Experts' corner

Chris Fulop

Expanding Your Horizons

Having a few weeks worth of testing under my belt, I expand on my findings on the new Expanded format...

09/28/2015 by Chris Fulop

Hello again, everyone! Last article, I talked about how the first thing I like to do when approaching a format—in this case, Expanded—is to form a gauntlet based around the decks I expect people to play, and also the decks which represent the extreme capabilities cards offer to the metagame. Without a long list of events to sort through data from, there aren't great ways to "shortcut" through processing potential deck ideas, and I've found this to be a pretty good starting point that can put you ahead in the process over other players and teams who are testing. Now, with some data coming in from League Challenges and international events, coupled with the decks we can see being played on the Pokémon TCG Online client, we have a bit more information to work with, and we've moved past that exploratory stage of the format.

That said, this isn't to say that the format is "solved" or even close to being solved. Rather than this information really zeroing in on what the format is likely to look like, the main message I've gotten so far is that the format is actually extremely wide open. I want to touch on a few isolated points before going over first the deck that is my current frontrunner for this format as well as all of the other decks I still have on my list of decks I still consider.

-The "big" decks at the moment seem to be Yveltal decks, Seismitoad/Giratina (or if you want to branch out a bit, just "Seismitoad" decks), Night March, and Vespiquen. This doesn't mean these are the best decks necessarily, but they are definitely the ones that seem universally deemed to be "good" decks as they are showing up in large numbers in Expanded LC results and get played a ton on PTCGO. Vespiquen is the least defined of these decks, as the card calls for so many "assorted" Pokemon in the deck to get it's damage potential high enough, and players have paired it with any number of partners, ranging from Eeveelutions to Raichu to Accelgor. I feel like, despite popularity, that of these four initial emerging "pillars" of the format, Vespiquen is the weakest of them, and possibly just a tier below the others, in all honesty. While I'm not saying the deck is universally worse than Night March, I feel like it does what it is trying to do less effectively than Night March does. It avoids certain counters that may hurt Night March more and has slightly varied strengths, but I'm not sure if I want to deal with the notable decrease in power level I see between the two decks. The fact that Vespiquen struggles with Archeops is not reassuring either.

-My Hex Maniac assessment has been a bit off. I stressed how great this card was last article, and how I expected to see it makes its way into more or less every deck. Hex Maniac has been clunkier in testing for me than I expected it to be. Don't get me wrong, the card has had plenty of uses, and I'm still running it in most lists because there are decks/strategies you really want the card against. There are just not a ton of turns where you A) have access to the Maniac, B) want to use it, and C) can afford to not use another Supporter in the same turn. The card has still proven strong against enough fringe and powerful decks while having spotty uses in every matchup that I still like the card, but it isn't as amazing as I first had been finding. The other big point I need to stress here is that whether I'm off or not on the card, its popularity is not yet anywhere near where I expected it to be. Previously I was writing off cards such as Archeops and Safeguard type effects as being very subpar due to Hex Maniac's "universal" presence, but that doesn't seem to have caught on yet, and if this is the case, then those cards gain a lot of value in turn.

-There are a lot of lock decks that seem to be getting tested right now, and none of them have impressed me. I've seen varying builds of Accelgor decks, some Vileplume builds, and even gimmicky Durant/Sableye/Bunnelby decks, and they all seem fairly subpar. There are just way too many decks in the format at the moment for me to want to try and build a deck that has to try and control all of them, potentially. Very few decks have game against every deck, I understand that, so this isn't going to specifically rule out a deck, but I hate how these decks also inherently struggle with the time limit. The time limit is oppressive to normal decks, and is an even bigger issue for slower, extremely grindy decks. I see way too many unintentional draws with these decks. That type of issue is just not something you can really overlook when making a deck choice either.

They are also very challenging, complex decks to play, and this wears a player down over the span of a tournament. If you want to play one of them, you also have to force yourself to play very fast to mitigate the time issue. As a result, you end up forced to process very difficult play very quickly round after round, and this wears on you. The worst part is, this mental fatigue is even more punishing for being able to continue playing those difficult games very of my biggest issues regarding the time limit at tournaments being way too short is that it unfairly punishes certain styles of decks, really benefitting aggressive decks. To make me want to play a slower deck like these, they have to be more powerful than the competition, and I feel like they are at best on par with them, and that doesn't draw me to them.

-Players are really greedy with their deck construction right now regarding Shaymin-EX. Shaymin has been out for months now, and I feel like players have still not really adapted to its inclusion in lists. The engines are all fine, don't get me wrong, but I feel like players are running a bunch of Shaymin and Jirachi while still choosing to run a very low Basic Pokémon count. I honestly like higher Basic counts to avoid mulligans in the first place, but now I also want to really avoid starting with these bad openers. It isn't that you can't win when you open with them...well, opening Jirachi used to be extremely unfortunate. It is less so now, for certain. It still hampers your setup, and fills a Bench space. Most importantly, with a lot of decks only running two Shaymin-EX, you find a lot of games where being down to just one Shaymin-EX actually bites you over the span of a prolonged game where you want to Set Up a second time and haven't been able to use Sky Return. Clearly you can get away with not adjusting your Basic count, but I think its a deck construction issue many people haven't even thought enough about.

The deck I have tested the most is Yveltal-EX (ironic since I actually only run a pair of that card in my list). It was the deck I gravitated towards pretty quickly in the format, as I feel like it is probably the only deck that is roughly 50-50 or better against the entire field. A major trend I've seen with decks is that they are really strong against about two-thirds of the field, while struggling greatly against the last third. Yveltal doesn't have that many lopsidedly favorable pairings...the deck is such a known entity and format-definer that decks which are poor against it aren't too popular, but it has even fewer "bad" matchups. It feels as if every matchup ranges from being 60-40 to 40-60. On top of this, the deck has a TON of plays to it, allowing a player to really leverage experience and skill over other players to add to those numbers pretty well.

The deck has a lot of intangibles I love going into a big tournament. It is very streamlined and requires minimal resources to play a normal game. (It also can "nut draw" pretty well with its good hands, so there is upside too.) This means it is difficult to have dead or poor hands which punish you, and that you are pretty resilient to disruption. (Due to this, and the Darkrai-EX/Keldeo-EX package, you are also resilient against gimmicky lock decks, be it Accelgor or Seismitoad decks.) The deck is also fairly aggressive, and able to really punish bad starts. Being aggressive also makes it friendly on time limits, so you aren't extremely draw-prone using the deck. It isn't nearly as aggressive as a deck like Night March or Archie's Blastoise, but it still sits on the more aggressive side of the format, and I like that.

This deck is able to fight off the disruptive decks in the format, while also being able to play a grindy and disruptive game of its own to be able to fight the hyper-aggressive decks. I even played some games against Raichu and Manectric-EX, which are some of the worse matchups for this deck, and have still found them to be competitive. (They are close to the 40% win range though, certainly.)

This list is more or less identical to the one I included in my last article, which I think is a bit telling. There are a few issues I've had with the build, but I'm not really sure what cards I would want to cut to try and make some of these potential changes as I am really happy with a lot of these numbers. (I've really come to accept the "seven draw Supporters" engine with a few Shaymin, two Battle Compressor, four VS Seeker, and two or three Trainers' Mail. The numbers seem perfect, as the decks I use this engine in seem to be really consistent.)

This build was constructed when Seismitoad-EX was on the lower end of decks I cared about having to beat. I've played a bunch against Seismitoad so far and I have a fairly comfortable winning record, but despite this, I feel like it SHOULDN'T be favorable with this current build. With Toad/Giratina and Seismitoad/Crobat both being popular decks at the moment, I feel like adding some insurance for those decks would be lucrative. In most matchups, six Darkness and four Double Colorless Energy has been great with the rest of the deck, but against Item-lock decks with Energy removal, I really find myself struggling on the Energy front. I'd love to stick a seventh Darkness into the deck. Between six and seven is where I wanted to be in the first place, and while six has been good, it isn't that I've never felt seven would be better. I do occasionally struggle to hit my drops, especially since I end up dumping a few early with Battle Compressor early to try and set up Dark Patches.

Beyond this, I really want some sort of Pokémon Center Lady/AZ/Cassius-type effect which lets me heal around Quaking Punch some. Pokémon Center Lady is kinder on my Energy drops, but AZ does more to break up Quaking Punches on my Energy-less Pokémon. I do really want healing in a lot of matchups anyways. Many of the games I lose, it is because I'm forced to leave something hanging on my Bench that gets picked off. I also have occasional Bench space issues if I am forced to Shaymin multiple times. I will attribute some of this to poor play in certain matchups as I shift midgame in terms of what strategy I should be employing as I explore the matchup, but being able to reallocate Bench spots is appealing. (A lot of games end by a player Lysandre'ing a Shaymin, so being able to strip away that win condition at the last moment after an opponent commits to that line is pretty punishing too.) AZ seems to be the card I am leaning towards the most and it also pairs well with the next card I want to go over...

Absol. Absol is awesome. Yveltal-EX ends up doing a lot of damage, but it is often just shy of being able to OHKO a Pokémon. With Absol, you get enough additional reach to be able to hit those key marks. Seismitoad-EX and Yveltal both put low increments of damage on the table that serve as nice Absol banks for later in the game. I don't think I need to stress all the cute plays the card lets you pull off, but it also seems really powerful with Seismitoad-EX to regulate when you get KOs with your Laser Poison. Night March is already a close matchup, and being able to pick off Joltik outside of attacks is great. Absol also offers a non-EX attacker which can OHKO Joltik and Pumpkaboo in that matchup.

Absol also works well against Shaymin-EX. With 110 HP, moving 30 to a Shaymin leaves it with only 80 remaining HP. This puts it in range of a Seismitoad-EX or Yveltal with a Laser and Muscle Band being able to OHKO it. With the deck only running a pair of Yveltal-EX, you aren't always able to have access to one of them late game, so having the ability to pick off a Shaymin with one of your other attackers is nice in a close game.

I'd also love to see a third Switch in this deck. It sounds silly when we have Darkrai-EX and Keldeo-EX in the deck, but being able to assure a strong first turn is really important with this deck. With Dark Patch only working on the Bench, it makes getting a turn-one Yveltal-EX a bit harder than it should be. With Trainers' Mail and Shaymin-EX, it isn't that difficult to actually power up Yveltal on the first turn...I've even gotten Darkrai going on turn one before. The challenge is then getting it Active, and a third Switch would do a lot for this. It is also useful for getting a turn-one Quaking Punch, since you can't Dark Patch to the Active to Switch. This is a hard addition to make because you really do find these Switches to be fairly irrelevent past the opening turn or two, but they are so integral in those turns that I think adding another would be worth it.

The final card brought to my attention by my friend Zach Zamora is Hoopa-EX. I had overlooked the card because there isn't really any sort of complex board state I want to push to on the first turn, and the Bench space in the deck can become a bit stressed at times. (Honestly, Shaymin-EX is a primary culprit for this, and that happens with every deck now.) The thing I overlooked is just how nice it is to turn an Ultra Ball into Darkrai-EX, Yveltal-EX, and your Shaymin-EX, for example. Getting an attacker plus Shaymin in a deck that values speed but isn't quite embracing a "turbo" engine is strong. I wrote the card off when he first brought it up, until I thought back to how many games I'd played recently where I actually had the Ultra Ball in hand and would have loved being able to get Shaymin and an attacker at the same time. I'm not sure if it is more of a luxury than something I need since I am already tight on space, but I do want to bring it up.

The tough part is figuring out how to fit these cards. I could trim the third Yveltal-EX, a card I really wanted the additional copy of, to allow myself to have additional strength against Night March for the Absol, as it can also become a makeshift attacker in that matchup. I'd be resistant to cutting it for any of the other cards on this list of wanted inclusions, though. I hate the idea of it still, but cutting Hex Maniac for the AZ seems reasonable. I was thinking of trying out one Lysandre, but I feel like I am already low on draw Supporters, so that leaves me with a lot of strain on the four VS Seeker, making it less likely I can devote a ton of VS Seekers towards Lysandres. I could cut the Trainers' Mail, but in doing so I feel like I would need to add an additional draw Supporter to maintain a similar amount of stability. I could see cutting the pair of Mails for a Switch and a third N. Cutting the second Battle Compressor for a seventh Darkness Energy is an option, as it would increase my ability to naturally draw Darkness Energy to dump to Ultra Ball and Sycamore, but I've been a huge fan of what seems to be the perfect count of Battle Compressor at two.

Night March is another deck I really like still. It is just extremely aggressive, and is backbreaking against most decks if they stumble even a little bit. I feel like if the deck hits perfectly, it just beats every other deck regardless of how well they draw in turn. I love hyper aggressive decks in Pokemon when they are viable, and Night March certainly seems to be. It is also likely the best deck to be able to abuse Hex Maniac, which is great.

You'll notice this list is a lot more...boring, than the one I had included in my last article. I had been trying out a few changes, and while there were things I liked (I do still like Unown in this deck, for example) I've reverted to a more standard build of the deck. I don't really like to do anything too fancy with it at the moment. I opt against running Archie's Ace in the Hole and Empoleon, or Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick with Archeops. I mentioned how I've somewhat come around on Archeops as being viable, but that doesn't mean I really like it much. I also really don't like it in this deck, as I don't care about being disruptive. I want to be extremely proactive, as I feel like if this deck functions smoothly, it beats the decks that Archeops disrupts anyways. I could see a deck like Donphan becoming popular, which is a terrible matchup for this deck, and if that is the case, then maybe Archeops is necessary. (Donphan builds are running Evosoda anyways though, which is obtainable through Korrina, so I'm not even sure how useful that would be.)

Always worth noting is the possible inclusion of Mr. Mime. There aren't really many decks threatening effecient Bench damage at the moment, but if Night March is really on players' radars, Bench damage is a great weapon to beat this deck as you have to find ways to jump ahead in the Prize exchange. If this happens, Mr. Mime can easily be slotted back in here as a counter measure, especially since Hex Maniac seems to be underrepresented in lists still.

On the topic of Night March, since I do feel like it is difficult for many decks to beat, I think one of the best counters is Crobat. Crobat is already a fairly decent Pokémon in the format depending what you pair it with, and being able to really punish a tier-one deck like Night March adds a lot of value to that whole Evolution line.

This is a deck I have spent a lot of time testing the past few weeks. I need to give credit to Josue "Criminal" Rojano for this deck idea (and a vast majority of this list) as he showed me the deck a few weeks ago, selling it as something he was really high on. I wasn't sold at first but he gave my Yveltal a pretty big throttling (I didn't play the matchup advantage of an unknown archetype...but as I played from the Fighting deck's side, the matchup seemed close, and was likely slightly favorable for Landorus-EX and friends) so I decided to build it and play it.

The three Fighting Pokemon this deck hinges on using for attackers all have extremely good damage-per-energy rates, and are very aggressive. I've always liked this Machamp and feel like all of the extra damage it adds is really useful. I know Kyle "Pooka" Sucevich had used the card last year to do well in a few events, but beyond that, the card had kind of flown under the radar. With Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick, it becomes a lot easier to use this card, not requiring the use of a clunky Stage 2 line. With this engine, it is actually not too difficult to get a Machamp out on the first turn. With Strong Energy, a Machamp, Muscle Band and Fighting Stadium, you can do a stupid amount of damage on the first turn. One of the best features of this deck is how effortlessly it can OHKO a Shaymin-EX using Hawlucha. You come out of the games extremely quickly, and can take Prizes while the opponent is on the back foot. From there, it isn't too hard to just close a game out on the back of Shaymin-EX Prizes.

The deck is also a true nightmare for Night March, as Landorus-EX is pretty brutal on them. Hawlucha chews through Mew-EX and Shaymin-EX on their end as well. To put the final nail in the coffin, the deck runs a pair of Focus Sash, denying them OHKOs on your Pokemon, making the Prize exchange extremely unfavorable for them. The deck benefits from crushing Night March (and Vespiquen) while being slightly favored against Yveltal decks as well.

I've mentioned how I am not super high on Archeops even though I dislike it less than I had before. Despite having an engine to support the card, I opted not to play it in Night March. This deck is a different story altogether. Not only do I already run Maxie for Machamp, but the deck really benefits from keeping Evolutions at bay. This makes this deck cut off another whole swath of the metagame at the knees, giving it even more matchups. I've played against Donphan a few times, and while they were able to Evosoda a few Big Elephants into play, the card really hindered them and won me the games. Archeops is too easy to fit into this deck as it is more or less a free inclusion. Decks using Accelgor, Crobat, Raichu, Vespiquen, Donphan and any other dangerous Evolution card are in for a lot of trouble when facing down the amount of pressure this deck throws out while having to find ways to get past the Archeop's lock.

The deck has some problems, unfortunately. The deck is more or less incapable of ever beating the Archie's Blastoise deck. They do too much damage, too quickly, and you are more or less never scoring an OHKO on them. Hex Maniac helps some (Hex Maniac's primary inclusion is as a means to get around Safeguard, which this deck is hard-pressed to do with it's attackers being Hawlucha, Lucario, and Landorus. I had been forced to power up Machamps before, which was...loose at best) by shutting off Deluge, but I'll summarize the matchup pretty well by saying even with the card, I've yet to actually come close to winning this matchup.

Blastoise is a good deck, but not really sufficiently popular to being a reason to write this deck off as viable, but the deck also really struggles against most Seismitoad-EX builds. I've won against the decks a few times, as Hawlucha and Lucario aren't bad in those matchups, but eventually you either fall to the Energy removal or the Scoop Up effects in a long game. The matchup looks fine to start but eventually they end up wearing your board down and you fail to get the last pair of Prizes almost every game. Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot you can do to tweak the deck to be able to fix this. (Who'd have guessed that the deck that hinges on Landorus-EX loses to the two Water decks in the format?)

The last cards I wanted to add to this deck mirror my feelings on my Yveltal deck: an Absol and AZ seem really useful. This deck quickly gets to a point of being just shy of scoring OHKOs. (Hammerhead damage often pushes this into OHKO threats.) You hit for 100-140ish damage pretty often, and when you score two-hit KOs, it is often with a LOT of overkill. This means an Absol could easily move some of that damage off to set up a KO later on. (If you notice, the list has one Switch, and one Escape Rope. Outside of diversity for your Korrina, Escape Rope is useful to Bench a Pokemon that is just shy of an OHKO so you can pick it off with Landorus-EX on the next turn.) Absol would be substantially better with an AZ to be able to use it multiple times. AZ is also great with Focus Sash, as eating a OHKO with Landorus-EX still leaves it with 10 HP left, and vulnerable to being KO'd shortly thereafter. Using AZ to reset it is further Prize deprivation. Since everything in this deck can attack for one Energy, losing your Energy drops isn't that backbreaking.

This is the my current list for Archie's Blastoise. It still isn't really too revolutionary, but I did decide to include the Black Kyurem-EX and the lone Lightning Energy. My initial reasoning was to avoid cheap Mewtwo-EX/Lugia-EX counters while still laying down a ton of damage, but with Yveltal's rise in popularity, I think the use for the card goes beyond "possibly unnecessary fringe applications" into being vital in gaining an edge against one of the format's frontrunners.

The deck hasn't made too many changes from the list's run at Worlds this past August, but I've cut the Muscle Band (I don't believe it is necessary, and whatever specific purposes it was for last season are likely less important now because the metagame is different and the field is much more open) and the Rough Seas. Those lists ran a pair, and even the decks that I think Rough Seas is useful against run enough counter Stadiums that I'm not super excited by what will often end up being a one-time-use "heal 30". This format seems like it threatens quite a bit of OHKOs, so the healing cards for grindier games seems less appealing to me. As things flesh themselves out, by all means, I'd be open to putting them back into the deck, but at the moment, I'd rather focus on being more proactive.

I really like this deck, as it is extremely aggressive and can certainly fire off a lot of OHKOs over the span of the game. Due to Articuno (to jump ahead in exchanges) and Wailord (they can't really hit the 250 HP mark) the deck has pretty solid game against Night March. (The deck can usually start just as fast.) Keldeo-EX also helps a lot against the awkward status lock decks. If the deck goes off, you have good game against Seismitoad decks as well.

The biggest struggle for the deck in my eyes is actually Hex Maniac. I vaguely addressed the specific matchups where the card shined in my initial comments on the card in this article, and here is one of the matchups it is a really big thorn in the side. This deck more or less cannot function without Deluge, and losing a few turns of it over a game can be backbreaking. I mentioned how Yveltal was good against Keldeo-EX, to the point I felt Black Kyurem was needed to help the matchup, but the fact they can also run Hex Maniac to disrupt this deck is a problem. I really feel that if Hex Maniac is not a popular card, this deck is one of the best in the format.

This is a deck I've somewhat come around on in the past few weeks. I mentioned before that I like the Seismitoad decks in general, especially in a wide open field where players do not put them as the focus of their "decks to beat" list. When players do not adjust their decks to counter Toad, a lot of decks are just massive underdogs to it. Toad becomes a lot harder to win with when it has a bullseye on it's head.

The problem I had was buying into the fact that Giratina was the best partner for the Quaking Punching menace. I inherently dislike the idea of running a supporting Pokémon that intereferes with your game plan of just always using Quaking Punch. Previously, we've had Slurpuff/Shaymin builds (similar in function), Garbodor, and Crobat/Seismitoad decks. All of these shared one key trait: these Pokemon augment the Quaking Punch plan, and at no point replace it. I'd need a major reason to force a game plan that deviates from this, and that left me skeptical of Giratina-EX.

Then I started to think about the role Giratina played slightly differently. There is a point in many games where Toad decks say "screw it," and start using Grenade Hammer to close a game out. This is kind of what the deck is doing with Giratina, as you use Giratina instead of Grenade Hammer. I can get behind this to a degree.

Beyond this, Giratina is a really strong against Night March. Once you get it attacking, paired with any degree of Energy removal, they pretty much can never pull off an attack again. You lock out Dimension Valley and DCE. This forces them to make two Energy attachments before they can attack at all, leaving them wide open to your Energy removal. Keep in mind, Night March lists generally run only three Basic Energy...yeah, good luck. At first I felt like it could be somewhat useful against Seismitoad-EX decks, but I feel like the second you break Quaking Punch, Giratina just eats a face full of Hammers. A deck like Crobat/Seismitoad, which doesn't usually have room for Hammers, would struggle here though.

Giratina also offers a reasonable attacker that does not have a Weakness to Grass. There are also some decks which are just so reliant on Special Energy cards that taking a proactive Giratina gameplan is reasonable. In some matchups, you look at this deck as a Giratina deck first and foremost, one that uses Seismitoad briefly to slow an opponent down while you set up Giratina to take over. This is one of the reasons I'm including a Pokémon Center Lady in the deck. While it has been in and out of Toad lists for awhile, some people have opted to choose AZ, Super Scoop Up, and Cassius over it. With the Toad mirror being popular, and with wanting to protect Giratina-EX (a card whose Energy costs are so demanding that resetting those drops isn't really an option) Pokémon Center Lady is too important for this list. I would be open to including a second copy even.

One card I also want to consider in this list...and you can clearly pick up on a trend regarding what my current pet card is...would be Absol. I know Jason Klaczynski had been running Absol in his Toad builds, and I think it fits in perfectly with what the deck wants to do. It seems even more appealing with Giratina-EX. Giratina paired with Muscle Band and a Virbank'd Laser hits 150 damage.  With 30 damage from Absol, the deck has the option to hit the key 180 HP mark.

The biggest problem I see for the deck is that the deck is very much on people's radars. Seismitoad-EX does suffer when people build for it. The major factor regarding how well this archetype is positioned will likely be dependent on how well the deck is respected. I think the deck is potent enough that its still able to fight past hate, but it would deter my excitement to sleeve it up somewhat.

This is a deck I've been toying with for a bit now, although one I haven't logged a whole lot of games with yet. I really like Sceptile: 180 damage output for two Energy. The Pokémon is pretty easy to power up and packs a huge punch. It, paired with Virizion in particular, seems like it is quite good against the Seismitoad-EX decks. I really feel like Sceptile is well-positioned against all of the EX-oriented decks.

The big problem was that I saw no real means to be able to deal with decks using non-EX Pokemon which could OHKO a Sceptile-EX. There was just no means by which to keep up on the Prize exchange. This led me to Ninetales, as it keys off of the same Special Conditions you ran for Sceptile-EX, and provides a non-EX attacker you can power for one Energy and swarm with to keep up with the damage output from decks like Night March and Vespiquen. On top of this, you also get one-Energy burst damage in scenarios where Sceptile-EX ends up getting KO'd and you fall behind in Energy drops. The final selling point is that Bright Look is just a very good Ability. I touched before on how Hex Maniac is awkward because you are often forced into using other Supporters on your turn, and in many cases, the opportunity cost is Lysandre. By not having to rely on that for your Gust effects, the openings to use Hex Maniac are more prevalent. Being able to Gust and kill an attacker and Hex Maniac to stifle recovery in the same turn is really potent. Beyond this, Hex Maniac is just necessary to be able to turn off opposing Virizion-EX, as this whole deck collapses without access to Special Conditions.

One of the big things I have yet to settle on is the Energy split. Blend Energy is great at bridging the gap between the two Energy types the deck demands, and is the reason you can get away with so few Energy. That said, maybe an eleventh or twelfth Energy ends up being better just so you aren't cutting it so close.

I also have considered adding Pokemon like Munna, or a 1-1 Ariados line just for more reliable, non-Item-based sources of Special Conditions. Malamar-EX is also a consideration for the deck, but I don't like having to burn an Energy attachment to the Pokémon since I prefer being able to dump them on Sceptile to keep them powered since Energy drops are hard to skirt around in this deck.

Ho-Oh-EX has started to gain a bit of hype in the recent weeks, and I've seen two major builds involving the Legendary Pokémon which have attracted my eye. (There is a third build, which was basically Ho-Oh-EX with a bunch of Energy Switch and assorted attackers. It may be cool, but I feel like it was a bit underwhelming compared to the other, more focused builds.) The first variant, listed above, is a Ho-Oh/Huntail deck. I need to give a shotout to my friend Brian Baker for doing a ton of testing with the archetype and really stressing to me that there was potential to the idea. This isn't his exact list.  It is one I threw together based on my loose memory of the list he showed me. (We played some games with it at a League Challenge a few weekends ago at Deriums CCGs.) The deck offers two gameplans: attacking with Ho-Oh-EX, and attacking with Huntail once a swarm of Ho-Oh burst back from the discard pile carrying piles of Energy.

Huntail is nice for a few reasons. First, it can hit for a stupid amount of damage, all while not risking a majority of the Energy you have in play. Ho-Oh can do a ton of damage, but you have to tank it with way too many Energy, and it eats up a ton of your Energy drops to reach the same numbers. Most importantly, it is a non-EX attacker, which gives you some game against decks like Night March and Vespiquen. (I always cite those two, and I guess I should include Raichu in with this camp too, as it offers the same issues.)

The numbers are pretty straightforward, Pokémon wise. I considered a card like Hoopa-EX, but the Bench space is extremely tight in this deck, to the point I'm even running a lone copy of Sky Field. (This is also interesting because it lets you play it, and if it gets countered, you can reset Bench spaces, and potentially reuse Ho-Oh.) Energy-wise, you just need enough Water to reliably power Huntail. Beyond that, whatever assortment of Basic Energy should suffice. I assume thirteen energy is plenty, but I'm unsure.

One big thing you'll notice is how I am running only two Shaymin-EX and more Supporters than usual. This is actually not that great of a Shaymin deck; Bench space is important to swarm Huntail and Ho-Oh, so you want to avoid Benching Shaymin unless necessary. On top of this, the deck is inflated with tons of Energy cards, making Set Up less impactful than in many decks.

Beyond this build, I want to talk about an idea brought to by attention by my old friend Steven Bates, which revolves around Ho-Oh and Dragonite-EX. Ho-Oh puts a bunch of Energy in play and Dragonite sucks it all up. This lets you start attacking for anywhere from 80 to 140 damage on the first turn pretty reliably. This is a lot of pressure, especially when you then start looping Dragonite and resetting them with AZ and SSU. Decks unable to score an OHKO on Dragonite are really going to have a hard time taking Prizes. I got to play a game against Steven randomly on PTCGO about a half hour after he told me about the deck (random pairing!) and I managed to eke out a close win with Crim's Machamp Fighting deck by acknowledging early I had to take all my Prizes off of Shaymin and Ho-Oh, so Landorus just spread 30 onto multiple Ho-Oh and I eventually got my three EX KOs using Hawlucha. I imagine that is how many decks have to try to approach the matchup.

The challenge with this deck is deciding what to pair with this pretty simple engine. The first build shown to me ran a Crobat line, which is very clunky, but appealing for a few reasons. First, they offer additional damage. Dragonite caps at 140 damage, so by using Bat Abilities, being able to score those OHKOs on Pokémon-EX is very useful. Beyond this, one of the big issues I have with the deck is how poorly it deals with something like Night March (part of me is hopeful that its speed gives it some chance at a game against Vespiquen) and the Bats allow you non-EX attackers and Ability-based KOs to keep you in the game.

The alternative, staying in line with the idea that the deck needs to be able to at least OCCASIONALLY get KOs on Pokémon-EX is to run Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym. It is a bit of a cleaner means to get the extra damage than using Crobat, and probably the better option of the two, but it pretty much makes the concession that we are not beating Night March ever. For all I know (I've yet to test the matchup, so I am basing a lot of this on theory) Night March may just be too bad a matchup anyways and the Crobat plan could be futile.

I wish there was a way to combine the two approaches, Huntail and Dragonite, as Dragonite offers a tremendous amount of speed while Huntail shores up the non-EX and OHKO options. I feel like I could actually make both gimmicks fit into a deck list, but the big issue stems from the Energy. You need a lot of Water Energy for Huntail, while Dragonite demands Lightning and Grass Energy. There is just too much of a disconnect there to squeeze the two together, I fear.

These are both rough lists, and something that has just recently come to my attention as something to be testing, so again, I'll put my standard disclaimer for works in progress as being such. I'm not swearing that these are particularly refined builds for the archetype yet, merely a good starting point for testing.

Finally, we have a deck that I think is underappreciated because a lot of the top decks really struggle to deal with the strategy it employs. This is pretty much the least innovative Donphan list imaginable, but I take a "if it isn't (or is!) broken, why fix it?" approach here. This deck takes a simple approach: rob the opponent of as many turns of Prize-taking as possible.

Donphan gets the fun of hit-and-running behind Robo Subs. Decks are running one or two Lysandre and four VS Seekers in Expanded. Many lists are also pretty light on Supporters, and will need to use some of these VS Seekers for draw power. As a result eventually, if they only have five Lysandres available total, they are forced to chew through your four Robo Subs, wasting four whole turns of attack over the span of the game. Next, the deck runs three Sacred Ash. That is three more wasted attacks without them netting a Prize card. Over the span of a game, the opponent ends up wasting as many as seven whole attacks, all while you do not play so much as a single Pokémon-EX to help speed up their clock. Notice how long a normal game of Pokémon lasts, and you realize how backbreaking those free turns can end up being in almost every matchup. A deck like Vespiquen or Night March will be hard-pressed to ever take six Prizes before you do. EX decks have their own set of problems.

A few simple justifications: I run two Evosoda as a means to Evolve past Archeops. I assume all Donphan lists do as well. Sacred Ash gets the nod over Super Rod in a rare instance, as you actually will want to shuffle in two Donphan sets with a use if you can in a lot of spots. Finally, the one Battle Compressor is just as a means to get the card off of Korrina, setting up future VS Seekers.

There are a few problems with the deck, though. I'm not incredible sold on how well the deck performs against Yveltal decks. I've beaten plenty of Donphan using the deck, but the deck does have a reasonable amount of play to it, so I don't know if my opponents had just been sloppy with how they approach the matchup. The games go long, so they would benefit whoever can approach the matchup properly. Finally, I assume this isn't too great against Seismitoad-EX decks. A deck like Toad/Crobat has to be an absolute nightmare of a matchup, for example. Nonetheless, one of the reasons I've loaded the deck with more Supporter draw than Item-based draw like Trainers' Mail is to hedge some in the hopes you get a bit of extra mileage against Seismitoad-EX.

There are other Donphan builds available, of course. I've seen Donphan paired with Jolteon as a means to deal with Yveltal and Mega Rayquaza. It somewhat undermines the appeal of Donphan to me, which is the ability to just cut off all easy Bench targets as the game goes on. It also forces the deck to play cards like Ultra Ball, which could otherwise be ignored since every Pokémon is a Fighting-type and Korrina-able.

Finally, the build I see most frequently on PTCGO is using Safeguard type Pokemon and/or Wobbuffet to hide behind. This is more similar to the very first Donphan builds, and is just not something I'm super excited by. I've generally done well against these builds, and they are less streamlined than the one I've listed. (They also require you to run Float Stones to keep Retreating, which is a bit clunky.) I also just imagine most decks that struggle against Safeguard will run Hex Maniac, and the deck is not super aggressive, it is very reasonable for Hex Maniac to come into play over the course of a game.

So those are some of the decks I've been missing around with. Finally, to showcase just how wide open this format seems at the moment, I want to go over some of the decks I am intrigued by that I haven't even gotten around to building and playtesting. This is a pretty long and diverse list, and further shows how daunting a task testing for such a wide card pool can be:

Metal Rayquaza
Speed Rayquaza
Mega Manectric

I'm sure I am even forgetting a few decks with this. That said, I've got about two weeks before Regionals start up, and I couldn't be more excited. As I said before, I'm likely to just play Yveltal as I think it is the safest play going into an undefined format. After week one, things get interesting as then we'll get a really good snapshot of how the format has developed, and metagaming gets to take place with a more clear-cut direction.

On the topic of Regionals, I will be attending both Fort Wayne and Philly Regionals, so hopefully I'll see some of you there! (All of the other Regionals are just too far for me to justify traveling too. Maybe if it were later in the season and I was really in the need for some points, but its not happening on the first wave of Regionals.) Anyways, let me know if any of these decks look intriguing to you, and if your testing has pushed you into similar directions so far or not! It has been fun to talk with my friends and see that pretty much everyone is being pulled in fairly different directions so far!



[+11] okko


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