Pinch Me, I’m Playing Green

Recapping Toronto’s & Greensboro’s Top 8s, Exploring Expanded with Celebi & Venusaur-GX, and Rating Rayquaza for Daytona Regionals
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“Venusaur (and Celebi), I choose you!”

Hello everyone, Rahul Reddy here with my first article in a long time for this site. For those of you who may remember my articles from back in the day, I apologize for those tragedies but I’m beyond excited to be here and writing again. Two weekends of Expanded events have come and go with their respective metagames being wildly different. The first weekend in Toronto saw Trevenant and Night March make their return, taking us back to a format that felt like 2016. This past weekend in Greensboro saw the rise of Archie’s Blastoise and Pikachu & Zekrom to prominence as their aggression outlasted the rest of the field, but Drampa-GX/Garbodor was the last deck standing as the dust settled. After playing in both weekends, I think I can safely say that the Expanded format is in a healthy place!

My return to article writing is going to feature a little bit of spice I chose to debut this weekend, Celebi & Venusaur-GX TAG TEAM, along with discussion on my backup option, a Turbo Rayquaza-GX/Ho-Oh-EX deck that finished 9th overall. We have two more Regional Championships in this Expanded format—Daytona and Hartford—so get ready for some tips and tricks on how to handle it.

Recapping Toronto’s & Greensboro’s Top 8s

The change in Top 8 decks between weekends was astounding as six of the decks that Top 8’d in Toronto vanished in Greensboro. Trevenant BREAK became a non-factor for this weekend as the field had figured out how to prepare for it moving forward. Greensboro saw these decks featured in its Top 8:

  • 2 Archie’s Blastoise
  • 2 Pikachu & Zekrom
  • 2 Zoroark-GX/Garbodor
  • 1 Drampa-GX/Garbodor
  • 1 Shock Lock

At the end of 14 rounds of Pokémon, we found ourselves with Shock Lock at the top of the standings. Many people, including myself, were under the impression that there was no answer to this Shock Lock deck in the Top 8. What I had failed to realize is that Jonathan Croxton played no answer to Garbotoxin, and it was somewhat of a miracle that he managed to dodge it until Top 8 of the event, but it was his inevitable downfall.

Both Archie’s Blastoise decks featured in the Greensboro Top 8 had changes from the list that had made Top 8 the weekend prior in Toronto. In Toronto, Russell LaParre brought in a few interesting additions to the list in the form of Palkia-GX and Onix LOT to deal with Pikachu & Zekrom decks. Moving into Greensboro, Azul Garcia Griego and Andy Gray both had Onix in their lists but there was a card that headlines Expanded missing from Azul’s deck: N. Both Azul and Andy included two cards that seemed lackluster at the time but provided great answers to Zoroark-based decks and Trevenant decks: Eevee & Snorlax-GX and Kingdra-GX. I myself was discussing the deck with fellow SixPrizes writer Xander Pero the night before and I told him that I wouldn’t play the deck without either of those techs because of how powerful they are as an answer to Zoroark.

With the meta changing so rapidly within the week and nothing changing in terms of the format, what happened? The mentality that many players had going into Toronto was that was going to be the big scary deck on the block and everyone wanted to have an answer to it. The easiest answer was to play a 1 Prize-based deck or a Fighting deck. This let Trevenant BREAK surge to the top unexpectedly, and a few were boasting a Pyroar FLF line to deal with PikaRom. The following weekend in Greensboro showed a rise in quick, aggressive decks that take over the board in a single turn. What happens next? Only time will tell, but here’s the deck I chose to play and why I chose to play it.

Green for Greensboro: Celebi & Venusaur-GX

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Heading home from Toronto I felt like there was something I could do to answer the meta as well as predict the next step in the progression. Expanded is a little tough because everyone has their pet deck that they can always fall back on, like with myself and . A card that stuck out to me from Team Up was Celebi & Venusaur-GX because of its GX attack. Evergreen GX has the effect of shuffling your whole discard into your deck if you have 5 Energy attached and 3 of them are green. I was thinking about putting the card in /Ho-Oh in addition to a Ninja Boy to deal with Garbodor decks, but I could never reliably pull off that combo in testing. This led me to thinking about the deck as a standalone archetype but I didn’t have any starting point with a list. I threw together a binder drop of a deck on PTCGO and began running some games to little success.

I was about to discard the idea entirely but found a faint glimmer of hope as I saw that a Celebi & Venusaur-based deck placed 2nd at the CL Chiba Extra tournament in Japan. I messaged my good friend Franco Takahashi and he told me he would do his best to find me a list, which he handed me within the day. The initial list had a Hex Maniac and Ghetsis, two cards which are on our Expanded format ban list, as well as Potion, Red Card, and heavy Erika’s Hospitality. I began tinkering with the deck and ended up with these 60 cards the morning of the event.

Pokémon – 9

4 Celebi & Venusaur-GX

4 Shaymin LOT

1 Sudowoodo GRI

 

Trainers – 39

4 Professor Juniper

3 Lillie

2 Gardenia

2 Guzma

2 N

2 Steven’s Resolve

1 AZ

1 Faba

1 Karen

1 Lysandre

1 Skyla

 

4 Net Ball

4 VS Seeker

1 Nest Ball

1 Field Blower

2 Fighting Fury Belt

2 Float Stone

1 Choice Band

1 Scramble Switch

 

2 Aether Paradise Conservation Area

1 Life Forest p

Energy – 12

6 Grass

4 Double Colorless

2 Herbal

This deck is already a deviation from the usual Expanded formula of all-in, rush-and-go with 20 Supporter cards in the deck. This slow and steady approach can be played around, but 270 HP is a lot to deal with and the deck rarely draws dead. The list was concocted with Trevenant BREAK and Archie’s Blastoise in mind, fully accepting a poor matchup to any deck that can OHKO the Green Machine.

Card Choices

4 Shaymin LOT
The thought process behind these guys was that in most matchups I could heal a ton of damage in one turn, and Alolan Muk SUM is non-existent in Expanded because of Garbodor BKP being objectively better. I was considering Wobbuffet PHF in this slot because of all the Abilities in Expanded, and the card might have been better for the matchups that I faced.

1 Sudowoodo GRI
I wanted one card that could possibly slow Zoroark-GX down long enough for me to establish my board without being pelted by 210 damage from Riotous Beating every turn. The card came in handy against the Turbo Rayquaza-GX decks that I faced, which was invaluable.

2 Steven’s Resolve
I had initially had Red Card in this slot, but after some games I realized that I wanted another consistency card and a good Turn 1 Supporter. Steven’s Resolve was perfect because I could attach an Energy to Venusaur and then grab the pieces I was missing for the following turn.

2 Fighting Fury Belt, 1 Choice Band
Fighting Fury Belt is a card that helps with math enough on any deck that isn’t named Zoroark-GX and adds 40 extra HP which increases my longevity. I need time before I can set up a second attacker, so having the increased health was a blessing. I began struggling against Zoroark-GX without the Choice Band because being able to OHKO a Zoroark was important, as well as being able to hit a Tapu Lele-GX for 180 without using my GX attack.

1 Scramble Switch
There is a debate that almost any ACE SPEC can be played in this slot but there were two that I was deciding between, Dowsing Machine and Scramble Switch. Dowsing Machine was useful in many situations where I could retrieve my one-of Item techs like Choice Band and Field Blower, but Scramble Switch was overall better in completely setting up a fresh attacker under pressure. In most cases I wasn’t able to heal the damaged attacker on the Bench, but I didn’t mind giving up 3 Prize cards as long as I had an attacker to use.

6 Grass Energy, 2 Herbal Energy
I had begun my initial testing with 4 Herbal Energy, but as time went on I found myself using the added effect of 30 heal less and less. I wanted to secure an Energy attachment on my first turn no matter what and the secondary effect didn’t offset much of the math I had anticipated. It helped against decks like Trevenant BREAK but I felt like the deck had already been shored up to deal with that matchup. The added basic Grass Energy also gave me (1) an answer to decks that played Special Energy denial and (2) a target for Net Ball.

Match Summary

R1: ZoroGarb WLW (1-0-0)
R2: Hoopa/Wailord/Stall LL (1-1-0)
R3: ZoroGarb LWW (2-1-0)
R4: Rayquaza-GX/Ho-Oh-EX WLW (3-1-0)
R5: Rayquaza-GX/Ho-Oh-EX WLL (3-2-0)
R6: Hitmonchan/Wobbuffet WLW (4-2-0)
R7: Rayquaza-GX/Ho-Oh-EX WW (5-2-0)
R8: ZoroGarb WW (6-2-0)
R9: Archie’s Blastoise ID (6-2-1)
R10: ZoroGarb LWL (6-3-1)
R11: Buzzwole/Carbink BREAK WW (7-3-1)
R12: Trevenant BREAK WW (8-3-1)
R13: Rayquaza-GX/Ho-Oh-EX LL (8-4-1)
R14: Trevenant BREAK ID (8-4-2)

Final: 21st place @ 8-4-2

Analyzing the Losses

For a deck that was built to counter Archie’s Blastoise I managed to somehow avoid all of them. I avoided PikaRom as well but found myself face to face with four Rayquaza decks that overwhelmed me with their immense pressure. The only loss that was unexpected was to our very own Alex Schemanske and his ZoroGarb deck after a prayerful Game 1 Red Card managed to stick and Game 3 when I found myself staring down 4 Zoroark-GX on the second turn of the game. It is quite telling that the game was not decided by Alex’s swarm of Zoroark-GX but in me missing a Grass Energy on a crucial turn, leaving me one turn behind on Prize cards. Hoopa Stall was an unfortunate circumstance that I had been faced with thanks to my old pal TOM. I played the matchup poorly and aimed to draw all of my Prizes rather than deck my opponent out using Evergreen GX to recycle my whole deck. Prizing Scramble Switch both games lead me to chalk the round up as a loss and move on unfazed.

Going Green in the Future

I would not play the same list that I played this past weekend as it was tailored for the metagame that I expected. However, I do think the deck is really good at doing what it is meant to be doing and Wobbuffet would have been an excellent addition to the deck’s overall goal. The deck is now on the radar but I doubt anyone will realistically prepare to counter the deck at any level of competition.

If you have Cups or Challenges coming up in the Expanded format and don’t expect PikaRom or Rayquaza/Ho-Oh, then this would be a good call to bring with you to a tournament. Archie’s Blastoise is a deck that won’t be going anywhere anytime soon and if any deck can have an answer to that deck, it’s this one.

Through the Fire and Flames: Rayquaza-GX/Ho-Oh-EX

Until about 7 AM Saturday morning I had my mind set on Rayquaza-GX for Greensboro. The deck had everything I could want besides a good Garbodor matchup. The aggression that this deck offered was only mirrored by PikaRom—but without the weak matchup to Fighting decks. A single Xurkitree-GX gave you the answer to decks like Hitmonchan that you needed and Shaymin p was the MVP against Archie’s Blastoise. Here is the list that I was set on playing alongside Jose Marrero and Jeff Criss, who finished 43rd and 9th respectively:

Pokémon – 18

4 Rayquaza-GX

2 Ho-Oh-EX DEX

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

1 Shaymin p

1 Tapu Koko p

1 Zeraora-GX

1 Tapu Koko-GX

1 Xurkitree-GX

1 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Marshadow SLG

1 Mr. Mime PLF

1 Sudowoodo GRI

1 Oricorio GRI 56

Trainers – 28

2 Guzma

2 Professor Juniper

1 Colress

1 N

 

4 Max Elixir

4 Ultra Ball

3 VS Seeker

2 Battle Compressor

2 Mysterious Treasure

2 Rescue Stretcher

1 Field Blower

1 Dowsing Machine

 

3 Sky Field

Energy – 14

7 Grass

7 Lightning

Card Choices

1 Xurkitree-GX
Xurkitree was one of the cards that was on the chopping block because decks like Night March were sporting a one of copy of Silent Lab and Dowsing Machine to reuse it. After further thought, there were many matchups where a single copy of Xurkitree could win the game as a standalone card. Jose displayed that on Day 1 when he won the set against Eric Smith playing his Alolan Exeggutor deck that contained zero basic Energy. The GX attack was also a strong first turn move after a Marshadow Let Loose.

1 Oricorio GRI 56
Similar to the Xurkitree, the Oricorio was a one-card inclusion meant to win the Night March and Vespiquen matchups. Paired with 2 Rescue Stretcher and Dowsing Machine the card would inevitably find value in those matchups.

1 Dowsing Machine
Rayquaza-GX is a deck that naturally discards cards due to the Stormy Winds Ability. This often leads to cards that you wouldn’t want in the discard ending up there, like the one-of Field Blower. Being able to recycle one of those cards or even have a 5th Max Elixir for a late-game attachment can make the difference in a game.

1 Mr. Mime PLF
When you’re a turbo deck like Rayquaza-GX, you have to bench both of the Shaymin-EX and Marshadow on the first turn of the game. This leaves you susceptible to a Towering Splash GX. Mr. Mime forces the opponent to have their Silent Lab, which allows you to bump your Shaymin off the Bench. In the PikaRom matchup this card forces them to find their Silent Lab or they cannot wipe the board of Energies fast enough to slow down your onslaught.

4 Ultra Ball, 2 Mysterious Treasure
Most of the Rayquaza-GX decks in the past have had a 3/3 split of Ultra Ball and Mysterious Treasure, or even a 2/4 split. This version has heavier Ultra Ball because of all the non-Dragon, non-Psychic cards in Expanded. 2 Shaymin-EX tend to be the primary target of the Ultra Ball in the early game, but after the first two turns you can find whichever attacker the deck requires for that particular situation. I found myself often using Ultra Ball on the first turn for the Tapu Koko p so that I wouldn’t discard it with Stormy Winds.

Matchup Spread

Archie’s Blastoise: Favorable
Archie’s Blastoise is one of the few decks in the Expanded format that can match the speed of Rayquaza-GX. Unfortunately for Magikarp & Wailord-GX, it is weak to Grass. This is where Shaymin p comes in to save the day and take 3 Prize cards without batting an eye. Rayquaza-GX can reach the numbers required to take an OHKO by the second turn of the game and if Blastoise over-commits Energy to the board, Tapu Koko-GX comes in to lend an assist. Let Loose on the first turn of the game can also be crippling to the Stoise player.

PikaRom: Favorable
Rayquaza-GX reaches the numbers needed to OHKO a Pikachu & Zekrom-GX by the second turn of the game and has Tapu Koko-GX to take the first knockout of the game if the need arises. The Mr. Mime is crucial in stopping the PikaRom player from having a 4-Prize turn. If they do not find their Silent Lab or play a copy, then the matchup is a race that you will inevitably win.

Trevenant BREAK: Slightly Favorable
Trevenant is built to lock you out of Item cards and stick something with a heavy Retreat Cost in the Active slot. Rayquaza-GX runs through the whole deck in a single turn while having Zeraora-GX to provide free retreat. Trevenant BREAK lists currently aren’t playing a copy of Team Flare Grunt, so any Energy attached is safe. Rayquaza-GX can end the game in 6 turns with 6 knockouts while hoping that an Ace Trainer from Trevenant doesn’t stick.

ZoroGarb: Unfavorable
Zoroark-GX has the ability to abuse your Sky Field as well as draw what seems like a million cards every turn. With an early Garbotoxin they can shut you out of the game relatively early. Rayquaza-GX has no option but to go fast, so naturally there are going to be Items hitting the discard pile fast. Trashalanche damage quickly adds up and Zoroark-GX can stream their attackers more efficiently than Rayquaza-GX can while giving up less Prize cards.

Soaking Up Some Rays in Daytona with Ray

If Daytona was tomorrow I would be bringing Rayquaza-GX. Garbodor winning Greensboro means that it will be countered in the following weeks leading up to Daytona. Never has a deck reigned in Expanded longer than Zoroark-GX, and any deck that has won other than Zoroark-GX has been heavily countered in the following event. This opens up the door for Rayquaza-GX to capitalize on the matchups left in the field like Archie’s Blastoise and the rise of Fighting decks. The deck is also a blast to play, as you go through your whole deck in a single turn while vomiting Energy cards onto the board, demanding an answer from your opponent’s deck.

Conclusion

Expanded is finally in a place where I am enjoying it and the doors to creativity have been blown wide open. We’ve seen Alolan Exeggutor, Hitmonchan, Celebi & Venusaur-GX, and other cool decks come out of nowhere. Zoroark is finally a somewhat healthy card and I expect to see more testing and crazy decks hitting the field before Daytona. It feels good to be back in a creative mindset and breaking from my norm of always playing Vespiquen/Flareon in Expanded.

Thank you guys for taking the time to read my first article back and I hope you enjoyed what I had to talk about. I’ll be heading to Denver and Daytona next so I hope to see you all there. On that note I bid you all adieu until my next article!


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