Hello everyone, Kenny Wisdom here. I’m happy to be back writing for Underground for the second time this month, this time taking a look at the Expanded format ahead of this weekend’s Daytona Regional Championships. It may not always be the prettiest, healthiest format—though right now, it is—but all things considered, I have to admit that Expanded is my favorite format to play, think about, and write about. I love the array of powerful things you’re able to do and I believe Expanded changes just enough over time and with each set release to remain interesting and fresh while at the same time rewarding those who have been invested in the format over the years.
That last bit is what the majority of this article is going to be about: I believe that experience with the deck you choose to play and knowledge of the format as a whole are the most important factors in being successful at large Expanded tournaments. My goal is to break down a few of the major reasons why this is the case, and encourage you to focus on playing a deck that you’re comfortable with for Daytona and beyond.
In the Standard format and at most levels of competition, I would encourage talented players to not worry too much about their inexperience with a deck, and to rely on their skill at the game to carry them. The reason for this way of thinking is largely that in most formats there is a best deck, or a small handful of “decks to beat” that are clearly better than anything else. When this is the case, I believe it’s correct for most players to pick the deck with the best matchup spread, even if that comes at the cost of some deeper knowledge of certain lines of play. Leaning into your raw skill to make tough decisions or outplay those seated across from you is usually enough in these scenarios.
With Expanded, this is almost never the case. Yes, there will always be a best deck and yes, there have been times where strategy X is a little too dominant. By and large, though, the format has a number of Tier 1–1.5 decks that will compete at the top tables and put up good finishes. In current Expanded, for instance, I believe there are a handful of decks that are better than the rest, but not by such a wide margin that everything else is unplayable. Even if a deck is operating at an obscene power level, it’s usually only putting a few copies in the Top 8, and other decks will succeed.
If you’re trying to settle on a deck for an upcoming Expanded tournament and find that there are ten that all look equally reasonable, you should default to the one that you’ve played the most, or one that mirrors the types of decks you’ve played in the past.
Expanded has been around for long enough at this point that a number of archetypes have been iterated on for years and years. At the highest levels of competition, such as deep into either day of a Regional Championship, you’re likely to be facing players who know their deck and the format extremely well. They will be able to use their experience to pull out unexpected wins, in less-than-ideal circumstances.
For example, let’s say you decide to pilot a deck that you believe should beat Night March 55% of the time. If you play against an average to above average Night March player, you can rely on that figure, and assume you’ll be able to pull out the win more often than not. However, if you’re paired against someone who has played hundreds of matches with Night March over the past four years, like Peter Kica, that 55% no longer applies. The Archetype Master is going be able to navigate the game in such a way to pick apart your relative inexperience. They are going to be able to turn what should be a slightly unfavorable matchup for them into a favorable one.
The mirror match is another example. If an Archetype Master is able to swing an unfavorable matchup, they’re going to be at least slightly favored in a matchup that is theoretically 50/50.
If you’re playing a popular deck and don’t believe you can outmaneuver an opponent in the mirror match, you’re probably making a huge mistake.
This goes with my first point in this section: There are a million different decks in the format and if picking one to play is a crapshoot, then picking two or three to counter certainly is as well. No matter what deck you pick and what tech selections you choose, you’re never going to be able to beat everything. We’ve all walked into events with our chosen lists teched to beat decks A and B and then lost horribly to decks C and D, resulting in a quick exit from the tournament. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to metagame, but in Expanded it’s a much, much better idea to rely on doing the thing your deck is trying to do before trying to hate out any specific archetypes.
If there are too many decks to choose from and possibly counter against, you may as well focus on playing what you know, and what gives you personally the highest chance of winning any given match.
I know some of you are reading this and agreeing with what I have to say in theory, but are newer to the game or otherwise haven’t found an Expanded deck that you’re truly comfortable or experienced with. That’s okay! While Expanded is a format that rewards experience and deep knowledge of the format, it’s also one that’s been around for so long that there are plenty of great players to learn from. One of the benefits of players constantly playing the same archetype over and over is that they’ve probably written something about it or recorded themselves playing it. If you’re trying to learn Night March (to use it as an example once again), you would be remiss not to search the SixPrizes archive for anything and everything that’s ever been written about the deck. I’d also search on YouTube and Twitch to see what past recordings of PTCGO streams or live events exist. You could also find some of the masters of the deck on social media and scan their posts for old lists, or even ask them questions directly. I’ve said time and time again that this sort of “homework” is crucial to success at competitive Pokémon in this day and age, and in Expanded this is absolutely no different.
That’s all I’ve got for today. If I playing this weekend, I’d likely be playing an Archie’s Blastoise deck similar to the version that Azul did well with that has written about by Rahul and Peter in our lead-up to Daytona. I expect that deck to have another strong weekend of finishes, likely piloted by skilled players that know the archetype in and out.
Good luck and I’ll see you next month.
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