Expanded’s Ethos

Looking at the Foundations of Success in Expanded Coming off the Anaheim Regional Championship

A year ago, Dallas’ Regional Championship was where Expanded really took off into the next level of bizarre. Our own Isaiah Williams, among others, piloted a Zoroark-GX/Exeggcute PLF concept that revolutionized Expanded at the time. Since then, it’s been a rotunda of concepts of varying degrees of speed, flexibility, insanity, obnoxiousness, and pervasiveness. It’s truly been a revolving door of Zoroark concepts at the top of Expanded for almost a year now, and after last weekend in Anaheim, we’re probably not looking at a change any time soon.

Zoroark is a truly unique card, and Xander is going to get further into the nature of that beast tomorrow. The Ability alone would be enough to make the card playable—Empoleon DEX saw play even as a Stage 2—but in the meantime, on a Stage 1, it’s truly a different kind of game management through draw power and deck thinning. There are infinitely many words to write on the subject.

In light of our just having gotten out of another Expanded event, I’m going to spend today talking through some thoughts worth considering in the aftermath of Anaheim as we look toward Dallas. Other than a Special Event in Dubai in early January, I’m not aware of any tier 2 Standard events between now and February, which makes Expanded the focus of most of the world. Word has a number of international players making their way to Dallas, too, and if attendance manages to be in the upper tier again, it’ll truly be a wide-open metagame.

I’ll be totally transparent: I’m hoping we get some emergency action from TPCi with regard to the format. I think it’d be a boon to player enthusiasm with regard to the event, and I think that’s one of the most important things to be considered in the health of Expanded at this stage of the game. Nevertheless, I’m definitely not counting on any such action, so we’ll work from what we have in front of us.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll make an effort to alternate between the formats since many League Cups around the world are sticking with Standard. If you have any thoughts or requests with regard to coverage, you can always feel free to reach out me on that or any other site-related matter. As far as this week’s articles go, as it’s going to end up, we’re essentially free of deck lists, opting for analysis of the current state of the game instead. With big tournaments so far off, Expanded the primary focus (and the format where deck lists are easier to come by), and a number of important issues to discuss in the game, I think this is a decent approach to take with the remainder of the month. With that out of the way, we’ll get on ahead into today’s discussion of Expanded’s current chaos.


The Format’s Form

This weekend was proof more enough that concepts, not specific lists, are the battle of the day in the larger format. The difference in success and failure this weekend wasn’t 3 cards in a mirror match; it was matchup-by-matchup battle through the weekend—or, in the case of that Zoroark/Toad fiasco Jimmy won with (again!), simply an attrition onslaught. For better or worse, a lot can come down to the deck selection in the first place, rather than the minutia of each card in a list.

This differs from Standard where a lot more of tournament success comes down to card-by-card determination within each list—and, this isn’t to say there isn’t still a place for that in Expanded, but it’s a lesser one when compared to elements like deck selection and broad tendency awareness. There are so many decks, so I don’t want to say “matchup awareness”—it’s more about different styles of deck (mill, lock, whatnot) and being familiar with how your deck plays against all of them.

It’s important to recognize what elements are to succeed in each individual format. Standard is more about minutia of a few specific matchups, important techs to swing very specific matchups, and metagame analysis. Assuming limited time, playing lots of games against a finite number of decks is the name of the game of succeeding in Standard. Expanded lends itself to analysis of broader tech inclusion trends, anticipating the ebb and flow of things like mill decks, and being well-practiced against any number of decks. Once more, assuming we’re on limited time, the recipe to succeed in Expanded is more about broad experience, having an idea of what you’re doing in a lot of situations is essential to success. Playing a few games against a variety of decks is the best recipe for success in this Expanded; broad exposure is important in the end.

None of this is particularly new, though it does escalate in importance every single event that Expanded continues on. Of course, in a perfect world, you go into every tournament with a complete cache of knowledge about every element of every deck in existence. That’s not a real world, though, and most of us have limits on the amount of time we can test for a given tournament.

As the formats continue to diverge in what becomes important in tournament preparation, this difference is increasingly important to be mindful of. Although it seems that tournament victory is increasingly destined to be the providence of a select few, for the rest of us mere mortals, preparing in the most effective ways possible is an important part of achieving success.

So then, what are we looking at going into Dallas? The results of Anaheim leave us a few interesting points to keep in mind as we move into Texas next month:

  • As you might have heard, Zoroark is the name of the game. In that vein, I would accordingly predict that Trevenant will fail to regain the ground it lost from Portland into Anaheim. Unlike some of the cycles we have had in the past of Expanded, Zoroark, in one form or another, will remain a part of the format. Although some of us have tried to different degrees of success to make miracles out of nothing, I can’t imagine a scenario where Zoroark turns into a positive matchup for Trevenant. If the Forest is under siege by Zoroark, it’ll be enough to keep it in bad shape.
  • Connor Finton’s success with /Flareon is partially a function of that above siege against Trevenant in my mind—without stuff like Silent Fear to keep the deck down, it’s in a decent position, and it’s not hard to see how Connor succeeded given what we know about Anaheim. That it capitalizes on Archie’s , a deck that had substantial hype going into the weekend, as one of its best matchups? Doubly unsurprising to see the success. Moving forward, I think the biggest problem it’s going to face is the Zoroark that Jimmy played this weekend—and Girafarig LOT everywhere. It’s not a deck I’d be too excited about the prospects of as we move into Dallas.
  • Speaking of Archie: despite being a subject of much hype after Portland, Blastoise didn’t make much of a splash this weekend. In the end, this doesn’t strike me as too surprising—it’s a bit of a glass cannon, and I think the wide-openness produced by the August bans served it well in Portland. It essentially seeks to do a lot of damage very quickly with big Pokémon, but is susceptible to a lot of pitfalls. I’m not surprised that a number of those got the best of it this weekend, though it’s so hard to say just how many were in the room—based on what I’ve seen and heard, it sounds like there was a lot of everything going around.
  • Unown was an unknown going into the event. At this point, though, I think we can safely write off these concepts going into Dallas—the literal Turn 1 win seems to be beyond the format we’re looking at right now. Combinations to make the game a mess on Turn 1, like the Zoroark list with Red Card and Delinquent from Anaheim this weekend, are probably. as healthy as ever though, and something like the Glaceon deck I and a few others played in Anaheim a season ago might be an interesting concept moving forward. Glaceon itself might not be a winning bet, but the concept of turn 1 lock is probably a decent one in my mind.
  • More so than ever, you cannot airdrop a Standard deck into an Expanded tournament and simply hope for the best. The traits for succeeding in each format have become distinct in a way that’s not been seen in the history of the format. This isn’t the most new-player friendly concept ever, which concerns me in the long run, but that’s a different issue.

Concepts for Future Exploration

For the remainder of the article, I’m going to talk about some decks that didn’t see their way to success in Anaheim, but that I expect could potentially do so as we move into Dallas. Expanded is rife with potential, which is to nobody, but getting a grasp on the best ways to meld that potential is entirely a different problem.

Cradily PLB

As you might have heard, Travis Nunlist convinced a number of people to take a dive on Cradily/Grass things last weekend. (Now, I’ll admit, I don’t really know whose idea the whole thing was, but I like to imagine Travis sold a bunch of people on a would-be suicide mission full of cards nobody still owns because sometimes that’s how Expanded ends up working out). Nik Campbell clinched a Day 2 finish with the deck, but to my knowledge, the event was otherwise largely a dud for the prehistoric plants.

I think some of them would probably take issue with my characterization of it as a Cradily deck, and it’s probably not fair: Grovyle LOT really did set up a new world in terms of potential with Vileplume and the suite of other Grass stuff available in the format, and going forward, I do think there’s stuff to build off-of here.

One of the cards most interesting to me with the magical will-a-Stage-2-into-play world is Reuniclus BLW. Most famous for its inclusion in Ross Cawthon’s “The Truth” at Worlds 2011, Reuniclus intrigues me in a similar capacity in this format now for its ability to keep an active attacker healthy while manipulating its own board for an advantageous state. With AZ, Acerola, and other cards well equipped to make damage disappear, being able to put a pile of it all in the same place could be high value. Another interesting thing it facilitates, especially in a Vileplume partnership, is the ability to Acerola (or even KO!) your own Vileplume and return Items to the equation for a temporary period of time.

Unfortunately, there’s no especially good Grass type wall to hang out in front and use with Reuniclus, but there are no shortage of other things to consider. I think it’s probably too glass-cannon-esque to use another Stage 2 with Cradily in the role, but bulky Basics are still plenty to number in Expanded, and I think there’s a lot out there to look at.

The other idea I’ve had using Cradily’s tricks involves Dusknoir BCR, Shrine of Punishment, Sableye GRI, and a gamble that everything is going to involve GX/EX in some way. That fundamental risk might be a leap, but if something could be figured out, I like the idea of Guzma-stalling, Supporter-locking, Item-locking, and using Dusknoir to have our way with an opponent’s board. Unfortunately, while I’ve labeled a few things glass cannons in this article so far, that one would inevitably have to take the lead.

Omega Barrier is still a highly potent trait in the Expanded format, and a few ways to leverage it still come to mind. A traditional build sort of like what we saw in Portland could still be good, but I’d also be interested in exploring Maxie’s-based engines (with either Wobbuffet or Oranguru UPR as the “other” options included) as a way to alter the deck’s current complexion. Counter Gain has a lot of potential here, and between it and Mega Turbo, I could envision scenarios where resetting a Groudon in a single turn wasn’t inconceivable.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem here might actually be that 200 damage doesn’t do what it used to. While much of the format still succumbs, I think Dallas in particular is going to be a lair of things we’ve not yet seen before. With some 5000 legal cards in Expanded, there’s a lot to uncover, and I can’t imagine the potential of Ditto p in particular has been explored within the confines of Anaheim alone.

Nevertheless, Wobbuffet PHF is still a particularly strong card, and I could see it alone being reason to keep thinking about Groudon in the upcoming format. Donphan PLS could be another contender in this arena, though it’s hard to believe its damage output could still be entirely viable in the current sphere—though, it’s hard to argue with anything’s ability to do well in today’s Expanded.

I’d like to interrupt the rest of this programming to make something quite clear: I don’t think this will ever be a good idea in Expanded. Mashing for a ton of damage with low HP Pokémon is something quite already achievable in Expanded, and Lost March requires a unique amount of deck space to do the same thing as . Night Marchers at least act as both fuel and attacker, where Lost March requires you to accommodate fitting more of both. Stay away, friends.

Could be an interesting place to look. Sledgehammer is not far removed from being one of the most cataclysmic events to hit the TCG in years, and as a card I once questioned the fundamental use of, it’s 100% sure to have a future. Many of the decks seen this weekend would have trouble with a stream of Fighting, and Beast Ring would be an answer to a few weird niches in the format.

Mill

We hit a down-cycle this weekend. The next one may well be up. There will always be a route to wins when it involves taking advantage of fundamental lapses in others’ preparations for their tournament, and that’s mill’s best trait in a scene like Expanded.


That’s all for my look at Expanded today. There’s a lot going on, and finally quite a few Expanded Cups to maybe help the format have a fighting chance for once. It places a weird split between the US and the other areas of the world that still have minimal or no Expanded focus, but it’s good to get some momentum behind the format that sees a bit less than half of the world’s largest tournaments each year.

I’m still unsure what my plans look like for this holiday season, and it might include a trip through Chicago for some of the LCs in that area. I’m eager to see how the format(s) continue to develop, and it’s definitely not a dull time to be involved.

Wishing you all the best. I’ll next be back to round out 2018.

Christopher


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