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Max Armitage

Expanded Crash Course

Max goes over all things expanded as we approach Philadelphia regionals!

31. 10. 2016 by Max Armitage

Hey 60cards readers! I’m sure that many of you have been hard at working on your Pokémon skills, with a new prize structure and format there has never been a more exciting time to be a Pokémon player! However with Philadelphia Regionals right around the corner it’s time again for us players to shift our focus back onto the Expanded, Black and White-on, format. For many veteran players, myself included, playing in expanded tournaments is like revisiting old friends, but for many newer players the challenge of going into an entirely new format with foreign cards can be a very daunting task. That’s why I am here to give you a crash course on the state of the current expanded format including what decks to expect, the do’s and don'ts of the format, and my personal top picks heading into Philly. So without further ado let's dive right in!

To begin the commentary on the current state of expanded I think the first thing that is crucial for us to do is to break down the results of the last major event. If there is anything that Pokémon has taught me in my many years of playing it’s that studying history is crucial to understanding the future. Anyways back to the tournament. for those who’re not aware the last major expanded event was a Regional Championships in Phoenix Arizona, and while I wasn’t fortunate to be able to attend the event I thankfully have many firsthand accounts of how the tournament played out along with being able to view the tournament through Twitch the entire weekend and analyze those results I have been able to gain a very comprehensive understanding of the format. To give a very brief rundown of some of the unique occurrences that took place in Arizona a BAD Trevenant list took 2nd, Eelektrik/Raikou/Gallade Top 4’d, Dark type Pokémon were nowhere to be found in the Top 8, and a deck that nearly everyone had written off thanks to the presence of Archeops in the format was able to sneak into 3 of the Top 8 positions and eventually win the entire tournament.

To start us off, I'm going to look at the Trevenant deck list piloted by William Herrmann to a 2nd place finish in Arizona.

Trashy Trevenant 

I know what you’re thinking. “Max this list got 2nd, it can’t be that bad”, WRONG. I will not sugar coat it. I will not pretend like William Herrmann took hours upon hours testing this deck to perfection. Finally I will not lie. This deck was bad. Luckily for William, Item lock is good and he had a great player to teach him how to play Pokémon when he started back in 2012 (Me). Don’t take this the wrong way - William is a great player and friend however he has a terrible reputation within the Pokémon community as being one of the most unprepared people ever.

In fact, only hours before the event began Will planned on playing a Vileplume toolbox deck until his fellow competitors Brandon Cantu and Bradley Curcio convinced him that Trevenant was an overall stronger play. There are many things that I don’t like about this list which William has straight up agreed with including the awkward inclusion of Enhanced Hammer, the one Wobbuffet, and the extra Level Ball. If anything the fact that this Trevenant list was able to place 2nd speaks volumes on the amount of strength the deck possesses. If I were to play Trevenant l wouldn’t be caught dead without a few copies of Red Card included in my list or I would even consider Crushing Hammer in this deck. Either way this bad list does tell us how powerful Trevenant is as it came only turns away from winning the entire event.

Expanded Tenets

Now that we have dipped our toes into what a deck from the expanded format looks like I think it’s important that before we get any further in analysis of specific decks we go over some of the fundamental tenets of the Expanded format. The purpose of discussing these is to give you the tools and knowledge that you need to successfully craft your own ideas and to be able to perform with them. I’ll touch on each of these very important ideas and rules with varying degrees of analysis depending on their importance.

Ace Spec Abuse

First thing on the list is Ace Specs. At the last regional in Phoenix alone I saw multiple people use various different Ace Specs to great effect including Gold Potion, Scramble Switch, and Dowsing Machine. I know that at times this may seem like redundant information because it’s so clear how important playing the correct Ace Spec is but you would be surprised if you saw how many people made that mistake. Taking advantage of the appropriate Ace Spec for your deck whether it be a Computer Search to help you help boost the consistency and speed of your deck, a Life Dew to deny crucial prizes, or a Dowsing Machine to get back a 5th Dark Patch is very important, as that 1 card can often swing the game in a way most other individual cards can’t. Finding the strongest and most effective Ace Spec for your deck is a key to success in this format and you should be sure to think through your options thoroughly even if the choice seems obvious at first.

Say no to Nostalgia

While the last point was made mainly for relatively newer players who didn’t have Ace Specs previously in their arsenals this one is for the veterans of the Pokémon Trading Card Game. Those who experienced the Black and White era that included decks like Blastoise/Keldeo, Darkrai/Sableye, Plasma and more. You should think of each tournament as an investment, don’t want to get caught spending time, energy, and money to be playing an outdated deck. With the chance to play some of your favorite cards in the expanded format it’s no surprise that you would try to leech onto a deck that you had success with previously. Often times I catch veteran players trying to revamp their classic decks to make them suitable for this format when there is usually a much better deck to play. One example of this is how many elite players like Bradley Curcio, Israel Sosa, and others will generally want to play a dark type deck without fully considering and exploring the options that expanded gives them. Not to say that Dark decks in general aren’t strong decks, but the way that many players will instantly default to a deck in that manner is not a good trait to have when trying to give yourself the best chance to win an event. On the flip side of this coin if you consider yourself to be a master of a certain deck but are second guessing yourself it’s often good to sleep on your decision and follow your instinct in the morning.

Creativity and Innovation in Expanded

I think that the expanded format is much more unexplored and intricate than what the average players give it credit for. If you look at it on surface level it may seem like there are only a couple decks with the most results but overall the format is extremely diverse. With a very large card pool the possibilities are very close to endless and I strongly encourage that you go through each of the older sets whenever a new set comes out to check for possible combinations of cards that may be very strong. However with innovation in your deck building process it’s also very crucial to not go overboard. As the saying goes you don’t need to redesign the wheel in expanded. You just need to make your deck to be the fastest and most efficient. One example of the creativity is the use of Greninja in expanded which you typically wouldn’t see in Expanded because of the play of Archeops. However the players who did well with it evaluated the meta and chose to go with the deck anyways. I’m certain that there are many strong card combinations that are currently going unused simply because the format hasn’t been fully fleshed out by the top level players. This is due to them being able to top with decks they enjoy simply based off of their skill and leads many people, myself included, to not bother attempting to search for stronger decks.

Be Prepared...Seriously

In a format where you could be Quaking Punched, Deck-and-Covered, and Chaos Wheeled on turn 1 it’s more important than ever that you run your 1 of Pokémon Ranger, Hex Maniac, and AU’s. I can’t stress how important it is to play these 1 of techs to be able to deal with this disruption that is common in Expanded. You have no reason to be giving away games because you didn’t run a counter to Accelgor or because you only run 4 DCE and got hit by Giratina--EX. With so many decks you don't want to hit “that one guy” running what counters your deck without a way to play around it.

Compress Battles With and Without Battle Compressor

If you’re playing in the Expanded format the odds say that you’re probably playing at a Regional Championship where the time limit is 50 minutes for a best two out of three. With that being said you’re going to need to play at a very lively pace and tempo to be able to complete the round with the win. What I’m getting at is that if you know you’re a naturally slow tempo player, compensate for it, play either a very fast deck like Night March or a very slow deck like Primal Groudon/Wobbuffet. Do this or learn to play a quicker rate through practice to avoid the pesky ties. Finally I know that since my first article I probably sound like a broken record but you really must know when to compress your battles and be able to scoop when the game becomes too unfavourable for you. It’s a skill that will take practice and dedication to master which is why I always encourage people to practice doing it in my articles. While we’re on the topic of compressing battles let's talk about the card Battle Compressor, one of the strongest cards in expanded, be sure to take full advantage of every single Battle Compressor you use when you play Expanded. The strength of that card is ridiculous and should not be under appreciated. Whether it's putting a supporter into your discard pile for VS Seeker, discarding crucial cards to do more damage in Night March or Revenge decks, thinning worthless cards out of your deck, or discarding a specific an energy for Dark Patch the value of this card should never be wasted.

The Item Embargo

Finally I saved the best for last. The Item Embargo that is present in the Expanded Format is a very scary thing. You’ll be hard pressed to find a deck that doesn’t have a built in counter to the various Item Lock decks. There’s Seismitoad, Vileplume, Trevenant, Ghetsis and more so when you enter a tournament it’s very important that you’re aware of all of the dangers of item lock that you will be facing and be conscious of them throughout the deckbuilding and deck choice process. Consider your item cards less valuable the moment that you enter into the expanded format.

Rainbow Road

Now that I have thoroughly debriefed you on some of the intricacies of the expanded format, it’s time that I begin to delve into the meat of this article. Next you’ll read about the experiences of three very strong players who attended Arizona Regionals who I have talked with extensively. In this section I will explain their shortcomings and their results along with how they chose their deck and do individual deck analysis on each of their lists. The first list will be the Ho-oh/Xerneas list that Brandon Cantu piloted to a top 16 finish.

 

This list is bluntly unique. Before the release of Steam Siege Ho-Oh-EX didn’t have a solidified place in the Expanded format but that all changed with the release of Ninja Boy as the prices of Ho-oh-EX quickly spiked in response. I personally enjoy playing this list because of the inclusion of tech cards like Latios-EX and Aegislash-EX that give the deck a lot of flexibility. The main goal is to set up Xerneas and one of the most difficult challenges with this deck is knowing that things will rarely go the way that you want them to go in a sense. A lot of playing the deck is just making the best ot of the situations that you were put in There are certain aspects of this list that concern me like the super low energy count, but Brandon clearly proved that this deck was worth the effort he put into building it with his 11th place finish. Knowing Brandon I know that this mix of Ho-Oh with Rainbow Road matched his risk taking style and fulfilled his desire for a deck that nobody else would be playing. If I were to play this deck I would make room to include a Karen and probably reverse the muscle band to fighting fury belt ratio. I would also likely try to include an extra Lysandre to accommodate for the inevitable increase in the play of Greninja. Next I will discuss the Matchup breakdown of this deck. Please let me know if you agree or disagree with what I post here and why and I will be happy to give you feedback. (This is post Karen.)

Matchups

Trevenant

Roughly 50-50, this matchup is heavily dependent on who wins the coin flip and if they do win the coin flip whether or not they are able to capitalize through the use of Wally. This is one of those matchups where the deck needs to run really smoothly. If Trevenant goes first and gets out a Trevenant on turn 1 you probably just lose the game unfortunately because of the high concentration of items that the deck needs to perform well.

Greninja Talonflame

70-30, I think the matchup is very strong because of the pace of the deck, the ability to donk Froakie's, and the way that a powered up Xerneas can run through multiple Greninja and Frogadier. The biggest issue that could arise would be a very clever rare candy play into shadow stitching which could devastate this deck's ability to get going.

Yveltal

70-30, Dark types have a lot of trouble dealing with a powered up Xerneas which can tear through any set up. Fright night is also a non-issue thanks to keldeo.
Night March

60-40, if you can wall with Aegislash for a turn this match up turns into a piece of cake however this strategy usually gets played around through the use of Lysandre, Hex Maniac, and Escape Rope. While you do have the advantage of Latios-EX I don’t think it’s enough to push the deck into the favourable range. What really puts the nail in the coffin for me is the release of Karen which would certainly be included in this deck and would help to exhaust the Night March player of resources fairly quickly. This matchup percentage also assumes that you’re facing a quality Night March player.

Seismitoad EX Bats

25-75, I don’t think this matchup would be favourable at all because of the high number of items that we play along with the lack of an answer to Seismitoad-EX. A win could occur if you were able to keep an Aegislash active and have your Keldeo-EX use Rush In and continue to retreat multiple times until your opponent could no longer deal with it however that is a difficult combo to achieve with this deck and doesn’t guarantee a win. Also that combo would really only delay the game until your opponent could use their basic water energy and attack you. A very rough matchup.

Yveltal

Now it’s time to talk about Yveltal, something I am very fond of doing. Heading into Arizona there were two players who I knew would be playing Darkrai Yveltal and probably the same 60 cards. Let's take a look at their list.

 

The two players who played this list were Bradley Curcio and Israel Sosa and they both bubbled finishing at 33rd and 34th. While this is very unfortunate I think that this list does provide a lot of insight into the mind of the top Yveltal players right now and I will explain a lot of the card choices and exclusions.

This list was very strong because of the disruption and speed in combination was very threatening. You can put so much pressure on your opponent with this deck that you can often force them to choose between trading unfavorably and putting their hand under three cards to get Delinquented away.

Another major strength of the deck comes from its ability to productively stall with Sableye’s Junk Hunt to get back your valuable resources. Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick when used correctly, obviously in combination with Archeops also provides a very good match up versus any deck that relies heavily on evolutions. The Enhanced Hammer is a somewhat new addition to the deck that was probably brought up by Sosa to help increase the probability of gaining the edge in the mirror matchup.

Heading into Philly Regionals I fully expect this deck to be a powerhouse thanks to the release of Karen making Night March a significantly easier matchup, good riddance. While there’s an argument to not include the 1 of Karen I think it is definitely worth the slot just in case you do get paired up against one of the people playing Night March or Vespiquen. I am still in disbelief that neither of these Yveltal/Darkrai deck were able to place within the top 8 but that’s just how it goes sometimes, again unfortunate that they all bubbled but it doesn’t shake my confidence in the deck. If I were to attend Philadelphia Regionals I would most likely play this list and drop the Enhanced Hammer for a Karen. The other major question mark that a lot of people have for Yveltal right now is which Ace Spec should they use. I am more biased to the traditional use of Computer Search to boost my odds of being able to use Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick, however I can see the value in Dowsing Machine allowing you to use an extra copy of key cards like Dark Patch and VS Seeker. Either way the deck has a phenomenal shot at performing very well in the Expanded format.

Like I did with Brandon's decks I now want to do the same and state what I believe the win/loss percentage would be for various decks and give brief rundowns of the matchups.

Greninja Talonflame

75-25, I think this matchup is highly in Darkrai’s favor considering that all the Darkrai player has to do is set up an Archeops in the first two turns of the game and things quickly go downhill for Greninja. That’s why I put emphasis on playing a card like Computer Search in the list over Dowsing Machine because you often take hold of the game in the first few turns.

Trevenant

60-40, The way this matchup goes is really dependent on the Trevenant players list and on who goes first. If Trevenant starts and gets turn 1 item lock against any deck it will spell trouble but that’s especially true with an item dense deck like this one. The nice thing is that if you’re able to go first or if they miss a turn one Wally than all you have to do to be successful if thin your deck out a bit and set up a Fright Night Yveltal.

Seismitoad Bats

65-35, I’m fairly certain that this is a very strong matchup for Yveltal. No matter the results of the coin flip the Yveltal player will always get a turn to use items which is plenty of time to set up a Fright Night Yveltal and go to work. It would be difficult for the Seismitoad-EX player to be able to keep up with Yveltal from that point unless they ran Dedenne or kept you asleep from a Hypnotoxic Laser.

Probably the scariest thing about this deck is its ability to use a wide variety of Basic Pokémon with great attacks to adapt to whatever situation it’s put in. The range of attacks including, Junk Hunt, Evil Ball, and Pitch Black Spear really allows the deck to be able to turn the tables on your opponent at a moment's notice when played tactfully. Unfortunately Sosa and Brad walked away empty handed placing 34th and 33rd. Now that we have looked at one of the best Dark lists let's continue to move on to another successful deck from Arizona.

Groudon

This is the Groudon list that was piloted by Stefan Tabaco. There are a lot of unique card choices that I think are very clever and contributed to the success of this deck in Arizona.

Stefan is certainly the authority on Groudon considering he is the only person in recent history to put up good results and earn points with the deck. This is an extremely innovative list that has clearly had a lot of thought put into it. As you can notice the deck runs many, many one of tech trainer cards which are incredibly strong thanks to the 4 copies of Korrina allowing you access to them when you please.

Some of you may be questioning the one psychic energy that is played in the list because Wobbuffet is the farthest thing from an attacker in this matchup. The reason that this energy is played is because the main attacker of the deck, Primal Groudon, requires only 3 fighting energy and has a colorless energy slot requirement to use each of its attacks, what this means is that there will never be a situation where attaching the Psychic Energy to a Groudon can hurt you and it gives you the bonus option to attack with Wobbuffet. While a basic Fighting Energy will do the same thing in 99% of your games the inclusion of the psychic energy is one of those small choices that can give you an extra option against a deck that plays Dimensional Valley or when you run out of your attackers.

Another choice in cards that is very strong is the mixture of Float Stone, Scramble Switch, Escape Rope, and normal Switch that is included with this deck. This mixture in switching cards allows the deck to be very versatile, and keeps your opponent guessing. For example playing a Switch or a Float Stone is perfect for baiting your opponent to not expect the Scramble Switch and Escape Rope while not hurting the consistency of the deck.

The biggest challenge this deck faces is the lack of availability of Tropical Beach to the average player, if you are interested in piloting this deck for a regional I highly advise you make friends with someone who owns Tropical Beach or start trading/buying them now. I assure you it’s not easy to find 4 of them to include in one deck.

This deck very consciously addresses the issues that it faced in the past through the use of tech supporters like Pokémon Center Lady to counter Fright Night Yveltal, Hex Maniac for when Wobbuffet is not usable, and Xerosic to disrupt your opponent. Another clever inclusion is the Regirock that helps to counter Regice and to preserve energy against decks that can quickly attack the Groudon-EX’s. At a first glance of the deck one of the largest concerns is that the thin two-two line of Primal Groudon is not enough to be able to set up and play through a game, however upon further inspection it’s actually plenty if you consider the ability to use Regirock as a placeholder to build up energy cards in the early parts of the game thanks to Scramble Switch and the searching ability provided by Korina that allows you to easily search the Groudon out of your deck. That along with the recovery provided by Puzzle of Time ensures that the deck doesn’t run out of steam in the later portions of the game.

Cutting Groudon out of the deck to open up more space was incredibly smart but has a bonus side effect. With less Groudon-EX you tend to start with one of your four Wobbuffet's more often! This deck's strength really comes from its incredible ability to be able to control the tempo of the game with Wobbuffet until you’re able to build up your Groudon-EX’s and sweep your opponent's attackers to win the game.

I think this deck is incredibly strong and that the amount of people playing it in the current meta is not doing it justice. With that being said let's examine some of the deck's matchups in the expanded metagame.

Yveltal

60-40, This matchup can be tricky however I think in general the matchup favors Groudon. Like most decks Yveltal very often relies upon a opening ability to have an ideal turn 1, which thanks to Wobbuffet is not possible. This biggest source of adversary for Groudon is the Fright Night Yveltal using Pitch-Black Spear on your Groudon-EX when you don’t have access to a Mr.Mime. While this may be troublesome I don’t think it’s enough to swing the matchup because the Groudon-EX deck runs the Pokémon Center Lady and Max Potion to keep those Groudon-EX fresh until you can draw into your Mr.Mime. Once you set up your Groudons with energy and Focus Sash there is very little that Yveltal can do to slow you down. If you wanted to tech for this deck to make it more favourable I would consider a level ball to be able to search out your Mr.Mime easier along with more stadiums to ensure that your opponent isn’t able to lock a Silent Lab into play.

Greninja Talonflame

30-70, This was actually the deck that ended Stephens incredible run in Arizona. This matchup is unfavorable for a couple different reasons but not entirely unwinnable by any means. To start most decks don’t want to allow Greninja the time to set up and being the slow deck that Groudon is it gives Greninja all the time in the world to set up their Greninja Breaks. Also Groudon is usually successful when it’s able to take big knock outs on-EX Pokémon which Greninja runs a grand total of 0. Groudon also has lots of trouble with the Bursting Balloon that Greninja plays, and becoming vulnerable to Giant Water Shurikens when Groudon wants to attack. A recipe for disaster when you finally get around to attacking.

So how can Groudon win? You're gonna need to pull all the stops which means trying to use multiple of cards like Hex Maniac, Pokémon Center Lady, Hard Charm, and Xerosic as you try to navigate around the pitfalls described above. To get a win it's reasonable to assume that 1 Groudon would have to kill 2-3 of your opponents Greninja and hope that more can’t be set up very quickly. Thankfully Greninja placed very well in Arizona meaning there will be a lot of decks that will look to counter it and decrease its presence in expanded. While that's nice it's a small consolation considering the large popularity of the Greninja deck in general and the fact that it's one of the easiest decks for new players to use in both Expanded and Standard will only boost its popularity.

Trevenant

20-80, Item lock, spread damage, speed. All things Groudon wants to avoid that Trevenant possesses. I wouldn't want to sit across this matchup if I was playing Groudon and Trevenant is a staple of the expanded format. This matchup is not worth going into further detail about, the best thing you can hope for is to survive long enough to Lysandre or Hex Maniac in combination with a Double Puzzle of Time for VS seeker to get your Pokémon Center Lady back because you will need many to survive a game VS this deck.

While this deck does have a couple bad matchups against popular decks I think expanded has so much variety in its metagame that the deck can still be successful. So the big question remains, why doesn't this deck get more results? The first and in my opinion most important is access to Tropical Beach. With these cards being so expensive it's very difficult for newer players to run the deck. This causes the deck to become even less popular because people see that it has stopped getting as many results after a while and chose to not test with the deck anymore. The second is that the deck can be clunky, running off of a Korrina engine and having to transition between Wobbuffet and Groudon can be very difficult to do smoothly Especially for a deck that doesn't run Float Stone. This slow paced style turns a lot of people off to the deck before they have given it a fair shot to perform. Finally this is one of the most difficult decks to build and pilot well, as we can see there was a ton of thought and effort put into the creation of this successful Groudon deck list and that was certainly reflected in the high quality of his play in Arizona. This would be required of all players looking to play this deck at a major event. To conclude this deck isn't a aggressive powerhouse, or a versatile stunner, but it is powerful and not a deck to be taken lightly in the right hands.

Greninja

While I was planning on writing a little bit about Greninja and how it was able to stay under the radar and place in three out of the eight top cut spots in Arizona in this article I was pleasantly surprised to see that my fellow writer, Caleb Gedemer, already wrote a 10000 word monstrosity of an article covering any and everything there is to know about the deck. For those who haven't already and would like to learn more about Greninja I totally recommend checking out his latest article on the deck.

Accelgor Wobbuffet

Wow, I honestly didn't think I would get the pleasure of talking about a Accelgor deck anytime soon; but like I said earlier with such a wide card pool the shifts in the meta can allow for decks to sneak their way back into the format. In Arizona this version of Accelgor was piloted by a group of strong players including Hayden Jacobus and Ross Cawthon. Both these players recognized the lack of AZ and Keldeo-EX in the format as they were being cut for other tech cards and decided to revisit Accelgor. The deck was ran with Musharna, Wobbuffet, and Mew-EX in Arizona and didn't perform exceptionally well, however with such high caliber players using these decks I would not be surprised if they popped back up in some form or fashion in Philadelphia. I would definitely be prepared to play against these decks and consider playing them myself.

Gallade, Eels, Raikou

This is a deck that we saw piloted by Michael Slutsky in Arizona to an impressive top 4 finish. Personally I don't think the deck is as competitive as the finish suggests but props to Slutsky for making it work. The downfall of the deck is the large reliance on Dynamotor and the delayed setup of the deck in general. The strength of this deck comes from its incredibly strong matchup against Yveltal, this is as close to an auto win as it gets as the deck runs two copies of Gallade and you're sure to play against Yveltal multiple times throughout the course of a tournament considering how popular it is.

The reason I don’t think this deck was as strong as it used to be is because there are many stronger and faster forms of energy acceleration in expanded like Dark Patch, Max Elixer, and even Blastoise with Archie's Ace in the Hole. Also while the deck is fast and usually able to keep up with many other Expanded format decks it sacrifices a lot of the versatility and strength that was characteristic of the old Dynamotor decks. That’s part of the reason that we see the deck overcompensating with somewhat inconsistent cards like Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick while normal decks wouldn’t need that extra boost to keep up.

Conclusion

This article nicely summarized many of my thoughts on the current state of the Expanded format. Unfortunately with so many unique decks it can be difficult to fit all my ideas into one article but I did my best to choose the ones that I found to be the most interesting and exciting. Expanded in its nature is a format that will thankfully be full of surprises and excitement in the future and I’m ready to see who will be able to take initiative and perform in the upcoming Philadelphia Regional Championship and beyond. Will you it be you?

I hope this article helped to further your understanding of the current expanded format and was able to give you some ideas about decks you may not have thought of yet. As always if you enjoyed my latest article please consider giving it a like and sharing it on your preferred social media platform, and if you have any criticism please comment below as I am always eager to improve my craft. Good luck and happy playing to all.


-Max Armitage

[+3] okko


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