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Michael Canaves

Prison Break! Escaping the Expanded Format and Preparing for Standard

Michael Canaves goes over how to change over from the expanded format and get your deck ready for standard for the upcoming City Championships!

12/10/2015 by Michael Canaves

Hey everybody! I’m excited for the new opportunity to write for Martin and the 60cards team, and for those of you who do not know me, I would like to take a brief moment to introduce myself and list a few of my credentials, that way you at least have an idea of why Martin chose me to put out content for you all to read. 

I’ve been playing the Pokémon Trading Card game since 2003, so it’s been twelve years now, with my first World Championship appearance being a Top 32 in the “11-14” age division in 2004. Since then, I have qualified for the World Championship in the Masters division multiple times since my age-up in 2008. I have won multiple City Championships, and have made it to either the Finals or Semifinals of States and Regional Championships over ten times. In addition, I’ve cut at about 90% of any Regionals or State Championships I have attended in my career. At Nationals, I have made several top cut appearances including a Top 32. I am most known for entering into events and supplying others with different innovative or out-of-the-blue deck ideas, such as the Bunnelby control deck at last season’s Nationals and Worlds, Empoleon/Magnezone that Ryan Sabelhaus and I piloted to top cut at last season’s States and Regionals, the Ninetales/Munna deck at Regionals in 2014, and many others. So hopefully you do feel I’m competent enough to be providing you all with quality content, and I look forward to receiving great feedback on my work from everyone in the future!

So this is the second year now since we have had the Expanded format introduced into the tournament scene, and the first year that we’ve had entire tournaments run using that format. For many, it can be extremely confusing and difficult to go back and forth between formats, not just when transitioning from major events like Regional Championships, but for some (like myself in Florida) from one week to the next in City Championships. You have to ask yourself questions about the metagame constantly and figure out how to adapt. One of the biggest questions, eCitiesly during the time of Cities when you may have one day in Standard and the next in Expanded, you have to discern if because everyone played Yveltal/Archeops/Gallade the first day in Expanded, does that mean you need to be prepared for Yveltal/Gallade the second day in Standard? Or are the two metagames going to be independent of each other and should you be evaluating each day independently? Truthfully, I don’t believe there is a clear-cut answer to this, and I think that it would vary by location. 

To start, let’s take a look at what Fall Regionals brought us. There really was a huge mix of everything between all three weekends, from the surge of Archie’s Blastoise from the first week to the final dominance of Yveltal, Mega Manectric, and Vespiquen decks coming into the close of the events, and even with oddball decks such as Mega Rayquaza, the Tool Drop deck that Brandon Cantu, Drew Bennettkennett, and I all piloted to Top 16, Sableye/Garbodor, and the Rayeels deck played by Ray Sharp. There are several decks that, of course, are immediately ruled out of the Standard format because they are not legal for play (Sableye/Garbodor and Blastoise, for example) but several of them can very well still see play. So what can we take from that list and how can we translate that into data to prepare for the upcoming Standard City Championships?

Besides the key component cards like Dark Patch and Hypnotoxic Laser, the biggest difference between Standard and Expanded is the draw and consistency cards that we’re given. In Expanded, we have access to Colress and N, while in Standard, many decks are forced to play the mediocre Professor Birch’s Observations. While having to rely on Birch, we have arguably lost any form of reliable and consistent “shuffle-draw” and have to rely on Professor Sycamore for our main source of hand-refresh. I think the biggest challenge I faced every time I sat down to build a Standard deck was looking at the finished product and saying, “This doesn’t look right.” I was having a hard time, as many were, in putting together a stable and consistent engine for most decks to run. It made decks rely now more than ever on things like Trainers’ Mail and utilizing Shaymin-EX to its full potential. Around the time of League Challenges, that made decks with Seismitoad a truly potent force, with Quaking Punch being just as strong as before in just completely shutting down decks. But with Jirachi now in existence, a single copy can stop an entire Seismitoad deck in its tracks. 

Fast forward to the first weekend of City Championships, and it’s time to choose a deck. In addition to Fall Regionals results and local League Challenges, we of course have some new promo cards and the BREAKthrough set onto the scene to change things up. We saw the addition of Pikachu-EX and Jirachi in the form of playable promos, and BREAKthrough had several notable cards as well, such as Zoroark, Raikou, Gallade, Assault Vest, both Mega Mewtwo, Granbull, Houndoom, Octillery, Magnezone, and Smeargle. Now, if there is anything I have figured out in this game, it’s that people just love to play things that they are comfortable with. With that said, I think the biggest thing to take from Expanded Regionals into Cities is people just love their good friend Yveltal. No matter what happens, the Darkness deck which originally started with Darkrai-EX is just not going to go away.

While we did lose Dark Patch coming into Standard, we gained two powerful new allies in the form of Gallade and Zoroark. So immediately, I think it’s a fair assumption to say you will see plenty of Yveltal decks coming into the weekend. In addition to that, the other deck to have a good showing at Regionals that really didn’t take a nerf at all would be Night March. While people were definitely scared of that new promo Jirachi, it didn’t take long for them to figure out that pairing Night March with either Milotic from Primal Clash to grab extra DCEs and Lysandre’s from the discard or Bronzong to be less reliant on Special Energy would be a way around the pesky little metalhead. And finally, you have Mega Manectric, another deck that was extremely popular for Fall Regionals, and has had consistent showings since its release. All three of these decks are relatively unhindered by the draw engine that we’re provided with in Standard, and also benefit in some way from the addition of BREAKthrough. 

I’m not going to talk a whole lot about my Cities run and turn this into a tournament report, but I do want to show both the decks that I ran to take back-to-back Second Place finishes so you can see where my thought process was when it came time to actually building decks and how I made my meta calls. Like I stated in my last paragraph, I expected three of the biggest decks at the first set of Cities to be Yveltal, Mega Manectric, and Night March. The night before my first Cities in Maitland, FL, which turned out to have 81 players and a whopping seven rounds, I texted my good friend Ryan Sabelhaus to ask his opinion. We both agreed that Raichu/Bats and Night March were very good contenders against the decks we expected to translate over from Fall Regionals, but also against any new decks that would BREAK out from the new set. (Yep, that pun was definitely intended.) In addition, he did make me aware of another strong contender in the form of Sceptile-EX. He convinced me quickly that Sceptile had strong matchups across the board, and that it really was a solid contender for day one. Here is the list that I ran:



Sceptile really put a dent in decks like Yveltal and Mega Manectric, and really any deck that couldn’t take a one-shot off of a Mega Sceptile, as you would simply Retreat and use Jagged Saber to heal completely and set up your Sceptile all over again, pretty much creating a loop. The Virizion was intended to deal with Regice as well as be a seventh Prize, Ariados set your damage up perfectly, and between the two Jirachi, the Assault Vest, and the Agility Sceptile, you actually had a fighting chance against Night March. I also liked this deck because it was very simple in concept, so even with the draw engine that Standard offered, it was able to set up with ease. I went 5-0-2 in Swiss with the deck, and finally finished second, only losing in the finals to some poor draws and flips on Super Scoop Up to a Tyrantrum-EX deck. 

So after the first day, you can see how I adapted to the Fall Regionals results and put together a simple deck that didn’t go for anything too crazy so that I was able to be consistent, even with the mediocre draw that I got from Standard. The next conclusion that I think is drawn from the new support engine, is to look at the decks that didn’t get hurt by it. Night March and Vespiquen, and both decks that already relied heavily on Item-based engines, and if they ran any N or Colress, it was typically only one copy of N, which in these two decks specifically, can easily be replaced by Judge.

Vespiquen was arguably the top deck coming out of Expanded Regionals, so in the first few weekends of Cities, why has it not seen the same spotlight it did during Regionals? I think when you compare a deck like Vespiquen to Night March in Standard, it’s hard to come up with many reasons to run a less consistent deck like Vespiquen that doesn’t offer a whole lot of other benefits than good ol’ March. This was the approach that I decided to go for on day two of Florida Cities. Again, we ended up with a whopping seven rounds at 67 players. As I was waiting outside the venue, I went back to my original thoughts where Night March had strong matchups against a lot of the decks that I not only saw from the first day, but the overall metagame for Standard. I knew the deck was consistent because not much had really changed from Expanded to now in terms of how the deck was built. So, I quickly pulled out my phone and started typing away and building myself a Night March list. Unfortunately, after filling out my decklist, I realized I hadn’t brought any of the actual twelve Night Marchers with me…Definitely always great to be prepared! Here is the list that I went with:



So again, we’re relying heavily on the draw aspect from Shaymin-EX and cards like Trainers’ Mail and Acro Bike, so our consistency didn’t really take a hit with the loss of our Expanded friends. You can see I decided to fit a 1-1 Bronzong into the deck because I wanted not only a way to effectively attack more than four times using Double Colorless Energy, but I also wanted a way to deal with Jirachi abusing their Stardust attack. Other than that, it is a fairly Standard list, I feel (oh boy, another one of those intended puns) and the main change I would make would be cutting the Giovanni. I never used the card even once to draw or to add additional damage. I did run AZ to pick up Shaymin from my Bench, as well as my own Jirachi in case I found any Seismitoad decks running around. You also see a Buddy-Buddy Rescue in there, which can not only retrieve Night Marchers at the end of the game, but it can turn a Battle Compressor into a Master Ball as well as be really annoying for opponents trying to set up a play around Maxie or Archie. Again, I took Second Place with this deck, going 5-1-1, only losing to a dead draw versus a Lucario player, and in the Finals against Franco Takahashi’s crazy Gallade deck. 

So to finish up, I’d like to leave a couple of my closing thoughts on going from Expanded to Standard. Do I think that you should be taking results from Expanded into Standard, and vice versa? It truly does depend on your area, but I think the answer is yes. People play what they are comfortable with, and we even saw that last year quite often. Players would make it to the Top 32 cut with a deck in Standard, and only change three to four cards to make the deck into a viable choice for Expanded at that point. When coming from Expanded to Standard, you need to be careful when translating the consistency engine from one deck to the next. You cannot just replace cards like Colress and N with Birch and Judge; you need to make sure that you increase your counts as well of things like Trainers’ Mail, and possibly rely more on Shaymin-EX and Super Scoop Up. Hopefully I gave you a little insight on what some of the Standard decks should look like and that this article was a helpful read in preparing for your upcoming local City Championships. Please feel free to leave any feedback, so that I can do better in some of my upcoming longer and more detailed articles! Thanks again for reading everyone, and if you enjoyed it, feel free to like and leave a comment below!

-Michael Canaves

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