The Forest for the Trees

Christopher’s Look Back at Portland, ft. Trevenant BREAK Report & First Thoughts on Lost Thunder

Hello again, everyone! It’s good to be back after a pretty productive weekend in the Pokémon TCG world. We saw some top players’ ingenuity destroy Portland, in the sense that the deck was unbelievably versatile. I hit Daniel Altavilla’s iteration of it during my Day 1 run, and could not believe the sheer mass of chaos this deck could throw at me. It’s truly a good day in the game when something like this can happen out of thin air—the question, though, is where Expanded goes next.

I’m going to talk through my Portland weekend today before looking at some top cards from Lost Thunder. I’m not sure when my first opportunity to play with Lost Thunder will be—there is a chance I am making the trip to Brazil, but a number of factors are making that decision rather difficult. We’ll see what happens.

As a bit of a site update, I’ve decided to discontinue the experiment. Engagement with the posts was lower than with other articles, and I wasn’t getting the impression that they weren’t as materially useful as I’d hoped to make them. When November’s schedule demanded I rebalance some writing loads to make the dates work, it became the correct course of action. My plan is to incorporate a mailbag into my second article of each month instead, as I do believe that was a valuable activity. As always, if you have any site feedback or commentary, please don’t hesitate to write my way.

Portland Past: Expanded’s Return to the Circuit

Over the summer, we saw what was primed to be the biggest shakeup in Expanded’s history: bans of Wally, Ghetsis, Puzzle of Time, and Hex Manaic were shown their way to the ban list, seemingly ending ’s death grip on the format. The lead-up to the weekend was optimistic, and I don’t think we’ve ever covered as many decks in one tournament’s preparation as we did with Portland. As this weekend showed us, none of this was quite the case. Instead, Zoroark did reemerge from the bans a more oppressive version of itself, which raises significant questions about where the format will go from here.

In preparing for Portland, I was intent on trying to find a “magic bullet,” but I did not have the time or network to come to a great conclusion, which is where the Zoroark-control crew excelled. The deck was certainly not invulnerable, which we’ll discuss in a moment, but it was absolutely quite strong. This magic bullet strategy definitely didn’t work out, but I did over the course of testing conclude that there were a lot of decks with the capacity to see their way into Day 2 of the event.

Being the last North Ameircan Regional I’ll personally play for a few months, I knew going in that I wanted to have a shot at Top 8, and not settle for a Day 2 finish as I often was more-than-happy to do last year. Thus, I needed something that was a tinge of oppressive—this is Expanded, after all—and had a chance against a wide swath of decks on its own merits. While and other decks with a Lance p/Salamence DRV/Flygon PRC tech suite was quite amusing, it did not turn out to be the level of useful that I wanted. Thus, after hours of testing Friday, my brother and I both settled on a Trevenant list that apparently was inspired by some prior work my brother had done with Michael Catron:

Pokémon – 14

4 Phantump PHF

4 Trevenant XY

3 Trevenant BREAK

2 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Espeon-EX

Trainers – 37

4 N

3 Cynthia

1 Professor Juniper

1 Ace Trainer

1 Xerosic

1 Team Flare Grunt

 

4 Mysterious Treasure

4 VS Seeker

3 Captivating Poké Puff

2 Enhanced Hammer

2 Super Rod

2 Ultra Ball

1 Counter Catcher

3 Rescue Scarf

1 Computer Search

 

4 Dimension Valley

Energy – 9

5 Psychic

4 Mystery

The biggest surprise in here is certainly the Captivating Poké Puff. I blew a few minds with this on Shaymins when I went first, and it’s one of the few ways left to disrupt decks like Archie’s before they just rain terror on your day. It was also quite useful against Zoroark variants, sometimes throwing off the stagger-your-Zorua strategy that’s used to avoid Espeon-EX tricks, and came into play for my brother a few times against Latias-EX. In hindsight, I’m not sure how great they are, and think some of the techs Aaron Tarbell played instead of them could have been better overall selections. Nevertheless, it’s a reminder that Expanded is full of interesting tech options, and sometimes they can provide an extra spark to your tournament run.

The omission of Tapu Lele SM45 is another topic I’ve gotten a lot of questions on. Simply, any game I found myself using Lele in, I found I was in a commanding enough spot that I was going to win anyway. There certainly are scenarios where “winning more” is helpful: say, you can eke out games more quickly in the Best-of-3 rat race—but, on the whole, I found that it was more desirable to have that extra spot to play toward other elements of the list. I can’t fault playing the Promo, though, and as can be seen, 5/7 Day 2 Trevenant lists did so.

Scoop Up Cyclone is probably better. We’ll be straight honesty and note that it simply never crossed my mind. Computer Search had its moments, though, and the only thing I wouldn’t understand is playing Dowsing Machine. In a deck like this, most games aren’t drawn-out resources battles: they’re about locking your opponent out of the game and shutting the door in their face. Dowsing Machine just doesn’t play to that.

In our testing, Zoroark was very winnable. I’m not sure this is reflected in reality, and our sample size may have been problematic in this sense. Our sense of confidence may have been misguided, but here’s the thing about Trevenant: Item lock is really, really good at making the impossible come true.

Here’s the round-by-round:

Portland-507 Masters

Trevenant

R1 Chimecho CES/Crobat PHF (2-0)
R2 Zoroark-GX/Garbodor BKP (0-2)
R3 Zoroark-GX/Alolan Muk SUM (2-1)
R4 Buzzwole-GX/Zygarde-EX (2-1)
R5 Night March (2-0)
R6 Zoroark-GX//etc. (0-1)
R7 Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI (2-0)
R8 Buzzwole-GX/ (2-0)
R9 Seismitoad-EX/Garbodor (2-0)
R10 Zoroark-GX/Seismitoad (1-2)
R11 Drampa-GX/Garbodor (2-0)
R12 Alolan Exeggutor FLI (2-0)
R13 Archie’s Blastoise BCR (1-2)
R14 Sableye DEX/Garbodor BKP (2-0)

Final: 10-4, 11th

I had my first encounter with Zoroark/Control in Round 6 with Daniel Altavilla. I hadn’t paid much attention to the internet, so I didn’t have much of a clue what was coming my way, making this match a series of super-weird. Nevertheless, provided a bit more time, we would have tied, which is a testament to the ridiculousness of Trevenant. My next date with chaos was Round 10, with Isaiah’s take on the variant. I won Game 1, and was about to place Game 2 out-of-reach when he launched into a crazy series of events: Paralyzing Gaze (Heads), top-deck a Zoroark, draw into Delinquent to put me to zero. Game 3 was ugly, courtesy of Seismitoad and a pair of prized BREAKs.

pokemon-paradijs.comI was on the comeback trail until an unfortunate collision with Archie’s Blastoise in Round 13. The matchup is the definition of high-rolling, and my opponent set up before I did—not remotely surprising given the nature of what it is, of course. I think my run highlights the diversity of Expanded pretty well, as there were enough differences between every deck that I played (even those falling under the same general archetype) that it felt like I played against 14 different decks. I’m a lot more optimistic about the state of Expanded than most others are right now, I think, largely owing to my sense that this diversity is a good thing—where, to some others, it’s a frustrating matter.

And, it’s understandable to be frustrated by that, as it’s very hard to get a grasp on and favors playing decks that are generally disruptive. Most of the successful decks on the weekend either blow an opponent to smithereens or capitalize on disruption effects to the maximum. I can understand players not liking that effect, but I also think it favors skill to a certain degree, and am therefore more fine with it. Nevertheless, the most important thing for TPCi is to keep Expanded popular, and as such, I think some action with the February set’s release would be wise. As long as players are excited to play, it doesn’t matter how objectively “good” Expanded is. If players aren’t into it, though, it’s bad for everyone.

Lost Thunder Loci: The Best of November

November sets have a distant history of annihilating the formats they enter: Noble Victories, Boundaries Crossed, Phantom Forces, and BREAKthrough are some of the most important sets in the game’s modern era. In the City Championships era, we had a number of truly interesting years based on the November set alone. Last year’s edition was a total dud, but we’re back this year with the largest expansion in the history of the game.

Rather than attempt to cover everything, I’m going to highlight some cards I’ve heard a lot of talk on and give some thoughts. Hopefully it helps frame your decision making going forward.

Faba

Let’s start with the card some are hailing as the imminent savior of the Expanded format. I don’t think anyone is under the impression that it will do much in Standard, which is good, because it definitely won’t, but I’m going to go a step further and say it’s mostly meaningless to Expanded as well.

The current mantra goes as follows: Zoroark decks have become oppressive in Expanded. Zoroark decks rely on Double Colorless Energy. If we can Lost Zone all the Double Colorless Energy, we win!

Here’s the problem: Zoroark-GX is incredibly powerful because it enables you to dispense with draw Supporters. While every other deck has to jam some sort of draw engine (Octillery BKT, for example) in order to function without spending every turn playing a draw Supporter, Zoroark has the freedom to draw oodles of cards while also playing a disruptive Supporter. Most decks in the format aren’t going to have the option to sit there and play this disruptive Supporter four turns in a row, and trying to do so is probably just going to lead to losing.

If Faba is going to do anything, it’s going to make the Lusamine-enabled idiocy of Zoroark even more absurd. Zoroark mirror is probably going to become a disaster area. Isaiah’s list, with Water Energy, is an easy adaption to the post-Faba world where all of your DCE “could” end up Lost-Zoned. Zoroark is already set to deal with Faba. The rest of the format, on the other hand, is not set to deal with what Faba+Lusamine means for the format. I’m not actually sure it’s even worth Zoroark’s time to play, and that will have to be borne out through testing, but I am fairly confident it’s not going to do much of anything to stop Zoroark.

Blacephalon-GX

The hype is real here, in my view. You can start with an early GX to put yourself at 5 Prizes, and running enough Fire Energy to blow through enough Pokémon shouldn’t be too much of a struggle. Magcargo/Magcargo-GX is not the best way to deal with the Energy acceleration angle, but I do think the Magcargos could make an interesting engine for something else in the future.

Shuckle-GX

If Zoroark-GX is your concern, this might be the better way to deal with it—and, if Faba is your insistent method to get there, this could be an interesting way to do it. I think this’ll be a good card to own.

The Items

Wait and See Hammer is a ridiculous card that is, probably for the better, not playable. Net Ball will have a use at some point—get some. I can’t say the same for Mixed Herbs. The set of Fairy Charms is interesting, but I don’t think any of them are set to be useful: partners are lacking, ways of evading the effect are numerous, and it’s overall not a game-changer. Electropower is a good card to acquire, I think: there’ll be a spot for this, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an Expanded deck interested in recycling these as a strategy at some point. Custom Catcher is worth owning, and is the kind of thing that Night March (?) is going to be super interested in. Counter Gain is additionally the kind of thing I’m both glad to see in the format and of the persuasion that it will be useful. Adventure Bag could have niche use.

The Supporters

Kahili is not good. Mina is probably bad, but not as bad as Kahili. Morty is probably highly playable in lock sort of things, and I could see it becoming an important feature in both formats—but, especially when partnered with some of the more ridiculous things Expanded has to offer. Elm’s Lecture is a huge deal for , which probably didn’t need much more help, but it aids Zoroark decks in Standard as well. Whitney is a cute concept, but probably not as good as just playing other Supporters in Expanded—Standard, and its anemic draw situation, could be a different situation.

I don’t understand all of the hate for Sightseer. There are a number of decks that like to discard cards in both formats, and Standard is particularly short on remotely-useful draw Supporters. I’d recommend acquiring copies, as I see no reason it shouldn’t be played at some stage. Lusamine p seems like the natural continuation of a Sledgehammer turn, and provided its ability to extended the Beast Ring phase another turn, I can see a world where this is a very strong addition to or to a concept.

The Stadiums

I don’t think any of these p Stadiums are going to be especially useful—enough other Stadiums exist in the format to make the possibility that they’re discarded by another Stadium too high. The Lightning one might be an exception if you can get a super-broken attack out of it early in the game, but don’t count on long term use as part of your strategy for any of these tricks. The Grass one does not come close to getting that benefit-of-the-doubt from me. Heat Factory p, similarly, does not get much love from me, but I suppose anything that was going to play Scorched Earth would start with a copy of this.

Memory Energy is an exciting revelation for Stoutland BCR in Expanded, but it might also make some other interesting splashes in the format. It’s a card that I’d look to have just because I expect it to be competitively useful at some point in its lifespan.


Everyone else will get us underway with some more thorough Lost Thunder coverage next week, but I hope today helps you as you move forward with purchasing cards from the set. I’ll be back between Brazil and Roanoke to talk about what happened in Brazil, but until then, feel free to drop any questions or feedback my way as you have them.

All the best to you,

Christopher

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