Hey everyone! Back again this week with some bonus Expanded content, just as promised. I was able to pilot this Glaceon/Barbaracle deck to a Top 4 finish in Costa Mesa, thanks to consistent format breaker Travis Nunlist. The deck is pretty wild and unexpected, so hopefully I can shed some light on how it runs and the testing process that led us to pick this deck up.
This article is part 2-of 2, following after my Buzzwole article from earlier in the week. There isn’t much continuity between the articles, except for the fact that they highlight two contrasting approaches to preparing for a tournament, so don’t worry if you haven’t read the other one.
That’s about all I have for that, so let’s jump right in.
Frozen Prison: Glaceon/Barbaracle
Alright, do you remember what I said in the Buzzwole article? The part about how I learned a meta deck inside and out and let that knowledge carry me to a Top 4 finish? Yeah, forget all of that. My favorite way to play Pokémon is to put my faith in a deck that is tested just enough that it seems broken and very strong on the anticipated field, and just let the deck take me as far as it can. I’ve seen a lot of success with this kind of deck in recent years, piloting Vespiquen/Zebstrika, Vileplume Toolbox, and Trevenant (before it was cool) after picking them up as few as 12 hours before the tournament.
My experience with Glaceon leading into this tournament was pretty similar, though I had at least a few days to test it out. Travis Nunlist brought the idea to me just a few days before the tournament, and after failing to find any fatal flaws, I sent it to Christopher. The three of us, plus Xander Pero, worked on the deck a bit in the coming days, essentially just to confirm it had any merit. The idea was obviously strong, and I had nothing else interesting to play in the format. My backup plan was Zoroark/Magnezone as recommended to me by Chip Richey, but I preferred to avoid playing Zoroark entirely. Instead, I was fully prepared to go all in with a crazy deck like Glaceon/Barbaracle, knowing I had little to lose.
You can find the list below, but I’ll explain the general strategy of the deck now. You achieve a nearly perfect lock, especially against Zoroark decks, with Glaceon’s Ability lock, Sudowoodo’s bench restriction, and Barbaracle to prevent your opponent from playing Special Energy. If any part of the lock is broken, you play at least one more copy of it to replace it. Often, Ability lock by itself wins games, but Barbaracle and Sudowoodo fill in the gaps when it can’t. Similarly to the Lantern Control deck in Magic, I call this a “prison” deck, shutting your opponent out of doing really anything at all.
Even though we only had a few days to test this deck, it worked out as that’s all we really needed. Zoroark was bound to make up nearly half the field, so that was our first deck to test against. We (obviously) found the matchup to be quite good, and I think it can be summed up as such:
Glaceon’s Best Draw > any Zoroark Draw
Glaceon’s Average Draw > all but Zoroark’s Best Draw
Glaceon’s Below Average Draw > Average/Below Average Zoroark Draw
Anything > Below Average Zoroark Draw
Now, by “Draw” I essentially mean your set up and luck throughout the entire game. If a Zoroark player gets a supporter off every turn and finds a DCE + Sky Field every other turn/2 out of every 3 turns (Zoroark’s Best Draw), they’ll beat most Glaceon draws. However, as long as Glaceon gets the full lock out at some point in the game (Glaceon’s Average Draw), they usually win the game. Ironically, the Zoroark/Magnezone matchup is solidly worse than the matchup against straight Zoroark variants. The option to use Guzma to get around Glaceon and then use Colress is huge, as well as Colress -> Hex to shut off Barbaracle and Sudowoodo. I’ll talk more about the Zoroark matchup later.
From here, we really only tested against Buzzwole decks and Garbodor decks. They were the only serious contenders in our eyes, the only decks that could beat Zoroark while also having a shot to win the tournament. Most top players would choose one of those three decks, and we would have a great shot to do well if we won all of these matchups. I’ll talk more about these matchups after the list, but we found them to be 50/50ish and definitely a little bit in your favor if you win the coinflip. That was good enough for me and I locked into Glaceon pretty early, assuming I didn’t chicken out.
There are a few key factors that made Glaceon work as well as it did:
- The Expanded metagame is/was incredibly centralized. As opposed to previous iterations of Expanded like what we saw in Fort Wayne or even Daytona, you don’t have to worry about beating the fringe decks. Even if they exist in the room, they’ll probably lose to Zoroark, so you just have to dodge the bullet for a few turns.
- The deck only beat a few things, but it beat them fairly convincingly. This point goes really well with the last one. Since you know that there are only so many decks, pick the one that has the best matchups against them and take your luck with the pairings instead of with the coin flip or in the match.
- The deck was unexpected. Not only does it include cards like Barbaracle that many players probably don’t even realize exist, but it’s also not the expected Glaceon build. This was the first time that Glaceon saw major success, especially in Expanded, but this still wasn’t what most Glaceon builds look like. This deck has a lot of moving parts and it was probably hard for most of our opponents to figure out the best way to attack the matchup.
- Your first mover advantage is arguably better than Zoroark’s. This is really the key to why Zoroark does so well. It gains such an advantage from going first, especially in the mirror. Thus, any player who runs hot and hits a streak of good coinflips is going to do well with the deck, regardless of the other aspects of a game of Pokémon. Glaceon not only has a better advantage in games where it goes first than Zoroark does, but it can also mitigate Zoroark’s by getting a T1 Glaceon going 2nd and shutting off any chances they might have to use Trade.
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 34
Energy – 12
The entire deck is built with the combo in mind. 4 Rough Seas seems like overkill, but it’s just enough to find it exactly when you need it. Lusamine is there to guarantee it when you have the luxury, or make sure you don’t run out against Zoroark’s 3+ Sky Field/Field Blower. It also allows you to skimp a bit on the Supporter line, specifically in the case of Guzma. In the late game, it’s usually unlikely that your opponent will N your hand away, so you can even use Lusamine as a VS Seeker, just delayed by a turn.
I really liked playing 4 Float Stone in this deck after using the same count in my Buzzwole deck. Here, instead of enabling T1 attacks, it lets you enable the T1 Ability lock. Float Stone also lets you cycle between Glaceon to heal with Rough Seas, especially relevant when Zoroark only hits for 100 when Sudowoodo is in play.
Team Flare Grunt and Ghetsis were my tech supporters of choice. Ghetsis is there to help stabilize against a Zoroark with a fast start, or just to compensate for your slightly slow start. If you catch your opponent with only Item-based draw in hand, you can afford to miss the T1 Glaceon. Flare Grunt is especially helpful against Garbodor, and would have been huge if anyone stuck with the Golisopod version of Zoroark (thankfully they did not).
Here are some of the notable inclusions/omissions in the list:
Binacle FLF vs Binacle FCO – There are merits to playing either Binacle but I ended up choosing the Flashfire one. It has 70 HP which lets it survive an attack from a Tauros. That’s pretty much it. I’m sure there are other applications, but this was the one we were worried about. The other one can heal with Rough Seas, but the FLF one can as well, once you evolve it to a Barbaracle. The Fates Collide one also has 2 retreat vs the 3 retreat of the Flashfire version, but that never came up.
Team Rocket’s Handiwork – This was one of the tech supporters we considered last minute, and it made its way into Christopher and Xander’s lists over the Flare Grunt. The thought was that this would give you a chance against Wailord, and potentially an edge in the mirror. However, I think Team Flare Grunt is the better mirror tech, and Wailord might be winnable with Lusamine chain, so I didn’t add the Handiwork.
Oranguru UPR – Glaceon is a grindy deck with a lot of moving parts, and Oranguru can help to keep it flowing well. I didn’t find myself running out of Enhanced Hammer, Float Stone, or Pokémon too often, so I’m not sure how useful it would have been for resource recovery. However, Oranguru would auto-win the Wailord matchup so that’s one plus. It also has a surprising amount of usefulness in the Garbodor matchup. You can shuffle in 3 items to get to a point where they can’t 1HKO your Oranguru, then attack with it again to put the game completely out of reach. I think Xander cut the Ghetsis to include this 2nd Oranguru.
2 N – This is the count that I got the most questions about after the tournament, but I never really had problems with it. Cynthia is usually just the better draw supporter. Your opponent is eventually going to draw a dead hand, that’s just the point of Ability lock. N is only even there to provide insurance against a Zoroark’s Colress, and to stick them with bad 2-3 card hands after they find a few prizes. I typically like to keep 1 in the deck and 1 in the discard, maximizing my outs to find one with Lele, Lusamine, and VS Seeker when I need it.
Rescue Stretcher vs Super Rod – We considered Super Rod, and thought about it especially as a way to cut down to 7 Water, but eventually decided it wasn’t worth it. I like the Rescue Stretcher to make it just a little bit easier to get all of the combo pieces in play in one turn, and the flexibility to shuffle in 3 Pokémon is all you need (as opposed to shuffling in energy). Most decks can’t deal with 2 Glaceon or discard your energy, so you don’t really need to recover them in a typical game.
The matchups for this deck are a bit harder to wrap your head around than Buzzwole, so I’ll go in depth about the Big 3 (Zoroark, Buzzwole, and Garbodor). As I mentioned earlier, these are really the only decks we intended to play, and a lot of the other fringe decks are hard matchups. If you have questions about anything else, just shoot me a comment or a Tweet!
Zoroark (70/30) – It’s hard to lose this matchup if you draw well, but you also have to put the combo in play correctly. Obviously Glaceon is the first piece to set up. You want to shut off their T1 Lele if you go first, or the T2 Zoroark if you go second. From here, I learned that it’s imperative to set up Sudowoodo next. It’s tempting to get out Binacle and set up Barbaracle ASAP, but Zoroark decks are explosive enough that they can sometimes even rip a T2 1HKO on a Glaceon, without GX Abilities! The Sudowoodo prevents this, unless they somehow can Hex Maniac instead of Colress for the turn and still get the KO.
Once you get past the first 2-3 turns, you can afford to slowly set up the rest of the combo. I typically just slam any Rough Seas and Enhanced Hammer as I find them. Rough Seas seem really valuable, but if you can bait their Field Blower or Sky Field, you don’t care that much about losing one. It’s harder for them to find a counter than it is for you to get a Rough Seas. The same is typically true of Enhanced Hammer. Even if you can’t lock them out of playing a Special Energy next turn, you just want to keep them off of their board as much as possible. The goal is to get the Barbaracle lock down when they have no Energy on board.
You usually go a little bit behind in these games, but that works with the plan of the deck. N to 4 or less + Glaceon + Enhanced ends games on its own. It’s also often better to set up a 2nd Glaceon than to start attacking with one, but it depends on both player’s setups.
Once you get things set up, the only important things are choosing the correct attacks and the correct targets. You want to set up 3HKOs with Glaceon on Zoroarks by sniping once and attacking for 90 twice. This is usually good enough to win the game, but you can also finish off KOs on Zoroarks and Tapu Lele with the GX attack. Speaking of the GX attack, it basically reads “Use this to win the game or remove an Energy from the board.” Those are the best uses for it, but I’m not afraid to pull the trigger early in the game to give me a tempo advantage.
Garbodor (50/50) – This matchup is close and I think you get 5-10% added to your side when you win the coin flip. They don’t rely on abilities a lot, so missing the T1 Glaceon isn’t that big of a deal. However, it can still give you a way to punish a slow start and bait out their Big Wheel. If you can N them, this is the GX attack that matters the least to you. Tauros and Tapu Lele’s GX attacks are much more threatening.
Speaking of Tauros, that’s the biggest problem in the matchup. You have no way to 1HKO it, so if you don’t get the chance to snipe 30 to it to clean it up with your GX attack, it can sweep your board. Some lists have been cutting Tauros, which is only good news for Glaceon.
A lot of these games are just you trying to play around Righteous Edge, so you’re incredibly advantaged when you can load 3 Water onto a Glaceon. Even if you can’t, you just heal all of that damage off with Rough Seas. The problem is when they can chain Acerola, which is the biggest reason you need to N their Big Wheel away. Otherwise, you’ll win the exchange by doing 90 a turn if you find DCE with any relative frequency.
The biggest thing to think about in this matchup is what to snipe 30 to. This requires some foresight as you have to accurately predict your opponent’s next few turns. If they’re going to attack with Garbodor soon, you want to snipe that down so you can KO it with one attack. If they’re going to attack with a benched Drampa, you might want to snipe 30 to that so you can 1HKO it next turn. This play also helps to not enable your opponent’s Berserk, one of the problems with sniping Trubbish and Garbodor without thinking.
Lastly, you just have to watch your item usage. Garbodor can easily sweep you in the late game. Sometimes it’s not worthwhile to Enhanced Hammer (though, it’s almost always worthwhile to Hammer a Rainbow off of a Garb/Trubbish), and sometimes you just have to pass instead of using VS Seeker for a Supporter. It’s all touch and go depending on the board state.
Buzzwole (55/45) – I haven’t played this matchup as extensively as the previous two, but it typically comes down to one thing: Carbink BREAK. If they get two or more attacks off with it, you will almost always lose the game. Otherwise, Rough Seas puts in a ton of work and you eventually outlast them. Thus, you want to snipe 30 to their Carbink so you can 1HKO it once it comes up.
Otherwise, you are at least as consistent as them, if not more. They often rely on a T1 Lele to get things going, so you can finish some games before they set up. They also rely on a lot of single cards, like the 1 Octillery most lists run, so a lot more can go badly for them than it can for you.
Thoughts on Expanded
- The format is still incredibly concentrated. You can easily go into the event expecting to play over 50% of your rounds against Zoroark variants. Garbodor, Glaceon, and Buzzwole combine to make up most of the rest of the serious metagame, and a few outliers exist as well.
- The format is still very unhealthy. Unless significant changes happen, everyone will have to play Zoroark or play to beat it. I am in favor of a ban of Zoroark-GX, but maybe the new Lucario-GX can stop that from being necessary. Overall, I’d actually be in favor of a rotation or a fairly significant banlist, anything that can keep things feeling fresh.
- I honestly feel bad for newer players at these Expanded Regionals, especially the Juniors and Seniors. Cards from past formats continually pop up and surprise players, which is fun in a way, but really disadvantages new players over the ones who have been around for a while.
Thankfully, I won’t be attending an Expanded Regional until the end of May (if at all this year). For those of you going to Salt Lake or the upcoming Special Event in Europe, hopefully meaningful changes are on the horizon. The format is just becoming more and more uninteresting and the addition of Glaceon as a top tier deck doesn’t help things at all.
Best of luck to everyone at their next events, hope to see you all soon!
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