously doubt I’ll make a solid pick until late Friday, and wouldn’t pretend to give you a “favorite” at the moment (that designation’s expiration date would come faster than the community can whip up a witch hunt). Instead, this is a survey of all of the ideas I’m currently floating.
And it goes somewhat without saying, unfortunately, that any of these ideas could be cast aside for Night March, Zoroark/Alolan Muk, or any of the other “standard” Expanded choices we’ve seen the last few months. It’s my goal to not fall into playing one of those, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all as an outcome. There’s a reason those decks have established themselves at the head of the format, and I don’t think Ultra Prism does much to change things. The biggest star from the set, as far as Expanded is concerned…is Glaceon-GX? Pardon my underwhelmed sentiment, but I’m not really feeling it there.
My current gut feeling is that winning this weekend is going to be about the Zoroark mirror… which makes me want to play almost anything else. While the better player will win most 60 card mirrors, that margin in this game isn’t nearly as high as I’d want it to be if I were to play a deck guaranteeing myself half or more mirror (or pseudo-mirror) matches. So, with one exception, these decks will not include Zoroark.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 36
Energy – 9
Yes, even in the face of a format with Dark set to reign over all, this still is a serious suggestion. As it happens, Zoroark can have a little trouble finding Energy under Item Lock. Nowadays, we also have things like Tapu Lele to sneak in with Counter Energy, which makes the whole deck all the more interesting. I’ve been testing against a plethora of Zoroark variants, and it actually works out far better than I initially expected. Most of them have no idea what to do when faced with Turn 1 Item Lock, which makes life far easier. Zorua only have 60 HP, which means Silent Fear can quickly do a number on an opponent’s board. With a little luck, you easily can win games.
Counter Energy is a thoroughly interesting idea in this deck whose importance I hadn’t yet grasped until recently. I played Trevenant at Worlds 2015 along with Alex Hill and Sean Foisy, and while that deck is a very different one than what we have today, the Night March it faced off with is largely the same, lovable idea we have today. One major problem was that the deck could get overrun in consecutive turns, miss an attack, and lose to pseudo-autowins like Night March. That was one such fear of mine with the BREAK for a long time.
Counter Energy significantly boosts your efforts, along with Rescue Scarf, as it allows a Trevenant XY to swing for 60/20/20 while buying an extra turn for you to develop a BREAK to return to 30s. The extra turn of damage is often the difference between winning and losing, and given the other options it opens up for the deck, Counter Energy is borderline transformational. A 3rd copy is high on my “currently-excluded” shortlist.
Otherwise, I don’t know that this list is anything new to longer-term players. I’ve never loved the idea of playing Trevenant, but I do definitely believe I could see making an exception this weekend. Item Lock seems to have a perfectly-exposed vacuum to take advantage of, but the fact that it’s weak to Zoroark doesn’t bode especially well.
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 41
Energy – 8
I’m going to do something mildly unusual: rather than explain this list to you at all, I’m going to go through all of the reasons why I think Seismitoad is terrible, then explain why I’m bringing it up at all.
The problem with Seismitoad-EX in this format is the paltry damage output combined with the number of ways around its reign the format has introduced. Tapu Lele, format mainstay, trades favorably and finds Supporters. Trade is basically poison to our Toads. There are so many ways in the format to deal with a Seismitoad that its damage output and Item Locking combination, once format-defining, is now underwhelming.
In a format run by Zoroarks, Seismitoad needs a few things to go right to see success. In my mind, you probably are looking to see at least one Laser flip head your way, hit a timely Acerola, and hope they can never find a OHKO—to have a chance at winning. I’ve seen a bit of backchannel discussion on Toad with other partners, and I think it’s all crazy. Seismitoad, the reality is, is not a particularly strong card at this point in time.
What makes this concept better than total binder fodder is Glaceon-GX. In my mind, there are probably scenarios where you can N, bring up a Glaceon, wipe out the current threat with a GX attack primed with Quaking Punch, and put your opponent on the backpedal quickly. Of course, it’s equally likely that your opponent merely draws out of the N, but if you’re going to play Seismitoad, this is the way to do it.
This is not currently a deck I would play, but I do expect it’s something we’ll float as an idea over the next few days. Should someone suggest a list tweak or tech that seems to bring it over the edge, this is the style of deck I’d like to take into the event—various lock edges. Merely, the damage output strikes me as too insignificant to actually come out ahead in 7 matches this Saturday. It should be noted, though, that the likely bubble of 6-1-2 will make decks like this, more prone to tying, less bad than they would be in our normal 7-2 sphere.
Briefly getting back to the list, it’s nothing too crazy from Toad lists of old. The Water’s version of Night Spear can hit some pretty decent numbers with Choice Band and the LaserBank combo, but still, they will probably underwhelm in a head-to-head with Zoroark. The only serious hope is that they draw poorly off an N. With Trade out of the picture, that hope is nonzero.
My current read is that Night March is headed into the backdrop for this weekend, but should that be off, I think it should be noted that Night March ought to annihilate this completely. No, Toad/Karen does not solve Night March. The best hope for the people clinging to that idea is my aforementioned premise that Night March might no-show this event.
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 33
Energy – 9
I didn’t quite start the article with a Surgeon General’s warning about the dangers that lie within, but I probably should’ve. The evil temptation that is Greninja has gained a new Supporter, and with it, another attempt at being widely seen as a legitimate deck rather than a cheater’s vehicle or gambler’s paradise. Whether those reputations are fair is another issue, of course.
The advantage we’re looking at with an extra Supporter option: deemphasis of Professor Sycamore, more opening hand options, and more late-game options that don’t result in crippling your own hand size. More consistent setup is all Greninja has ever wanted in its sad life, and more consistent setup is what we have to offer… on paper.
In Expanded, the deck also gains Dive Ball, which is a huge boon to its playability. Giratina Promo is currently at a low point in play, which makes the deck all the more interesting. Tapu Fini is good against much of the format, though I think it might be wiser as an Espeon EX. Espeon could be very effective against Zoroark variants, and as we all know, they’ll be huge this weekend. Fini is often essential against a few fringe concepts like Gardevoir, though, so it’s a hard dilemma. I do, though, believe it’s a poor choice to include more than one of the pair.
This is the one deck I will ever write about while providing a serious disclaimer that I won’t play it. I think Greninja could be a fine choice for this tournament, but only if you’re willing to gamble on it. Personally, it’s just not my style of approach to a tournament of this import and magnitude. With that said, I always feel remiss not mentioning it, because it has the potential to do well. I’m positive against Greninja in “bad” matchups over recent history, which isn’t something I take as coincidence. However, if you were ever looking for the opportunity, I think this weekend looks like it’ll be a (relatively) good one.
One of the cards that saw a little bit of talk, but no real action, in the early days of Ultra Prism format, was Alolan Dugtrio. Attacking for free is an interesting niche to be sure, and there are a number of options to make use of it in both formats. However, Expanded in particular offers the deck something it can’t find elsewhere: Superior Energy Retrieval. Here’s what I’ve been testing:
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 33
Energy – 10
I’ve included a few weird things, like the Starmie line, in place of any Pokémon Tools. The goal of this list is to be able to chain the necessary energy irrespective of things like late game Ns, which is why I like Pokémon-based options such as Starmie and Oricorio (notably, not the Night March one).
I sadly fear the deck has too much reliance on Abilities, no matter how you build it, and as such, Hex Maniac chain—something very powerful at the moment—is probably bad news for it. Outside of that, though, the math here is scary: even if you never draw into any Energy independently, Superior and Mt. Coronet are pretty effective for getting things together. The fact that single Trainers can make your turns into what they need to be is why I’ve put Skyla in the list despite generally not liking it as a card.
Battle Compressor is probably the major omission from my current iteration—I’ve had it in and out, but’ve found it has been a dead card, not worth the theoretical value, in a lot of games. Jirachi-EX, for the Level Ball synergy, is something I’ve floated over Tapu Lele, but I fear the repercussions of including such a low HP EX.
I believe Dugtrio has high value headed into the weekend, and that there are a number of matchups it would take easy advantage of. If I find that I’m beating Zoroark enough headed into the weekend, I’ll be heavily considering this. Unfortunately, I’m very worried about the plausibility of that given everything Hex can do in this format.
In the department of serious decks, that’s all I have to offer today. I’m also considering any of the following, but don’t feel they’re high enough on my list (or, the idea is either well established or not yet well-formed enough) to be worth including today:
- Night March
- Primal Groudon
However, I know that we have some readers—or perhaps, friends or parents of readers—that don’t have their eyes on winning Costa Mesa’s Regional Championship. Instead, their goal is to have a little bit of fun. If for some reason you happen to fall in this category, I have one more list to share with you today:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 39
1 Cyrus ♢
Energy – 8
It goes like so:
1. Use Captivating Poké Puff/Target Whistle to place a Pokémon with less than 60 HP on your opponent’s bench—the less, the better. This can often involve having had Sky Field in play previously to enlarge their bench.
3. Use Counter Catcher to drag up your low-HP target.
4. Use Hypnotoxic Laser.
5. If you haven’t already, play Virbank City Gym to ensure your opponent has 5 Pokémon in play.
6. Use Cyrus ♢.
7. Retreat to Sylveon. Ensure you have a proper supply of Seviper.
8. Plea-GX. Your opponent, if you’ve played this correctly, has no Pokémon left in play—you win!
Sadly, this is too inconsistent and too narrow-targeted to succeed at a Regional level. When you pull it off, though…
All the best in all of your endeavors.
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