Hello again everyone! Today I get to step outside of my comfort zone. Today I cover Expanded. I haven’t played in a large Expanded event since Yveltal-EX/Raichu XY was a viable archetype. (I did manage to take 10th place in a Regionals with the deck, so Expanded does bring back some fond memories.) Clearly, a lot has changed since then.
We’ve had the introduction of numerous sets (with their associated power creeps), as well as multiple bans. I’ve been a pretty big fan of most, if not all, of the bans, although I’d really like to see TPCi unban Archeops since they subsequently banned Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick. #FreeArcheops. Spam their Twitter account, folks. Let Archeops spread its wings once more.
Anyway, we saw multiple Expanded Regionals take place in the past few months and this means we do have a fairly reasonable snapshot of what the format should look like going into Toronto Regionals this weekend.
Team Up’s Expanded Impact
Team Up is legal for Toronto, but if we look at the impact the set has had in Standard, there are only a handful of cards that have been impactful, and clearly the barrier of entry in Expanded is much higher. A card such as Jirachi TEU, for example, which has been a major player in Standard, may see some play in Expanded, but it won’t see nearly as much as it does in Standard. There is so much draw power already available that even if certain decks do choose to run a Jirachi engine, those same decks will likely still exist without it, just with a different draw engine.
Pikachu & Zekrom-GX is so powerful that it joins the format’s long list of Turbo Haymaker decks. PikaRom is pretty easy to port over from Standard, and I know that a lot of people are going to be playing PikaRom going forward.
There are other cards from the set that are going to see play, but those are the major impact players to watch out for, unless I am underestimating the strength of Zapdos TEU, although I do not think I am.
Recent Expanded Results
Anaheim Regionals // Dec 15, 2018 // BLW–LOT
1. Jimmy Pendarvis — Zoroark/Seismitoad
2. Connor Finton — Vespiquen/Flareon
3. Preston Ellis — Rayquaza/Ho-Oh
4. Le Bui — Zoroark
5. Jon Eng — Zoroark/Garbodor
6. Connor Pedersen — Buzzwole/Lycanroc
7. Aaron Friedman — Zoroark/Garbodor
8. Israel Sosa — Lucario/Big Basics
Looking further into the Top 16, there were 5 more copies of Zoroark decks, paired with Seismitoad, Garbodor, or Golisopod. Also present were a Wailord Stall deck, another Buzzroc, and a Drampa/Garb. The most popular deck, by far, was Zoroark/Garbodor, as it placed 18 players into the 48-player Day 2 field. If we want to widen the umbrella, a hilarious 30/48 decks were Zoroark decks. On the other hand, 23 different decks played Garbodor. Clearly the message coming from Anaheim was that those were the two most important cards in the format.
Dallas Regionals // Jan 19, 2019 // BLW–LOT
1. Dean Nezam — Zoropod
2. Caleb Gedemer — Zoroark/Seismitoad
3. Blaine Hill — Drampa/Garbodor
4. Draydon Davis — Zoroark/Garbodor
5. Kyle Pallman — Archie’s Blastoise
6. James Taylor — Zoroark/Garbodor
7. Fabien Pujol — Zoroark/Garbodor
8. Russell LaParre — Zoropod
Dallas didn’t really do much to buck this trend, either, as 6 copies of Zoroark decks made it into the Top 8. I am amused by the fact that a huge number of bans in Expanded have now been thrown at the format with the main intent of weakening Zoroark decks, only to see the card tighten its stranglehold. I’m at the point where I think that the card itself needs to go, as it is clearly proving to be so powerful and resilient that it is powering past all reasonable counter-measures to weaken it.
This doesn’t paint the complete picture, though. 81 decks made Day 2 in Dallas, and only 27 of them featured Zoroark. This is a far smaller ratio than featured in Anaheim, but, unfortunately, the top standings were still largely dominated by those Zoroark decks, as 17 of them placed in the Top 32. On the Garbodor front, only 20 copies found their way into Day 2.
Outside of Zoroark’s continued success, the other major story to come out of this tournament was a massive showing from Archie’s Blastoise decks. The lone copy that made its way into the Top 8 is not quite indicative of the impact the deck had on the tournament’s field. 19 copies placed into Day 2. Most of them didn’t convert to a lot of Sunday success, but the raw metagame share cannot be overlooked, as it was by far the second most popular archetype. (I believe it was more popular than any one individual Zoroark build, so a case can be made for it being the most played deck in Day 2.)
Why the sudden surge in Blastoise decks? Well, the answer is simple: Magikarp & Wailord-GX. While Team Up was not yet legal for Dallas, this TAG TEAM got released as a Promo and it was legal. This GX card has a ridiculous 300 HP, and while its attack costs are all bloated, they are fairly easily fulfilled with Blastoise’s Deluge. For 5 Water Energy it hits for 180, which is already a better rate than the deck was getting from Keldeo-EX. The even more ridiculous part is its GX attack. If stacked with 8 Water Energy, Towering Splash does 100 damage to the opponent’s entire field. You can imagine how much of a boon this card is to the deck.
Outside of the Blastoise impact, the field had a large number of decks in it. All of these archetypes saw at least one copy represented:
Unown DAMAGE Combo
If we include decks present in Anaheim—but not in Dallas—we add:
That’s 22 different decks. I’m not going to cover 22 different archetypes in this article, especially since most of them are fringe players that won’t show up in any real numbers. The decks I do want to go over in this article are the following:
Pikachu & Zekrom
One other thing that I do want to point out is that since Dallas Regionals, Lusamine was banned in Expanded, which is going to make a big impact on Stall decks and certain Zoroark builds, such as the Zoroark/Seismitoad deck that Caleb Gedemer used to take 2nd in Dallas. There are other viable means of recurring cards in Expanded, though, so most of these decks can rebuilt with a slightly different game plan.
Pikachu & Zekrom
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 37
4 Trainers’ Mail
Energy – 11
First off, I want to go over the most exciting deck choice for the format: Pikachu & Zekrom. And when I say “exciting,” I mean the clearly telegraphed new deck coming out of Team Up. I assume by this point that everyone is well aware of how the deck works at a basic level: Cheat extra Energy into play on the first turn, then use Full Blitz to power up degenerate attackers and sweep the game from there.
This deck has to jump through hoops to semi-reliably pull off a Turn 1 Full Blitz in Standard, but in Expanded it gets access to a ton of additional tools.
The Draw Engine
To start, it gets Shaymin-EX. This is a ton of additional draw power. Beyond this, you have access to Trainers’ Mail, Battle Compressor, and VS Seeker as well. There are a lot of ways to build an engine for this deck. I see the ability to run 4 Acro Bike, 4 Trainers’ Mail, some Battle Compressors, and some Shaymin-EX. I want to go all-in on this Item-heavy strategy. Trevenant, while played, is on the decline, and Vileplume sees much less play without Forest of Giant Plants. Seismitoad sees play in Zoroark decks, but all of these decks afford you at least one turn of Items per game. That is all the deck needs, as these attempts to lock you are going to be absolutely dismantled once you pull off one Full Blitz.
Outside of an improved engine, the deck gets the recently rotated Max Elixir, which makes it even easier to power up your Pokémon. Because of this, I’m running slightly fewer Energy Switch than in Standard, and I’m not running the Rayquaza-GX I was a big fan of, as it is now unnecessary.
There are a few interesting additions to the deck that aren’t strictly there to propel the deck’s proactive game plan.
1 Mr. Mime BKT
Mr. Mime is important for the mirror match, as Tag Bolt GX is so powerful. It also prevents the Towering Splash GX of Blastoise decks, and it provides some value against Buzzwole-GX decks. I’ll actually be including Mr. Mime in most of the decks today as I feel like it is very strong against two of more-likely-to-be-played archetypes.
1 Weakness Policy
I expect to see people play Fighting decks and Fighting techs to combat this deck. As a result, I’m running a Weakness Policy. I’ll admit: This isn’t the easiest card to draw into, but the draw power here is really potent. Also, decks do play Faba and Field Blower, but PikaRom doesn’t give most decks a ton of turns to react before things snowball.
2 Marshadow SLG
I’m also running 2 Marshadow for Let Loose once set up, and ideally this will disrupt decks enough that they can’t draw into their copies of anti-Tool cards on time. Every deck is so powerful in Expanded that I do like Marshadow’s disruption to try and slow them down as you go off.
1 Silent Lab
Similar in vein to the inclusion of the 1-of Weakness Policy, I have one copy of Silent Lab. Silent Lab is a pre-emptive measure taken with the expectation that other players will also widely embrace the Mr. Mime tech. You only have one turn where Bench damage matters, and having Lab to turn off Mime’s Bench Barrier for that turn is all you need. Ideally, you have enough draw power to find the card on time.
Next up are a few Zoroark variants that I expect to be popular:
- Zoropod, and
Let’s start with the most popular Zoroark deck overall, Zoroark/Garbodor.
Pokémon – 26
4 Zorua DEX 70
Trainers – 28
Energy – 6
This is based off of Jon Eng’s list from Dallas.
Why is Zoroark/Garbodor such a powerful deck?
- The Garbodor line (both Garbotoxin and Trashalanche) combat two different degenerate aspects of the format at the same time. Garbotoxin counters other degenerate Abilities, while Trashalanche is a powerful 1-Prize attacker that absolutely punishes decks which go a bit too hard on their Items.
- Zoroark is both a draw engine and an extremely stable universally useful attacker.
I don’t think I need to beat you all over the head with why Zoroark is so good in Expanded. It is truly becoming one of the most dominant cards in the history of Pokémon. I don’t state that lightly.
I imagine that the Garbodor line, Zoroark line, Exeggcutes, Shaymin-EX, and Tapu Lele-GX are pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll skip straight to the utility Pokémon.
1 Mr. Mime BKT
Mr. Mime is a good tech against Buzzwole, Magikarp & Wailord, and now Pikachu & Zekrom.
1 Oranguru UPR
Resource Management gives you long-term strength in grindy matchups and is a huge weapon against Stall and Mill decks. The deck does skimp on some numbers to fit in variety, so having a safety net to recover any card is great.
1 Oricorio GRI 56
Oricorio is mainly a counter against Night March and Vespiquen, but the ability to spread damage counters across a field can have random applications in any game and gives the deck some dangerous flexibility.
1 Wobbuffet PHF
Wobbuffet is useful as a stopgap while waiting to get a Garbotoxin online. You can leave it Active on your first turn against decks where you can’t afford to give them even a single turn of Abilities. It’s also useful if Garbodor goes down.
1 Klefki STS
Klefki is a good counter against Primal Groudo…just kidding. It is for a cute play with Garbotoxin.
If you attach Klefki to Garbodor as a Tool via Wonder Lock, it activates Garbotoxin. At the end of the opponent’s turn, Klefki gets discarded, and you’ll have access to Abilities going into your turn. This lets you play a one-sided game with Abilities for a few turns when the opponent is locked out.
(I say a few turns because you can theoretically loop it with Super Rod, and thus Dowsing Machine and even Resource Management.) My gut initially told me that this gimmick was worth putting more effort into exploiting. It comes up, but not as often as you’d think, and often it ends up as a “win more” situation.
For Trainers, I kept a fairly standard Expanded package with 4 VS Seeker and a thin count of actual Supporters.
N is premium disruption, especially when paired with Trade as it becomes lopsided, or alongside Garbotoxin for premium disruption. You can even N with a Klefki on your Bench, Trade a bunch, then lock off Abilities with Wonder Lock for a turn.
1 Professor Sycamore
I hate Sycamore/Juniper in this format, but it is still your default raw draw Supporter that can be used unconditionally. N is bad as actual draw late game, and Colress is weak early when players have no Benches. I don’t ever want to Sycamore, but it’s nice to have in a pinch.
1 Brigette, 1 Guzma
Brigette is a great T1 Supporter and it can branch into some ridiculous starts. Guzma is also self-explanatory, although it still takes me a bit of getting used to because you generally do want it every game, and prizing it sucks.
1 Black Market p
On the topic of Stadium cards, I debated the copy of Black Market in this deck, but I feel like most decks are accepting that they need to run counter Stadium cards now. Defensive or reactive Stadium cards such as this, or even Wondrous Labyrinth p, are good when they stick, but are better off when the decks they are trying to punish don’t have answers. On top of this, the deck actively wants to be abusing Sky Field, and I don’t want to waffle between Stadium cards unless the other card is exceptionally good.
That said, I found that decks often fight over your Sky Field anyway, and that you can actually manufacture a Garbotoxin + Black Market p + N play a lot of games. It may prove too “cute,” but so far I am pretty happy with its inclusion despite initial reservations.
On Playing the Deck
This deck is actually pretty challenging to play, even if you do get some easy wins because of how degenerate it can be. You often pivot around when to maintain a Garbotoxin lock and not. Between the Klefki gimmick and using Field Blower on your own Tool, there is a lot of nuance to leveraging your Garbodor.
This is one of the best decks in the format because it gets to be the “fun police.” It counters a lot of the more degenerate decks really well. Make sure you practice your Zoroark mirror matches, because they are absolutely obnoxious to navigate. Expanded has a pretty steep barrier of entry when it comes to play. It is a nice change of pace from Standard.
Pokémon – 25
4 Zorua DEX 70
Trainers – 29
Energy – 6
This is based off of Dean Nezam’s list. (Hey! I admitted it has been a while since I had played much Expanded. The best jumping-in point is to take lists that placed well and work from there! There is nothing wrong with optimizing your time spent testing!)
A Meta Call
Why play Golisopod as a partner to Zoroark? In this case it was a bit of a metagame call. Golisopod is a strong counter to Archie’s Blastoise, able to 1HKO a Magikarp & Wailord-GX with a Choice Band. Also an easy victim is Seismitoad-EX, which was a popular partner for Zoroark going into the event. I think that in a vacuum this isn’t one of the strongest Zoroark builds, but it certainly felt like the best metagame call for what showed up in Dallas.
That said, I’m not sure that Zoropod is a deck I am looking forward to using going forward. Why is that? Seismitoad-EX builds of Zoroark got a lot weaker with the Lusamine ban, as they relied pretty heavily on the card as a way to loop resources over an extremely grindy, longer game. Both this deck and the Garbodor version are still what I lump under the category of Sky Field-aggressive Zoroark decks. Zoroark/Seismitoad is much more of a control deck. While I do feel that the deck can survive a transition away from a Lusamine build, it will be worse off for it. On top of this, there isn’t a recent “stock” list available for it, so the number of people who will have access to a new list for it will be decreased.
Ignoring a likely decline in Seismitoad play, Archie’s Blastoise decks had a big showing but also suggested that, at the very top level, they weren’t quite as good as the Zoroark decks. I’m not saying that Archie’s Blastoise isn’t Tier 1, but with that big of a showing in Day 2, the fact that most of them settled in the bottom half of the standings is telling. I expect the deck to be popular, but not have quite the share of the metagame that it had in Dallas.
Finally, I’m not sure how the deck pairs up against Pikachu & Zekrom. This brings up an interesting pivot point. Rather than run Golisopod, Lucario-GX is another option. It is strong against Zoroark and Pikachu & Zekrom. You’ll lose ground against Blastoise, for sure, but if you suspect that the metagame will shift away from it, Lucario-GX is an interesting replacement.
Pokémon – 24
3 Zorua DEX 70
Trainers – 29
Energy – 7
Admittedly, I built this shortly before having to submit this article, so it is a work in progress. I’m combining both Lucario-GX and Golisopod-GX into the same deck. They key off many of the same cards, and with Rainbow Energy over basic Energies, you can choose between the two depending on matchup.
1-1 Golisopod-GX, 2-1 Lucario-GX
I’m opting for a 1-1 Golisopod-GX and 2-1 Lucario-GX line. Since Golisopod just needs to be promoted Active on your turn for the damage boost, as opposed to needing to be re-evolved, the 1-1 line, plus Ditto p feels fine. Since Lucario needs to evolve, I’m giving it a 2-1 line. With Gladion and a Rescue Stretcher to recover these cards, you should be able to focus on whatever line is important in the matchup.
3 Rainbow Energy
I’m running Rainbow Energy to cover both Golisopod’s and Lucario’s attack costs, but it does also open up options such as Tapu Cure GX and even Trickster GX. On top of this, you can run Ascension Zorua off of Rainbow Energy as well.
There is a debate between Acerola and AZ in this deck and I’m choosing to go with Acerola as it lets you keep all of the attached cards. Straight Zoropod ran AZ, but since Rainbow Energy places a damage counter, it isn’t going to be hard to activate Acerola, and I feel like the upsides are absolutely worth it.
No Black Market p
Also worth addressing: I included Black Market p in Zoroark/Garbodor but do not run it in either Zoroark/Golisopod list. I think the card loses a lot of strength without Garbotoxin or Red Card. Also, these decks attack with non-Dark-type attackers more often, so it loses strength on that front as well.
This would be the deck I’d like to play in Toronto if I had more time to get reps in with it. (And a passport.)
The next deck is another newcomer to the scene and is pretty exciting. Well, “newcomer” is a bit misleading, but it is newer to the format and not quite as circulated as some of the other decks. Let’s take a look at Rayquaza/Ho-Oh.
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 29
Energy – 14
This is pretty close to a pre-Team Up stock list, but with the clearly necessary addition of Mr. Mime BKT and Tapu Koko p. There were a lot of interesting ideas to add to this deck, but there isn’t a lot of room in the list. Tapu Koko p is an easy addition. It lets you power up a Rayquaza-GX off of both of their Abilities and your Energy attachment for turn. Even mid game when you have your attackers going, it lets you dump two more Energy into play for a big damage boost.
From here, I looked into the idea of building a hybrid version of this deck with Pikachu & Zekrom-GX. The main problems, besides space, are the fact that you’d have to really slant the Grass-to-Lightning Energy ratio to use Full Blitz. Not only do you need 3 Lightning to use it, but it only grabs Lightning Energy. That being said, I don’t think it is unreasonable to make a lopsided shift, such as 10 Lightning Energy and 4 Grass Energy (I already slanted the ratio toward Lightning for the Tapu Koko p), if you added more Battle Compressor to the deck so you can more reliably pitch them early to grab with Ray’s Ability.
The big problem I see is that I’m not entirely sure that you need the Pikachu & Zekrom. You already easily 1HKO most GX and EX Pokémon with Rayquaza. I also think that there is a target on the TAG TEAM‘s head. The only real selling point is Tag Bolt, and Mr. Mime is going to be everywhere. Fitting in the Pikachu & Zekrom is tough enough without then having to add Silent Lab, and this deck isn’t as well equipped for finding it.
I think Rayquaza/Ho-Oh is a good entry-level deck to the format as it is extremely powerful and fairly simple in terms of what it is trying to do. It also shouldn’t be that hard to actually 1HKO a Pikachu & Zekrom-EX, or even a Magikarp & Wailord-GX given enough time, so that is a selling point. Zeraora is a huge weapon against both of those cards, too.
On the topic of extremely powerful decks, let’s look at the final deck:
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 36
4 Trainers’ Mail
Energy – 10
This is another deck that has a pretty defined engine attached to it, and there aren’t a lot of flex spots available to it. That being said, there are a few necessary changes to the deck.
2 Viridian Forest
Additionally, you have to add Viridian Forest! This card is absolutely incredible in the deck. It helps you find Water Energy, but more importantly, it lets you pitch a card of your choice from your hand. (Remember, you can always fail to find an Energy with the search to effectively drop down a card toward Archie’s Ace in the Hole!) The card is so good in this deck that part of me wants to run a 3rd copy, but I’m not sure how I’d make space. On top of that, you want to do everything you can to mitigate situations where you have cards “stuck” in your hand, and having too many Stadium cards is certainly a way for that to happen.
While Expanded has a wide range of decks that are played in it, I still feel like there are far less “real” options available to players. I would need a good reason not to play a Zoroark deck or one of the ridiculously overpowered 1HKO decks. Since the field is so diverse, it is difficult to bank on playing too much of a reactive deck because even if you get the metagame read right in terms of the best decks, there’s too much random stuff you may run into. I’d take something super proactive and consistent to Toronto. (Hey, that’s usually my motto when it comes to this game, though!)
By virtue of not having a passport, I will not be attending Toronto Regionals, but I will be following closely! I’m very interested to see how much of an impact Pikachu & Zekrom ends up making. I’m also very interested in seeing if somehow, against all my fears and doubts, that my favorite Expanded deck, Trevenant, somehow manages to make a decent showing.
Until next time!
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