Current Affairs

A Discussion of the (Good!) State of Expanded and Discussion of Malamar for FLI Standard

It has always struck me as being a little odd that Expanded has never (and likely will never) been featured as the format for even just one of the four International Championships or the World Championships. I think the biggest problem with the split between Standard and Expanded has never been about the balance between the two formats (though this is of course an issue at times). Expanded struggles because TPCi has never done an adequate job of making us care about it. No matter how many more Expanded Regionals get added to the season, it never seems like anyone is as concerned for Expanded as they are for any Standard event, and I am not sure this is a problem that will ever be fixed.

Travis, in his last article, does a great job of making the case for why Expanded should be held in more esteem than it is currently. I think that most of his points are valid and I largely agree with his overall sentiment that Expanded is fine or balanced, and the problems that arise that provide contrasting evidence are merely symptoms of the fact that no one is willing to test the format. For those traveling across the country and world every week, chasing down their next finish at a Regional or International Championship, it becomes almost impossible to test a card pool as vast as Black and White through Forbidden Light.

Goodnight, sweet prince.

Night March was the most popular deck in Expanded for the longest time, and I have always believed this was because it did not need to be tested. Its testing had all been done over the several years of its legality and everyone knew it would probably be good enough to land a solid placing. We have finally entered a time where Night March has fallen out of favor as a tier one deck, but I do not think that this has solved much of the format’s problems. Instead, there are just new decks that have replaced it as a go-to for “no time to test so I just made this Standard deck fit in Expanded,” with Fighting Max Elixir and Zoroark-GX Skyfield decks being the main replacements.

Many are still calling for bans and updates to the Expanded restriction list and for the first time in a very long time, I am unsure if this needs to happen and maybe am in favor of trying to unban certain cards. After all, variety is the spice of life, and there is little to lose for bringing back Archeops or Forest of Giant Plants for only 1-2 events.

One of the biggest problems with TPCi’s current usage of the ban list is that they are not using it as often as they should.

With a card pool as vast as Expanded, I think there are many acceptable changes to be made, and while you might getting something wrong, all you have to do is observe the results and fix it again before it becomes a major issue. A proper ban list ought to be able to be seen as a living and breathing document that could potentially updated once a month, if not even less. I am not sure what the mission statement of the game and the ban list (if there is one) is meant to accomplish and it certainly should not be as static as has become. Zoroark-GX, as Travis points out, should not be banned, but I think it has several tools and microaggressors at its disposal that certainly should have been changed or toyed with a long time ago. Night March at the height of its power easily could’ve lost a card or two—and the list goes on.

Solving the Problem of Care

I do think there is great power in this banlist and you never want to appear as if you are caving in to the demands of the community, but if updated more frequently, I think it could easily be done if only as a charade that would make people more interested in Expanded. As stated above, the main problem with Expanded is that you simply do not have to care about it, and can plan your whole season around avoiding it if you really want to. It is simple to see how Expanded has always been something that you could just not care about given that during its first year as a concept, it was only for Top Cut, which often meant only 8 players.

At that point, Expanded was really just a tough game of trying to metagame your first opponent, and even then most of the popular decks were victims of the formula of making your Standard deck slightly better with a handful of older cards. We have moved beyond that point over the past few years, but I think it is still obvious that Expanded does not carry the same weight as Standard.

Perhaps too anecdotal of an example, but I think Travis and I’s testing group has done a great example this year of bolstering his thesis from his last article and proving that Expanded is fine and that the main issue is that no one wants to test it and would rather just complain. Between Dallas, Costa Mesa and now Salt Lake City, Travis, myself and various other have all worked on coming up with something to counter a meta where players are not forced to adapt and for the most part, we have been highly successful.

In Dallas, we played Zoroark-GX with Counter Energy and had several players in Day 2 while others (like me) were very close – losing the win-and-in or tieing early too many times. In Costa Mesa, Glaceon-GX finally had its time to shine and took many players into Day 2 with our own Alex Hill placing in the Top 4. Our deck for Salt Lake City was not as creative as some of the others, as the end decklist ended up being little more than the cookie cutter Gardevoir-GX lists with some Korrina and a Focus Sash. If anything, I think this should drive home the point that testing is required to succeed (even in Expanded) and sometimes the answers are hiding in plain sight. Even with Tropical Beach being removed from the list, Travis was able to navigate and defeat some of the best players in the game.

My point here is not an attempt at self-congratulation or to claim credit for these decks (I played a role in all of them, but small ones beyond crafting the lists themselves) but simply to show how Expanded only becomes a villainous format if you are unwilling to put in work. Beyond these examples of my own testing group, I think that the results of Salt Lake City and the last Expanded Regionals in Europe also show that the format itself was much more Zoroark-GX. Much older decks like Donphan and Durant have begun to resurface and Sableye/Garbodor has able to achieve some great results that had eluded it in the past. Zoroark-GX, despite the ongoing protest from many in the community, has clearly been proven beatable and I think that will put Expanded in a great position moving forward. I think a deck like Shock Lock could have won this tournament as well (with many of its bad matchups falling out considerably in popularity since January), which only compounds my point that to do well in Expanded (or any format) you have to be willing to test!
The best card is obvious here.

From a balancing perspective, I do not think there is anything wrong with some cards being better than others. If every card was equally powerful or had equal opportunities at inclusion in any given deck, then I do not think we would have a game anymore. If you want a game with total balance and minimal luck, then I definitely suggest picking up Chess or Go. Card games, as wonderful as they are, will never solve this issue and frankly, I do not think it is something that they should even attempt.

Varying power levels exist for different reasons and using a card pool as vast as Expanded as an example should make this incredibly clear. At its worst, I think the format may continue to find broken and dominant concepts but I think this is a small price to pay (assuming there will always be an answer to these broken decks) for a format that is much more consistent. Adding VS Seeker and many other supporters back into the cardpool does wonders for any deck and I think I would rather do poorly with a deck that is running well than suffer inconsistency and get lucky in my results.

Now, with all this said, here are what I believe the most logical solutions TPCi can implement in order to “fix” Expanded:

Reprints, Reprints, Reprints

I think this absolutely this biggest problem with the format. As more time passes, the more inaccessible Expanded becomes for newer players, and the price of certain cards will only continue to rise. I think it would be an easy fix to put many older staple cards and ACE SPECs into a starter set of some kind would be a very easy fix. Functional reprints, in many situations, may be the superior solution as it creates an accessible alternative for new players while not driving down the value of these older cards. Magic: the Gathering does something very similar with their Modern Masters set each year, and I see no reason why Pokémon would not be interested in copying this model if they are truly interested in making us care about Expanded.

Add More Events

This may seem like an obvious change but I think it would force players to participate and be more prepared for Expanded. Force League Cups and Challenges to be one format for an entire quarter and make 1-2 of the International Championships Expanded. I’ve always been somewhat annoyed at how Tournament Organizers tend to pick the format for their events on a whim and I think making them all uniform (if only for a quarter) would be a great change, encourage different forms of testing, and would get rid of considerable amounts of confusion. You can still have Standard as your showcase format for the World Championships and the bigger Regional and International Championships, but giving the format a bigger stage would certainly increase its interest and demand among the playerbase.

Better Ban List

I referenced this idea multiple times above, and I think it would be a great solution. Naturally, it may be a difficult one to implement and would likely require a very dedicated balance team. Change is rarely a bad thing and I think if the players are willing to accept them getting something wrong on occasion, then more frequent updates would go a long way in keeping Expanded fresh and diverse. One of the great things about a ban list like ours is that you can simply undo a change if you believe it was incorrect or that the format has shifted to a point where a problematic card is no longer a primary agent in hampering the game.

Big Squid: Malamar/Ultra Necrozma

I think that it goes without saying that Malamar is the hottest card to come out of the new set. Outside of some new toys and tinkering to older lists with Beast Ring, Malamar strikes me as the only “new” deck made available for the upcoming format. I usually try to take anything hyped with a grain of salt as it is very rare that the hype ends up living up to anything noteworthy. In recent times, we have had plenty of Pokémon-GX and other cards that were supposed to be the next big thing, but it took almost no time at all to realize that these cards were not worth the time. Magnezone and other cards from Ultra Prism have performed very poorly since their release a few months ago. In addition to Magnezone, we received so many other Metal cards that surely spelt the doom of Gardevoir-GX, and yet I could not be less worried about Metal Pokémon and still plan on taking Gardevoir-GX to a League Cup this coming weekend.

All this being said, I think that Malamar will live up to the hype. I am not sure there has ever been a card printed with this ability that was not incredibly viable, and I think that Malamar comes to us in a format where there are very few answers to it. Eelektrik was able to thrive in a faster format against the pre-nerfed Pokémon Catcher, Item lock Vileplume decks, huge threats coming from 30+30 attacks in Landorus-EX and Plasma Kyurem, and Garbotoxin. Malamar only has to deal with a couple of these threats, and will be unpressured early by a majority of decks since everything sans Buzzwole-GX still aims to play Brigette early, then evolve. Buzzwole-GX is certainly a threat but Malamar is typed with its exact weakness, furthering its legitimacy.

I think that the best Malamar lists will be the ones built with the “KicaBulu” mentality in mind in that you want to play as hard and as fast as possible. Instead of slowing things down a little (and playing Brigette), I want to play as many draw supporters and Items as possible to fuel Psychic Recharge quickly and get as many Malamar into play as possible. The main problem with this strategy is that it will escalate into a huge Trashlanche from any opposing Garbodor, but for now I am writing that card off as a huge looming threat. To prepare for Madison Regional Championships, I think our primary focus should be to beat Buzzwole-GX and Zoroark-GX decks with ease, and I believe that this list can accomplish that.

Pokémon – 17

4 Inkay FLI

4 Malamar FLI

3 Ultra Necrozma-GX

2 Tapu Lele-GX

2 Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX

1 Lunala p

1 Mew FCO

Trainers – 31

4 Professor Sycamore

4 N

3 Guzma

3 Cynthia


4 Ultra Ball

4 Mysterious Treasure

3 Float Stone

2 Fighting Fury Belt

2 Field Blower

1 Rescue Stretcher

1 Super Rod

Energy – 12

8 P

4 M

There are many cards I want to fit in the list currently, but this is the “skeleton” my initial testing has settled on. I would love some unneeded cards like Professor’s Letter (to combo with Mystery Treasure), Energy Retrieval, Acerola/Max Potion, and maybe another non-GX attacker, but I think this list gets the job done incredibly effectively.

It may turn out that Brigette is a necessity for the deck, but I have only played without it so far and have not had terrible results. With the eight search cards in the list, you can hopefully get away without it, but frankly, I think I would try and fit even more search cards to the list (likely some Nest Ball) if I had the space. I am hesitant to make direct comparisons between this deck and Rayquaza-EX/Eelektrik of the past, but I do think that old templates for that list will do a good job and showing how this deck can be run.

Ultra Necrozma-GX on its own is such an incredibly powerful card that can knockout everything else in the format and has enough HP to avoid being 1HKO’d by anything other than Gardevoir-GX, which I am somewhat convinced we can outpace anyway. If not, we can easily make some adjustments to play other Metal Pokémon like Celesteela-GX. Fighting Fury Belt is likely an unnecessary card and one that I may end up getting rid of in order to fit any number of those cards I mentioned wanting, but it is nice to try and bolster our 190 HP even further. Fighting attackers are able to do higher amounts of damage with minimal effort now thank to Diancie p. Most notably, this allows Lucario-GX to hit 190 much more easily, which I think will raise the stock of that deck by quite a bit. However, if Fighting Fury Belt works once to prevent that, then I think one Ultra Necrozma-GX can easily take 4 Prizes.

Fast starts are incredibly important for this deck because it can set up a board state where we can maybe end the game on our second or third turn. If by some miracle, we pull off a turn two Photon Geyser for an EX/GX KO and our opponent’s board state is is still trying to stabilize, it is not difficult for us to keep this lead and simply recycle attackers until we finish the game. Against Fighting decks, I believe our main strategy is to try and power up Dawn Wings first and sweep with its GX attack.

Buzzwole-GX decks are likely to take an early lead by KOing a Inkay or two through consecutive Jet Punches but this creates a scenario where Moon’s Eclipse takes 2 Prizes and then protects the energy and can take two more prizes on the following turn. This may be wishful thinking on some level but I do not see it as too outlandish of a scenario. Certainly, it will catch an unprepared player off guard and will force Buzzwole-GX players to considerably change their strategy should they wish to avoid an easy defeat.

To conclude this section, I want to briefly touch on a conversation I have seen quite a few times now and that is the debate between Ultra Necrozma-GX and the older, original Necrozma-GX. Some claim that a deck focusing on the Prismatic Burst and Black Ray-GX is superior to Ultra Necrozma-GX, as it does not use a second energy type and is thusly more consistent. There is probably some truth in saying that it is more consistent (if only a slight amount) but I think there are enough cons to the idea to prove it must be the inferior version.

Black Ray-GX will win you many games against an opponent who does not prepare for it, but I think anyone aware of your deck will make a point to not crowd their board with Pokémon that get damaged by the attack. After this, your damage is much, much worse and you have less HP. Ultra Necrozma-GX’s main strength is its incredibly high damage cap that will be able to KO anything given the right amount of energy while Prismatic Burst will struggle to KO even Zoroark-GX let alone something even bigger like Gardevoir-GX.

Finally, its own Psychic weakness makes it a liability to many cards that are likely to see more play thanks to Malamar in addition to any number of Psychic tech options that have made themselves popular in an attempt to hedge against opposing Buzzwole-GX decks. Mew-EX will almost certainly still be played in every Zoroark-GX deck which makes me hesitant to ever make my main attacker something that would trade (heh) unfavorably with a Zoroark-GX deck.

Closing Thoughts

In short, I really like Malamar as a deck. Perhaps it evokes some feeling of nostalgia in me and reminds me of my life when I was first playing Eelektrik decks for the first time. Either way, I will be shocked if this card does not change the game considerably moving forward and for the moment, it is my top priority as I continue to test for Madison Regionals.

I do apologize slightly for not discussing any decks for Toronto Regionals this weekend, but most of my opinions on that format were captured last time when I talked about the International Championship in São Paulo. I’ve never been fond of Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX as a deck, but its power has been proven time and time again, and so at a certain point, it almost sounds like cognitive dissonance for me to recommend playing anything else. That said, I am still personally very fond of both Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX and Gardevoir-GX as decks and plan to play one of them this weekend as we bid adieu to the current format and welcome our new Forbidden Light overlords.

Until next time!

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